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Title: Space Viking
Author: Piper, H. Beam, 1904-1964
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Space Viking" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Transcriber's note:
This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact--Science Fiction
November 1962, December 1962, January 1963, February 1963.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the copyright
on this publication was renewed.]


[Illustration: SPACE VIKING
A great new novel by H. Beam Piper]

[Illustration][Illustration]



Space Viking


            Vengeance is a strange human motivation--
                 it can drive a man to do things
     which he neither would nor could achieve without it ...
         and because of that it lies behind some of the
               greatest sagas of human literature!


by H. Beam Piper

Illustrated by Schoenherr

They stood together at the parapet, their arms about each other's
waists, her head against his cheek. Behind, the broad leaved
shrubbery gossiped softly with the wind, and from the lower main
terrace came music and laughing voices. The city of Wardshaven
spread in front of them, white buildings rising from the wide spaces
of green treetops, under a shimmer of sun-reflecting aircars above.
Far away, the mountains were violet in the afternoon haze, and the
huge red sun hung in a sky as yellow as a ripe peach.

His eye caught a twinkle ten miles to the southwest, and for an
instant he was puzzled. Then he frowned. The sunlight on the two
thousand-foot globe of Duke Angus' new ship, the _Enterprise_, back
at the Gorram shipyards after her final trial cruise. He didn't want
to think about that, now.

Instead, he pressed the girl closer and whispered her name, "Elaine,"
and then, caressing every syllable, "Lady Elaine Trask of Traskon."

"Oh, no, Lucas!" Her protest was half joking and half apprehensive.
"It's bad luck to be called by your married name before the wedding."

"I've been calling you that in my mind since the night of the Duke's
ball, when you were just home from school on Excalibur."

She looked up from the corner of her eye.

"That was when I started calling me that, too," she confessed.

"There's a terrace to the west at Traskon New House," he told her.
"Tomorrow, we'll have our dinner there, and watch the sunset together."

"I know. I thought that was to be our sunset-watching place."

"You have been peeking," he accused. "Traskon New House was to be
your surprise."

"I always was a present-peeker, New Year's and my birthdays. But I only
saw it from the air. I'll be very surprised at everything inside,"
she promised. "And very delighted."

And when she'd seen everything and Traskon New House wasn't a surprise
any more, they'd take a long space trip. He hadn't mentioned that to
her, yet. To some of the other Sword-Worlds--Excalibur, of course, and
Morglay and Flamberge and Durendal. No, not Durendal; the war had
started there again. But they'd have so much fun. And she would see
clear blue skies again, and stars at night. The cloud-veil hid the stars
from Gram, and Elaine had missed them, since coming home from Excalibur.

The shadow of an aircar fell briefly upon them and they looked up
and turned their heads, in time to see it sink with graceful dignity
toward the landing-stage of Karval House, and he glimpsed its
blazonry--sword and atom-symbol, the badge of the ducal house of
Ward. He wondered if it were Duke Angus himself, or just some of
his people come ahead of him. They should get back to their guests,
he supposed. Then he took her in his arms and kissed her, and she
responded ardently. It must have been all of five minutes since
they'd done that before.

       *       *       *       *       *

A slight cough behind them brought them apart and their heads
around. It was Sesar Karvall, gray-haired and portly, the breast of
his blue coat gleaming with orders and decorations and the sapphire
in the pommel of his dress-dagger twinkling.

"I thought I'd find you two here," Elaine's father smiled. "You'll
have tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow together, but need I remind
you that today we have guests, and more coming every minute."

"Who came in the Ward car?" Elaine asked.

"Rovard Grauffis. And Otto Harkaman; you never met him, did you, Lucas?"

"No; not by introduction. I'd like to, before he spaces out." He had
nothing against Harkaman personally; only against what he represented.
"Is the Duke coming?"

"Oh, surely. Lionel of Newhaven and the Lord of Northport are coming
with him. They're at the Palace now." Karvall hesitated. "His nephew's
back in town."

Elaine was distressed; she started to say: "Oh, dear! I hope he doesn't--"

"Has Dunnan been bothering Elaine again?"

"Nothing to take notice of. He was here, yesterday, demanding to
speak with her. We got him to leave without too much unpleasantness."

"It'll be something for me to take notice of, if he keeps it up
after tomorrow."

For his seconds and Andray Dunnan's, that was; he hoped it wouldn't
come to that. He didn't want to have to shoot a kinsman to the house
of Ward, and a crazy man to boot.

"I'm terribly sorry for him," Elaine was saying. "Father, you should
have let me talk to him. I might have made him understand."

Sesar Karvall was shocked. "Child, you couldn't have subjected
yourself to that! The man is insane!" Then he saw her bare
shoulders, and was even more shocked. "Elaine, your shawl!"

Her hands went up and couldn't find it; she looked about in confused
embarrassment. Amused, Lucas picked it from the shrub onto which she
had tossed it and draped it over her shoulders, his hands lingering
briefly. Then he gestured to the older man to precede them, and
they entered the arbored walk. At the other end, in an open circle,
a fountain played; white marble girls and boys bathing in the
jade-green basin. Another piece of loot from one of the Old Federation
planets; that was something he'd tried to avoid in furnishing
Traskon New House. There'd be a lot of that coming to Gram, after
Otto Harkaman took the _Enterprise_ to space.

"I'll have to come back, some time, and visit them," Elaine
whispered to him. "They'll miss me."

"You'll find a lot of new friends at your new home," he whispered
back. "You wait till tomorrow."

"I'm going to put a word in the Duke's ear about that fellow," Sesar
Karvall, still thinking of Dunnan, was saying. "If he speaks to him,
maybe it'll do some good."

"I doubt it. I don't think Duke Angus has any influence over him at all."

Dunnan's mother had been the Duke's younger sister; from his father
he had inherited what had originally been a prosperous barony. Now
it was mortgaged to the top of the manor-house aerial-mast. The Duke
had once assumed Dunnan's debts, and refused to do so again. Dunnan
had gone to space a few times, as a junior officer on trade-and-raid
voyages into the Old Federation. He was supposed to be a fair
astrogator. He had expected his uncle to give him command of the
_Enterprise_, which had been ridiculous. Disappointed in that,
he had recruited a mercenary company and was seeking military
employment: It was suspected that he was in correspondence with
his uncle's worst enemy, Duke Omfray of Glaspyth.

And he was obsessively in love with Elaine Karvall, a passion which
seemed to nourish itself on its own hopelessness. Maybe it would
be a good idea to take that space trip right away. There ought to
be a ship leaving Bigglersport for one of the other Sword-Worlds,
before long.

       *       *       *       *       *

They paused at the head of the escalators; the garden below was
thronged with guests, the bright shawls of the ladies and the coats
of the men making shifting color-patterns among the flower-beds and
on the lawns and under the trees. Serving-robots, flame-yellow and
black in the Karvall colors, floated about playing soft music and
offering refreshments. There was a continuous spiral of changing
costume-color around the circular robo-table. Voices babbled happily
like a mountain river.

As they stood looking down, another aircar circled low; green and
gold, lettered PANPLANET NEWS SERVICE. Sesar Karvall swore in
irritation.

"Didn't there use to be something they called privacy?" he asked.

"It's a big story, Sesar."

It was; more than the marriage of two people who happened to be in love
with each other. It was the marriage of the farming and ranching barony
of Traskon and the Karvall steel mills. More, it was public announcement
that the wealth and fighting-men of both baronies were now aligned
behind Duke Angus of Wardshaven. So it was a general holiday. Every
industry had closed down at noon today, and would be closed until
morning-after-next, and there would be dancing in every park and
feasting in every tavern. To Sword-Worlders, any excuse for a holiday
was better than none.

"They're our people, Sesar; they have a right to have a good time
with us. I know everybody at Traskon is watching this by screen."

He raised his hand and waved to the news car, and when it swung
its pickup around, he waved again. Then they went down the long
escalator.

Lady Lavina Karvall was the center of a cluster of matrons and
dowagers, around which tomorrow's bridesmaids fluttered like
many-colored butterflies. She took possession of her daughter
and dragged her into the feminine circle. He saw Rovard Grauffis,
small and saturnine, Duke Angus' henchman, and Burt Sandrasan,
Lady Lavina's brother. They spoke, and then an upper-servant,
his tabard blazoned with the yellow flame and black hammer of
Karvall mills, approached his master with some tale of domestic
crisis, and the two went away together.

"You haven't met Captain Harkaman, Lucas," Rovard Grauffis said.
"I wish you'd come over and say hello and have a drink with him.
I know your attitude, but he's a good sort. Personally, I wish
we had a few like him around here."

That was his main objection. There were fewer and fewer men of
that sort on any of the Sword-Worlds.



II


A dozen men clustered around the bartending robot--his cousin
and family lawyer, Nikkolay Trask; Lothar Ffayle, the banker;
Alex Gorram, the shipbuilder, and his son Basil; Baron Rathmore;
more of the Wardshaven nobles whom he knew only distantly.
And Otto Harkaman.

Harkaman was a Space Viking. That would have set him apart, even
if he hadn't topped the tallest of them by a head. He wore a short
black jacket, heavily gold-braided, and black trousers inside
ankle-boots; the dagger on his belt was no mere dress-ornament. His
tousled red-brown hair was long enough to furnish extra padding in
a combat-helmet, and his beard was cut square at the bottom.

He had been fighting on Durendal, for one of the branches of the
royal house contesting fratricidally for the throne. The wrong one;
he had lost his ship, and most of his men and, almost, his own life.
He had been a penniless refugee on Flamberge, owning only the
clothes he stood in and his personal weapons and the loyalty of
half a dozen adventurers as penniless as himself, when Duke Angus
had invited him to Gram to command the _Enterprise_.

"A pleasure, Lord Trask. I've met your lovely bride-to-be, and
now that I meet you, let me congratulate both." Then, as they
were having a drink together, he put his foot in it by asking:
"You're not an investor in the Tanith Adventure, are you?"

He said he wasn't, and would have let it go at that. Young Basil
Gorram had to get his foot in, too.

"Lord Trask does not approve of the Tanith Adventure," he said
scornfully. "He thinks we should stay home and produce wealth,
instead of exporting robbery and murder to the Old Federation
for it."

The smile remained on Otto Harkaman's face; only the friendliness
was gone. He unobtrusively shifted his drink to his left hand.

"Well, our operations are definable as robbery and murder," he
agreed. "Space Vikings are professional robbers and murderers.
And you object? Perhaps you find me personally objectionable?"

"I wouldn't have shaken your hand or had a drink with you if I did.
I don't care how many planets you raid or cities you sack, or how
many innocents, if that's what they are, you massacre in the Old
Federation. You couldn't possibly do anything worse than those
people have been doing to one another for the past ten centuries.
What I object to is the way you're raiding the Sword-Worlds."

"You're crazy!" Basil Gorram exploded.

"Young man," Harkaman reproved, "the conversation was between Lord
Trask and myself. And when somebody makes a statement you don't
understand, don't tell him he's crazy. Ask him what he means.
What _do_ you mean, Lord Trask?"

"You should know; you've just raided Gram for eight hundred of our
best men. You raided me for close to forty vaqueros, farm-workers,
lumbermen, machine-operators, and I doubt I'll be able to replace
them with as good." He turned to the elder Gorram. "Alex, how many
have you lost to Captain Harkaman?"

Gorram tried to make it a dozen; pressed, he admitted to a score and
a half. Roboticians, machine-supervisors, programmers, a couple of
engineers, a foreman. There was grudging agreement from the others.
Burt Sandrasan's engine-works had lost almost as many, of the same
kind. Even Lothar Ffayle admitted to losing a computerman and
a guard-sergeant.

And after they were gone, the farms and ranches and factories would
go on, almost but not quite as before. Nothing on Gram, nothing on
any of the Sword-Worlds, was done as efficiently as three centuries
ago. The whole level of Sword-World life was sinking, like the east
coastline of this continent, so slowly as to be evident only from
the records and monuments of the past. He said as much, and added:

"And the genetic loss. The best Sword-World genes are literally
escaping to space, like the atmosphere of a low-gravity planet,
each generation begotten by fathers slightly inferior to the last.
It wasn't so bad when the Space Vikings raided directly from the
Sword-Worlds; they got home once in a while. Now they're conquering
planets in the Old Federation for bases, and staying there."

       *       *       *       *       *

Everybody had begun to relax; this wouldn't be a quarrel. Harkaman,
who had shifted his drink back to his right hand, chuckled.

"That's right. I've fathered my share of brats in the Old
Federation, and I know Space Vikings whose fathers were born on
Old Federation planets." He turned to Basil Gorram. "You see, the
gentleman isn't crazy, at all. That's what happened to the Terran
Federation, by the way. The good men all left to colonize, and the
stuffed shirts and yes-men and herd-followers and safety-firsters
stayed on Terra and tried to govern the galaxy."

"Well, maybe this is all new to you, captain," Rovard Grauffis
said sourly, "but Lucas Trask's dirge for the Decline and Fall
of the Sword-Worlds is an old song to the rest of us. I have
too much to do to stay here and argue."

Lothar Ffayle evidently did intend to stay and argue.

"All you're saying, Lucas, is that we're expanding. You want us
to sit here and build up population pressure like Terra in the
First Century?"

"With three and a half billion people spread out on twelve planets?
They had that many on Terra alone. And it took us eight centuries
to reach that."

That had been since the Ninth Century, Atomic Era, at the end of
the Big War. Ten thousand men and women on Abigor, refusing to
surrender, had taken the remnant of the System States Alliance navy
to space, seeking a world the Federation had never heard of and
wouldn't find for a long time. That had been the world they had
called Excalibur. From it, their grandchildren had colonized Joyeuse
and Durendal and Flamberge; Haulteclere had been colonized in the
next generation from Joyeuse, and Gram from Haulteclere.

"We're not expanding, Lothar; we're contracting. We stopped
expanding three hundred and fifty years ago, when that ship came
back to Morglay from the Old Federation and reported what had
been happening out there since the Big War. Before that, we were
discovering new planets and colonizing them. Since then, we've
been picking the bones of the dead Terran Federation."

       *       *       *       *       *

Something was going on by the escalators to the landing stage.
People were moving excitedly in that direction, and the news cars
were circling like vultures over a sick cow. Harkaman wondered,
hopefully, if it mightn't be a fight.

"Some drunk being bounced." Nikkolay, Lucas' cousin, commented.
"Sesar's let all Wardshaven in here, today. But, Lucas, this Tanith
adventure; we're not making any hit-and-run raid. We're taking over
a whole planet; it'll be another Sword-World in forty or fifty
years."

[Illustration]

"Inside another century, we'll conquer the whole Federation," Baron
Rathmore declared. He was a politician and never let exaggeration
worry him.

"What I don't understand," Harkaman said, "is why you support Duke
Angus, Lord Trask, if you think the Tanith adventure is doing Gram
so much harm."

[Illustration]

"If Angus didn't do it, somebody else would. But Angus is going to
make himself King of Gram, and I don't think anybody else could do
that. This planet needs a single sovereignty. I don't know how much
you've seen of it outside this duchy, but don't take Wardshaven as
typical. Some of these duchies, like Glaspyth or Didreksburg, are
literal snake pits. All the major barons are at each other's
throats, and they can't even keep their own knights and petty-barons
in order. Why, there's a miserable little war down in Southmain
Continent that's been going on for over two centuries."

"That's probably where Dunnan's going to take that army of his,"
a robot-manufacturing baron said. "I hope it gets wiped out, and
Dunnan with it."

"You don't have to go to Southmain; just go to Glaspyth," somebody
else said.

"Well, if we don't get a planetary monarchy to keep order, this
planet will decivilize like anything in the Old Federation."

"Oh, _come_, Lucas!" Alex Gorram protested. "That's pulling it out
too far."

"Yes, for one thing, we don't have the Neobarbarians," somebody
said. "And if they ever came out here, we'd blow them to
Em-See-Square in nothing flat. Might be a good thing if they
did, too; it would stop us squabbling among ourselves."

Harkaman looked at him in surprise. "Just who do you think the
Neobarbarians are, anyhow?" he asked. "Some race of invading nomads;
Attila's Huns in spaceships?"

"Well, isn't that who they are?" Gorram asked.

"Nifflheim, no! There aren't a dozen and a half planets in the Old
Federation that still have hyperdrive, and they're all civilized.
That's if 'civilized' is what Gilgamesh is," he added. "These are
homemade barbarians. Workers and peasants who revolted to seize and
divide the wealth and then found they'd smashed the means of
production and killed off all the technical brains. Survivors on
planets hit during the Interstellar Wars, from the Eleventh to
the Thirteenth Centuries, who lost the machinery of civilization.
Followers of political leaders on local-dictatorship planets.
Companies of mercenaries thrown out of employment and living by
pillage. Religious fanatics following self-anointed prophets."

"You think we don't have plenty of Neobarbarian material here on
Gram?" Trask demanded. "If you do, take a look around."

Glaspyth, somebody said.

"That collection of over-ripe gallows-fruit Andray Dunnan's
recruited," Rathmore mentioned.

Alex Gorram was grumbling that his shipyard was full of them;
agitators stirring up trouble, trying to organize a strike to
get rid of the robots.

"Yes," Harkaman pounced on that last. "I know of at least forty
instances, on a dozen and a half planets, in the last eight
centuries, of anti-technological movements. They had them on Terra,
back as far as the Second Century Pre-Atomic. And after Venus
seceded from the First Federation, before the Second Federation
was organized."

"You're interested in history?" Rathmore asked.

"A hobby. All spacemen have hobbies. There's very little work
aboard ship in hyperspace; boredom is the worst enemy. My
guns-and-missiles officer, Vann Larch, is a painter. Most of his
work was lost with the _Corisande_ on Durendal, but he kept us from
starving a few times on Flamberge by painting pictures and selling
them. My hyperspatial astrogator, Guatt Kirbey, composes music; he
tries to express the mathematics of hyperspatial theory in musical
terms. I don't care much for it, myself," he admitted. "I study
history. You know, it's odd; practically everything that's happened
on any of the inhabited planets happened on Terra before the first
spaceship."

The garden immediately around them was quiet, now; everybody was
over by the landing-stage escalators. Harkaman would have said more,
but at that moment he saw half a dozen of Sesar Karvall's uniformed
guardsmen run past. They were helmeted and in bullet-proofs; one of
them had an auto-rifle, and the rest carried knobbed plastic
truncheons. The Space Viking set down his drink.

"Let's go," he said. "Our host is calling up his troops; I think
the guests ought to find battle-stations, too."



III


The gaily-dressed crowd formed a semicircle facing the landing-stage
escalators; everybody was staring in embarrassed curiosity, those
behind craning over the shoulders of those in front. The ladies had
drawn up their shawls in frigid formality; many had even covered
their heads. There were four news-service cars hovering above;
whatever was going on was getting a planetwide screen showing. The
Karvall guardsmen were trying to get through; their sergeant was
saying, over and over, "Please, ladies and gentlemen; your pardon,
noble sir," and getting nowhere.

Otto Harkaman swore disgustedly and shoved the sergeant aside.
"Make way, here!" he bellowed. "Let these guards pass." With that,
he almost hurled a gaily-dressed gentleman aside on either hand;
they both turned to glare angrily, then got hastily out of his way.
Meditating briefly on the uses of bad manners in an emergency, Trask
followed, with the others; the big Space Viking plowed to the front,
where Sesar Karvall and Rovard Grauffis and several others were standing.

Facing them, four men in black cloaks stood with their backs to
the escalators. Two were commonfolk retainers; hired gunmen, to be
precise. They were at pains to keep their hands plainly in sight,
and seemed to be wishing themselves elsewhere. The man in front wore
a diamond sunburst jewel on his beret, and his cloak was lined with
pale blue silk. His thin, pointed face was deeply lined about the
mouth and penciled with a thin black mustache. His eyes showed
white all around the irises, and now and then his mouth would twitch
in an involuntary grimace. Andray Dunnan; Trask wondered briefly how
soon he would have to look at him from twenty-five meters over the
sights of a pistol. The face of the slightly taller man who stood at
his shoulder was paper-white, expressionless, with a black beard.
His name was Nevil Ormm, nobody was quite sure whence he had come,
and he was Dunnan's henchman and constant companion.

"You lie!" Dunnan was shouting. "You lie damnably, in your stinking
teeth, all of you! You've intercepted every message she's tried to
send me."

"My daughter has sent you no messages, Lord Dunnan," Sesar Karvall
said, with forced patience. "None but the one I just gave you, that
she wants nothing whatever to do with you."

"You think I believe that? You're holding her a prisoner; Satan
only knows how you've been torturing her to force her into this
abominable marriage--"

There was a stir among the bystanders; that was more than
well-mannered restraint could stand. Out of the murmur of
incredulous voices, one woman's was quite audible:

"Well, really! He actually _is_ crazy!"

Dunnan, like everybody else, heard it. "Crazy, am I?" he blazed.
"Because I can see through this hypocritical sham? Here's Lucas
Trask, he wants an interest in Karvall mills, and here's Sesar
Karvall, he wants access to iron deposits on Traskon land. And
my loving uncle, he wants the help of both of them in stealing
Omfray of Glaspyth's duchy. And here's this loan-shark of a Ffayle,
trying to claw my lands away from me, and Rovard Grauffis, the fetchdog
of my uncle who won't lift a finger to save his kinsman from ruin,
and this foreigner Harkaman who's swindled me out of command of
the _Enterprise_. You're all plotting against me--"

"Sir Nevil," Grauffis said, "you can see that Lord Dunnan's not
himself. If you're a good friend to him, you'll get him out of here
before Duke Angus arrives."

Ormm leaned forward and spoke urgently in Dunnan's ear. Dunnan
pushed him angrily away.

"Great Satan, are you against me, too?" he demanded.

Ormm caught his arm. "You fool, do you want to ruin everything,
now--" He lowered his voice; the rest was inaudible.

"No, curse you, I won't go till I've spoken to her, face to face--"

       *       *       *       *       *

There was another stir among the spectators; the crowd was parting,
and Elaine was coming through, followed by her mother and Lady
Sandrasan and five or six other matrons. They all had their shawls
over their heads, right ends over left shoulders; they all stopped
except Elaine, who took a few steps forward and confronted Andray
Dunnan. He had never seen her look more beautiful, but it was the
icy beauty of a honed dagger.

"Lord Dunnan, what do you wish to say to me?" she asked. "Say it
quickly and then go; you are not welcome here."

"Elaine!" Dunnan cried, taking a step forward. "Why do you cover
your head; why do you speak to me as a stranger? I am Andray,
who loves you. Why are you letting them force you into this
wicked marriage?"

"No one is forcing me; I am marrying Lord Trask willingly and
happily, because I love him. Now, please, go and make no more
trouble at my wedding."

"That's a lie! They're making you say that! You don't have to marry
him; they can't make you. Come with me now. They won't dare stop
you. I'll take you away from all these cruel, greedy people. You
love me, you've always loved me. You've told me you loved me,
again and again--"

Yes, in his own private dream-world, a world of fantasy that had now
become Andray Dunnan's reality, in which an Elaine Karvall whom his
imagination had created existed only to love him. Confronted by the
real Elaine, he simply rejected the reality.

"I never loved you, Lord Dunnan, and I never told you so. I never
hated you, either, but you are making it very hard for me not to.
Now go, and never let me see you again."

With that, she turned and started back through the crowd, which
parted in front of her. Her mother and her aunt and the other ladies
followed.

"You lied to me!" Dunnan shrieked after her. "You lied all the time.
You're as bad as the rest of them, all scheming and plotting against
me, betraying me. I know what it's about; you all want to cheat me
of my rights, and keep my usurping uncle on the ducal throne. And
you, you false-hearted harlot, you're the worst of them all!"

Sir Nevil Ormm caught his shoulder and spun him around, propelling
him toward the escalators. Dunnan struggled, screaming inarticulately
like a wounded wolf. Ormm was cursing furiously.

"You two!" he shouted. "Help me, here. Get hold of him."

Dunnan was still howling as they forced him onto the escalator, the
backs of the two retainers' cloaks, badged with the Dunnan crescent,
light blue on black, hiding him. After a little, an aircar with the
blue crescent blazonry lifted and sped away.

"Lucas, he's crazy," Sesar Karvall was insisting. "Elaine hasn't
spoken fifty words to him since he came back from his last voyage--"

He laughed and put a hand on Karvall's shoulder. "I know that,
Sesar. You don't think, do you, that I need assurance of it?"

"Crazy, I'll say he's crazy," Rovard Grauffis put in. "Did you
hear what he said about his rights? Wait till his Grace hears
about that."

"Does he lay claim to the ducal throne, Sir Rovard?" Otto Harkaman
asked, sharply and seriously.

"Oh, he claims that his mother was born a year and a half before
Duke Angus and the true date of her birth falsified to give Angus
the succession. Why, his present Grace was three years old when she
was born. I was old Duke Fergus' esquire; I carried Angus on my
shoulder when Andray Dunnan's mother was presented to the lords
and barons the day after she was born."

"Of course he's crazy," Alex Gorram agreed. "I don't know why
the Duke doesn't have him put under psychiatric treatment."

"I'd put him under treatment," Harkaman said, drawing a finger
across under his beard. "Crazy men who pretend to thrones are bombs
that ought to be deactivated, before they blow things up."

"We couldn't do that," Grauffis said. "After all, he's Duke Angus'
nephew--"

"I could do it," Harkaman said. "He only has three hundred men in
this company of his. Why you people ever let him recruit them Satan
only knows," he parenthesized. "I have eight hundred; five hundred
ground-fighters. I'd like to see how they shape up in combat, before
we space out. I can have them ready for action in two hours, and
it'd be all over before midnight."

"No, Captain Harkaman; his Grace would never permit it," Grauffis
vetoed. "You have no idea of the political harm that would do among
the independent lords on whom we're counting for support. You
weren't here on Gram when Duke Ridgerd of Didreksburg had his sister
Sancia's second husband poisoned--"



IV


They halted under the colonnade; beyond, the lower main terrace was
crowded, and a medley of old love songs was wafting from the sound
outlets, for the sixth or eighth time around. He looked at his
watch; it was ninety seconds later than the last time he had done
so. Give it fifteen more minutes to get started, and another fifteen
to get away after the marriage toasts and the felicitations. And
no marriage, however pompous, lasted more than half an hour. An
hour, then, till he and Elaine would be in the aircar, bulleting
toward Traskon.

The love songs stopped abruptly; after a momentary silence, a
trumpet, considerably amplified, blared; the "Ducal Salute." The
crowd stopped shifting, the buzz of voices ceased. At the head of
the landing-stage escalators there was a glow of color and the ducal
party began moving down. A platoon of guards in red and yellow, with
gilded helmets and tasseled halberds. An esquire bearing the Sword
of State. Duke Angus, with his council, Otto Harkaman among them;
the Duchess Flavia and her companion-ladies. The household gentlemen,
and their ladies. More guardsmen. There was a great burst of cheering;
the news-service aircars got into position above the procession.
Cousin Nikkolay and a few others stepped out from between the pillars
into the sunlight; there was a similar movement at the other side of
the terrace. The ducal party reached the end of the central walkway,
halted and deployed.

"All right; let's shove off," Cousin Nikkolay said, stepping forward.

Ten minutes since they had come outside; another five to get into
position. Fifty minutes, now, till he and Elaine--Lady Elaine Trask
of Traskon, for real and for always--would be going home.

"Sure the car's ready?" he asked, for the hundredth time.

His cousin assured him that it was. Figures in Karvall black and
flame-yellow appeared across the terrace. The music began again,
this time the stately "Nobles' Wedding March," arrogant and at
the same time tender. Sesar Karvall's gentleman-secretary, and
the Karvall lawyer; executives of the steel mills, the Karvall
guard-captain. Sesar himself, with Elaine on his arm; she was
wearing a shawl of black and yellow. He looked around in sudden
fright; "For the love of Satan, where's our shawl?" he demanded, and
then relaxed when one of his gentlemen exhibited it, green and tawny
in Traskon colors. The bridesmaids, led by Lady Lavina Karvall.
Finally they halted, ten yards apart, in front of the Duke.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Who approaches us?" Duke Angus asked of his guard-captain.

He had a thin, pointed face, almost femininely sensitive, and a
small pointed beard. He was bareheaded except for the narrow golden
circlet which he spent most of his waking time scheming to convert
into a royal crown. The guard-captain repeated the question.

"I am Sir Nikkolay Trask; I bring my cousin and liege-lord,
Lucas, Lord Trask, Baron of Traskon. He comes to receive the
Lady-Demoiselle Elaine, daughter of Lord Sesar Karvall, Baron
of Karvall mills, and the sanction of your Grace to the marriage
between them."

Sir Maxamon Zhorgay, Sesar Karvall's henchman, named himself and
his lord; they brought the Lady-Demoiselle Elaine to be wed to
Lord Trask of Traskon. The Duke, satisfied that these were persons
whom he could address directly, asked if the terms of the
marriage-agreement had been reached; both parties affirmed this.
Sir Maxamon passed a scroll to the Duke; Duke Angus began to read
the stiff and precise legal phraseology.

Marriages between noble houses were not matters to be left open
to dispute; a great deal of spilled blood and burned powder had
resulted from ambiguity on some point of succession or inheritance
or dower rights. Lucas bore it patiently; he didn't want his
great-grandchildren and Elaine's shooting it out over a matter
of a misplaced comma.

"And these persons here before us do enter into this marriage
freely?" the Duke asked, when the reading had ended. He stepped
forward as he spoke, and his esquire gave him the two-hand Sword of
State, heavy enough to behead a bisonoid. Trask stepped forward;
Sesar Karvall brought Elaine up. The lawyers and henchmen obliqued
off to the sides. "How say you, Lord Trask?" he asked, almost
conversationally.

"With all my heart, your Grace."

"And you, Lady-Demoiselle Elaine?"

"It is my dearest wish, your Grace."

The Duke took the sword by the blade and extended it; they laid
their hands on the jeweled pommel.

"And do you, and your houses, avow us, Angus, Duke of Wardshaven,
to be your sovereign prince, and pledge fealty to us and to our
legitimate and lawful successors?"

"We do." Not only he and Elaine, but all around them, and all the
throng in the gardens, answered, the spectators in shouts. Very
clearly, above it all, somebody, with more enthusiasm than
discretion, was bawling: "_Long live Angus the First of Gram!_"

"And we, Angus, do confer upon you two, and your houses, the right
to wear our badge as you see fit, and pledge ourself to maintain
your rights against any and all who may presume to invade them. And
we declare that this marriage between you two, and this agreement
between your respective houses, does please us, and we avow you two,
Lucas and Elaine, to be lawfully wed, and who so questions this
marriage challenges us, in our teeth and to our despite."

That wasn't exactly the wording used by a ducal lord on Gram. It was
the formula employed by a planetary king, like Napolyon of Flamberge
or Rodolf of Excalibur. And, now that he thought of it, Angus had
consistently used the royal first-person plural. Maybe that fellow
who had shouted about Angus the First of Gram had only been doing
what he'd been paid to do. This was being telecast, and Omfray of
Glaspyth and Ridgerd of Didreksburg would both be listening; as of
now, they'd start hiring mercenaries. Maybe that would get rid of
Dunnan for him.

The Duke gave the two-hand sword back to his esquire. The young
knight who was carrying the green and tawny shawl handed it to him,
and Elaine dropped the black and yellow one from her shoulders,
the only time a respectable woman ever did that in public, and her
mother caught and folded it. He stepped forward and draped the Trask
colors over her shoulders, and then took her in his arms. The
cheering broke out again, and some of Sesar Karvall's guardsmen
began firing a pom-pom somewhere.

       *       *       *       *       *

It took a little longer than he had expected to finish with the
toasts and shake hands with those who crowded around. Finally, the
exit march started, down the long walkway to the landing stage,
and the Duke and his party moved away to the rear to prepare for
the wedding feast at which everybody but the bride and groom would
celebrate. One of the bridesmaids gave Elaine a huge sheaf of
flowers, which she was to toss back from the escalator; she held it
in the crook of one arm and clung to his with the other.

"Darling; we really made it!" she was whispering, as though it were
too wonderful to believe.

Well, wasn't it?

One of the news cars--orange and blue, that was Westlands Telecast
& Teleprint--had floated just ahead of them and was letting down
toward the landing stage. For a moment, he was angry; that went
beyond the outer-orbit limits of journalistic propriety, even for
Westlands T & T. Then he laughed; today he was too happy for anger
about anything. At the foot of the escalator, Elaine kicked off her
gilded slippers--there was another pair in the car; he'd seen to
that personally--and they stepped onto the escalator and turned
about. The bridesmaids rushed forward, and began struggling for the
slippers, to the damage and disarray of their gowns, and when they
were half way up, Elaine heaved the bouquet and it burst apart among
them like a bomb of colored fragrance, and the girls below snatched
at the flowers, shrieking deliriously. Elaine stood, blowing kisses
to everybody, and he was shaking his clasped hands over his head,
until they were at the top.

When they turned and stepped off, the orange and blue aircar had
let down directly in front of them, blocking their way. Now he was
really furious, and started forward with a curse. Then he saw who
was in the car.

Andray Dunnan, his thin face contorted and the narrow mustache
writhing on his upper lip; he had a slit beside the window open
and was tilting the barrel of a submachine gun up and out of it.

He shouted, and at the same time tripped Elaine and flung her down.
He was throwing himself forward to cover her when there was a
blasting multiple report. Something sledged him in the chest;
his right leg crumpled under him. He fell--

He fell and fell and fell, endlessly, through darkness, out of
consciousness.



V


He was crucified, and crowned with a crown of thorns. Who had they
done that to? Somebody long ago, on Terra. His arms were drawn out
stiffly, and hurt; his feet and legs hurt, too, and he couldn't move
them, and there was this prickling at his brow. And he was blind.

[Illustration]

No; his eyes were just closed. He opened them, and there was a white
wall in front of him, patterned with a blue snow-crystal design, and
he realized that it was a ceiling and that he was lying on his back.
He couldn't move his head, but by shifting his eyes he saw that he
was completely naked and surrounded by a tangle of tubes and wires,
which puzzled him briefly. Then he knew that he was not on a bed,
but on a robomedic, and the tubes would be for medication and
wound drainage and intravenous feeding, and the wires would be
to electrodes imbedded in his body for diagnosis, and the
crown-of-thorns thing would be more electrodes for an encephalograph.
He'd been on one of those robomedics before, when he had been gored
by a bisonoid on the cattle range.

[Illustration]

That was what it was; he was still under treatment. But that seemed
so long ago; so many things--he must have dreamed them--seemed to
have happened.

Then he remembered, and struggled futilely to rise.

"Elaine!" he called. "Elaine, where are you?"

There was a stir and somebody came into his limited view; his
cousin, Nikkolay Trask.

"Nikkolay; Andray Dunnan," he said. "What happened to Elaine?"

Nikkolay winced, as though something he had expected to hurt had
hurt worse than he had expected.

"Lucas." He swallowed. "Elaine ... Elaine is dead."

Elaine is dead. That didn't make sense.

"She was killed instantly, Lucas. Hit six times; I don't think
she even felt the first one. She didn't suffer at all."

Somebody moaned, and then he realized that it had been himself.

"You were hit twice," Nikkolay was telling him. "One in the leg;
smashed the femur. And one in the chest. That one missed your heart
by an inch."

"Pity it did." He was beginning to remember clearly, now. "I threw
her down, and tried to cover her. I must have thrown her straight
into the burst and only caught the last of it myself." There was
something else; oh, yes. "Dunnan. Did they get him?"

Nikkolay shook his head. "He got away. Stole the _Enterprise_ and
took her off-planet."

"I want to get him myself."

He started to rise again; Nikkolay nodded to someone out of sight.
A cool hand touched his chin, and he smelled a woman's perfume,
nothing at all like Elaine's. Something like a small insect bit
him on the neck. The room grew dark.

Elaine was dead. There was no more Elaine, nowhere at all. Why,
that must mean there was no more world. So that was why it had
gotten so dark.

He woke again, fitfully, and it would be daylight and he could see
the yellow sky through an open window or it would be night and the
wall-lights would be on. There would always be somebody with him.
Nikkolay's wife, Dame Cecelia; Rovard Grauffis; Lady Lavina
Karvall--he must have slept a long time, for she was so much older
than he remembered--and her brother, Burt Sandrasan. And a woman
with dark hair, in a white smock with a gold caduceus on her breast.

Once, Duchess Flavia, and once Duke Angus himself. He asked where
he was, not much caring. They told him, at the Ducal Palace.

He wished they'd all go away, and let him go wherever Elaine was.

Then it would be dark, and he would be trying to find her, because
there was something he wanted desperately to show her. Stars in the
sky at night, that was it. But there were no stars, there was no
Elaine, there was no anything, and he wished that there was no
Lucas Trask, either.

But there was an Andray Dunnan. He could see him standing
black-cloaked on the terrace, the diamonds in his beret-jewel
glittering evilly; he could see the mad face peering at him over
the rising barrel of the submachine gun. And then he would hunt
for him without finding him, through the cold darkness of space.

The waking periods grew longer, and during them his mind was clear.
They relieved him of his crown of electronic thorns. The feeding
tubes came out, and they gave him cups of broth and fruit juice.
He wanted to know why he had been brought to the Palace.

"About the only thing we could do," Rovard Grauffis told him.
"They had too much trouble at Karvall House as it was. You know,
Sesar got shot, too."

"No." So that was why Sesar hadn't come to see him. "Was he killed?"

"Wounded; he's in worse shape than you are. When the shooting
started, he went charging up the escalator. Didn't have anything
but his dress-dagger. Dunnan gave him a quick burst; I think that
was why he didn't have time to finish you off. By that time, the
guards who'd been shooting blanks from that rapid-fire gun got in
a clip of live rounds and fired at him. He got out of there as fast
as he could. They have Sesar on a robomedic like yours. He isn't
in any danger."

The drainage tubes and medication tubes came out; the tangle of
wires around him was removed, and the electrodes with them. They
bandaged his wounds and dressed him in a loose robe and lifted him
from the robomedic to a couch, where he could sit up when he wished;
they began giving him solid food, and wine to drink, and allowed him
to smoke. The woman doctor told him he'd had a bad time, as though
he didn't know that. He wondered if she expected him to thank her
for keeping him alive.

"You'll be up and around in a few weeks," his cousin added. "I've
seen to it that everything at Traskon New House will be ready for
you by then."

"I'll never enter that house as long as I live, and I wish that
wouldn't be more than the next minute. That was to be Elaine's
house. I won't go to it alone."

       *       *       *       *       *

The dreams troubled his sleep less and less as he grew stronger.
Visitors came often, bringing amusing little gifts, and he found
that he enjoyed their company. He wanted to know what had really
happened, and how Dunnan had gotten away.

"He pirated the _Enterprise_," Rovard Grauffis told him. "He had
that company of mercenaries of his, and he'd bribed some of the
people at the Gorram shipyards. I thought Alex would kill his chief
of security when he found out what had happened. We can't prove
anything--we're trying hard enough to--but we're sure Omfray of
Glaspyth furnished the money. He's been denying it just a shade
too emphatically."

"Then the whole thing was planned in advance."

"Taking the ship was; he must have been planning that for months;
before he started recruiting that company. I think he meant to do
it the night before the wedding. Then he tried to persuade the
Lady-Demoiselle Elaine to elope with him--he seems to have actually
thought that was possible--and when she humiliated him, he decided
to kill both of you first." He turned to Otto Harkaman, who had
accompanied him. "As long as I live, I'll regret not taking you
at your word and accepting your offer, then."

"How did he get hold of that Westlands Telecast and Teleprint car?"

"Oh. The morning of the wedding, he screened Westlands editorial
office and told them he had the inside story on the marriage and
why the Duke was sponsoring it. Made it sound as though there was
some scandal; insisted that a reporter come to Dunnan House for a
face-to-face interview. They sent a man, and that was the last they
saw him alive; our people found his body at Dunnan House when we
were searching the place afterward. We found the car at the
shipyard; it had taken a couple of hits from the guns at Karvall
House, but you know what these press cars are built to stand. He
went directly to the shipyard, where his men already had the
_Enterprise_; as soon as he arrived, she lifted out."

He stared at the cigarette between his fingers. It was almost
short enough to burn him. With an effort, he leaned forward to
crush it out.

"Rovard, how soon will that second ship be finished?"

Grauffis laughed bitterly. "Building the _Enterprise_ took
everything we had. The duchy's on the edge of bankruptcy now. We
stopped work on the second ship six months ago because we didn't
have enough money to keep on with her and still get the _Enterprise_
finished. We were expecting the _Enterprise_ to make enough in the
Old Federation to finish the second one. Then, with two ships and
a base on Tanith, the money would begin coming in instead of going
out. But now--"

"It leaves me where I was on Flamberge," Harkaman added. "Worse.
King Napolyon was going to help the Elmersans, and I'd have gotten
a command in that. It's too late for that now."

He picked up his cane and used it to push himself to his feet.
The broken leg had mended, but he was still weak. He took a few
tottering steps, paused to lean on the cane, and then forced
himself on to the open window and stood for a moment staring out.
Then he turned.

"Captain Harkaman, it might be that you could still get a command,
here on Gram. That's if you don't mind commanding under me as
owner-aboard. I am going hunting for Andray Dunnan."

They both looked at him. After a moment, Harkaman said:

"I'd count it an honor, Lord Trask. But where will you get a ship?"

"She's half finished now. You already have a crew for her. Duke
Angus can finish her for me, and pay for it by pledging his new
barony of Traskon."

He had known Rovard Grauffis all his life; until this moment,
he had never seen Duke Angus' henchman show surprise.

"You mean, you'll trade Traskon for that ship?" he demanded.

"Finished, equipped and ready for space, yes."

