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.

“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.”