Translation of one of my texts. Enjoy the reading and don't hesitate to criticize or review !
The Light Festival, or How Belgarion learned to Stop Worring and Love Politics
"Why me ?"
"Ah no Garion, it's not going to start again, you're past age!"
"No, but seriously, why me?"
Belgarath stared in exasperation at his grandson, who sank more than sat at his desk in his private apartments at Riva Castle. He had met there with his paternal family, who had come to pay him a visit. Polgara looked up from her seat.
"What is it, dear?"
"I got a letter from Zakath," Garion muttered, sending it to a corner of the room. Belgarath looked at the ball of paper with curiosity but was lacking the slightest desire to get up and leave his beer mug.
"Ah? And how is our favourite Emperor of Mallorea?"
"He's doing a little too well for my taste. He proposes that a celebration is held next year to commemorate the five years of the defeat of Zandramas and the rise of Eriond. The objective would be to gather the band, to share our memories. He also suggest that we invite the signatory rulers of the treaty of Dal Perivor for, I quote, "consolidate the links which unite us henceforth and not to fall again into the painful failings of days past". It is Cyradis who found the formulation of this sentence, I bet."
"It's not a bad idea," Durnik said. "We must beat the iron while it's hot and our Alorian friends have hard heads. Reminding them that the time of peace has come would not hurt."
"Zakath wants me to organize this little party, on the pretence that I was the Child of Light and therefore that I have the most legitimacy to welcome all this royalty."
"Well, tell him if you do not agree."
"I did it. That's his answer that I sent to the corner."
"What did he say?"
"That after what happened last time, it is out of the question that he welcomes Sadi, Silk and Velvet together again at the same time in his empire. He also says that, as it is me who has the craziest friends and sovereign colleagues of the Ponant, it's up to me to organize that."
"He is not entirely wrong. It looks like you have a year to organize the most important event of this new Era. On your shoulders rest the final success or failure of the peace process between Angaraks and Alorians. Again."
Garion whined and took his head in his hands.
"Will you help me at least?"
The stern glances and silence of his aunt and grandfather were all the answers he needed. Even Durnik carefully avoided his eyes. It was probably a coincidence that they had to return urgently to Val of Aldur three days later.
Garion then turned to the Rivan Warder for help. He glanced at the guest list and blinked three times in horror.
"If you allow me, your majesty, you know all these people better than me. I suggest that you take care of the organization of the festivities. I'll take care of the budget to manage the inevitable damage. I also advise you to start being very careful with this year budget, just in anticipation."
"Do you think it's going to cost that much?"
"Between the accommodations, the food of the guests and their suite, the necessary repairs after the inevitable altercations between Alorians and Angaraks, the budget for state funerals …"
"You exaggerate a little."
"With all those people gathered? I guarantee you there will be a death in one of the delegations. Only one if we're lucky. Hopefully, it will not be someone too important for the global geopolitical balance."
Garion whined again, dropping his head on the desk. Great lord, the Warder patted his shoulder to comfort him.
"I can write a few fairly standard eulogies, in my rare moments of free time. I advise you to do the same."
Ce'Nedra was not much more sympathetic to the work that awaited Garion.
"You'll do it well, darling," she said, putting her youngest daughter on her lap as he tried desperately to find where to accommodate each royal suite. "You always do well."
"In a fight against a god, maybe, but I assure you that I will lose my fight against the ten-year budget of Riva. If you saw the number of absolutely indispensable people that every delegation wants to bring here... The Alorian kings insist on coming with as many people as if it was a council of the kings of Alorie. We do not have room to house and feed so many people. This horror will put us into debt for the next ten years. At least."
This idea made the little queen turn pale and awakened her Tolnedrain heritage.
"That's unacceptable. Let me see that."
She almost tore off the mass of paper from his hands and let herself be absorbed by this work with delight. Garion took the opportunity to play a little with the baby. He had seen her to little in recent weeks.