"The Duke will agree to that," Grauffis said promptly. "But, Lucas;
Traskon is all you own."

"If I have a ship, I won't need them. I am turning Space Viking."

That brought Harkaman to his feet with a roar of approval. Grauffis
looked at him, his mouth slightly open.

"Lucas Trask--Space Viking," he said. "Now I've heard everything."

Well, why not? He had deplored the effects of Viking raiding on
the Sword-Worlds, because Gram was a Sword-World, and Traskon was
on Gram, and Traskon was to have been the home where he and Elaine
would live and where their children and children's children would
be born and live. Now the little point on which all of it had
rested was gone.

"That was another Lucas Trask, Rovard. He's dead, now."



VI


Grauffis excused himself to make a screen call and then returned to
excuse himself again. Evidently Duke Angus had dropped whatever he
was doing as soon as he heard what his henchman had to tell him.
Harkaman was silent until after he was out of the room, then said:

"Lord Trask, this is a wonderful thing for me. It's not been
pleasant to be a shipless captain living on strangers' bounty.
I'd hate, though, to have you think, some time, that I'd advanced
my own fortunes at the expense of yours."

"Don't worry about that. If anybody's being taken advantage of,
you are. I need a space-captain, and your misfortune is my own
good luck."

Harkaman started to pack tobacco into his pipe. "Have you ever been
off Gram, at all?" he asked.

"A few years at the University of Camelot, on Excalibur. Otherwise, no."

"Well, have you any conception of the sort of thing you're setting
yourself to?" The Space Viking snapped his lighter and puffed.
"You know, of course, how big the Old Federation is. You know the
figures, that is, but do they mean anything to you? I know they
don't to a good many spacemen, even. We talk glibly about ten to the
hundredth power, but emotionally we still count, 'One, Two, Three,
Many.' A ship in hyperspace logs about a light-year an hour. You
can go from here to Excalibur in thirty hours. But you could send
a radio message announcing the birth of a son, and he'd be a father
before it was received. The Old Federation, where you're going to
hunt Dunnan, occupies a space-volume of two hundred billion cubic
light-years. And you're hunting for one ship and one man in that.
How are you going to do it, Lord Trask?"

"I haven't started thinking about how; all I know is that I have to
do it. There are planets in the Old Federation where Space Vikings
come and go; raid-and-trade bases, like the one Duke Angus planned
to establish on Tanith. At one or another of them, I'll pick up word
of Dunnan, sooner or later."

"We'll hear where he was a year ago, and by the time we get there,
he'll be gone for a year and a half to two years. We've been raiding
the Old Federation for over three hundred years, Lord Trask. At present,
I'd say there are at least two hundred Space Viking ships in operation.
Why haven't we raided it bare long ago? Well, that's the answer:
distance and voyage-time. You know, Dunnan could die of old age--which
is not a usual cause of death among Space Vikings--before you caught up
with him. And your youngest ship's-boy could die of old age before he
found out about it."

"Well, I can go on hunting for him till I die, then. There's nothing
else that means anything to me."

"I thought it was something like that. I won't be with you, all your
life. I want a ship of my own, like the _Corisande_, that I lost on
Durendal. Some day, I'll have one. But till you can command your own
ship, I'll command her for you. That's a promise."

Some note of ceremony seemed indicated. Summoning a robot, he had it
pour wine for them, and they pledged each other.

Rovard Grauffis had recovered his aplomb by the time he returned
accompanied by the Duke. If Angus had ever lost his, he gave no
indication of it. The effect on everybody else was literally seismic.
The generally accepted view was that Lord Trask's reason had been
unhinged by his tragic loss; there might, he conceded, be more than
a crumb of truth in that. At first, his cousin Nikkolay raged at him
for alienating the barony from the family, and then he learned that
Duke Angus was appointing him vicar-baron and giving him Traskon
New House for his residence. Immediately he began acting like one
at the death-bed of a rich grandmother. The Wardshaven financial
and industrial barons, whom he had known only distantly, on the
other hand, came flocking around him, offering assistance and
hailing him as the savior of the duchy. Duke Angus' credit, almost
obliterated by the loss of the _Enterprise_, was firmly
re-established, and theirs with it.

There were conferences at which lawyers and bankers argued
interminably; he attended a few at first, found himself completely
uninterested, and told everybody so. All he wanted was a ship; the
best ship possible, as soon as possible. Alex Gorram had been the
first to be notified; he had commenced work on the unfinished
sister-ship of the _Enterprise_ immediately. Until he was strong
enough to go to the shipyard himself, he watched the work on the
two-thousand-foot globular skeleton by screen, and conferred either
in person or by screen with engineers and shipyard executives. His
rooms at the ducal palace were converted, almost overnight, from
sickrooms to offices. The doctors, who had recently been urging
him to find new interests and activities, were now warning of the
dangers of overexertion. Harkaman finally added his voice to theirs.

"You take it easy, Lucas." They had dropped formality and were
on a first-name basis now. "You got hulled pretty badly; you let
damage-control work on you, and don't strain the machinery till
it's fixed. We have plenty of time. We're not going to get anywhere
chasing Dunnan. The only way we can catch him is by interception.
The longer he moves around in the Old Federation before he hears
we're after him, the more of a trail he'll leave. Once we can
establish a predictable pattern, we'll have a chance. Then, some
time, he'll come out of hyperspace somewhere and find us waiting
for him."

"Do you think he went to Tanith?"

Harkaman heaved himself out of his chair and prowled about the room
for a few minutes, then came back and sat down again.

"No. That was Duke Angus' idea, not his. He couldn't put in a base
on Tanith, anyhow. You know the kind of a crew he has."

There had been an extensive inquiry into Dunnan's associates and
accomplices; Duke Angus was still hoping for positive proof to
implicate Omfray of Glaspyth in the piracy. Dunnan had with him
a dozen and a half employees of the Gorram shipyards whom he had
corrupted. There was some technical ability among them, but for the
most part they were agitators and trouble-makers and incompetent
workmen. Even under the circumstances, Alex Gorram was glad to see
the last of them. As for Dunnan's own mercenary company, there were
about a score of former spacemen among them; the rest graded down
from bandits through thugs and sneak-thieves to barroom bums.
Dunnan himself was an astrogator, not an engineer.

"That gang aren't even good enough for routine raiding," Harkaman
said. "They'd never under any circumstances be able to put in a base
on Tanith. Unless Dunnan's completely crazy, which I doubt, he's gone
to some regular Viking base planet, like Hoth or Nergal or Dagon or
Xochitl, to recruit officers and engineers and able spacemen."

"All that machinery and robotic equipment and so on that was going
to Tanith--was that aboard when he took the ship?"

"Yes, and that's another reason why he'd go to some planet like Hoth
or Nergal or Xochitl. On a Viking-occupied planet in the Old
Federation, that stuff's almost worth its weight in gold."

"What's Tanith like?"

"Almost completely Terra-type, third of a Class-G sun. Very much
like Haulteclere or Flamberge. It was one of the last planets the
Federation colonized before the Big War. Nobody knows what happened,
exactly. There wasn't any interstellar war; at least, you don't find
any big slag-puddles where cities used to be. They probably did
a lot of fighting among themselves, after they got out of the
Federation. There's still some traces of combat-damage around. Then
they started to decivilize, down to the pre-mechanical level--wind
and water power and animal power. They have draft-animals that look
like introduced Terran carabaos, and a few small sailboats and big
canoes and bateaux on the rivers. They have gunpowder, which seems
to be the last thing any people lose.

"I was there, five years ago. I liked Tanith for a base. There's one
moon, almost solid nickel iron, and fissionable-ore deposits. Then,
like a fool, I hired out to the Elmersans on Durendal and lost my
ship. When I came here, your Duke was thinking about Xipototec. I
convinced him that Tanith was a better planet for his purpose."

"Dunnan might go there, at that. He might think he was scoring one
on Duke Angus. After all, he has all that equipment."

"And nobody to use it. If I were Dunnan, I'd go to Nergal, or
Xochitl. There are always a couple of thousand Space Vikings on
either, spending their loot and taking it easy between raids. He
could sign on a full crew on either. I suggest we go to Xochitl,
first. We might pick up news of him, if nothing else."

       *       *       *       *       *

All right, they'd try Xochitl first. Harkaman knew the planet,
and was friendly with the Haulteclere noble who ruled it.

The work went on at the Gorram shipyard; it had taken a year
to build the _Enterprise_, but the steel-mills and engine-works
were over the preparatory work of tooling up, and material and
equipment was flowing in a steady stream. Lucas let them persuade
him to take more rest, and day by day grew stronger. Soon he was
spending most of his time at the shipyard, watching the engines
go in--Abbot lift-and-drive for normal space, Dillingham hyperdrive,
power-converters, pseudograv, all at the center of the globular ship.

Living quarters and workshops went in next, all armored in
collapsium-plated steel. Then the ship lifted out to an orbit a
thousand miles off-planet, followed by swarms of armored work-craft
and cargo-lighters; the rest of the work was more easily done in
space. At the same time, the four two-hundred-foot pinnaces that
would be carried aboard were being finished. Each of them had its
own hyperdrive engines, and could travel as far and as fast as
the ship herself.

Otto Harkaman was beginning to be distressed because the ship still
lacked a name. He didn't like having to speak of her as "her," or
"the ship," and there were many things soon to go on that should be
name-marked. _Elaine_, Trask thought, at once, and almost at once
rejected it. He didn't want her name associated with the things
that ship would do in the Old Federation. _Revenge_, _Avenger_,
_Retribution_, _Vendetta_; none appealed to him. A news-commentator,
turgidly eloquent about the nemesis which the criminal Dunnan had
invoked against himself, supplied it, _Nemesis_ it was.

Now he was studying his new profession of interstellar robbery and
murder against which he had once inveighed. Otto Harkaman's handful
of followers became his teachers. Vann Larch, guns-and-missiles,
who was also a painter; Guatt Kirbey, sour and pessimistic, the
hyperspatial astrogator who tried to express his science in music;
Sharll Renner, the normal-space astrogator. Alvyn Karffard, the
exec, who had been with Harkaman longest of all. And Sir Paytrik
Morland, a local recruit, formerly guard-captain to Count Lionel
of Newhaven, who commanded the ground-fighters and the combat
contragravity. They were using the farms and villages of Traskon
for drill and practice, and he noticed that while the _Nemesis_
would carry only five hundred ground and air fighters, over a
thousand were being trained.

He commented to Rovard Grauffis.

"Yes. Don't mention it outside," the Duke's henchman said. "You and
Sir Paytrik and Captain Harkaman will pick the five hundred best.
The Duke will take the rest into his service. Some of these days,
Omfray of Glaspyth will find out what a Space Viking raid is really
like."

And Duke Angus would tax his new subjects of Glaspyth to redeem
the pledges on his new barony of Traskon. Some old Pre-Atomic writer
Harkaman was fond of quoting had said, "Gold will not always get
you good soldiers, but good soldiers can get you gold."

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Nemesis_ came back to the Gorram yards and settled onto her
curved landing legs like a monstrous spider. The _Enterprise_ had
borne the Ward sword and atom-symbol; the _Nemesis_ should bear his
own badge, but the bisonoid head, tawny on green, of Traskon, was no
longer his. He chose a skull impaled on an upright sword, and it was
blazoned on the ship when he and Harkaman took her out for her
shakedown cruise.

When they landed again at the Gorram yards, two hundred hours later,
they learned that a tramp freighter from Morglay had come into
Bigglersport in their absence with news of Andray Dunnan. Her
captain had come to Wardshaven at Duke Angus' urgent invitation
and was waiting for them at the Ducal Palace.

They sat, a dozen of them, around a table in the Duke's private
apartments. The freighter captain, a small, precise man with a
graying beard, alternately puffed at a cigarette and sipped from
a beaker of brandy.

"I spaced out from Morglay two hundred hours ago," he was saying. "I'd
been there twelve local days, three hundred Galactic Standard hours,
and the run from Curtana was three hundred and twenty. This ship,
the _Enterprise_, spaced out from there several days before I did.
I'd say she's twelve hundred hours out of Windsor, on Curtana, now."

The room was still. The breeze fluttered curtains at the open
windows; from the garden below, winged night-things twittered.

[Illustration]

"I never expected it," Harkaman said. "I thought he'd take the ship
out to the Old Federation at once." He poured wine for himself. "Of
course, Dunnan's crazy. A crazy man has an advantage, sometimes,
like a left-handed knife-fighter. He does unexpected things."

"That wasn't such a crazy move," Rovard Grauffis said. "We have very
little direct trade with Curtana. It's only an accident we heard
about this when we did."

The freighter captain's beaker was half empty. He filled it to the
brim from the decanter.

"She was the first Gram ship there for years," he agreed. "That
attracted notice, of course. And his having the blazonry changed,
from the sword and atom-symbol to the blue crescent. And the
ill-feeling on the part of other captains and planet-side employers
about the men he'd lured away from them."

"How many men and what kind?"

The man with the gray beard shrugged. "I was too busy getting a
cargo together for Morglay, to pay much attention. Almost a full
spaceship complement, officers and spacemen of every kind. And a
lot of industrial engineers and technicians."

"Then he is going to use that equipment that was aboard, and put in
a base somewhere," somebody said.

[Illustration]

"If he left Curtana twelve hundred hours ago, he's still in
hyperspace," Guatt Kirbey said. "It's over two thousand from Curtana
to the nearest Old Federation planet."

"How far to Tanith?" Duke Angus asked. "I'm sure that's where he's
gone. He'd expect me to finish the other ship and equip her like the
_Enterprise_ and send her out; he'd want to get there first."

"I'd thought that Tanith would be the last place he'd go," Harkaman
said, "but this changes the whole outlook. He could have gone to Tanith."

"He's crazy, and you're trying to apply sane logic to him," Guatt
Kirbey said. "You're figuring what you'd do, and you aren't crazy.
Of course, I've had my doubts, at times, but--"

"Yes, he's crazy, and Captain Harkaman's allowing for that," Rovard
Grauffis said. "Dunnan hates all of us. He hates his Grace, here.
He hates Lord Lucas, and Sesar Karvall; of course, he may think
he killed both of them. He hates Captain Harkaman. So how could
he score all of us off at once? By taking Tanith."

"You say he was buying supplies and ammunition?"

"That's right. Gun ammunition, ship's missiles, and a lot of
ground-defense missiles."

"What was he buying them with? Trading machinery?"

"No. Gold."

"Yes. Lothar Ffayle found out that a lot of gold was transferred to
Dunnan from banks in Glaspyth and Didreksburg," Grauffis said. "He
got that aboard when he took the ship, evidently."

"All right," Trask said. "We can't be sure of anything, but we have
some reasons for thinking he went to Tanith, and that's more than
we have for any other planet in the Old Federation. I won't try to
estimate the odds against our finding him there, but they're a good
deal bigger anywhere else. We'll go there, first."



VII


The outside viewscreen, which had been vacantly gray for over
three thousand hours, was now a vertiginous swirl of color, the
indescribable color of a collapsing hyperspatial field. No two
observers ever saw it alike, and no imagination could vision the
actuality. Trask found that he was holding his breath. So, he
noticed, was Otto Harkaman, beside him. It was something, evidently,
that nobody got used to. Even Guatt Kirbey, the astrogator, was
sitting with his pipe clenched in his mouth, staring at the screen.

Then, in an instant, the stars, which had literally not been there
before, filled the screen with a blaze of splendor against the black
velvet backdrop of normal space. Dead in the center, brighter than
all the rest, Ertado's Star, the sun of Tanith, burned yellowly.
The light from it was ten hours old.

"Pretty good, Guatt," Harkaman said, picking up his cup.

"Good, Gehenna; it was perfect," somebody else said.

Kirbey was relighting his pipe. "Oh, I suppose it'll have to do," he
grudged, around the stem. He had gray hair and an untidy mustache,
and nothing was ever quite good enough to satisfy him. "I could have
made it a little closer. Need three microjumps, now, and I'll have
to cut the last one pretty fine. Now don't bother me." He began
punching buttons for data and fiddling with setscrews and verniers.

For a moment, in the screen, Trask could see the face of Andray
Dunnan. He blinked it away and reached for his cigarettes, and put
one in his mouth wrong-end-to. When he reversed it and snapped his
lighter, he saw that his hand was trembling. Otto Harkaman must have
seen that, too.

"Take it easy, Lucas," he whispered. "Keep your optimism under
control. We only think he might be here."

"I'm sure he is. He has to be."

No; that was the way Dunnan, himself, thought. Let's be sane about this.

"We have to assume he is. If we do, and he isn't it's a
disappointment. If we don't, and he is, it's a disaster."

Others, it seemed, thought the same way. The battle-stations board
was a solid blaze of red light for full combat readiness.

"All right," Kirbey said. "Jumping."

Then he twisted the red handle to the right and shoved it in
viciously. Again the screen boiled with colored turbulence; again
dark and mighty forces stalked through the ship like demons in a
sorcerer's tower. The screen turned featureless gray as the pickups
stared blindly into some dimensionless noplace. Then it convulsed
with color again, and this time Ertado's Star, still in the center,
was a coin-sized disk, with the little sparks of its seven planets
scattered around it. Tanith was the third--the inhabitable planet of
a G-class system usually was. It had a single moon, barely visible
in the telescopic screen, five hundred miles in diameter and fifty
thousand off-planet.

"You know," Kirbey said, as though he was afraid to admit it, "that
wasn't too bad. I think we can make it in one more microjump."

Some time, Trask supposed, he'd be able to use the expression
"micro-" about a distance of fifty-five million miles, too.

"What do you think about it?" Harkaman asked him, as deferentially
as though seeking expert guidance instead of examining his
apprentice. "Where should Guatt put us?"

"As close as possible, of course." That would be a light-second at
the least; if the _Nemesis_ came out of hyperspace any closer to
anything the size of Tanith, the collapsing field itself would
kick her back. "We have to assume Dunnan's been there at least
nine hundred hours. By that time, he could have put in a
detection-station, and maybe missile-launchers, on the moon. The
_Enterprise_ carries four pinnaces, the same as the _Nemesis_; in
his place, I'd have at least two of them on off-planet patrol. So
let's accept it that we'll be detected as soon as we come out of
the last jump, and come out with the moon directly between us and
the planet. If it's occupied, we can knock it off on the way in."

"A lot of captains would try to come out with the moon masked off
by the planet," Harkaman said.

"Would you?"

The big man shook his tousled head. "No. If they have launchers on
the moon, they could launch at us in a curve around the planet, by
data relayed from the other side, and we'd be at a disadvantage
replying. Just go straight in. You hearing this, Guatt?"

"Yeah. It makes sense. Sort of. Now, stop pestering me. Sharll,
look here a minute."

The normal-space astrogator conferred with him; Alvyn Karffard, the
executive officer, joined them. Finally Kirbey pulled out the big
red handle, twisted it, and said, "All right, jumping." He shoved
it in. "I suppose I cut it too fine; now we'll get kicked back half
a million miles."

The screen convulsed again; when it cleared the third planet was
directly in the center; its small moon, looking almost as large, was
a little above and to the right, sunlit on one side and planetlit on
the other. Kirbey locked the red handle, gathered up his tobacco and
lighter and things from the ledge, and pulled down the cover of the
instrument-console, locking it.

"All yours, Sharll," he told Renner.

"Eight hours to atmosphere," Renner said. "That's if we don't have
to waste a lot of time shooting up Junior, there."

Vann Larch was looking at the moon in the six hundred power screen.

"I don't see anything to shoot. Five hundred miles; one
planetbuster, or four or five thermonuclears," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

It wasn't right, Trask thought indignantly. Minutes ago, Tanith had
been six and a half billion miles away. Seconds ago, fifty-odd million.
And now, a quarter of a million, and looking close enough to touch
in the screen, it would take them eight hours to reach it. Why, on
hyperdrive you could go forty-eight trillion miles in that time.

Well, it took a man just as long to walk across a room today as it
had taken Pharaoh the First, or Homo Sap.

In the telescopic screen Tanith looked like any picture of any
Terra-type planet from space, with cloud-blurred contours of seas
and continents and a vague mottling of gray and brown and green,
topped at the pole by an icecap. None of the surface features, not
even the major mountain ranges or rivers, were yet distinguishable,
but Harkaman and Sharll Renner and Alvyn Karffard and the other old
hands seemed to recognize it. Karffard was talking by phone to Paul
Koreff, the signals-and-detection officer, who could detect nothing
from the moon and nothing that was getting through the Van Allen
belt from the planet.

Maybe they'd guessed wrong, at that. Maybe Dunnan hadn't gone to
Tanith at all.

Harkaman, who had the knack of putting himself to sleep at will,
with some sixth or _n_-th sense posted as a sentry, leaned back in
his chair and closed his eyes. Trask wished he could, too. It would
be hours before anything happened, and until then he needed all the
rest he could get. He drank more coffee, chain-smoked cigarettes;
he rose and prowled about the command room, looking at screens.
Signals-and-detection was getting a lot of routine stuff--Van Allen
count, micrometeor count, surface temperature, gravitation-field
strength, radar and scanner echoes. He went back to his chair and
sat down, staring at the screen-image. The planet didn't seem to be
getting any closer at all, and it ought to; they were approaching
it at better than escape velocity. He sat and stared at it.

He woke with a start. The screen-image was much larger, now. River
courses and the shadow lines of mountains were clearly visible. It
must be early autumn in the northern hemisphere; there was snow down
to the sixtieth parallel and a belt of brown was pushing south
against the green. Harkaman was sitting up, eating lunch. By the
clock, it was four hours later.

"Have a good nap?" he asked. "We're picking up some stuff, now.
Radio and screen signals. Not much, but some. The locals wouldn't
have learned enough for that in the five years since I was here.
We didn't stay long enough, for one thing."

On decivilized planets that were visited by Space Vikings, the
locals picked up bits and scraps of technology very quickly. In the
four months of idleness and long conversations while they were in
hyperspace he had heard many stories confirming that. But from the
level to which Tanith had sunk, radio and screen communication in
five years was a little too much of a jump.

"You didn't lose any men, did you?"

That happened frequently--men who took up with local women, men who
had made themselves unpopular with their shipmates, men who just
liked the planet and wanted to stay. They were always welcomed by
the locals for what they could do and teach.

"No, we weren't there long enough for that. Only three hundred and
fifty hours. This we're getting is outside stuff; somebody's there
beside the locals."

Dunnan. He looked again at the battle-stations board; it was still
uniformly red-lighted. Everything was on full combat ready. He
summoned a mess-robot, selected a couple of dishes, and began
to eat. After the first mouthful, he called to Alvyn Karffard:

"Is Paul getting anything new?" he asked.

Karffard checked. A little contragravity-field distortion effect.
It was still too far to be sure. He went back to his lunch. He had
finished it and was lighting a cigarette over his coffee when a red
light flashed and a voice from one of the speakers shouted.

"Detection! Detection from planet! Radar, and microray!"

Karffard began talking rapidly into a hand-phone; Harkaman unhooked
one beside him and listened.

"Coming from a definite point, about twenty-fifth north parallel,"
he said, aside. "Could be from a ship hiding against the planet.
There's nothing at all on the moon."

       *       *       *       *       *

They seemed to be approaching the planet more and more rapidly.
Actually, they weren't, the ship was decelerating to get into
an orbit, but the decreasing distance created the illusion of
increasing speed. The red lights flashed once more.

"_Ship detected!_ Just outside atmosphere, coming around the planet
from the west."

"Is she the _Enterprise_?"

"Can't tell, yet," Karffard said, and then cried: "There she is,
in the screen! That spark, about thirty degrees north, just off
the west side."

Aboard her, too, voices from speakers would be shouting, "Ship
detected!" and the battle station board would be blazing red.
And Andray Dunnan, at the command-desk--

"She's calling us." That was Paul Koreff's voice, out of the
squawk-box on the desk. "Standard Sword-World impulse-code.
Interrogative: What ship are you? Informative: her screen
combination. Request: Please communicate."

"All right," Harkaman said. "Let's be polite and communicate.
What's her screen-combination?"

Koreff's voice gave it, and Harkaman punched it out. The
communication screen in front of them lit at once; Trask shoved over
his chair beside Harkaman's, his hands tightening on the arms. Would
it be Dunnan himself, and what would his face show when he saw who
confronted him out of his own screen?

It took him an instant to realize that the other ship was not the
_Enterprise_ at all. The _Enterprise_ was the _Nemesis'_ twin; her
command room was identical with his own. This one was different in
arrangements and fittings. The _Enterprise_ was a new ship; this one
was old, and had suffered for years at the hands of a slack captain
and a slovenly crew.

And the man who sat facing him in the screen was not Andray Dunnan,
or any man he had ever seen before. A dark-faced man, with an old
scar that ran down one cheek from a little below the eye; he had
curly black hair, on his head and on a V of chest exposed by an open
shirt. There was an ashtray in front of him, and a thin curl of
smoke rose from a cigar in it, and coffee steamed in an ornate but
battered silver cup beside it. He was grinning gleefully.

"Well! Captain Harkaman, of the _Enterprise_, I believe! Welcome
to Tanith. Who's the gentleman with you? He isn't the Duke of
Wardshaven, is he?"



VIII


He glanced quickly at the showback over the screen, to assure
himself that his face was not betraying him. Beside him, Otto
Harkaman was laughing.

"Why, Captain Valkanhayn; this is an unexpected pleasure. That's
the _Space Scourge_ you're in, I take it? What are you doing here
on Tanith?"

A voice from one of the speakers shouted that a second ship had
been detected coming over the north pole. The dark-faced man in
the screen smirked quite complacently.

"That's Garvan Spasso, in the _Lamia_," he said. "And what we're
doing here, we've taken this planet over. We intend keeping it, too."

"Well! So you and Garvan have teamed up. You two were just made for
one another. And you have a little planet, all your very own. I'm so
happy for both of you. What are you getting out of it--beside poultry?"

The other's self-assurance started to slip. He slapped it back into place.

"Don't kid me; we know why you're here. Well, we got here first.
Tanith is our planet. You think you can take it away from us?"

"I know we could, and so do you," Harkaman told him. "We outgun you
and Spasso together; why, a couple of our pinnaces could knock the
_Lamia_ apart. The only question is, do we want to bother?"

By now, he had recovered from his surprise, but not from his
disappointment. If this fellow thought the _Nemesis_ was the
_Enterprise_--Before he could check himself, he had finished
the thought aloud.

"Then the _Enterprise_ didn't come here at all!"

The man in the screen started. "Isn't that the _Enterprise_ you're in?"

"Oh, no. Pardon my remissness, Captain Valkanhayn," Harkaman
apologized. "This is the _Nemesis_. The gentleman with me, Lord
Lucas Trask, is owner-aboard, for whom I am commanding. Lord Trask,
Captain Boake Valkanhayn, of the _Space Scourge_. Captain Valkanhayn
is a Space Viking." He said that as though expecting it to be
disputed. "So, I am told, is his associate, Captain Spasso, whose
ship is approaching. You mean to tell me that the _Enterprise_
hasn't been here?"

Valkanhayn was puzzled, slightly apprehensive.

"You mean the Duke of Wardshaven has two ships?"

"As far as I know, the Duke of Wardshaven hasn't any ships,"
Harkaman replied. "This ship is the property and private adventure
of Lord Trask. The _Enterprise_, for which we are looking, is owned
and commanded by one Andray Dunnan."

The man with the scarred face and hairy chest had picked up his cigar
and was puffing on it mechanically. Now he took it out of his mouth
as though he wondered how it had gotten there in the first place.

"But isn't the Duke of Wardshaven sending a ship here to establish
a base? That was what we'd heard. We heard you'd gone from Flamberge
to Gram to command for him."

"Where did you hear this? And when?"

"On Hoth. That'd be about two thousand hours ago; a Gilgamesher
brought the news from Xochitl."

"Well, considering it was fifth or sixth hand, your information was
good enough, when it was fresh. It was a year and a half old when
you got it, though. How long have you been here on Tanith?"

"About a thousand hours." Harkaman clucked sadly at that.

"Pity you wasted all that time. Well, it was nice talking to you,
Boake. Say hello to Garvan for me when he comes up."

"You mean you're not staying?" Valkanhayn was horrified, an odd
reaction for a man who had just been expecting a bitter battle
to drive them away. "You're just spacing right out again?"

Harkaman shrugged. "Do we want to waste time here, Lord Trask? The
_Enterprise_ has obviously gone somewhere else. She was still in
hyperspace when Captain Valkanhayn and his accomplice arrived here."

"Is there anything worth staying for?" That seemed to be the reply
Harkaman was expecting. "Beside poultry, that is?"

Harkaman shook his head. "This is Captain Valkanhayn's planet; his
and Captain Spasso's. Let them be stuck with it."

"But, look; this is a good planet. There's a big local city, maybe
ten or twenty thousand people; temples and palaces and everything.
Then, there are a couple of old Federation cities. The one we're at
is in good shape, and there's a big spaceport. We've been doing
a lot of work on it. And the locals won't give you any trouble.
All they have is spears and a few crossbows and matchlocks--"

"I know. I've been here."

"Well, couldn't we make some kind of a deal?" Valkanhayn asked.
A mendicant whine was beginning to creep into his voice. "I can
get Garvan on screen and switch him over to your ship--"

"Well, we have a lot of Sword-World merchandise aboard," Harkaman
said. "We could make you good prices on some of it. How are you
fixed for robotic equipment?"

"But aren't you going to stay here?" Valkanhayn was almost in a
panic. "Listen, suppose I talk to Garvan, and we all get together
on this. Just excuse me for a minute--"

As soon as he had blanked out, Harkaman threw back his head and
guffawed as though he had just heard the funniest and bawdiest joke
in the galaxy. Trask, himself, didn't feel like laughing.

"The humor escapes me," he admitted. "We came here on a fools' errand."

"I'm sorry, Lucas." Harkaman was still shaking with mirth. "I know
it's a letdown, but that pair of chiseling chicken thieves! I could
almost pity them, if it weren't so funny." He laughed again. "You
know what their idea was?"

Trask shook his head. "Who are they?"

"What I called them, a couple of chicken thieves. They raid planets
like Set and Hertha and Melkarth, where the locals haven't anything
to fight with--or anything worth fighting for. I didn't know they'd
teamed up, but that figures. Nobody else would team up with either
of them. What must have happened, this story of Duke Angus' Tanith
adventure must have filtered out to them, and they thought that if
they got here first, I'd think it was cheaper to take them in than
run them out. I probably would have, too. They do have ships, of a
sort, and they do raid, after a fashion. But now, there isn't going
to be any Tanith base, and they have a no-good planet and they're
stuck with it."

"Can't they make anything out of it themselves?"

"Like what?" Harkaman hooted. "They have no equipment, and they have
no men. Not for a job like that. The only thing they can do is space
out and forget it."

"We could sell them equipment."

"We could if they had anything to use for money. They haven't. One
thing, we do want to let down and give the men a chance to walk on
ground and look at a sky for a while. The girls here aren't too bad,
either," Harkaman said. "As I remember, some of them even take a
bath, now and then."

"That's the kind of news of Dunnan we're going to get. By the time
we'd get to where he's been reported, he'd be a couple of thousand
light-years away," he said disgustedly. "I agree; we ought to give
the men a chance to get off the ship, here. We can stall this pair
along for a while and we won't have any trouble with them."

       *       *       *       *       *

The three ships were slowly converging toward a point fifteen
thousand miles off-planet and over the sunset line. The _Space
Scourge_ bore the device of a mailed fist clutching a comet by the
head; it looked more like a whisk broom than a scourge. The _Lamia_
bore a coiled snake with the head, arms and bust of a woman.
Valkanhayn and Spasso were taking their time about screening back,
and he began to wonder if they weren't maneuvering the _Nemesis_
into a cross-fire position. He mentioned this to Harkaman and Alvyn
Karffard; they both laughed.

[Illustration]

"Just holding ship's meetings," Karffard said. "They'll be yakking
back and forth for a couple of hours, yet."

"Yes; Valkanhayn and Spasso don't own their ships," Harkaman
explained. "They've gone in debt to their crews for supplies and
maintenance till everybody owns everything in common. The ships
look like it, too. They don't even command, really; they just
preside over elected command-councils."

Finally, they had both of the more or less commanders on screen.
Valkanhayn had zipped up his shirt and put on a jacket. Garvan
Spasso was a small man, partly bald. His eyes were a shade too close
together, and his thin mouth had a bitterly crafty twist. He began
speaking at once:

"Captain, Boake tells me you say you're not here in the service of
the Duke of Wardshaven at all." He said it aggrievedly.

"That's correct," Harkaman said. "We came here because Lord Trask
thought another Gram ship, the _Enterprise_, would be here. Since
she isn't, there's no point in our being here. We do hope, though,
that you won't make any difficulty about our letting down and giving
our men a couple of hundred hours' liberty. They've been in
hyperspace for three thousand hours."

"See!" Spasso clamored. "He wants to trick us into letting him land--"

[Illustration]

"Captain Spasso," Trask cut in. "Will you please stop insulting
everybody's intelligence, your own included." Spasso glared at him,
belligerently but hopefully. "I understand what you thought you were
going to do here. You expected Captain Harkaman here to establish a
base for the Duke of Wardshaven, and you thought, if you were here
ahead of him and in a posture of defense, that he'd take you into
the Duke's service rather than waste ammunition and risk damage and
casualties wiping you out. Well, I'm very sorry, gentlemen. Captain
Harkaman is in my service, and I'm not in the least interested in
establishing a base on Tanith."

Valkanhayn and Spasso looked at each other. At least, in the two
side-by-side screens, their eyes shifted, each to the other's screen
on his own ship.

"I get it!" Spasso cried suddenly. "There's two ships, the
_Enterprise_ and this one. The Duke of Wardshaven fitted out the
_Enterprise_, and somebody else fitted out this one. They both want
to put in a base here!"

That opened a glorious vista. Instead of merely capitalizing on
their nuisance-value, they might find themselves holding the balance
of power in a struggle for the planet. All sorts of profitable
perfidies were possible.

"Why, sure you can land, Otto," Valkanhayn said. "I know what it's
like to be three thousand hours in hyper, myself."

"You're at this old city with the two tall tower-buildings, aren't
you?" Harkaman asked. He looked up at the viewscreen. "Ought to be
about midnight there now. How's the spaceport? When I was here, it
was pretty bad."

"Oh, we've been fixing it up. We got a big gang of locals working for us--"

       *       *       *       *       *

The city was familiar, from Otto Harkaman's descriptions and from
the pictures Vann Larch had painted during the long jump from Gram.
As they came in, it looked impressive, spreading for miles around
the twin buildings that spired almost three thousand feet above it,
with a great spaceport like an eight-pointed star at one side.
Whoever had built it, in the sunset splendor of the old Terran
Federation, must have done so confident that it would become the
metropolis of a populous and prospering world. Then the sun of the
Federation had gone down. Nobody knew what had happened on Tanith
after that, but evidently none of it had been good.

At first, the two towers seemed as sound as when they had been
built; gradually it became apparent that one was broken at the top.
For the most part, the smaller buildings scattered widely around
them were standing, though here and there mounds of brush-grown
rubble showed where some had fallen in. The spaceport looked good--a
central octagon mass of buildings, the landing-berths, and, beyond,
the triangular areas of airship docks and warehouses. The central
building was outwardly intact, and the ship-berths seemed clear of
wreckage and rubble.

By the time the _Nemesis_ was following the _Space Scourge_ and the
_Lamia_ down, towed by her own pinnaces, the illusion that they were
approaching a living city had vanished. The interspaces between the
buildings were choked with forest-growth, broken by a few small
fields and garden-plots. At one time, there had been three of the
high buildings, literally vertical cities in themselves. Where the
third had stood was a glazed crater, with a ridge of fallen rubble
lying away from it. Somebody must have landed a medium missile,
about twenty kilotons, against its base. Something of the same sort
had scored on the far edge of the spaceport, and one of the eight
arrowheads of docks and warehouses was an indistinguishable slag-pile.

The rest of the city seemed to have died of neglect rather than
violence. It certainly hadn't been bombed out. Harkaman thought most
of the fighting had been done with subneutron bombs or Omega-ray
bombs, that killed the people without damaging the real estate. Or
bio-weapons; a man-made plague that had gotten out of control and
all but depopulated the planet.

"It takes an awful lot of people, working together at an awful lot
of jobs, to keep a civilization running. Smash the installations and
kill the top technicians and scientists, and the masses don't know
how to rebuild and go back to stone hatchets. Kill off enough of the
masses and even if the planet and the know-how is left, there's
nobody to do the work. I've seen planets that decivilized both ways.
Tanith, I think, is one of the latter."

That had been during one of the long after-dinner bull sessions on the
way out from Gram. Somebody, one of the noble gentlemen-adventurers who
had joined the company after the piracy of the _Enterprise_ and the
murder, had asked:

"But some of them survived. Don't they know what happened?"

"_'In the old times, there were sorcerers. They built the old
buildings by wizard arts. Then the sorcerers fought among themselves
and went away,'_" Harkaman said. "That's all they know about it."

You could make any kind of an explanation out of that.

As the pinnaces pulled and nudged the _Nemesis_ down to her berth,
he could see people, far down on the spaceport floor, at work.
Either Valkanhayn and Spasso had more men than the size of their
ships indicated, or they had gotten a lot of locals to work for
them. More than the population of the moribund city, at least as
Harkaman remembered it.

There had been about five hundred in all; they lived by mining the
old buildings for metal, and trading metalwork for food and textiles
and powder and other things made elsewhere. It was accessible only
by oxcarts traveling a hundred miles across the plains; it had been
built by a contragravity-using people with utter disregard for
natural travel and transportation routes.

"I don't envy the poor buggers," Harkaman said, looking down at the
antlike figures on the spaceport floor. "Boake Valkanhayn and Garvan
Spasso have probably made slaves of the lot of them. If I was really
going to put in a base here, I wouldn't thank that pair for the
kind of public-relations work they've been doing among the locals."



IX


That was just about the situation. Spasso and Valkanhayn and some of
their officers met them on the landing stage of the big building in
the middle of the spaceport, where they had established quarters.
Entering and going down a long hallway, they passed a dozen men and
women gathering up rubbish from the floor with shovels and with
their hands and putting it into a lifter-skid. Both sexes wore
shapeless garments of coarse cloth, like ponchos, and flat-soled
sandals. Watching them was another local in a kilt, buskins and a
leather jerkin; he wore a short sword on his belt and carried a
wickedly thonged whip. He also wore a Space Viking combat helmet,
painted with the device of Spasso's _Lamia_. He bowed as they
approached, putting a hand to his forehead. After they had passed,
they could hear him shouting at the others, and the sound of whip-blows.

You make slaves out of people, and some will always be slave-drivers;
they will bow to you, and then take it out on the others. Harkaman's
nose was twitching as though he had a bit of rotten fish caught in
his mustache.

"We have about eight hundred of them. There were only three hundred
that were any good for work here; we gathered the rest up at villages
along the big river," Spasso was saying.

"How do you get food for them?" Harkaman asked. "Or don't you bother?"

"Oh, we gather that up all over," Valkanhayn told him. "We send
parties out with landing craft. They'll let down on a village, run
the locals out, gather up what's around and bring it here. Once in
a while they put up a fight, but the best they have is a few crossbows
and some muzzle-loading muskets. When they do, we burn the village
and machine-gun everybody we see."

"That's the stuff," Harkaman approved. "If the cow doesn't want to
be milked, just shoot her. Of course, you don't get much milk out of
her again, but--"

The room to which their hosts guided them was at the far end of the
hall. It had probably been a conference room or something of the
sort, and originally it had been paneled, but the paneling had long
ago vanished. Holes had been dug here and there in the walls, and he
remembered having noticed that the door was gone and the metal
groove in which it had slid had been pried out.

There was a big table in the middle, and chairs and couches covered
with colored spreads. All the furniture was handmade, cunningly
pegged together and highly polished. On the walls hung trophies of
weapons--thrusting-spears and throwing-spears, crossbows and quarrels,
and a number of heavy guns, crude things, but carefully made.

"Pick all this stuff up off the locals?" Harkaman asked.

"Yes, we got most of it at a big town down at the forks of the
river," Valkanhayn said. "We shook it down a couple of times. That's
where we recruited the fellows we're using to boss the workers."

Then he picked up a stick with a leather-covered knob and beat on a
gong, bawling for wine. A voice, somewhere, replied, "Yes, master; I
come!" and in a few moments a woman entered carrying a jug in either
hand. She was wearing a blue bathrobe several sizes too large for
her, instead of the poncho things the slaves in the hallway wore.
She had dark brown hair and gray eyes; if she had not been so
obviously frightened she would have been beautiful. She set the jugs
on the table and brought silver cups from a chest against the wall:
when Spasso dismissed her, she went out hastily.

"I suppose it's silly to ask if you're paying these people anything
for the work they do or for the things you take from them," Harkaman
said. From the way the _Space Scourge_ and _Lamia_ people laughed,
it evidently was. Harkaman shrugged. "Well, it's your planet. Make
any kind of a mess out of it you want to."

"You think we _ought_ to pay them?" Spasso was incredulous. "Damn
bunch of savages!"

"They aren't as savage as the Xochitl locals were when Haulteclere
took it over. You've been there; you've seen what Prince Viktor does
with them now."

"We haven't got the men or equipment they have on Xochitl,"
Valkanhayn said. "We can't afford to coddle the locals."

"You can't afford not to," Harkaman told him. "You have two ships,
here. You can only use one for raiding; the other will have to stay
here to hold the planet. If you take them both away, the locals,
whom you have been studiously antagonizing, will swamp whoever you
leave behind. And if you don't leave anybody behind, what's the use
of having a planetary base?"

"Well, why don't you join us," Spasso finally came out with it.
"With our three ships we could have a real thing, here."

