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Epic heroic fantasy in the great traditiON - 28

that they didn't return as soon as the soldiers rode off. The villagers had
opened their doors to the Duke's party, welcoming them and offering
their best food and warmest beds. Poor offerings by the Duke's standards,
yet he received their hospitality with graciousness, for he knew it
was all they had. Pug enjoyed the simple food and company, the closest
yet to home since he had left Crydee.
when they were a half day's ride short of Salador they encountered a
patrol of city guards. The guard captain rode forward. Pulling up his
horse, he shouted, "What business brings the Prince's guard to the
lands of Salador?" There was little love lost between the two cities, and
the Krondorians rode without a heraldic banner. His tone left no doubt
that he regarded their presence as an infringement upon his territory.
Duke Borric threw back his cloak, revealing his tabard. "Carry word to
your master that Borric, Duke of Crydee, approaches the city and would
avail himself of Lord Kerus's hospitality."
The guard captain was taken aback. He stammered, "My apologies,
Your Grace. I had no idea . . . there was no banner. . . ."
Arutha said dryly, "We mislaid it in a forest sometime back."
The captain looked confused. "My lord?"
Borric said, "Never mind, Captain. Just send word to your master."
The captain saluted. "At once, Your Grace." He wheeled his horse
and signaled for a rider to come forward. He gave him instructions, and
the soldier spurred his horse toward the city and soon galloped out of
The captain returned to the Duke. "If Your Grace will permit, my
men are at your disposal."
The Duke looked at the travel-weary Krondorians, all of whom
seemed to be enjoying the captain's discomfort. "I think thirty men-atarms
are sufficient, Captain. The Salador city guard is renowned for
keeping the environs near the city free of brigands."
The captain, not realizing he was being made sport of, seemed to puff
up at this. "Thank you, Your Grace."
The Duke said, "You and your men may continue your patrol."
The captain saluted again and returned to his men. He shouted the
order to move out, and the guard column moved past the Duke's party.
As they passed the captain ordered a salute, and lances were dipped
toward the Duke. Borric returned the salute with a lazy wave of his
hand, then when the guards had passed, said, "Enough of this foolishness,
let us to Salador."
Arutha laughed and said, "Father, we have need of men like that in
the West."
Borric turned and said, "Oh? How so?"
As the horses moved forward, Arutha said, "To polish shields and
The Duke smiled and the Krondorians laughed. The western soldiers
held those of the East in low regard. The East had been pacified long
before the West had been opened to Kingdom expansion, and there was
little trouble in the Eastern Realm requiring real skill in warcraft. The
Prince of Krondor's guards were battle-proved veterans, while those of
Salador were considered by the guardsmen from the West to do their
best soldiering on the parade ground.
Soon they saw signs that they were nearing the city: cultivated farmland,
villages, roadside taverns, and wagons laden with trade goods. By
sundown they could see the walls of distant Salador.
As they entered the city, a full company of Duke Kerus's own household
guards lined the streets to the palace. As in Krondor, there was no
castle, for the need for a small, easily defensible keep had passed as the
lands around became civilized.
Riding through the city, Pug realized how much of a frontier town
Crydee was. In spite of Lord Borric's political power, he was still Lord of
a frontier province.
Along the streets, citizens stood gawking at the western Duke from
the wild frontier of the Far Coast. Some cheered, for it seemed like a
parade, but most stood quietly, disappointed that the Duke and his
party looked like other men, rather than blood-drenched barbarians.
When they reached the courtyard of the palace, household servants
ran to take their horses. A household guard showed the soldiers from
Krondor to the soldiers' commons, where they would rest before returning
to the Prince's city. Another, with a captain's badge of rank on
his tunic, led Borric's party up the steps of the building.
Pug looked with wonder, for this palace was even larger than the
Prince's in Krondor. They walked through several outer rooms, then
reached an inner courtyard. Here fountains and trees decorated a garden,
beyond which stood the central palace. Pug realized that the building
they had passed through was simply one of the buildings surrounding
the Duke's living quarters. He wondered what use Lord Kerus could
possibly have for so many buildings and such a large staff.
