“Run inside,” Chrístõ told Julia. “Find Major Beccan and her guards. Quickly.”

Julia hesitated. She didn’t want to let go of Chrístõ. She knew he intended to run towards the gunshot and the screams.

“Go, sweetheart,” he told her. “Somebody may need help. The sooner you get that help, the better.”

She turned and ran inside. Chrístõ ran down the steps into the rose bower. He found Nestista and Marissa, not screaming now, but holding each other and sobbing with fear, and Corwen bending over the body of Julio Romano. Chrístõ dropped to his knees beside him, pulling his sonic screwdriver from inside his robe.

“I think he’s dead!” Corwen told him.

“He’s not dead,” Chrístõ answered. “I’m getting a pulse, signs of life. I think I can help him. But who did it? Why?”

“My brother,” Nestista sobbed. “He did it.”

“Your brother? You mean… Penne?”

“No,” she answered. “No, my… my…”

“The Dragon Loge,” Marissa managed to say. “It was him. I saw him.”

“Corwen…” Chrístõ spoke quietly. “Did you…”

“Not clearly,” he answered. “We were all four of us together. I heard the shot. I saw him fall… I turned and saw somebody run. He was dressed in dark clothes… leather, I think… It could have been…”

“It WAS him,” Nestista protested. “He attacked Julio… because he didn’t want me to choose him as my….”

Nestista broke down in tears again. Marissa held her and sobbed, too.

“This is bad,” Chrístõ whispered to Corwen. “For all of us. But let me look after Julio first. You take care of the ladies. Comfort them if you can. And try to get them to calm down before they tell this story to anyone else.”

Bad didn’t begin to describe the political implications if Nestista and Marissa really saw what they believed they saw. But Chrístõ’s first and only concern just now was for the injured man. He was, above all, a doctor. He first laid his hands on his patient’s forehead and willed him into a deep sleep from which he would feel no pain. Then he examined the wound by the power of his mind. The bullet had entered his chest, very close to his heart, but just missing that vital organ. It needed to come out, though, before he could possibly be moved. Even the slightest jar and it could sever an artery.

“Sire!” he heard a voice calling to him and a torch illuminated the scene. He told the young guard to keep the light steady as he worked, though really it made no difference whether there was light or not. His eyes were closed in concentration. If he had been as good at telekinetic healing as Romana, it would have been relatively easy. As it was, he would have to use the sonic screwdriver. That was almost as good, but he had to keep his hand very steady as he turned it to magnetic mode and used it to guide the bullet, very slowly, back through the track already made in Julio’s flesh. It was as well that he was unconscious. Chrístõ knew it would be agonising otherwise. He had gone through the same operation himself more than once. It hurt a lot. But it had to be done.

He was aware that there were many soldiers around him now. Some were guarding him and Corwen and the ladies. Others were searching the rose bower for evidence. He heard Penne’s voice speaking to his son. He heard Julia calling his name, and Cirena telling her not to bother him yet. He ignored all of them for several nerve-wracking minutes before he was able to grasp the blood-covered and misshapen bullet in his bare hands.

“Get him on a stretcher now,” he called out. “Get him inside…. Summon the royal physician…”

That much was done. Chrístõ stood and looked around. Julia ran to him at last. Penne stood by him, shocked by what had occurred.

“Is my sister telling the truth?” he asked. “Did Drago do this?”

“I don’t know,” Chrístõ answered. “We were too far away.”

“He did it,” Nestista cried out. “He did it. He is a terrible man when crossed. And he did it… to spite me… to show you that he could not be humiliated.”

“Major Beccan,” Penne said in a calm, steady voice that belied the worried look in his eyes. “Have the Loggian Guard confined to quarters. Confiscate their weapons and make sure they are guarded. Send your best people to the Dragon-Loge’s suite. He and his entourage are to be kept under house arrest until I can consider this matter. Search his rooms for the weapon. Chrístõ, don’t lose that bullet. It’s vital evidence.

Major Ruana Beccan went to do her king’s bidding at once. He, meanwhile, turned to his family’s well-being. He told Cirena to take his son and the women to their private drawing room.

“Julia, go with them,” Chrístõ said. “Help Cirena look after them.”

She was reluctant to leave him, but he persuaded her to go without too much fuss.

“Did he do it?” Penne asked when they stood together in the bower, surrounded by a guard who protected them against any further assassination attempts. “Could he have been so foolish?”

“He could have,” Chrístõ admitted. “Penne… the ruler of a system nearly as powerful as yours… you’ve put him under house arrest in your palace.”