Harkaman looked at him inquiringly. "The gentlemen," Trask said,
"are putting this wrongly. They mean, why don't we let them join
us?"

"Well, if you want to put it like that," Valkanhayn conceded. "We'll
admit, your _Nemesis_ would be the big end of it. But why not? Three
ships, we could have a real base here. Nikky Gratham's father only
had two when he started on Jagannath, and look what the Grathams got
there now."

"Are we interested?" Harkaman asked.

"Not very, I'm afraid. Of course, we've just landed; Tanith may
have great possibilities. Suppose we reserve decision for a while
and look around a little."

       *       *       *       *       *

There were stars in the sky, and, for good measure, a sliver of moon
on the western horizon. It was only a small moon, but it was close.
He walked to the edge of the landing stage, and Elaine was walking
with him. The noise from inside, where the _Nemesis_ crew were
feasting with those of the _Lamia_ and _Space Scourge_ grew fainter.
To the south, a star moved; one of the pinnaces they had left on
off-planet watch. There was firelight far below, and he could hear
singing. Suddenly he realized that it was the poor devils of locals
whom Valkanhayn and Spasso had enslaved. Elaine went away quickly.

"Have your fill of Space Viking glamour, Lucas?"

He turned. It was Baron Rathmore, who had come along to serve for a
year or so and then hitch a ride home from some base planet and cash
in politically on having been with Lucas Trask.

"For the moment. I'm told that this lot aren't typical."

"I hope not. They're a pack of sadistic brutes, and piggish along
with it."

"Well, brutality and bad manners I can condone, but Spasso and
Valkanhayn are a pair of ignominious little crooks, and stupid along
with it. If Andray Dunnan had gotten here ahead of us, he might have
done one good thing in his wretched life. I can't understand why he
didn't come here."

"I think he still will," Rathmore said. "I knew him and I knew
Nevil Ormm. Ormm's ambitious, and Dunnan is insanely vindictive--"
He broke off with a sour laugh. "I'm telling _you_ that!"

"Why didn't he come here directly, then?"

"Maybe he doesn't want a base on Tanith. That would be something
constructive; Dunnan's a destroyer. I think he took that cargo of
equipment somewhere and sold it. I think he'll wait till he's fairly
sure the other ship is finished. Then he'll come in and shoot the
place up, the way--" He bit that off abruptly.

"The way he did my wedding; I think of it all the time."

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning, he and Harkaman took an aircar and went to look
at the city at the forks of the river. It was completely new, in
the sense that it had been built since the collapse of Federation
civilization and the loss of civilized technologies. It was huddled
on a long, irregularly triangular mound, evidently to raise it above
flood-level. Generations of labor must have gone into it. To the
eyes of a civilization using contragravity and powered equipment it
wasn't at all impressive. Fifty to a hundred men with adequate
equipment could have gotten the thing up in a summer. It was only
by forcing himself to think in terms of spadeful after spadeful of
earth, cartload after cartload creaking behind straining beasts,
timber after timber cut with axes and dressed with adzes, stone
after stone and brick after brick, that he could appreciate it. They
even had it walled, with a palisade of tree-trunks behind which
earth and rocks had been banked, and along the river were docks,
at which boats were moored. The locals simply called it Tradetown.

As they approached, a big gong began booming, and a white puff of
smoke was followed by the thud of a signal-gun. The boats, long
canoe-like craft and round-bowed, many-oared barges, put out hastily
into the river; through binoculars they could see people scattering
from the surrounding fields, driving cattle ahead of them. By the
time they were over the city, nobody was in sight. They seemed
to have developed a pretty fair air-raid warning system in the
nine-hundred-odd hours in which they had been exposed to the
figurative mercies of Boake Valkanhayn and Garvan Spasso. It hadn't
saved them entirely; a section of the city had been burned, and
there were evidences of shelling. Light chemical-explosive stuff;
this city was too good a cow for even those two to kill before the
milking was over.

They circled slowly over it at a thousand feet. When they turned
away, black smoke began rising from what might have been pottery
works or brick-kilns on the outskirts; something resinous had
evidently been fed to the fires. Other columns of black smoke began
rising across the countryside on both sides of the river.

"You know, these people are civilized, if you don't limit the term
to contragravity and nuclear energy," Harkaman said. "They have
gunpowder, for one thing, and I can think of some rather impressive
Old Terran civilizations that didn't have that much. They have an
organized society, and anybody who has that is starting toward
civilization."

"I hate to think of what'll happen to this planet if Spasso and
Valkanhayn stay here long."

"Might be a good thing, in the long run. Good things in the long run
are often tough while they're happening. I know what'll happen to
Spasso and Valkanhayn, though. They'll start decivilizing, themselves.
They'll stay here for a while, and when they need something they
can't take from the locals they'll go chicken-stealing after it,
but most of the time they'll stay here lording it over their slaves,
and finally their ships will wear out and they won't be able to fix
them. Then, some time, the locals'll jump them when they aren't
watching and wipe them out. But in the meantime, the locals'll
learn a lot from them."

They turned the aircar west again along the river. They looked at a
few villages. One or two dated from the Federation period; they had
been plantations before whatever it was had happened. More had been
built within the past five centuries. A couple had recently been
destroyed, in punishment for the crime of self-defense.

"You know," he said, at length, "I'm going to do everybody a favor.
I'm going to let Spasso and Valkanhayn persuade me to take this
planet away from them."

Harkaman, who was piloting, turned sharply. "You crazy or something?"

"'When somebody makes a statement you don't understand, don't tell
him he's crazy. Ask him what he means.' Who said that?"

"On target," Harkaman grinned. "'What _do_ you mean, Lord Trask?'"

"I can't catch Dunnan by pursuit; I'll have to get him by
interception. You know the source of that quotation, too. This looks
to me like a good place to intercept him. When he learns I have a
base here, he'll hit it, sooner or later. And even if he doesn't,
we can pick up more information on him, when ships start coming in
here, than we would batting around all over the Old Federation."

Harkaman considered for a moment, then nodded. "Yes, if we could set
up a base like Nergal or Xochitl," he agreed. "There'll be four or
five ships, Space Vikings, traders, Gilgameshers and so on, on
either of those planets all the time. If we had the cargo Dunnan
took to space in the _Enterprise_, we could start a base like that.
But we haven't anything near what we need, and you know what Spasso
and Valkanhayn have."

"We can get it from Gram. As it stands, the investors in the Tanith
Adventure, from Duke Angus down, lost everything they put into it.
If they're willing to throw some good money after bad, they can get
it back, and a handsome profit to boot. And there ought to be
planets above the rowboat and ox-cart level not too far away that
could be raided for a lot of things we'd need."

"That's right; I know of half a dozen within five hundred light-years.
They won't be the kind Spasso and Valkanhayn are in the habit of
raiding, though. And besides machinery, we can get gold, and valuable
merchandise that could be sold on Gram. And if we could make a go of
it, you'd go farther hunting Dunnan by sitting here on Tanith than by
going looking for him. That was the way we used to hunt marsh pigs on
Colada, when I was a kid; just find a good place and sit down and wait."

[Illustration]

       *       *       *       *       *

They had Valkanhayn and Spasso aboard the _Nemesis_ for dinner; it
didn't take much guiding to keep the conversation on the subject of
Tanith and its resources, advantages and possibilities. Finally,
when they had reached brandy and coffee, Trask said idly:

"I believe, together, we could really make something out of this planet."

"That's what we've been telling you, all along," Spasso broke in
eagerly. "This is a wonderful planet--"

"It could be. All it has now is possibilities. We'd need a
spaceport, for one thing."

"Well, what's this, here?" Valkanhayn wanted to know.

"It was a spaceport," Harkaman told him. "It could be one again. And
we'd need a shipyard, capable of any kind of heavy repair work.
Capable of building a complete ship, in fact. I never saw a ship
come into a Viking base planet with any kind of a cargo worth
dickering over that hadn't taken some damage getting it. Prince
Viktor of Xochitl makes a good half of his money on ship repairs,
and so do Nikky Gratham on Jagannath and the Everrards on Hoth."

"And engine works, hyperdrive, normal space and pseudograv," Trask
added. "And a steel mill, and a collapsed-matter plant. And
robotic-equipment works, and--"

"Oh, that's out of all reason!" Valkanhayn cried. "It would take
twenty trips with a ship the size of this one to get all that stuff
here, and how'd we ever be able to pay for it?"

"That's the sort of base Duke Angus of Wardshaven planned. The
_Enterprise_, practically a duplicate of the _Nemesis_, carried
everything that would be needed to get it started, when she was
pirated."

"When she was--?"

"Now you're going to have to tell the gentlemen the truth,"
Harkaman chuckled.

"I intend to." He laid his cigar down, sipped some of his brandy,
and explained about Duke Angus' Tanith adventure. "It was part of a
larger plan; Angus wanted to gain economic supremacy for Wardshaven
to forward his political ambitions. It was, however, an entirely
practical business proposition. I was opposed to it, because I
thought it would be too good a proposition for Tanith and work to
the disadvantage of the home planet in the end." He told them about
the _Enterprise_, and the cargo of industrial and construction
equipment she carried, and then told them how Andray Dunnan had
pirated her.

"That wouldn't have annoyed me at all; I had no money invested in
the project. What did annoy me, to put it mildly, was that just
before he took the ship out, Dunnan shot up my wedding, wounded me
and my father-in-law, and killed the lady to whom I had been married
for less than half an hour. I fitted out this ship at my own
expense, took on Captain Harkaman, who had been left without a
command when the _Enterprise_ was pirated, and came out here to
hunt Dunnan down and kill him. I believe that I can do that best by
establishing a base on Tanith myself. The base will have to be
operated at a profit, or it can't be operated at all." He picked up
the cigar again and puffed slowly. "I am inviting you gentlemen to
join me as partners."

"Well, you still haven't told us how we're going to get the money to
finance it," Spasso insisted.

"The Duke of Wardshaven, and the others who invested in the original
Tanith adventure will put it up. It's the only way they can recover
what they lost on the _Enterprise_."

"But then, this Duke of Wardshaven will be running it, not us,"
Valkanhayn objected.

"The Duke of Wardshaven," Harkaman reminded him, "is on Gram. We are
here on Tanith. There are three thousand light-years between."

That seemed a satisfactory answer. Spasso, however, wanted to know
who would run things here on Tanith.

"We'll have to hold a meeting of all three crews," he began.

"We will do nothing of the kind," Trask told him. "I will be running
things here on Tanith. You people may allow your orders to be
debated and voted on, but I don't. You will inform your respective
crews to that effect. Any orders you give them in my name will be
obeyed without argument."

"I don't know how the men'll take that," Valkanhayn said.

"I know how they'll take it if they're smart," Harkaman told him.
"And I know what'll happen if they aren't. I know how you've been
running your ships, or how your ships' crews have been running you.
Well, we don't do it that way. Lucas Trask is owner, and I'm
captain. I obey his orders on what's to be done, and everybody else
obeys mine on how to do it."

Spasso looked at Valkanhayn, then shrugged. "That's how the man
wants it, Boake. You want to give him an argument? I don't."

"The first order," Trask said, "is that these people you have
working here are to be paid. They are not to be beaten by these
plug-uglies you have guarding them. If any of them want to leave,
they may do so; they will be given presents and furnished
transportation home. Those who wish to stay will be issued rations,
furnished with clothing and bedding and so on as they need it, and
paid wages. We'll work out some kind of a pay-token system and set
up a commissary where they can buy things."

Disks of plastic or titanium or something, stamped and
uncounterfeitable. Get Alvyn Karffard to see about that. Organize
work-gangs, and promote the best and most intelligent to foremen.
And those guards could be taken in hand by some ground-fighter
sergeant and given Sword-World weapons and tactical training; use
them to train others; they'd need a sepoy army of some sort. Even
the best of good will is no substitute for armed force,
conspicuously displayed and unhesitatingly used when necessary.

"And there'll be no more of this raiding villages for food or
anything else. We will pay for anything we get from any of the
locals."

"We'll have trouble about that," Valkanhayn predicted. "Our men
think anything a local has belongs to anybody who can take it."

"So do I," Harkaman said. "On a planet I'm raiding. This is our
planet, and our locals. We don't raid our own planet or our own
people. You'll just have to teach them that."



X


It took Valkanhayn and Spasso more time and argument to convince
their crews than Trask thought necessary. Harkaman seemed satisfied,
and so was Baron Rathmore, the Wardshaven politician.

"It's like talking a lot of uncommitted small landholders into
taking somebody's livery-and-maintenance," the latter said. "You
can't use too much pressure; make them think it's their own idea."

There were meetings of both crews, with heated arguments; Baron
Rathmore made frequent speeches, while Lord Trask of Tanith and
Admiral Harkaman--the titles were Rathmore's suggestion--remained
loftily aloof. On both ships, everybody owned everything in common,
which meant that nobody owned anything. They had taken over Tanith
on the same basis of diffused ownership, and nobody in either crew
was quite stupid enough to think that they could do anything with
the planet by themselves. By joining the _Nemesis_, it appeared that
they were getting something for nothing. In the end, they voted to
place themselves under the authority of Lord Trask and Admiral
Harkaman. After all, Tanith would be a feudal lordship, and the
three ships together a fleet.

Admiral Harkaman's first act of authority was to order a general
inspection of fleet units. He wasn't shocked by the condition of the
two ships, but that was only because he had expected much worse. They
were spaceworthy; after all, they had gotten here from Hoth under
their own power. They were only combat-worthy if the combat weren't
too severe. His original estimate that the _Nemesis_ could have
knocked both of them to pieces was, if anything, over-conservative.
The engines were only in fair shape, and the armament was bad.

"We aren't going to spend our time sitting here on Tanith," he told
the two captains. "This planet is a raiding base, and 'raiding' is
the operative word. And we are not going to raid easy planets. A
planet that can be raided with impunity isn't worth the time it takes
getting to it. We are going to have to fight on every planet we hit,
and I am not going to jeopardize the lives of the men under me,
which includes your crews as well as mine, because of under-powered
and under-armed ships."

Spasso tried to argue. "We've been getting along."

Harkaman cursed. "Yes. I know how you've been getting along;
chicken-stealing on planets like Set and Xipototec and Melkarth. Not
making enough to cover maintenance expenses; that's why your ship's
in the shape she is. Well, those days are over. Both ships ought to
have a full overhaul, but we'll have to skip that till we have a
shipyard of our own. But I will insist, at least, that your guns and
launchers are in order. And your detection equipment; you didn't get
a fix on the _Nemesis_ till we were less than twenty thousand miles
off-planet."

"We had better get the _Lamia_ in condition first," Trask said. "We
can put her on off-planet watch, instead of that pair of pinnaces."

       *       *       *       *       *

Work on the _Lamia_ started the next day, and considerable friction-heat
was generated between her officers and the engineers sent over from
the _Nemesis_. Baron Rathmore went aboard, and came back laughing.

"You know how that ship's run?" he asked. "There's a sort of soviet
of officers; chief engineer, exec, guns-and-missiles, astrogator and
so on. Spasso's just an animated ventriloquist's dummy. I talked to
all of them. None of them can pin me down to anything, but they
think we're going to heave Spasso out of command and appoint one of
them, and each one thinks he'll be it. I don't know how long that'll
last, it's a string-and-tape job like the one we're having to do on
the ship. It'll hold till we get something better."

"We'll have to get rid of Spasso," Harkaman agreed. "I think we'll
put one of our own people in his place. Valkanhayn can stay in
command of the _Space Scourge_; he's a spaceman. But Spasso's no
good for anything."

The local problem was complicated, too. The locals spoke Lingua
Terra of a sort, like every descendant of the race that had gone out
from the Sol system in the Third Century, but it was a barely
comprehensible sort. On civilized planets, the language had been
frozen unalterably in microbooks and voice tapes. But microbooks can
only be read and sound tapes heard with the aid of electricity, and
Tanith had lost that long ago.

Most of the people Spasso and Valkanhayn had kidnaped and enslaved
came from villages within a radius of five hundred miles. About half
of them wanted to be repatriated; they were given gifts of knives,
tools, blankets, and bits of metal which seemed to be the chief
standard of value and medium of exchange, and shipped home. Finding
their proper villages was not easy. At each such village, the news
was spread that the Space Vikings would hereafter pay for what they
received.

The _Lamia_ was overhauled as rapidly as possible. She was still
far from being a good ship, but she was much closer being one than
before. She was fitted with the best detection equipment that could
be assembled, and put on orbit; Alvyn Karffard took command of her,
with some of Spasso's officers, some of Valkanhayn's, and a few from
the _Nemesis_. Harkaman was intending to use her for retraining of
all the _Lamia_ and _Space Scourge_ officers, and rotated them back
and forth.

[Illustration]

The labor guards, a score in number, were relieved of their duties,
issued Sword-World firearms, and given intensive training. The trade
tokens, stamps of colored plastic, were introduced, and a store was
set up where they could be exchanged for Sword-World items. After a
while, it dawned on the locals that the tokens could also be used
for trading among themselves; money seemed to have been one of the
adjuncts of civilization that had been lost along Tanith's downward
path. A few of them were able to use contragravity hand-lifters and
hand-towed lifter-skids; several were even learning to operate
things like bulldozers, at least to the extent of knowing which
lever or button did what. Give them a little time, Trask thought,
watching a gang at work down on the spaceport floor. It won't be
many years before half of them will be piloting aircars.

       *       *       *       *       *

As soon as the _Lamia_ was on orbital watch, the _Space Scourge_ was
set down at the spaceport and work started on her. It was decided
that Valkanhayn would take her to Gram; enough _Nemesis_ people
would go along to insure good faith on his part, and to talk to Duke
Angus and the Tanith investors. Baron Rathmore, and Paytrik Morland,
and several other Wardshaven gentlemen-adventurers for the latter
function; Alvyn Karffard to act as Valkanhayn's exec, with private
orders to supersede him in command if necessary, and Guatt Kirbey
to do the astrogating.

"We'll have to take the _Nemesis_ and the _Space Scourge_ out,
first, and make a big raid," Harkaman said. "We can't send the
_Space Scourge_ back to Gram empty. When Baron Rathmore and Lord
Valpry and the rest of them talk to Duke Angus and the Tanith
investors, they'll have to have a lot more than some travel films
of Tanith. They'll have to be able to show that Tanith is producing.
We ought to have a little money of our own to invest, too."

"But, Otto; both ships?" That worried Trask. "Suppose Dunnan comes
and finds nobody here but Spasso and the _Lamia_?"

"Chance we'll have to take. Personally, I think we have a year to a
year and a half before Dunnan shows up here. I know, we were fooled
trying to guess what he'd do before. But the sort of raid I have in
mind, we'll need two ships, and in any case, I don't want to leave
both those ships here while we're gone, even if you do."

"When it comes to that, I don't think I do, either. But we can't
trust Spasso here alone, can we?"

"We'll leave enough of our people to make sure. We'll leave
Alvyn--that'll mean a lot of work for me that he'd otherwise do,
on the ship. And Baron Rathmore, and young Valpry, and the men
who've been training our sepoys. We can shuffle things around and
leave some of Valkanhayn's men in place of some of Spasso's. We might
even talk Spasso into going along. That'll mean having to endure him
at our table, but it would be wise."

"Have you picked a place to raid?"

"Three of them. First, Khepera. That's only thirty light-years from
here. That won't amount to much; just chicken-stealing. It'll give
our green hands some relatively safe combat-training, and it'll give
us some idea of how Spasso's and Valkanhayn's people behave, and
give them confidence for the next job."

"And then?"

"Amaterasu. My information about Amaterasu is about twenty years
old. A lot of things can happen in twenty years. All I know of it--I
was never there myself--is it's fairly civilized--about like Terra
just before the beginning of the Atomic Era. No nuclear energy, they
lost that, and of course nothing beyond it, but they have hydroelectric
and solarelectric power, and nonnuclear jet aircraft, and some very good
chemical-explosive weapons, which they use very freely on each other.
It was last known to have been raided by a ship from Excalibur
twenty years ago."

"That sounds promising. And the third planet?"

"Beowulf. We won't take enough damage on Amaterasu to make any
difference there, but if we saved Amaterasu for last, we might
be needing too many repairs."

"It's like that?"

"Yes. They have nuclear energy. I don't think it would be wise to
mention Beowulf to Captains Spasso and Valkanhayn. Wait till we've
hit Khepera and Amaterasu. They may be feeling like heroes, then."



XI


Khepera left a bad taste in Trask's mouth. He was still tasting it
when the colored turbulence died out of the screen and left the gray
nothingness of hyperspace. Garvan Spasso--they had had no trouble in
inducing him to come along--was staring avidly at the screen as
though he could still see the ravished planet they had left.

"That was a good one; that was a good one!" he was crowing. He'd
said that a dozen times since they had lifted out. "Three cities in
five days, and all the stuff we gathered up around them. We took
over two million stellars."

And did ten times as much damage getting it, and there was no scale
of values by which to compute the death and suffering.

"Knock it off, Spasso. You said that before."

There was a time when he wouldn't have spoken to the fellow, or
anybody else, like that. Gresham's law, extended: Bad manners drive
out good manners. Spasso turned on him indignantly.

"Who do you think you are--?"

"He thinks he's Lord Trask of Tanith," Harkaman said. "He's right,
too; he is." He looked searchingly at Trask for a moment, then
turned back to Spasso. "I'm just as tired as he is of hearing you
pop your mouth about a lousy two million stellars. Nearer a million
and a half, but two million's nothing to pop about. Maybe it would
be for the _Lamia_, but we have a three-ship fleet and a planetary
base to meet expenses on. Out of this raid, a ground-fighter or an
able spaceman will get a hundred and fifty stellars. We'll get about
a thousand, ourselves. How long do you think we can stay in business
doing this kind of chicken-stealing."

"You call this chicken-stealing?"

"I call it chicken-stealing, and so'll you before we get back to
Tanith. If you live that long."

For a moment, Spasso was still affronted. Then, temporarily, his
vulpine face showed avaricious hope, and then apprehension.
Evidently he knew Otto Harkaman's reputation, and some of the things
Harkaman had done weren't his idea of an easy way to make money.

Khepera had been easy; the locals hadn't had anything to fight with.
Small arms, and light cannon which hadn't been able to fire more
than a few rounds. Wherever they had attempted resistance, the
combat cars had swooped in, dropping bombs and firing machine guns
and auto-cannon. Yet they had fought, bitterly and hopelessly--just
as he would have, defending Traskon.

Trask busied himself getting coffee and a cigarette from one of the
robots. When he looked up, Spasso had gone away, and Harkaman was
sitting on the edge of the desk, loading his short pipe.

"Well, you saw the elephant, Lucas," Harkaman said. "You don't seem
to have liked it."

"Elephant?"

"Old Terran expression I read somewhere. All I know is that an
elephant was an animal about the size of one of your Gram megatheres.
The expression means, experiencing something for the first time
which makes a great impression. Elephants must have been something
to see. This was your first Viking raid. You've seen it, now."

He'd been in combat before; he'd led the fighting-men of Traskon
during the boundary dispute with Baron Manniwel, and there were
always bandits and cattle rustlers. He'd thought it would be like
that. He remembered, five days, or was it five ages, ago, his
excited anticipation as the city grew and spread in the screen and
the _Nemesis_ came dropping down toward it. The pinnaces, his four
and the two from the _Space Scourge_, had gone spiraling out a
hundred miles beyond the city; the _Space Scourge_ had gone into
a tighter circle twenty miles from its center; the _Nemesis_ had
continued her relentless descent until she was ten miles from the
ground, before she began spewing out landing craft, and combat cars,
and the little egg-shaped one-man air-cavalry mounts. It had been
thrilling. Everything had gone perfectly; not even Valkanhayn's gang
had goofed.

Then the screenviews had begun coming in. The brief and hopeless
fight in the city. He could still see that silly little field gun,
it must have been around seventy or eighty millimeter, on a
high-wheeled carriage, drawn by six shaggy, bandy-legged beasts.
They had gotten it unlimbered and were trying to get it on a target
when a rocket from an aircar landed directly under the muzzle. Gun,
caisson, crew, even the draft team fifty yards behind, had simply
vanished.

Or the little company, some of them women, trying to defend the top
of a tall and half-ruinous building with rifles and pistols. One
air-cavalryman wiped them all out with his machine guns.

"They don't have a chance," he'd said, half-sick. "But they keep on
fighting."

"Yes; stupid of them, isn't it?" Harkaman, beside him, had said.

"What would you do in their place?"

"Fight. Try to kill as many Space Vikings as I could before they got
me. Terro-humans are all stupid like that. That's why we're human."

       *       *       *       *       *

If the taking of the city had been a massacre, the sack that had
followed had been a man-made Hell. He had gone down, along with
Harkaman, while the fighting, if it could be so called, was still
going on. Harkaman had suggested that the men ought to see him
moving about among them; for his own part, he had felt a compulsion
to share their guilt.

He and Sir Paytrik Morland had been on foot together in one of the
big hollow buildings that had stood since Khepera had been a Member
Republic of the Terran Federation. The air was acrid with smoke,
powder smoke and the smoke of burning. It was surprising, how much
would burn, in this city of concrete and vitrified stone. It was
surprising, too, how well-kept everything was, at least on the
ground level. These people had taken pride in their city.

They found themselves alone, in a great empty hallway; the noise and
horror of the sack had moved away from them, or they from it, and
then, when they entered a side hall, they saw a man, one of the
locals, squatting on the floor with the body of a woman cradled on
his lap. She was dead, half her head had been blown off, but he was
clasping her tightly, her blood staining his shirt, and sobbing
heartbrokenly. A carbine lay forgotten on the floor beside him.

"Poor devil," Morland said, and started forward.

"No."

Trask stopped him with his left hand. With his right, he drew his
pistol and shot the man dead. Morland was horrified.

"Great Satan, Lucas! Why did you do that?"

"I wish Andray Dunnan had done that for me." He thumbed the safety
on and holstered the pistol. "None of this would be happening if
he had. How many more happinesses do you think we've smashed here
today? And we don't even have Dunnan's excuse of madness."

The next morning, with everything of value collected and sent
aboard, they had started cross-country for five hundred miles to
another city, the first hundred over a countryside asmoke from
burning villages Valkanhayn's men had pillaged the night before.
There was no warning; Khepera had lost electricity and radio and
telegraph, and the spread of news was at the speed of one of the
beasts the locals insisted on calling horses. By midafternoon, they
had finished with that city. It had been as bad as the first one.

One thing, it was the center of a considerable cattle country. The
cattle were native to the planet, heavy-bodied unicorns the size of
a Gram bisonoid or one of the slightly mutated Terran carabaos on
Tanith, with long hair like a Terran yak. He had detailed a dozen of
the _Nemesis_ ground-fighters who had been vaqueros on his Traskon
ranches to collect a score of cows and four likely bulls, with
enough fodder to last them on the voyage. The odds were strongly
against any of them living to acclimate themselves to Tanith, but
if they did, they might prove to be one of the most valuable pieces
of loot from Khepera.

The third city was at the forks of a river, like Tradetown on
Tanith. Unlike it, this was a real metropolis. They should have
gone there first of all. They spent two days systematically pillaging
it. The Kheperans carried on considerable river-traffic, with
stern-wheel steamboats, and the waterfront was lined with warehouses
crammed with every sort of merchandise. Even better, the Kheperans
had money, and for the most part it was gold specie, and the bank
vaults were full of it.

Unfortunately, the city had been built since the fall of the
Federation and the climb up from the barbarism that had followed,
and a great deal of it was of wood. Fires started almost at once,
and it was almost completely on fire by the end of the second day.
It had been visible in the telescopic screen even after they were
out of atmosphere, a black smear until the turning planet carried
it into darkness and then a lurid glow.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It was a filthy business."

Harkaman nodded. "Robbery and murder always are. You don't have to
ask me who said that Space Vikings are professional robbers and
murderers, but who was it said that he didn't care how many planets
were raided and how many innocents massacred in the Old Federation?"

"A dead man. Lucas Trask of Traskon."

"You wish, now, that you'd kept Traskon and stayed on Gram?"

"No. If I had, I'd have spent every hour wishing I was doing what
I'm doing now. I can get used to this, I suppose."

"I think you will. At least, you kept your rations down. I didn't on
my first raid, and had bad dreams about it for a year." He gave his
coffee cup back to the robot and got to his feet. "Get a little
rest, for a couple of hours. Then draw some alcodote-vitamin pills
from the medic. As soon as things are secured, there'll be parties
all over the ship, and we'll be expected to look in on every one of
them, have a drink, and say 'Well done, boys.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

Elaine came to him, while he was resting. She looked at him in
horror, and he tried to hide his face from her, and then realized
that he was trying to hide it from himself.



XII


They came straight down on Eglonsby, on Amaterasu, the _Nemesis_
and the _Space Scourge_ side by side. The radar had picked them up
at point-five light-seconds; by this time the whole planet knew
they were coming, and nobody was wondering why. Paul Koreff was
monitoring at least twenty radio stations, assigning somebody to
each one as it was identified. What was coming in was uniformly
excited, some panicky, and all in fairly standard Lingua Terra.

Garvan Spasso was perturbed. So, in the communication screen from
the _Space Scourge_, was Boake Valkanhayn.

"They got radio, and they got radar," he clamored.

"Well, so what?" Harkaman asked. "They had radio and radar twenty
years ago, when Rock Morgan was here in the _Coalsack_. But they
don't have nuclear energy, do they?"

"Well, no. I'm picking up a lot of industrial electrical discharge,
but nothing nuclear."

"All right. A man with a club can lick a man with his fists. A man
with a gun can lick half a dozen with clubs. And two ships with
nuclear weapons can lick a whole planet without them. Think it's
time, Lucas?"

He nodded. "Paul, can you cut in on that Eglonsby station yet?"

"What are you going to do?" Valkanhayn wanted to know, against it
in advance.

"Summon them to surrender. If they don't, we will drop a hellburner,
and then we will pick out another city and summon it to surrender.
I don't think the second one will refuse. If we are going to be
murderers, we'll do it right, this time."

Valkanhayn was aghast, probably at the idea of burning an unlooted
city. Spasso was sputtering something about, "... Teach the dirty
Neobarbs a lesson--" Koreff told him he was switched on. He picked
up a hand-phone.

"Space Vikings _Nemesis_ and _Space Scourge_, calling the city of
Eglonsby. Space Vikings...."

He repeated it for over a minute; there was no reply.

"Vann," he called Guns-and-Missiles. "A subcrit display job, about
four miles over the city."

He laid the phone down and looked to the underside viewscreen. A
little later, a silvery shape dropped away from the ship's south
pole. The telescopic screen went off, and the unmagnified screen
darkened as the filters went on. Valkanhayn, aboard the other ship,
was shouting a warning about his own screens. The only unfiltered
screen aboard the _Nemesis_ was the one tuned to the falling
missile. The city of Eglonsby rushed upward in it, and then it went
suddenly dark. There was an orange-yellow blaze in the other
screens. After a while, the filters went off and the telescopic
screen went on again. He picked up the phone.

"Space Vikings calling Eglonsby; this is your last warning.
Communicate at once."

Less than a minute later, a voice came out of one of the speakers:

"Eglonsby calling Space Vikings. Your bomb has done great damage.
Will you hold your fire until somebody in authority can communicate
with you? This is the chief operator at the central State telecast
station; I have no authority to say anything to you, or discuss
anything."

"Oh, good, that sounds like a dictatorship," Harkaman was saying.
"Grab the dictator and shove a pistol in his face and you have
everything."

"There is nothing to discuss. Get somebody who has authority to
surrender the city to us. If this is not done within the hour,
the city and everybody in it will be obliterated."

Only minutes later, a new voice said:

"This is Gunsalis Jan, secretary to Pedrosan Pedro, President of
the Council of Syndics. We will switch President Pedrosan over as
soon as he can speak directly to the personage in supreme command
of your ships."

"That is myself; switch him to me at once."

After a delay of less than fifteen seconds they had President
Pedrosan Pedro.

"We are prepared to resist, but we realize what this would cost in
lives and destruction of property," he began.

"You don't begin to. Do you know anything about nuclear weapons?"

"From history; we have no nuclear power of any sort. We can find no
fissionables on this planet."

"The cost, as you put it, would be everything and everybody in
Eglonsby and for a radius of almost a hundred miles. Are you still
prepared to resist?"

The President of the Council of Syndics wasn't and said so. Trask
asked him how much authority his position gave him.

"I have all powers in any emergency. I think," the voice added
tonelessly, "that this is an emergency. The council will
automatically ratify any decision I make."

Harkaman depressed a button in front of him. "What I said;
dictatorship, with parliamentary false front."

"If he isn't a false-front dictator for some oligarchy." He motioned
to Harkaman to take his thumb off the button. "How large is this Council?"

"Sixteen, elected by the Syndicates they represent. There is the
Syndicate of Labor, the Syndicate of Manufacturers, the Syndicate
of Small Businesses, the...."

"Corporate State, First Century Pre-Atomic on Terra. Benny the Moose,"
Harkaman said. "Let's all go down and talk to them."

[Illustration]

When they were sure that the public had been warned to make no
resistance, the _Nemesis_ went down to two miles, bulking over
the center of the city. The buildings were low by the standards of
a contragravity-using people, the highest barely a thousand feet
and few over five hundred, and they were more closely set than
Sword-Worlders were accustomed to, with broad roadways between. In
several places there were queer arrangements of crossed roadways,
apparently leading nowhere. Harkaman laughed when he saw them.

"Airstrips. I've seen them on other planets where they've lost
contragravity. For winged aircraft powered by chemical fuel. I hope
we have time for me to look around, here. I'll bet they even have
railroads here."

The "great damage" caused by the bomb was about equal to the effect
of a medium hurricane; he had seen worse from high winds at Traskon.
Mostly it had been moral, which had been the kind intended.

They met President Pedrosan and the council of Syndics in a spacious
and well-furnished chamber near the top of one of the medium-high
buildings. Valkanhayn was surprised; in a loud aside he considered
that these people must be almost civilized. They were introduced.
Amaterasuan surnames preceded personal names, which hinted at a
culture and a political organization making much use of registration
by alphabetical list. They all wore garments which had the indefinable
but unmistakable appearance of uniforms. When they had all seated
themselves at a large oval table, Harkaman drew his pistol and used
the butt for a gavel.

[Illustration]

"Lord Trask, will you deal with these people directly?" he asked,
stiffly formal.

"Certainly, Admiral." He spoke to the President, ignoring the
others. "We want it understood that we control this city, and we
expect complete submission. As long as you remain submissive to us,
we will do no damage beyond removal of the things we wish to take
from it, and there will be no violence to any of your people, or any
indiscriminate vandalism. This visit we are paying you will cost you
heavily, make no mistake about that, but whatever the cost, it will
be a cheap price for avoiding what we might otherwise do."

The President and the Syndics exchanged relieved glances. Let
the taxpayers worry about the cost; they'd come out of it with
whole skins.

"You understand, we want maximum value and minimum bulk," he
continued. "Jewels, objects of art, furs, the better grades of
luxury goods of all kinds. Rare-element metals. And monetary metals,
gold and platinum. You have a metallic-based currency, I suppose?"

"Oh, no!" President Pedrosan was slightly scandalized. "Our currency
is based on services to society. Our monetary unit is simply called
a credit."

Harkaman snorted impolitely. Evidently he'd seen economic systems like
that before. Trask wanted to know if they used gold or platinum at all.

"Gold, to some extent, for jewelry." Evidently they weren't complete
economic puritans. "And platinum in industry, of course."

"If they want gold, they should have raided Stolgoland," one of the
Syndics said. "They have a gold-standard currency." From the way he
said it, he might have been accusing them of eating with their
fingers, and possibly of eating their own young.

"I know, the maps we're using for this planet are a few centuries old;
Stolgoland doesn't seem to appear on them."

"I wish it didn't appear on ours, either." That was General Dagró
Ector, Syndic for State Protection.

"It would have been a good thing for this whole planet if you'd
decided to raid them instead of us," somebody else said.

"It isn't too late for these gentlemen to make that decision,"
Pedrosan said. "I gather that gold is a monetary metal among your
people?" When Trask nodded, he continued: "It is also the basis of
the Stolgonian currency. The actual currency is paper, theoretically
redeemable in gold. In actuality, the circulation of gold has been
prohibited, and the entire gold wealth of the nation is concentrated
in vaults at three depositories. We know exactly where they are."

"You begin to interest me, President Pedrosan."

"I do? Well, you have two large spaceships and six smaller craft.
You have nuclear weapons, something nobody on this planet has. You
have contragravity, something that is hardly more than a legend
here. On the other hand, we have a million and a half ground-troops,
jet aircraft, armored ground-vehicles, and chemical weapons. If you
will undertake to attack Stolgoland, we will place this entire force
at your disposal; General Dagró will command them as you direct. All
that we ask is that, when you have loaded the gold hoards of
Stolgoland aboard your ships, you will leave our troops in
possession of the country."

       *       *       *       *       *

That was all there was to that meeting. There was a second one; only
Trask, Harkaman and Sir Paytrik Morland represented the Space Vikings,
and the Eglonsby government was represented by President Pedrosan
and General Dagró. They met more intimately, in a smaller and more
luxurious room in the same building.

"If you're going to declare war on Stolgoland, you'd better get
along with it," Morland advised.

"What?" Pedrosan seemed to have only the vaguest idea of what he was
talking about. "You mean, warn them? Certainly not. We will attack
them by surprise. It will be nothing but plain self-defense," he
added righteously. "The oligarchic capitalists of Stolgoland have
been plotting to attack us for years."

"Yes. If you had carried out your original intention of looting
Eglonsby, they would have invaded us the moment your ships lifted
out. It's exactly what I'd do in their place."

"But you maintain nominally friendly relations with them?"

"Of course. We are civilized. The peace-loving government and people
of Eglonsby...."

"Yes, Mr. President; I understand. And they have an embassy here?"

"They call it that!" cried Dagró. "It is a nest of vipers,
a plague-spot of espionage and subversion...!"

"We'll grab that ourselves, right away," Harkaman said. "You won't be
able to round up all their agents outside it, and if we tried to, it
would cause suspicion. We'll have to put up a front to deceive them."

"Yes. You will go on the air at once, calling on the people to
collaborate with us, and you will specifically order your troops
mobilized to assist us in collecting the tribute we are levying on
Eglonsby," Trask said. "In that way, if any Stolgonian spies see
your troops concentrated around our landing craft, they'll think
it's to help us load our loot."

"And we'll announce that a large part of the tribute will consist of
military equipment," Dagró added. "That will explain why our guns
and tanks are being loaded on your contragravity vehicles."

       *       *       *       *       *

When the Stolgonian embassy was seized by the Space Vikings, the
ambassador asked to be taken at once to their leader. He had a
proposition: If the Space Vikings would completely disable the army
of Eglonsby and admit Stolgonian troops when they were ready to
leave, the invaders would bring with them ten thousand kilos of
gold. Trask affected to be very hospitable to the offer.

Stolgoland lay across a narrow and shallow sea from the State of
Eglonsby; it was dotted with islands, and every one of them was, in
turn, dotted with oil wells. Petroleum was what kept the aircraft
and ground-vehicles of Amaterasu in operation; oil, rather than
ideology, was at the root of the enmity between the two nations.
Apparently the Stolgonian espionage in Eglonsby was completely
deceived, and the reports Trask allowed the captive ambassador to
make confirmed the deception. Hourly the Eglonsby radio stations
poured out exhortations to the people to co-operate with the Space
Vikings, with an occasional lamentation about the masses of war
materials being taken. Eglonsby espionage in Stolgoland was
similarly active. The Stolgonian armies were being massed at four
seaports on the coast facing Eglonsby, and there was a frantic
gathering of every sort of ship available. By this time, any
sympathy that Trask might have felt for either party had evaporated.

The invasion of Stolgoland started the fifth morning after their
arrival over Eglonsby. Before dawn, the six pinnaces went in, making
a wide sweep around the curvature of the planet and coming in from
the north, two to each of the three gold-troves. They were detected
by radar, eventually but too late for any effective resistance to
be organized. Two were even taken without a shot; by mid-morning all
three had been blown open and the ingots and specie were being removed.

The four seaports from whence the Stolgonian invasion of Eglonsby
was to have been launched were neutralized by nuclear bombing.
Neutralized was a nice word, Trask thought; there was no echo in it
of the screams of the still-living, maimed and burned and blinded,
around the fringes of ground-zero. The _Nemesis_ and the _Space
Scourge_, from landing craft and from the ships themselves, landed
Eglonsby troops on Stolgonopolis. While they were sacking the city,
with all the usual atrocities, the Space Vikings were loading the
gold, and anything else that was of more than ordinary value,
aboard the ships.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were still at it the next morning when President Pedrosan
arrived at the newly conquered capital, announcing his intention of
putting the Stolgonian chief of state and his cabinet on trial as
war criminals. Before sunset, they were back over Eglonsby. The loot
might run as high as a half-billion Excalibur stellars. Boake
Valkanhayn and Garvan Spasso were simply beyond astonishment
and beyond words.

The looting of Eglonsby then began.

They gathered up machinery, and stocks of steel and light-metal
alloys. The city was full of warehouses, and the warehouses were
crammed with valuables. In spite of the socialistic and egalitarian
verbiage behind which the government operated, there seemed to be a
numerous elite class and if gold were not a monetary metal it was
not despised for purposes of ostentation. There were several large
art museums. Vann Larch, their nearest approach to an art
specialist, took charge of culling the best from them.

And there was a vast public library. Into this Otto Harkaman
vanished, with half a dozen men and a contragravity scow. Its
historical section would be much poorer in the future.

President Pedrosan Pedro was on the radio from Stolgonopolis that night.

