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.”