“I was almost ready to have him thrown in my dungeon,” Penne replied. “If you’re going to tell me I should have been more diplomatic, this IS the diplomatic way. He has been accused of attempted murder. What else could I have done? I have to make sure he does not fly from here before an inquiry can be set in motion.”

“Nothing else,” Chrístõ conceded. “But this needs handling with care. We must move cautiously to avoid escalating the situation.”


“You didn’t ask me to be your Crown Prince just for pomp and ceremony. I’m with you all the way, Penne. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”

“I am… grateful,” Penne admitted. “Thank you, brother.”

They went first to the ballroom. The dancing had stopped. There was no music. The guests were standing or sitting, talking quietly among themselves. The Guardia Real were a real presence in the room, not merely ornamental.

All eyes turned on Penne and Chrístõ as they walked to the stairs and the King-Emperor stood to address them all.

“My friends, there has been an incident tonight that has brought out joyful celebration to an untimely end. May I ask you all to go to your guest rooms and to remain there this night. My soldiers will be patrolling the palace and the grounds for your safety. If you need anything, food, drink, then my staff will attend to you. Please do not be afraid, and may we all hope that the morning brings better news for us all.”

The guests were startled and worried, but they did as they were asked. The servants, the musicians in the orchestra, all went to their own places, too. Penne went with Chrístõ to his private drawing room. Major Beccan fell into step with him. She reported that his instructions had been carried out. The Loggian soldiers were disarmed and confined. The Dragon Loge Marton and his retinue were under arrest.

“How did he take that?” Penne asked.

“He didn’t,” Major Beccan replied. “His staff claim that he is asleep. They hinted that he was in a drunken stupor and could not be roused. Apparently he often gets that way.”

“Did his stupor occur after he had been to the rose bower to shoot an artist, or was he there all the time?” Penne asked. The same thought had occurred to Chrístõ.

“If he is genuinely unconscious, then he can wait,” Chrístõ said. “Let’s attend to the ladies, first.”

They reached the drawing room. Nestista was changed from her ballgown into a long, warm rest gown. Chrístõ saw the satin gown folded on a chair and examined it. There was a great deal of blood on it. A large stain showed where she had leaned over the injured man. But there were blood spatters, too. She had been close to him when he was shot.

Nestista could have been the intended target.

But even if she was, the finger still pointed to the Dragon Loge. He had as much reason to hurt her as he did the innocent Julio.

“Penne,” he said. “When she goes to bed, have an officer of your Guardia Real in the room with her. She must be protected.”

“I’m not going to bed,” she said. “I want to be with Julio. The royal physician sent word. He is out of danger now, and sleeping. I will stay by his side.”

“You can sleep in a bed by his side,” Penne told her. “I will have that much arranged. But you will sleep. Even if the physician has to give you a draught to make you do so. First, though, you must tell us what happened.”

“Julio was holding me in his arms… we were kissing. Corwen and Marissa were there. They were… they were kissing too. We… were all laughing. We felt happy. And then…. I saw him… standing there. He raised a gun. There was a loud bang, and Julio… Julio was…. It was Drago. I knew him at once. He did it. Then he turned and ran.”

“I saw him, too,” Marissa reminded them. Corwen couldn’t confirm who he had seen. His back was turned when the shot was fired. But he did see somebody running away into the shadows.

“You are sure it was him?” Penne asked.

“Why do you doubt it?” Nestista asked. “You know what he is like. He will not be crossed. He was angry with us all.”

“I know,” Penne assured her. “I know what Drago is like. But you know he will deny it. He will pour scorn on your testimony. You are a woman. Marissa is a woman… and a commoner. He will not let either of you accuse him. We must know everything. We must not have any cause for doubt. To which end… Will you let Chrístõ…”

Chrístõ sat beside Nestista. He reached to touch her face. She drew away from him.

“Don’t be afraid. I want to look into your mind. I want to see what you saw, just as you saw it. It won’t hurt.”

Nesista looked at Penne. He nodded.

“Let him do what he must do. Then you can go and rest beside your Julio.”

Chrístõ touched her gently. He let his mind enter hers very carefully. She was overwrought, frightened. She knew enough of political matters to know just what a crisis surrounded them all. He pierced the fog of those anxieties and reached for the real memories beyond it all. He saw through her eyes what she could never have described in words. He saw her and Julio, with Corwen and Marissa in the rose garden. It was a dark place, with a few small ornamental lamps that served to make the shadows deeper beyond their small pools of orange-yellow light.

