3c were having trouble settling down to their lessons this morning. The poems of Thomas Hardy were far less interesting than the visitors to their classroom. Four of the soldiers in powder blue uniforms stood to attention either side of the two lines of desks and two more of them flanked the teacher’s desk at the front of the classroom.

“Sir!” Gary Marshall’s hand waved in the air until Chrístõ couldn’t pretend not to have seen it any longer. He nodded wearily, giving him permission to ask the inevitable question. “Is it really true? They’re here because you’re royalty.”

“I’m not,” he answered.

“Not what?”

“Not royalty,” Chrístõ said. “To paraphrase the 26th president of the USA, Theodore Roosevelt, some people are born royal, others have royalty thrust upon them. If you really want to know how I came to be Crown Prince of Adano-Ambrado, look up the history of the Ambradan Empire on your slates. It’s all in there.”

And it was. But it was an official, authorised version of the rise of Penne Dúre from Lord of one small planet to King-Emperor of one of the most powerful planetary systems in this galactic sector. It was dull stuff for a group of students who weren’t especially keen on reading. He knew he would end up telling the story himself. He stood up from his desk and tried not to notice that all six of the Guardia Real soldiers clicked their heels and saluted him. He came around the desk and sat on the edge of it instead. 3c sat back in their own seats, their electronic slates abandoned while they listened enraptured to his description of how Penne had become first King of the twin planets of Adano-Menor and Adano-Gran and then Emperor of the Adano-Ambrado system through luck, good advice and some excellent swordsmanship. The swordsmanship especially impressed the students who looked at their teacher with new eyes as he described one of the more dramatic moments in Penne’s battle against the tyrant of Adano-Gran.

“You’ve done all of that stuff, sir?” Stuart Peyton said, summing it up for them all. “And you’ve been made a prince by the King… And instead of living in a palace, you’ve got an ordinary house and you come to work every day teaching us boring poetry.”

“The poetry isn’t boring,” Chrístõ told him. “Getting you lot to see the joy of iambic pentameter is nearly as much of a challenge as helping Penne establish his empire.”

“I saw him on TV last night,” Kate Waring said. “The King-Emperor… meeting the Governor of Beta Delta IV on his State Visit. He looked really grand, dressed like an Admiral in a big hat and everything. His queen is beautiful. She had a dress on that looked like it was made of gold.”

“That’s what I mean,” Stuart Peyton insisted. “I mean… our teacher is best friend to somebody whose visit to our planet is a major news item. He calls him by his first name. What was it they called him on the news… His Majesty…”

“His Royal and Exalted Majesty Penne Dúre, King of Adano, Emperor of Ambrado, Lord of Menor and Gran, Protector of Terrigna IV, Honorary Order of the Loggian Dragon,” Chrístõ said. “They were milking it a little bit. They usually only do the whole title on his official notepaper.”

“So why DO you live here, like an ordinary person, when you could be a prince and live in a palace and have your own headed notepaper and all that stuff?”

“I like being a teacher,” he replied. “I like ordinary life. You know, Penne doesn’t even do very much sword-fighting any more. If anyone came at him with a weapon there’d be a dozen of these guys closing ranks around him. He spends his days with despatch boxes full of government papers to sign, or meeting ambassadors from other planets, or getting ready to be host of some grand ball or other. And then he has to travel light years just to shake hands with our Governor on the evening news. Frankly, I’d be bored stiff being a Prince most of the time.”

3c looked at him curiously and wondered if he was joking or not. He really wasn’t. Being their teacher really was far more satisfying to him than Penne’s royal life.

“So, it’s boring being an emperor?” Billy Sandler asked.

“No, I think Penne enjoys his life,” Chrístõ admitted. “And it does have its moments. It’s not for me, though. I gave it a try last week when you were all on half term. And really, I would far rather teach English literature to you lot than be an Emperor.”

“Last week?” His students were curious. They knew there was a story to be told and he got ready to tell it.

The primary purpose of the visit, of course, was the reception that Penne wanted to hold in his honour. The heir to the House of Lœngbærrow was now formally betrothed to his future bride. But the Crown Prince of Adano-Ambrado had not yet presented his future princess to the people. The future princess’s guardians insisted that they had to wait until half term. Chrístõ agreed. Julia had examinations coming up very soon and she couldn’t miss any school.

