The maid escorted the tall, gray-haired Rivan Warder into the room, curtsied again, and then quietly withdrew.

"Polgara," Brand greeted her in his deep voice. He was a large, bulky man with a deeply lined face and tired, sad eyes and he was the last Rivan Warder. During the centuries-long interregnum following the death of King Gorek at the hands of Queen Salmissra's assassins, the Isle of the Winds and the Rivan people had been ruled by a line of men chosen for their ability and their absolute devotion to duty. So selfless had been that devotion that each Rivan Warder had submerged his own personality and had taken the name Brand.

Now that Garion had come at last to claim his throne, there was no further need for that centuries-old stewardship. So long as he lived, however, this big, sad-eyed man would be absolutely committed to the royal line -not perhaps so much to Garion himself, but rather to the concept of the line and to its perpetuation. It was with that thought uppermost in his mind that he came that quiet afternoon to thank Polgara for taking the estrangement of Garion and his queen in hand.

"How did they manage to grow so far apart?" she asked him. "When they married, they were so close that you couldn't pry them away from each other."

"It all started about a year ago," Brand replied in his rumbling voice. "There are two powerful families on the northern end of the island. They had always been friendly, but a dispute arose over a property arrangement that was involved in a wedding between a young man from one family and a girl from the other. People from one family came to the Citadel and presented their cause to Ce'Nedra, and she issued a royal decree supporting them."

"But she neglected to consult Garion about it?" Polgara surmised.

Brand nodded. "When he found out, he was furious. There's no question that Ce'Nedra had overstepped her authority, but Garion revoked her decree in public."

"Oh, dear," Polgara said. "So that's what all the bitterness was about. I couldn't really get a straight answer out of either of them."

"They were probably a little too ashamed to admit it," Brand said. "Each one had humiliated the other in public, and neither one was mature enough just to forgive and let it slide. They kept wrangling at each other until the whole affair got completely out of hand. There were times when I wanted to shake them both -or maybe spank them."

"That's an interesting idea." She laughed. "Why didn't you write and tell me they were having problems?"

"Belgarion told me not to," he replied helplessly.

"Sometimes we have to disobey that kind of order."

"I'm sorry, Polgara, but I can't do that."

"No, I suppose you couldn't."

She turned to look at Errand, who was closely examining an exquisite piece of blown glass, a crystal wren perched on a budding twig. "Please don't touch it, Errand," she cautioned. "It's fragile and very precious."

"Yes," he agreed, "I know." And to reassure her, he clasped his hands firmly behind his back.

"Well." She turned back to Brand. "I hope the foolishness is all past now. I think we've restored peace to the royal house of Riva."

"I certainly hope so," Brand said with a tired smile. "I would definitely like to see an occupant in the royal nursery."

"That might take a bit longer."

"It's getting sort of important, Polgara," he said seriously. "We're all a bit nervous about the lack of an heir to the throne. It's not only me. Anheg and Rhodar and Cho-Hag have all written to me about it. All of Aloria is holding its breath waiting for Ce'Nedra to start having children."

"She's only nineteen, Brand."

"Most Alorn girls have had at least two babies by the time they're nineteen."

"Ce'Nedra isn't an Alorn. She's not even entirely Tolnedran. Her heritage is Dryad, and there are some peculiarities about Dryads and the way they mature."

"That's going to be a little hard to explain to other Alorns," Brand replied. "There has to be an heir to the Rivan throne. The line must continue."

"Give them a little time, Brand," Polgara said placidly. "They'll get around to it. The important thing was to get them back into the same bedroom."

Perhaps a day or so later, when the sun was sparkling on the waters of the Sea of the Winds and a stiff onshore breeze was flecking the tops of the green waves with frothy white-caps, a huge Cherek war boat maneuvered its way ponderously between the two rocky headlands embracing the harbor at Riva. The ship's captain was also more than life-sized. With his red beard streaming in the wind, Barak, Earl of Trellheim, stood at his tiller, a look of studied concentration on his face as he worked his way through a tricky eddy just inside one of the protective headlands and then across the harbor to the stone quay. Almost before his sailors had made the ship fast, Barak was coming up the long flight of granite steps to the Citadel.

Belgarath and Errand had been on the parapet atop the walls of the fortress and had witnessed the arrival of Barak's ship. And so, when the big man reached the heavy gates, they were waiting for him.

"What are you doing here, Belgarath?" the burly Cherek asked. "I thought you were at the Vale."

Belgarath shrugged. "We came by for a visit."

Barak looked at Errand. "Hello, boy," he said. "Are Polgara and Durnik here, too?"

"Yes," Errand replied. "They're all in the throne room watching Belgarion."

"What's he doing?"

"Being king," Belgarath said shortly. "We saw you come into the harbor."

"Really impressive, wasn't it?" Barak said proudly.

"Your ship steers like a pregnant whale, Barak," Belgarath told him bluntly. "You don't seem to have grasped the idea that bigger is not necessarily better."

Barak's face took on an injured expression. "I don't make jokes about your possessions, Belgarath."

"I don't have any possessions, Barak. What brought you to Riva?"

"Anheg sent me. Is Garion going to be much longer at whatever he's doing?"

"We can go find out, I suppose."

The Rivan King, however, had concluded the formal audience for that morning and, in the company of Ce'Nedra, Polgara, and Durnik, had gone through a dim, private passageway which led from the great Hall of the Rivan King to the royal apartments.

"Barak!" Garion exclaimed, hurrying forward to greet his friend in the corridor outside the door to the apartment.