The man with the gun had been standing beyond one of the lamps. It’s glow came between him and Nestista’s viewpoint and ruined her night sight. She saw him in silhouette only.

Nevertheless, the silhouette did look like the Dragon-Loge. He was tall, slender, he moved lithely. He wore a leather cloak that folded around his body. When he raised his arm to fire the gun it was in the fluid way that the Dragon-Loge moved. When he turned and ran, it was with his grace of movement.

Except for one moment when his cloak caught on the rose bushes. Chrístõ focussed on that detail which Nestista herself had not thought relevant. That fog of anxiety, her fear and grief, obscured it. But Chrístõ noted it before he decided that there was nothing more he could learn from her.

“Marissa.” He turned to the other girl. She shied away from him at first. The mental power he took for granted scared her, as, indeed, it scared most people.

"Its all right,” he assured her. “Corwen, sit with her and hold her hand while I do this. Don’t worry. It won’t hurt you, either. But I must know if you saw the same thing.”

She did. Right down to the detail about the cloak becoming caught and the man pulling at it in an irritated way before running.

“I’ve seen enough,” he said. “Enough to be going on with. We should let them rest, now.” He waved to a soldier in powder blue who stepped forward. “Nestista, go with the lieutenant. She will take you to Julio and watch over you both until morning. Corwen, you go to your bed, now. Cirena, will you take Marissa and Julia and see that they sleep in your chamber with you. That is the best guarded place in the palace. Penne and I will not be sleeping tonight, I think.”

He hugged Julia and told her to look after Marissa. She solemnly promised. He turned to Penne.

“Drago must be roused, now, no matter how drunk he is,” he said. “There are questions to be answered.”

“Whether he will answer them or not…”

“Knowing Drago as we do, Isuspect not. But it would be in his own interests…”

“Either way, I cannot hold him for long. He has a battle fleet he can call upon. This could mean war.” Penne sighed. “Julio Romano… is a commoner. An artist. A person of no political power or consequence whatsoever. Am I justified in risking the lives of millions of my people for the sake of one?”

“Yes,” Chrístõ assured him. “And in your heart, you know you are. If Drago did this, then he must be made to pay. My… my father would say the same.”

His memory flew back to that conversation he had with his father in the Venturan Embassy. It seemed a long time ago. It was only a few weeks in reality. When his father had told him about the guards in the Panopticon who had been murdered by the high-caste man who stole the Tear of Omega. That man had thought the lives of commoners of no consequence. He laughed at the idea of being punished for their deaths.

And his father had executed him.

“It took me a while, father, but now I understand.”

“Drago cannot get away with this. We must avoid war… that would be a terrible price to pay for it. But we must have justice for Julio Romano.”

There were two soldiers at the door to the Dragon Loge’s suite. They bowed their heads to their King and stood aside as he and Chrístõ entered the ante room. There, too, were Guardia Real soldiers, male and female. They stood to attention as their King entered. The servants of the Dragon-Loge did not stand to attention. They served only one master. Three of them were women, Chrístõ and Penne noted, all dressed in small pieces of leather. They both had a shrewd idea what service those women performed for the Dragon Loge. Six more were men, also dressed in leather, but more of it. Two of them had carried his banners and stood in attendance with him in the ballroom. The rest may have been footmen or foot soldiers. It was impossible to tell.

“They’ve all been searched and disarmed?” Penne asked his own officers about the Loggian servants.

“They have, sire.”

“Bring the Dragon Loge out here,” Penne added. “Let us hear what he has to say.”

“I will rouse him,” said one of the men in leather, stepping forward. “My Lord will not be manhandled by peasants.”

“That is acceptable,” Penne replied. He nodded to his soldiers to go into the bedchamber with him. There was a predictable amount of noise from within the chamber. They heard several Loggian swear words and some crashing that suggested the Dragon Loge was throwing things. Then the door burst open and he stepped out, accompanied by his servant and flanked by Penne’s soldiers.

The Dragon Loge looked like a man who had been roused from a deep sleep. He was still wearing the same clothes he wore to the ball, but they looked crumpled as if he had slept in them. His eyes looked heavy.

Even so, he drew himself up and his mouth was set in an expression that told of a deep, seething anger.

“What is this?” he demanded of Penne. “Why am I being treated in this disrespectful fashion? How dare you allow my person to be assaulted. I was drugged… something in my drink… and then dragged from my bed by your order. Where are my own soldiers? What is this effete rabble doing here?”

