After a visit to his blood brother, Penne Dúre, King-Emperor of Adano Ambrado, Chrístõ de Lœngbærrow usually changed out of the crimson robe with gold trim and the princely crown that always felt heavy on his head.

This time he didn’t change. Nobody did. The TARDIS console room was a travelling Court for the Crown Prince, the King-Emperor’s cousin, Cal, Duke of Ambrado, and their ladies, Princess Julia and Duchess Glenda. All were dressed to impress.

“And two of us are incredibly clean!” Cal commented. “Three hours in the bath with Penne. What is that all about? I never understood. Is it some kind of custom?”

“Penne likes bathing,” Chrístõ answered. “He used to have scantily clad servants around him when he did, but Cirena put a stop to that. Now he just enjoys it as a rather unusual way of establishing an equal footing with visiting dignitaries. It’s hard to be either inferior or superior in a shared bath. Besides, the hours weren’t wasted. Penne told me a lot about the court of King Shadu of Magli. It’s why we’re going there as his representatives’. Shadu doesn’t allow any offworld visitors except through diplomatic channels. He rules a technologically advanced society but he doesn’t let his people travel offworld or even see extra-terrestrial visitors.”

“Strange attitude,” Glenda remarked.

“Very strange. But Penne and Drago have both been making overtures to the king about diplomatic links, so they’re sending me as their envoy, which gives me time to find out about Shadu’s library. It is rumoured that he owns ten million rare books – the rarest in the galaxies.”

“How rare is that?” Julia asked.

“He allegedly has the only copy of the Saturnæne Witsayga,” Chrístõ answered. “The holy book of the Saturnæ. After their planet was destroyed by solar flares there were only four extant copies. Shadu obtained one by devious means, then had the remaining three stolen and burnt so that he would possess the last one.”

“Charming,” the girls both agreed.

“I’m not sure I want to meet this man,” Julia added. “He doesn’t sound very nice at all.”

“I agree,” Chrístõ told her. “But think of it as good training for the future. As wife of a Gallifreyan diplomat or as Crown Princess of Adano-Ambrado you may have to be polite and charming to people you don’t think very much of. For Penne’s sake, we need to make a decent show of ourselves, anyway.”

“I don’t know how you’re going to juxtapose diplomacy and book theft,” Cal remarked. “I rather think it WILL come down to that this time. This Shadu doesn’t sound like the sort who will leave the Annals to you in his will.”

“No, on this occasion I have no qualms whatsoever about stealing the book,” Chrístõ commented. “If it comes to that. But I’ll check out how things stand before I decide what to do. That’s where the diplomacy comes in.”

It took a great deal of diplomacy, or at least a great deal of patience and emotional restraint to get through the less than diplomatic reception on the Maglian moon. No offworld craft was allowed on Maglia itself. They had to report to the security centre on the dark side of the moon where they were all scanned thoroughly for weapons, including bombs carried within their stomachs of all things. When it was established that they were not a threat to the king’s person, they were finally allowed onto a shuttle craft accompanied by a dozen guards.

“That’s three guards for each of us,” Julia pointed out.

“I should have thought you learnt your four times table at least fourteen years ago, sweetheart,” Chrístõ answered her. “Right now, we have to concentrate on the glory of Shadu.”

Julia made a sarcastic sound that was far from diplomatic and very un-princess-like, but which summed up how they all felt about the onboard ‘entertainment’ – a holo-vid entitled “Glorious King Shadu”. A youthful and energetic king was seen training with his own army, riding a horse-like creature with two heads and six legs bareback across country, playing a game something like rugby with an octagonal ball, and standing proudly on the balcony of his palace while his people cheered him.

“He looks good for his age,” Glenda remarked, glancing at the interactive brochure that accompanied the holo-vid. “Apparently this all took place on his one hundred and twentieth birthday.”