They crossed the garden courtyard and mounted another series of
steps toward a reception committee that stood in the door of the central
palace. Once this building might have been a citadel, protecting the
surrounding town, but Pug couldn't bring himself to imagine it as it
might have been ages ago, for numerous renovations over the years had
transformed an ancient keep into a glittering thing of glass and marble.
Duke Kerus's chamberlain, an old dried-up stick of a man with a
quick eye, knew every noble worth noting-from the borders of Kesh in
the south to Tyr-Sog in the north-by sight. His memory for faces and
facts had often saved Duke Kerus from embarrassment. By the time
Borric had made his way up the broad stairway from the courtyard, the
chamberlain had provided Kerus with a few personal facts and a quick
evaluation of the right amount of flattery required.
Duke Kerus took Borric's hand. "Ah, Lord Borric, you do me great
honor by this unexpected visit. If you had only sent word of your arrival,
I would have prepared a more fitting welcome."
They entered the antechamber of the palace, the Dukes in front.
Borric said, "I am sorry to put you to any trouble Lord Kerus, but I am
afraid our mission is dependent on speed, and that the formal courtesies
will have to be put aside. I bear messages for the King and must put
to sea for Rillanon as soon as is possible."
"Of course, Lord Borric, but you will surely be able to stay for a short
while, say a week or two?"
"I regret not. I would put to sea tonight if I could."
"That is indeed sorry news. I so hoped that you could guest with us
for a time."
The party reached the Duke's audience hall, where the chamberlain
gave instructions to a company of household servants, who jumped to
the task of readying rooms for the guests. Entering the vast hall, with its
high vaulted ceiling, gigantic chandeliers, and great arched glass windows,
Pug felt dwarfed. The room was the largest he had ever seen,
greater than the hall of the Prince of Krondor.
A huge table was set with fruits and wine, and the travelers fell to
with vigor. Pug sat down with little grace, his. whole body one mass of
aches. He was turning into a skilled horseman simply from long hours in
the saddle, but that fact didn't ease his tired muscles.
Lord Kerus pressed the Duke for the cause of his hurried journey, and
between mouthfuls of fruit and drinks of wine, Borric filled him in on
the events of the last three months. After he was done, Kerus looked
distressed. "This is grave news indeed, Lord Borric. Things are unsettled
in the Kingdom. I am sure the Prince has told you of some of the
trouble that has occurred since last you came to the East."
"Yes, he did. But reluctantly and in only the most cursory manner. Remember,
it has been thirteen years since I journeyed to the capital, at
Rodric's coronation when I came to renew my vassalage. He seemed a
bright enough young man then, able enough to learn to govern. But
from what I've heard in Krondor, there seems to have been a change."
Kerus glanced around the room, then waved away his servants. Looking
pointedly at Borric's companions, he raised one eyebrow questioningly.

Lord Borric said, "These have my trust and will not betray a confidence."

Kerus nodded. Loudly he said, "If you would like to stretch your legs
before retiring, perhaps you'd care to see my garden?"
Borric frowned and was about to speak when Arutha put his hand
upon his father's arm, nodding agreement.
Borric said, "That sounds interesting. Despite the cold I could use a
short walk."
The Duke motioned for Kulgan, Meecham, and Gardan to remain,
but Lord Kerus indicated Pug should join them. Borric looked surprised,
but nodded agreement. They left through a small set of doors to the
garden, and once outside, Kerus whispered, "It will look less suspicious
if the boy comes with us. I can't even trust my own servants anymore.
The King has agents everywhere."
Borric seemed infuriated. "The King has placed agents in your household"

"Yes, Lord Borric, there has been a great change in our King. I know
Erland has not told you the entire story, but it is one you must know."
The Duke and his companions watched Duke Kerus, who looked
uncomfortable. He cleared his throat as he glanced around the snowcovered
garden. Between the light from the palace windows and the
large moon above, the garden was a winterscape of white and blue
crystals, undisturbed by footprints.
