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.