"It's insane," Ce'Nedra grumbles. "Who needs such an escort at a peaceful conference? It looks like they are trying to start a new war."
"They are so scared that it degenerates that they want to ensure their safety."
"Yes, if it goes this way, I assure you that it will degenerate. But there is a solution."
Ce'Nedra's face lit up and Garion could have sworn her little nose quivered like Silk's when he saw an opportunity to get rich in front of him. She grabbed a sheet of paper and quickly aligned a series of numbers. When she looked up, she smiled mischievously.
"Make them pay a small contribution for each person in their escort. I guarantee you that the size of each delegation will melt like snow in the sun."
"The Alorians will never agree. That would set a bad precedent for the council of Alorie."
"If they protest, remind them that we are a very small kingdom. And if they insist to come with as many parasites that the castle has inhabitants, they can always reconnect with the old alorian tradition of sleeping under a tent in the snow, as the cult of the Bear does."
"All right, you should cozy them up too. Tell them we can not wait to see them and that we would be delighted if they brought some local specialities to show our guests from all over the world. They will be so busy looking for something to prove their national superiority through food to protest the financial contribution. And it will also allow us to reduce the amount of food to provide."
"Ce'Nedra, you're great!"
"I know, that's why you married me," she reminded him before remembering a detail. "And after all, there will soon be a dead person or two. It will free some space for the other guests."
During the winter, Silk came to visit them.
"It's possible I have done a dubious commercial operation on the other side of the Gar or Nadrak", he confessed with a smile. "I thought I should let people forget me, and spend time with some very influential friends. You know, just in case some of the people I irritated would be tempted to send someone to ask for their money with a sharp dagger. So, rumour say you're preparing a pretty little party?"
Garion does not groan. He had gone beyond this stage to enter another one where the mere mention of the ceremony made him want to use his magic to self-destruct.
"I'm working on the table plans. Ce'Nedra swears to me that we should avoid putting friends side by side for this kind of event because the purpose is precisely to make friends. Nor should I put all the heads of state together, there must be courtiers and officers at each table, not to mention that I must also invite some of the merchants of Riva. Aunt Pol keeps telling me to pay attention to these details in her letters. But do you want to tell me how can I set Lelldorin at a table where he will rub shoulders with Mimbrai and Malloreans? Can I put Hettar at the same table as a Murgo? If I put Mandorallen at the same table as Zakath, would they risk getting into a diction contest or start a duel for fun?"
"I guess I am not easy to place either."
"I hate to do that, but I plan to put you between Relg and Eriond if he's there. Between a God and a man able to sink you into a rock, you should keep quiet."
"I love them a lot but our mystic friend is going to be insufferable next to a God who is supposed to end up supplanting all the others in the hearts of mortals, including UL. The religious debate is going to be epic, but I leave it to more interested than me. Seriously, I would be willing to pay to avoid that."
Garion forced himself to remain completely impassive. If he did well, he could reduce by two the predicted deficit of the kingdom for the next five years. Fortunately, he had good teachers, including Silk himself, and the idea of retrospectively explaining him what he had done was just too enjoyable.
"Really?" He asked with a deliberately dubious face. "Usually, you don't open your purse when you can do otherwise."
"Again, Relg and Eriond for a whole evening? Oh yes, I'm really ready to pay. Would you like some diamonds and rubies to offer to Ce'Nedra?"
"Ce'Nedra prefers to choose her jewellery herself. I do not want to deprive her of the joy of bargaining and showing everyone the superiority of the Tolnedrans in this game. But, I don't know, maybe you could reduce the price of your goods entering the Rivian territory for a while? She could spend more than usual and that would make her happy."
"I can do it," said Silk, grand prince. "Let's say ... a drop of one per cent over the coming year?"
"Four per cent and two years," Garion retorted. And at that price, I do not put you either at the table of Polgara, who will look threatening all evening, or near Sadi. It seems that his snake had new cubs and he may bring them to show them to Liselle."
He got him. Financing the party was going to be less painful for his wallet.
