‘Of course not, father. I know better than that. The Duke of Vo Astur has an open sore on the lining of his stomach now. It provides him with all sorts of entertainment, and it keeps him out of mischief. That was five years ago, and there hasn’t been a major battle in Arendia since I visited Vo Astur.’
‘You’ve made peace in Arendia?’ I was stunned.
‘A temporary peace, father,’ she corrected. ‘It’s probably too early to tell if it’s permanent. I’ll ulcerate stomachs from one end of Arendia to the other if I have to in order to put an end to this foolishness, though. Duke Alleran was very grateful, and that’s why I’m the Duchess of Erat now.’
‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ I exclaimed. ‘It’s so simple. You ended the Arendish civil wars with a belly-ache.’ I bowed to her. ‘I’m proud of you, your Grace.’
‘Why, thank you, father,’ she beamed. Then she pursed her lips thoughtfully. ‘The congratulations might be a little premature, though. As soon as there’s a new duke in either Vo Mimbre or Vo Astur, hostilities might break out again. I think I’d better stay here in Vo Wacune. These Wacites are the least aggressive of the Arends, and I have a certain amount of authority here because of my friendship with the duke’s family. Possibly I can guide them in the right direction. Somebody in Arendia is going to have to take the role of peacemaker. Give me a little time here, and I might just be able to establish a custom. Maybe I can get the Mimbrates and Asturians into the habit of bringing their disputes to Vo Wacune for mediation instead of trying to solve them on the battlefield.’
‘That’s a lot to hope for in Arendia, Pol.’
She shrugged. ‘It’s worth a try. Go get cleaned up, father. There’s a grand ball at the ducal palace tonight, and we’ve been invited - well, I have, but you can come along as my personal guest.’
‘A grand ball, father - music, dancing, polite conversation, that sort of thing.’
‘I don’t dance, Pol.’
She smiled sweetly at me. ‘I’m sure you’ll pick it up in no time, old wolf. You’re a very clever fellow. Now go bathe and trim your beard. Don’t embarrass me in public.’
I moved around quite a bit during the next six hundred years or so, but Polgara remained in Vo Wacune. Her assessment of the Wacite Arends proved to be essentially correct, and with her there to guide them, they were able to keep a tentative peace in Arendia.
The virtual destruction of the Nadraks had persuaded the cadaverous Ctuchik to pull in his horns, so there was even an uneasy peace along the eastern frontier.
As I’d promised Dellon’s father, the Borunes ascended the throne of Tolnedra - 2537 or so, I believe it was. The Vorduvians and the Honethites had been passing the crown back and forth between them for centuries, so when Ran Vordue XX died without an heir, the Honeths assumed that it was their turn again. There were several Honethite nobles who felt that they were qualified, and the resulting divisions in that family were severe enough to deadlock the Council of Advisors. I’ve heard that the bribes were astronomical. Ultimately, a southern council-member rather tentatively placed the name of the Grand Duke of the Borunes in nomination. The Vorduvians and the Horbites had not been pleased at the prospect of several centuries of Honethite misrule, so they dropped their own candidates and swung their support to the Borunes. Since the Honeths were still divided, they had no single candidate, and the crown went to the Borunes almost by default.
Ran Borune I was a very capable emperor. The major problem in Tolnedra at that time was still the ongoing raids along the coast by Cherek freebooters. Ran Borune took steps almost as soon as his coronation was over. He pulled the legions out of their garrisons and put them to work building the highway that now connects Tol Vordue and Tol Horb. He didn’t make the legions happy by doing that, but he remained firm. He got his highway, but that was more in the nature of a bonus. His real purpose in the project was to spread his legions out along the coast to repel the Chereks no matter where they came ashore. All in all, it worked out rather well. I’d spent quite some time in Val Alorn trying to talk sense into various Cherek kings, without much success. Inevitably, they’d piously declare that they were merely following the instructions Belar had given them after the Tolnedran invasion of Maragor. I’d tried to point out that Tolnedra had been sufficiently punished by now, but they’d refused to listen to me. I suspect that the loot they were picking up in Tolnedran cities might have had something to do with that upsurge of religious enthusiasm. When their raiding parties started encountering the legions, however, their piety began to cool, and other parts of the world became much more interesting.