"Is this how you Space Vikings keep faith?" he demanded indignantly.
"You've abandoned me and my army here in Stolgoland, and you're
sacking Eglonsby. You promised to leave Eglonsby alone if I helped
you get the gold of Stolgoland."

"I promised nothing of the kind. I promised to help you take
Stolgoland. You've taken it," Trask told him. "I promised to avoid
unnecessary damage or violence. I've already hanged a dozen of my
own men for rape, murder and wanton vandalism. Now, we expect to be
out of here in twenty-four hours. You'd better be back here before
then. Your own people are starting to loot. We did not promise to
control them for you."

That was true. What few troops had been left behind, and the police,
were unable to cope with the mobs that were pillaging in the wake of
the Space Vikings. Everybody seemed to be trying to grab what he
could and let the Vikings be blamed for it. He had been able to keep
his own people in order. There had been at least a dozen cases of
rape and wanton murder, and the offenders had been promptly hanged.
None of their shipmates, not even the _Space Scourge_ company, seemed
resentful. They felt the culprits had deserved what they'd gotten;
not for what they'd done to the locals, but for disobeying orders.

A few troops had been flown in from Stolgoland by the time they had
gotten their vehicles stowed and were lifting out. They didn't seem
to be making much headway. Harkaman, who had gotten his load of
microbooks stowed and was at the command desk, laughed heartily.

"I don't know what Pedrosan'll do. Gehenna, I don't even know what
I'd do, if I'd gotten myself into a mess like that. He'll probably
bring half his army back, leave the other half in Stolgoland, and
lose both. Suppose we drop in, in about three or four years, just
out of curiosity. If we make twenty per cent of what we did this
time, the trip would pay for itself."

After they went into hyperspace and had the ship secured, the
parties lasted three Galactic standard days, and nobody was at all
sober. Harkaman was drooling over the mass of historical material he
had found. Spasso was jubilant. Nobody could call this chicken-stealing.
He kept repeating that as long as he was able to say anything. Khepera,
he conceded, had been. Lousy two or three million stellars; poo!



XIII


Beowulf was bad.

Valkanhayn and Spasso had both been opposed to the raid. Nobody
raided Beowulf; Beowulf was too tough. Beowulf had nuclear energy
and nuclear weapons and contragravity and normal-space craft, they
even had colonies on a couple of other planets of their system. They
had everything but hyperdrive. Beowulf was a civilized planet, and
you didn't raid civilized planets, not and get away with it.

And beside, hadn't they gotten enough loot on Amaterasu?

"No, we did not," Trask told them. "If we're going to make anything
out of Tanith, we're going to need power, and I don't mean windmills
and waterwheels. As you've remarked, Beowulf has nuclear energy.
That's where we get our plutonium and our power units."

So they went to Beowulf. They came out of hyperspace eight light-hours
from the F-7 star of which Beowulf was the fourth planet, and twenty
light-minutes apart. Guatt Kirbey made a microjump that brought the
ships within practical communicating distance, and they began making
plans in an intership screen conference.

"There are, or were, three chief sources of fissionable ores,"
Harkaman said. "The last ship to raid here and get away was Stefan
Kintour's _Princess of Lyonesse_, sixty years ago. He hit one on the
Antarctic continent; according to his account, everything there was
fairly new. He didn't mess things up too badly, and it ought to be
still operating. We'll go in from the south pole, and we'll have to
go in fast."

They shifted personnel and equipment. They would go in bunched, the
pinnaces ahead; they and the _Space Scourge_ would go down to the
ground, while the better-armed _Nemesis_ would hover above to fight
off local contragravity, shoot down missiles, and generally provide
overhead cover. Trask transferred to the _Space Scourge_, taking
with him Morland and two hundred of the _Nemesis_ ground-fighters.
Most of the single-mounts, landing craft and manipulators and
heavy-duty lifters went with him, jamming the decks around the
vehicle ports of Valkanhayn's ship.

They jumped in to six light-minutes, and while Valkanhayn's
astrogator was still fiddling with his controls they began sensing
radar and microray detection. When they came out again, they were
two light-seconds off the south pole, and half a dozen ships were
either in orbit or coming up from the planet. All normal-space
craft, of course, but some were almost as big as the _Nemesis_.

From there on, it was a nightmare.

Ships pounded at them with guns, and they pounded back. Missiles
went out, and counter-missiles stopped them in rapidly expanding and
quickly vanishing globes of light. Red lights flashed on the damage
board, and sirens howled and klaxons squawked. In the outside-view
screens, they saw the _Nemesis_ vanish in a blaze of radiance, and
then, while their hearts were still in their throats, come out of it
again. Red lights went off on the board as damage-control crews and
their robots sealed the breaches in the hull and pumped air back
into evacuated areas, and then more red lights came on.

Occasionally, he would glance toward Boake Valkanhayn, who sat
motionless in his chair, chewing a cigar that had gone out long ago.
He wasn't enjoying it, but he wasn't showing fear. Once a Beowulfer
vanished in a supernova flash, and when the ball of incandescence
widened to nothing the ship was gone. All Valkanhayn said was: "Hope
one of our boys did that."

They fought their way in and down, toward the atmosphere. Another
Beowulf ship blew up, a craft about the size of Spasso's _Lamia_.
A moment later, another; Valkanhayn was pounding the desk in front
of him with his fist and yelling: "That was one of ours! Find out
who launched it; get his name!"

Missiles were coming up from the planet, now. Valkanhayn's detection
officer was trying to locate the source. While he was trying, a big
melon-shaped thing fell away from the _Nemesis_, and in the jiggling,
radiation-distorted intership screen Harkaman's image was laughing.

"Hellburner just went off; target about 50° south, 25° east of the
sunrise line. That's where those missiles are coming from."

Counter-missiles sped toward the big metal melon; defense missiles,
robot-launched, met them. The hellburner's track was marked first
by expanding red and orange globes in airless space and then by
fire-puffs after it entered atmosphere. It vanished into the darkness
beyond the sunset, and then made sunlight of its own. It _was_ sunlight;
a Bethe solar-phoenix reaction, and it would sustain itself for hours.
He hoped it hadn't landed within a thousand miles of their objective.

       *       *       *       *       *

The ground operation was a nightmare of a different sort. He went down
in a command car, with Paytrik Morland and a couple of others. There
were missiles and gun batteries. There were darting patterns of flights
of combat vehicles, blazing gunfire, and single vehicles that shot past
or blew up in front of them. Robots on contragravity--military robots,
with missiles to launch, and working robots with only their own mass to
hurl, flung themselves mindlessly at them. Screens that went crazy from
radiation; speakers that jabbered contradictory orders. Finally, the
battle, which had raged in the air over two thousand square miles of
mines and refineries and reaction plants, became two distinct and
concentrated battles, one at the packing plant and storage vaults and
one at the power-unit cartridge factory.

Three pinnaces came down to form a triangle over each; the _Space
Scourge_ hung midway between, poured out a swarm of vehicles and big
claw-armed manipulators; armored lighters and landing craft shuttled
back and forth. The command car looped and dodged from one target to the
other; at one, keg-like canisters of plutonium, collapsium-plated and
weighing tons apiece, were coming out of the vaults, and at the other
lifters were bringing out loads of nuclear-electric power-unit
cartridges, some as big as a ten liter jar, to power a spaceship engine,
and some small as a round of pistol ammunition, for things like
flashlights.

Every hour or so, he looked at his watch, and it would be three or
four minutes later.

At last, when he was completely convinced that he had really been
killed, and was damned and would spend all eternity in this
fire-riven chaos, the _Nemesis_ began firing red flares and the
speakers in all the vehicles were signaling recall. He got aboard
the _Space Scourge_ somehow, after assuring himself that nobody who
was alive was left behind.

There were twenty-odd who weren't, and the sick bay was full of
wounded who had gone up with cargo, and more were being helped off
the vehicles as they were berthed. The car in which he had been
riding had been hit several times, and one of the gunners was
bleeding under his helmet and didn't seem aware of it. When he got
to the command room, he found Boake Valkanhayn, his face drawn and
weary, getting coffee from a robot and lacing it with brandy.

"That's it," he said, blowing on the steaming cup. It was the
battered silver one that had been in front of him when he had first
appeared in the _Nemesis'_ screen. He nodded toward the damage
screen; everything had been patched up, or the outer decks around
breached portions of the hull sealed. "Ship secure." He set down
the silver mug and lit a cigar. "To quote Garvan Spasso, 'Nobody
can call that chicken-stealing.'"

"No. Not even if you count Tizona giraffe-birds as chickens. That
Gram gum-pear brandy you're putting in that coffee? I'll have the
same. Just leave out the coffee."



XIV


The _Lamia_'s detection picked them up as soon as they were out of
the last microjump; Trask's gnawing fear that Dunnan might attack in
their absence had been groundless. Incredibly, he realized, they had
been gone only thirty-odd Galactic Standard days, and in that time
Alvyn Karffard had done an incredible amount of work.

He had gotten the spaceport completely cleared of rubble and debris,
and he had the woods cleared away from around it and the two tall
buildings. The locals called the city Rivvin; a few inscriptions
found here and there in it indicated that the original name had been
Rivington. He had done considerable mapping, in some detail of the
continent on which it was located and, in general, of the rest of
the planet. And he had established friendly relations with the
people of Tradetown and made friends with their king.

Nobody, not even those who had collected it, quite believed their
eyes when the loot was unloaded. The little herd of long haired
unicorns--the Khepera locals had called them kreggs, probably a
corruption of the name of some naturalist who had first studied
them--had come through the voyage and even the Battle of Beowulf
in good shape. Trask and a few of his former cattlemen from Traskon
watched them anxiously, and the ship's doctor, acting veterinarian,
made elaborate tests of vegetation they would be likely to eat.
Three of the cows proved to be with calf; these were isolated and
watched over with especial solicitude.

[Illustration]

The locals were inclined to take a poor view of the kreggs, at
first. Cattle ought to have two horns, one on either side, curved
back. It wasn't right for cattle to have only one horn, in the
middle, slanting forward.

Both ships had taken heavy damage. The _Nemesis_ had one pinnace
berth knocked open, and everybody was glad the Beowulfers hadn't
noticed that and gotten a missile inside. The _Space Scourge_ had
taken a hit directly on her south pole while lifting out from the
planet, and a good deal of the southern part of the ship was sealed
off when she came in. The _Nemesis_ was repaired as far as possible
and put on off-planet patrol, then they went to work on the _Space
Scourge_, transferring much of her armament to ground defense,
clearing out all the available cargo space, and repairing her hull
as far as possible. To repair her completely was a job for a regular
shipyard, like Alex Gorram's on Gram. And that was where the work
would be done.

Boake Valkanhayn would command her on the voyage to and from Gram.
Since Beowulf, Trask had not only ceased to dislike the man, but was
beginning to admire him. He had been a good man once, before ill
fortune which had been only partly of his own making had overtaken
him. He'd just let himself go and stopped caring. Now he had taken
hold of himself again. It had started showing after they had landed
on Amaterasu. He had begun to dress more neatly and speak more
grammatically; to look and act more like a spaceman and less like a
barfly. His men had begun to jump to obey when he gave an order. He
had opposed the raid on Beowulf, but that had been the dying
struggle of the chicken-thief he had been. He had been scared, going
in; well, who hadn't been, except a few greenhorns brave with the
valor of ignorance. But he had gone in, and fought his ship well,
and had held his station over the fissionables plant in a hell of
bombs and missile, and he had made sure everybody who had gone down
and who was still alive was aboard before he lifted out.

He was a Space Viking again.

Garvan Spasso wasn't, and never would be. He was outraged when he
heard that Valkanhayn would take his ship, loaded with much of the
loot of the three planets, to Gram. He came to Trask, fairly
spluttering about it.

"You know what'll happen?" he demanded. "He'll space out with that
cargo, and that'll be the last any of us'll hear of him again. He'll
probably take it to Joyeuse or Excalibur and buy himself a lordship
with it."

"Oh, I doubt that, Garvan. A number of our people are going
along--Guatt Kirbey will be the astrogator; you'd trust him,
wouldn't you? And Sir Paytrik Morland, and Baron Rathmore, and
Lord Valpry, and Rolve Hemmerding...." He was silent for a moment,
struck by an idea. "Would you be willing to make the trip in the
_Space Scourge_, too?"

Spasso would, very decidedly. Trask nodded.

"Good. Then we'll be sure nothing crooked is pulled," he said
seriously.

After Spasso was gone, he got in touch with Baron Rathmore.

"See to it that he gets as much money that's due him as possible,
when you get to Gram. And ask Duke Angus, as a favor to give him
some meaningless position with a suitably impressive title, Lord
Chamberlain of the Ducal Washroom, or something. Then he can prime
him with misinformation and give him an opportunity to sell it to
Omfray of Glaspyth. Then, of course, he could be contacted to sell
Omfray out to Angus. A couple of times around and somebody'll stick
a knife in him, and then we'll be rid of him for good."

       *       *       *       *       *

They loaded the _Space Scourge_ with gold from Stolgoland, and
paintings and statues from the art museums and fabrics and furs and
jewels and porcelains and plate from the markets of Eglonsby. They
loaded sacks and kegs of specie from Khepera. Most of the Khepera
loot wasn't worth hauling to Gram, but it was far enough in advance
of their own technologies to be priceless to the Tanith locals.

Some of these were learning simple machine operations, and a few
were able to handle contragravity vehicles that had been fitted with
adequate safety devices. The former slave guards had all become
sergeants and lieutenants in an infantry regiment that had been
formed, and the King of Tradetown borrowed some to train his own
army. Some genius in the machine shop altered a matchlock musket
to flintlock and showed the local gunsmiths how to do it.

The kreggs continued to thrive, after the _Space Scourge_ departed.
Several calves were born, and seemed to be doing well; the biochemistry
of Tanith and Khepera were safely alike. Trask had hopes for them.
Every Viking ship had its own carniculture vats, but men tired of
carniculture meat, and fresh meat was always in demand. Some day,
he hoped, kregg-beef would be an item of sale to ships putting in
on Tanith, and the long-haired hides might even find a market in
the Sword-Worlds. They had contragravity scows plying between
Rivington and Tradetown regularly, now, and air-lorries were linking
the villages. The boatmen of Tradetown rioted occasionally against
this unfair competition. And in Rivington itself, bulldozers and
power shovels and manipulators labored, and there was always a
rising cloud of dust over the city.

There was so much to do, and only a trifle under twenty-five
Galactic Standard hours in a day to do it. There were whole days
in which he never thought once of Andray Dunnan.

A hundred and twenty-five days to Gram, and a hundred and
twenty-five days back. They had long ago passed. Of course, there
would be the work of repairing the _Space Scourge_, the conferences
with the investors in the original Tanith Adventure, the business
of gathering the needed equipment for the new base. Even so, he was
beginning to worry a little. Worry about something as far out of his
control as the _Space Scourge_ was useless, he knew. He couldn't
help it, though. Even Harkaman, usually imperturbable, began to be
fretful, after two hundred and seventy days had passed.

They were relaxing in the living quarters they had fitted out at the
top of the spaceport building before retiring, both sprawled wearily
in chairs that had come from one of the better hotels of Eglonsby,
their drinks between them on a low table, the top of which was
inlaid with something that looked like ivory but wasn't. On the
floor beside it lay the plans for a reaction-plant and mass-energy
converter they would build as soon as the _Space Scourge_ returned
with equipment for producing collapsium-plated shielding.

"Of course, we could go ahead with it, now," Harkaman said.
"We could tear enough armor off the _Lamia_ to shield any kind
of a reaction plant."

That was the first time either of them had gotten close to the
possibility that the ship mightn't return. Trask laid his cigar in
the ashtray--it had come from President Pedrosan Pedro's private
office--and splashed a little more brandy into his glass.

"She'll be coming before long. We have enough of our people aboard
to make sure nobody else tries to take the ship. And I really
believe, now, that Valkanhayn can be trusted."

"I do, too. I'm not worried about what might happen on the ship.
But we don't know what's been happening on Gram. Glaspyth and
Didreksburg could have teamed up and jumped Wardshaven before
Duke Angus was ready to invade Glaspyth. Boake might be landing
the ship in a trap at Wardshaven."

"Be a sorry looking trap after it closed on him. That would be the
first time in history that a Sword-World was raided by Space Vikings."
Harkaman looked at his half-empty glass, then filled it to the top.
It was the same drink he had started with, just as a regiment that
has been decimated and recruited up to strength a few times is still
the same regiment.

The buzz of the communication screen--one of the few things in the
room that hadn't been looted somewhere--interrupted him. They both
rose; Harkaman, still carrying his drink, went to put it on. It was
a man on duty in the control room, overhead, reporting that two
emergences had just been detected at twenty light-minutes due north
of the planet. Harkaman gulped his drink and set down the empty glass.

"All right. You put out a general alert? Switch anything that comes
in over to this screen." He got out his pipe and was packing tobacco
into it mechanically. "They'll be out of the last microjump and
about two light-seconds away in a few minutes."

Trask sat down again, saw that his cigarette had burned almost to
the tip, and lit a fresh one from it, wishing he could be as calm
about it as Harkaman. Three minutes later, the control tower picked
up two emergences at a light-second and a half, a thousand or so
miles apart. Then the screen flickered, and Boake Valkanhayn was
looking out of it, from the desk in the newly refurbished command
room of the _Space Scourge_.

He was a newly refurbished Boake Valkanhayn, too. His heavily
braided captain's jacket looked like the work of one of the better
tailors on Gram, and on the breast was a large and ornate knight's
star, of unfamiliar design, bearing, among other things, the sword
and atom-symbol of the house of Ward.

"Prince Trask; Count Harkaman," he greeted. "_Space Scourge_, Tanith;
thirty-two hundred hours out of Wardshaven on Gram, Baron Valkanhayn
commanding, accompanied by chartered freighter _Rozinante_, Durendal,
Captain Morbes. Requesting permission and instructions to orbit in."

"Baron Valkanhayn?" Harkaman asked.

"That's right," Valkanhayn grinned. "And I have a vellum scroll the
size of a blanket to prove it. I have a whole cargo of scrolls. One
says you're Otto, Count Harkaman, and another says you're Admiral of
the Royal Navy of Gram."

"He did it!" Trask cried. "He made himself King of Gram!"

"That's right. And you're his trusty and well-loved Lucas, Prince
Trask, and Viceroy of his Majesty's Realm of Tanith."

Harkaman bristled at that. "The Gehenna you say. This is _our_ Realm
of Tanith."

"Is his Majesty making it worth while to accept his sovereignty?"
Trask asked. "That is, beside vellum scrolls?"

Valkanhayn was still grinning. "Wait till we start sending cargo
down. And wait till you see what's crammed into the other ship."

"Did Spasso come back with you?" Harkaman asked.

"Oh, no. Sir Garvan Spasso entered the service of his Majesty, King
Angus. He is Chief of Police at Glaspyth, now, and nobody can call
what he's doing there chicken-stealing, either. Any chickens he
steals, he steals the whole farm to get them."

That didn't sound good. Spasso could make King Angus' name stink all
over Glaspyth. Or maybe he'd allow Spasso to crush the adherents of
Omfray, and then hang him for his oppression of the people. He'd
read about somebody who'd done something like that, in one of
Harkaman's Old Terran history books.

       *       *       *       *       *

Baron Rathmore had stayed on Gram; so had Rolve Hemmerding. The
rest of the gentlemen-adventurers, all with shiny new titles of
nobility, had returned. From them, as the two ships were getting
into orbit, he learned what had happened on Gram since the _Nemesis_
had spaced out.

Duke Angus had announced his intention of carrying on with the
Tanith Adventure, and had started construction of a new ship at
the Gorram yards. This had served plausibly to explain all the
activities of preparation for the invasion of Glaspyth, and had
deceived Duke Omfray completely. Omfray had already started a ship
of his own; the entire resources of his duchy were thrown into an
effort to get her finished and to space ahead of the one Angus was
building. Work was going on frantically on her when the Wardshaven
invaders hit Glaspyth; she was now nearing completion as a unit of
the Royal Navy. Duke Omfray had managed to escape to Didreksburg;
when Angus' troops moved in on the latter duchy, he had escaped
again, this time off-planet. He was now eating the bitter bread of
exile at the court of his wife's uncle, the King of Haulteclere.

The Count of Newhaven, the Duke of Bigglersport, and the Lord of
Northport, all of whom had favored the establishment of a planetary
monarchy, had immediately acknowledged Angus as their sovereign. So,
with a knife at his throat, had the Duke of Didreksburg. Many other
feudal magnates had refused to surrender their sovereignty. That
might mean fighting, but Paytrik, now Baron, Morland, doubted it.

"The _Space Scourge_ stopped that," he said. "When they heard about
the base here, and saw what we'd shipped to Gram, they started
changing their minds. Only subjects of King Angus will be allowed
to invest in the Tanith Adventure."

As for accepting King Angus' annexation of Tanith and accepting his
sovereignty, that would also be advisable. They would need a Sword
World outlet for the loot they took or obtained by barter from other
Space Vikings, and until they had adequate industries of their own,
they would be dependent on Gram for many things which could not be
gotten by raiding.

"I suppose the King knows I'm not out here for my health, or
his profit?" he asked Lord Valpry, during one of the screen
conversations as the _Space Scourge_ was getting into orbit.
"My business out here is Andray Dunnan."

"Oh, yes," the Wardshaven noble replied. "In fact, he told me, in so
many words, that he would be most happy if you sent him his nephew's
head in a block of lucite. What Dunnan did touched his honor, too.
Sovereign princes never see any humor in things like that."

"I suppose he knows that sooner or later Dunnan will try to attack
Tanith?"

"If he doesn't, it isn't because I didn't tell him often enough. When
you see the defense armament we're bringing, you'll think he does."

It was impressive, but nothing to the engineering and industrial
equipment. Mining robots for use on the iron Moon of Tanith, and
normal-space transports for the fifty thousand mile run between
planet and satellite. A collapsed-matter producer; now they could
collapsium-plate their own shielding. A small, fully robotic, steel
mill that could be set up and operated on the satellite. Industrial
robots, and machinery to make machinery. And, best of all, two
hundred engineers and highly skilled technicians.

Quite a few industrial baronies on Gram would realize, before long,
what they had lost in those men. He wondered what Lord Trask of
Traskon would have thought about that.

The Prince of Tanith was no longer interested in what happened to
Gram. Maybe, if things prospered for the next century or so, his
successors would be ruling Gram by viceroy from Tanith.



XV


As soon as the _Space Scourge_ was unloaded, she was put on
off-planet watch; Harkaman immediately spaced out in the _Nemesis_,
while Trask remained behind. They began unloading the _Rozinante_,
after setting her down at Rivington Spaceport. After that was done,
her officers and crew took a holiday which lasted a month, until the
_Nemesis_ returned. Harkaman must have made quick raids on half a
dozen planets. None of the cargo he brought back was spectacularly
valuable, and he dismissed the whole thing as chicken-stealing, but
he had lost some men and the ship showed a few fresh scars. A good
deal of what was transshipped to the _Rozinante_ was manufactured
goods which would compete with merchandise produced on Gram.

"That load will be a come-down, after what the _Space Scourge_ took
back, but we didn't want to send the _Rozinante_ back empty," he
said. "One thing, I had time to do a little reading, between stops."

"The books from the Eglonsby library?"

"Yes. I learned a curious thing about Amaterasu. Do you know why that
planet was so extensively colonized by the Federation, when there
don't seem to be any fissionable ores? The planet produced gadolinium."

Gadolinium was essential to hyperdrive engines; the engines of a
ship the size of the _Nemesis_ required fifty pounds of it. On the
Sword-Worlds, it was worth several times its weight in gold. If they
still mined it, Amaterasu would repay a second visit.

When he mentioned it, Harkaman shrugged. "Why should they mine it?
There's only one thing it's good for, and you can't run a spaceship
on Diesel oil. I suppose the mines could be reopened, and new
refineries built, but...."

"We could trade plutonium for gadolinium. They have none of their
own. We could charge our own prices for it, and we wouldn't need to
tell them what gadolinium sells for on the Sword-Worlds."

"We could, if we could do business with anybody there, after what
we did to Eglonsby and Stolgoland. Where would we get plutonium?"

"Why do you think the Beowulfers don't have hyperships, when they
have everything else?"

Harkaman snapped his fingers. "By Satan, that's it!" Then he looked
at Trask in alarm. "Hey, you're not thinking of selling Amaterasu
plutonium and Beowulf gadolinium, are you?"

"Why not? We could make a big profit on both ends of the deal."

"You know what would happen next, don't you? There'd be ships from
both planets all over the place in a few years. We want that like
we want a hole in the head."

He couldn't see the objection. Tanith and Amaterasu and Beowulf
could work up a very good triangular trade; all three would profit.
It wouldn't cost men and ship-damage and ammunition, either. Maybe
a mutual defense alliance, too. Think about it later; there was too
much to do here on Tanith at present.

There had been mines on the Moon of Tanith before the collapse of
the Federation; they had been stripped of their equipment afterward,
while Tanith was still fighting a rearguard battle against barbarism,
but the underground chambers and man-made caverns could still be used,
and in time the mines were reopened and the steel mill put in, and
eventually ingots of finished steel were coming down by shuttle-craft.
In the meantime, the shipyard had been laid out and was taking shape.

The Gram ship _Queen Flavia_--she had been the one found unfinished
at Glaspyth--came in three months after the _Rozinante_ started
back; she must have been finished while Valkanhayn was still in
hyperspace. She carried considerable cargo, some of it superfluous
but all of it useful; everybody was investing in the Tanith Adventure
now, and the money had to be spent for something. Better, she brought
close to a thousand men and women; the leakage of brains and ability
from the Sword-Worlds was turning into a flood. Among them was Basil
Gorram. Trask remembered him as an insufferable young twerp, but he
seemed to be a good shipyard man. He very frankly predicted that
in a few years his father's yards at Wardshaven would be idle and
all the Tanith ships would be Tanith-built. A junior partner of
Lothar Ffayle's also came out, to establish a branch of the Bank of
Wardshaven at Rivington.

As soon as the _Queen Flavia_ had discharged her cargo and
passengers, she took on five hundred ground-fighters from the
_Lamia_, _Nemesis_ and _Space Scourge_ companies and spaced out on
a raiding voyage. While she was gone, the second ship, the one Duke
Angus had started at Wardshaven and King Angus had finished, the
_Black Star_, came in.

Trask was slightly incredulous at realizing that she had spaced out
from Gram almost exactly two years after the _Nemesis_ had departed.
He still hadn't any idea where Andray Dunnan was, or what he was
doing, or how to find him.

The news of the Gram base on Tanith spread slowly, first by the
scheduled liners and tramp freighters that linked the Sword-Worlds,
and then by trading ships and outbound Space Vikings to the Old
Federation. Two years and six months after the _Nemesis_ had come
out of hyperspace to find Boake Valkanhayn and Garvan Spasso on
Tanith, the first independent Space Viking came in, to sell a cargo
and get repairs. They bought his loot--he had been raiding some
planet rather above the level of Khepera and below that of
Amaterasu--and healed the wounds his ship had taken getting it. He
had been dealing with the Everrard family on Hoth, and professed
himself much more satisfied with the bargains he had gotten on
Tanith and swore to return.

He had never even heard of Andray Dunnan or the _Enterprise_.

It was a Gilgamesher that brought the first news.

He had first heard of Gilgameshers--the word was used
indiscriminately for a native of or a ship from Gilgamesh--on Gram,
from Harkaman and Karffard and Vann Larch and the others. Since
coming to Tanith, he had heard about them from every Space Viking,
never in complimentary and rarely in printable terms.

Gilgamesh was rated, with reservations, as a civilized planet though
not on a level with Odin or Isis or Baldur or Marduk or Aton or any
of the other worlds which had maintained the culture of the Terran
Federation uninterruptedly. Perhaps Gilgamesh deserved more credit;
its people had undergone two centuries of darkness and pulled
themselves out of it by their bootstraps. They had recovered all
the old techniques, up to and including the hyperdrive.

They didn't raid; they traded. They had religious objections to
violence, though they kept these within sensible limits, and were
able and willing to fight with fanatical ferocity in defense of
their home planet. About a century before, there had been a
five-ship Viking raid on Gilgamesh; one ship had returned and had
been sold for scrap after reaching a friendly base. Their ships went
everywhere to trade, and wherever they traded a few of them usually
settled, and where they settled they made money, sending most of it
home. Their society seemed to be a loose theo-socialism, and their
religion an absurd potpourri of most of the major monotheisms of the
Federation period, plus doctrinal and ritualistic innovations of
their own. Aside from their propensity for sharp trading, their
bigoted refusal to regard anybody not of their creed as more than
half human, and the maze of dietary and other taboos in which they
hid from social contact with others, made them generally disliked.

After their ship had gotten into orbit, three of them came down to
do business. The captain and his exec wore long coats, almost
knee-length, buttoned to the throat, and small white caps like
forage caps; the third, one of their priests, wore a robe with a
cowl, and the symbol of their religion, a blue triangle in a white
circle, on his breast. They all wore beards that hung down from
their cheeks, with their chins and upper lips shaved. They all had
the same righteous, disapproving faces, they all refused
refreshments of any sort, and they sat uneasily as though fearing
contamination from the heathens who had sat in their chairs before
them. They had a mixed cargo of general merchandise picked up here
and there on subcivilized planets, in which nobody on Tanith was
interested. They also had some good stuff--vegetable-amber and
flame-bird plumes from Irminsul; ivory or something very like it
from somewhere else; diamonds and Uller organic opals and
Zarathustra sunstones. They also had some platinum. They wanted
machinery, especially contragravity engines and robots.

[Illustration]

The trouble was, they wanted to haggle. Haggling, it seemed, was
the Gilgamesh planetary sport.

"Have you ever heard of a Space Viking ship named the _Enterprise_?"
he asked them, at the seventh or eighth impasse in the bargaining.
"She bears a crescent, light blue on black. Her captain's name is
Andray Dunnan."

"A ship so named, with such a device, raided Chermosh more than a
year ago," the priest-supercargo said. "Some of our people tarry on
Chermosh to trade. This ship sacked the city in which they were;
some of them lost heavily in world's goods."

"That's a pity."

The Gilgamesh priest shrugged. "It is as Yah the Almighty wills,"
he said, then brightened slightly. "The Chermoshers are heathens
and worshipers of false gods. The Space Vikings looted their temple
and destroyed it utterly; they carried away the graven images and
abominations. Our people bore witness that there was much wailing
and lamentation among the idolators."

       *       *       *       *       *

So that was the first entry on the Big Board. It covered,
optimistically, the whole of one wall in his office, and for some
time that one chalked note about the raid on Chermosh, and the date,
as nearly as it could be approximated, looked very lonely on it. The
captain of the _Black Star_ brought back material for a couple more.
He had put in on several planets known to be temporarily occupied by
Space Vikings, to barter loot, give his men some time off-ship, and
make inquiries, and he had names for a couple of planets raided by
the blue crescent ship. One was only six months old.

The way news filtered about in the Old Federation, that was
practically hot off the stove.

The owner-captain of the _Alborak_ had something to add, when he
brought his ship in six months later. He sipped his drink slowly,
as though he had limited himself to one and wanted to make it last
as long as possible.

"Almost two years ago, on Jagannath," he said. "The _Enterprise_ was
on orbit there, getting some light repairs. I met the man a few
times. Looks just like those pictures, but he's wearing a small
pointed beard, now. He'd sold a lot of loot. General merchandise,
precious and semiprecious stones, a lot of carved and inlaid
furniture that looked as though it had come from some Neobarb king's
palace, and some temple stuff. Buddhist; there were a couple of big
gold Dai-Butsus. His crew were standing drinks for all comers. Some
of them were pretty dark above the collar, as though they'd been on
a hot-star planet not too long before. And he had a lot of Imhotep
furs to sell, simply fabulous stuff."

"What kind of repairs? Combat damage?"

"That was my impression. He spaced out a little over a hundred hours
after I came in, in company with another ship. The _Starhopper_,
Captain Teodor Vaghn. The talk was that they were making a two-ship
raid somewhere." The captain of the _Alborak_ thought for a moment.
"One other thing. He was buying ammunition, everything from pistol
cartridges to hellburners. And he was buying all the air-and-water
recycling equipment, and all the carniculture and hydroponic
equipment, he could get."

That was something to know. He thanked the Space Viking, and then asked:

"Did he know, at the time, that I'm out here hunting for him?"

"If he did, nobody else on Jagannath did. I didn't hear about it,
myself, till six months afterward."

That evening, he played off the recording he had made of the
conversation for Harkaman and Valkanhayn and Karffard and some
of the others. Somebody instantly said:

"That temple stuff came from Chermosh. They're Buddhists, there.
That checks with the Gilgamesher's story."

"He got the furs on Imhotep; he traded for them," Harkaman said.
"Nobody gets anything off Imhotep by raiding. The planet's in the
middle of a glaciation, the land surface down to the fiftieth
parallel is iced over solid. There is one city, ten or fifteen
thousand, and the rest of the population is scattered around in
settlements of a couple of hundred all along the face of the
glaciers. They're all hunters and trappers. They have some
contragravity, and when a ship comes in, they spread the news by
radio and everybody brings his furs to town. They use telescope
sights, and everybody over ten years old can hit a man in the head
at five hundred yards. And big weapons are no good; they're too well
dispersed. So the only way to get anything out of them is to trade
for it."

"I think I know where he was," Alvyn Karffard said. "On Imhotep,
silver is a monetary metal. On Agni, they use silver for sewer-pipe.
Agni is a hot-star planet, class B-3 sun. And on Agni they are
tough, and they have good weapons. That could be where the
_Enterprise_ took that combat damage."

That started an argument as to whether he'd gone to Chermosh first.
It was sure that he had gone to Agni and then Imhotep. Guatt Kirbey
tried to figure both courses.

"It doesn't tell us anything, either way," he said at length. "Chermosh
is away off to the side from Agni and Imhotep in either case."

"Well, he does have a base, somewhere, and it's not on any
Terra-type planet," Valkanhayn said. "Otherwise, what would he want
with all that air-and-water and hydroponic and carniculture stuff?"

The Old Federation area was full of non-Terra-type planets, and why
should anybody bother going to any of them? Any planet that wasn't
oxygen-atmosphere, six to eight thousand miles in diameter, and
within a narrow surface-temperature range, wasn't worth wasting time
on. But a planet like that, if one had the survival equipment, would
make a wonderful hideout.

"What sort of a captain is this Teodor Vaghn?" he asked. "A good
one," Harkaman said promptly. "He has a nasty streak--sadistic--but
he knows his business and he has a good ship and a well-trained
crew. You think he and Dunnan have teamed up?"

"Don't you? I think, now that he has a base, Dunnan is getting
a fleet together."

"He'll know we're after him by now," Vann Larch said. "And he knows
where we are, and that puts him one up on us."



XVI


So Andray Dunnan was haunting him again. Tiny bits of information
came in--Dunnan's ship had been on Hoth, on Nergal, selling loot.
Now he sold for gold or platinum, and bought little, usually arms
and ammunition. Apparently his base, wherever it was, was fully
self-sufficient. It was certain, too, that Dunnan knew he was being
hunted. One Space Viking who had talked with him quoted him as
saying: "I don't want any trouble with Trask, and if he's smart he
won't look for any with me." This made him all the more positive
that somewhere Dunnan was building strength for an attack on Tanith.
He made it a rule that there should always be at least two ships in
orbit off Tanith in addition to the _Lamia_, which was on permanent
patrol, and he installed more missile-launching stations both on the
moon and on the planet.

There were three ships bearing the Ward swords and atom-symbol, and
a fourth building on Gram. Count Lionel of Newhaven was building
one of his own, and three big freighters shuttled across the three
thousand light-years between Tanith and Gram. Sesar Karvall, who had
never recovered from his wounds, had died; Lady Lavina had turned
the barony and the business over to her brother, Burt Sandrasan,
and gone to live on Excalibur. The shipyard at Rivington was
finished, and now they had built the landing-legs of Harkaman's
_Corisande II_, and were putting up the skeleton.

And they were trading with Amaterasu, now. Pedrosan Pedro had been
overthrown and put to death by General Dagró Ector during the
disorders following the looting of Eglonsby; the troops left behind
in Stolgoland had mutinied and made common cause with their late
enemies. The two nations were in an uneasy alliance, with several
other nations combining against them, when the _Nemesis_ and the
_Space Scourge_ returned and declared peace against the whole
planet. There was no fighting; everybody knew what had happened to
Stolgoland and Eglonsby. In the end, all the governments of Amaterasu
joined in a loose agreement to get the mines reopened and resume
production of gadolinium, and to share in the fissionables
being imported in exchange.

It had been harder, and had taken a year longer, to do business with
Beowulf. The Beowulfers had a single planetary government, and they
were inclined to shoot first and negotiate afterward, a natural
enough attitude in view of experiences of the past. However, they
had enough old Federation-period textbooks still in microprint to
know what could be done with gadolinium. They decided to write off
the past as fair fight and no bad blood, and start over again.

It would be some years before either planet had hyperships of their
own. In the meantime, both were good customers, and rapidly becoming
good friends. A number of young Amaterasuans and Beowulfers had come
to Tanith to study various technologies.

The Tanith locals were studying, too. In the first year, Trask
had gathered the more intelligent boys of ten to twelve from each
community and begun teaching them. In the past year, he had sent
the most intelligent of them off to Gram to school. In another
five years, they'd be coming home to teach; in the meantime, he
was bringing teachers to Tanith from Gram. There was a school
at Tradetown, and others in some of the larger villages, and
at Rivington there was something that could almost be called a
college. In another ten years or so, Tanith would be able to
pretend to the status of civilization.

       *       *       *       *       *

If only Andray Dunnan and his ships didn't come too soon. They would
be beaten off, he was confident of that; but the damage Tanith would
take, in the defense, would set back his work for years. He knew all
too well what Space Viking ships could do to a planet. He'd have to
find Dunnan's base, smash it, destroy his ships, kill the man
himself, first. Not to avenge that murder six years ago on Gram;
that was long ago and far away, and Elaine was vanished, and so was
the Lucas Trask who had loved and lost her. What mattered now was
planting and nurturing civilization on Tanith.

But where would he find Dunnan, in two hundred billion cubic
light-years? Dunnan had no such problem. He knew where his enemy was.

And Dunnan was gathering strength. The _Yo-Yo_, Captain Vann
Humfort; she had been reported twice, once in company with the
_Starhopper_, and once with the _Enterprise_. She bore a blazon of
a feminine hand dangling a planet by a string from one finger; a
good ship, and an able, ruthless captain. The _Bolide_; she and the
_Enterprise_ had made a raid on Ithunn. The Gilgameshers had settled
there and one of their ships had brought that story in.

And he recruited two ships at once on Melkarth, and there was a good
deal of mirth about that among the Tanith Space Vikings.

Melkarth was strictly a poultry planet. Its people had sunk to the
village-peasant level; they had no wealth worth taking or carrying
away. It was, however, a place where a ship could be set down, and
there were women, and the locals had not lost the art of distillation,
and made potent liquors. A crew could have fun there, much less
expensively than on a regular Viking base planet, and for the last
eight years a Captain Nial Burrik, of the _Fortuna_, had been occupying
it, taking his ship out for occasional quick raids and spending most
of the time living from day to day almost on the local level. Once
in a while, a Gilgamesher would come in to see if he had anything to
trade. It was a Gilgamesher who brought the story to Tanith, and it
was almost two years old when he told it.

"We heard it from the people of the planet, the ones who live where
Burrik had his base. First, there was a trading ship came in. You
may have heard of her; she is the one called the _Honest Horris_."

Trask laughed at that. Her captain, Horris Sasstroff, called himself
"Honest Horris," a misnomer which he had also bestowed on his ship.
He was a trader of sorts. Even the Gilgameshers despised him, and
not even a Gilgamesher would have taken a wretched craft like the
_Honest Horris_ to space.

"He had been to Melkarth before," the Gilgamesher said. "He and
Burrik are friends." He pronounced that like a final and damning
judgment of both of them. "The story the locals told our brethren
of the _Fairdealer_ was that the _Honest Horris_ was landed beside
Burrik's ship for ten days, when two other ships came in. They said
one had the blue crescent badge, and the other bore a green monster
leaping from one star to another."

The _Enterprise_ and the _Starhopper_. He wondered why they'd gone
to a planet like Melkarth. Maybe they knew in advance whom they'd
find there.

"The locals thought there would be fighting, but there was not.
There was a great feast, of all four crews. Then everything of
value was loaded aboard the _Fortuna_, and all four ships lifted
and spaced out together. They said Burrik left nothing of any worth
whatever behind; they were much disappointed at that."

"Have any of them been back since?"

All three Gilgameshers, captain, exec, and priest, shook their heads.

"Captain Gurrash of the _Fairdealer_ said it had been over a year
before his ship put in there. He could still see where the landing
legs of the ships had pressed into the ground, but the locals said
they had not been back."

That made two more ships about which inquiries must be made. He
wondered, for a moment, why in Gehenna Dunnan would want ships like
that; they must make the _Space Scourge_ and the _Lamia_ as he had
first seen them look like units of the Royal Navy of Excalibur. Then
he became frightened, with an irrational retrospective fright at
what might have happened. It could have, too, at any time in the
last year and a half; either or both of those ships could have come
in on Tanith completely unsuspected. It was only by the sheerest
accident that he had found out, even now, about them.

Everybody else thought it was a huge joke. They thought it would be
a bigger joke if Dunnan sent those ships to Tanith now, when they
were warned and ready for them.