"Adjugated," shivered Silk. "But you are tough in business. I think I was played. This will teach me not to be wary of beginners. Finally, be careful not to replace me with a Tolnedrain at Relg's table. After what they did to the Maragues, it could end with a tragedy."
"Thanks for the reminder. Ce'Nedra is right, someone is going to die."
Silk's nose quivered as he sat up in his chair.
"What are the bets?" He asked before adding, seeing Garion's lost gaze. "The bets on the person most likely to die during the party?"
"Really Silk, it's not a subject to bet on!", Garion exclaimed.
Silk smiled and moved on. Garion was so exhausted that he did not understand until bedtime that if these bets did not exist, Silk would organize them very quickly and arrange to bet himself. From there to stab the person who would make him win the jackpot, there was only one step. Fortunately, Garion had planned to put him at the table of the youngest children. He was unlikely to find a very receptive ear at this table between the babies and their nannies.
The Drasnian spy did a tremendous service to Garion by spreading the story of their bargain. He seemed very proud and amused to have transformed the young king into a businessman, despite the influence of Polgara. Without knowing it, he had done a grand service to Garion. His office soon disappeared under the requests for the placement of crowned heads, wealthy merchants, courtiers, and priests of all kinds. The chief of the Drasnian intelligence services offered a nice sum against the assurance of being placed at the same table as an apparently insignificant Melcene kinglet. Sadi offered, in the name of his queen, beautiful jewels to be able to sit by a Murgo dignitary and doubled the sum against the promise that no Tolnedran trader would be seated at the same table. Garion even managed to get the eunuch to only brings harmless recreational drugs.
Garion got into the game and Ce'Nedra with him. She took great pleasure in charging her uncle Varana a small fortune for the privilege of sitting not far from the Emperor of Melcenie.
"Business is business," she commented when she received the letter of thanks from the Emperor of Tolnedria. It quite lacked sincerity. "My uncle would not want me to put my children on the straw, would he?"
Strangely, and that pleased Garion, the only one who did not ask anything for himself but for someone else, was Zakath. In a short letter, he asked them to kindly place Cyradis next to Liselle, Ce'Nedra or Polgara and to join at their table one or two other female acquaintances of the young king. Cyradis, he wrote, was still struggling to become an Empress of Mallorea. He hoped that making some friends who would not seek to profit from her status to reach his imperial ear would do her good. Garion would have accepted the request of this unforeseen friend without any compensation and smiled when he read that the strange emperor offered him one of the last litters of his cat in exchange for this service. Garion decided to yield to this umpteenth proposition. After all, if Geran had a wolf, Beldaran might have a kitten to cuddle.
Silk passed two or three times that winter in a gust of wind to try to learn who wanted to be seated next to whom. Here again, the king and queen of Riva made a nice little profit by selling him pieces of information which could help him protect his commercial interests on both continents.
One fine day, at the end of winter, the Rivan Warder told them that, finally, the accumulated donations saved them not only from bankruptcy, but went to fill the coffers of the State.
"I imagine that all these people also paid so that their demands, and the amount of money they paid for it, would not be spread too much," he finally asked, looking pensive.
"I simply thought that if his Majesty could often sigh about the high cost of this holiday with his guests and that if the event was to happen again, it would be good if the monarchs propose to formalize the fact that Riva is the only appropriate place to host these ceremonies. The profit could be regular."
"Not too regular either. If it takes a year each time to prepare for this festival, I will quickly pass the crown to Geran."
"Every ten years," said Ce'Nedra. "It must be every ten years."
"Why, your majesty?"
"Dryads have a lot of children. In ten years Belgaran will be fourteen and Geran seventeen. It's perfect to start getting to know other princes and princesses and to start wedding plans. By organizing this feast every ten years, there will be two or three girls coming to marry at each ceremony."
"Do you want to transform a ceremony commemorating the peace and ascension of Essaïon to the rank of God in a ball for our children to meet a partner?"
