‘You Nyissans have very short memories, Podiss,’ Eldrig said angrily. ‘If you haven’t got a history book with you, I’ll send for one. You might want to look over the chapter that deals with what happened to Nyissa in the year four thousand and two after Salmissra murdered King Gorek.’

Then Mergon stood up. ‘Let’s not start threatening each other, gentlemen. This is supposed to be a peace conference, remember?’ He paused thoughtfully. ‘I yield to no one in my admiration for the Rivan Warder. I greet Lord Brand in the name of my emperor, and extend him an invitation to come to Tol Honeth so that Ran Borune may honor him as befits the foremost warrior of the west. Let us not, however, rush into unchangeable decisions in the first flush of admiration and gratitude. I’m sure that noble Brand would be the first to agree that the arts of war and the arts of peace have very little in common, and they’re seldom linked in one man. A battle is soon over, but the burdens of peace grow heavier with each passing year.’ He paused again, and then he spoke rather firmly. ‘I’m troubled by this talk of Aloria, gentlemen. I’ve heard of Cherek and Drasnia and Algaria, and all the world knows about the Isle of the Winds and unassailable Riva. But where is this Aloria? What are its boundaries? Where is its capital? There hasn’t been a place called Aloria since the days of Cherek Bear-shoulders. I’m startled by this sudden re-emergence of a kingdom long buried in the mists of antiquity. Imperial Tolnedra must deal with mundane reality. We can’t send emissaries to the court of the King of the Fairies. We can’t conclude a treaty with the Emperor of the Moon. We can only have commerce with earthly kingdoms. Myth and legend, however grand, can’t enter into the affairs of the empire; not if we want to keep any kind of stability in the world.’

I could see Eldrig’s face getting redder and redder. Mergon was definitely pushing his luck.

‘I’m puzzled about something else as well,’ Ran Borune’s spokesman went on. ‘Why have you all suddenly decided to disregard long-standing covenants and treaties? You’ve all signed those treaties with the empire, and now you’re just throwing them out the window. Is it really wise to offend Ran Borune? Particularly in view of the size of his army?’

‘Listen to me, Mergon,’ Eldrig growled pugnaciously. ‘Aloria’s where I say it is, and I’ve got a big enough army to back me up. If you want to go back to Tol Honeth to report what we’ve decided here, go right ahead. My war-boats move fast enough that I’ll probably be there before you make it. If I have to, I’ll explain the situation to Ran Borune myself. Then I’ll go on to Sthiss Tor and do the same for Salmissra.’

‘That should do, Eldrig,’ the Gorim said at that point. ‘We’re starting to approach that second battle of Vo Mimbre that King Ormik mentioned. One battle here is quite enough, wouldn’t you say? You Alorn kings want to appoint Brand Overlord of the West - because he’s an Alorn. Tolnedra and Nyissa don’t mind honoring him, but they’re not really interested in submitting to his Overlordship - also because he’s an Alorn. Let’s back away from this incipient war. We’ve managed to get enough people killed already. The plain fact is that no one man can rule the entire west, so let’s just drop that notion right here and now. I think I know Brand well enough to know that he wouldn’t accept that crown if you offered it to him.’

‘Well put, Holy Gorim,’ Brand agreed fervently. ‘I hate to disappoint you, Eldrig, but I’m not this Overlord of yours. Go find somebody else to saddle with the title.’

‘We can’t just do nothing, Brand!’ Eldrig protested. ‘You killed Torak. We’ve got to find some way to honor you for that. How about a contribution from all our treasuries or something?’

‘A suggestion, perhaps?’ Gorim interposed. ‘Why not give Brand an imperial Tolnedran princess to be his wife? That’s probably the greatest honor Tolnedra can bestow.’

‘I’ve already got a wife, Holy One,’ Brand told him, ‘and only a madman wants more than one. I don’t need a crown; I don’t need a Tolnedran princess; and I don’t need the treasuries of the other kingdoms. What do Rivans need with treasure?’ He put his hand on his shield. ‘In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve already got one, and our race has guarded it with our lives for over two thousand years now. Would you inflict another treasure on us to guard? How many lives do we have? The Gorim’s right. I can’t sit in Riva and run the world. If something came up somewhere in Nyissa or down in the Caves of Ulgo, it’d be months before I even heard about it. Not only that, I serve Belar. I think we might offend Nedra and Issa and Chaldan if I assumed some kind of Overlordship, not to mention that UL might object. If there is going to be an Overlord, the appointment’s going to have to come from the Gods, not from men.’