There were other things to worry about. One was the altering attitude of
his Majesty Angus I. When the _Space Scourge_ returned, the newly-titled
Baron Valkanhayn brought with him, along with the princely title and the
commission as Viceroy of Tanith, a most cordial personal audiovisual
greeting, warm and friendly. Angus had made it seated at his desk, bare
headed and smoking a cigarette. The one which had come on the next ship
out was just as cordial, but the King was not smoking and wore a small
gold-circled cap-of-maintenance. By the time they had three ships in
service on scheduled three-month arrivals, a year and a half later, he
was speaking from his throne, wearing his crown and employing the first
person plural for himself and finally the third person singular for
Trask. By the end of the fourth year, there was no audiovisual message
from him in person, and a stiff complaint from Rovard Grauffis to the
effect that His Majesty felt it unseemly for a subject to address his
sovereign while seated, even by audiovisual. This was accompanied by a
rather apologetic personal message from Grauffis--now Prime Minister--to
the effect that His Majesty felt compelled to stand on his royal dignity
at all times, and that, after all, there was a difference between the
position and dignity of the Duke of Wardshaven and that of the Planetary
King of Gram.

Prince Trask of Tanith couldn't quite see it. The King was simply
the first nobleman of the planet. Even kings like Rodolf of Excalibur
or Napolyon of Flamberge didn't try to be anything more. Thereafter,
he addressed his greetings and reports to the Prime Minister, always
with a personal message, to which Grauffis replied in kind.

Not only the form but also the content of the messages from Gram
underwent change. His Majesty was most dissatisfied. His Majesty was
deeply disappointed. His Majesty felt that His Majesty's colonial
realm of Tanith was not contributing sufficiently to the Royal
Exchequer. And his Majesty felt that Prince Trask was placing
entirely too much emphasis upon trade and not enough upon raiding;
after all, why barter with barbarians when it was possible to take
what you wanted from them by force?

And there was the matter of the _Blue Comet_, Count Lionel of
Newhaven's ship. His Majesty was most displeased that the Count of
Newhaven was trading with Tanith from his own spaceport. All goods
from Tanith should pass through the Wardshaven spaceport.

"Look, Rovard," he told the audiovisual camera which was recording
his reply to Grauffis. "You saw the _Space Scourge_ when she came
in, didn't you? That's what happens to a ship that raids a planet
where there's anything worth taking. Beowulf is lousy with
fissionables; they'll give us all the plutonium we can load, in
exchange for gadolinium, which we sell them at about twice
Sword-World prices. We trade plutonium on Amaterasu for gadolinium,
and get it for about half Sword-World prices." He pressed the
stop-button, until he could remember the ancient formula. "You may
quote me as saying that whoever has advised His Majesty that that
isn't good business is no friend to His Majesty or to the Realm.

"As for the complaint about the _Blue Comet_; as long as she is
owned and operated by the Count of Newhaven, who is a stockholder
in the Tanith Adventure, she has every right to trade here."

He wondered why His Majesty didn't stop Lionel of Newhaven from
sending the _Blue Comet_ out from Gram. He found out from her
skipper, the next time she came in.

       *       *       *       *       *

"He doesn't dare, that's why. He's King as long as the great lords
like Count Lionel and Joris of Bigglersport and Alan of Northport
want him to be. Count Lionel has more men and more guns and
contragravity than he has, now, and that's without the help he'd get
from everybody else. Everything's quiet on Gram now, even the war on
Southmain Continent's stopped. Everybody wants to keep it that way.
Even King Angus isn't crazy enough to do anything to start a war.
Not yet, anyhow."

"Not _yet_?"

The captain of the _Blue Comet_, who was one of Count Lionel's
vassal barons, was silent for a moment.

"You ought to know, Prince Trask," he said. "Andray Dunnan's
grandmother was the King's mother. Her father was old Baron Zarvas
of Blackcliffe. He was what was called an invalid, the last twenty
years of his life. He was always attended by two male nurses about
the size of Otto Harkaman. He was also said to be slightly
eccentric."

The unfortunate grandfather of Duke Angus had always been a subject
nice people avoided. The unfortunate grandfather of King Angus was
probably a subject everybody who valued their necks avoided.

Lothar Ffayle had also come out on the _Blue Comet_. He was just as
outspoken.

"I'm not going back. I'm transferring most of the funds of the Bank
of Wardshaven out here; from now on, it'll be a branch of the Bank
of Tanith. This is where the business is being done. It's getting
impossible to do business at all in Wardshaven. What little business
there is to do."

"Just what's been happening?"

"Well, taxation, first. It seems the more money came in from here,
the higher taxes got on Gram. Discriminatory taxes, too; pinched the
small landholding and industrial barons and favored a few big ones.
Baron Spasso and his crowd."

"Baron Spasso, now?"

Ffayle nodded. "Of about half of Glaspyth. A lot of the Glaspyth
barons lost their baronies--some of them their heads--after Duke
Omfray was run out. It seems there was a plot against the life of
His Majesty. It was exposed by the zeal and vigilance of Sir Garvan
Spasso, who was elevated to the peerage and rewarded with the lands
of the conspirators."

"You said business was bad, as business?"

Ffayle nodded again. "The big Tanith boom has busted. It got
oversold; everybody wanted in on it. And they should never have
built those two last ships, the _Speedwell_ and the _Goodhope_;
the return on them didn't justify it. Then, you're creating your
own industries and building your own equipment and armament here;
that's caused a slump in industry on Gram. I'm glad Lavina Karvall
has enough money invested to live on. And finally, the consumers'
goods market is getting flooded with stuff that's coming in from
here and competing with Gram industry."

Well, that was understandable. One of the ships that made the
shuttle-trip to Gram would carry enough in her strong rooms, in gold
and jewels and the like, to pay a handsome profit on the voyage. The
bulk-goods that went into the cargo holds was practically taking a
free ride, so anything on hand, stuff that nobody would ordinarily
think of shipping in interstellar trade, went aboard. A two thousand
foot freighter had a great deal of cargo space.

Baron Trask of Traskon hadn't even begun to realise what Tanith base
was going to cost Gram.

[Illustration][Illustration]



XVII


As might be expected, the Beowulfers finished their hypership first.
They had started with everything but a little know-how which had
been quickly learned. Amaterasu had had to begin by creating the
industry they needed to create the industry they needed to build a
ship. The Beowulf ship--she was named _Viking's Gift_--came in on
Tanith five and a half years after the _Nemesis_ and the _Space
Scourge_ had raided Beowulf; her skipper had fought a normal-drive
ship in that battle. Beside plutonium and radioactive isotopes, she
carried a general cargo of the sort of luxury-goods unique to
Beowulf which could always find a market in interstellar trade.

After selling the cargo and depositing the money in the Bank of
Tanith, the skipper of the _Viking's Gift_ wanted to know where
he could find a good planet to raid. They gave him a list, none
too tough but all slightly above the chicken-stealing level, and
another list of planets he was _not_ to raid; planets with which
Tanith was trading.

Six months later they learned that he had showed up on Khepera, with
which they were now trading, and had flooded the market there with
plundered textiles, hardware, ceramics and plastics. He had bought
kregg-meat and hides.

"You see what you did, now?" Harkaman clamored. "You thought you
were making a customer; what you made was a competitor."

"What I made was an ally. If we ever do find Dunnan's planet, we'll
need a fleet to take it. A couple of Beowulf ships would help. You
know them; you fought them, too."

Harkaman had other worries. While cruising in _Corisande II_, he had
come in on Vitharr, one of the planets where Tanith ships traded, to
find it being raided by a Space Viking ship based on Xochitl. He had
fought a short but furious ship-action, battering the invader until
he was glad to hyper out. Then he had gone directly to Xochitl,
arriving on the heels of the ship he had beaten, and had had it out
both with the captain and Prince Viktor, serving them with an
ultimatum to leave Tanith trade-planets alone in the future.

"How did they take it?" Trask asked, when he returned to report.

"Just about the way you would have. Viktor said his people were
Space Vikings, not Gilgameshers. I told him we weren't Gilgameshers,
either, as he'd find out on Xochitl the next time one of his ships
raided one of our planets. Are you going to back me up? Of course,
you can always send Prince Viktor my head, and an apology--"

"If I have to send him anything, I'll send him a sky full of ships
and a planet full of hellburners. You did perfectly right, Otto;
exactly what I'd have done in your place."

There the matter rested. There were no more raids by Xochitl ships
on any of their trade-planets. No mention of the incident was made
in any of the reports sent back to Gram. The Gram situation was
deteriorating rapidly enough. Finally, there was an audiovisual
message from Angus himself; he was seated on his throne, wearing
his crown, and he began speaking from the screen abruptly:

"We, Angus, King of Gram and Tanith, are highly displeased with our
subject, Lucas, Prince and Viceroy of Tanith; we consider ourselves
very badly served by Prince Trask. We therefore command him to return
to Gram, and render to us account of his administration of our colony
and realm of Tanith."

After some hasty preparations, Trask recorded a reply. He was sitting
on a throne, himself, and he wore a crown just as ornate as King Angus',
and robes of white and black Imhotep furs.

"We, Lucas, Prince of Tanith," he began, "are quite willing to
acknowledge the suzerainty of the King of Gram, formerly Duke of
Wardshaven. It is our earnest desire, if possible, to remain at
peace and friendship with the King of Gram, and to carry on trade
relations with him and with his subjects.

"We must, however, reject absolutely any efforts on his part to
dictate the internal policies of our realm of Tanith. It is our
earnest hope,"--dammit, he'd said "earnest," he should have thought
of some other word--"that no act on the part of his Majesty the King
of Gram will create any breach in the friendship existing between
his realm and ours."

       *       *       *       *       *

Three months later, the next ship, which had left Gram while King
Angus' summons was still in hyperspace, brought Baron Rathmore.
Shaking hands with him as he left the landing craft, Trask wanted to
know if he'd been sent out as the new Viceroy. Rathmore started to
laugh and ended by cursing vilely.

"No. I've come out to offer my sword to the King of Tanith," he said.

"Prince of Tanith, for the time being," Trask corrected. "The sword,
however, is most acceptable. I take it you've had all of our blessed
sovereign you can stomach?"

"Lucas, you have enough ships and men here to take Gram," Rathmore
said. "Proclaim yourself King of Tanith and then lay claim to the
throne of Gram and the whole planet would rise for you."

Rathmore had lowered his voice, but even so the open landing stage
was no place for this sort of talk. He said so, ordered a couple
of the locals to collect Rathmore's luggage, and got him into a
hall-car, taking him down to his living quarters. After they were
in private, Rathmore began again:

"It's more than anybody can stand! There isn't one of the old great
nobility he hasn't alienated, or one of the minor barons, the
landholders and industrialists, the people who were always the
backbone of Gram. And it goes from them down to the commonfolk.
Assessments on the lords, taxes on the people, inflation to meet
the taxes, high prices, debased coinage. Everybody's being beggared
except this rabble of new lords he has around him, and that slut of
a wife and her greedy kinfolk...."

Trask stiffened. "You're not speaking of Queen Flavia, are you?"
he asked softly.

Rathmore's mouth opened slightly. "Great Satan, don't you know? No,
of course not; the news would have come on the same ship I did. Why,
Angus divorced Flavia. He claimed that she was incapable of giving
him an heir to the throne. He remarried immediately."

The girl's name meant nothing to Trask; he did know of her father, a
Baron Valdiva. He was lord of a small estate south of the Ward lands
and west of Newhaven. Most of his people were out-and-out bandits
and cattle-rustlers, and he was as close to being one himself as
he could get.

"Nice family he's married into. A credit to the dignity of the
throne."

"Yes. You wouldn't know this Lady-Demoiselle Evita; she was only
seventeen when you left Gram, and hadn't begun to acquire a
reputation outside her father's lands. She's made up for lost time
since, though. And she has enough uncles and aunts and cousins and
ex-lovers and what-not to fill out an infantry regiment, and every
one of them's at court with both hands out to grab everything they
can."

"How does Duke Joris like this?" The Duke of Bigglersport was Queen
Flavia's brother. "I daresay he's less than delighted."

"He's hiring mercenaries, is what he's doing, and buying combat
contragravity. Lucas, why don't you come back? You have no idea what
a reputation you have on Gram, now. Everybody would rally to you."

He shook his head, "I have a throne, here on Tanith. On Gram I want
nothing. I'm sorry for the way Angus turned out, I thought he'd make
a good King. But since he's made an intolerable King, the lords and
people of Gram will have to get rid of him for themselves. I have my
own tasks, here."

Rathmore shrugged. "I was afraid that would be it," he said. "Well,
I offered my sword; I won't take it back. I can help you in what
you're doing on Tanith."

       *       *       *       *       *

The captain of the free Space Viking _Damnthing_ was named
Roger-fan-Morvill Esthersan, which meant that he was some
Sword-Worlder's acknowledged bastard by a woman of one of the Old
Federation planets. His mother's people could have been Nergalers;
he had coarse black hair, a mahogany-brown skin, and red-brown,
almost maroon, eyes. He tasted the wine the robot poured for him
and expressed appreciation, then began unwrapping the parcel he
had brought in.

"Something I found while raiding on Tetragrammaton," he said.
"I thought you might like to have it. It was made on Gram."

It was an automatic pistol, with a belt and holster. The leather was
bisonoid-hide; the buckle of the belt was an oval enameled with a
crescent, pale blue on black. The pistol was a plain 10-mm military
model with grooved plastic grips; on the receiver it bore the stamp
of the House of Hoylbar, the firearms manufacturers of Glaspyth.
Evidently it was one of the arms Duke Omfray had provided for Andray
Dunnan's original mercenary company.

"Tetragrammaton?" He glanced over to the Big Board; there was no
previous report from that planet. "How long ago?"

"I'd say about three hundred hours. I came from there directly, less
than two hundred and fifty hours. Dunnan's ships had left the planet
three days before I got there."

That was practically sizzling hot. Well, something like that had to
happen, sooner or later. The Space Viking was asking him if he knew
what sort of a place Tetragrammaton was.

Neobarbarian, trying to recivilize in a crude way. Small population,
concentrated on one continent; farming and fisheries. A little heavy
industry, in a small way, at a couple of towns. They had some nuclear
power, introduced a century or so ago by traders from Marduk, one of
the really civilized planets. They still depended on Marduk for
fissionables; their export product was an abominably-smelling
vegetable oil which furnished the base for delicate perfumes, and
which nobody was ever able to synthesize properly.

"I heard they had steel mills in operation, now," the half-breed
Space Viking said. "It seems that somebody on Rimmon has just
re-invented the railroad, and they need more steel than they can
produce for themselves. I thought I'd raid Tetragrammaton for steel
and trade it on Rimmon for a load of heaven-tea. When I got there,
though, the whole planet was in a mess; not raiding, but plain
wanton destruction. The locals were just digging themselves out of
it when I landed. Some of them, who didn't think they had anything
at all left to lose, gave me a fight. I captured a few of them, to
find out what had happened. One of them had that pistol; he said
he'd taken it off a Space Viking he'd killed. The ships that raided
them were the _Enterprise_ and the _Yo-Yo_. I knew you'd want to
hear about it. I got some of the locals' stories on tape."

"Well, thank you. I'll want to hear those tapes. Now, you say you
want steel?"

"Well, I haven't any money. That's why I was going to raid
Tetragrammaton."

"Nifflheim with the money; your cargo's paid for already. This,"
he said, touching the pistol, "and whatever's on the tapes."

       *       *       *       *       *

They played off the tapes that evening. They weren't particularly
informative. The locals who had been interrogated hadn't been in
actual contact with Dunnan's people except in combat. The man who
had been carrying the 10-mm Hoylbar was the best witness of the lot,
and he knew little. He had caught one of them alone, shot him from
behind with a shotgun, taken his pistol, and then gotten away as
quickly as he could. They had sent down landing craft, it seemed,
and said they wanted to trade; then something must have happened,
nobody knew what, and they had begun a massacre and sacked the town.
After returning to their ships, they had opened fire with nuclear
missiles.

"Sounds like Dunnan," Hugh Rathmore said in disgust. "He just went
kill-crazy. The bad blood of Blackcliffe."

"There are funny things about this," Boake Valkanhayn said. "I'd say
it was a terror-raid, but who in Gehenna was he trying to terrorize?"

"I wondered about that, too." Harkaman frowned. "This town where he
landed seems, such as it was, to have been the planetary capital.
They just landed, pretending friendship, which I can't see why they
needed to pretend, and then began looting and massacring. There
wasn't anything of real value there; all they took was what the men
could carry themselves or stuff into their landing craft, and they
did that because they have what amounts to a religious taboo
against landing anywhere and leaving without stealing something.
The real loot was at these two other towns; a steel mill and big
stocks of steel at one, and all that skunk-apple oil at the other.
So what did they do? They dropped a five-megaton bomb on each one,
and blew both of them to Em-See-Square. That was a terror-raid pure
and simple, but as Boake inquires, just who were they terrorizing?
If there were big cities somewhere else on the planet, it would
figure. But there aren't. They blew out the two biggest cities,
and all the loot in them."

[Illustration]

"Then they wanted to terrorize somebody off the planet."

"But nobody'd hear about it off-planet," somebody protested.

"The Mardukans would; they trade with Tetragrammaton," the
acknowledged bastard of somebody named Morvill said. "They have
a couple of ships a year there."

"That's right," Trask agreed. "Marduk."

"You mean, you think Dunnan's trying to terrorize _Marduk_?" Valkanhayn
demanded. "Great Satan, even he isn't crazy enough for that!"

Baron Rathmore started to say something about what Andray Dunnan
was crazy enough to do, and what his uncle was crazy enough to do.
It was just one of the cracks he had been making since he'd come
to Tanith and didn't have to look over his shoulder while he was
making them.

"I think he is, too," Trask said. "I think that is exactly what he
is doing. Don't ask me why; as Otto is fond of remarking, he's crazy
and we aren't, and that gives him an advantage. But what have we
gotten, since those Gilgameshers told us about his picking up
Burrik's ship and the _Honest Horris_? Until today, we've heard
nothing from any other Space Viking. What we have gotten was stories
from Gilgameshers about raids on planets where they trade, and every
one of them is also a planet where Marduk ships trade. And in every
case, there has been little or nothing reported about valuable loot
taken. The stories are all about wanton and murderous bombings. I
think Andray Dunnan is making war on Marduk."

"Then he's crazier than his grandfather and his uncle both!"
Rathmore cried.

"You mean, he's making a string of terror-raids on their trade
planets, hoping to pull the Mardukan space-navy away from the home
planet?" Harkaman had stopped being incredulous. "And when he gets
them all lured away, he'll make a fast raid?"

"That's what I think. Remember our fundamental postulate: Dunnan is
crazy. Remember how he convinced himself that he was the rightful
heir to the ducal crown of Wardshaven?" And remember his insane
passion for Elaine; he pushed that thought hastily from him. "Now,
he's convinced that he's the greatest Space Viking in history. He
has to do something worthy of that distinction. When was the last
time anybody attacked a civilized planet? I don't mean Gilgamesh,
I mean a planet like Marduk."

"A hundred and twenty years ago; Prince Havilgar of Haulteclere, six
ships, against Aton. Two ships got back. He didn't. Nobody's tried
it since," Harkaman said.

"So Dunnan the Great will do it. I hope he tries," he surprised
himself by adding. "That's provided I find out what happened. Then
I could stop thinking about him."

There was a time when he had dreaded the possibility that somebody
else might kill Dunnan before he could.



XVIII


Seshat, Obidicut, Lugaluru, Audhumla.

The young man elevated by his father's death in the Dunnan raid to
the post of hereditary President of the democratic Republic of
Tetragrammaton had been sure that the Marduk ships which came to
his planet traded also on those. There had been some difficulty
about making contact, and the first face-to-face meeting had begun
in an atmosphere of bitter distrust on his part. They had met out
of doors; around them, spread wrecked and burned buildings, and
hastily constructed huts and shelters, and wide spaces of charred
and slagged rubble.

"They blew up the steel mill here, and the oil-refinery at Jannsboro.
They bombed and strafed the little farm-towns and villages. They
scattered radioactives that killed as many as the bombing. And after
they had gone away, this other ship came."

"The _Damnthing_? She bore the head of a beast with three very big horns?"

"That's the one. They did a little damage, at first. When the
captain found out what had happened to us, he left some food and
medicines for us." Roger-fan-Morvill Esthersan hadn't mentioned that.

"Well, we'd like to help you, if we can. Do you have nuclear power?
We can give you a little equipment. Just remember it of us, when
you're back on your feet; we'll be back to trade later. But don't
think you owe us anything. The man who did this to you is my enemy.
Now, I want to talk to every one of your people who can tell me
anything at all...."

Seshat was the closest; they went there first. They were too late.
Seshat had had it already, and on the evidence of the radioactivity
counters, not too long ago. Four hundred hours at most. There had
been two hellburners; the cities on which they had fallen were
still-smoking pits literally burned into the ground and the bedrock
below, at the center of five hundred mile radii of slag and lava and
scorched earth and burned forests. There had been a planetbuster; it
had started a major earthquake. And half a dozen thermonuclears.
There were probably quite a few survivors--a human planetary
population is extremely hard to exterminate completely--but within
a century they'd be back to the loincloth and the stone hatchet.

"We don't even know Dunnan did it, personally," Paytrik Morland said.
"For all we know, he's down in an air-tight cave city on some planet
nobody ever heard of, sitting on a golden throne, surrounded by a harem."

He had begun to suspect that Dunnan was doing something of just the
sort. The Greatest Space Viking of History would naturally found a
Space Viking empire.

"An emperor goes out to look his empire over, now and then; I don't
spend all my time on Tanith. Say we try Audhumla next. It's the
farthest away. We might get there while he's still shooting up
Obidicut and Lugaluru. Guatt, figure us a jump for it."

When the colored turbulence washed away and the screen cleared,
Audhumla looked like Tanith or Khepera or Amaterasu or any other
Terra-type planet, a big disk brilliant with reflected sunlight and
glowing with starlit and moonlit atmosphere on the other. There was
a single rather large moon, and, in the telescopic screen, the usual
markings of seas and continents and rivers and mountain-ranges. But
there was nothing to show....

Oh, yes; lights on the darkened side, and from the size they must be
vast cities. All the available data for Audhumla was long out of
date; a considerable civilization must have developed in the last
half dozen centuries.

Another light appeared, a hard blue-white spark that spread into a
larger, less brilliant yellow light. At the same time, all the
alarm-devices in the command-room went into a pandemonium of jangling
and flashing and squawking and howling and shouting. Radiation.
Energy-release. Contragravity distortion effects. Infra-red output. A
welter of indecipherable radio and communication-screen signals. Radar
and scanner-ray beams from the planet.

Trask's fist began hurting; he found that he had been pounding
the desk in front of him with it. He stopped it.

"We caught him, we caught him!" he was yelling hoarsely. "Full speed
in, continuous acceleration, as much as we can stand. We'll worry
about decelerating when we're in shooting distance."

The planet grew steadily larger; Karffard was taking him at his word
about continuous acceleration. There'd be a Gehenna of a bill to pay
when they started decelerating. On the planet, more bombs were going
off just outside atmosphere beyond the sunset line.

"Ship observed. Altitude about a hundred to five hundred
miles--hundreds, not thousands--35° North Latitude, 15° west of
the sunset line. Ship is under fire, bomb explosions near her,"
a voice whooped.

Somebody else was yelling that the city lights were really burning
cities, or burning forests. The first voice, having stopped, broke
in again:

"Ship is visible in telescopic screen, just at the sunset line. And
there's another ship detected but not visible, somewhere around the
equator, and a third one somewhere out of sight, we can just get the
fringe of her contragravity field around the planet."

That meant there were two sides, and a fight. Unless Dunnan had
picked up a third ship, somewhere. The telescopic view shifted;
for a moment the planet was completely off-screen, and then its
curvature came into the screen against a star-scattered background.
They were almost in to two thousand miles now; Karffard was yelling
to stop acceleration and trying to put the ship into a spiral orbit.
Suddenly they caught a glimpse of one of the ships.

"She's in trouble." That was Paul Koreff's voice. "She's leaking air
and water vapor like crazy."

"Well, is she a good guy or a bad guy?" Morland was yelling back, as
though Koreff's spectroscopes could distinguish. Koreff ignored that.

"Another ship making signal," he said. "She's the one coming up over
the equator. Sword-World impulse code; her communication-screen
combination, and an identify-yourself."

Karffard punched out the combination as Koreff furnished it. While
Trask was desperately willing his face into immobility, the screen
lighted. It wasn't Andray Dunnan; that was a disappointment. It was
almost as good, though. His henchman, Sir Nevil Ormm.

"Well, Sir Nevil! A pleasant surprise," he heard himself saying.
"We last met on the terrace at Karvall House, did we not?"

For once, the paper-white face of Andray Dunnan's _âme damnée_
showed expression, but whether it was fear, surprise, shock, hatred,
anger, or what combination of them, Trask could no more than guess.

"Trask! Satan curse you...!"

Then the screen went blank. In the telescopic screen, the other ship
came on unfalteringly. Paul Koreff, who had gotten more data on
mass, engine energy-output and dimensions, was identifying her as
the _Enterprise_.

"Well, go for her! Give her everything!"

       *       *       *       *       *

They didn't need the order; Vann Larch was speaking rapidly into his
hand-phone, and Alvyn Karffard was hurling his voice all over the
_Nemesis_, warning of sudden deceleration and direction change, and
while he was speaking, things in the command room began sliding. In
the telescopic screen, the other ship was plainly visible; he could
see the oval patch of black with the blue crescent, and in his
screen Dunnan would be seeing the sword-impaled skull of the
_Nemesis_.

If only he could be sure Dunnan was there to see it. If it had only
been Dunnan's face, instead of Ormm's, that he had seen in the
screen. As it was, he couldn't be sure, and if one of the missiles
that were already going out made a lucky hit, he might never be
sure. He didn't care who killed Dunnan, or how. All he wanted was
to know that Dunnan's death had set him free from a self-assumed
obligation that was now meaningless to him.

The _Enterprise_ launched counter-missiles; so did the _Nemesis_.
There were momentarily unbearable flashes of pure energy and from
them globes of incandescence spread and vanished. Something must
have gotten through; red lights flashed on the damage board. It had
been something heavy enough even to jolt the huge mass of the
_Nemesis_. At the same time, the other ship took a hit from
something that would have vaporized her had she not been armored in
collapsium. Then, as they passed close together, guns hammered back
and forth along with missiles, and then the _Enterprise_ was out of
sight around the horizon.

Another ship, the size of Otto Harkaman's _Corisande II_, was
approaching; she bore a tapering, red-nailed feminine hand dangling
a planet by a string. They rushed toward each other, planting a
garden of evanescent fire-flowers between them; they pounded one
another with guns, and then they sped apart. At the same time, Paul
Koreff was picking up an impulse-code signal from the third,
crippled, ship; a screen combination. Trask punched it out as
he received it.

A man in space armor was looking out of the screen. That was bad,
if they had to suit up in the command room. They still had air;
his helmet was off, but it was attached and hinged back. On his
breastplate was a device of a dragonlike beast perched with its tail
around a planet, and a crown above. He had a thin, high-cheeked
face, with a vertical wrinkle between his eyes, and a clipped blond
mustache.

"Who are you, stranger. You're fighting my enemies; does that make
you a friend."

"I'm a friend of anybody who owns Andray Dunnan his enemy.
Sword-World ship _Nemesis_; I'm Prince Lucas Trask of Tanith,
commanding."

"Royal Mardukan ship _Victrix_." The thin-faced man gave a wry
laugh. "Not been living up to her name so well. I'm Prince Simon
Bentrik, commanding."

"Are you still battle-worthy?"

"We can fire about half our guns; we still have a few missiles left.
Seventy per cent of the ship's sealed off, and we've been holed in a
dozen places. We have power enough for lift and some steering-way.
We can't make lateral way except at the expense of lift."

Which made the _Victrix_ practically a stationary target. He yelled
over his shoulder at Karffard to cut speed all he could without
tearing things apart.

"When that cripple comes into view, start circling around her. Get
into a tight circle above her." He turned back to the man in the
screen. "If we can get ourselves slowed down enough, we'll do all we
can to cover you."

"All you can is all you can; thank you, Prince Trask."

"Here comes the _Enterprise_!" Karffard shouted, with obscenely
blasphemous embellishments. "She hairpinned on us."

"Well, do something about her!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Vann Larch was already doing it. The _Enterprise_ had taken damage
in the last exchange; Koreff's spectroscopes showed her halo-ed with
air and water vapor. Her instruments would be getting the same
story from the _Nemesis_; wedge-shaped segments extending six to
eight decks in were sealed off in several places. Then the only
thing that could be seen with certainty was the blaze of mutually
destroying missiles between. The short-range gun duel began and
ended as they passed.

In the screen, he had seen a fat round-nosed thing come up from the
_Victrix_, curving far out ahead of the passing _Enterprise_. She
was almost out of sight around the planet when she ran head-on into
it, and vanished in an awesome blaze. For a moment, he thought she
had been destroyed, then she lurched into sight and went around the
curvature of Audhumla.

Trask and the Mardukan were shaking hands with themselves at each
other in their screens; everybody in the _Nemesis_ command room was
screaming: "Well shot, _Victrix_! Well shot!"

Then the _Yo-Yo_ was coming around again, and Vann Larch was saying,
"Gehenna with this fooling around! I'll fix the expurgated
unprintability!"

He yelled orders--a jumble of code letters and numbers--and things
began going out. Most of them blew up in space. Then the _Yo-Yo_
blew up, very quietly, as things do where there is no air to carry
shock- and sound-waves, but very brilliantly. There was brief
daylight all over the night side of the planet.

"That was our planetbuster," Larch said. "I don't know what we'll
use on Dunnan."

"I didn't know we had one," Trask admitted.

"Otto had a couple built on Beowulf. The Beowulfers are good nuclear
weaponeers."

The _Enterprise_ came back, hastily, to see what had blown up. Larch
put off another entertainment of small stuff, with a fifty megaton
thermonuclear, viewscreen-piloted, among them. It had its own
arsenal of small missiles, and it got through. In the telescopic
screen, a jagged hole was visible just below the equator of the
_Enterprise_, the edges curling outward. Something, possibly a heavy
missile in an open tube, ready for launching, had gone off inside
her. What the inside of the ship was like, or how many of her
company were still alive, was hard to guess.

There were some, and her launchers were still spewing out missiles.
They were intercepted and blew up. The hull of the _Enterprise_
bulked huge in the guidance-screen of the missile and filled it; the
jagged crater that had obliterated the bottom of Dunnan's blue
crescent blazon spread to fill the whole screen. The screen went
milky white as the pickup went off.

All the other screens blazed briefly, until their filters went on.
Even afterward, they glared like the cloud-veiled sun of Gram at
high noon. Finally, when the light-intensity had dropped and the
filters went off, there was nothing left of the _Enterprise_ but an
orange haze.

Somebody--Paytrik, Baron Morland, he saw--was pounding him on the
back and screaming inarticulately in his ear. A dozen space-armored
officers with planet-perched dragons on their breasts were crowding
beside Prince Bentrik in the screen from the _Victrix_, whooping
like drunken bisonoid-herders on payday night.

"I wonder," he said, almost inaudibly, "if I'll ever know if Andray
Dunnan was on that ship."



XIX


Prince Trask of Tanith and Prince Simon Bentrik were dining together
on an upper terrace of what had originally been the mansion house of
a Federation period plantation. It had been a number of other things
since; now it was the municipal building of a town that had grown
around it, which had, somehow, escaped undamaged from the Dunnan
blitz. Normally about five or ten thousand, the place was now jammed
with almost fifty thousand homeless refugees from half a dozen other
towns that had been destroyed, overflowing the buildings and
crowding into a sprawling camp of hastily built huts and shelters,
and already permanent buildings were going up to accommodate them.
Everybody, locals, Mardukans and Space Vikings, had been busy with
the work of relief and reconstruction; this was the first meal the
two commanders had been able to share in any leisure at all. Prince
Bentrik's enjoyment of it was somewhat impaired by the fact that
from where he sat he could see, in the distance, the sphere of his
disabled ship.

"I doubt we can get her off-planet again, let alone into hyperspace."

"Well, we'll get you and your crew to Marduk in the _Nemesis_,
then." They were both speaking loudly, above the clank, and clatter
of machinery below. "I hope you didn't think I'd leave you stranded
here."

"I don't know how either of us will be received. Space Vikings
haven't been exactly popular on Marduk, lately. They may thank you
for bringing me back to stand trial," Bentrik said bitterly. "Why,
I'd have anybody shot who let his ship get caught as I did mine.
Those two were down in atmosphere before I knew they'd come out of
hyperspace."

"I think they were down on the planet before your ship arrived."

"Oh, that's ridiculous, Prince Trask!" the Mardukan cried. "You
can't hide a ship on a planet. Not from the kind of instruments we
have in the Royal Navy."

"We have pretty fair detection ourselves," Trask reminded him.
"There's one place where you can do it. At the bottom of an ocean,
with a thousand or so feet of water over her. That's where I was
going to hide the _Nemesis_, if I got here ahead of Dunnan."

Prince Bentrik's fork stopped half way to his mouth. He lowered it
slowly to his plate. That was a theory he'd like to accept, if he
could.

"But the locals. They didn't know about it."

"They wouldn't. They have no off-planet detection of their own. Come
in directly over the ocean, out of the sun, and nobody'd see the ship."

"Is that a regular Space Viking trick?"

"No. I invented it myself, on the way from Seshat. But if Dunnan
wanted to ambush your ship, he'd have thought of it, too. It's the
only practical way to do it."

Dunnan, or Nevil Ormm; he wished he knew, and was afraid he would go
on wishing all his life.

Bentrik started to pick up his fork again, changed his mind, and
sipped from his wineglass instead.

"You may find you're quite welcome on Marduk, at that," he said.
"These raids have only been a serious problem in the last four
years. I believe, as you do, that this enemy of yours is responsible
for all of them. We have half the Royal Navy out now, patrolling our
trade-planets. Even if he wasn't aboard the _Enterprise_ when you
blew her up, you've put a name on him and can tell us a good deal
about him." He set down the wineglass. "Why, if it weren't so utterly
ridiculous, one might even think he was making war on Marduk."

From Trask's viewpoint, it wasn't ridiculous at all. He merely
mentioned that Andray Dunnan was psychotic and let it go at that.

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Victrix_ was not completely unrepairable, although quite beyond
the resources at hand. A fully equipped engineer-ship from Marduk
could patch her hull and replace her Dillinghams and her Abbot
lift-and-drive engines and make her temporarily spaceworthy, until
she could be gotten to a shipyard. They concentrated on repairing
the _Nemesis_, and in another two weeks she was ready for the voyage.

The six hundred hour trip to Marduk passed pleasantly enough. The
Mardukan officers were good company, and found their Space Viking
opposite numbers equally so. The two crews had become used to
working together on Audhumla, and mingled amicably off watch,
interesting themselves in each other's hobbies and listening avidly
to tales of each other's home planets. The Space Vikings were
surprised and disappointed at the somewhat lower intellectual level
of the Mardukans. They couldn't understand that; Marduk was supposed
to be a civilized planet, wasn't it? The Mardukans were just as
surprised, and inclined to be resentful, that the Space Vikings all
acted and talked like officers. Hearing of it, Prince Bentrik was
also puzzled. Fo'c'sle hands on a Mardukan ship belonged definitely
to the lower orders.

"There's still too much free land and free opportunity on the
Sword-Worlds," Trask explained. "Nobody does much bowing and
scraping to the class above him; he's too busy trying to shove
himself up into it. And the men who ship out as Space Vikings are
the least class-conscious of the lot. Think my men may have trouble
on Marduk about that? They'll all insist on doing their drinking in
the swankiest places in town."

[Illustration]

"No. I don't think so. Everybody will be so amazed that Space Vikings
aren't twelve feet tall, with three horns like a Zarathustra damnthing
and a spiked tail like a Fafnir mantichore that they won't even notice
anything less. Might do some good, in the long run. Crown Prince Edvard
will like your Space Vikings. He's much opposed to class distinctions
and caste prejudices. Says they have to be eliminated before we can
make democracy really work."

The Mardukans talked a lot about democracy. They thought well of it;
their government was a representative democracy. It was also a
hereditary monarchy, if that made any kind of sense. Trask's efforts
to explain the political and social structure of the Sword-Worlds
met the same incomprehension from Bentrik.

"Why, it sounds like feudalism to me!"

"That's right; that's what it is. A king owes his position to the
support of his great nobles; they owe theirs to their barons and
landholding knights; they owe theirs to their people. There are
limits beyond which none of them can go; after that, their vassals
turn on them."

"Well, suppose the people of some barony rebel? Won't the king send
troops to support the baron?"

"What troops? Outside a personal guard and enough men to police the
royal city and hold the crown lands, the king has no troops. If he
wants troops, he has to get them from his great nobles; they have to
get them from their vassal barons, who raise them by calling out
their people." That was another source of dissatisfaction with King
Angus of Gram; he had been augmenting his forces by hiring
off-planet mercenaries. "And the people won't help some other baron
oppress his people; it might be their turn next."

       *       *       *       *       *

"You mean, the people are armed?" Prince Bentrik was incredulous.

"Great Satan, aren't yours?" Prince Trask was equally surprised.
"Then your democracy's a farce, and the people are only free on
sufferance. If their ballots aren't secured by arms, they're
worthless. Who has the arms on your planet?"

"Why, the Government."

"You mean the King?"

Prince Bentrik was shocked. Certainly not; horrid idea. That would
be ... why, it would be _despotism_! Besides, the King wasn't the
Government, at all; the Government ruled in the King's name. There
was the Assembly; the Chamber of Representatives, and the Chamber of
Delegates. The people elected the Representatives, and the
Representatives elected the Delegates, and the Delegates elected the
Chancellor. Then, there was the Prime Minister; he was appointed by
the King, but the King had to appoint him from the party holding the
most seats in the Chamber of Representatives, and he appointed the
Ministers, who handled the executive work of the Government, only
their subordinates in the different Ministries were career-officials
who were selected by competitive examination for the bottom jobs and
promoted up the bureaucratic ladder from there.

This left Trask wondering if the Mardukan constitution hadn't been
devised by Goldberg, the legendary Old Terran inventor who always
did everything the hard way. It also left him wondering just how in
Gehenna the Government of Marduk ever got anything done.

Maybe it didn't. Maybe that was what saved Marduk from having a real
despotism.

"Well, what prevents the Government from enslaving the people?
The people can't; you just told me that they aren't armed, and
the Government is."

He continued, pausing now and then for breath, to catalogue every
tyranny he had ever heard of, from those practiced by the Terran
Federation before the Big War to those practiced at Eglonsby on
Amaterasu by Pedrosan Pedro. A few of the very mildest were pushing
the nobles and people of Gram to revolt against Angus I.

"And in the end," he finished, "the Government would be the only
property owner and the only employer on the planet, and everybody
else would be slaves, working at assigned tasks, wearing
Government-issued clothing and eating Government food, their
children educated as the Government prescribes and trained for jobs
selected for them by the Government, never reading a book or seeing
a play or thinking a thought that the Government had not
approved...."

Most of the Mardukans were laughing, now. Some of them were accusing
him of being just too utterly ridiculous.

"Why, the people _are_ the Government. The people would not
legislate themselves into slavery."

He wished Otto Harkaman were there. All he knew of history was the
little he had gotten from reading some of Harkaman's books, and the
long, rambling conversations aboard ship in hyperspace or in the
evenings at Rivington. But Harkaman, he was sure, could have
furnished hundreds of instances, on scores of planets and over ten
centuries of time, in which people had done exactly that and hadn't
known what they were doing, even after it was too late.

       *       *       *       *       *

"They have something about like that on Aton," one of the Mardukan
officers said.

"Oh, Aton; that's a dictatorship, pure and simple. That Planetary
Nationalist gang got into control fifty years ago, during the crisis
after the war with Baldur...."

"They were voted into power by the people, weren't they?"

"Yes; they were," Prince Bentrik said gravely. "It was an emergency
measure, and they were given emergency powers. Once they were in,
they made the emergency permanent."

"That couldn't happen on Marduk!" a young nobleman declared.

"It could if Zaspar Makann's party wins control of the Assembly at
the next election," somebody else said.

"Oh, then Marduk's safe! The sun'll go nova first," one of the
junior Royal Navy officers said.

After that, they began talking about women, a subject any spaceman
will drop any other subject to discuss.

Trask made a mental note of the name of Zaspar Makann, and took
occasion to bring it up in conversation with his shipboard guests.
Every time he talked about Makann to two or more Mardukans, he heard
at least three or more opinions about the man. He was a political
demagogue; on that everybody agreed. After that, opinions diverged.

Makann was a raving lunatic, and all the followers he had were a
handful of lunatics like him. He might be a lunatic, but he had a
dangerously large following. Well, not so large; maybe they'd pick
up a seat or so in the Assembly, but that was doubtful--not enough
of them in any representative district to elect an Assemblyman. He
was just a smart crook, milking a lot of half-witted plebeians for
all he could get out of them. Not just plebes, either; a lot of
industrialists were secretly financing him, in hope that he would
help them break up the labor unions. You're nuts; everybody knew the
labor unions were backing him, hoping he'd scare the employers into
granting concessions. You're both nuts; he was backed by the
mercantile interests; they were hoping he'd run the Gilgameshers
off the planet.

Well, that was one thing you had to give him credit for. He wanted
to run out the Gilgameshers. Everybody was in favor of that.

Now, Trask could remember something he'd gotten from Harkaman.
There had been Hitler, back at the end of the First Century
Pre-Atomic; hadn't he gotten into power because everybody was
in favor of running out the Christians, or the Moslems, or the
Albigensians, or somebody?



XX


Marduk had three moons; a big one, fifteen hundred miles in
diameter, and two insignificant twenty-mile chunks of rock. The big
one was fortified, and a couple of ships were in orbit around it.
The _Nemesis_ was challenged as she emerged from her last hyperjump;
both ships broke orbit and came out to meet her, and several more
were detected lifting away from the planet.

