Fantasy. Duke Charles Marshland encounters and debates with Alain Harper, then grants him and Princess Adams sanctuary on his fiefdom’s frontier. With fellow Triond author Jack Shepard.

“It depends on the man,” said an adult male voice said. Charles turned to see Alain Harper and his party, Basil, Autumn and Ariel Adams, approaching on foot.

Princess Ariel? Here, in the company of three Assembly clerics by their cloaks?

“Herald, you pay me another visit this soon? I see the princess is with you.” Charles turned his steed to face the Lightchild.

“May I answer the riddle?”

“If you wish.” Charles smiled.

“The answer the man will give depends on the nature of the man. If he’s a nationalist – or a fawning flatterer – then he’ll kill for the king. If he’s a religious man – or a deeply superstitious one – then he’ll fear the cleric and kill the other two. If he’s a greedy man, then he’ll kill the king and the cleric and take the money.”

“So who holds the true power among the four?”

“In your riddle the man with the sword holds the power – or so you intend. In reality you present a trilemma, one in which the man can’t be both powerful and moral, in which case he really has no power at all. Of course, if I were that man, I’d just bop all three of those miserable fools on the head with the flat of the sword and tell them, ‘Be nice, children, don’t fight.’”

Charles grew wide-eyed as the Lightchild doubled over with laughter, and Autumn barely restrained her own laughter (with more than at her beloved husband) as she covered her mouth. One thing that had always puzzled Charles was Alain’s capacity to speak with all seriousness one moment and then unpredictably twist the whole logical framework of the discussion the next moment into some kind of joke – often one so arcane that only he really understood it.

“Few men would have either the ability or the daring to try in such a situation, Master Harper,” Charles said at last as Alain calmed himself. “Your fundamental disrespect for protocol is well-known.”

“My fundamental disrespect for abuse of power cloaked by protocol, you mean – abuse such as that riddle embodies, by the way. And that’s why you’re missing the point, milord.” Alain’s voice grew sharp and his eyes grew hard as every defense mechanism of his Ne’fi mind came forward into conscious awareness.

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