“I went ice-skating on Fridia Z for my one hundred and twentieth birthday,” Chrístõ commented. “It was one of those rare days that my father took out from Ambassadorial duties. He was always so busy at that time. Funny thing, I never knew HE could skate. It was a wonderful day.”

Everyone took in this brief anecdote from Chrístõ’s childhood and the point he was making about relative ages of species.

“Do you think he’s really that clever, or that popular?” Cal asked.

“No,” Chrístõ answered. “I think those people are being forced to cheer by the armed soldiers all around them. And look at how they dress – virtually alike. Even the hair-styles are the same – the men short-cropped except on top of their heads, the women with long hair in braids down their back.”

“There’s a law about how hair should be cut?” Julia queried.

“I’ve heard of sillier things that are punishable by imprisonment,” Chrístõ assured her. “On the planet Aiba Dhub in the Omnicron system it is illegal for men over the age of sixteen not to have a beard. Over the age of twenty-one the beards have to be at least three inches long or they are imprisoned until it grows. People actually pay for beard extensions to avoid being caught out by the official Measurers.”

“You’re making that up,” Cal accused him. “There is NO way that’s a real place and a real law.”

“It is, and I bet you any money there’s a law like it here. And it will no doubt be against the rules not to cheer on the king’s birthday.”

“I like him less with every new thing I learn about him,” Julia decided. The others agreed.

They were even more disgusted, and even more certain that Shadu was grossly over-exaggerated his prowess when the video went on to mention his great virility, having fathered one hundred and fifteen sons.

“Come again?” The two Human girls and the two Gallifreyan men all thought that was nothing to brag about, coming from cultures that valued monogamy, faithfulness in relationships and for the most part, small families.

“Does that mean there are one hundred and fifteen claimants to the throne?” Chrístõ asked, knowing just how much trouble even two sons in an Oldblood House on Gallifrey could cause.

“No.” Again, Glenda was the one looking through the brochure. “There is one official son, the first born. The rest live in a special palace… the word used here might also be translated as a prison, I should add. In the event of the official son dying before his father, and without a son of his own, the next in line will be elevated, but….” Glenda shuddered and pushed the brochure away. Julia picked it up and read on.

“Oh, that is horrible,” she said. “When the official son succeeds his father and he himself has a son, his brothers are all executed because they’re no longer needed.”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Cal said.

“I have,” Chrístõ admitted. “The Skorian Kingdom… Skorians are humanoids descended from frogs, and the one out of ten thousand that matures first in any family will actually eat his or her siblings. It is considered normal there.”

The girls both looked appalled and Julia quietly suggested that neither Adano-Ambrado nor Gallifrey should have diplomatic relations with that society.

“We don’t,” Chrístõ assured her. “But humans aren’t above such things, either. You can’t take the moral high ground as a species. Royal Fratricide was common practice in the Ottoman Empire of Earth. And there was the case of ‘The Princes in the Tower’ during the Plantagenet dynasty in England.”

“Yes, but hundreds of years ago,” Glenda pointed out. “Not now.”

“That’s the difference,” Julia said. “What happened in history is sad. But knowing that we’re meeting somebody who thinks people are like spare parts….”

“Apart from his other not so likable attributes,” Cal added. Everyone nodded unhappily. At the same time they noticed a change in the engine sound. They were landing at the palace.

They landed, in fact, in an inner courtyard within the palace itself, surrounded on all sides by guard posts. King Shadu was a very security conscious monarch.

Or paranoid.

Or so unlikable, despite the cheering crowds in the propaganda video, that he really did fear for his life!

All four of the visiting royals had their theories about that. All, as it would later turn out, were wrong. But for now they were treated to a phalanx of armed guards as they were escorted into the palace. The guards were apparently the finest in all of Maglia, being at least five foot five and with shiny yellow-brown faces with three large almond shaped black-irised eyes, the middle one slightly higher than the other two above the bridge of their flattened noses.