“Your soldiers are disarmed and confined,” Penne answered. “They will be treated well. It is a mere precaution. You, also, will be treated well. Your servants will be allowed to bring you whatever comforts you demand. But you will be detained until I am satisfied.”

“Satisfied of what?” The Dragon Loge demanded. But Penne was not even looking at him, something which angered him even further. One of his officers had brought some evidence from the bedchamber. A leather cloak folded up neatly and a gun on top of it. The officer confirmed that the gun had recently been fired.

“Take it to be examined properly,” Penne replied. “And the bullet that was taken from his victim. I don’t doubt that it came from this gun.” He turned to the Dragon Loge. “It’s your personal weapon?”

“It is. But what of it? What am I accused of?”

“Attempted murder,” Chrístõ answered him. He took the leather cloak from the officer and looked at it carefully. He found the evidence he expected to find. A tear and scratches on the leather from being caught in the rose bushes. A close forensic examination would doubtless find pollen and other evidence that the wearer had been concealed in the rose bower.

“The cloak was in his chamber? With the gun?”

“Yes, sire,” he was told.

“That’s a bit stupid, isn’t it?” Penne observed. “Drago, you commit a crime, then leave the evidence in your room. Do you really think you can get away with it? Do you think being royal protects you from justice?”

“I am above the law,” he said. “Above ‘justice’. I will not be made to answer wild accusations.”

“You are not above my law,” Penne answered, his own anger seething. “You tried to kill a man within the grounds of my palace. I will make you pay for the blood you spilled.”

“If you or anyone lays a hand on me, it will be an act of war,” the Dragon Loge replied. “You cannot hold me here forever. My fleet will be here in a day. Your cities will be laid waste. I shall not answer any trumped up, imaginary charges laid by you, or anyone.”

“You will answer to me, in my court. My own fleet will keep yours at bay. You know my forces are superior to yours in the sky or on the land. And you will answer for the attempt to end an innocent man’s life.”

“I will do nothing of the sort,” the Dragon Loge replied. “And you… I called you friend. I respected you. But it was a trick. I was lured to your palace, surrounded by your soldiers. I am to be at your mercy? You were too much of a coward to face me in duel. You would murder me?”

“I seek to murder nobody. I seek to ensure a bully is not allowed to get away with it simply because he is a king. Nobody can be above the law. You shot a citizen of Adano-Ambrado. You will not be allowed to behave as if his life is worthless.”

“I will show you who is worthless,” The Dragon Loge responded. He lunged towards Penne faster than anyone expected. Even so, his guards responded. There was never the slightest chance of Penne being injured, even by the long knife the Dragon Loge pulled from within his clothes.

“Don’t make things worse for yourself, Drago. I am being generous to you. I am allowing you to remain here, in comfort, with your servants to attend to you. I could have you put in my dungeon.”

“Penne!” Chrístõ spoke to him telepathically. “I’m not sure. There’s something odd here. I think…”


“I think there is room for doubt. Penne, he might not have done it.”

“Then why doesn’t he say so?”

“Because he’s a proud man, and he won’t plead, he won’t beg, in front of his servants. He won’t allow himself to be unmanned.”

“Then what am I supposed to do?”

“We need to speak to him privately.”

“I might as well have put him in a dungeon.”

“We don’t need to go to that extreme,” Chrístõ answered. “But can we at least separate him from his retinue? He might talk then.”

Penne nodded.

“The servants will remain here under close watch,” he said. “Bring him.” His soldiers at once obeyed his command. The Dragon-Loge was made to walk forward, under guard. He said nothing. But he continued to walk. His footman, the one who had roused him from his sleep, attempted to follow but was blocked by armed soldiers.

“Where are you taking me?” The Dragon-Loge demanded. “How dare you… how dare you treat me this way.”

“Shut up,” Penne responded. “We’re going somewhere quiet. Where we can talk. Where we might get to the truth of this.”

The Dragon-Loge growled. He actually growled. The sound was much more like an animal than a sentient being. His eyes glittered with so much pent up anger that it had robbed him of the power of speech.

“Drago doesn’t want to talk,” Chrístõ told Penne. “He wants to fight.”

“Fine, we’ll fight,” Penne responded. He looked around and then changed direction. His intention had been to go to his throne room, where he held court and pronounced judgement on his own subjects after hearing their cases. But the Dragon-Loge believed in a more ancient way of settling disputes. He turned down a staircase and along another well lit corridor until they reached a room directly beneath the throne room, but usually private to the King. His daily exercise room. The kind of exercise he practiced in here was obvious. There was a rack of fencing swords and various lengths of fighting sticks and other weapons.

