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.”

“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 Muslims, or the Albigensians, or somebody?