A few minutes later Lord Aldegard was speaking in a solemn voice to a very nervous Ambar, who was just about managing to stand still in front of him without fidgeting.
"Ambar, Son of Aliya of Fruit Quay, First-Greeted of Niil, Third Son of the Ksantiris: your Benefactor called you and you responded. At the darkest hour and in defiance of danger you fulfilled your mission without expecting any reward. Ambar, the Tradition is clear: you are entitled to demand a place as a full member of the Noble Family of the Ksantiris. Ambar, son of Aliya of Fruit Quay, is this your desire?"
It was obvious that the boy was extremely uncomfortable.
"First Lord," he said, "I've already told Lord Niil that I don't want no reward. He's been good to me, and anyway I didn't do nothing 'cept carry a message."
"Well if that is your wish..."
"First Lord of the Bakhtars!" interrupted Niil (thereby breaking all the rules of etiquette). "Mirror of the Emperor! I know the Tradition. It's not yet my First-Greeted's decision to make. Tradition says he has the right to refuse whatever I might offer, but there's nothing in it about him having to ask for anything. Forgive me, First Lord, I'm not trying to contradict you here, but I know that my Noble Father wouldn't want me to fail to do my duty. And clearly my duty is to ask my First-Greeted if he would do me the great honour of joining our Noble Family, in a position immediately below my own."
Ambar opened his mouth, but Niil hurried on without giving him the chance to argue.
"My Noble Father has often said that if we can't recognise courage and loyalty when we meet it, even if it is displayed by the humblest of men, then we are unworthy of command. Here" (and he pointed at Ambar) "I can see plenty of courage and loyalty – more than enough for him to claim the Noble Name of Ksantiri. Look, Ambar, my father won't be angry about accepting you – on the contrary, he'll be happy that I've recognised your bravery. Please say you'll agree to join our family as my Noble Brother."
"That's really good of you," said Ambar, blushing all over, "but what'll people think? They'll say as..."
"I really don't care what people think," cut in Niil.
"Sorry, Noble Lord, but they'll say as you're a fool and I've taken you for a ride."
Niil was about to answer that, but the First Lord started laughing.
"Ambar," he said, "anyone who said that would simply be showing themselves to be rather stupid and completely lacking in good judgement. On the other hand, I can tell you that I, Aldegard, First Lord of the Bakhtars and Mirror of the Emperor, think that Niil of the Ksantiris has made a very wise decision, and I whole-heartedly endorse his choice. So, Ambar – what do you say?"
"Nothing, I suppose."
"Right, then: Niil, greet Ambar the official way."
Niil approached the boy who was only going to be his First-Greeted for a little longer and, as he had done the previous evening when entrusting him with the rescue mission, he gently took hold of his head and touched their foreheads together.
After a few seconds the First Lord declared, "You are now Ambar, Fourth Son of the Ksantiris. Shortly your Noble Brother will transmit to you the Marks of your Noble Family. Our own Guardian of Traditions will help him with that in due course. Oh, and I'll contact the Noble Lord Ylavan myself to give him the good news that he now has a fourth son." He laughed, and that brought an end to the solemnity of the occasion.
"Now let's celebrate," he went on. "You're invited to dine with me this evening – and that goes for your brother and Julien too."
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