“Forget those,” Penne said. “I’m angry. You’re angry. We stay away from sharp edges and blunt instruments. You learned to fight with your fists, didn’t you, Drago?”

“I’ll fight you. I’ll kill you with my bare hands,” he replied. “Let me loose, and I’ll fight you.”

Penne nodded. His soldiers stood back.

“No, leave the room. Stand guard outside and let none interfere. Chrístõ, you will referee – fairly.”

“I am a Time Lord of Gallifrey,” he replied. “Fair goes without saying. On the honour of my House.”

He was surprised that the Dragon Loge allowed that. But honour counted highly with him. That was the point, of course. His honour was held in question and he intended to fight to prove it. He meant to fight as in the old chivalric sense of a duel – might is right – strength prevailing over all. Penne understood that when he chose this course of action. He knew this was no time for courts and logic. At least not yet. Later, that would come. But first, he was ready for trial by combat.

Refereeing was hardly the word for Chrístõ’s role. All he did was ensure they didn’t actually have any edged weapons concealed on their bodies. Otherwise, anything went in a fight between two well-matched, physically fit men with a score to settle. Both were strong, lithely built, and both practiced some kind of exercise daily. Penne was less militant than the Dragon Loge, and perhaps a little less diligent in his workouts. And he spent at least as much time in bathing and sedentary pursuits, but that just evened them out, of course, since Penne was of Gallifreyan physiology and was innately endowed with greater stamina than most other humanoid species.

Blood flowed as they kicked and punched and swept each other’s legs from under them. The Dragon-Loge’s nose was bleeding. Penne’s lip was swollen and his lighter, Gallifreyan blood flowed freely as he brought his opponent to the floor and they grappled hand to hand, desperately trying to force a submission out of each other.

For a while it seemed as if the Dragon Loge had the upper hand. Penne was pinned under him and seemed to be taking the worst of the punishment. But then Penne moved swiftly and was on his feet again, kicking the Dragon Loge in the ribs as he tried to stand and face him.

“Penne, let him up,” Chrístõ called out. Penne relented long enough for the Dragon-Loge to regain his feet before they began what looked like a cross between bare knuckle fighting, kick boxing and wrestling. Neither would relent.

What, Chrístõ wondered, would it mean if the Dragon-Loge won this fight - apart from proving that Gallifreyan stamina wasn’t all it was cracked up to be? Penne maintained peace with Loggia on the basis that the Dragon-Loge’s rule was shaky and his was strong. Strength prevailed. If he showed himself weaker in any way, even this brawl, now, it would allow the Dragon-Loge to dominate. It would allow Loggia to challenge Adano-Ambrado for supremacy in their sector of the galaxy. And that, Chrístõ thought, was a bad idea. As much as he saw something of his own self in Drago, even had a grudging liking for him, as much as he owed him for his courage in the Battle for Gallifrey, Chrístõ disliked the Dragon-Loge’s rule by fear. As long as Loggia was a small, relatively unimportant system, whose system of government was regarded as a curiosity, and its leader as a throwback to less civilised times, Drago could be tolerated. But if he should become the dominant power then he would be dangerous.

And justice for Julio Romano would be a remote possibility indeed.

Both men cried out with their physical effort before Penne finally brought Drago to the floor hard. He wasn’t physically knocked out, but it was clear that the fight was over. Drago was not going to get up and continue.

Penne breathed hard as he stood over him. Drago looked up at him, his face livid with bruises and cuts. His eyes had the look of defeat about them.

“Chrístõ,” Penne said. “Attend to him, please. My wounds will heal themselves in a little while and it will seem as if I simply had him beaten up with no chance to fight back. Besides, his people should not see him like that. Give him his dignity.

Chrístõ knelt and applied the tissue repair mode to Drago’s face, easing the bruises and mending the minor cuts as well as his broken nose.

“Did this achieve anything?” he asked both men. “You hurt each other, settled some scores that have been outstanding for a long time. But did you actually get any closer to the truth?”

“What does the truth have to do with anything?” Drago asked. “He has won. He may accuse me of any crime he chooses. Whether I am guilty or not. I am at his mercy.”

“Well, you’re lucky, then,” Chrístõ said. “He has plenty of mercy to spare. But, listen, Drago… tell me… did you fall asleep in these clothes?”

