‘Alorn politics, mother. Riva can’t function just now, so Daran’s going to have to rule the Isle until his father recovers. I want to head off any arguments before they even get started.’

‘Don’t overdo things, Pol.’

‘Of course not, mother.’

It’s always been my opinion that funerals should be private affairs for just the immediate family, but my sister had been the queen of the Rivans, and that called for a state funeral.

The Rivan Deacon will officiate, of course,’ Kamion advised my nephew and me. ‘It’s unfortunate, but – ’

‘No. He won’t,’ Daran said firmly.

‘Your Highness?’

‘Elthek killed my mother. If he even comes near the funeral, I’ll chop him all to pieces. There’s a chaplain here in the Citadel. He’ll officiate.’

‘That’s your Highness’s final word on the matter?’

‘It is, Lord Brand.’ Then Daran stormed away.

‘I’ll talk to him, Kamion,’ I said quietly. ‘The Deacon won’t officiate, but I do want him to be present. Something’s going to happen that I want him to see.’

‘Secrets, Pol?’

‘Just a little surprise, old friend. I’m going to make the transfer of power very visible.’

Elthek was offended, naturally, but Kamion was smooth enough to unruffle his feathers, using such terms as ‘personal spiritual advisor’, and ‘the wishes of the immediate family’.

The formal funeral was conducted in the Hall of the Rivan King, and my sister’s bier was directly in front of the throne where Riva, sunk in bottomless melancholy, sat brooding over his wife’s pale body.

The priest who officiated was a gentle, kindly old man who was clearly not a Cultist. He gave us what comfort he could, but I doubt that any of us heard much of what he said. Elthek, the Rivan Deacon, sat near the front of the Hall, his face filled with injured pride. He was a tall, thin man with burning eyes and a grey-shot beard that reached almost to his waist. At one point during the family chaplain’s sermon, I caught Elthek glaring at me, and then his face twisted into a smirk that said volumes. He seemed almost delighted that I’d failed to save my sister’s life. He came very close to joining Belar out among the stars at that point.

Beldaran was interred in a hastily prepared royal mausoleum at the end of a long hallway inside the Citadel, and Riva wept openly as the heavy stone lid of the crypt slid gratingly over her. Then Kamion and I escorted him back to the Hall. I’d spoken with my distraught brother-in-law for a time just before the funeral, so he knew exactly what to do. ‘My friends,’ he addressed the assembled nobles and clergy, ‘I will be going into seclusion for some time. The kingdom will be secure, however.’ He went to his throne, reached up, and took his huge sword down from the wall. As it always did when he took it in his hand, the sword burst into blue fire, but it appeared that even the Orb grieved for my sister because the fire seemed to me to be a bit subdued. The grieving king turned to face the assemblage, holding the flaming symbol of his authority aloft.

There was an absolute, almost fearful silence among the mourners. ‘My son, Prince Daran, will stand in my stead,’ Riva declared in tones that clearly brooked no opposition. ‘You will obey him even as you would obey me.’ Then he switched the sword around in those huge hands, taking it by its fiery blade and extending the hilt to Daran. ‘Thus I transfer all power to my son!’ he boomed.

Somewhere a bell started to ring, a deep-toned sound that seemed to shake the very stones around us. I knew with absolute certainty that no bell on the Isle was large enough to make that sound. Daran reverently took the sword from his father and raised it above his head. The fire of the Orb burst forth, running up that massive blade and enveloping the young prince in a sort of nimbus of blue light.

‘All hail Daran!’ Kamion commanded in a great voice, ‘Regent of the Isle of the Winds!’

‘Hail Daran!’ the crowd echoed.

Elthek’s face was pale with fury and his hands were trembling. He obviously hadn’t even considered the possibility of a regency, and certainly not a regency so supernaturally accepted. Clearly, he’d assumed that the grief-stricken Riva would try to continue to perform the duties of the throne, and a situation like that would have been almost made to order for the Rivan Deacon’s gradual usurpation of power. Kamion would have been shunted off to one side, and Elthek, speaking for the distraught Riva, would have insinuated himself into a position of unassailable authority. The blazing sword of the Rivan King in the hands of Daran effectively cut off Elthek’s path to power, and the Deacon was clearly unhappy about it. I managed to catch his eye, and just to rub it in a bit, I returned his smirk.

Riva, as he’d announced, went into seclusion, and Daran, Kamion and I took over the reins of government. Daran flatly – and wisely, I think – refused to sit on his father’s throne, but presided instead from a plain chair placed behind a common table piled high with the documents which are the curse of every ruler in the world.

I discovered that winter and early spring just how tedious affairs of state can really be, and I marveled at the hunger some men have for a throne – any throne. Alorns are basically an informal people, and an Alorn king is usually nothing more than a glorified clan-chief who’s readily accessible to any of his subjects. That’s fine outside in the open, I suppose, but once the business of running a kingdom moves indoors, problems start to crop up. The formal setting of a throne room calls for formal speeches, and this unfortunately brings out the worst in some people. Oratory, however grand, is really nothing more than a way for a pompous man to stand up and in effect say, ‘Look at me,’ and most of the ‘petitions to the throne’ Daran was forced to endure were pure nonsense.

‘Must they go on and on like that?’ Daran complained one rainy evening after we’d closed up shop for the day.

‘It’s just a way of showing off, your Highness,’ Kamion explained.

‘I can see them, Kamion,’ Daran said. ‘They don’t have to wave their arms and make speeches. Can’t we do something to cut all this nonsense short?’

‘You could shorten your work-day, dear,’ I suggested.


‘You could hold court for an hour every morning and then pack up and go back to your office. The fact that others are waiting in line and time is limited might encourage those orators to get to the point.’ Then another idea came to me. ‘Or, you could require each speaker to hold an iron rod in his hand while he’s talking.’

Tags: David Eddings Science Fiction
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