I think it was about 2940 when I happened to swing by Vo Wacune to see how Polgara was doing. I may have gotten there just in time. Her Grace, the Duchess of Erat, was in love. I knew she’d been spending too much time in Arendia.
She was in her marble-walled garden tending roses when I arrived. ‘Well, old wolf,’ she greeted me, ‘what have you been up to?’
I shrugged. ‘This and that,’ I replied.
‘Is the world still in one piece?’
‘More or less. I’ve had to patch it a few times, though.’
‘Would you look at this?’ she said, cutting a rose and handing it to me. It was a white rose, but not entirely. The tips of the petals were a pale lavender.
‘Very nice,’ I said.
‘That’s all you can say? Very nice? It’s beautiful, father. Ontrose developed it just for me.’
‘He’s the man I’m going to marry, father - just as soon as he gets up the nerve to ask me.’
What was this? I got very careful at that point. ‘Interesting idea, Pol. Send him around and we’ll talk about it.’
‘You don’t approve.’
‘I didn’t say that. Have you thought your way completely through the notion, though?’
‘Yes, father, I have.’
‘And the drawbacks didn’t persuade you to think about it a little more?’
‘What drawbacks were those?’
‘Well, in the first place, there’s quite a difference in your ages, I’d imagine. He’s probably not much over thirty, and if I remember correctly, you’re about nine hundred and fifty.’
‘Nine hundred and forty, actually. What’s that got to do with it?’
‘You’ll outlive him, Pol. He’ll be old before you’ve turned around twice.’
‘I think I’m entitled to a little bit of happiness, father - even if it doesn’t last very long.’
‘And were you planning to have children?’
‘The chances are very good that they’ll have normal life-spans as well, you know. You won’t get old. They will.’
‘Don’t try to talk me out of this, father.’
‘I’m not. I’m just pointing out a few realities to you. You remember how you felt when Beldaran died, don’t you? Do you really want to go through that again - a half-dozen times or so?’
‘I can endure it, father. Maybe if I get married, my life will become normal. Maybe I’ll get old as well.’
‘I wouldn’t make any large wagers on that, Pol. You’ve still got a lot of things to do, and if I’m reading the Mrin Codex correctly, you’re going to be around for a long time. I’m very sorry, Pol, but we aren’t normal. You’ve been here for almost a thousand years, and I’ve been kicking around for nearly five.’
‘You got married,’ she accused.
‘I was supposed to, and your mother was very different. She lived longer, for one thing.’
‘Maybe marrying me will extend Ontrose’s life as well.’
‘I wouldn’t count on it. It might seem longer to him, though.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘You’re not the easiest person in the world to get along with, Pol.’
Her eyes turned cold. ‘I think we’ve just about exhausted the possibilities of this conversation, father. Go back to the Vale and keep your nose out of my affairs.’
‘Don’t throw the word “affair” around like that, Pol. It makes me nervous.’
She drew herself up. ‘That will do, father,’ she told me. Then she turned and stormed away.
I stayed around for another couple of weeks, and I even met Ontrose. He was a nice enough young fellow, I suppose, and he seemed to understand the situation much better than Pol did. He adored her, of course, but he was fully aware of just how long she’d been in Vo Wacune - about six hundred years if my arithmetic is correct. I was fairly sure that he was not going to ask her any inappropriate questions, no matter how much she might have wanted him to.
Finally, I left and started back for the Vale. I have certain advantages, so I was fairly sure that nothing was going to come of Pol’s infatuation. She’s frequently mentioned in both the Darine and the Mrin Codex, but there’s no reference to a husband until much later. Either she was going to come to her senses, or Ontrose would live out his life without ever asking her to marry him. In either case nothing embarrassing was likely to happen.
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