“I told you. I was drugged. I can’t remember anything since I left the ball. I was feeling strange then. I made it back to my own quarters, away from prying eyes. And then… the next I knew I was being roused by Dravon, surrounded by your soldiers.”

“What about your boots? Did you fall asleep wearing them? The boots you were wearing at the ball?”

“What have my boots got to do with anything?”

“Penne… look at our shoes. We were both standing around in the rose bower. Wet grass, leaves, mud… Even though we’re the kind of people who wipe our feet when we come inside, there are traces still, especially around the tread of our heels. But look at his boots. They’re pristine. He put them on brand new for the ball. And he walked about fifty yards of carpeted corridor and then sat down on his throne for the duration of the ball. He hasn’t been outside in them at all.”

“But his cloak and the gun…”

“The cloak was neatly folded on the dresser in his room. The gun was on top. Drago, do you make a habit of folding your cloak and leaving your gun on top of it?”

Drago looked at him as if the word ‘fold’ wasn’t even in his vocabulary. It very likely wasn’t. In the unlikely event that he ever undressed himself without an attendant he probably just dropped everything on the floor. That was what servants were for.

“So you didn’t leave both pieces of evidence where we could find them so easily?”

“Of course I bloody well didn’t,” he replied. “I told you. I was drugged. Something was put in my drink… by somebody at your ball. Somebody in your household.”

“Drago… will you let me..” Chrístõ raised his hands towards the Dragon-Loge’s face. He drew back. He had been more co-operative for a while, the humiliation of his defeat in combat cowing him a little. But now, after being questioned about boots and cloaks he drew himself up, bristling with indignation again.

“Nobody is permitted to touch my person without leave.”

“Then give me leave,” Chrístõ answered. “You really are a proud man, aren’t you? We’re three of a kind in that sense. You, Penne and me. We fully understand why you feel that way. But Drago, we must have the truth of this. And the easiest way is for me to read it in your mind. It won’t hurt. That I promise you. And we could all learn much. We might even learn who is trying to frame you.”

“Frame?” That word was not in his vocabulary, either. At least not in the Earth definition.

“Somebody has deliberately tried to implicate you in what would have been a murder if Chrístõ wasn’t a very clever man with a steady hand,” Penne told him. “Drago… let him do what he must do. And we will all know the truth.”

“Very well,” he conceded. Chrístõ reached out again and put his hands either side of Drago’s head. He reached inside carefully. He was immediately aware of the mass of emotions piling up inside. His broken pride overwhelmed everything. His humiliation in the fight was all-consuming. He was covering it with brave words, but inside he felt defeated and worried. He thought that Penne was going to destroy him politically now he had destroyed him physically.

Chrístõ looked past all of that and found his most recent memories. He saw him at the ball, watching the dancers, male and female alike, with the sort of lasciviousness Penne had learnt to control when he fell in love with Cirena. He had been given drinks and food by his attendants from time to time, and took no real part in the proceedings apart from his row with Nestista and the altercation with Penne. Shortly after that he had retired from the ball. His short journey to his quarters was surprisingly fuzzy, even allowing for the drink he had taken, and indeed, by the time he reached his bedroom he was barely conscious. He collapsed on the bed fully dressed and was only just aware of somebody taking off his cloak before there was nothing but blackness.

“Why didn’t you say?” Penne asked him. “We could have saved a lot of unpleasantness.”

“I told you,” Chrístõ said. “He’s a proud man. He would not ask anyone to believe him innocent. He would not beg for the benefit of the doubt from you. Either you believed him without question or not. And… we both… we were blind to the possibility of doubt. We knew he was angry about Nestista and Julio. We both assumed he was guilty. We are at fault in that, Drago, and I apologise for it.”

“So do I,” Penne added.

The Dragon Loge looked at them both and his eyes flashed with the same anger and pride.

“You accept our apologies and we work together from here,” Chrístõ told him. “That’s how it works anywhere but Loggia.”

Drago’s eyes softened a little and he nodded cursorily. That was the best they were going to get from him in the way of acceptance.

“All right. That’s out of the way, let’s find out who it is that wants to bring you down. Because if you didn’t shoot Julio, then somebody did, wearing your cloak and using your gun. And it was nobody from Penne’s household. Your own people, remember, brought you your food and drink. The wine was from a separate case to that served to the other guests and your food prepared by your own chef.”

“My people are loyal to me,” he protested. “They would not dare.”

“Consider the possibility that one of them dared. And let’s all of us think about how we go on from here.”

Some time later, Chrístõ stepped into the Dragon-Loge’s quarters. His servants still remained there under guard by Penne’s soldiers. They all looked at him. He kept his expression stiff and his eyes steady.