“Yesterday I was wearing school uniform and doing history revision,” she pointed out as she danced with her fiancée in a gown especially made for the occasion of the Presentation. “Today…” She looked down at her own feet in silk pumps that peeped out from under the long satin dress edged with pearls.

“You know that Valena intends to have a ball in your honour on Gallifrey, too,” Chrístõ pointed out. “It’s a good job you mastered walking in heels.”

“Dancing in them, too,” she added. “And next week, back to that school uniform.”

“One day, you’ll be my wife and you’ll never have to wear a school uniform again. At least, not unless you want to!”

Chrístõ grinned mischievously. Julia pretended to be outraged at the suggestion, though she was laughing, too.

“That is you, isn’t it?” she asked suspiciously. “Not Penne… because that was more like something HE would say.”

“It’s me,” he answered. “But he dared me to say it.” Julia looked around at the King-Emperor, who was watching the two of them from the gold-leaf covered chair where he sat next to his queen.

“I should think you were mature enough not to rise to a dare like that,” Julia admonished him. “And you can tell him that my school uniform is going in the trash compactor on the very last day of term.”

“Duly noted,” Chrístõ answered. “Penne, shut up.”

“Only you could tell me to ‘shut up’,” Penne said when they finished dancing and Julia and Cirena went to mingle with the ladies of Adano-Ambrado, leaving their two men to talk about affairs of state.

“Only you could put a risqué joke about school uniforms in my head,” Chrístõ replied. “That was unfair. Especially since I AM a teacher. It was very inappropriate.”

“Couldn’t resist it,” Penne answered. “But I really don’t know why you have to be a teacher. You don’t have to work at all. You’re already the heir to a sizeable estate on Gallifrey and on top of that you’re my Crown Prince.”

“That’s only an honorary title. No actual property goes with it,” Chrístõ pointed out.

“It would if anything ever happened to me,” Penne replied. “You’d own seven planets.”

“I don’t want to think about that. Not the owning seven planets OR the idea of anything happening to you. Don’t even think about that, Penne.”

“I don’t. But you ought to. Do you have any idea how to rule seven planets?”

“No. But you didn’t, either, when you became Emperor.”

“I had a bit of practice being Lord of Adano-Menor, first. It was the same thing on a bigger scale, really. But you’ve never even been responsible for the servants in your own home. Your father is still Lord of your demesne on Gallifrey.”

“I rule class 3c with an iron fist,” Chrístõ said with a wry smile. “Is this leading somewhere?”

“I think you need to walk in my shoes for a while,” Penne told him. “I don’t mean doing one of our old tricks. Everyone knows about that, these days. I can’t just give you my crown and go off pretending to be a commoner like that story you told me once – the Prince and the Pauper. But you ARE my Crown Prince. How about a couple of days as Viceroy.”

“Why?” Chrístõ asked.

“My Guardia Real have been taking part in training manoeuvres with the Loggian Guard on a remote planet in Drago’s system. War games, that sort of thing. Drago has suggested to me that I should join them. He’s going out with one of his platoons to take part. He thinks I ought to do the same.”

“For once, Drago has a point. It wouldn’t do you any harm to get some real exercise. You’re not as lazy as you were when I first met you. But signing despatches all day and banquetting all night isn’t exactly honing your body and mind!”

“Exactly. So the plan is I leave my crown and robes behind and get into my royal combats. The Ruby of Adano will be leaving port tomorrow morning. And I propose to leave you in charge of my Empire while I’m gone.”

“Tomorrow morning?” Chrístõ was startled. “But… you mean… we’re not going to start the day with a long bath as usual?”

Penne laughed.

“I didn’t know you were so fond of our bathing rituals,” he said. “Alas, I shall have to forgo that pleasure in the morning. I cannot keep the troops waiting. Will you see me off, at least?”

“Of course, I will,” Chrístõ replied. “But… Penne… you can’t really think that I can…”

“You can do it. I have faith in you.”

And that settled the matter. Penne went to dance with his queen. Chrístõ found his fiancée again and enjoyed a slow set with her held close in his arms. Later, he told her what was happening tomorrow, and she laughed softly.