These guards all stood to attention with identically neutral expressions and they were so alike at first glance they might have been clones, or the hundred and fifteen sons already mentioned put to work in securing the palace. Only a closer look would determine individuals by their features, but as Chrístõ knew well enough from his upbringing in the higher echelons of society, royals were not meant to look closely at guards and servants. They were meant to be silent, nameless and faceless.

The royal party passed through wide corridors where no expense had been spared to impress the rare visitor with King Shadu’s wealth, if not his taste. Gold and marble covered the walls, floors and ceilings as well as jewelled mosaics and tapestries of bright, vibrant colours all depicting the king at some valiant deed or other. At every turn there were portraits of Shadu in manly poses.

“Yes, I know,” Chrístõ said to Cal telepathically. “I agree, absolutely. Shadu is going to turn out as full of himself as his palace is. This is going to be DREADFUL.”

Finally they reached the throne room where, again, no expense was spared to gild, embroider or bejewel every inch of surface that wasn’t taken up by portraits of King Shadu.

The man who sat upon the throne looked a little less impressive than the portraits, tapestries, mosaics and holovids suggested. He was shorter than his guards, so thin that he looked under-nourished, and with permanent worry lines on a perspiring forehead. He lifted his head to view the royal ambassadors and smiled weakly.

“Greetings, your Majesty, from my brother, the King Emperor of Adano-Ambrado,” Chrístõ said taking a step forward and bowing. Behind him, Cal bowed and the two girls curtseyed very properly, holding the position until they received a nod of recognition from the King. “I bring gifts to you from the Ambradon Empire and from the Dragon-Loge Marton of Logia whom I am also pleased to represent in your royal Presence.

He felt the wave of admiration from his friends behind him as he straightened himself and made eye contact with the king. At the same time guards brought forward the gifts which had been subject to careful tests to ensure they weren’t explosive, poisonous or otherwise hazardous to the royal personage.

King Shadu looked impassively at the gifts made of jade and obsidian that came from Logia and the fine silks, gold and silver, and casks of precious spices that were Penne’s offering. He nodded once to accept them all and had his guards take them away to his treasure house.

“This is my personal gift to you, Majesty,” Chrístõ said as another box was brought forward. It was opened before the king to reveal a small but beautifully crafted book. “It is the last known copy in the twelve galaxies of the Sycorax Fables.”

Shadu took the book and looked at it with a practiced eye and far more interest than he had for the jewels and other gifts.

The Sycorax Fables was a book from Chrístõ’s father’s library. It was not a particularly well-liked book, despite rarity making it priceless. The Sycorax were an unlovable species whose planet was long gone – hence the rarity of their books – and now travelled the universe like galactic pirates, pillaging whole planets for whatever wealth they had. The Fables were as unlovable as the Sycorax themselves! Chrístõ’s father had not objected to parting with such a book for diplomatic purposes.

King Shadu was clearly pleased with the offering. He placed it on a velvet cushion trimmed with gold braid and had it placed on the right of his throne on display before inviting Chrístõ to sit on an elaborately carved and cushioned seat that was hurriedly placed on the dais, a single step below the king’s throne. His entourage were brought silk cushions to sit upon and a selection of wine and sweetmeats to eat.

The cushions were wide and deep and served as very comfortable seats. The food and wine were good. Shadu on his throne, positioned above everyone, ate and drank and asked tentative questions about the Ambrado-Loggian Hegemony. He was surprised – and perhaps a little envious - to learn that Penne Dúre ruled a whole solar system. His questions about the chief exports and net worth of the system were probing and intelligent.

“I’m afraid I don’t know the exact figures for vessingris exports,” Chrístõ admitted in answer to one such question about a rare aromatic oil excreted by a shrub found in the tropical regions of Adano Gran. “But I could send a message to the treasury department requesting the information.”

“Please do,” Shadu said. “Here, take some more wine. I find it too heady myself. I never have more than one glass, but don’t hold back from enjoying it. The vintage is one of the finest, from Southern Maglia where the grapes are sweetest.”