“I wish to speak to the servant named Dravon,” he said. “Alone. Come with me.” He looked at the tall manservant who had attended to the Dragon-Loge earlier. The man followed him into the bed chamber. Chrístõ noted that the room was just as it had been left. The big, silk covered bed was slept on, but not in, confirming Drago’s claim to have fallen on it and slept unawares.

“I understand that you are the Dragon-Loge’s closest servant. You attend to his personal needs? You dress him – undress him – when he isn’t comatose from too much drink, that is. You supervise his bathing, bring his food and drink. You bring the women to his bedchamber and remove them when he is done with them?”

“They are some of my duties, yes,” Dravon replied. “Where is my Lord? What has happened to him?”

“He is in the dungeon. Julio Romano died of his wounds. It is now murder. And my Lord, the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado will not permit his death to go unpunished.

Dravon looked upset. He asked if he could see his Lord, to bring him food and comforts.

“The King forbids it. The political situation is critical, as you can imagine. But he does not wish The Dragon-Loge to have any contact with his own people until a hearing can be convened in the morning. However, you can help matters in another way. Tell me…” Chrístõ paused. He looked at the man carefully. “I never noticed it before. The Loge is such a magnificent man, that anyone near him pales into insignificance. But you are much the same height and weight as your Lord. And your features might pass at a distance. Am I right in thinking that one of your duties to The Dragon-Loge is appearing as him at functions he would find tedious, or where his life might be in danger?”

“I do perform that service, occasionally,” Dravon replied. “I serve my Lord in any way I can.”

“So it seems. So it seems. And… yet… I wonder…”


“I wonder… if The Dragon-Loge sent you in his place tonight, to murder Julio Romano?”


“If that be so, then rest assured. My Lord is a merciful and just ruler. He has no interest in lackeys who follow orders. He wishes to punish the one who gave the order with malice aforethought. If you tell the truth, you will be exonerated.”

“I am… grateful,” Dravon said. “Sire… I thank your Lord for his magnanimity.”

“Not so fast. First we need to know the facts. When did The Dragon-Loge give you the order to kill Romano?”

“This evening, sire, before the ball.”

“I see,” Chrístõ answered in a slow, careful tone. “Why did he do that?”

“Sire, it is not for me to ask my Lord his motives for anything. But I suppose because he did not wish his sister to throw herself at a commoner.”

“But Nestista only met Julio Romano at the ball. How could your Lord have anticipated that? She danced with several eminently suitable diplomats and nobles before My Lord, the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado introduced her to the young artist. How could your Lord have known that the two would ‘hit it off’ so easily and go out to the rose bower together?”

“I…” Dravon faltered as he sought to answer that question. Chrístõ was only surprised he had given himself away so easily. He had expected to trip him up, but not so quickly.

He knew, in any case, that there was no such order given before the Ball. He had read the Dragon-Loge’s memories carefully. He had been completely open to him. He was perplexed by the idea of a Ball in honour of a mere woman, and by Penne’s insistence that she should be allowed to choose – or not choose – her own future husband at the ball. But there was no pre-meditated attempt to prevent her from making that choice.

“Shall we start again,” Chrístõ said. “The truth, this time. Because it is quite obvious that The Dragon-Loge is innocent of the matter.”

“Innocent?” Dravon’s face twisted as he repeated that word. “He wasn’t even born innocent. He is a sadist. He whips his servants. He abuses women. There isn’t a female in the Loge’s palace who has not been sent to his chamber for his pleasure. And they come back covered in bruises from his rough use. Even his sister… his own flesh and blood – he kept her in chains like a dog and gave her away as if she were nothing to him. Then he objected when the one he gave her to treated her kindly, treated her as a woman. Nestista, that beautiful, charming young woman. When I saw her dressed in satin… she was so beautiful. I was glad for her. And yet…”

“You were jealous! What… you were in love with her?”

“She never knew my name. I was her brother’s manservant. To have pursued her would have meant death for me and a beating for her. But I loved her. Then she was given away. I thought her lost. Until I saw my chance… to implicate her brother and remove a rival.”

Chrístõ shook his head.

“You bloody idiot. Throw yourself at the mercy of the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado. Ask him to put you in one of his penal mines for the rest of your miserable life. Because I can’t imagine how many pieces The Dragon-Loge would have you cut into if he gets his hands on you.”