Kerus pointed to a set of tracks in the snow and said, "I made those
this afternoon when I came here to think about what I could safely tell
you." He glanced around one more time, seeing if anyone could overhear
the conversation, then continued. "When Rodric the Third died,
everyone expected Erland would take the crown. After the official
mourning, the Priests of Ishap called all the possible heirs forward to
present their claims. You were expected to be one of them."
Borric nodded. "I know the custom. I was late getting to the city. I
would have renounced the claim in any event, so there was no importance
in my absence."
Kerus nodded. "History might have been different had you been here,
Borric." He lowered his voice. "I risk my neck by saying this, but many,
even those of us here in the East would have urged you to take the
Borric's expression showed he did not like hearing this, but Kerus
pressed on. "By the time you got here, all the back-hallway politics had
been done-with most lords content to give the crown to Erland-but
it was a tense day and a half while the issue was in doubt. Why the
elder Rodric didn't name an heir I don't know. But when the priests had
chased away all the distant kin with no real claim, three men stood
before them, Erland, young Rodric, and Guy du Bas-Tyra. The priests
asked for their declarations, and each gave them in turn. Rodric and
Erland both had solid claims, while Guy was there as a matter of form,
as you would have been had you arrived in time."
Arutha interjected dryly, "The time of mourning ensures no western
Lord will be King."
Borric threw a disapproving glance at his son, but Kerus said, "Not
entirely. If there had been any doubt to the rights of succession, the
priest would have held off the ceremony until your father arrived,
Arutha. It has been done before."
He looked at Borric and lowered his voice. "As I said, it was expected
Erland would take the crown. But when the crown was presented to
him, he refused, conceding the claim to Rodric. No one at that time
knew of Erland's ill health, so most lords judged the decision a generous
approbation of Rodric's claim, as the only son of the King. With Guy du
Bas-Tyra's backing the boy, the assembled Congress of Lords ratified his
succession. Then the real infighting began, until at last your late wife's
uncle was named as King's Regent."
Borric nodded. He remembered the battle over who would be named
the then boy King's Regent. His despised cousin Guy had nearly won
the position, but Borric's timely arrival and his support of Caldric of
Rillanon, along with the support of Duke Brucal of Yabon and Prince
Erland, had swung the majority of votes in the congress away from Guy.
"For the next five years there was only an occasional border clash with
Kesh. Things were quiet. Eight years ago"-Kerus paused to glance
around again-"Rodric embarked upon a program of public improvements,
as he calls them, upgrading roads and bridges, building dams,
and the like. At first they were of little burden, but the taxes have been
increased yearly until now the peasants and freemen, even the minor
nobles, are being bled white. The King has expanded his programs until
now he is rebuilding the entire capital, to make it the greatest city
known in the history of man, he says.
"Two years ago a small delegation of nobles came to the King and
asked him to abjure this excessive spending and ease the burden upon
the people. The King flew into a rage, accused the nobles of being
traitors, and had them summarily executed."
Borric's eyes widened. The snow under his boot crunched dryly as he
turned suddenly. "We've heard nothing of this in the West!"
"When Erland heard the news, he went immediately to the King and
demanded reparation for the families of the nobles who were executed,
and a lessening of the taxes. The King-or so it is rumored-was ready
to seize his uncle, but was restrained by the few counselors he still
trusted. They advised His Majesty that such an act, unheard of in the
history of the Kingdom, would surely cause the western lords to rise up
against the King."
Borric's expression' darkened. "They were right. Had that boy hanged
Erland, the Kingdom would have been irretrievably split."
"Since that time the Prince has not set foot in Rillanon, and the
business of the Kingdom is handled by aides, for the two men will not
speak to one another."
The Duke looked skyward, and his voice became troubled. "This is
much worse than I had heard. Erland told me of the taxes and his
refusal to impose them in the West. He said that the King was agreed,
for he understood the need of maintaining the garrisons of the North
and West."
Kerus slowly shook his head no. "The King agreed only when his aides
painted pictures of goblin armies pouring down from the Northlands
and plundering the cities of his Kingdom."