“He’s right. You can do it. You’re smarter than he is. You worked much harder all your life. You can do anything you want to do. All Penne knows how to be is an Emperor. You will be great at it. And…” She smiled enigmatically. “Does this mean I get to be queen for a few days?”

“No. I’m not taking over the crown as such. I will be Viceroy. And you’re not actually married to me yet, so I don’t think there is a title for you. Besides, there isn’t a lot for you to do apart from hang around with Cirena doing all the things you usually do when you’re here.”

“Cirena is opening a new hospital on Adano Gran tomorrow. I’m going with her, along with Nestista.”

“Good,” Chrístõ told her. “You won’t be bored, at least.”

He wasn’t sure what was in store for himself, but he tried not to let it spoil the reception and he didn’t let it disturb his sleep, either.

He was up with the dawn to eat breakfast with Penne in his private dining room before seeing him off.

“Royal robes suit you,” Penne told him as he stood beside the shuttle craft that waited to take him to the Ruby of Adano. “You look the part, at least.”

“I wish I could say the same of your outfit,” Chrístõ replied. “The last time you wore combats was when we fought for Gallifrey. Not one of my best memories.”

“But that’s why I feel I need to do this. I wish to lead from the front if my armies go to war again. I need to ensure I am battle ready as much as they are. But this isn’t a real war. Just manoeuvres. You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Did you tell Cirena that?” Chrístõ asked. “I note that she didn’t come out to see you off?”

“She doesn’t like to see me dressed this way. She kissed me goodbye already. And if you’re ready to do the same…”

Chrístõ laughed and hugged him fondly. He kissed him once on the cheek, then stood back and watched as he boarded the shuttle. A few minutes later it took off vertically and was soon lost from sight. Chrístõ turned back into the palace, aware that a whole retinue of people followed him when he did so.

“Your Highness,” said the Prime Minister, Vordan Falle.

“Highness?” Chrístõ questioned the use of the word. Then he remembered that he was wearing the silver crown that went with the honour of being ‘Crown Prince’. “Yes, I suppose so. What is it?”

“The Cabinet is assembled, Highness,” Falle told him. “After that, you must receive a delegation from Izegaza IV, Uovoik-Zai Duodecimus and Retoe, in the throne room. Then there are the petitions of the citizens.”

“Uovoik-Zai Duodecimus! There is no such place, surely,” Chrístõ replied. “This is Penne having a joke with me.”

Falle smiled benignly.

“I’m afraid not, sire.”

“Do I get to eat at all?” Chrístõ asked.

“You are lunching with the Duke of Adano Menor after meeting with the aforementioned delegations,” the Prime Minister answered.

Chrístõ took a second or two to realise that the Duke of Adano Menor was Penne’s son, Corwen. The Prime Minister referred to everyone by their titles not their names.

He paused at the door to the Cabinet Room. Then he squared his shoulders and stepped inside. The Cabinet stood as one and bowed to him.

“Please, be seated,” he said. They obeyed his command. He sat and looked around the table, wondering what should happen next. At his side, the young Duke of Adano Menor opened the proceedings with a disturbing report about an unknown illness that was affecting people in the southern part of Adano Menor. The medical centres there were under pressure to treat unprecedented numbers who were presenting symptoms.

“What symptoms?” Chrístõ asked. Corwen gave him a copy of the report. Chrístõ read it carefully then turned to a computer terminal and worked very quickly for several minutes.

“The illness is known to Earth Federation planets as Pertussis, or commonly as Whooping Cough,” he said. “It was previously unknown in the Adano-Ambrado system?”

“Not by that name,” said the Surgeon-General. “And the pathology has baffled our best medicines. Our only hope is to quarantine that sector of Adano Menor and stop the disease spreading. Those already affected must take their chances…”

“A quarantine must be imposed, as soon as possible,” Chrístõ said. “If this disease has never been known before then the people have no natural resistance to it. That is dangerous. However, we are not going to leave the people in the affected area to suffer. The treatments for those already affected can be brought in from the Klatos Research Institute within a few days along with vaccinations for the rest of the population. Adano Menor should have first priority, then every other citizen.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw a head bob uncertainly. “Yes, Treasurer, that is going to be expensive. But funds will be made available. The health and well-being of the people is paramount.”