Prince Bentrik took the communication screen, and immediately
encountered difficulties. The commandant, even after the situation
had been explained twice to him, couldn't understand. A Royal Navy
fleet unit knocked out in a battle with Space Vikings was bad
enough, but being rescued and brought to Marduk by another Space
Viking simply didn't make sense. He then screened the Royal Palace
at Malverton, on the planet; first he was icily polite to somebody
several echelons below him in the peerage, and then respectfully
polite to somebody he addressed as Prince Vandarvant. Finally, after
some minutes' wait, a frail, white-haired man in a little black
cap-of-maintenance appeared in the screen. Prince Bentrik instantly
sprang to his feet. So did all the other Mardukans in the command
room.

"Your Majesty! I am most deeply honored!"

"Are you all right, Simon?" the old gentleman asked solicitously.
"They haven't done anything to you, have they?"

"Saved my life, and my men's, and treated me like a friend and
a comrade, Your Majesty. Have I your permission to present,
informally, their commander, Prince Trask of Tanith?"

"Indeed you may, Simon. I owe the gentleman my deepest thanks."

"His Majesty, Mikhyl the Eighth, Planetary King of Marduk," Prince
Bentrik said. "His Highness, Lucas, Prince Trask, Planetary Viceroy
of Tanith for his Majesty Angus the First of Gram."

The elderly monarch bowed his head slightly; Trask bowed a little
more deeply, from the waist.

"I am very happy, Prince Trask, first, I confess, at the safe return
of my kinsman Prince Bentrik, and then at the honor of meeting one
in the confidence of my fellow sovereign King Angus of Gram. I will
never be ungrateful for what you did for my cousin and for his
officers and men. You must stay at the Palace while you are on this
planet; I am giving orders for your reception, and I wish you to be
formally presented to me this evening." He hesitated briefly. "Gram;
that is one of the Sword-Worlds, is it not?" Another brief
hesitation. "Are you really a Space Viking, Prince Trask?"

Maybe he'd expected Space Vikings to have three horns and a spiked
tail and stand twelve feet tall, himself.

It took several hours for the _Nemesis_ to get into orbit. Bentrik
spent most of them in a screen-booth, and emerged visibly relieved.

"Nobody's going to be sticky about what happened on Audhumla," he
told Trask. "There will be a Board of Inquiry. I'm afraid I had to
mix you up in that. It's not only about the action on Audhumla;
everybody from the Space Minister down wants to hear what you know
about this fellow Dunnan. Like yourself, we all hope he went to
Em-See-Square along with his flagship, but we can't take it for
granted. We have over a dozen trade-planets to protect, and he's
hit more than half of them already."

The process of getting into orbit took them around the planet
several times, and it was a more impressive spectacle at each
circuit. Of course, Marduk had a population of almost two billion,
and had been civilized, with no hiatus of Neobarbarism, since it
had first been colonized in the Fourth Century. Even so, the Space
Vikings were amazed--and stubbornly refusing to show it--at what
they saw in the telescopic screens.

"Look at that city!" Paytrik Morland whispered. "We talk about the
civilized planets, but I never realized they were anything like
this. Why, this makes Excalibur look like Tanith!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The city was Malverton, the capital; like any city of a
contragravity-using people, it lay in a rough circle of buildings
towering out of green interspaces, surrounded by the smaller circles
of spaceports and industrial suburbs. The difference was that any of
these were as large as Camelot on Excalibur or four Wardshavens on
Gram, and Malverton itself was almost half the size of the whole
barony of Traskon.

"They aren't any more civilized that we are, Paytrik. There are just
more of them. If there were two billion people on Gram--which I hope
there never will be--Gram would have cities like this, too."

One thing; the government of a planet like Marduk would have to
be something more elaborate than the loose feudalism of the
Sword-Worlds. Maybe this Goldberg-ocracy of theirs had been forced
upon them by the sheer complexity of the population and its
problems.

Alvyn Karffard took a quick look around him to make sure none
of the Mardukans were in earshot.

"I don't care how many people they have," he said. "Marduk can be
had. A wolf never cares how many sheep there are in a flock. With
twenty ships, we could take this planet like we took Eglonsby.
There'd be losses coming in, sure, but after we were in and down,
we'd have it."

"Where would we get twenty ships?"

Tanith, at a pinch, could muster five or six, counting the free
Space Vikings who used the base facilities; they would have to leave
a couple to hold the planet. Beowulf had one, and another almost
completed, and now there was an Amaterasu ship. But to assemble a
Space Viking armada of twenty.... He shook his head. The real reason
why Space Vikings had never raided a civilized planet successfully
had always been their inability to combine under one command in
sufficient strength.

Besides, he didn't want to raid Marduk. A raid, if successful, would
yield immense treasures, but cause a hundred, even a thousand, times
as much destruction, and he didn't want to destroy anything
civilized.

The landing stages of the palace were crowded when he and Prince
Bentrik landed, and, at a discreet distance, swarms of air-vehicles
circled, creating a control problem for the police. Parting from
Bentrik, he was escorted to the suite prepared for him; it was
luxurious in the extreme but scarcely above Sword-World standards.
There were a surprising number of human servants, groveling and
fawning and getting underfoot and doing work robots could have been
doing better. What robots there were were inefficient, and much work
and ingenuity had been lavished on efforts to copy human form to the
detriment of function.

After getting rid of most of the superfluous servants, he put on a
screen and began sampling the newscasts. There were telescopic views
of the _Nemesis_ from some craft on orbit nearby, and he watched the
officers and men of the _Victrix_ being disembarked; there were
other views of their landing at some naval installation on the
ground, and he could see reporters being chevied away by Navy
ground-police. And there was a wide range of commentary opinion.

The Government had already denied that, (1) Prince Bentrik had
captured the _Nemesis_ and brought her in as a prize, and, (2) the
Space Vikings had captured Prince Bentrik and were holding him for
ransom. Beyond that, the Government was trying to sit on the whole
story, and the Opposition was hinting darkly at corrupt deals and
sinister plots. Prince Bentrik arrived in the midst of an
impassioned tirade against pusillanimous traitors surrounding his
Majesty who were betraying Marduk to the Space Vikings.

"Why doesn't your Government publish the facts and put a stop to
that nonsense?" Trask asked.

"Oh, let them rave," Bentrik replied. "The longer the Government
waits, the more they'll be ridiculed when the facts are published."

Or, the more people will be convinced that the Government had
something to hush up, and had to take time to construct a plausible
story. He kept the thought to himself. It was their government; how
they mismanaged it was their own business. He found that there was
no bartending robot; he had to have a human servant bring drinks. He
made up his mind to have a few of the _Nemesis_ robots sent down to him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The formal presentation would be in the evening; there would be a
dinner first, and because Trask had not yet been formally presented,
he couldn't dine with the King, but because he was, or claimed to
be, Viceroy of Tanith, he ranked as a chief of state and would dine
with the Crown Prince, to whom there would be an informal
introduction first.

This took place in a small ante-chamber off the banquet hall; the
Crown Prince and Crown Princess and Princess Bentrik were there when
they arrived. The Crown Prince was a man of middle age, graying at
the temples, with the glassy stare that betrayed contact lenses. The
resemblance between him and his father was apparent; both had the
same studious and impractical expression, and might have been
professors on the same university faculty. He shook hands with
Trask, assuring him of the gratitude of the Court and Royal Family.

"You know, Simon is next in succession, after myself and my little
daughter," he said. "That's too close to take chances with him." He
turned to Bentrik. "I'm afraid this is your last space adventure,
Simon. You'll have to be a spaceport spaceman from now on."

"I shan't be sorry," Princess Bentrik said. "And if anybody owes
Prince Trask gratitude, I do." She pressed his hands warmly. "Prince
Trask, my son wants to meet you, very badly. He's ten years old, and
he thinks Space Vikings are romantic heroes."

"He should be one, for a while."

He should just see a planet Space Vikings had raided.

Most of the people at the upper end of the table were
diplomats--ambassadors from Odin and Baldur and Isis and Ishtar and
Aton and the other civilized worlds. No doubt they hadn't actually
expected horns and a spiked tail, or even tattooing and a nose ring,
but after all, Space Vikings were just some sort of Neobarbarians,
weren't they? On the other hand, they had all seen views and gotten
descriptions of the _Nemesis_, and had heard about the ship-action
on Audhumla, and this Prince Trask--a Space Viking prince; that
sounded civilized enough--had saved a life with only three other
lives, one almost at an end, between it and the throne. And they had
heard about the screen conversation with King Mikhyl. So they were
courteous through the meal, and tried to get as close as possible to
him in the procession to the throne room.

King Mikhyl wore a golden crown topped by the planetary emblem,
which must have weighed twice as much as a combat helmet, and
fur-edged robes that would weigh more than a suit of space armor.
They weren't nearly as ornate, though, as the regalia of King Angus
I of Gram. He rose to clasp Prince Bentrik's hand, calling him "dear
cousin," and congratulating him on his gallant fight and fortunate
escape. That knocks any court-martial talk on the head, Trask
thought. He remained standing to shake hands with Trask, calling him
"valued friend to me and my house." First person singular; that must
be causing some lifted eyebrows.

Then the King sat down, and the rest of the roomful filed up onto
the dais to be received, and finally it was over and the king rose
and proceeded, followed by his immediate suite between the bowing
and curtsying court and out the wide doors. After a decent interval,
Crown Prince Edvard escorted him and Prince Bentrik down the same
route, the others falling in behind, and across the hall to the
ballroom, where there was soft music and refreshments. It wasn't too
unlike a court reception on Excalibur, except that the drinks and
canapes were being dispensed by human servants.

He was wondering what sort of court functions Angus the First of
Gram was holding by now.

After half an hour, a posse of court functionaries approached and
informed him that it had pleased his Majesty to command Prince Trask
to attend him in his private chambers. There was an audible gasp at
this; both Prince Bentrik and the Crown Prince were trying not to
grin too broadly. Evidently this didn't happen too often. He followed
the functionaries from the ballroom, and the eyes of everybody else
followed him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Old King Mikhyl received him alone, in a small, comfortably shabby
room behind vast ones of incredible splendor. He wore fur-lined
slippers and a loose robe with a fur collar, and his little black
cap-of-maintenance. He was standing when Trask entered; when the
guards closed the door and left them alone, he beckoned Trask to
a couple of chairs, with a low table, on which were decanters and
glasses and cigars, between.

"It's a presumption on royal authority to summon you from the
ballroom," he began, after they had seated themselves and filled
glasses. "You are quite the cynosure, you know."

"I'm grateful to Your Majesty. It's both comfortable and quiet here,
and I can sit down. Your Majesty was the center of attention in the
throne room, yet I seemed to detect a look of relief as you left it."

"I try to hide it, as much as possible." The old King took off the
little gold-circled cap and hung it on the back of his chair.
"Majesty can be rather wearying, you know."

So he could come here and put it off. Trask felt that some gesture
should be made on his own part. He unfastened the dress-dagger from
his belt and laid it on the table. The King nodded.

"Now, we can be a couple of honest tradesmen, our shops closed for
the evening, relaxing over our wine and tobacco," he said. "Eh,
Goodman Lucas?"

It seemed like an initiation into a secret society whose ritual he
must guess at step by step.

"Right, Goodman Mikhyl."

They lifted their glasses to each other and drank; Goodman Mikhyl
offered cigars, and Goodman Lucas held a light for him.

"I hear a few hard things about your trade, Goodman Lucas."

"All true, and mostly understated. We're professional murderers and
robbers, as one of my fellow tradesmen says. The worst of it is that
robbery and murder become just that: a trade, like servicing robots
or selling groceries."

"Yet you fought two other Space Vikings to cover my cousin's
crippled _Victrix_. Why?"

So he must tell his tale, so worn and smooth, again. King Mikhyl's
cigar went out while he listened.

"And you have been hunting him ever since? And now, you can't be
sure whether you killed him or not?"

"I'm afraid I didn't. The man in the screen is the only man Dunnan
can really trust. One or the other would stay wherever he has his
base all the time."

"And when you do kill him; what then?"

"I'll go on trying to make a civilized planet of Tanith. Sooner or
later, I'll have one quarrel too many with King Angus, and then we
will be our Majesty Lucas the First of Tanith, and we will sit on a
throne and receive our subjects. And I'll be glad when I can get my
crown off and talk to a few men who call me 'shipmate,' instead of
'Your Majesty.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration]

"Well, it would violate professional ethics for me to advise a
subject to renounce his sovereign, of course, but that might be an
excellent thing. You met the ambassador from Ithavoll at dinner, did
you not? Three centuries ago, Ithavoll was a colony of Marduk--it
seems we can't afford colonies, any more--and it seceded from us.
Ithavoll was then a planet like your Tanith seems to be. Today, it
is a civilized world, and one of Marduk's best friends. You know,
sometimes I think a few lights are coming on again, here and there
in the Old Federation. If so, you Space Vikings are helping to light
them."

"You mean the planets we use as bases, and the things we teach the
locals?"

"That, too, of course. Civilization needs civilized technologies.
But they have to be used for civilized ends. Do you know anything
about a Space Viking raid on Aton, over a century ago?"

"Six ships from Haulteclere; four destroyed, the other two returned
damaged and without booty."

The King of Marduk nodded.

"That raid saved civilization on Aton. There were four great
nations; the two greatest were at the brink of war, and the others
were waiting to pounce on the exhausted victor and then fight each
other for the spoils. The Space Vikings forced them to unite. Out of
that temporary alliance came the League for Common Defense, and from
that the Planetary Republic. The Republic's a dictatorship, now, and
just between Goodman Mikhyl and Goodman Lucas it's a nasty one and
our Majesty's Government doesn't like it at all. It will be smashed
sooner or later, but they'll never go back to divided sovereignty
and nationalism again. The Space Vikings frightened them out of that
when the dangers inherent in it couldn't. Maybe this man Dunnan will
do the same for us on Marduk."

"You have troubles?"

"You've seen decivilized planets. How does it happen?"

"I know how it's happened on a good many: War. Destruction of cities
and industries. Survivors among ruins, too busy keeping their own
bodies alive to try to keep civilization alive. Then they lose all
knowledge of how to be civilized."

"That's catastrophic decivilization. There is also decivilization by
erosion, and while it's going on, nobody notices it. Everybody is
proud of their civilization, their wealth and culture. But trade is
falling off; fewer ships come in each year. So there is boastful
talk about planetary self-sufficiency; who needs off-planet trade
anyhow? Everybody seems to have money, but the government is always
broke. Deficit spending--and always the vital social services for
which the government has to spend money. The most vital one, of
course, is buying votes to keep the government in power. And it gets
harder for the government to get anything done.

"The soldiers are sloppier at drill, and their uniforms and weapons
aren't taken care of. The noncoms are insolent. And more and more
parts of the city are dangerous at night, and then even in the
daytime. And it's been years since a new building went up, and the
old ones aren't being repaired any more."

Trask closed his eyes. Again, he could feel the mellow sun of Gram
on his back, and hear the laughing voices on the lower terrace, and
he was talking to Lothar Ffayle and Rovard Grauffis and Alex Gorram
and Cousin Nikkolay and Otto Harkaman. He said:

"And finally, nobody bothers fixing anything up. And the
power-reactors stop, and nobody seems to be able to get them started
again. It hasn't quite gotten that far on the Sword-Worlds yet."

"It hasn't here, either. Yet." Goodman Mikhyl slipped away; King
Mikhyl VIII looked across the low table at his guest. "Prince Trask,
have you heard of a man named Zaspar Makann?"

"Occasionally. Nothing good about him."

"He is the most dangerous man on this planet," the King said. "And I
can make nobody believe it. Not even my son."



XXI


Prince Bentrik's ten-year-old son, Count Steven of Ravary, wore the
uniform of an ensign of the Royal Navy; he was accompanied by his
tutor, an elderly Navy captain. They both stopped in the doorway
of Trask's suite, and the boy saluted smartly.

"Permission to come aboard, sir?" he asked.

"Welcome aboard, count; captain. Belay the ceremony and find seats;
you're just in time for second breakfast."

As they sat down, he aimed his ultraviolet light-pencil at a serving
robot. Unlike Mardukan robots, which looked like surrealist
conceptions of Pre-Atomic armored knights, it was a smooth ovoid
floating a few inches from the floor on its own contragravity; as it
approached, its top opened like a bursting beetle shell and hinged
trays of food swung out. The boy looked at it in fascination.

"Is that a Sword-World robot, sir, or did you capture it somewhere?"

"It's one of our own." He was pardonably proud; it had been built on
Tanith a year before. "Has an ultrasonic dishwasher underneath, and
it does some cooking on top, at the back."

The elderly captain was, if anything, even more impressed than his
young charge. He knew what went into it, and he had some conception
of the society that would develop things like that.

"I take it you don't use many human servants, with robots like
that," he said.

"Not many. We're all low-population planets, and nobody wants to
be a servant."

"We have too many people on Marduk, and all of them want soft jobs
as nobles' servants," the captain said. "Those that want any kind
of jobs."

"You need all your people for fighting men, don't you?" the boy
count asked.

"Well, we need a good many. The smallest of our ships will carry
five hundred men; most of them around eight hundred."

The captain lifted an eyebrow. The complement of the _Victrix_ had
been three hundred, and she'd been a big ship. Then he nodded.

"Of course. Most of them are ground-fighters."

That started Count Steven off. Questions, about battles and raids
and booty and the planets Trask had seen.

"I wish I were a Space Viking!"

"Well, you can't be, Count Ravary. You're an officer of the Royal
Navy. You're supposed to fight Space Vikings."

"I won't fight you."

"You'd have to, if the King commanded," the old captain told him.

"No. Prince Trask is my friend. He saved my father's life."

"And I won't fight you, either, count. We'll make a lot of
fireworks, and then we'll each go home and claim victory. How would
that be?"

"I've heard of things like that," the captain said. "We had a war
with Odin, seventy years ago, that was mostly that sort of battles."

"Besides, the King is Prince Trask's friend, too," the boy insisted.
"Father and Mummy heard him say so, right on the Throne. Kings don't
lie when they're on the Throne, do they?"

"Good Kings don't," Trask told him.

"Ours is a good King," the young Count of Ravary declared proudly.
"I would do anything my King commanded. Except fight Prince Trask.
My house owes Prince Trask a debt."

Trask nodded approvingly. "That's the way a Sword-World noble would
talk, Count Steven," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Board of Inquiry, that afternoon, was more like a small and very
sedate cocktail party. An Admiral Shefter, who seemed to be very
high high-brass, presided while carefully avoiding the appearance
of doing so. Alvyn Karffard and Vann Larch and Paytrik Morland were
there from the _Nemesis_, and Bentrik and several of the officers
from the _Victrix_, and there were a couple of Naval Intelligence
officers, and somebody from Operational Planning, and from Ship
Construction and Research & Development. They chatted pleasantly
and in a deceptively random manner for a while. Then Shefter said:

"Well, there's no blame or censure of any sort for the way Commodore
Prince Bentrik was surprised. That couldn't have been avoided, at
the time." He looked at the Research & Development officer. "It
shouldn't be allowed to happen many more times, though."

"Not many more, sir. I'd say it'll take my people a month, and then
the time it'll take to get all the ships equipped as they come in."

Ship Construction didn't think that would take too long.

"We'll see to it that you get full information on the new submarine
detection system, Prince Trask," the admiral said.

"You gentlemen understand you'll have to keep it under your helmets,
though," one of the Intelligence men added. "If it got out that we
were informing Space Vikings about our technical secrets...." He
felt the back of his neck in a way that made Trask suspect that
beheadment was the customary form of execution on Marduk.

"We'll have to find out where the fellow has his base," Operational
Planning said. "I take it, Prince Trask, that you're not going to
assume that he was on his flagship when you blew it, and just put
paid to him and forget him?"

"Oh, no. I'm assuming that he wasn't. I don't believe he and Ormm
went anywhere on the same ship, after he came out here and
established a base. I think one of them would stay home all the
time."

"Well, we'll give you everything we have on them," Shefter promised.
"Most of that is classified and you'll have to keep quiet about it,
too. I just skimmed over the summary of what you gave us; I daresay
we'll both get a lot of new information. Have you any idea at all
where he might be based, Prince Trask?"

"Only that we think it's a non-Terra-type planet." He told them
about Dunnan's heavy purchases of air-and-water recycling equipment
and carniculture and hydroponic material. "That, of course, helps a
great deal."

"Yes; there are only about five million planets in the former
Federation space-volume that are inhabitable in artificial
environment. Including a few completely covered by seas, where you
could put in underwater dome cities if you had the time and
material."

One of the Intelligence officers had been nursing a glass with a
tiny remnant of cocktail in it. He downed it suddenly, filled the
glass again, and glowered at it in silence for a while. Then he
drank it briskly and refilled it.

"What I should like to know," he said, "is how this double obscenity
of a Dunnan knew we'd have a ship on Audhumla just when we did," he
said. "Your talking about underwater dome-cities reminded me of it.
I don't think he just pulled that planet out of a hat and then went
there prepared to sit on the bottom of the ocean for a year and a
half waiting for something to turn up. I think he knew the
_Victrix_ was coming to Audhumla, and just about when."

"I don't like that, commodore," Shefter said.

"You think I do, sir?" the Intelligence officer countered. "There it
is, though. We all have to face it."

"We do," Shefter agreed. "Get on it, commodore, and I don't need to
caution you to screen everybody you put onto it very carefully." He
looked at his own glass; it had a bare thimbleful in the bottom. He
replenished it slowly and carefully. "It's been a long time since
the Navy's had anything like this to worry about." He turned to
Trask. "I suppose I can get in touch with you at the Palace whenever
I must?"

"Well, Prince Trask and I have been invited as house-guests at
Prince Edvard's, I mean Baron Cragdale's, hunting lodge," Bentrik
said. "We'll be going there directly from here."

"Ah." Admiral Shefter smiled slightly. Beside not having three horns
and a spiked tail, this Space Viking was definitely _persona grata_
with the Royal Family. "Well, we'll keep in contact, Prince Trask."

       *       *       *       *       *

The hunting lodge where Crown Prince Edvard was simple Baron
Cragdale lay at the head of a sharply-sloping mountain valley down
which a river tumbled. Mountains rose on either side in high scarps,
some topped with perpetual snow, glaciers curling down from them.
The lower ranges were forested, as was the valley between, and there
was a red-mauve alpenglow on the great peak that rose from the head
of the valley. For the first time in over a year, Elaine was with
him, silently clinging to him to see the beauty of it through his
eyes. He had thought that she had gone from him forever.

The hunting lodge itself was not quite what a Sword-Worlder would
expect a hunting lodge to be. At first sight, from the air, it
looked like a sundial, a slender tower rising like a gnomen above a
circle of low buildings and formal gardens. The boat landed at the
foot of it, and he and Prince and Princess Bentrik and the young
Count of Ravary and his tutor descended. Immediately, they were
beset by a flurry of servants; the second boat, with the Bentrik
servants and their luggage was circling in to land. Elaine, he
discovered, wasn't with him any more, and then he was separated from
the Bentriks and was being floated up an inside shaft in a
lifter-car. More servants installed him in his rooms, unpacked his
cases, drew his bath and even tried to help him take it, and fussed
over him while he dressed.

There were over a score for dinner. Bentrik had warned him that he'd
find some odd types; maybe he meant that they wouldn't all be
nobles. Among the commoners there were some professors, mostly
social sciences, a labor leader, a couple of Representatives and a
member of the Chamber of Delegates, and a couple of social workers,
whatever that meant.

His own table companion was a Lady Valerie Alvarath. She was
beautiful--black hair, and almost startlingly blue eyes, a
combination unusual in the Sword-Worlds--and she was intelligent,
or at least cleverly articulate. She was introduced as the
lady-companion of the Crown Prince's daughter. When he asked
where the daughter was, she laughed.

"She won't be helping entertain visiting Space Vikings for a long
time, Prince Trask. She is precisely eight years old; I saw her
getting ready for bed before I came down here. I'll look in on her
after dinner."

Then the Crown Princess Melanie, on his other hand, asked him some
question about Sword-World court etiquette. He stuck to
generalities, and what he could remember from a presentation at the
court of Excalibur during his student days. These people had a
monarchy since before Gram had been colonized; he wasn't going to
admit that Gram's had been established since he went off-planet.
The table was small enough for everybody to hear what he was saying
and to feed questions to him. It lasted all through the meal, and
continued when they adjourned for coffee in the library.

"But what about your form of government, your social structure,
that sort of thing?" somebody, impatient with the artificialities
of the court, wanted to know.

"Well, we don't use the word government very much," he replied. "We
talk a lot about authority and sovereignty, and I'm afraid we burn
entirely too much powder over it, but government always seems to us
like sovereignty interfering in matters that don't concern it. As
long as sovereignty maintains a reasonable semblance of good public
order and makes the more serious forms of crime fairly hazardous for
the criminals, we're satisfied."

"But that's just negative. Doesn't the government do anything
positive for the people?"

He tried to explain the Sword-World feudal system to them. It was
hard, he found, to explain something you have taken for granted all
your life to somebody who is quite unfamiliar with it.

       *       *       *       *       *

"But the government--the sovereignty, since you don't like the other
word--doesn't do anything for the people!" one of the professors
objected. "It leaves all the social services to the whim of the
individual lord or baron."

"And the people have no voice at all; why, that's tyranny,"
a professor Assemblyman added.

He tried to explain that the people had a very distinct and
commanding voice, and that barons and lords who wanted to stay
alive listened attentively to it. The Assemblyman changed his mind;
that wasn't tyranny, it was anarchy. And the professor was still
insistent about who performed the social services.

"If you mean schools and hospitals and keeping the city clean, the
people do that for themselves. The government, if you want to think
of it as that, just sees to it that nobody's shooting at them while
they're doing it."

"That isn't what Professor Pullwell means, Lucas. He means old-age
pensions," Prince Bentrik said. "Like this thing Zaspar Makann's
whooping for."

He'd heard about that, on the voyage from Audhumla. Every person on
Marduk would be retired on an adequate pension after thirty years
regular employment or at the age of sixty. When he had wanted to
know where the money would come from, he had been told that there
would be a sales tax, and that the pensions must all be spent within
thirty days, which would stimulate business, and the increased
business would provide tax money to pay the pensions.

"We have a joke about three Gilgameshers space-wrecked on an
uninhabited planet," he said. "Ten years later, when they were
rescued, all three were immensely wealthy, from trading hats with
each other. That's about the way this thing will work."

One of the lady social workers bristled; it wasn't right to make
derogatory jokes about racial groups. One of the professors
harrumphed; wasn't a parallel at all, the Self-Sustaining Rotary
Pension Plan was perfectly feasible. With a shock, Trask recalled
that he was a professor of economics.

Alvyn Karffard wouldn't need any twenty ships to loot Marduk. Just
infiltrate it with about a hundred smart confidence men and inside
a year they'd own everything on it.

That started them all off on Zaspar Makann, though. Some of them
thought he had a few good ideas, but was damaging his own case by
extremism. One of the wealthier nobles said that he was a reproach
to the ruling class; it was their fault that people like Makann
could gain a following. One old gentleman said that maybe the
Gilgameshers were to blame, themselves, for some of the animosity
toward them. He was immediately set upon by all the others and
verbally torn to pieces on the spot.

Trask didn't feel it proper to quote Goodman Mikhyl to this crowd.
He took the responsibility upon himself for saying:

"From what I've heard of him, I think he's the most serious threat
to civilized society on Marduk."

They didn't call him crazy, after all he was a guest, but they
didn't ask him what he meant, either. They merely told him that
Makann was a crackpot with a contemptible following of half-wits,
and just wait till the election and see what happened.

"I'm inclined to agree with Prince Trask," Bentrik said soberly.
"And I'm afraid the election results will be a shock to us, not to
Makann."

He hadn't talked that way on the ship. Maybe he'd been looking
around and doing some thinking, since he got back. He might have
been talking to Goodman Mikhyl, too. There was a screen in the room.
He nodded toward it.

"He's speaking at a rally of the People's Welfare Party at Drepplin,
now," he said. "May I put it on, to show you what I mean?"

When the Crown Prince assented, he snapped on the screen and
twiddled at the selector.

       *       *       *       *       *

A face looked out of it. The features weren't Andray Dunnan's--the
mouth was wider, the cheekbones broader, the chin more rounded. But
his eyes were Dunnan's, as Trask had seen them on the terrace of
Karvall House. Mad eyes. His high-pitched voice screamed:

"Our beloved sovereign is a prisoner! He is surrounded by traitors!
The Ministries are full of them! They are all traitors! The
bloodthirsty reactionaries of the falsely so-called Crown Loyalist
Party! The grasping conspiracy of the interstellar bankers! The
dirty Gilgameshers! They are all leagued together in an unholy
conspiracy! And now this Space Viking, this bloody-handed monster
from the Sword-Worlds...."

"Shut the horrible man off," somebody was yelling, in competition
with the hypnotic scream of the speaker.

The trouble was, they couldn't. They could turn off the screen, but
Zaspar Makann would go on screaming, and millions all over the
planet would still hear him. Bentrik twiddled the selector. The
voice stuttered briefly, and then came echoing out of the speaker,
but this time the pickup was somewhere several hundred feet above
a great open park. It was densely packed with people, most of them
wearing clothes a farm tramp on Gram wouldn't be found dead in,
but here and there among them were blocks of men in what was
almost but not quite military uniform, each with a short and thick
swagger-stick with a knobbed head. Across the park, in the distance,
the head and shoulders of Zaspar Makann loomed a hundred feet high
in a huge screen. Whenever he stopped for breath, a shout would go
up, beginning with the blocks of uniformed men:

"_Makann! Makann! Makann the Leader! Makann to Power!_"

"You even let him have a private army?" he asked the Crown Prince.

"Oh, those silly buffoons and their musical-comedy uniforms,"
the Crown Prince shrugged. "They aren't armed."

"Not visibly," he granted. "Not yet."

"I don't know where they'd get arms."

"No, Your Highness," Prince Bentrik said. "Neither do I.
That's what I'm worried about."



XXII


He succeeded, the next morning, in convincing everybody that he
wanted to be alone for a while, and was sitting in a garden,
watching the rainbows in the midst of a big waterfall across the
valley. Elaine would have liked that, but she wasn't with him, now.

Then he realized that somebody was speaking to him, in a small,
bashful voice. He turned, and saw a little girl in shorts and a
sleeveless jacket, holding in her arms a long-haired blond puppy
with big ears and appealing eyes.

"Hello, both of you," he said.

The puppy wriggled and tried to lick the girl's face.

"Don't, Mopsy. We want to talk to this gentleman," she said.
"Are you really and truly the Space Viking?"

"Really and truly. And who are you two?"

"I'm Myrna. And this is Mopsy."

"Hello, Myrna. Hello, Mopsy."

Hearing his name, the puppy wriggled again and dropped from the
child's arms; after a brief hesitation, he came over and jumped onto
Trask's lap, licking his face. While he petted the dog, the girl
came over and sat on the bench beside him.

[Illustration]

"Mopsy likes you," she said. After a moment, she added: "I like you, too."

"And I like you," he said. "Would you want to be my girl? You know,
a Space Viking has to have a girl on every planet. How would you
like to be my girl on Marduk?"

Myrna thought that over carefully. "I'd like to, but I couldn't.
You see, I'm going to have to be Queen, some day."

"Oh?"

"Yes. Grandpa is King now, and when he's through being King, Pappa
will have to be King, and then when he's through being King, I can't
be King because I'm a girl, so I'll have to be Queen. And I can't be
anybody's girl, because I'm going to have to marry somebody I don't
know, for reasons of state." She thought some more, and lowered her
voice. "I'll tell you a secret. I am a Queen now."

"Oh, you are?"

She nodded. "We are Queen, in our own right, of our Royal Bedroom,
our Royal Playroom, and our Royal Bathroom. And Mopsy is our
faithful subject."

"Is Your Majesty absolute ruler of these domains?"

"No," she said disgustedly. "We must at all times defer to our Royal
Ministers, just like Grandpa has to. That means, I have to do just
what they tell me to. That's Lady Valerie, and Margot, and Dame Eunice,
and Sir Thomas. But Grandpa says they are good and wise ministers.
Are you really a Prince? I didn't know Space Vikings were Princes."

"Well, my King says I am. And I am ruler of my planet, and I'll tell
you a secret. I don't have to do what anybody tells me."

"Gee! Are you a tyrant? You're awfully big and strong. I'll bet
you've slain just hundreds of cruel and wicked enemies."

"Thousands, Your Majesty."

He wished that weren't literally true; he didn't know how many of
them had been little girls like Myrna and little dogs like Mopsy. He
found that he was holding both of them tightly. The girl was saying:
"But you feel bad about it." These children must be telepaths!

"A Space Viking who is also a Prince must do many things he doesn't
want to do."

"I know. So does a Queen. I hope Grandpa and Pappa don't get through
being King for just years and years." She looked over his shoulder.
"Oh! And now I suppose I've got to do something else I don't want to.
Lessons, I bet."

He followed her eyes. The girl who had been his dinner companion was
approaching; she wore a wide sunshade hat, and a gown that trailed
filmy gauze like sunset-colored mist. There was another woman, in
the garb of an upper servant, with her.

"Lady Valerie and who else?" he whispered.

"Margot. She's my nurse. She's awful strict, but she's nice."

"Prince Trask, has Her Highness been bothering you?" Lady Valerie asked.

"Oh, far from it." He rose, still holding the funny little dog.
"But you should say, Her Majesty. She has informed me that she
is sovereign of three princely domains. And of one dear loving
subject." He gave the subject back to the sovereign.

"You should not have told Prince Trask that," Lady Valerie chided.
"When Your Majesty is outside her domains, Your Majesty must remain
incognito. Now, Your Majesty must go with the Minister of the
Bedchamber; the Minister of Education awaits an audience."

"Arithmetic, I bet. Well, good-by, Prince Trask. I hope I can see
you again. Say good-by, Mopsy."

She went away with her nurse, the little dog looking back over her
shoulder.

"I came out to enjoy the gardens alone," he said, "and now I find
I'd rather enjoy them in company. If your Ministerial duties do not
forbid, could you be the company?"

"But gladly, Prince Trask. Her Majesty will be occupied with serious
affairs of state. Square root. Have you seen the grottoes? They're
down this way."

       *       *       *       *       *

That afternoon, one of the gentlemen-attendants caught up with him;
Baron Cragdale would be gratified if Prince Trask could find time to
talk with him privately. Before they had talked more than a few
minutes, however, Baron Cragdale abruptly became Crown Prince Edvard.

"Prince Trask, Admiral Shefter tells me that you and he are having
informal discussions about co-operation against this mutual enemy
of ours, Dunnan. This is fine; it has my approval, and the approval
of Prince Vandarvant, the Prime Minister, and, I might add, that of
Goodman Mikhyl. I think it ought to go further, though. A formal treaty
between Tanith and Marduk would be greatly to the advantage of both."

"I'd be inclined to think so, Prince Edvard. But aren't you
proposing marriage on rather short acquaintance? It's only been
fifty hours since the _Nemesis_ orbited in here."

"Well, we know a bit about you and your planet beforehand. There's
a large Gilgamesher colony here. You have a few on Tanith, haven't
you? Well, anything one Gilgamesher knows, they all find out, and
ours are co-operative with Naval intelligence."

That would be why Andray Dunnan was having no dealings with
Gilgameshers. It would also be what Zaspar Makann meant when
he ranted about the Gilgamesh Interstellar Conspiracy.

"I can see where an arrangement like that would be mutually
advantageous. I'd be quite in favor of it. Co-operation against
Dunnan, of course, and reciprocal trade-rights on each other's
trade-planets, and direct trade between Marduk and Tanith. And
Beowulf and Amaterasu would come into it, too. Does this also have
the approval of the Prime Minister and the King?"

"Goodman Mikhyl's in favor of it; there's a distinction between him
and the King, as you'll have noticed. The King can't be in favor of
anything till the Assembly or the Chancellor express an opinion.
Prince Vandarvant favors it personally; as Prime Minister, he is
reserving his opinion. We'll have to get the support of the Crown
Loyalist Party before he can take an equivocal position."

"Well, Baron Cragdale; speaking as Baron Trask of Traskon, suppose
we just work out a rough outline of what this treaty ought to be,
and then consult, unofficially, with a few people whom you can
trust, and see what can be done about presenting it to the proper
government officials...."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Prime Minister came to Cragdale that evening, heavily incognito
and accompanied by several leaders of the Crown Loyalist Party. In
principle, they all favored a treaty with Tanith. Politically, they
had doubts. Not before the election; too controversial a subject.
"Controversial," it appeared, was the dirtiest dirty-name anything
could be called on Marduk. It would alienate the labor vote; they'd
think increased imports would threaten employment in Mardukan
industries. Some of the interstellar trading companies would like
a chance at the Tanith planets; others would resent Tanith ships
being given access to theirs. And Zaspar Makann's party were already
shrieking protests about the _Nemesis_ being repaired by the
Royal Navy.

And a couple of professors who inclined toward Makann had introduced
a resolution calling for the court-martial of Prince Bentrik and an
investigation of the loyalty of Admiral Shefter. And somebody else,
probably a stooge of Makann's, was claiming that Bentrik had sold
the _Victrix_ to the Space Vikings and that the films of the battle of
Audhumla were fakes, photographed in miniature at the Navy Moon Base.

Admiral Shefter, when Trask flew in to see him the next day, was
contemptuous about this last.

"Ignore the whole bloody thing; we get something like that before
every general election. On this planet, you can always kick the
Gilgameshers and the Armed Forces with impunity, neither have votes
and neither can kick back. The whole thing'll be forgotten the day
after the election. It always is."

"That's if Makann doesn't win the election," Trask qualified.

"That's no matter who wins the election. They can't any of them
get along without the Navy, and they bloody well know it."

Trask wanted to know if Intelligence had been getting anything.

"Not on how Dunnan found out the _Victrix_ had been ordered to
Audhumla, no," Shefter said. "There wasn't any secrecy about it;
at least a thousand people, from myself down to the shoeshine boys,
could have known about it as soon as the order was taped.

"As for the list of ships you gave me, yes. One of them puts in
to this planet regularly; she spaced out from here only yesterday
morning. The _Honest Horris_."

"Well, great Satan, haven't you done anything?"

"I don't know if there's anything we can do. Oh, we're investigating,
but.... You see, this ship first showed up here four years ago,
commanded by some kind of a Neobarb, not a Gilgamesher, named Horris
Sasstroff. He claimed to be from Skathi; the locals there have a few
ships, the Space Vikings had a base on Skathi about a hundred or so
years ago. Naturally, the ship had no papers. Tramp trading among
the Neobarbs, it might be years before you'd put in on a planet where
they'd ever heard of ship's papers.

"The ship seems to have been in bad shape, probably abandoned on
Skathi as junk a century ago and tinkered up by the locals. She was
in here twice, according to the commercial shipping records, and the
second time she was in too bad shape to be moved out, and Sasstroff
couldn't pay to have her rebuilt, so she was libeled for spaceport
charges and sold. Some one-lung trading company bought her and fixed
her up a little; they went bankrupt in a year or so, and she was
bought by another small company, Startraders, Ltd., and they've been
using her on a milk-run to and from Gimli. They seem to be a
legitimate outfit, but we're looking into them. We're looking for
Sasstroff, too, but we haven't been able to find him."

"If you have a ship out Gimli way, you might find out if anybody
there knows anything about her. You may discover that she hasn't
been going there at all."

"We might, at that," Shefter agreed. "We'll just find out."

       *       *       *       *       *

Everybody at Cragdale knew about the projected treaty with Tanith
by the morning after Trask's first conversation with Prince Edvard
on the subject. The Queen of the Royal Bedroom, the Royal Playroom
and the Royal Bathroom was insisting that her domains should have
a treaty with Tanith, too.

It was beginning to look to Trask as though that would be the only
treaty he'd sign on Marduk, and he was having his doubts about that.

"Do you think it would be wise?" he asked Lady Valerie Alvarath.
The Queen of three rooms and one four-footed subject had already
decreed that Lady Valerie should be the Space Viking Prince's girl
on the planet of Marduk. "If it got out, these People's Welfare
lunatics would pick it up and twist it into evidence of some kind
of a sinister plot."

"Oh, I believe Her Majesty could sign a treaty with Prince Trask,"
Her Majesty's Prime Minister decided. "But it would have to be kept
very secret."

"Gee!" Myrna's eyes widened. "A real secret treaty; just like the
wicked rulers of the old dictatorship!" She hugged her subject
ecstatically. "I'll bet Grandpa doesn't even have any secret treaties!"

       *       *       *       *       *

In a few days, everybody on Marduk knew that a treaty with Tanith
was being discussed. If they didn't, it was no fault of Zaspar
Makann's party, who seemed to command a disconcertingly large number
of telecast stations, and who drenched the ether with horror stories
of Space Viking atrocities and denunciations of carefully unnamed
traitors surrounding the King and the Crown Prince who were about to
betray Marduk to rapine and plunder. The leak evidently did not come
from Cragdale, for it was generally believed that Trask was still at
the Royal Palace in Malverton. At least, that was where the
Makannists were demonstrating against him.

He watched such a demonstration by screen; the pickup was evidently
on one of the landing stages of the palace, overlooking the wide
parks surrounding it. They were packed almost solid with people,
surging forward toward the thin cordon of police. The front of the
mob looked like a checkerboard--a block in civilian dress, then a
block in the curiously effeminate-looking uniforms of Zaspar
Makann's People's Watchmen, then more in ordinary garb, and more
People's Watchmen. Over the heads of the crowds, at intervals,
floated small contragravity lifters on which were mounted the
amplifiers that were bellowing:

"SPACE VI-KING--GO HOME! SPACE VI-KING--GO HOME!"