"Erland spoke of the strain between himself and his nephew, but
even in light of the news I carry, said nothing about His Majesty's
Kerus drew a deep breath and started walking once more. "Borric, I
spend so much time with the sycophants of the King's court, I forget
that you of the West are given to plain speech." Kerus was silent a
moment, then said, "Our King is not the man he once was. Sometimes
he seems his old self, laughing and open, filled with grand plans for the
Kingdom, other times he is . . . someone else, as if a dark spirit has
taken possession of his heart.
"Take care, Borric, for only Erland stands closer to the throne than
yourself. Our King is well aware of that fact~even if you never think of
it-and sees daggers and poison where none exists."
Silence descended over the group, and Pug saw Borric look openly
troubled. Kerus continued. "Rodric fears others covet his crown. That
may be, but not those the King suspects. There are only four conDoin
males besides the King, all of whom are men of honor." Borric inclined
his head at the compliment. "But there are perhaps a dozen more who
can claim ties to the throne, through the King's mother and her people.
All are eastern lords, and many would not flinch from the opportunity
to press their claim to the throne before the Congress of Lords."
Borric looked incensed. "You speak of treason."
"Treason in men's hearts, if not in deeds . . . yet."
"Have things come to such a pass in the East, without us of the West
Kerus nodded as they reached the far end of the garden. "Erland is an
honorable man, and as such would keep unfounded rumors from his
subjects, even yourself. As you have said, it is thirteen years since you
last were at Rillanon. All warrants and missives from the King still pass
through the Prince's court. How would you know?
"I fear it is only a matter of time before one or other of the King's
advisers positions himself over the fallen heads of those of us who hold
to our beliefs that the nobility are wardens of the nation's welfare."
Borric said, "Then you risk much with your frank speech."
Duke Kerus shrugged, indicating they should begin their return to
the palace. "I have not always been a man to speak my mind, Lord
Borric, but these are difficult times. Should anyone else have passed
through, there would have been only polite conversation. You are
unique, for with the Prince estranged from his nephew, you are the only
man in the Kingdom with the strength and rank to possibly influence
the King. I do not envy your weighty position, my friend.
"When Rodric the Third was king, I was among the most powerful
nobles in the East, but I might as well be a landless freebooter for all
the influence I now hold in Rodric the Fourth's court." Kerus paused. "Your
black-hearted cousin Guy is now closest to the King, and the Duke of
Bas-Tyra and I have little love between us. Our reasons for disliking one
another are not as personal as yours. But as his star rises, mine falls
even more."
Kerus slapped his hands as the cold was beginning to bite. "But one
bit of good news. Guy is wintering at his estate near Pointer's Head, so
the King is free of his plotting for the present." Kerus gripped Borric's
arm. "Use whatever influence you can muster to stem the King's impulsive
nature, Lord Borric, for with this invasion you bring word of, we
need to stand united. A lengthy war would drain us of what little
reserves we possess, and should the Kingdom be put to the test, I do not
know whether it would endure."
Borric said nothing, for even his worst fears since leaving the Prince
were surpassed by Kerus's remarks. The Duke of Salador said, "One last
thing, Borric. With Erland having refused the crown thirteen years ago,
and the rumors of his health failing, many of the Congress of Lords will be
looking to you for guidance. where you lead, many will follow, even
some of us in the East."
Borric said coldly, "Are you speaking of civil war?"
Kerus waved a hand, a pained expression crossing his face. His eyes
seemed moist, as if near tears. "I am ever loyal to the crown, Borric, but
if it comes to the right of things, the Kingdom must prevail. No one
man is more important than the Kingdom."
Borric said through clenched jaws, "The King is the Kingdom."
Kerus said, "You would not be the man you are and say otherwise. I
hope you are able to direct the King's energies toward this trouble in the
West, for should the Kingdom be imperiled, others will not hold to such
lofty beliefs."
Borric's tone softened a little as they walked up the steps leading
from the garden. "I know you mean well, Lord Kerus, and there is only
love of the realm in your heart. Have faith and pray, for I will do
whatever I can to ensure the survival of the Kingdom."
Kerus stood before the door back into the palace. "I fear we will all be
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