The Parliamentary Secretary passed him a piece of parchment. His signature, and the crucial word ‘Viceroy’ along with the date made those funds available and gave the Surgeon-General leave to order the medical supplies and organise the empire-wide vaccination programme. The logistics of that huge effort would be in somebody else’s hands very shortly. It did not concern the Viceroy or his Government further once his signature was fixed to that page.

But Chrístõ had another thought on the matter.

“An extra-terrestrial disease doesn’t spontaneously turn up on a planet like Adano-Menor. It doesn’t even have an inter-galactic space port, only inter-planetary travel. But the space fleet and the freight service recruit from all the planets. Most likely some unfortunate soul went home on leave to his family after service offworld and inadvertently brought the disease with him. This is the danger of increased contact with other races. In future any ship returning to Adano-Ambrado, whether civilian or military, must be subject to quarantine and medical screening for all personnel before any shore leave is allowed.”

“Sire!” The Secretary for Extra Terrestrial Affairs spoke up without raising his hands. “I must protest. While the proposed measures are, without doubt, wise, the cost of providing full screening services for every single individual on board a ship of the military or civil fleets would be astronomical. It would be necessary to establish quarantine zones, install screening equipment, medical personnel, food and accommodation for those under quarantine…”

“But, as I said before, the health and well-being of the people is paramount. Corwen, has anyone yet died of the current outbreak?”

“No,” he replied. “But there is a six month old baby and three elderly women in intensive care. Their condition is described as serious.”

“Does anyone think a price can be put on the life of a six month old baby?” Chrístõ asked the Cabinet. “Bear in mind, this is a disease that respects no distinction of class. What price would you put on your own children? Whatever it costs, we will see that these precautions against future medical crises are put in place.”

The Parliamentary Secretary passed Chrístõ another piece of parchment to sign which would start off the screening programme. As he held the pen over the line, however, one of the Cabinet raised his hand, coughing loudly to attract his attention.

“With respect, sire,” said the Minister for Internal Affairs. “The emergency measures for Adano Menor were one thing. There is need for haste. But this precautionary programme… surely it is something the King-Emperor himself should consider. Sire… I believe that you are overstepping your authority.”

“You believe wrong,” Chrístõ answered. “I am Crown Prince of Adano-Ambrado, heir apparent to the throne. And I am, in the absence of his Majesty, Viceroy. Examine that word. It literally means ‘in place of the king’. My word is the King’s word. My signature is the King’s signature. Any decision I make is his decision and he will not countermand it.”

With that, he signed the paper and passed it back to the Parliamentary Secretary. He did so with a certain satisfaction. One signature and everything he had asked for would be done, and done quickly, too. He thought of his own government, who would throw ideas around in committee for weeks or months before producing any kind of workable Bill to go before the High Council, and even the it was never certain if anything would come of it. the same was true of many of the democratic governments he knew about. Those of Earth, such as the British and American systems, were so cumbersome that getting any good idea into law took years of planning. But he had changed the lives of Adano-Ambradans for the better with two signatures.

He was always telling Penne that democracy was better than his absolute rule. But there was something to be said for it, perhaps!

The Minister for Internal Affairs stood. Chrístõ looked down the table at the man. He was tall and thin-lipped and full of his own self-importance.

“I wish to express my personal protest at the way the interests of Adano-Ambrado have been ridden roughshod over by the King-Emperor and his stand-in.”

“Stand-in?” Several of the ministers protested at the use of such a clearly insulting term for the Viceroy. They told the Minister for Internal Affairs to sit down. He did not.

“The King-Emperor has gone on an outing and left this upstart in complete control. A man who is not even a blood relation of his Majesty, who was named as his heir purely on a whim. I opposed the idea at the time. And now it is clear why I did so. We are to be ruled over by a commoner every time the King-Emperor feels like a day off from his responsibilities.”

There was a long silence after the Minister finished his tirade. Chrístõ leaned back in his chair and looked at the man carefully. He let his mind reach out, not to read the thoughts of those around him, but their emotions. He was reassured that the Minister for Internal Affairs was alone in his opinion. Everyone else was firmly in favour of both the King and his Viceroy.