It was at that point that I decided to put down this nonsense for good and all. I stood up.

‘Gladly will we hear the counsel of the Eternal Man,’ Gorim murmured.

‘Glad or not, you’re going to get it,’ I said bluntly. ‘What in the names of all the Gods possessed you to come up with this absurd idea, Eldrig? Brand’s not the one who’s going to be the Overlord. Surely you realize that.’

Eldrig looked a little embarrassed. ‘Well, he did beat Torak, didn’t he? I thought I could take it one step further, is all.’ Then he threw up his hands. ‘All right, I was pushing. I’ll admit it. I was hoping that this was the final EVENT. I wanted it to happen during my lifetime, so I thought I might be able to bend the prophecy a little. I was probably wrong. I’m sorry. The Mrin could mean Brand, though, couldn’t it?’

‘Absolutely not,’ Beltira told him. ‘The Rivan King is going to be Overlord, not the Rivan Warder.’

‘Well,’ Eldrig floundered weakly, ‘I thought that Brand was almost the same as a king.’

‘Not from where I sit, I’m not,’ Brand told him.

‘Just forget that I even mentioned it,’ Eldrig gave up.

‘You can count on that,’ I said.

‘The Overlord will come, though, Belgarath,’ the Gorim reminded me.

‘I know.’

‘Will you be here to guide him?’

‘Probably so. I don’t feel any symptoms of incipient mortality coming over me yet. Pol and I’ll take care of it when the time comes. We’ve been at it for a long time now.’

‘The Mrin does say that the Overlord’s going to marry a Tolnedran Princess, you know.’

‘I know all about it, Gorim. I’m the one who introduced the Dryad strain into the Borune line to get ready for it.’

‘What is this Mrin thing you people keep talking about?’ Mergon demanded. ‘I thought that the Mrin was a river in Drasnia.’

‘It’s an Alorn holy book, your Excellency,’ Pol told him. ‘It foretells the future.’

‘I’m sorry, Lady Polgara, but nothing foretells the future.’

‘It hasn’t been wrong yet, your Excellency,’ Beltira disagreed.

‘That’s probably because it’s so general that it doesn’t really mean anything,’ Mergon scoffed.

‘No, actually it’s very specific. It’s hard to read, but once you unravel it, it tells you exactly what’s going to happen.’

‘Only if you believe, Master Beltira. I’ve seen the holy books of other races, and they mean absolutely nothing to me.’

‘That’s probably Nedra’s doing, Mergon,’ I said. ‘Nedra doesn’t like mysticism of any kind. You’ve got a very practical God. Let’s move along, gentlemen. If we’re going to come up with a set of accords here, we’d better get at it - unless you’d all like to just sign blank pieces of parchment. I could fill in the contents later, if you’d rather do it that way.’

‘Nice try, Belgarath,’ Beldin chuckled. ‘Just exactly what has to be in these accords?’

I turned to the twins. ‘You two are the experts. What does the Mrin say? How much should we nail down, and how much can we just leave open?’

‘I think we’ll want to establish the marriage of the king and the princess,’ Beltira replied. ‘That almost has to be agreed upon.’

‘And the Overlordship as well,’ Belkira added. ‘That must be in the accords so that there won’t be any question about it when the time comes. The Rivan King’s going to have to give certain orders, and the kings of the other nations are going to have to obey them. Otherwise Torak’s going to win next time.’

‘Will you people talk sense?’ Mergon burst out. ‘There is no Rivan King. That line died with King Gorek.’

‘Oh, just tell him, Belgarath,’ Rhodar said disgustedly. ‘He’ll argue about it for a week if you don’t.’

‘And have him spread the information all over Tol Honeth? Be serious, Rhodar.’

‘I’m a diplomat, Belgarath,’ Mergon said in an offended tone of voice. ‘I know how to keep secrets.’

‘You might as well go ahead and tell him, father,’ Polgara told me. ‘He’s going to start making some educated guesses anyway before we go much further with this.’

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