‘What shape is the treasury in, Aunt Pol?’ Daran asked me. ‘Can I afford a general mobilization?’

‘I suppose so – if you don’t drag it out too long.’ Then an idea came to me. ‘Why don’t we hold a tournament instead?’

‘I’m sorry, Aunt Pol, but I didn’t understand that.’

‘It’s an Arendish custom, your Highness,’ Kamion explained. ‘It’s a sort of military contest involving archery contests, mock sword-fights, axe throwing, jousting matches – that sort of thing.’

‘What’s jousting?’

‘Two armored men try to knock each other off the backs of their horses with twenty-foot lances.’

‘What a peculiar notion.’

‘We could probably skip over that part,’ Kamion said. ‘Alorns don’t usually fight on horseback.’ He looked at me. ‘It’s really a very good idea, Pol. It’d give Garhein and Altor an idea of just how much force the throne can muster, and the nobles would have to pay their own way. We make our point without emptying out the treasury.’

‘What if nobody comes?’ Daran fretted.

‘They’ll come, dear,’ I assured him. ‘It’s a chance to show off. The planting’s all done now, so there’s nothing really very pressing to keep people away. It’ll be an honor to be invited, so we can be fairly sure that every nobleman on the Isle will put in an appearance.’

‘Including Garhein and Altor?’

‘Exactly. We can summon them to the Citadel during the festivities. They’ll already be here in the city anyway, so they won’t be able to refuse.’

And we can make an object lesson of them,’ Kamion added. ‘There are other little disputes festering on various parts of the Isle. If you come down hard on Garhein and Altor, other nobles should get the point.’

‘That might be just a bit optimistic, Kamion,’ I suggested. ‘We are talking about Alorns, after all.’

The invitations to the games went out, and the City of Riva was teeming with burly Alorns when Altor and Garhein arrived. The fact that almost every able-bodied man on the Isle had responded to the Prince Regent’s invitation wasn’t lost on them. The regency wasn’t yet a year old, but Daran’s authority was already well-established. We gave the two feuding barons a bit of time to absorb that, and then Daran summoned them to the Citadel. The meeting was held in the throne room where all the symbols of power were much in evidence.

I’ll state candidly here that my sympathies were wholly on the side of Baron Altor and his daughter in the light of Karak’s open brutality, but I’ll have to admit that the differences between Garhein and Altor were very slight. Both of them were big, burly, bearded, and not very bright. They wore chain mail shirts, but no swords, since Kamion had prudently decided to have everyone who entered the throne room disarmed at the door. Garhein had rusty-colored hair that stuck out in all directions, while Altor had greased-down black hair that looked much like a wet horsetail streaming down his back. Though it was early in the day, the brutish Karak was already drunk. He was a flabby young man with a sparse beard and unkempt hair, and I could smell him from half-way across the throne room. Altor’s daughter, Cellan, was the only one of the group to appear even remotely civilized. She was pretty, in a blonde, busty, Alorn sort of way, but her blue eyes were every bit as hard as her father’s.

The feuding families had been prudently seated on opposite sides of the Hall of the Rivan King. Word of the meeting had spread, and the hall was filled with curious onlookers.

Daran, Kamion and I’d had plenty of time to lay out exactly what we were going to do, so the entire event was carefully staged. The palace guard had been turned out, of course, and armed, hulking soldiers in mail shirts lined the walls just to make sure that there wouldn’t be any interruptions or surprises. We’d had Daran’s chair and table removed from the dais, so when we entered the packed hall, my nephew went directly to his father’s throne and sat down.

That caused quite a stir.

‘All right, then,’ Daran said crisply, ‘let’s get down to business here.’ There was a no-nonsense tone in his voice indicating that he was fully in charge. ‘My father’s distressed by certain things that’ve been happening on the southern end of the Isle, and we don’t want to upset him any further, do we?’ He leaned forward. ‘My Lord Barons Garhein and Altor, come here.’ He pointed imperiously at a spot directly in front of the dais.

The two warring hot-heads approached warily.

‘I’m going to put a stop to all this nonsense right here and now,’ my sandy-haired nephew informed them. The next one of you who breaks the king’s peace had better start packing, because he’ll be moving immediately to the northern end of the Isle.’

‘Your Highness!’ Garhein protested. ‘It’s all rock up there! Nobody can live on the northern end of the Isle!’

‘If you draw your sword one more time, Garhein, you’ll get a chance to try. You could probably raise goats. Goats eat almost anything.’

Garhein’s son Karak lurched to his feet. ‘You can’t do that!’ he bellowed at Daran in a drunken voice.

‘Can you sober this fool up, Aunt Pol?’ Daran asked me.

‘Of course,’ I replied.

‘Would you, please?’

We’d been fairly certain that the beer-soaked Karak would interrupt at some point in the proceedings, so I was fully prepared.

Daran had already demonstrated his power. Now it was my turn. The fact that Elthek, the Rivan Deacon, was in attendance made my performance a bit excessive, I’ll admit. Daran, Kamion and I were spreading object lessons in all directions that day. ‘Bring that drunkard here,’ I instructed the huge Master of the Guard.

‘At once, Lady Polgara,’ the vastly bearded soldier replied. He bulled his way through the startled crowd, grasped Karak by the scruff of the neck and dragged him to the front of the Hall.

I held out my hand, snapped my fingers and willed a tankard to be there. Then I took a glass vial from my sleeve and poured the contents into the tankard. I raised the oversized cup and said, ‘Beer.’ There was an absolute silence in the Hall, so the sound of the stream of foamy, amber beer pouring out of empty air above the tankard was clearly audible. I glanced at Elthek and noted with some satisfaction that his eyes were bulging and his mouth gaped open. People who pretend to perform magic are always very startled when they encounter the real thing. Then I advanced on the cringing, smelly Karak. ‘Now be a good boy and drink this,’ I instructed.

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