Chrístõ and Cal both drank, knowing that the alcohol would not affect them. Julia and Glenda asked for fruit juice instead and that was brought for them. They were a little bored listening to discussions of Ambradon exports, especially since they were not expected to take part in the conversation, but they were comfortable enough on the silk cushions and didn’t mind waiting there. They were better off than the guards around the room or the servants who had to stand with carafes of wine and trays of food until the king waved them forward.

Finally, after more than two hours, the audience with the king drew to a close.

“Your ladies are falling asleep,” Shadu said with a soft laugh. “That is quite inappropriate in my presence. In my father’s time they would spend the rest of their sleep in the dungeon. Perhaps you should retire to your chambers for a rest before dinner.”

Chrístõ and Cal both laughed diplomatically. Julia and Glenda forced a smile at the King’s idea of a joke at their expense. When they were alone in the suite of rooms they were allocated, though, they had a lot to say about the matter.

“He’s horrible!” Julia exclaimed. “What a thing to make a joke about.”

“Uggh,” Glenda agreed. Both looked to their men for consolation. Cal sided with them. Chrístõ sympathised with his fiancée, but he was less ready to condemn the King for his tastelessness.

“I’m not sure all is as it seems,” he said. “Talking to him… he didn’t strike me as the complete tyrant we got the impression. He’s very intelligent, incidentally. What he said about the intergalactic gold market was insightful – especially for somebody living in such isolationist conditions.”

“That doesn’t make him a good man,” Glenda pointed out.

“No, I know. But it seems ludicrous that anyone so aware of wider politics should BE living in such a closed society. All he has to do is change the more draconian laws, open up to interplanetary trade, and Maglia could be up there with Adano-Ambrado and Loggia.”

“Then why doesn’t he?” Glenda asked.

“I don’t know,” Chrístõ admitted. “But there is something….”

“You’re right,” Cal said as Chrístõ paused in thought. “Shadu DIDN’T come across like a reclusive tyrant. He was actually quite friendly towards us. Of course, he thinks we’re all royalty and representing a way bigger kingdom than his. Maybe he feels a bit inferior, but there was something else. I just can’t put my finger on it.”

“He said ‘please’,” Julia cut in, surprising both of the men. “I WAS half asleep from the wine and boredom, but I was listening, all the same. He actually used the word ‘please’ three times in the course of the conversation – once to his Chamberlain when he ordered him to fetch the crop reports from the wine-growing region that you showed an interest in. I’ve met about five hundred kings and queens since I met you, and the only one I know who says ‘please’ is Penne. And that’s because you tell him off if he doesn’t.”

“Come to think of it….” Cal closed his eyes as if visualising a scene. “He’s royal by birth. He’s been king for seventy-odd years. But twice he actually forgot about protocol and handed things to you himself – a wine glass and one of those wretched crop reports. Every other time he placed things on a tray and had the Chamberlain pass them to you.”

“That’s something else Penne doesn’t always do,” Chrístõ admitted. “But Drago would never directly hand anything to anyone not of equal rank, and that’s usual among royalty. I’m not sure what it signifies, but….”

“Have you looked at his portraits?” Glenda added. “He looks less like himself than you look like Penne Dúre, Chrístõ.”

Chrístõ laughed at the reference to his striking and completely coincidental resemblance to the King-Emperor and looked carefully at one of the portraits of Shadu that adorned the over-decorated walls of the private drawing room they were in. Of course, any artist who didn’t portray the king as a strongly-built, handsome, kingly figure would probably have his fingers broken or worse. Even so, it had to be admitted that the resemblance between the portrait and Shadu was only slight.

“There is something here that I’m missing,” Chrístõ admitted with a look in his eyes that his friends knew well. He scented a mystery and he wasn’t going to let it go until it was solved.

“Just be careful,” Julia told him. “Shadu seemed friendly to you, but if you cross him, who knows what will happen. I don’t want you thrown in those dungeons he joked about.”