The police stood motionless, at parade rest; the mob surged closer.
When they were fifty yards away, the blocks of People's Watchmen ran
forward, then spread out until they formed a line six deep across
the entire front; other blocks, from the rear, pushed the ordinary
demonstrators aside and took their place. Hating them more every
second, Trask grudged approval of a smart and disciplined maneuver.
How long, he wondered, had they been drilling in that sort of
tactics? Without stopping, they continued their advance on the
police, who had now shifted their stance.

"SPACE VI-KING--GO HOME! SPACE VI-KING--GO HOME!"

"Fire!" he heard himself yelling. "Don't let them get any closer,
fire now!"

They had nothing to fire with; they had only truncheons, no better
weapons than the knobbed swagger-sticks of the People's Watchmen.
They simply disappeared, after a brief flurry of blows, and the
Makann storm-troopers continued their advance.

And that was that. The gates of the Palace were shut; the mob,
behind a front of Makann People's Watchmen, surged up to them and
stopped. The loud-speakers bellowed on, reiterating their four-word
chant.

"Those police were murdered," he said. "They were murdered by the
man who ordered them out there unarmed."

"That would be Count Naydnayr, the Minister of Security," somebody said.

"Then he's the one you want to hang for it."

"What else would you have done?" Crown Prince Edvard challenged.

"Put up about fifty combat cars. Drawn a deadline, and opened
machine-gun fire as soon as the mob crossed it, and kept on firing
till the survivors turned tail and ran. Then sent out more cars, and
shot everybody wearing a People's Watchmen uniform, all over town.
Inside forty-eight hours, there'd be no People's Welfare party, and
no Zaspar Makann either."

The Crown Prince's face stiffened. "That may be the way you do
things in the Sword-Worlds, Prince Trask. It's not the way we do
things here on Marduk. Our government does not propose to be guilty
of shedding the blood of its people."

He had it on the tip of his tongue to retort that if they didn't,
the people would end by shedding theirs. Instead, he said softly:

"I'm sorry, Prince Edvard. You had a wonderful civilization here on
Marduk. You could have made almost anything of it. But it's too late
now. You've torn down the gates; the barbarians are in."

[Illustration][Illustration]



XXIII


The colored turbulence faded into the gray of hyperspace;
five hundred hours to Tanith. Guatt Kirbey was securing his
control-panel, happy to return to his music. And Vann Larch would go
back to his paints and brushes, and Alvyn Karffard to the working
model of whatever it was he had left unfinished when the _Nemesis_
had emerged at the end of the jump from Audhumla.

Trask went to the index of the ship's library and punched for
_History, Old Terran_. There was plenty of that, thanks to Otto
Harkaman. Then he punched for _Hitler, Adolf_. Harkaman was right;
anything that could happen in a human society had already happened,
in one form or another, somewhere and at some time. Hitler could
help him understand Zaspar Makann.

By the time the ship came out, with the yellow sun of Tanith
in the middle of the screen, he knew a great deal about Hitler,
occasionally referred to as Schicklgruber, and he understood, with
sorrow, how the lights of civilization on Marduk were going out.

Beside the _Lamia_, stripped of her Dillinghams and crammed with
heavy armament and detection instruments, the _Space Scourge_ and
the _Queen Flavia_ were on off-planet watch. There were half a dozen
other ships on orbit just above atmosphere; a Gilgamesher, one of
the Gram-Tanith freighters, a couple of free-lance Space Vikings,
and a new and unfamiliar ship. When he asked the moonbase who she
was, he was told that she was the _Sun Goddess_, Amaterasu. That
was, by almost a year, better than he had expected of them. Otto
Harkaman was out in the _Corisande_, raiding and visiting the
trade-planets.

He found his cousin, Nikkolay Trask, at Rivington; when he inquired
about Traskon, Nikkolay cursed.

"I don't know anything about Traskon; I haven't anything to do with
Traskon, any more. Traskon is now the personal property of our well
loved--very well loved--Queen Evita. The Trasks don't own enough
land on Gram now for a family cemetery. You see what you did?" he
added bitterly.

"You needn't rub it in, Nikkolay. If I'd stayed on Gram, I'd have
helped put Angus on the throne, and it would have been about the
same in the end."

"It could be a lot different," Nikkolay said. "You could bring
your ships and men back to Gram and put yourself on the throne."

"No; I'll never go back to Gram. Tanith's my planet, now. But I will
renounce my allegiance to Angus. I can trade on Morglay or Joyeuse
or Flamberge just as easily."

"You won't have to; you can trade with Newhaven and Bigglersport.
Count Lionel and Duke Joris are both defying Angus; they've refused
to furnish him men, they've driven out his tax collectors, those
they haven't hanged, and they're building ships of their own. Angus
is building ships, too. I don't know whether he's going to use them
to fight Bigglersport and Newhaven, or attack you, but there's going
to be a war before another year's out."

The _Goodhope_ and the _Speedwell_, he found, had gone back to Gram.
They were commanded by men who had come into favor at the court of
King Angus recently. The _Black Star_ and the _Queen Flavia_--whose
captain had contemptuously ignored an order from Gram to re-christen
her _Queen Evita_--had remained. They were his ships, not King
Angus'. The captain of the merchantman from Wardshaven now on orbit
refused to take a cargo to Newhaven; he had been chartered by King
Angus, and would take orders from no one else.

"All right," Trask told him. "This is your last voyage here. You
bring that ship back under Angus of Wardshaven's charter and we'll
fire on her."

Then he had the regalia he had worn in his last audiovisual to
Angus dusted off. At first, he had decided to proclaim himself
King of Tanith. Lord Valpry, Baron Rathmore and his cousin all
advised against it.

"Just call yourself Prince of Tanith," Valpry said. "The title won't
make any difference in your authority here, and if you do lay claim
to the throne of Gram, nobody can say you're a foreign king trying
to annex the planet."

He had no intention of doing anything of the kind, but Valpry was
quite in earnest.

So he sat on his throne, as sovereign Prince of Tanith, and
renounced his allegiance to "Angus, Duke of Wardshaven, self-styled
King of Gram." They sent it back on the otherwise empty freighter.
Another copy went to the Count of Newhaven, along with a cargo in
the _Sun Goddess_, the first non-Space-Viking ship into Gram from
the Old Federation.

       *       *       *       *       *

Seven hundred and fifty hours after the return of the _Nemesis_,
the _Corisande II_ emerged from her last microjump, and immediately
Harkaman began hearing of the Battle of Audhumla and the destruction
of the _Yo-Yo_ and the _Enterprise_. At first, he merely reported a
successful raiding voyage, from which he was bringing rich booty.
Oddly varigated booty, it was remarked, when he began itemizing it.

"Why, yes," he replied. "Secondhand booty. I raided Dagon for it."

Dagon was a Space Viking base planet, occupied by a character named
Fedrig Barragon. A number of ships operated from it, including a
couple commanded by Barragon's half-breed sons.

"Barragon's ships were raiding one of our planets," Harkaman said.
"Ganpat. They looted a couple of cities, destroyed one, killed a lot
of the locals. I found out about it from Captain Ravallo of the
_Black Star_, on Indra; he'd just been from Ganpat. Beowulf wasn't
too far out of the way, so we put in there, and found the
_Grendelsbane_ just ready to space out." The _Grendelsbane_ was the
second of Beowulf's ships, sister to the _Viking's Gift_. "So she
joined us, and the three of us went to Dagon. We blew up one of
Barragon's ships, and put the other one down out of commission, and
then we sacked his base. There was a Gilgamesher colony there; we
didn't bother them. They'll tell what we did, and why."

"That should furnish Prince Viktor of Xochitl something to ponder,"
Trask said. "Where are the other ships, now?"

"The _Grendelsbane_ went back to Beowulf; she'll stop at Amaterasu
to do a little trading on the way. The _Black Star_ went to Xochitl.
Just a friendly visit, to say hello to Prince Viktor for you.
Ravallo has a lot of audiovisuals we made during the Dagon
Operation. Then she's going to Jagannath to visit Nikky Gratham."

       *       *       *       *       *

Harkaman approved his attitude and actions with regard to King Angus.

"We don't need to do business with the Sword-Worlds at all. We have
our own industries, we can produce what we need, and we can trade
with Beowulf and Amaterasu, and with Xochitl and Jagannath and Hoth,
if we can make any sort of agreement with them; everybody agrees to
let everybody else's trade-planets alone. It's too bad you couldn't
get some kind of an agreement with Marduk." Harkaman regretted that
for a few seconds, and then shrugged. "Our grandchildren, if any,
will probably be raiding Marduk."

"You think it'll be like that?"

"Don't you? You were there; you saw what's happening. The barbarians
are rising; they have a leader, and they're uniting. Every society
rests on a barbarian base. The people who don't understand
civilization, and wouldn't like it if they did. The hitchhikers.
The people who create nothing, and who don't appreciate what others
have created for them, and who think civilization is something that
just exists and that all they need to do is enjoy what they can
understand of it--luxuries, a high living standard, and easy work
for high pay. Responsibilities? Phooey! What do they have
a government for?"

Trask nodded. "And now, the hitchhikers think they know more about
the car than the people who designed it, so they're going to grab
the controls. Zaspar Makann says they can, and he's the Leader." He
poured a drink from a decanter that had been looted on Pushan; there
was a planet where a republic had been overthrown in favor of a
dictatorship four centuries ago, and the planetary dictatorship had
fissioned into a dozen regional dictatorships, and now they were
down to the peasant-village and handcraft-industry level. "I don't
understand it, though. I was reading about Hitler, on the way home.
I wouldn't be surprised if Zaspar Makann had been reading about
Hitler, too. He's using all Hitler's tricks. But Hitler came to
power in a country which had been impoverished by a military defeat.
Marduk hasn't fought a war in almost two generations, and that one
was a farce."

"It wasn't the war that put Hitler into power. It was the fact that
the ruling class of his nation, the people who kept things running,
were discredited. The masses, the homemade barbarians, didn't have
anybody to take their responsibilities for them. What they have on
Marduk is a ruling class that has been discrediting itself. A ruling
class that's ashamed of its privileges and shirks its duties. A
ruling class that has begun to believe that the masses are just as
good as they are, which they manifestly are not. And a ruling class
that won't use force to maintain its position. And they have a
democracy, and they are letting the enemies of democracy shelter
themselves behind democratic safeguards."

"We don't have any of this democracy in the Sword-Worlds, if that's
the word for it," he said. "And our ruling class aren't ashamed of
their power, and our people aren't hitchhikers, and as long as they
get decent treatment they don't try to run things. And we're not
doing so well."

The Morglay dynastic war of a couple of centuries ago, still
sputtering and smoking. The Oskarsan-Elmersan War on Durendal, into
which Flamberge and now Joyeuse had intruded. And the situation on
Gram, fast approaching critical mass. Harkaman nodded agreement.

"You know why? Our rulers are the barbarians among us. There isn't
one of them--Napolyon of Flamberge, Rodolf of Excalibur, or Angus of
about half of Gram--who is devoted to civilization or anything else
outside himself, and that's the mark of the barbarian."

"What are you devoted to, Otto?"

"You. You are my chieftain. That's another mark of the barbarian."

       *       *       *       *       *

Before he had left Marduk, Admiral Shefter had ordered a ship to
Gimli to check on the _Honest Horris_; a few men and a pinnace would
be left behind to contact any ship from Tanith. He sent Boake
Valkanhayn off in the _Space Scourge_.

Lionel of Newhaven's _Blue Comet_ came in from Gram with a cargo of
general merchandise. Her captain wanted fissionables and gadolinium;
Count Lionel was building more ships. There was a rumor that Omfray
of Glaspyth was laying claim to the throne of Gram, in the right
of his great-grandmother's sister, who had been married to the
great-grandfather of Duke Angus. It was a completely trivial and
irrelevant claim, but the story was that it would be supported
by King Konrad of Haulteclere.

[Illustration]

Immediately, Baron Rathmore, Lord Valpry, Lothar Ffayle and the other
Gram people began clamoring that he should go back with a fleet and
seize the throne for himself. Harkaman, Valkanhayn, Karffard and the
other Space Vikings were as vehement against it. Harkaman had the
loss of the other _Corisande_ on Durendal to remember, and the others
wanted no part in Sword-World squabbles, and there was renewed
agitation that he should start calling himself King of Tanith.

He refused to do either, which left both parties dissatisfied. So
partisan politics had finally come to Tanith. Maybe that was another
milestone of progress.

And there was the Treaty of Khepera, between the Princely State of
Tanith, the Commonwealth of Beowulf, and the Planetary League of
Amaterasu. The Kheperans agreed to allow bases on their planet, to
furnish workers, and to send students to school on all three planets.
Tanith, Beowulf and Amaterasu obligated themselves to joint defense
of Khepera, to free trade among themselves, and to render one another
armed assistance.

That _was_ a milestone of progress, and no argument about it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Space Scourge_ returned from Gimli, and Valkanhayn reported
that nobody on the planet had ever seen or heard of the _Honest
Horris_. They had found a Mardukan Navy ship's pinnace there, manned
entirely by officers, some of them Navy Intelligence. According to
them, the investigation into the activities of that ship had come to
an impasse. The ostensible owners claimed, and had papers to prove
it, that they had chartered her to a private trader, and he claimed,
and had papers to prove it, that he was a citizen of the Planetary
Republic of Aton, and as soon as they began questioning him, he was
rescued by the Atonian ambassador, who lodged a vehement protest
with the Mardukan Foreign Ministry. Immediately, the People's
Welfare Party had leaped into the incident and branded the
investigation as an unwarranted persecution of a national of a
friendly power at the instigation of corrupt tools of the Gilgamesh
Interstellar Conspiracy.

"So that's it," Valkanhayn finished. "It seems they're having an
election and they're afraid to antagonize anybody who might have a
vote. So the Navy had to drop the investigation. Everybody on
Marduk's scared of this Makann. You think there might be some tie-up
between him and Dunnan?"

"The idea's occurred to me. Have there been any more raids on Marduk
trade-planets since the Battle of Audhumla?"

"A couple. The _Bolide_ was on Audhumla a while ago. There were a
couple of Mardukan ships there, and they had the _Victrix_ fixed up
enough to do some fighting. They ran the _Bolide_ out."

A study of the time between the destruction of the _Enterprise_
and _Yo-Yo_ and the appearance of the _Bolide_ could give them a
limiting radius around Audhumla. It did; seven hundred light-years,
which also included Tanith.

So he sent Harkaman in the _Corisande_ and Ravallo in the _Black
Star_ to visit the planets Marduk traded with, looking for Dunnan
ships and exchanging information and assistance with the Royal
Mardukan Navy. Almost at once, he regretted it; the next Gilgamesher
into orbit on Tanith brought a story that Prince Viktor was
collecting a fleet on Xochitl. He sent warnings off to Amaterasu
and Beowulf and Khepera.

A ship came in from Bigglersport, a heavily armed chartered
freighter. There was sporadic fighting in a dozen places on Gram,
now--resistance to efforts on the part of King Angus to collect
taxes, and raids by unidentified persons on estates confiscated
from alleged traitors and given to Garvan Spasso, who had now
been promoted from Baron to Count. And Rovard Grauffis was dead;
poisoned, everybody said, either by Spasso or Queen Evita or both.
Even with the threat from Xochitl, some of the former Wardshaven
nobles began talking about sending ships to Gram.

Less than a thousand hours after he had left, Ravallo was back
in the _Black Star_.

"I went to Gimli, and I wasn't there fifty hours before a
Mardukan Navy ship came in. They were glad to see me; it saved
them sending off a pinnace for Tanith. They had news for you, and
a couple of passengers."

"Passengers?"

"Yes. You'll see who they are when they come down. And don't let
anybody with side-whiskers and buttoned-up coats see them," Ravallo
said. "What those people know gets all over the place before long."

       *       *       *       *       *

The visitors were Lucile, Princess Bentrik, and her son, the young
Count of Ravary. They dined with Trask; only Captain Ravallo was
also present.

"I didn't want to leave my husband, and I didn't want to come here
and impose myself and Steven on you, Prince Trask," she began, "but
he insisted. We spent the whole voyage to Gimli concealed in the
captain's quarters; only a few of the officers knew we were aboard."

"Makann won the election. Is that it?" he asked. "And Prince Bentrik
doesn't want to risk you and Steven being used as hostages?"

"That's it," she said. "He didn't really win the election, but he
might as well have. Nobody has a majority of seats in the Chamber of
Representatives but he's formed a coalition with several of the
splinter parties, and I'm ashamed to say that a number of Crown
Loyalist members--Crowd of Disloyalists, I call them--are voting
with him, now. They've coined some ridiculous phrase about the 'wave
of the future,' whatever that means."

"If you can't lick them, join them," Trask said.

"If you can't lick them, lick their boots," the Count of Ravary put in.

"My son is a trifle bitter," Princess Bentrik said. "I must confess
to a trace of bitterness, too."

"Well, that's the Representatives," Trask said. "What about the rest
of the government?"

"With the splinter-party and Disloyalist support, they got a
majority of seats in the Delegates. Most of them would have
indignantly denied, a month before, having any connection with
Makann, but a hundred out of a hundred and twenty are his
supporters. Makann, of course, is Chancellor."

"And who is Prime Minister?" he asked. "Andray Dunnan?"

She looked slightly baffled for an instant then said, "Oh. No.
The Prime Minister is Crown Prince Edvard. No; Baron Cragdale.
That isn't a royal title, so by some kind of a fiction I can't
pretend to understand he is not Prime Minister as a member of
the Royal Family."

"If you can't ..." the boy started.

"Steven! I forbid you to say that about ... Baron Cragdale. He
believes, very sincerely, that the election was an expression of
the will of the people, and that it is his duty to bow to it."

He wished Otto Harkaman were there. He could probably name, without
stopping for breath, a hundred great nations that went down into
rubble because their rulers believed that they should bow instead
of rule, and couldn't bring themselves to shed the blood of their
people. Edvard would have been a fine and admirable man, as a little
country baron. Where he was, he was a disaster.

He asked if the People's Watchman had dragged their guns out from
under the bed and started carrying them in public yet.

"Oh, yes. You were quite right; they were armed, all the time. Not
just small arms; combat vehicles and heavy weapons. As soon as the
new government was formed, they were given status as a part of the
Planetary Armed Forces. They have taken over every police station
on the planet."

"And the King?"

"Oh, he carries on, and shrugs and says, 'I just reign here.' What
else can he do? We've been whittling down and filching away the
powers of the Throne for the last three centuries."

"What is Prince Bentrik doing, and why did he think there was danger
that you two would be used as hostages?"

"He's going to fight," she said. "Don't ask me how, or what with.
Maybe as a guerrilla in the mountains, I don't know. But if he can't
lick them, he won't join them. I wanted to stay with him and help
him; he told me I could help him best by placing myself and Steven
where he wouldn't worry about us."

"I wanted to stay," the boy said. "I could have fought with him.
But he said that I must take care of Mother. And if he were killed,
I must be able to avenge him."

"You talk like a Sword-Worlder; I told you that once before." He
hesitated, then turned again to Princess Bentrik. "How is little
Princess Myrna?" he asked, and then, trying to be casual, added,
"and Lady Valerie?"

She seemed so clearly real and present to him, blue eyes and
space-black hair, more real than Elaine had been to him for years.

"They're at Cragdale; they'll be safe there. I hope."



XXIV


Attempting to conceal the presence on Tanith of Prince Bentrik's
wife and son was pushing caution beyond necessity. Admitted that
the news would leak back to Marduk via Gilgamesh, it was over seven
hundred light-years to the latter and almost a thousand from there
to the former. Better that Princess Lucile should enjoy Rivington
society, such as it was, and escape, for a moment now and then, from
anxiety about her husband. At ten--no, almost twelve; it had been a
year and a half since Trask had left Marduk--the boy Count of Ravary
was more easily diverted. At last, he was among real Space Vikings,
on a Space Viking planet, and he was trying to be everywhere and see
everything at once. No doubt he would be imagining himself a Space
Viking, returning to Marduk with a vast armada to rescue his father
and the King from Zaspar Makann.

Trask was satisfied with that; as a host he left much to be desired.
He had his worries, too, and all of them bore the same name: Prince
Viktor of Xochitl. He went over with Manfred Ravallo everything the
captain of the _Black Star_ could tell him. He had talked once with
Viktor; the lord of Xochitl had been coldly polite and noncommittal.
His subordinates had been frankly hostile. There had been five ships
on orbit or landed at Viktor's spaceport beside the usual
Gilgameshers and itinerant traders, two of them Viktor's own, and a
big armed freighter had come in from Haulteclere as the _Black Star_
was leaving. There was considerable activity at the shipyards and
around the spaceport, as though in preparation for something on a
large scale.

Xochitl was a thousand light-years from Tanith. He rejected
immediately the idea of launching a preventative attack; his ships
might reach Xochitl to find it undefended, and then return to find
Tanith devastated. Things like that had happened in space-war. The
only thing to do was sit tight, defend Tanith when Viktor attacked,
and then counterattack if he had any ships left by that time.
Prince Viktor was probably reasoning in the same way.

He had no time to think about Andray Dunnan, except, now and then,
to wish that Otto Harkaman would stop thinking about him and bring
the _Corisande_ home. He needed that ship on Tanith, and the wits
and courage of her commander.

More news--Gilgamesh sources--came in from Xochitl. There were only
two ships, both armed merchantmen, on the planet. Prince Viktor had
spaced out with the rest an estimated two thousand hours before the
story reached him. That was twice as long as it would take the
Xochitl armada to reach Tanith. He hadn't gone to Beowulf; that was
only sixty-five hours from Tanith and they would have heard about
it long ago. Or Amaterasu, or Khepera. How many ships he had was
a question; not fewer than five, and possibly more. He could have
slipped into the Tanith system and hidden his ships on one of the
outer uninhabitable planets. He sent Valkanhayn and Ravallo
microjumping their ships from one to another to check. They returned
to report in the negative. At least, Viktor of Xochitl wasn't camped
inside their own system, waiting for them to leave Tanith open
to attack.

But he was somewhere, and up to nothing even resembling good, and
there was no possible way of guessing when his ships would be
emerging on Tanith. The only thing to do was wait for him. When he
did, Trask was confident that he would emerge from hyperspace into
serious trouble. He had the _Nemesis_, the _Space Scourge_, the
_Black Star_ and _Queen Flavia_, the strongly rebuilt _Lamia_, and
several independent Space Viking ships, among them the _Damnthing_
of his friend Roger-fan-Morvill Esthersan, who had volunteered to
stay and help in the defense. This, of course, was not pure
altruism. If Viktor attacked and had his fleet blown to
Em-See-Square, Xochitl would lie open and unprotected, and there
was enough loot on Xochitl to cram everybody's ships. Everybody's
ships who had ships when the Battle of Tanith was over, of course.

He was apologetic to Princess Bentrik:

"I'm very sorry you jumped out of Zaspar Makann's frying pan into
Prince Viktor's fire," he began.

She laughed at that. "I'll take my chances on the fire. I seem to
see a lot of good firemen around. If there is a battle you will see
that Steven's in a safe place, won't you?"

"In a space attack, there are no safe places. I'll keep him with me."

The young Count of Ravary wanted to know which ship he would serve
on when the attack came.

"Well, you won't be on any ship, Count. You'll be on my staff."

       *       *       *       *       *

Two days later, the _Corisande_ came out of hyperspace. Harkaman was
guardedly noncommittal by screen. Trask took a landing craft and
went out to meet the ship.

"Marduk doesn't like us, any more," Harkaman told him. "They have
ships on all their trade-planets, and they all have orders to fire
on any, repeat any, Space Vikings, including the ships of the
self-styled Prince of Tanith. I got this from Captain Garravay of
the _Vindex_. After we were through talking, we fought a nice little
ship-to-ship action for him to make films of. I don't think anybody
could see anything wrong with it."

"This order came from Makann?"

"From the Admiral commanding. He isn't your friend Shefter; Shefter
retired on account of quote ill-health unquote. He is now in a quote
hospital unquote."

"Where's Prince Bentrik?"

"Nobody knows. Charges of high treason were brought against him,
and he just vanished. Gone underground, or secretly arrested and
executed; take your choice."

He wondered just what he'd tell Princess Lucile and Count Steven.

"They have ships on all the planets they trade with. Fourteen
of them. That isn't to catch Dunnan. That's to disperse the Navy
away from Marduk. They don't trust the Navy. Is Prince Edvard
still Prime Minister?"

"Yes, as of Garravay's last information. It seems Makann is behaving
in a scrupulously legal manner, outside of making his People's
Watchmen part of the armed forces. Protesting his devotion to
the King every time he opens his mouth."

"When will the fire be, I wonder?"

"Huh? Oh yes, you were reading up on Hitler. That I don't know.
Probably happened by now."

He just told Princess Lucile that her husband had gone into hiding;
he couldn't be sure whether she was relieved or more worried. The
boy was sure that he was doing something highly romantic and heroic.

Some of the volunteers tired of waiting, after another thousand
hours, and spaced out. The _Viking's Gift_ of Beowulf came in with
a cargo, and went on orbit after discharging it to join the watch.
A Gilgamesher came in from Amaterasu and reported everything quiet
there; as soon as her captain had sold his cargo, with a minimum of
haggling, he spaced out again. His behavior convinced everybody that
the attack would come in a matter of hours.

It didn't.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three thousand hours had passed since the first warning had reached
Tanith, that made five thousand since Viktor's ships were supposed
to have left Xochitl. There were those, Boake Valkanhayn among them,
who doubted, now, if he ever had.

"The whole thing's just a big Gilgamesher lie," he was declaring.
"Somebody--Nikky Gratham, or the Everrards, or maybe Viktor
himself--paid them to tell us that, to pin our ships down here.
Or they made it up themselves, so they could make hay on our
trade-planets."

"Let's go down to the Ghetto and clean out the whole gang," somebody
else took up. "Anything one of them's in, they're all in together."

"Nifflheim with that; let's all space out for Xochitl," Manfred
Ravallo proposed. "We have enough ships to lick them on Tanith,
we have enough to lick them on their own planet."

He managed to talk them out of both courses of action--what was he,
anyhow; sovereign Prince of Tanith, or the non-ruling King of Marduk,
or just the chieftain of a disciplineless gang of barbarians? One of
the independents spaced out in disgust. The next day, two others
came in, loaded with booty from a raid on Braggi, and decided to
stay around for a while and see what happened.

And four days after that, a five-hundred-foot hyperspace yacht,
bearing the daggers and chevrons of Bigglersport, came in. As soon
as she was out of the last microjump, she began calling by screen.

Trask didn't know the man who was screening, but Hugh Rathmore did;
Duke Joris' confidential secretary.

"Prince Trask; I must speak to you as soon as possible," he began,
almost stuttering. Whatever the urgency of his mission, one would
have thought that a three-thousand-hour voyage would have taken some
of the edge from it. "It is of the first importance."

"You are speaking to me. This screen is reasonably secure. And if
it's of the first importance, the sooner you tell me about it...."

"Prince Trask, you must come to Gram, with every man and every ship
you can command. Satan only knows what's happening there now, but
three thousand hours ago, when the Duke sent me off, Omfray of Glaspyth
was landing on Wardshaven. He has a fleet of eight ships, furnished
to him by his wife's kinsman, the King of Haulteclere. They are commanded
by King Konrad's Space Viking cousin, the Prince of Xochitl."

Then a look of shocked surprise came into the face of the man in the
screen, and Trask wondered why, until he realized that he had leaned
back in his chair and was laughing uproariously. Before he could
apologize, the man in the screen had found his voice.

"I know, Prince Trask; you have no reason to think kindly of King
Angus--the former King Angus, or maybe even the late King Angus,
I suppose he is now--but a murderer like Omfray of Glaspyth...."

       *       *       *       *       *

It took a little time to explain to the confidential secretary of
the Duke of Bigglersport the humor of the situation.

There were others at Rivington to whom it was not immediately
evident. The professional Space Vikings, men like Valkanhayn and
Ravallo and Alvyn Karffard, were disgusted. Here they'd been
sitting, on combat alert, all these months, and, if they'd only
known, they could have gone to Xochitl and looted it clean long ago.
The Gram party were outraged. Angus of Wardshaven had been bad
enough, with the hereditary taint of the Mad Baron of Blackcliffe,
and Queen Evita and her rapacious family, but even he was preferable
to a murderous villain--some even called him a fiend in human
shape--like Omfray of Glaspyth.

Both parties, of course, were positive as to where their Prince's
duty lay. The former insisted that everything on Tanith that could
be put into hyperspace should be dispatched at once to Xochitl, to
haul back from it everything except a few absolutely immovable
natural features of the planet. The latter clamored, just as loudly
and passionately, that everybody on Tanith who could pull a trigger
should be embarked at once on a crusade for the deliverance of Gram.

[Illustration]

"You don't want to do either, do you?" Harkaman asked him, when they
were alone after the second day of acrimony.

"Nifflheim, no! This crowd that wants an attack on Xochitl; you know
what would happen if we did that?" Harkaman was silent, waiting for
him to continue. "Inside a year, four or five of these small
planet-holders like Gratham and the Everrards would combine against
us and make a slag-pile out of Tanith."

Harkaman nodded agreement. "Since we warned him the first time,
Viktor's kept his ships away from our planets. If we attacked
Xochitl now, without provocation, nobody'd know what to expect from
us. People like Nikky Gratham and Tobbin of Nergal and the Everrards
of Hoth get nervous around unpredictable dangers, and when they get
nervous they get trigger-happy." He puffed slowly on his pipe and
then said: "Then you'll be going back to Gram."

"That doesn't follow; just because Valkanhayn and Ravallo and that
crowd are wrong doesn't make Valpry and Rathmore and Ffayle right.
You heard what I was telling those very people at Karvall House, the
day I met you. And you've seen what's been happening on Gram since
we came out here. Otto, the Sword-Worlds are finished; they're half
decivilized now. Civilization is alive and growing here on Tanith.
I want to stay here and help it grow."

"Look, Lucas," Harkaman said. "You're Prince of Tanith, and I'm only
the Admiral. But I'm telling you; you'll have to do something, or
this whole setup of yours will fall apart. As it stands, you can
attack Xochitl and the Back-To-Gram party would go along, or you
can decide on this crusade against Omfray of Glaspyth and the
Raid-Xochitl-Now party would go along. But if you let this go on
much longer, you won't have any influence over either party."

"And then I will be finished. And in a few years, Tanith will be
finished." He rose and paced across the room and back. "Well, I
won't raid Xochitl; I told you why, and you agreed. And I won't
spend the men and ships and wealth of Tanith in any Sword-World
dynastic squabble. Great Satan, Otto; you were in the Durendal War.
This is the same thing, and it'll go on for another half a century."

"Then what will you do?"

"I came out here after Andray Dunnan, didn't I?" he asked.

"I'm afraid Ravallo and Valpry, or even Valkanhayn and Morland,
won't be as interested in Dunnan as you are."

"Then I will interest them in him. Remember, I was reading up on
Hitler, coming in from Marduk? I will tell them all a big lie.
Such a big lie that nobody will dare to disbelieve it."



XXV


"Do you think I was afraid of Viktor of Xochitl?" he demanded. "Half
a dozen ships; we could make a new Van Allen belt around Tanith of
them, with what we have here. Our real enemy is on Marduk, not
Xochitl; his name's Zaspar Makann. Zaspar Makann, and Andray Dunnan,
the man I came out from Gram to hunt; they're in alliance, and
I believe Dunnan is on Marduk, himself, now."

The delegation who had come out from Gram in the yacht of the
Duke of Bigglersport were unimpressed. Marduk was only a name to
them, one of the fabulous civilized Old Federation planets no
Sword-Worlder had ever seen. Zaspar Makann wasn't even that. And
so much had happened on Gram since the murder of Elaine Karvall and
the piracy of the _Enterprise_ that they had completely forgotten
Andray Dunnan. That put them at a disadvantage. All the people whom
they were trying to convince, the half-hundred members of the new
nobility of Tanith, spoke a language they didn't understand. They
didn't even understand the proposition, and couldn't argue against it.

Paytrik Morland, who was Gram-born and had been speaking for
a return in force to fight against Omfray of Glaspyth and his
supporters, defected from them at once. He had been on Marduk and
knew who Zaspar Makann was; he had made friends with the Royal Navy
officers, and had been shocked to hear that they were now enemies.
Manfred Ravallo and Boake Valkanhayn, among the more articulate of
the Raid-Xochitl-Now party, snatched up the idea and seemed
convinced that they'd thought of it themselves all along. Valkanhayn
had been on Gimli and talked to Mardukan naval officers; Ravallo had
brought Princess Bentrik to Tanith and heard her stories on the
voyage. They began adducing arguments in support of Trask's thesis.
Of course Dunnan and Makann were in collusion. Who tipped Dunnan off
that the _Victrix_ would be on Audhumla? Makann; his spies in the
Navy tipped him. What about the _Honest Horris_; wasn't Makann
blocking any investigation about her? Why was Admiral Shefter
retired as soon as Makann got into power?

"Well, here; we don't know anything about this Zaspar Makann," the
confidential secretary and spokesman of the Duke of Bigglersport began.

"No, you don't," Otto Harkaman told him. "I suggest you keep quiet
and listen, till you find out a little about him."

"Why, I wouldn't be surprised if Dunnan was on Marduk all the time
we were hunting for him," Valkanhayn said.

Trask began to wonder. What would Hitler have done if he'd told one
of his big lies, and then found it turning into the truth? Maybe
Makann had been on Marduk.... No; he couldn't have hidden half a
dozen ships on a civilized planet. Not even at the bottom of an
ocean.

"I wouldn't be surprised," Alvyn Karffard was shouting, "if Andray
Dunnan _was_ Zaspar Makann. I know he doesn't look like Dunnan, we
all saw him on screen, but there's such a thing as plastic surgery."

That was making the big lie just a trifle too big. Zaspar Makann was
six inches shorter than Dunnan; there are some things no plastic
surgery could do. Paytrik Morland, who had known Dunnan and had seen
Makann on screen, ought to have known that too, but he either didn't
think of it or didn't want to weaken a case he had completely accepted.

"As far as I can find out, nobody even heard of Makann till about
five years ago. That would be about the time Dunnan would have
arrived on Marduk," he said.

By this time, the big room in which they were meeting had become a
babel of voices, everybody trying to convince everybody else that
they'd known it all along. Then the Back-To-Gram party received its
_coup-de-grace_; Lothar Ffayle, to whom the emissaries of Duke Joris
had looked for their strongest support, went over.

"You people want us to abandon a planet we've built up from nothing,
and all the time and money we've invested in it, to go back to Gram
and pull your chestnuts out of the fire? Gehenna with you! We're
staying here and defending our own planet. If you're smart, you'll
stay here with us."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Bigglersport delegation was still on Tanith, trying to recruit
mercenaries from the King of Tradetown and dickering with a
Gilgamesher to transport them to Gram, when the big lie turned
into something like the truth.

The observation post on the Moon of Tanith picked up an emergence at
twenty light-minutes due north of the planet. Half an hour later,
there was another one at five light-minutes; a very small one, and
then a third at two light-seconds, and this was detectable by radar
and microray as a ship's pinnace. He wondered if something had
happened on Amaterasu or Beowulf; somebody like Gratham or the
Everrards might have decided to take advantage of the defensive
mobilization on Tanith. Then they switched the call from the pinnace
over to his screen, and Prince Simon Bentrik was looking out of it.

"I'm glad to see you! Your wife and son are here, worried about you,
but safe and well." He turned to shout to somebody to find young
Count Steven of Ravary and tell him to tell his mother. "How are you?"

"I had a broken leg when I left Moonbase, but that's mended on the
way," Bentrik said. "I have little Princess Myrna aboard with me.
For all I know, she's Queen of Marduk, now." He gulped slightly.
"Prince Trask, we've come as beggars. We're begging help for
our planet."

"You've come as honored guests, and you'll get all the help we can
give you." He blessed the Xochitl invasion scare, and the big lie
which was rapidly ceasing to be a lie; Tanith had the ships and
men and the will to act. "What happened? Makann deposed the King
and took over?"

It came to that, Bentrik told him. It had started even before the
election. The People's Watchmen had possessed weapons that had been
made openly and legally on Marduk for trade to the Neobarbarian
planets and then clandestinely diverted to secret People's Welfare
arsenals. Some of the police had gone over to Makann; the rest had
been terrorized into inaction. There had been riots fomented in
working-class districts of all the cities as pretexts for further
terrorization. The election had been a farce of bribery and
intimidation. Even so, Makann's party had failed of a complete
majority in the Chamber of Representatives, and had been compelled
to patch up a shady coalition in order to elect a favorable Chamber
of Delegates.

"And, of course, they elected Makann Chancellor; that did it,"
Bentrik said. "All the opposition leaders in the Chamber of
Representatives have been arrested, on all kinds of ridiculous
charges--sex-crimes, receiving bribes, being in the pay of foreign
powers, nothing too absurd. Then they rammed through a law
empowering the Chancellor to fill vacancies in the Chamber of
Representatives by appointment."

"Why did the Crown Prince lend himself to a thing like that?"

"He hoped that he could exercise some control. The Royal Family
is an almost holy symbol to the people. Even Makann was forced
to pretend loyalty to the King and the Crown Prince...."

"It didn't work; he played right into Makann's hands. What happened?"

The Crown Prince had been assassinated. The assassin, an unknown man
believed to be a Gilgamesher, had been shot to death by People's
Watchmen guarding Prince Edvard at once. Immediately Makann had
seized the Royal Palace to protect the King, and immediately there
had been massacres by People's Watchmen everywhere. The Mardukan
Planetary Army had ceased to exist; Makann's story was that there
had been a military plot against the King and the government.
Scattered over the planet in small detachments, the army had been
wiped out in two nights and a day. Now Makann was recruiting it up
again, exclusively from the People's Welfare Party.

"You weren't just sitting on your hands, were you?"

"Oh, no," Bentrik replied. "I was doing something I wouldn't have
thought myself capable of, a few years ago. Organizing a mutineering
conspiracy in the Royal Mardukan Navy. After Admiral Shefter was
forcibly retired and shut up in an insane asylum, I disappeared
and turned into a civilian contragravity-lifter operator at the
Malverton Navy Yard. Finally, when I was suspected, one of the
officers--he was arrested and tortured to death later--managed
to smuggle me onto a lighter for the Moonbase. I was an orderly
in the hospital there. The day the Crown Prince was murdered, we
had a mutiny of our own. We killed everybody we even suspected of
being a Makannist. The Moonbase has been under attack from the
planet ever since."

There was a stir behind him; turning, he saw Princess Bentrik and
the boy enter the room. He rose.

"We'll talk about this later. There are some people here...."

He motioned them forward and turned away, shoo-ing everybody else
out of the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

The news was all over Rivington, and then all over Tanith, while
the pinnace was still coming down. There was a crowd at the
spaceport, staring as the little craft, with its blazon of the
crowned and planet-throned dragon, settled onto its landing legs,
and reporters of the Tanith News Service with their screen pickups.
He met Prince Bentrik, a little in advance of the others, and
managed to whisper to him hastily:

"While you're talking to anybody here, always remember that Andray
Dunnan is working with Zaspar Makann, and as soon as Makann
consolidates his position he's sending an expedition against
Tanith."

"How in blazes did you find that out, here?" Bentrik demanded.
"From the Gilgameshers?"

Then Harkaman and Rathmore and Valkanhayn and Lothar Ffayle and
the others were crowding up behind, and more people were coming off
the pinnace, and Prince Bentrik was trying to embrace both his wife
and his son at the same time.

"Prince Trask." He started at the voice, and was looking into deep
blue eyes under coal-black hair. His pulse gave a sudden jump, and
he said, "Valerie!" and then, "Lady Alvarath; I'm most happy to see
you here." Then he saw who was beside her, and squatted on his heels
to bring himself down to a convenient size. "And Princess Myrna.
Welcome to Tanith, Your Highness!"

The child flung her arms around his neck. "Oh, Prince Lucas! I'm so
glad to see you. There's been such awful things happened!"

"There won't be anything awful happen here, Princess Myrna. You are
among friends; friends with whom you have a treaty. Remember?"

The child began to cry, bitterly. "That was when I was just a
play-Queen. And now I know what they meant when they talked about
when Grandpa and Pappa would be through being King. Pappa didn't
even get to be King!"

Something big and warm and soft was trying to push between them;
a dog with long blond hair and floppy ears. In a year and a half,
puppies can grow surprisingly. Mopsy was trying to lick his face.
He took the dog by the collar and straightened.

"Lady Valerie, will you come with us?" he asked. "I'm going to find
quarters for Princess Myrna."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Is it Princess Myrna, or is it Queen Myrna?" he asked.

Prince Bentrik shook his head. "We don't know. The King was alive
when we left Moonbase, but that was five hundred hours ago. We don't
know anything about her mother, either. She was at the Palace when
Prince Edvard was murdered; we've heard absolutely nothing about
her. The King made a few screen appearances, parroting things Makann
wanted him to say. Under hypnosis. That was probably the very least
of what they did to him. They've turned him into a zombi."

"Well, how did Myrna get to Moonbase?"

"That was Lady Valerie, as much as anybody else. She and Sir Thomas
Kobbly, and Captain Rainer. They armed the servants at Cragdale with
hunting rifles and everything else they could scrape up, captured
Prince Edvard's space-yacht, and took off in her. Took a couple of
hits from ground batteries getting off, and from ships around
Moonbase getting in. Ships of the Royal Mardukan Navy!" he added
furiously.

The pinnace in which they had made the trip to Tanith had taken
a few hits, too, running the blockade. Not many; her captain had
thrown her into hyperspace almost at once.

