He looked at the tankard as if it were a snake and put both his hands behind his back.
‘Make him drink it, Sergeant,’ Daran instructed the Master of the Guard.
‘My pleasure, your Highness,’ the big soldier replied. He roughly seized one of the drunkard’s hands and interlaced his fingers with Karak’s. ‘Drink it!’ he thundered.
Karak struggled weakly.
Then the soldier began to squeeze – slowly. The sergeant had shoulders like an ox and hands the size of hams. He probably could have made a rock bleed just by squeezing it.
Karak rose up on his tiptoes, squealing like a pig.
‘Drink it!’ the Sergeant repeated.
‘Your Highness!’ Garhein protested.
‘Shut up!’ Daran snapped. ‘You people will learn to do as I tell you!’
The sergeant continued to squeeze Karak’s hand in that overpowering grip of his, and the drunkard finally snatched the tankard from my hand and noisily drank it.
‘Ah, Sergeant,’ I said to the soldier, ‘I expect that our young friend here might start feeling unwell in a few moments. Why don’t you take him over near the wall so he doesn’t splash all over everybody?’
The sergeant grinned broadly and dragged Karak off to one side where the sodden young man became noisily ill.
‘Lady Cellan,’ Daran said then, ‘would you be so good as to approach the throne for a moment?’
Cellan obediently, though a little hesitantly, came to the dais.
‘Do you wish to return to your husband?’ Daran asked.
‘Never!’ she burst out. ‘I’ll kill myself first! He beats me, your Highness. Every time he gets drunk – which is every day – he takes his fists to me.’
‘I see.’ Daran’s face hardened. ‘No decent man ever hits a woman,’ he declared, ‘so, by order of the throne, the marriage of Karak and Cellan is hereby dissolved.’
‘You can’t do that!’ Garhein roared. ‘It’s a woman’s duty to submit to her husband’s chastisement when she misbehaves.’
‘It’s also a nobleman’s duty to submit to chastisement from the throne when he misbehaves,’ Kamion advised him. ‘You’re pressing your luck, Baron Garhein.’
‘Now we come to the question of the ownership of that parcel of land,’ Daran said.
‘The land is mine!’ Garhein bellowed.
‘It’s mine!’ Altor countered. ‘It reverted to me entirely when his Highness dissolved the marriage.’
‘Actually, dear chaps,’ Kamion said smoothly, ‘the land belongs to the crown. The entire island does. You hold all your land in trust – at the crown’s pleasure.’
‘We could probably argue the fine points of the law for weeks,’ Daran said, ‘but legal arguments are very boring, so, in order to save time – and bloodshed – we’ll simply divide that disputed parcel of land right down the middle. Half goes to Baron Garhein, and Half to Baron Altor.’
‘Unthinkable!’ Garhein protested.
‘Start thinking about goats then, Garhein, or landless vagabondage. You will do as I tell you to do.’ Then my nephew’s eyes narrowed. ‘Now, just to keep you two and your assorted partisans and kinsmen out of mischief, you’re going to build a fifteen-foot wall right down the middle of that parcel of land. It’ll give you something to do, and it’ll keep you away from each other. I want to see a lot of progress on that wall, gentlemen, and I want to see both of you out there carrying rocks, too. You’re not going to just pass this off to your underlings.’
‘That’s twenty miles, your Highness!’ Altor gasped.
‘Is that all? You should be able to finish up in a decade or two, then. I want you to go to opposite ends and start building. I’ll have the sergeant here mark the exact center and you can think of it as a race. I might even let the winner keep his head as a prize. Lord Brand knows the name of every one of your partisans, and they’ll be joining you in your great work – either willingly or in chains. Have I made myself clear?’
They glowered at him, but wisely chose not to say anything.
‘I’d suspect that you gentlemen aren’t going to be popular among your kinsmen,’ Kamion noted. ‘I suggest that you wear mail shirts during the construction – just as a precaution.’
‘Now we come to that sick fellow over in the corner,’ Daran said, rising from his father’s throne rather grimly.
By now Karak had pretty much emptied his stomach of everything he’d eaten or drunk for the past several weeks. He was pale and trembling violently when the hulking sergeant dragged him back to the dais.
‘Decent men don’t beat their wives, Karak,’ Daran said, ‘so I’m going to teach you decency right here and now.’ He reached behind the throne and picked up a long, limber whip.
‘You can’t!’ Garhein almost screamed. ‘My son’s a nobleman!’
‘You and I seem to have conflicting definitions of nobility, Garhein,’ Daran told him. ‘Since this sodden beast is your son, though, I’ll defer to you in the matter. I’m either going to flog him or chop off both his hands. Take your pick.’
‘Behanding him would keep him from hitting women, your Highness,’ Kamion noted clinically, ‘and it might cut down on his drinking, too – unless he’d like to lap his beer out of a bowl like a dog.’
‘Good point, Lord Brand,’ Daran noted. He reached up and took down his father’s sword, which leaped joyously into bright blue flame. ‘Well, Garhein?’ he said, ‘which is it going to be?’ He held out the flaming sword in one hand and the whip in the other.
Garhein gaped at him.
‘Answer me!’ Daran roared.
‘Th-the whip, your Highness,’ Garhein stammered.
‘Wise choice,’ Kamion murmured. ‘Having a son and heir without any hands could be so demeaning.’
Then the Master of the Guard, who’d obviously already been instructed upon what to do, ripped off Karak’s doublet, kicked his feet out from under him and seized him by one ankle. ‘Just to keep him from crawling under the furniture, your Highness,’ he explained, firmly planting his foot on Karak’s other ankle.
‘Thank you, Sergeant,’ Daran said. Then he hung the sword back up, let his cloak fall to the floor, removed his doublet, and rolled up his sleeves. ‘Pushing right along then,’ he said and proceeded to flog the screaming, squirming drunkard to within an inch of his life. Cellan, I noticed, loved every minute of it. Alorns are such a simple, uncomplicated people at times.