“I don’t want me thrown in the dungeons, either. I still have to see the king’s library. Perhaps I could mention it at dinner, seeing as Shadu likes me!”

The dinner was a strange affair. The dining table could have seated at least fifty people, but while the top five places were taken by the king and his four visitors, the other diners, two young women and two older ones, were at the far end with the Chamberlain and the treasury minister.

The women, as Julia managed to find out, were four of the king’s daughters. He apparently had fifty of those as well as his sons. They were not in line for the throne, and therefore no threat. They lived in mansions in the countryside and every so often were allowed to come to the palace and dine with the king – if being some twenty yards from him counted as dining WITH him.

The older women, curiously, looked about the same age as the king. But asking questions about that would not be polite. Julia kept her thoughts on it to herself and listened as Chrístõ asked about the library.

“It was my father’s pride and joy,” Shadu said. “He collected the rarest books in the twelve galaxies. I have merely continued what he began.”

“I would very much like to see it,” Chrístõ told him.

“I’m afraid that is impossible,” Shadu replied very swiftly. “The library is for my own eyes only. I cannot… I am sorry, it is impossible.”

Again Shadu seemed a different man than he was portrayed in the propaganda, stumbling nervously with his excuse.

Besides, a king said ‘sorry’ even less often than ‘please’. Something very odd was going on.

That feeling that all was not as expected with the king stayed with Chrístõ throughout the meal and the after dinner entertainment – a play about the greatness of King Shadu, the glory of his reign and the love his people had for him. It was a long play involving several different scenes in which the king was manly and strong and triumphed over lesser men.

“That was the most boring play I have ever seen,” Julia declared when she was back in the sumptuous bed chamber she was sharing with Glenda and getting ready for bed. The door to the adjoining sitting room was open and the men were taking part in the conversation while studiously not looking at the girls putting on their nightdresses.

“I agree,” Glenda answered. “Funny thing is, I think the king does, too.”

“He’s probably seen it about ten million times,” Julia suggested.

“Not possible, even if he really WAS over a hundred years old,” Chrístõ called to her. “He’s only lived 43829.1 days, and he was only king from his twentieth year, so that only gives him 36524.2 days to glorify his achievements at dinner.”

“Don’t get boring about maths,” Julia told him. “You know I was just using hyperbole for emphasis.”

“Don’t get boring about English grammar,” Chrístõ replied. “Don’t forget I teach it all week.” He had a sense that the girls were making faces at him behind his back and he laughed freely, something it was difficult to do in the public rooms of the palace. “If you’re both decent now, come and have some of this hot milk the valet just brought. It’s malted and flavoured with honey.”

“Delicious,” the two girls decided after tasting the milk. “Anyway, the king WAS bored.”

“The king was embarrassed,” Cal corrected them. “He couldn’t stand all that trumped up glory any more than we could.”

“Which suggests he really ISN’T the man responsible for all of it,” Chrístõ noted. “So why does he put up with it?”

“There’s another thing,” Cal added. “I don’t believe for one minute that man is over a hundred years old. I know a thing or two about pretending to be younger than I am. I don’t believe he is a day over forty-five – the age he looks in Human years.”

“That’s right,” Glenda agreed. “I looked up Maglian biology. Their average lifespan is eighty years. One hundred and twenty is possible, but he should look REALLY old.”

“Perhaps he’s got a fountain of youth somewhere in the palace grounds,” Julia suggested. “Otherwise, it doesn’t add up.”

“Yet another puzzle about the king, and I still haven’t got close to his library,” Chrístõ sighed. “Ah well, tomorrow is another day. Perhaps we’ll have better luck.”

Julia started to say something, but yawned instead. Glenda did the same. Both girls decided at once that they needed their bed.

Five minutes later they were asleep.

“That was a dirty trick,” Cal said with a soft laugh. “Oil of Valerian in the malted milk – something we’re immune to but puts humans out like a light in minutes. Where did you get it from, anyway?”

