“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-grâce; 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, shooing 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 zombie.”

“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.

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.”