‘I’m very sorry, my lord Merot,’ I replied, ‘but I’ve lived in isolation, so I don’t really know how to dance.’ It wasn’t true, of course. Beldaran and I had been inventing dances since we were children, but I was fairly certain that the rhythm of a meadowlark’s song might be just a little difficult for this self-proclaimed poet to comprehend.
Merot was obviously a poseur, but so were most of the others. He seemed to think that his carefully manicured short black beard and tragic expression made him irresistible to all the girls. I didn’t have too much trouble resisting him, though. Maybe it was his rancid breath that made me keep my distance.
‘Ah,’ he responded to my confession of terpsichorean ineptitude, ‘what a pity.’ Then his gloomy eyes brightened. ‘I could give you private lessons, if you’d like.’
‘We might discuss that sometime,’ I parried, still staying back from that foul breath.
‘Might I offer you a poem then?’ he suggested.
That would be nice.’
What a mistake that was! Merot assumed an oratorical stance and began to recite in a tediously slow manner with that gloomy voice of his. He spoke as if the fate of the universe hung on his every word. I didn’t notice the sun darken, though, or feel any earthquakes.
He went on and on and on, and his pose as a poet was much, much better than his actual verse. Of course I wasn’t really acquainted with poetry at that stage of my life, but it seemed to me that lingering lovingly over every single syllable is not really the best way to keep the attention of your audience. At first I found him tedious. Tedious descended rather rapidly into boring, and boring disintegrated into near despair. I rather theatrically rolled my eyes upward. Several of my suitors caught the hint immediately and moved in to rescue me.
Merot was still standing in the same place reciting as the crowd flowed away from him. He might have loved me, but he obviously loved himself more.
The other ladies in the room were growing increasingly discontented, I noticed. Despite their fairly obvious expressions of invitation, the dance floor remained deserted. My suitors evidently didn’t want to be distracted. Quite a few of the ladies pled headaches and quietly left the room. It might have been my imagination, but after they left I seemed to hear a gnawing sound – a sound that was remarkably like the sound of someone eating her own liver. There was a certain musical quality about that to my ears.
Then, as evening began to descend upon the Isle of the Winds, Taygon came up to join me. Taygon did not have to elbow his way through the crowd. Everybody got out of his way. He was big. He was burly. He was garbed in chain mail. He had a huge blond beard. He wore a sword. ‘Lady Polgara!’ he said in a booming voice, ‘I’ve been looking for you!’
That was ominous. ‘I’m Taygon the Warrior. I’m sure you’ve heard of me. My deeds are renowned throughout the length and breadth of Aloria.’
‘I’m terribly sorry, Lord Taygon,’ I apologized in mock confusion. ‘I grew up in almost total isolation, so I don’t really know what’s going on in the world – besides, I’m just a silly girl.’
‘I’ll kill any man who says so!’ He glared at the others threateningly.
How on earth was I going to deal with this barbarian? Then I made a mistake – one of several that day. ‘Ah –’ I floundered, ‘since I’ve been so out of touch, I’d be enthralled to hear of some of your exploits.’
Please be a little more forgiving. I was an absolute novice that day, after all.
‘My pleasure, Lady Polgara.’ It might have been his pleasure, but it certainly wasn’t mine. Did he have to be so graphic? As he spoke, I suddenly found myself awash in a sea of blood and looking out at an entire mountain range of loose brains. Brightly colored entrails snarled around my feet, and disconnected extremities floated by – twitching.
It was only by a supreme act of will that I was able to keep from throwing up all over the front of his chain-mail shirt.
Then dear, dear Kamion rescued me. ‘Excuse me, Sir Taygon, but Lady Polgara’s sister, our future queen, requires her presence. I know that we’ll all be made desolate by her absence, but a royal command cannot be disobeyed. I’m certain that a warrior of your vast experience can understand the importance of obeying orders.’
‘Oh, of course, Kamion,’ Taygon replied automatically. He bowed clumsily to me. ‘You must hurry, Lady Polgara. We mustn’t keep the Queen waiting.’
I curtsied to him, not trusting myself to answer. Then Kamion took my elbow and guided me away.
‘When you come back,’ Taygon called after me, ‘I’ll tell you about how I disemboweled an offensive Arend.’
‘I can hardly wait,’ I said rather weakly over my shoulder.
‘Do you really want to hear about it, my Lady?’ Kamion murmured to me.
‘Frankly, my dear Kamion, I’d sooner take poison’
He laughed. ‘I rather thought you might feel that way about it. Your face was definitely taking on a slight greenish cast there toward the end.’
Oh, Kamion was smooth. I began to admire him almost in spite of myself.
‘Well?’ my sister asked when I rejoined her, ‘how was it?’
‘Just wonderful!’ I replied exultantly. They were all smitten with me. I was the absolute center of attention.’
‘You’ve got a cruel streak in you, Polgara.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘I’ve been cooped up in here all afternoon, and you’ve come back to rub my nose in all your conquests.’
‘Would I do that?’ I asked her archly.
‘Of course you would. I can see you absolutely running through the halls to get back so that you could gloat’ Then she laughed. ‘I’m sorry, Pol. I couldn’t resist that.’
‘You’re above all that now, Beldaran,’ I told her. ‘You’ve already caught the man you want. I’m still fishing.’
‘I’m not sure that I’m the one who really caught him. There were a lot of other people involved in that fishing trip, too: Aldur, father – mother, too, probably. The notion of an arranged marriage is just a little humiliating.’
‘You do love Riva, don’t you?’
‘Of course. It’s humiliating all the same. All right, tell me what happened. I want every single detail.’
I described my afternoon, and my sister and I spent a great deal of our time laughing. Even as I had, Beldaran particularly enjoyed the reaction of the Rivan girls.