“A Chinese herbalist in Liverpool, several years ago,” Chrístõ responded. “After last weekend with them demanding a part in the adventures I figured we might want to make sure they’re fast asleep. We need to do a bit of snooping, and it would be easier with just the two of us to get caught. I don’t think the girls would like the dungeon.”

“I’m not too enthusiastic about trying its facilities myself!” Cal finished his own mug of warm milk and took the medallion on a piece of ribbon that Chrístõ passed to him. “You remembered the perception filters, too.”

“I’m not entirely sure they’ll work. They depend on nobody expecting to see the wearer. But the palace guards might be trained to expect intruders. They might see right through the filter.”

“Calculated risk?”

“I have to see that library. The mystery of Shadu the Not So Fearsome is bugging me, but finding the Annals of Rassilon is the reason we’re here, after all. That and trade agreements for Penne, of course. But if I can sort out my first objective then that might suffice.”

“Do you know where the library is?” Cal asked as they slipped quietly out of the drawing room and the ante-chamber where the valet was sleeping, a measure of Oil of Valerian having been put into his drink, too. Beyond that was one of those highly over-decorated corridors. The only subtlety in the whole length they walked was in the uplighting that illuminated every portrait of Shadu.

“Time Lord instinct,” Chrístõ answered in a low voice as they went down an elaborate staircase, again by the light of the lamps trained on the portraits adorning the walls. “I could feel the Annals calling to me from somewhere below the throne room. The Gallifreyan leather, paper, ink all resonated in my blood when we were there. I had to concentrate, mind you. I think there’s a lot of that stained glass down there – with lead holding it together. That dulls the senses, of course. But I felt it, all the same.”

“I didn’t feel anything. Perhaps you have to be born on Gallifrey to feel that sort of connection.”

“Quite possibly. Don’t worry about that, too much, though. It’s not one of the major talents a Time Lord has. You’re not losing out. Besides, that instinct about Shadu’s age was good. I missed it.”

Cal was pleased to get praise from Chrístõ. He was still very much his apprentice, learning from him, but also developing his own talents independently of him.

Two gilded staircases and a corridor of marble decorated entirely of portraits of Shadu done in mosaic made up of semi-precious but nonetheless expensive stones like Lapus Lazuli, Labradorite, Amethyst and topaz led to a double door of old oak. It was studded with nails capped with jade and fluorspar so that they looked like gemstones glittering in the light.

The door was locked, but Chrístõ produced his sonic screwdriver and made short work of that.

“Never travel without it,” he murmured to his companion as he pushed the door in slowly. He knew that a perception filter couldn’t disguise a door opening and closing. They had to be careful as they slipped inside. That was the moment when they might draw attention to themselves and the filter would fail.

But the only person inside the great library of Maglia was not looking at the door. He was kneeling on the ornately decorated floor with his back to the entrance. Chrístõ’s first instinct was to warn him not to do that. Putting your back to the door made you an easy target for your enemies. Drago would have furniture re-arranged to avoid being compromised in such a way, and even Penne, who was less worried about assassination, took care in that way.

But nobody had told King Shadu to protect himself against attack from behind. Or if they had, he deliberately chose to put his life at risk.

“Is he crying?” Cal whispered.

“Yes, he is,” Chrístõ answered. “Kings DO that when they have to, generally in private. This is a good place for it. Even so….”

He removed his perception filter and stepped forward. His footsteps were loud on the marble floor, and Shadu couldn’t fail to notice his presence. He stood and turned, almost but not quite blocking Chrístõ’s view of what he had been kneeling in front of.

“Who is THAT?” Chrístõ asked, stepping past the king and staring at the mummified corpse of a white haired old man that lay in a marble sarcophagus on a golden dais.

“That is King Shadu,” replied the king as he wiped away his tears and tried to draw himself up in a far more dignified way.