“The… but you said he was…”

“I lied,” Chrístõ answered as the door to the chamber opened. Penne and The Dragon-Loge stood there. “You heard it all?”

“We did,” Penne answered as the two kings stepped forward together followed by Guardia Real and Loggian guards who took up position. Dravon’s face paled. He dropped to his knees in front of Penne.

“Sire… please… My crime was committed on Adano-Ambrado. Please… don’t let him punish me,”

Penne opened his mouth to speak. But his words were silenced by the sharp sound of metal on metal as The Dragon-Loge drew his sword. There was a swish as it moved through the air. Dravon gave a fearful whimper as it stopped millimetres from his neck. Chrístõ had stayed The Dragon-Loge’s arm. He put his other hand on his shoulder as he spoke close to his ear.

“Yes, I know. I have touched your person without permission. Drago, I have seen one summary execution in the past weeks. I do not wish to see another. Nobody doubts your strength, your honour, least of all me. But will you show mercy?”

“Why?” he demanded, the strain in his voice telling as he tried to move his sword arm and found it locked by a far stronger grip than his own.

“Because… of friendship,” Chrístõ answered. “Because… you can. Because… his blood will ruin a perfectly good carpet. Because he’s not worth it, Drago. He’s not worth your effort. He is a fool and a traitor. But you are The Dragon-Loge Marton, ruler of Loggia by absolute right of inheritance and by force of arms. And you can be a man of mercy if you choose.”

There was a silence, broken only by the incoherent whimpers of the man who, but for the timely intervention, would be dead already. The Dragon-Loge turned his head a few inches to look at Chrístõ. Then he glanced at Penne, and at his own people around the room. All eyes were on him.

“It won’t be a sign of weakness. It will be a sign of strength. Mercy to your defeated enemy is strength, Drago.”

Drago’s sword arm relaxed. He stood upright and sheathed his sword as he stood back from the crouching wretch.

“I will be merciful,” he said. “I will not punish him as my law demands. I shall allow my friend, the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado to decide his fate.

Penne stepped forward. His face was as dark as Drago’s, and Dravon whimpered again, despite his belief that the King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado was a more merciful man than his own Lord.

“Treason and deception against your Lord. Attempted murder which may be taken as Treason since it occurred within the Royal Palace garden, only yards away from the ballroom where I and my queen were in attendance. Do you admit these charges?”

“Yes,” Dravon said in a resigned tone. “Yes, I admit everything.”

“This is not a formal courtroom,” Penne said. “But there are three of us of rank who may pass judgement and witnesses enough to confirm the validity of the said judgement. Dravon of Loggia, I therefore find you guilty by your own admission and sentence you to the penal mine of Adano-Gran at my own pleasure. I shall hear no appeal before at least ten years have passed. Take him from my sight. Let my will be done.”

It was done.


The Dragon-Loge went to his bed, attended to by a more loyal servant than the one that had been dispatched. Chrístõ and Penne didn’t think of sleep. They walked out in the palace gardens together and looked at the stars until the dawn banished them from the sky. They walked in the early morning sun and noted that others were up and about. Two riders set out from the palace stables. Corwen and Marissa enjoying the peace of the morning.

“My son has a sweetheart,” Penne said with a smile. “He’s not like me in one respect. At his age I was interested in quantity not quality in my love affairs.”

“Well, at least you decided on monogamy in the end.”

“When I look at Drago, I am glad,” he added. “I wouldn’t want to be compared to him.”

“His way with women leaves much to be desired,” Chrístõ admitted. “Dravon described how he abuses women… It is horrific.”

“I was never…” Penne assured him. “They came willingly to my bed.”

“Penne, you were their lord. How can they say no? Willing is a moot point. You know that.”

“At least I was never cruel to them. Vigorous, perhaps, but not cruel.”

Chrístõ conceded as much. He conceded something else, too.

“I like Drago, despite his cruelty. Penne… incredible as it seems after last night, we still have his friendship. Use that friendship to prevail upon him to change. Don’t let him see it as weakness or as a loss of pride. His pride is the one thing that cannot be damaged. It is the greatest part of him.”

“I think that’s true of us, too,” Penne answered.

“That’s why. We see ourselves in him – in the noble aspects of him. And we feel we must do something about the ignoble aspects. Will you try, brother?”

“I will,” Penne assured him. “But later. I only have you with me, my wise blood brother, for another day. Let’s make the most of this one. I wish to see how Julio Romano is faring, and speak to my sister. Then breakfast, before a very long bath.”

Chrístõ smiled. Some things about Penne never changed. And he was glad.