"They sent the yacht off to Gimli," Bentrik said. "From there,
they'll try to rally as many of the Royal Navy units as haven't gone
over to Makann. They're to assemble on Gimli and await my return.
If I don't return in fifteen hundred hours from the time I left
Moonbase, they're to use their own judgment. I'd expect that
they'd move in on Marduk and attack."

"That's sixty-odd days," Otto Harkaman said. "That's an awfully long
time to expect that lunar base to hold out, against a whole planet."

"It's a strong base. It was built four hundred years ago, when
Marduk was fighting a combination of six other planets. It held out
against continuous attack, once, for almost a year. It's been
constantly strengthened ever since."

"And what have they to throw at it?" Harkaman persisted.

"When I left, six ships of the former Royal Navy, that had gone
over to Makann. Four fifteen-hundred-footers, same class as the
_Victrix_, and two thousand-footers. Then, there were four of
Andray Dunnan's ships--"

"You mean, he really is on Marduk?"

"I thought you knew that, and I was wondering how you'd found out.
Yes: _Fortuna_, _Bolide_, and two armed merchantmen, a Baldurbuilt
ship called the _Reliable_, and your friend _Honest Horris_."

"You didn't really believe Dunnan was on Marduk?" Boake Valkanhayn
asked.

"Actually, I didn't. I had to have some kind of a story, to talk
those people out of that crusade against Omfray of Glaspyth." He
left unmentioned Valkanhayn's own insistence on a plundering
expedition against Xochitl. "Now that it turns out to be true,
I'm not surprised. We decided, long ago, that Dunnan was planning
to raid Marduk. It appears that we underestimated him. Maybe he
was reading about Hitler, too. He wasn't planning any raid; he
was planning conquest, in the only way a great civilization can
be conquered--by subversion."

"Yes," Harkaman put in. "Five years ago, when Dunnan started this
programme, who was this Makann, anyhow?"

"Nobody," Bentrik said. "A crackpot agitator in Drepplin; he had
a coven of fellow-crackpots, who met in the back room of a saloon
and had their office in a cigar box. The next year, he had a suite
of offices and was buying time on a couple of telecasts. The year
after that, he had three telecast stations of his own, and
was holding rallies and meetings of thousands of people. And
so on, upward."

"Yes. Dunnan financed him, and moved in behind him, the same way
Makann moved in behind the King. And Dunnan will have him shot
the way he had Prince Edvard shot, and use the murder as a pretext
to liquidate his personal followers."

"And then he'll own Marduk. And we'll have the Mardukan navy coming
out of hyperspace on Tanith," Valkanhayn added. "So we go to Marduk
and smash him now, while he's still little enough to smash."

There had been a few who had wanted to do that about Hitler, and
a great many, later, who had regretted that it hadn't been done.

"The _Nemesis_, the _Corisande_, and the _Space Scourge_ for sure?"
he asked.

Harkaman and Valkanhayn agreed; Valkanhayn thought the _Viking's
Gift_ of Beowulf would go along, and Harkaman was almost sure of
the _Black Star_ and _Queen Flavia_. He turned to Bentrik.

"Start that pinnace off for Gimli at once; within the hour if
possible. We don't know how many ships will be gathered there,
but we don't want them wasted in detail-attacks. Tell whoever's
in command there that ships from Tanith are on the way, and to
wait for them."

Fifteen hundred hours, less the five hundred Bentrik was in space
from Marduk. He hadn't time to estimate voyage-time to Gimli from
the other Mardukan trade-planets, and nobody could estimate how many
ships would respond.

"It may take us a little time to get an effective fleet together.
Even after we get through arguing about it. Argument," he told
Bentrik, "is not exclusively a feature of democracies."

       *       *       *       *       *

Actually, there was very little argument, and most of that among
the Mardukans. Prince Bentrik insisted that Crown Princess Myrna
would have to be taken along; King Mikhyl would be either dead or
brainwashed into imbecility by now, and they would have to have
somebody to take the throne. Lady Valerie Alvarath, Sir Thomas
Kobbly, the tutor, and the nurse Margot refused to be separated
from her. Prince Bentrik was equally firm, with less success, on
leaving his wife and son on Tanith. In the end, it was agreed that
the entire Mardukan party would space out on the _Nemesis_.

The leader of the Bigglersport delegation attempted an impassioned
tirade about going to the aid of strangers while their own planet
was being enslaved. He was booed down by everybody else and informed
that Tanith was being defended where a planet ought to be, on
somebody else's real estate. When the Bigglersporters emerged
from the meeting, they found that their own space-yacht had been
commandeered and sent off to Amaterasu and Beowulf for assistance,
that the regiment of local infantry they had enlisted from the King
of Tradetown had been taken over by the Rivington authorities, and
that the Gilgamesh freighter they had chartered to transport them
to Gram would now take them to Marduk.

The problem broke into two halves: the purely naval action that
would be fought to relieve the Moon of Marduk, if it still held out,
and to destroy the Dunnan and Makann ships, and the ground-fighting
problem of wiping out Makann's supporters and restoring the Mardukan
monarchy. A great many of the people of Marduk would be glad of
a chance to turn on Makann, once they had arms and were properly
supported. Combat weapons were almost unknown among the people,
however, and even sporting arms uncommon. All the small arms and
light artillery and auto-weapons available were gathered up.

The _Grendelsbane_ came in from Beowulf, and the _Sun Goddess_ from
Amaterasu. Three independent Space Viking ships were still in orbit
on Tanith; they joined the expedition. There would be trouble with
them on Marduk; they'd want to loot. Let the Mardukans worry about
that. They could charge it off as part of the price for letting
Zaspar Makann get into power in the first place.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were twelve spacecraft in line outside the Moon of Tanith,
counting the three independents and the forcibly chartered
Gilgamesher troop-transport; that was the biggest fleet Space
Vikings had ever assembled in their history. Alvyn Karffard said
as much while they were checking the formation by screen.

"It isn't a Space Viking fleet," Prince Bentrik differed. "There
are only three Space Vikings in it. The rest are the ships of three
civilized planets. Tanith, Beowulf and Amaterasu."

Karffard was surprised. "You mean _we're_ civilized planets? Like
Marduk, or Baldur or Odin, or...?"

"Well, aren't you?"

Trask smiled. He'd begun to suspect something of the sort a couple
of years ago. He hadn't really been sure until now. His most junior
staff officer, Count Steven of Ravary, didn't seem to appreciate
the compliment.

"We _are_ Space Vikings!" he insisted. "And we are going to battle
with the Neobarbarians of Zaspar Makann."

"Well, I won't argue the last half of it, Steven," his father told him.

"Are you people done yakking about who's civilized and who isn't?"
Guatt Kirbey asked. "Then give the signal. All the other ships are
ready to jump."

Trask pressed the button on the desk in front of him. A light went
on over Kirbey's control panel as one would on each of the other
ships. He said, "Jumping," around the stem of his pipe, and twisted
the red handle and shoved it in.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration]

Four hundred and fifty hours, in the private universe that was the
_Nemesis_; outside, nothing else existed, and inside there was
nothing to do but wait, as each hour carried them six trillion miles
nearer to Gimli. At first, the ruthless and terrible Space Viking,
Steven, Count of Ravary, was wildly excited, but before long he
found that, there was nothing exciting going on; it was just a
spaceship, and he'd been on ships before. Her Highness the Crown
Princess, or maybe her Majesty the Queen of Marduk, stopped being
excited about the same time, and she and Steven and Mopsy played
together. Of course, Myrna was only a girl, and two years younger
than Steven, but she was, or at least might be, his sovereign, and
beside, she had been in a space action, if you call what lies
between a planet and its satellite space and if you call being shot
at without being able to shoot back an action, and Relentless
Ravary, the Interstellar Terror, had not. This rather made up
for being a girl and a mere baby of going-on-ten.

One thing, there were no lessons. Sir Thomas Kobbly fancied himself
as a landscape-painter and spent most of his time arguing techniques
with Vann Larch, and Steven's tutor, Captain Rainer was a normal-space
astrogator and found a kindred spirit in Sharll Renner. This left
Lady Valerie Alvarath at a loose end. There were plenty of volunteers
to help her fill in the time, but Rank Hath Its Privileges; Trask
undertook to see to it that she did not suffer excessively from
shipboard ennui.

Sharll Renner and Captain Rainer approached him, during the cocktail
hour before dinner, some hundred hours short of emergence.

"We think we've figured out where Dunnan's base is," Renner said.

"Oh, good!" Everybody else had, on a different planet. "Where's yours?"

"Abaddon," the Count of Ravary's tutor said. When he saw that the
name meant nothing to Trask, he added, "The ninth, outer, planet of
the Marduk system." He said it disgustedly.

"Yes; remember how you had Boake and Manfred out with their ships,
checking our outside planets to see if Prince Viktor might be hiding
on one of them? Well, what with the time element, and the way the
_Honest Horris_ was shuttling back and forth from Marduk to some
place that wasn't Gimli, and the way Dunnan was able to bring his
ships in as soon as the shooting started on Marduk, we thought he
must be on an uninhabited outer planet of the Marduk system."

"I don't know why we never thought of that, ourselves," Rainer put
in. "I suppose because nobody ever thinks of Abaddon for any reason.
It's only a small planet, about four thousand miles in diameter, and
it's three and a half billion miles from primary. It's frozen solid.
It would take almost a year to get to it on Abbot drive, and if your
ship has Dillinghams, why not take a little longer and go to a good
planet? So nobody bothered with Abaddon."

But for Dunnan's purpose, it would be perfect. He called Prince
Bentrik and Alvyn Karffard to him; they found the idea instantly
convincing. They talked about it through dinner, and held a general
discussion afterward. Even Guatt Kirbey, the ship's pessimist, could
find no objection to it. Trask and Bentrik began at once making
battle plans. Karffard wondered if they hadn't better wait till they
got to Gimli and discuss it with the others.

"No," Trask told him. "This is the flagship; here's where the
strategy is decided."

"Well, how about the Mardukan Navy?" Captain Rainer asked. "I think
Fleet Admiral Bargham's in command at Gimli."

Prince Simon Bentrik was silent for a moment, as though he realized,
with reluctance, that the big decision was no longer avoidable.

"He may be, at present, but he won't be when I get there. I will be."

"But ... Your Highness, he's a fleet admiral; you're just a
commodore."

"I am not just a commodore. The King is a prisoner, and for all we
know dead. The Crown Prince is dead. The Princess Myrna is a child.
I am assuming the position of Regent and Prince-Protector of the Realm."



XXVI


There was a little difficulty on Gimli with Fleet Admiral Bargham.
Commodores didn't give orders to fleet admirals. Well, maybe regents
did, but who gave Prince Bentrik authority to call himself regent?
Regents were elected by the Chamber of Delegates, on nomination of
the Chancellor.

"That's Zaspar Makann and his stooges you're talking about?" Bentrik
laughed.

"Well, the Constitution...." He thought better of that, before
somebody asked him what Constitution. "Well, a Regent has to be
chosen by election. Even members of the Royal Family can't just
make themselves Regent by saying they are."

"I can. I just have. And I don't think there are going to be many
more elections, at least for the present. Not till we make sure the
people of Marduk can be trusted with the control of the government."

"Well, the pinnace from Moonbase reported that there were six Royal
navy battleships and four other craft attacking them," Bargham
objected. "I only have four ships here; I sent for the ones on the
other trade-planets, but I haven't heard from any of them. We can't
go there with only four ships."

"Sixteen ships," Bentrik corrected. "No, fifteen and one Gilgamesher
we're using for a troopship. I think that's enough. You'll remain
here on Gimli, in any case, admiral; as soon as the other ships come
in, you'll follow to Marduk with them. I am now holding a meeting
aboard the Tanith flagship _Nemesis_. I want your four ship-commanders
aboard immediately. I am not including you because you're remaining
here to bring up the late comers and as soon as this meeting is over
we are spacing out."

Actually, they spaced out sooner; the meeting lasted the whole three
hundred and fifty hours to Abaddon. A ship's captain, if he has a
good exec, as all of them had, needs only sit at his command-desk
and look important while the ship is going into and emerging from
a long jump; the rest of the time he can study ancient history or
whatever his shipboard hobby is. Rather than waste three hundred and
fifty hours of precious time, each captain turned his ship over to
his exec and remained aboard the _Nemesis_; even on so spacious a
craft the officers' country north of the engine rooms was crowded
like a tourist hotel in mid-season. One of the four Mardukans was
the Captain Garravay who had smuggled Bentrik's wife and son off
Marduk, and the other three were just as pro-Bentrik, pro-Tanith,
and anti-Makann. They were, on general principles, also anti-Bargham.
There must be something wrong with any fleet admiral who remained
in his command after Zaspar Makann came to power.

So, as soon as they spaced out, there was a party. After that,
they settled down to planning the Battle of Abaddon.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was no Battle of Abaddon.

It was a dead planet, one side in night and the other in dim
twilight from the little speck of a sun three and a half billion
miles away, jagged mountains rising out of the snow that covered it
from pole to pole. The snow on top would be frozen CO_2; according
to the thermocouples, the surface temperature was well below
minus-100 Centigrade. No ships on orbit circled it; there was
a little faint radiation, which could have been from naturally
radioactive minerals; there was no electrical discharge detectable.

There was considerable bad language in the command room of the
_Nemesis_. The captains of the other ships were screening in,
wanting to know what to do.

"Go on in," Trask told them. "Englobe the planet, and go down to
within a mile if necessary. They could be hiding somewhere on it."

"Well, they're not hiding at the bottom of any ocean, that's for
sure," somebody said. It was one of those feeble jokes at which
everybody laughs because nothing else is laughable about the
situation.

Finally, they found it, at the north pole, which was no colder than
anywhere else on the planet. First radiation leakage, the sort that
would come from a closed-down nuclear power plant. Then a modicum of
electrical discharge. Finally the telescopic screens picked up the
spaceport, a huge oval amphitheater excavated out of a valley
between two jagged mountain ranges.

The language in the command room was just as bad, but the tone had
changed. It was surprising what a wide range of emotions could be
expressed by a few simple blasphemies and obscenities. Everybody
who had been deriding Sharll Renner were now acclaiming him.

But it was lifeless. The ships came crowding in; air-locked
landing-craft full of space-armored ground-fighters went down.
Screens in the command room lit as they transmitted in views.
Depressions in the carbon-dioxide snow where the hundred-foot
pad-feet of ships' landing-legs had pressed down. Ranks of
cargo-lighters that had plied to and from other ships or orbit.
And, all around the cliff-walled perimeter, air-locked doors to
caverns and tunnels. A great many men, with a great deal of equipment,
had been working here in the estimated five or six years since
Andray Dunnan--or somebody--had constructed this base.

Andray Dunnan. They found his badge, the crescent, blue on black, on
things. They found equipment that Harkaman recognized as having been
part of the original cargo stolen with the _Enterprise_. They even
found, in his living quarters, a blown-up photoprint picture of
Nevil Ormm, draped in black. But what they did not find was a single
vehicle small enough to be taken aboard a ship, or a single scrap of
combat equipment, not even a pistol or a hand grenade.

Dunnan had gone, but they knew whither, and where to find him.
The conquest of Marduk had moved into its final phase.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marduk was on the other side of the sun from Abaddon with
ninety-five million miles--close, but not inconveniently so, Trask
thought--to spare. Guatt Kirbey and the Mardukan astrogator who was
helping him made it within a light-minute. The Mardukan thought that
was fine; Kirbey didn't. The last microjump was aimed at the Moon of
Marduk, which was plainly visible in the telescopic screen. They
came out within a light-second and a half, which Kirbey admitted was
reasonably close. As soon as the screens cleared, they saw that they
weren't too late. The Moon of Marduk was under fire and firing back.

They'd have detection, and he knew what they were detecting--a clump
of sixteen rending distortions of the fabric of space-time, as
sixteen ships came into sudden existence in the normal continuum.
Beside him, Bentrik had a screen on; it was still milky-white,
and he was speaking into a radio hand-phone.

"Simon Bentrik, Prince-Protector of Marduk, calling Moonbase."
Then, slowly, he repeated his screen-combination twice. "Come in,
Moonbase; this is Simon Bentrik, Prince-Protector, speaking."

He waited ten seconds, and was about to start again, when the screen
flickered. The man who appeared in it wore the insignia of a
Mardukan navy commodore. He needed a shave, but he was grinning
happily. Bentrik greeted him by name.

"Hello, Simon; glad to see you. Your Highness, I mean; what is this
Prince-Protector thing?"

"Somebody had to do it. Is the King still alive?"

The grin slid off the commodore's face, starting with his eyes.

"We don't know. At first, Makann had him speaking by screen--you
know what it was like--urging everybody to obey and co-operate
with 'our trusted Chancellor.' Makann always appeared on the screen
with him."

Bentrik nodded. "I remember."

"Before you left, Makann kept quiet, and let the King make the
speech. After a while, the King wasn't able to speak coherently;
he'd stammer, and repeat. So then Makann did all the talking; they
couldn't even depend on him to parrot what they were giving him with
an earplug phone. Then he stopped appearing entirely. I suppose
there were physical symptoms they couldn't allow to be seen."
Bentrik was cursing horribly under his breath; the officer
at Moonbase nodded. "I hope for his sake that he is dead."

Poor Goodman Mikhyl. Bentrik was saying, "So do I." Trask agreed,
mentally. The commodore at Moonbase was still talking:

"We got two more renegade RMN ships, within a hundred hours after
you left." He named them. "And we got one of the Dunnan ships, the
_Fortuna_. We blew out the Malverton Navy Yard. They're still using
the Antarctic Naval Base, but we've knocked out a good deal of that.
We got the _Honest Horris_. They made two attempts to land on us and
lost a couple of ships. Eight hundred hours ago, they were joined by
the rest of Dunnan's fleet, five ships. They made a landing on
Malverton while it was turned away from us. Makann announced that
they were RMN units from the trade-planets that had joined him. I
suppose the planet-side public swallowed that. He also announced that
their commander, Admiral Dunnan, was in command of the People's
Armed Forces."

Dunnan's ground-fighters would be in control of Malverton. By now,
the odds were that Makann was as much his prisoner as King Mikhyl
VIII had been Makann's.

"So Dunnan has conquered Marduk. All he has to do, now, is make it
stick," he said. "I see four ships off Moonbase; how many more have
they?"

"These are _Bolide_ and _Eclipse_, Dunnan's ships, and former Royal
Mardukan Navy ships _Champion_ and _Guardian_. There are five
orbiting off the planet: Ex-RMNS _Paladin_, and Dunnan ships
_Starhopper_, _Banshee_, _Reliable_ and _Exporter_. The last
two are listed as merchantmen, but they're performing like
regulation battlecraft."

The four that had been circling Moonbase broke orbit and started
toward the relieving fleet; one took a hit from a Moonbase missile,
which staggered her but did no evident damage. Two ships which had
been orbiting the planet also changed course and started out. The
command room was silent except for a subdued chuckling from a
computer which was estimating enemy intentions by observed data and
Games Theory. Three more came hurrying out from the planet, and the
two in the lead slowed to let them catch up. He wanted to be able
to engage the four from off the satellite before the five from the
planet joined them, but Karffard's computers said it couldn't be done.

"All right, we have to take all our bad eggs in one basket," he
said. "Try to hit them as soon after they join as possible."

       *       *       *       *       *

The computers began chuckling again. The serving-robots were doing
a rush business in hot coffee. Prince Bentrik's son, sitting beside
his father, had stopped being Ruthless Ravary the Demon of the
Spaceways and was a very young officer going into his first space
battle, more scared and at the same time happier than he had ever
been in his short life. Captain Garravay of the _Vindex_ was making
signal to the other ships from Gimli: "_Royal Navy; smash the
traitors first!_" He could understand and sympathize, even if
he couldn't approve of putting personal ahead of tactical
considerations, and made a quick sealed-beam call to Harkaman to be
prepared to plug any holes they left in formation if they broke away
in search of vengeance. He also ordered the _Black Star_ and the
_Sun Goddess_ to shepherd the lightly armed and troop-crammed
Gilgamesh freighter out of danger. The two clumps of Dunnan-Makann
ships were converging rapidly, and Alvyn Karffard was screaming into
a phone to somebody to get more speed.

At a thousand miles, the missiles started going out, and the two
groups of ships, four and five, were equidistant from each other and
from the allied fleet, at the points of a triangle that was growing
smaller by the second. The first fire-globes of intercepted missiles
spread from their seeds of brief white light. A red light flashed on
the damage-board. An enemy ship took a hit. The captain of the
_Queen Flavia_ was on a screen, saying that his ship was heavily
damaged. Three ships bearing the Mardukan dragon-and-planet circled
madly around each other at what looked, in the screen, like just
over pistol-range, two of them firing into the third, which was
replying desperately. The third one blew up, and somebody was
yelling out of a screenspeaker, "Scratch one traitor!"

Another ship blew up somewhere, and then another. He heard somebody
say, "There went one of ours," and wondered which one it was. Not
the _Corisande_, he hoped; no, it wasn't, he could see her rushing
after two other ships which were, in turn, speeding toward the
_Black Star_, the _Sun Goddess_ and the Gilgamesh freighter. Then
the _Nemesis_ and the _Starhopper_ were within gun-range, pounding
each other savagely.

The battle had tied itself into a ball of gyrating, fire-spitting
ships that went rolling toward the planet, which was swinging in and
out of the main viewscreen and growing rapidly larger. By the time
they were down to the inner edge of the exosphere, the ball had
started to unwind, ship after ship dropping out of it and going
into orbit, some badly damaged and some going to attack damaged
enemies. Some of them were completely around the planet, hidden
by it. He saw three ships approaching _Corisande_, _Sun Goddess_,
and the Gilgamesher. He got Harkaman on the screen.

"Where's the _Black Star_?" he asked.

"Gone to Em-See-Square," Harkaman replied. "We got the two
Dunnan-Makanns. _Bolide_ and _Reliable_."

Then young Steven of Ravary, who had been monitoring one of the
intership screens, had a call from Captain Gompertz of the
_Grendelsbane_, and at the same moment somebody else was yelling,
"Here comes the _Starhopper_ again!"

"Tell him to wait a moment; we have troubles," he said.

_Nemesis_ and _Starhopper_ sledge-hammered each other and parried
with counter-missiles, and then, quite unexpectedly, the
_Starhopper_ went to Em-See-Square.

There was an awful lot of Em being converted to Ee off Marduk,
today. Including Manfred Ravallo; that grieved him. Manfred was
a good man, and a good friend. He had a girl in Rivington....
Nifflheim, there were eight hundred good men aboard the _Black
Star_, and most of them had girls who'd wait in vain for them on
Tanith. Well, what had Otto Harkaman said, so long ago, on Gram?
Something about old age not being a usual cause of death among
Space Vikings, wasn't it?

Then he remembered that Gompertz of the _Grendelsbane_ was trying
to get him. He told young Count Steven to switch him over.

"We just lost one of our Mardukans," Gompertz told him, in his
staccato Beowulf accent. "I think she was the _Challenger_. The ship
that got her looks like the _Banshee_; I'm turning to engage her."

"Which way; west around the planet? Be right with you, captain."



XXVII


It was like finishing a word puzzle. You sit staring at it, looking
for more spaces to print letters into, and suddenly you realize
that there are no more, that the puzzle is done. That was how the
space-battle of Marduk, the Battle _off_ Marduk, ended. Suddenly
there were no more colored fire-globes opening and fading, no more
missiles coming, no more enemy ships to throw missiles at. Now it
was time to take a count of his own ships, and then begin thinking
about the Battle _on_ Marduk.

The _Black Star_ was gone. So was RMNS _Challenger_, and RMNS
_Conquistador_. _Space Scourge_ was badly hammered; worse than after
the Beowulf raid, Boake Valkanhayn said. The _Viking's Gift_ was
heavily damaged, too, and so was the _Corisande_, and so, from the
looks of the damage board, was the _Nemesis_. And three ships were
missing--the three independent Space Vikings, _Harpy_, _Curse of
Cagn_, and Roger-fan-Morvill Esthersan's _Damnthing_.

Prince Bentrik frowned over that. "I can't think that all three
of those ships would have been destroyed, without anybody seeing
it happen."

"Neither can I. But I can think that all those ships broke out of
the battle together and headed in for the planet. They didn't come
here to help liberate Marduk, they came here to fill their cargo
holds. I only hope the people they're robbing all voted the Makann
ticket in the last election." A crumb of comfort occurred to him,
and he passed it on. "The only people who are armed to resist them
will be Makann's storm-troops and Dunnan's pirates; they'll be the
ones to get killed."

"We don't want any more killing than...." Prince Simon broke off
suddenly. "I'm beginning to talk like his late Highness Crown Prince
Edvard," he said. "He didn't want bloodshed, either, and look whose
blood was shed. If they're doing what you think they are, I'm afraid
we'll have to kill a few of your Space Vikings, too."

"They aren't my Space Vikings." He was a little surprised to find
that, after almost eight years of bearing the name himself, he was
using it as an other-people label. Well, why not? He was the ruler
of the civilized planet of Tanith, wasn't he? "But let's not start
fighting them till the main war's over. Those three shiploads are
no worse than a bad cold; Makann and Dunnan are the plague."

It would still take four hours to get down, in a spiral of
deceleration. They started the telecasts which had been filmed and
taped on the voyage from Gimli. The Prince-Protector Simon Bentrik
spoke: The illegal rule of the traitor Makann was ended. His deluded
followers were advised to return to their allegiance to the Crown.
The People's Watchmen were ordered to surrender their arms and
disband; in localities where they refused, the loyal people were
called upon to co-operate with the legitimate armed forces of
the Crown in exterminating them, and would be furnished arms
as soon as possible.

Little Princess Myrna spoke: "If my grandfather is still alive,
he is your King; if he is not, I am your Queen, and until I am old
enough to rule in my own right, I accept Prince Simon as Regent
and Protector of the Realm, and I call on all of you to obey him
as I will."

"You didn't say anything about representative government, or
democracy, or the constitution," Trask mentioned. "And I noticed
the use of the word 'rule,' instead of 'reign.'"

"That's right," the self-proclaimed Prince-Protector said. "There's
something wrong with democracy. If there weren't, it couldn't be
overthrown by people like Makann, attacking it from within by
democratic procedures. I don't think it's fundamentally unworkable.
I think it just has a few of what engineers call bugs. It's not
safe to run a defective machine till you learn the defects and
remedy them."

"Well, I hope you don't think our Sword-World feudalism doesn't have
bugs." He gave examples, and then quoted Otto Harkaman about barbarism
spreading downward from the top instead of upward from the bottom.

"It may just be," he added, "that there is something fundamentally
unworkable about government itself. As long as _Homo sapiens terra_
is a wild animal, which he has always been and always will be until
he evolves into something different in a million or so years, maybe
a workable system of government is a political science impossibility,
just as transmutation of elements was a physical-science impossibility
as long as they tried to do it by chemical means."

[Illustration]

"Then we'll just have to make it work the best way we can, and when
it breaks down, hope the next try will work a little better, for a
little longer," Bentrik said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Malverton grew in the telescopic screens as they came down. The Navy
Spaceport, where Trask had landed almost two years before, was in
wreckage, sprinkled with damaged ships that had been blasted on the
ground, and slagged by thermonuclear fires. There was fighting in
the air all over the city proper, on building-tops, on the ground,
and in the air. That would be the _Damnthing_-_Harpy_-_Curse of
Cagn_ Space Vikings. The Royal Palace was the center of one of
half a dozen swirls of battle that had condensed out of the
general skirmishing.

Paytrik Morland started for it with the first wave of
ground-fighters from the _Nemesis_. The Gilgamesh freighter, like
most of her ilk, had huge cargo ports all around; these began
opening and disgorging a swarm of everything from landing-craft
and hundred-foot airboats to one man air-cavalry single-mounts.
The top landing-stages and terraces of the palace were almost
obscured by the flashes of auto-cannon shells and the smoke and
dust of projectiles. Then the first vehicles landed, the firing
from the air stopped, and men fanned out as skirmishers,
occasionally firing with small arms.

Trask and Bentrik were in the armory off the vehicle-bay, putting on
combat equipment, when the twelve-year-old Count of Ravary joined
them and began rummaging for weapons and a helmet.

"You're not going," his father told him. "I'll have enough to worry
about taking care of myself...."

That was the wrong approach. Trask interrupted:

"You're to stay aboard, Count," he said. "As soon as things
stabilize, Princess Myrna will have to come down. You'll act as
her personal escort. And don't think you're being shoved into the
background. She's Crown Princess, and if she isn't Queen now, she
will be in a few years. Escorting her now will be the foundation of
your naval career. There isn't a young officer in the Royal Navy who
wouldn't trade places with you."

"That was the right way to handle him, Lucas," Bentrik approved,
after the boy had gone away, proud of his opportunity and his
responsibility.

"It'll do just what I said for him." He stopped for a moment, to
play with an idea that had just struck him. "You know, the girl will
be Queen in a few years, if she isn't now. Queens need Prince
Consorts. Your son's a good boy; I liked him the first moment I saw
him, and I've liked him better ever since. He'd be a good man on
the throne beside Queen Myrna."

"Oh, that's out of the question. Not the matter of consanguinity,
they're about a sixteenth cousin. But people would say I was abusing
the Protectorship to marry my son onto the Throne."

"Simon, speaking as one sovereign prince to another, you have a lot
to learn. You've learned one important lesson already, that a ruler
must be willing to use force and shed blood to enforce his rule. You
have to learn, too, that a ruler cannot afford to be guided by his
fears of what people will say about him. Not even what history will
say about him. A ruler's only judge is himself."

Bentrik slid the transpex visor of his helmet up and down
experimentally, checked the chambers of his pistol and carbine.

"All that matters to me is the peace and well-being of Marduk. I'll
have to talk it over with ... with my only judge. Well, let's go."

       *       *       *       *       *

The top terraces were secure when their car landed. More vehicles
were coming down and discharging men; a swarm of landing craft were
sinking past the building toward the ground two thousand feet below.
Auto-weapons and small arms and light cannon banged, and bombs and
recoilless-rifle shells crashed, on the lower terraces. They put the
car down one of the shaftways until they ran into heavy fire from
below, at the limit of the advance, and then turned into a broad
hallway, floating high enough to clear the heads of the men on foot.
It looked like the part of the Palace where he had lodged when he
had been a guest there but it probably wasn't.

They came to hastily constructed barricades of furniture and
statuary and furnishings, behind which Makann's People's Watchmen
and Andray Dunnan's Space Vikings were making resistance. They
entered rooms dusty with powdered plaster and acrid with powder
fumes, littered with corpses. They passed lifter-skids being towed
out with wounded. They went through rooms crowded with their own
men--"_Keep your fingers off things; this isn't a looting
expedition!_" "_You stupid cretin, how did you know there wasn't a
man hiding behind that?_" In one huge room, ballroom or concert room
or something, there were prisoners herded, and men from the
_Nemesis_ were setting up polyencephalographic veridicators, sturdy
chairs with wires and adjustable helmets and translucent globes
mounted over them. A couple of Morland's men were hustling a
People's Watchman to one and strapping him into a chair.

"You know what this is, don't you?" one of them was saying. "This is
a veridicator. That globe'll light blue; the moment you try to lie
to us, it'll turn red. And the moment it turns red, I'm going to
hammer your teeth down your throat with the butt of this pistol."

"Have you found anything out about the King, yet?" Bentrik asked him.

He turned. "No. Nobody we've questioned so far knows anything later
than a month ago about him. He just disappeared." He was going to
say something else, saw Bentrik's face, and changed his mind.

"He's dead," Bentrik said dully. "They tortured him and brainwashed
him and used him as a ventriloquist's dummy on the screen as long as
they could; when they couldn't let the people see him any more,
they stuffed him into a converter."

They did find Zaspar Makann, hours later. Maybe he could have told
them something, if he had been alive, but he and a few of his
fanatical followers had barricaded themselves in the Throne room and
died trying to defend it. They found Makann on the Throne, the top
of his head blown away, a pistol death-gripped in his hand, and the
Great Crown lying on the floor, the velvet inner cap bullet-pierced
and splattered with blood and brain tissue. Prince Bentrik picked it
up and looked at it disgustedly.

"We'll have to have something done about that," he said. "I really
didn't think he'd do just this. I thought he wanted to abolish the
Throne, not sit on it."

Except for one chandelier smashed and several corpses that had to be
dragged out, the Ministerial Council room was intact. They set up
headquarters there. Boake Valkanhayn and several other ship-captains
joined them. There was fighting going on in several places inside
the Palace, and the city was still in a turmoil. Somebody managed
to get in touch with the captains of the _Damnthing_, the _Harpy_
and the _Curse of Cagn_ and bring them to the Palace. Trask attempted
to reason with them, to no avail.

"Prince Trask, you're my friend, and you've always dealt fairly with
me," Roger-fan-Morvill Esthersan said. "But you know just how far
any Space Viking captain can control his crew. These men didn't come
here to correct the political mistakes of Marduk. They came here for
what they could haul away. I could get myself killed trying to stop
them now...."

"I wouldn't even try," the captain of the _Curse of Cagn_ put in.
"I came here for what I could make out of this planet, myself."

"You can try to stop them," said the captain of the _Harpy_.
"You'll find it even harder than what you're doing now."

Trask looked at some of the reports that had come in from elsewhere
on the planet. Harkaman had landed on one of the big cities to the
east, and the people had risen against Makann's local bosses and
were helping wipe out the People's Watchmen with arms they had been
furnished. Valkanhayn's exec had landed on a large concentration
camp where close to ten thousand of Makann's political enemies had
been penned; he had distributed all his available weapons and was
calling for more. Gompertz of the _Grendelsbane_ was at Drepplin;
he reported just the reverse. The people there had risen in support
of the Makann regime, and he wanted authorization to use nuclear
weapons against them.

"Could you talk your people into going to some other city?" Trask
asked. "We have a city for you; big industrial center. It ought to
be fine looting. Drepplin."

"The people there are Mardukan subjects, too," Bentrik began. Then
he shrugged. "It's not what we'd like to do, it's what we have to.
By all means, gentlemen. Take your men to Drepplin, and nobody will
object to anything you do."

"And when you have that place looted out, try Abaddon. You were
aground there, Captain Esthersan. You know what all Dunnan left there."

       *       *       *       *       *

A couple of Space Vikings--no, Royal Army of Tanith men--brought in
the old woman, dirty, in rags, almost exhausted.

"She wants to talk to Prince Bentrik; won't talk to anybody else.
Says she knows where the King is."

Bentrik rose quickly, brought her to a chair, poured a glass of wine
for her.

"He's still alive, Your Highness. The Crown Princess Melanie and I
... I'm sorry, Your Highness; Dowager Crown Princess ... have been
taking care of him, the best way we could. If you'll only come
quickly...."

Mikhyl VIII, Planetary King of Marduk, lay on a pallet of filthy
bedding on the floor of a narrow room behind a mass-energy converter
which disposed of the rubbish and sewage and generated power for
some of the fixed equipment on one of the middle floors of the east
wing of the palace. There was a bucket of water, and on a rough
wooden bench lay a cloth-wrapped bundle of food. A woman, haggard
and disheveled, wearing a suit of greasy mechanic's coveralls and
nothing else, squatted beside him. The Crown Princess Melanie, whom
Trask remembered as the charming and gracious hostess of Cragdale.
She tried to rise, and staggered.

"Prince Bentrik! And it's Prince Trask of Tanith!" she cried.
"Just hurry; get him out of here and to where he can be taken
care of. Please." Then she sat down again on the floor and fell
over, unconscious.

       *       *       *       *       *

They couldn't get the story. The Princess Melanie had collapsed
completely. Her companion, another noblewoman of the court, could
only ramble disconnectedly. And the King merely lay, bathed and
fed in a clean bed, and looked up at them wonderingly, as though
nothing he saw or heard conveyed any meaning to him. The doctors
could do nothing.

"He has no mind, no more mind than a new-born baby. We can keep him
alive, I don't know how long. That's our professional duty. But it's
no kindness to His Majesty."

       *       *       *       *       *

The little pockets of resistance in the Palace were wiped out,
through the next morning and afternoon. All but one, far
underground, below the main power plant. They tried sleep-gas; the
defenders had blowers and sent it back at them. They tried blasting;
there was a limit to what the fabric of the building would stand.
And nobody knew how long it would take to starve them out.

On the third day, a man crawled out, pushing a white shirt tied to
the barrel of a carbine ahead of him.

"Is Prince Lucas Trask of Tanith here?" he asked. "I won't speak to
anybody else."

They brought Trask quickly. All that was visible of the other man
was the carbine-barrel and the white shirt. When Trask called to
him, he raised his head above the rubble behind which he was hiding.

"Prince Trask, we have Andray Dunnan here; he was leading us, but
now we've disarmed him and are holding him. If we turn him over to
you, will you let us go?"

"If you all come out unarmed, and bring Dunnan with you, I promise
you, the rest of you will be let outside this building and allowed
to go away unharmed."

"All right. We'll be coming out in a minute." The man raised his
voice. "It's agreed!" he called. "Bring him out."

There were fewer than two score of them. Some wore the uniforms of
high officers of the People's Watchmen or of People's Welfare Party
functionaries; a few wore the heavily braided short jackets of Space
Viking officers. Among them, they propelled a thin-faced man with a
pointed beard, and Trask had to look twice at him before he
recognized the face of Andray Dunnan. It looked more like the face
of Duke Angus of Wardshaven as he last remembered it. Dunnan looked
at him in incurious contempt.

"Your dotard king couldn't rule without Zaspar Makann, and Makann
couldn't rule without me, and neither can you," he said. "Shoot this
gang of turncoats, and I'll rule Marduk for you." He looked at Trask
again. "Who are you?" he demanded. "I don't know you."

Trask slipped the pistol from his holster, thumbing off the safety.

"I am Lucas Trask. You've heard that name before," he said. "Stand
away from behind him, you people."

"Oh, yes; the poor fool who thought he was going to marry Elaine
Karvall. Well, you won't, Lord Trask of Traskon. She loves me, not
you. She's waiting for me now, on Gram...."

Trask shot him through the head. Dunnan's eyes widened in momentary
incredulity; then his knees gave way, and he fell forward on his
face. Trask thumbed on the safety and holstered the pistol, and
looked at the body on the concrete.

It hadn't made the least difference. It had been like shooting a
snake, or one of the nasty scorpion-things that infested the old
buildings in Rivington. Just no more Andray Dunnan.

"Take that carrion and stuff it in a mass-energy converter," he
said. "And I don't want anybody to mention the name of Andray Dunnan
to me again."

He didn't look at them haul Dunnan's body away on a lifter-skid;
he watched the fifty-odd leaders of the overthrown misgovernment
of Marduk shamble away to freedom, guarded by Paytrik Morland's
riflemen. Now there was something to reproach himself for; he'd
committed a separate and distinct crime against Marduk by letting
each one of them live. Unless recognized and killed by somebody
outside, every one of them would be at some villainy before next
sunrise. Well, King Simon I could cope with that.

He started when he realized how he had thought of his friend. Well,
why not? Mikhyl's mind was dead; his body would not survive it more
than a year. Then a child Queen, and a long regency, and long
regencies were dangerous. Better a strong King, in name as well as
power. And the succession could be safeguarded by marrying Steven
and Myrna. Myrna had accepted, at eight, that she must some day
marry for reasons of state; why not her playmate Steven?

And Simon Bentrik would see the necessity. He was neither a fool nor
a moral coward; he only needed to take some time to adjust to ideas.
The rabble who had bought their lives with their leader's had gone,
now. Slowly, he followed them, thinking.

Don't press the idea on Simon too hard; just expose him to it and
let him adopt it. And there would be the treaty--Tanith, Marduk,
Beowulf, Amaterasu; eventually, treaties with the other civilized
planets. Nebulously, the idea of a League of Civilized Worlds began
to take shape in his mind.

Be a good idea if he adopted the title of King of Tanith for
himself. And cut loose from the Sword-Worlds; especially cut loose
from Gram. Let Viktor of Xochitl have it. Or Garvan Spasso. Viktor
wouldn't be the last Space Viking to take his ships back against
the Sword-Worlds. Sooner or later, civilization in the Old Federation
would drive them all home to loot the planets that had sent them out.

Well, if he was going to be a king, shouldn't he have a queen? Kings
usually did. He climbed into the little hall-car and started up a
long shaft. There was Valerie Alvarath. They'd enjoyed each other's
society on the _Nemesis_. He wondered if she would want to make it
permanent, even on a throne....

Elaine was with him. He felt her beside him, almost tangibly. Her
voice was whispering to him: _She loves you, Lucas. She'll say yes.
Be good to her, and she'll make you happy._ Then she was gone, and
he knew that she would never return.

Good-by, Elaine.


[Illustration: FIN]


Notes:
Inconsistent hyphenation; the former forms were all changed to the latter:
  Space-Scourge (7) vs. Space Scourge (41)
  Sun-Goddess (3) vs. Sun Goddess (3)

  Jaganath (2) vs. Jagannath (4)
  Amaterasun (1) vs. Amaterasuan[s] (1)
  handphone (1) vs. hand-phone (3)
  planetside (1) vs. planet-side (1)
  slagpile (1) vs. slag-pile (1)
  trade planets (3) vs. trade-planets (10)
  two hand (1) vs. two-hand (1)
  air cavalry (1) vs. air-cavalry (2)
  smallarms (1) vs. small arms (5)

Thinkos:
  Admiral of the Royal Mardukan Navy." [Chap. XIV]
was changed to
  Admiral of the Royal Navy of Gram."

  one of the Gram-Marduk freighters,  [Chap. XXIII]
was changed to
  one of the Gram-Tanith freighters,





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