“The position of Viceroy is enshrined in the Constitution of Adano-Ambrado. It is similarly enshrined in the constitutions of at least a dozen well-run constitutional monarchies in the galaxy. Your objection, therefore, cannot have anything to do with his Majesty’s perfectly lawful appointment of me as his representative. It must surely rest on some personal dislike of me, which it is quite inappropriate to bring to this table. If you wish to come to me in a private capacity and outline those personal issues, I will be happy to discuss them with you. At this table, however, I am, may I remind you, the constitutionally appointed Viceroy. Now, what is the next issue on the agenda?”

The Minister for Internal Affairs glowered at him. Chrístõ wasn’t intentionally trying to see his thoughts, but the antagonism the man had for him was so strong he couldn’t help it. And not only for him. It was aimed at Corwen, too. And towards the absent King.

The Minister for Internal Affairs was from Adano Gran, the planet that Penne had become Lord of by conquest after defeating Xavier Salaraon. Adano Gran had been subject to a great deal of social reform under Penne’s rule. The barons still owned all the best land, but they were required to lease most of it to the former peasants, now deemed to be tenant farmers with secure tenure. There was even a scheme to make those tenant farmers into landowners through state-assisted loans that would allow them to buy their farms from the barons. Most of the barons were satisfied because they were paid the full market value for their land and were no longer under any obligation to maintain the property. The Minister for Internal Affairs was from an old baronial family, though, which resented the changes. They preferred to have peasant farmers paying them tithes and giving obeisance to them. They were disgusted with the notion that a tenant farmer could buy his parcel of land and be considered a man of property.

And all because of a philanderer with an illegitimate son and a foreigner as his nominated Crown Prince. The Minister for Internal Affairs encapsulated in one seething mass of hatred all of the criticisms that could be laid against Penne and his family. Most of his people, even the majority of those Adano-Gran barons, saw him as a good ruler who cared for the people. A very small minority held these kind of views. Penne knew that and tried to ensure that they had no reason to let their resentments fester. Perhaps that was why this man was in his Cabinet in the first place, as a way of proving he didn’t bear him and his kind any ill will. But that policy was back-firing very badly right now.

“The King-Emperor will have my resignation the moment he returns from his pleasure trip,” the Minister said. With that he pushed back his chair and walked away. At the door he turned back and glowered at Chrístõ again. “As for you… I have nothing to say. You are beneath me.”

The door closed. The sound of the Minister’s footsteps echoed in the hall. Chrístõ looked around the table and then turned to the Prime Minister.

“Please prepare a list of possible replacements for the Minister. His Majesty will no doubt wish to choose the right man or woman for the position when he returns. Meanwhile, we shall continue with the report from the Treasury department on the very happy state of Adano-Ambrado’s mineral exports.”

That was followed by several other issues that needed to be brought to his attention. Chrístõ dealt with each one in turn, trying not to worry too much about the fact that a member of the Cabinet had resigned in the first two hours of his time as Viceroy.

He was sitting down all the time, on a thoroughly comfortable chair, but Chrístõ felt utterly exhausted when he was done. He wished fervently for a soft couch he could lie down on for an hour. But he had no such luxury. He had to receive the delegation from Izegaza IV in the Throne Room.

That meant hurrying along the back passages of the palace in order to reach the robing room behind the Throne where he was dressed in an elaborate ermine gown and a somewhat bigger crown before sitting on the actual throne of Adano-Ambrado. He had never sat there before, though he had attended alongside Penne more than once.

“I never realised how high it is,” he said to Corwen as he seated himself at his side on a slightly smaller throne. “Everyone who comes before me… no matter how tall… is already lower than me even before they bow.”

Since the Izegazans were all nearly eight foot tall and four foot wide, with grey hide rather than skin, Chrístõ could immediately see why it was a psychological advantage for the King to sit above those who were presented to him.

It shouldn’t have been difficult. He had never sat on a throne before, but he was the son of a diplomat and had learnt how to greet people from all over the galaxy since he was a small boy. This kind of kingly duty was in his blood.

But, even so, he was heartily glad when it was over.