“Then who are YOU?” Cal asked, pulling off his own perception filter and stepping forward.

“He’s the king’s chosen son,” Chrístõ answered before the bewildered man could speak. “Though, technically, if the king is dead, he IS the king. You know ‘The king is dead, long live the king’.”

“I’m Shadica,” he managed to say. “I’m not the king. I have never been crowned. I’m… nobody.”

“I don’t think I understand,” Cal admitted.

“I’m starting to,” Chrístõ told him. “I think I was meant to. I think I was being led from the start. The blatantly ridiculous propaganda film on the flight here – the way you talked about how it was in your father’s day, that bloody awful play that even you couldn’t bear to watch – even telling me that the library was off limits. You knew I was the sort of person who would see out the truth one way or another.”

“I hoped you were,” answered Shadica. “I needed somebody to know my secret – somebody who might be able to help me… or… if not… at least as a foreigner with no status here you would not be able to betray me.”

“I’m not going to betray you. I think I have some idea what this is all about, but tell me the whole thing from your point of view. I think I’m missing some details, still.”

“I’m NOT King Shadu’s first born son,” Shadica admitted. “I’m the twenty-fourth. Twenty-three of my brothers died at our father’s hands because he thought they wanted to betray him. Most of them were better men than me – fitter, stronger – more like the image he wanted the people to believe. But he saw their strength as a threat to him. I survived because the only thing I had in common with him was a love of books. Except he loved collecting them – preserving them….” He waved his hand around the great central hall. Around it were galleries rising up to the high, gilded ceiling where the rare books were kept.

“I preferred reading them,” Shadica went on. “When I was brought from the Fraternal Palace, I spent my days in here – reading. I don’t think anyone other than my father ever really saw me from one day to the next. He came in here to look at the books and gloat over them. He would talk to me about how to be king after him – how to make the people fear me, how to rule absolutely. Those were the only sort of conversations I ever had with my father.”

“I never had a conversation at all with mine,” Cal told him. “At least you had something. But… well, obviously he’s dead. How long for?”

“Five years,” Shadica answered. “He died right here in the library. That book was in his hands.” He waved towards the body. The two Gallifreyans noticed that a large leather bound volume was placed across his body. Chrístõ suppressed an exclamation as he saw the gold Seal of Rassilon embossed upon it. That was one mystery solved, but another was unfolding, still.

“I swore a few men to secrecy – the chamberlain, the prime minister – and they smuggled in the embalmers and the masons who constructed the sarcophagus. They all had their tongues cut out to prevent them telling the truth. Yes, I know, that’s a terrible thing to do, but they were given money in compensation for their suffering, and their sacrifice prevented an even worst tragedy.”

“What tragedy?” Cal asked.

“My brothers,” Shadica told him. “The youngest was only eight months old when the king died. There were others who were just children… and they would be killed to prevent them usurping my throne. I couldn’t let that happen. My father had not made a public appearance for more than fifty years. He let our people believe that he was still a young, strong man. The propaganda films did that.”

“Nobody ever questioned the films?”

“They were too used to being told what to think,” Shadica admitted. “From the earliest age the people are told to admire, trust and above all love the king, or be imprisoned as a traitor if found in default.”

“How do you force somebody to love?” Chrístõ asked. “That’s absurd.”

“Yes, it is. But it has allowed me to maintain the pretence and protect my brothers. The young one… he’s nearly six now. He’s such a lovely child, full of curiosity and love of learning. I think he would love this library, too. But….”

“You are a pillock,” Cal told him.

“I’m a what?” Shadica might not be the king everyone thought he was, but he thought he was being insulted all the same, and he railed against it.

“It’s an Elizabethan English word that fortunately has long since lost its meaning,” Chrístõ told Shadica. “But Cal seems to have some ideas for you. Give him a moment.”

“You’re the king,” Cal told him. “You became the king the very moment your father died. Why didn’t you just issue a proclamation changing the law, preventing the murder of your brothers? Surely all it takes is a word from you.”

