Waldron are at each other's throats about running the army?" he said. He didn't know anything about politics, but he knew how rival males acted. None better than a countryman to understand that.
Garric laughed with relief at being able to talk freely. "No, not quite," he explained, "because Attaper and Waldron are both of them too dangerous. Neither one will give the other an inch, but they don't play silly games. They both know that the other has killed more men than they can remember. They don't goad each other, because the other man will go for his sword if pushed, and they've both been down that road too often to go again for little reasons."
Sharina sat on a chopping block that she'd covered with reed pads that Ilna had woven with a few twitches of her fingers. "So it's Lord Tadai and the chancellor who're fighting?" she said.
"And how!" Garric agreed. He swept the bacon to a brick support to drain while he cooked the remaining rashers. "Any project Royhas proposes has to wait forever for funding. Any revenue proposals that come from the treasury go unstaffed or get staffed with people you wouldn't trust to pluck a chicken. Things aren't getting done, and they need to get done!"
"But you're the king," Cashel said, speaking aloud not so much to get an answer as because sometimes he understood things better if he heard himself say them. "You can tell them what to do."
"As I could tell a flock of sheep which way to take to pasture," Garric said. "And have about as much chance of them obeying me. The sheep'll go their own way because they know what's best. It takes more than a little shouting to change their minds."
Cashel smiled. Garric caught his unspoken thought and said, "Right, the path the sheep takes probably is the best one. The trouble is, here I've got two different leaders. Maybe they've both got good ideas, but I can't—the Isles can't!—go both ways at the same time."
"Sometimes you get two ewes like that," Cashel said, continuing to puzzle over the problem aloud. He withdrew the spoon and licked it; the porridge was warm through to the center. "If they're both worth something, you sell one out of the district. If one of them's nothing special for milking, well, you've got to cull the flock before winter anyway, right?"
He lifted the pot from the fire. They didn't have hard bread for trenchers, but Sharina had sliced birchbark to eat from while there was still daylight. Liane wouldn't be used to everybody dipping a hand into the pot.
"You said ewes, Cashel," Liane said. "Don't rams fight too?"
Besides being Garric's friend, Liane was a real lady, but she was always nice to Cashel. He had the feeling that a lot of people in the palace laughed at him behind his back. He was used to that. Folks in the borough had been the same way, "Big as an ox and just as stupid," he'd heard often enough before he got his full growth, and he knew they still said it, though not where he could hear.
They might even be right, but Cashel didn't like it; and he didn't like the people who treated him that way. Liane was different, so instead of snorting in amazement he glanced at Garric—who shrugged.
"You don't need but one ram for a herd, mistress," Cashel said. "There's no point in wasting fodder on something that's just going to make problems for you."
"Oh," said Liane, blinking. She was a smart girl, no question, but Cashel had noticed that city folk generally didn't understand how hard rural life was and how hard rural people had to be as a consequence.
"In fact, Tadai and Royhas are both valuable," Garric said. "And perhaps more to the point, they're both too powerful to be kicked out in the cold without causing real trouble for the kingdom. They conspired against Valence when they thought it had to be done, even though he'd been their friend in earlier years. Neither man is my friend."
Cashel tried to get his mind around the situation. Liane noticed his frown and said in a friendly voice—not talking down,