‘What good would that do?’
I smiled. ‘I’ll just gradually heat the rod until it’s white-hot, Daran. I think the speaker might hurry right along once his hand starts to smoke.’
‘I like that one,’ Daran said.
‘Unfortunately, it smacks of witchcraft,’ Kamion observed, ‘and Elthek might want to make an issue of it. I think we can come up with something else.’
What Kamion devised positively reeked of genius. The next morning a portly baron was reading aloud – badly – from a prepared text presenting all sorts of reasons why he should be exempt from certain provisions of the tax-code.
‘I think I’ve come up with the answer to our problem,’ Kamion murmured to Daran and me. He strolled to the edge of the dais, stepped down and casually approached the speaker. ‘May I see that, old boy?’ he asked politely, holding his hand out for the sheaf of paper in the baron’s hand. Then he firmly took the document from the startled noble and glanced at it. ‘Very interesting,’ he said. ‘His Highness will consider it and let you know what his decision is in a month or so.’
‘But – ’ the baron began to protest.
‘The matter will receive the Prince Regent’s full attention, old boy. Was there anything else?’
The baron began to splutter.
Kamion looked around. ‘Ah, corporal of the guard,’ he said to one of the soldiers at the door.
‘Yes, my Lord Brand?’
‘Could you find me a bushel basket somewhere?’
‘I think so, my Lord.’
‘Do be a good fellow and see what you can turn up.’
Kamion returned to the dais and then faced the assemblage. ‘One of the problems his Highness has been encountering lies in the fact that the finer points of many of your petitions are glossed over when you present them to the throne aloud, gentlemen, and what you have to say deserves better than that. As soon as the good corporal returns with that basket, he’ll pass among you and you can deposit your petitions in the basket. That way, you’ll all be able to go about your business without wasting time waiting for your turn to speak. Think of all the hours you’ll save that way, and all the important things you’ll be able to accomplish.’
They gaped at him. I knew for a fact that most of these nobles didn’t have anything better to do. The hours spent in the throne room were their only reason for existence.
Then the corporal returned with the basket and, at Kamion’s instruction, passed among the throng to receive all the laboriously prepared petitions, which were reluctantly surrendered.
‘Excellent, gentlemen!’ Kamion said. ‘Capital! Now, why don’t we all go back to work?’ He glanced at the window. ‘Pity it’s raining,’ he noted. ‘If it weren’t, we could all go fishing. Shall we adjourn?’
Daran rose from his chair, and Kamion and I followed him from the hall.
‘You haven’t really done me any favors, Kamion,’ Daran complained when we reached our impromptu office. ‘Now I have to read all that idiocy.’
‘It won’t take very long, your Highness,’ Kamion assured him. He went to the fireplace and dumped the contents of the basket into the flames. ‘Oops,’ he said. ‘How clumsy of me.’
Daran and I collapsed in helpless laughter.
In many respects, I think it was Kamion’s urbane and civilized manner that helped me through the difficult time after Beldaran’s death. He was very wise, absolutely loyal, and he had a charm about him that made everything he touched go smoothly. I knew his wife quite well – well enough to know that although she wasn’t happy about the way his duties kept him away from her, she understood that his position required him to spend long hours with Daran and me. There was never anything improper about the relationship between Kamion and me, but had our situation been different –
Well, there’s no need to go into that, is there?
It was early in the summer of the year 2038 that something came up that was far more serious than long-winded petitions to the throne sententiously delivered. Although the coast-line of the Isle of the Winds looks barren and hostile, the interior valleys are often lush and fertile – particularly in the southern part of the island. Rank among the Alorns was – still is, probably – based on the ownership of land suitable for agriculture, and those southern valleys are highly coveted. There was a Baron Garhein, a typical Alorn bully, who lived down there, and he had a son, Karak, who, as it turned out, was a drunken brute. Their neighbor, Baron Altor, had a daughter, Cellan, who was a beautiful, gentle, and cultured girl. After extensive haggling, Garhein and Altor arranged a marriage between their children, and the arrangements involved a dowry of land.
It was not a happy union. Karak came to the bridal chamber roaring drunk and forced his attentions on Cellan in the most brutal way imaginable. Things went downhill from there. Karak turned out to be a wife-beater, among other things, and word of this got back to Altor, who mounted an expedition to rescue his daughter. There were quite a few casualties on both sides, but Altor succeeded in taking his daughter home again. Then he declared the marriage null and void and took back the dowry. Garhein went up in flames – not so much about the wrecked marriage but rather about the loss of the land. The feud between the two began to expand as cousins, uncles, nephews, and the like enlisted on one side or the other. Solitary ploughmen were butchered, and crops and houses were burned.
Word of all this eventually reached the Citadel, and Daran, Kamion and I gathered in Kamion’s book-lined study to consider options.
‘They’re both very powerful men,’ Kamion told us gravely, ‘and they both have extended families. We’re going to have to take steps, or we’ll have another Arendia on our hands.’
‘Can a marriage actually be dissolved like that?’ Daran asked.
‘There are arguments on both sides about that, your Highness,’ Kamion replied. ‘In most cases, it depends on the relative power of the two fathers. If the husband’s father is the more powerful, the wife’s considered to be property. If it’s the other way around, she isn’t.’
Daran frowned. ‘Have I got a big enough army to go down there and force a settlement on those two hot-heads?’
‘I’d hold that in reserve, your Highness. Let’s try talking to them first. A general mobilization probably wouldn’t hurt, though. It’d be a demonstration of the fact that you aren’t happy about the situation.’