Shadica stared at Cal as if he had just said something incredibly wise. But surely it was obvious.


“Surely you know how?” Chrístõ told him. “In the past five years you must have issued plenty of them, signed documents….”

“Using my father’s signature, his name,” Shadica admitted. “Never on my own account.”

“Then tonight’s the night to begin,” Cal said. “Just in case there’s any misunderstanding, here’s what you need to do first, your Majesty.”

Chrístõ was surprised. He had been getting ready to impart his own experience upon the de facto king, but Cal’s idea was the right one.

Julia and Glenda both woke up to a bright, sunny morning. The balcony window in their chamber was wide open and there was a sound of singing and cheering from outside.

“What is going on?” Julia asked. “Isn’t singing in the street against the law on this planet?”

“Unless it is songs in praise of King Shadu,” Glenda answered.

“I’m not sure that’s what we’re hearing.” Julia rose from her bed and pulled a dressing gown on before going to the balcony. She looked down at a surprising sight after all she had heard about Maglia under the rule of the strange king.

For one thing, the people weren’t lined up and all looking up in adoration at the palace. For another, they were all dressed in different colours and waving flags or multi-hued pieces of cloth.

And they weren’t cheering and singing for Shadu.

“Shadica? Who is that?”

“It’s the king of Maglia,” said Chrístõ, standing at the door already dressed – or still wearing the clothes he was wearing last night. “It’s a long story. He’s going to tell it to us over breakfast. After breakfast there’s going to be a funeral - then after lunch a coronation. Yes, I know you didn’t bring a dress for a coronation. There’s a whole storeroom full of antique gowns in pristine condition that the two of you can choose from.”

Breakfast was a very interesting meal. The huge table that had been nearly empty last night at dinner was fully occupied this morning with men and boys who all bore a family resemblance to the king – the same king, but the new king at the same time.

“Cal was right,” Julia said when she had heard the whole story. “You ARE a pillock.”

Shadica accepted the censure with as much graciousness as he could muster.

“Later, I’ll explain what that word actually means,” Chrístõ told his fiancée. “And hopefully you won’t use it again. As for you, your Majesty, as you can see from this very crowded breakfast table, big families are not really advisable. Might I suggest you find a nice princess and have one or two, maybe three or four children and be satisfied that your line will continue through them.”

“I shall consider all of your advice,” Shadica said. “Including changing the law of primogeniture so that a daughter might inherit the throne as well as a son.”

“Good idea,” Glenda and Julia told him.

“And I shall see about a fairer distribution of wealth,” Shadica added. “There is too much gold on the walls of this palace and not enough in the pockets of my people.”

“You’re getting it, now,” Cal said in a triumphant tone.

“Did you remember the other thing we talked about last night?” Chrístõ asked. “A certain book….”

Shadica smiled and nodded. The Chamberlain approached bearing a large velvet cushion upon which an oversize book with a gold-inlaid design on the cover lay.

“It is yours,” he said. “Though it is hard to part with such a beautiful thing. Yet as I said before – my father collected books simply to look at them. I like to read them, and that one is a mystery to me, a language I can never decipher, images I do not understand.”

“I think it will be a mystery to me, too,” Chrístõ admitted. “But I accept it on behalf of my people to whom it truly belongs. Let me put it away safely before we attend the funeral with you… then the Coronation. After that, I think we ought to be on our way. As much as we’ve enjoyed visiting, your world, I think you need to spend some quality time with your brothers and sisters.”

“What about the trade agreements we were meant to discuss?”

“My blood brother the King-Emperor will be in touch with you about that,” Chrístõ promised. “I think he might invite you to visit HIM. Before I go, I’ll explain about his bathing habits. They ARE a bit unnerving the first time.”

“Bathing habits?” Shadica was puzzled, but there was too much else for the new monarch with his newly liberated people to think about at that moment. He let it pass.