"Why not? It's a good way to meet your future wife. I, personally, have a very bad experience of being served on a silver platter because a prophecy ordered it. In this way, our children will be able to find someone of their rank that suits them. Also, I don't want to go around the world searching for royal heirs every time one of our children approaches the age of marriage. I do not know about you, but I have travelled enough for the next ten years, at least."
Her arguments were quite fair indeed. Garion bowed to her wisdom.
The festival was getting closer and new problems arose every day. One of Ce'Nedra's ladies in waiting, usually evaporated, remarked one night that the ceremony should have a name. The next day, Garion's office was crumbling again with letters, this time proposing names, all more and more pompous. Many proposed names that put far too much emphasis on the fact that the party was organized by Alorians and bordered the diplomatic incident or a religious one, given that the God of Angaraks was more or less the guest of honour. Garion finally decided for the festival of Light, the soberest proposal. Ce'Nedra grimaced the next three days. According to her name was terribly lacking panache.
The next question to be solved was much more difficult. It was necessary to decide on the place to be accorded to religion in ceremonies. Garion was in no mood to send the Mallorea and the Ponant in new religious wars. He begged by letter Polgara and Belgarath to come and help him finish the details of the ceremony. Between the lines, he suggested that the hard part was already done but that any last-minute mistake could send them back to the four corners of the world to restore peace. Oddly, the letter worried them enough to get them through the air, soaked and frozen, in less than two weeks. Durnik, Poledra and the children had to follow them by boat.
Garion offered them a hot meal and a seat near the fireplace, a little ashamed. The weather was quite terrible. They exchanged the news as they watched Ce'Nedra play with the children near the window before Garion exposed his problem.
"If I do not give enough space to Belar, I'm sure I'll see a resurrection of the Bear cult," he explained in a hysterical voice. "I must give an important place to Essaïon without overdoing it, otherwise I would have to deal with the discontent in principle of all the Alorians monarchs. The voice in my head told me right after Geran was recovered that Essaïon would one day be the only God recognized by humans. If there are prophecies that announce it, I will be accused of proselytizing and attempting conversion of Alorians. Besides, the Tolnedrains, the Arendais and all the others would also be terribly offended if their Gods were not at least mentioned. What do I do ?"
"Zakath really put you in trouble with this ceremony thing," hissed Belgarath. "Are you sure he does not blame you for something?"
"I read his letter again. I am almost convinced that a prophecy has been stuffed under his nose that orders the holding of the Festival of Light."
"The what? You did not find a better name?"
Garion glared at his grandfather, who ignored him with delight.
"Did you ask Eriond what he thinks of it?", asked Polgara.
"I do not know how to get in touch with him. I understood that he'll come on Zakath's ship. But you know Eriond, he will ask something very simple, he does not wish to be put in the limelight. The problem is, if I let him have his way, I risk to vex the Angaraks unwillingly. It's been seven thousand years since you prevented things from degenerating in the Kingdoms of the West, you must have an idea?"
They thought in silence for a long time. Finally, the babbling of Beldaran explaining to her mother that she had seen a very pretty bird in the garden gave Polgara an idea.
"Have you invited Relg, Taiba and their children?"
"Yes, of course."
"Ask Relg if his son can lead the ceremony."
"His son? But he's what, six years old? It's very young to do something so serious."
"Yes, but you forget he is the new Gorim of the Ulgos. No one will find fault with the fact that the high priest of UL, father of all the gods, lead a religious ceremony. And anyway, who would protest in front of a child of that age? Especially if, as Taïba told me in his last letter, he still can't pronounce the letter R right."
Belgarath laughed and looked at his daughter in admiration.
"Well, that's pretty good, Pol. Silk wouldn't have thought of something better!"
"Our drasnian friend should be happy that I'm not going into business," she said, accepting the compliment with a smile. I would take all his millions in less than a year."