“I really don’t know how your father does it,” Chrístõ said as he retired with Corwen to a side room where they were served lunch before the afternoon of petitions from the people of Adano-Ambrado. “It is thoroughly exhausting.”

“Father does far more than absolutely necessary,” Corwen answered. “It isn’t necessary for him to sit with the Cabinet every day. The Prime Minister could simply bring the finished Bills to him for his Royal Assent. But he prefers to be a part of the decision making. And the petitions we will hear this afternoon – ordinary people bringing their requests to the King himself. That was his own idea. He felt he wanted to know what the people needed directly. Sometimes he is unable to help them. Other times, he feels a great satisfaction from being able to change the life of just one of his citizens for the better.”

“I just hope the former Minister for Internal Affairs isn’t one of them,” Chrístõ responded. “I rather feel as if I’d like to change his life by sticking him an old fashioned pillory for a few hours.”

“Pillory?” Corwen had never heard of the term before. Chrístõ explained and he laughed.

“I may suggest it to Father. It is in keeping with his policy of rehabilitative punishments. But you must not worry about what happened in the Cabinet Room. It was not your doing. You were simply the excuse for something that has been bubbling under for some time. Father thought it would be a good idea to give the traditionalists a say in the Cabinet, but clearly he was wrong about that. By the way, I want to thank you for what you did for the people of Adano Menor. I spend a lot of time there, trying to ensure that I am not merely Duke in name only. I have become close to the people and their needs. And on their behalf, I am grateful for your wisdom and judgement.”

Chrístõ thanked him for those comments. He thought Corwen had some wisdom and judgement of his own. He was still young even by the lifespan of an Adano-Ambradan, yet he was taking upon himself the responsibilities of Statehood at his father’s side.

“What about young Marissa?” he asked. “She is still the one closest to your hearts?” The daughter of the gamekeeper had been at his side last night at the reception, and she was with Cirena, Nestista and Julia on their trip to Adano Gran. She was considered one of the Ladies of Court, regardless of her humble origins.

“We are going to announce our formal betrothal soon,” Corwen said.

“Excellent. A royal wedding for Julia to set aside her school uniform for. I’m pleased for you.”

They finished their lunch in good spirits and returned to the Throne Room. This time it was a much busier place. There were something like fifty people there already and more outside in the ante-room. Chrístõ was worried until he was told that only a quarter of them actually had petitions to bring to him. Many of them were friends and family of the petitioners come to give them support and to witness them meeting the King-Emperor.

The King-Emperor’s Viceroy was equally popular. He was known to the people, of course. Penne had made very sure of that. The excitement was just as great as on any other Day of Petitions.

Chrístõ took his place on the throne. Corwen sat at his side again, and he was grateful for his company as well as his assistance with many of the petitions.

Some of them were easy to deal with. Many young people came with requests for bursaries to allow them to pursue post-graduate educational opportunities. The universities of Adano-Ambrado were open to all who had the aptitude, but they were only free up to graduate level. Beyond that, it was necessary to find private funding.

“It is customary to grant the request of any citizen asking for bursaries,” Corwen told Chrístõ telepathically. “They are only permitted to put these petitions if they have tried all other sources of funds.”

“If the King grants them anyway, wouldn’t it be easier if he just set up a trust fund and appoint some administrators?” he replied.

“The people seem to like it this way,” Corwen answered. “A student with a King’s bursary feels honoured. There is also some reason to believe that they are less likely to waste the educational opportunity because they feel obliged to the King to succeed.”

“Fair enough,” Chrístõ answered and gave his Royal Assent to four such petitions at once.

That was followed by a more unusual request. The petition came from a woman who asked the King-Emperor’s Viceroy to refuse her son’s entry into the army.

“He is my only son,” she said. “And I fear for his life if he becomes a soldier. Too many sons of Adano-Ambrado have died in wars that were not our own making. My own husband was killed in a foreign war to liberate a place I had never heard of until I was told my poor man had died there.”

“What place?” Chrístõ asked, though he knew what the answer was likely to be even before she spoke again.

“It is called Polafrey,” she answered. “I know nothing of it. I do not know what happened there. Only that I have raised my son alone, since. And I do not wish to lose him to the same needless slaughter.

