She sighed a rather sweet little sigh. ‘I know,’ she said, ‘but I never got the chance to play with it. What’s it like to have everybody around you dumbstruck with adoration?’
‘I rather like it.’ I laughed. They’re all very foolish, though. If you’re hungry for adoration, get yourself a puppy.’
She also laughed. ‘I wonder if all young men are as silly as these Rivans are. I’d sort of hate to be the queen of the idiots.’
‘Mother says that it’s more or less universal,’ I told her, ‘and it’s not just humans. Wolves are the same way, and so are rabbits. She says that all young males have what she calls “urges”. The Gods arranged it that way, I guess – so that there’ll always be a lot of puppies.’
‘That’s a depressing turn of phrase, Pol. It sort of implies that all I’m here for is to produce babies.’
‘Mother says that passes after a while. I guess it’s supposed to be fun, so enjoy it while you can.’
‘Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go break a few hearts.’
There was a large hall near the center of the Citadel that seemed to be where the members of Riva’s court gathered for fun and games. The throne room was reserved for more formal occasions, and unlike the rowdy throne room in Val Alorn where the Chereks mixed business and pleasure, Riva’s Citadel had separate places for separate activities. The door to the hall was open, and I peeked around the edge of that door to assess my competition.
Rivan girls, like all Alorns, tend to be blonde, and I saw an immediate advantage there. My dark hair would make me stand out in the middle of what appeared to be a wheat field. The young people in that large room were doing young-people things, flirting, showing off, and the like. I waited, biding my time until one of those lulls in the general babble hushed the room. Somehow I instinctively knew that the hush would eventually come. That was when I’d make my appearance. Entrances are very important in these circumstances.
I finally got a little tired of waiting. ‘Make them be still, mother,’ I pleaded with the presence that had been in my mind since before I was born.
‘Oh, dear,’ mother sighed.
Then a hush fell over the brightly dressed throng.
I’d considered the notion of some kind of fanfare, but that might have been just a trifle ostentatious. Instead, I simply stepped into the precise center of the doorway and stopped, waiting for them all to notice me. My blue gown was rather nice, so I was sure I’d attract attention.
I think mother – or possibly Aldur – had fallen in with my scheme. There was a fairly large window high in the wall opposite the door and after I’d stood in the doorway for a moment, the sun broke through the clouds which almost perpetually veiled the Isle, and its light came through the window to fall full upon me.
That was even better than a fanfare. I stood regally in the middle of that sun-flooded doorway, letting all the eyes in the room feast themselves on me.
Dear Gods, that was enjoyable!
All right, it was vain and a little silly. So what? I was young.
There was a small group of musicians at the far end of the room – I’d hardly call them an orchestra – and they struck up a tune as I regally entered the hall. As I’d rather hoped they would, most of the young men began to move in my general direction, each of them mentally refining some opening remark that he hoped would get my attention. You have no idea how strained and inane some of those remarks were. After about the fourth time someone compared my eyes to a spring sky, I began to realize that unrestrained creativity was not exactly rampant among adolescents. It somehow seemed that I was adrift in a sea of platitudes. I got compared to summer days, starry nights, and dark, snow-capped peaks – a rather obvious reference to the white streak in my hair. They swarmed around me like a flock of sparrows, elbowing each other out of the way. The Rivan girls began to look a little sulky about the whole business.
A young blond fellow in a green doublet – quite handsome, actually – pushed his way to the forefront of my suitors and bowed rather floridly. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘Lady Polgara, I presume?’ That was a novel approach. He gave me a rather sly smile. ‘Tedious, isn’t it? All this empty conversation, I mean. How much time can one really spend talking about the weather?’
That earned him a few dark looks as a number of my suitors hastily revised their opening remarks.
‘I’m certain you and I can find something more pleasant to talk about,’ he continued smoothly, ‘politics, theology, or current fashion, if you’d like.’ He actually seemed to have a mind.
‘We might want to think about that a bit,’ I countered. ‘What’s your name?’
He slapped his forehead in feigned chagrin. ‘How stupid of me,’ he said. ‘How could I possibly have been so absentminded?’ He sighed theatrically. ‘It’s a failing of mine, I’m afraid. Sometimes I think I need a keeper.’ He gave me a sly look. ‘Would you care to volunteer for the post?’ he offered.
‘You still haven’t told me your name,’ I reminded him, ignoring his offer.
‘You really shouldn’t let me get sidetracked that way, Lady Polgara,’ he chided gently. ‘Before I forget again, I’m Kamion, an incipient baron – just as soon as my childless uncle dies. Where were we?’
I’ll confess that I liked him. His approach had some genuine originality, and his little-boy manner was appealing. I realized at that point that this whole business might just be a bit more challenging than I’d expected. Not all of my suitors were freshly weaned puppies. Some of them even had brains. That was rather refreshing. After all, if you’ve seen one furiously wagging tail, you’ve seen them all. I actually experienced a slight twinge of disappointment when the swarming suitors swept Kamion away.
The platitudes came thick and fast after that, but nobody chose to talk about the weather for some reason.
The Rivan girls grew sulkier and sulkier, and just to tweak them a little more I dispensed a number of dazzlingly regal smiles. My suitors found those smiles absolutely enchanting; the girls didn’t.
The afternoon progressed in a very satisfactory way, and then the musicians – lutanists for the most part – struck up a new tune, and a thin, weedy young man dressed all in black and wearing a studiously melancholy expression pushed his way forward. ‘Would you care to dance, Lady Polgara?’ he asked me in a broken-hearted tone. He bowed. ‘Permit me to introduce myself. I’m Merot the poet, and I might be able to compose a sonnet for you while we dance.’