Once Durnik arrived, the problems that ensued were easily solved thanks to his common sendarian sense which was added to that of Garion. The precedence of the rulers was a problem for the opening ceremony. Durnik proposed that each sovereign should settle before the opening of the throne room's doors to the public. It was then necessary to decide on their placement. They placed them in the alphabetical order of their kingdoms and placed large banners bearing the name of the kingdom embroidered with golden thread above their seats. Garion would have willingly created these hangings with the help of his Power, but Ce'Nedra protested that the ladies of the court would be proud to participate and to be able to show the extent of their knowledge to foreign guests. In the same way, the craftsmen of Riva were only too happy to work in the urgency to make platforms, thrones, provide sheets or curtains to demonstrate their talent.
It was more difficult to negotiate with the chef the presence of foreign cooks in his lair. Luckily, Polgara quickly noticed that her assistant was much more open to discovering new recipes and told Garion that the chef would fall ill on the day of the guests' arrival until they left. She even writed to Sadi asking him to include some concoctions in his suitcase to help the man stay bedridden.
The assistant, informed and relieved to see that she would have her hands free without the irascible old man interference, readily accepted the idea of providing a daily buffet with local specialities from all over the world. Thus, everyone could peck what he wanted without a nation vexes to see another push foward.
Garion contacted Silk to ask him to bring various spirits from each region, not forgetting to remind him that he had promised to lower his prices for the next two years. He did not know where the Drasnian was at the moment, but he was sure he would be heard screaming at half a continent away.
Remained to solve the problem of housing. They took care of the guards first. Ce'Nedra harangued the rivan guards eagerly to make them understand their duty. They enthusiastically agreed to share their rooms with hereditary enemies. They were too happy to please their little queen to realize that it might mean that they should sleep between a Murgo and a Nyissian. In great shape, Ce'Nedra made half of the inhabitants of Riva cry by describing these strangers who were eager to meet them and see their children grow up in a world at peace. The Rivians volunteered to host the sailors and merchants who were going to disembark.
And then, there was the problem of guests of honour. Fortunately, the guest rooms were placed on two floors in two wings of the castle. Garion attributed one to the Angarak rulers, the other to those of the Ponant. In the room that was wedged between the two wings on the first floor, he placed Polgara and Durnik. In the room just above, he set up Belgarath. With them to stamp, he was certain that there would be no assassination attempts or night duelling. Because you could not be too cautious, he spent the last week dismantling and reassembling the floorboards with Durnik to make sure that it would be impossible to walk on them without making them squeak. Meanwhile, Polgara and Belgarath managed to make each window sill appallingly crumbly on the outside.
When everything was ready, Durnik moved their belongings from the guests' quarters, which were adjacent to the royal family's quarters, to their new room. On the last trip, he looked with interest at the empty rooms and went to see Garion.
"I found something to prevent our dear friends from starting a new world war."
"Our usual apartments are next to yours, empty and very vast. Could we not house the children of sovereigns here? I doubt a king is tempted to declare war on a whim when his son sleeps in the same cradle as the daughter of his enemy at the other end of the castle."
Garion burst out laughing.
"Yes, I do not doubt that it is very difficult. And it's no bad that our children become friends with the children of Urgit or Zakath. I'll order to put cradles and cribs in those rooms. Thank you for your help Durnik. I can not wait for all of this to be behind us, but I must admit that I am beginning to take a liking to all these shenanigans. I understand why Silk, Liselle and Sadi were enjoying themselves so much at Mal Zeth."
The first guests would now arrive from one day to the next. He had even taken the precaution of asking Barak to come a little earlier with all the participants in the original quest. He had told them by letter that he hoped to spend some time with them before they drowned in the crowd of participants. In truth, he wanted to lecture them in due form and remind them that he had the power to put them in solitary confinement or to change them into salsify and to let the Angaraks eat them if they only pretended to start an argument. Garion did not really see what he might have forgotten. Of course, there would still be disasters. But at least they would have done everything to avoid them.
The first night of the festival, Riva Castle nearly caught fire.