Chrístõ shivered involuntary. He didn’t witness the liberation of Polafrey personally. He was too busy fighting for Gallifrey itself. But he knew the fighting had been fierce. He knew the statistics. Many brave men of the Alliance that came to his own people’s rescue had lost their lives there.

“It was before my life began,” Corwen said telepathically. “I know nothing of that war except what I have read. Even my father, who was a combatant himself, does not speak of it.”

“Perhaps he should,” Chrístõ told him. “To you, at least. You ought to know. But what should I tell this poor woman?”

“Tell her what is in your hearts. It is exactly what my father would say. Don’t be afraid to speak for him on this, as in any other matter.”

Chrístõ nodded then spoke in carefully measured tones.

“Your husband did not die needlessly. He died in a brave fight against a merciless enemy of all free people. He is a hero, as are all who died in that campaign. I know that is small consolation to you. But your son… despite the terrible loss you both suffered, he is willing to serve his King and his people. You should be proud of him. To seek to prevent him from following his heart… I am sorry. I cannot grant this petition. I… am very sorry.”

As he spoke the last word, the woman burst into tears. He rose from the throne and stepped towards her, reaching to take her hand. She allowed him that much contact, but there was little he could do to comfort her.

“Is there anyone with this woman?” he asked, looking around at the crowd. He was surprised when a young man stepped from the crowd and went to her, calling her mother and taking her in his arms.

“You are the one who wishes to join the army?” Chrístõ asked.

“I am, sire. My name is Ethan Dawl. I beg your pardon, sire. Please forgive the unseemliness. My mother has not been herself since my father died. Please do not think badly of her.”

“I do not,” Chrístõ replied. “She has done no more than a mother’s duty to her son. It is up to you to do your duty to your mother. She does not wish you to die in a foreign war…”

“I do not wish to die anywhere,” he answered. “But I do wish to serve my King.”

“Then… why not join the Guardia Real rather than the regular army?” Chrístõ asked. “They are the best trained and most disciplined soldiers in the Adano-Ambradan military, but they serve at home, not abroad.”

“I tried,” he answered. “But there were no places in that force.”

Chrístõ glanced at Corwen.

“It’s a dangerous precedent,” the young man said. “The Guardia Real only accept the very best. To ask for exceptions to be made… It CAN be done. But do it discreetly.”

Chrístõ nodded then spoke quietly to the young man. “I can make no firm promise, but apply again. For now, go home and be a comfort to your mother.”

“I will speak to father about him,” Corwen promised as the two bowed and stepped backwards from the throne before turning to leave.

“About his mother, too,” Chrístõ said as he returned to his exalted seat. “She should not be so grievously sad about the loss of her husband. She should have some counselling to help her through her grief.”

He felt emotionally stung by the meeting himself. He wondered what more there was to come this afternoon. He was relieved to find the next few petitioners wanted easily granted favours. One asked for permission to go to a protected area of natural beauty on the far side of Ambrado-Uno where he wished to study the bird-life and write a book about their habitats. Another asked for a grant to help set up a theatre on the colony planet of New Adano where there was little or no entertainment for the miners and their families who lived and worked there. Chrístõ was happy to accede to both those petitions.

Then there was a stirring in the crowd and a change of mood. Christo noticed that there were far more powder blue Guardia Real uniforms around the Throne Room and the crowd went very quiet as a woman stepped forward and made only the most perfunctory bow. Chrístõ wondered if this was somebody else, like the former Minister for Internal Affairs who thought him an unsuitable choice for Viceroy.

“No, it is more complicated than that,” Corwen said. “Chrístõ, let me deal with this one. I know my father’s mind for certain on this matter.”

Corwen stood and moved forward slightly. He was tall, like his father, though thin and pale of complexion. He was young, barely eighteen years old. But he was the son of the King-Emperor and when he stood there it was more than a dais that let him tower above the people.

“No!” he said with a firmness in his voice. “No, your petition is refused, as it is every time you bring it to this place. Your husband will never be released from prison. He is a vile murderer and prison is where he belongs. Go from here and do not profane these proceedings any further with your presence.”

The woman began to protest, but Corwen nodded to the guards. They came forward and firmly escorted the woman out of the Throne Room.

“What was that about?” Chrístõ asked telepathically.

“She is Farra Gess. Twenty years ago, her husband, Bartan Gess, tortured and killed three children. Under the old regime he was sentenced to death but commuted to life imprisonment. Ever since my father assumed power Farra Gess has tried to get him pardoned. But my father has vowed never to give him quarter. His crime was too great.”

“He is definitely guilty? There is no question of miscarriage of justice?”

“None at all,” Corwen answered. “My father has been to the prison. He saw the man. And he said his soul is black as night.”

“Then there is no question. The matter is settled.”

“It…” Corwen began to speak, then to Chrístõ’s utter astonishment and to the consternation of the crowds he threw himself at the throne, knocking Chrístõ onto the dais. They both heard a low thud and looked up cautiously to see a crossbow bolt protruding from the headrest of the throne.

“Stay down, your Highnesses,” called out one of the Guardia Real as they sprang into action. Two young women with crossbows presented shielded Chrístõ and Corwen while others gave chase to the dark clad man who jumped down from the minstrels gallery and ran for it, knocking down everyone who stood in the way of his escape.

“He’s been caught,” somebody shouted a few minutes later. The crowds parted and the would-be assassin was brought before the Viceroy and the Duke of Adano Menor. They were both surprised to see Ethan Dawl with them.

“This young man prevented the assassin making his escape,” they were told.

“He ran by us and knocked my mother down,” Ethan said in explanation.

“Is your mother all right?” Chrístõ asked him.

“She is being looked after,” Ethan replied. “Thank you for thinking of her, sir.”

“It is we who should thank you,” Corwen told him. “The matter we spoke of before… I think you can be sure that your application will be accepted. I shall speak to my father personally about it.”

Ethan bowed and thanked Corwen gratefully. He stepped back and then hurried away to rejoin his mother. Chrístõ and Corwen both turned their attention to the man who had tried to assassinate the King-Emperor’s Viceroy.

“Why?” Chrístõ asked. The man shook his head sullenly and refused to answer. But he didn’t have to speak. Not when his accusers could see so easily into his mind. They easily read the thoughts that seethed within him.

“He actually tried to kill you?” Billy Sandler looked at his teacher with new respect and awe. “I mean… you were inches from death… if you were still sitting there you’d have been… like… shot in the head…”

“Yes,” Chrístõ responded, mildly amused by Billy’s enthusiasm about his near death experience.

“Why?” Judy Knox asked. “What was it about?”

“I bet it was that woman. She wanted to get her husband out of jail.”

“Killing me would hardly have helped his case,” Chrístõ pointed out.

“No, I bet it was the Minister for whatever it was,” Niall O’Leary guessed. “He didn’t like you because you’re a commoner.”

“He was an idiot,” Chrístõ responded. “And a snob. And if he had done his research he would know I am far from a commoner. I am a direct descendent of the Creator of Time Lord society, Lord Rassilon. My aristocratic credentials are far sounder than his own. But assassination wouldn’t be his style. At least, not like that. He’d have had somebody poison our food. But an assassin, with a crossbow, in the Throne Room itself… that took a whole new level of fanaticism.”

“So… what was it about?” The whole class looked at him with undisguised interest.

“It was a follower of a man called General Sorek, who is part of a much older story that you will have to hear about another day,” Chrístõ answered. “We thought he was ancient history, but apparently those loyal to him were plotting the deaths of those involved in his downfall. Penne Dúre, of course, and the Dragon Loge Marton. He had it all wrong, of course. He didn’t know I was standing in for Penne. It’s not the first time somebody has made that mistake.”

“But you got him, so it was ok in the end?” Scott Miller asked. “I mean, you’re here, anyway.”

“We did. Of course, the possibility of a further attempt remained. But Penne has always refused to live in fear of terrorism, and I agree with him. I ordered the Guardia Real to investigate how he got into the palace with a crossbow, but other than that we carried on as usual. The ladies got home in time for dinner, and everyone had an early night. I, for one, was glad of it. Being a Viceroy is exhausting work.”

Except he didn’t get more than an hour’s sleep before the Prime Minister woke him with the news that the King-Emperor’s landing craft was missing somewhere in the inhospitable jungle of Loggia VII.