The gaily-dressed crowd formed a semicircle facing the landing-stage escalators; everybody was staring in embarrassed curiosity, those behind craning over the shoulders of those in front. The ladies had drawn up their shawls in frigid formality; many had even covered their heads. There were four news-service cars hovering above; whatever was going on was getting a planetwide screen showing. The Karvall guardsmen were trying to get through; their sergeant was saying, over and over, “Please, ladies and gentlemen; your pardon, noble sir,” and getting nowhere.

Otto Harkaman swore disgustedly and shoved the sergeant aside. “Make way, here!” he bellowed. “Let these guards pass.” With that, he almost hurled a gaily-dressed gentleman aside on either hand; they both turned to glare angrily, then got hastily out of his way. Meditating briefly on the uses of bad manners in an emergency, Trask followed, with the others; the big Space Viking plowed to the front, where Sesar Karvall and Rovard Grauffis and several others were standing.

Facing them, four men in black cloaks stood with their backs to the escalators. Two were commonfolk retainers; hired gunmen, to be precise. They were at pains to keep their hands plainly in sight, and seemed to be wishing themselves elsewhere. The man in front wore a diamond sunburst jewel on his beret, and his cloak was lined with pale blue silk. His thin, pointed face was deeply lined about the mouth and penciled with a thin black mustache. His eyes showed white all around the irises, and now and then his mouth would twitch in an involuntary grimace. Andray Dunnan; Trask wondered briefly how soon he would have to look at him from twenty-five meters over the sights of a pistol. The face of the slightly taller man who stood at his shoulder was paper-white, expressionless, with a black beard. His name was Nevil Ormm, nobody was quite sure whence he had come, and he was Dunnan’s henchman and constant companion.

“You lie!” Dunnan was shouting. “You lie damnably, in your stinking teeth, all of you! You’ve intercepted every message she’s tried to send me.”

“My daughter has sent you no messages, Lord Dunnan,” Sesar Karvall said, with forced patience. “None but the one I just gave you, that she wants nothing whatever to do with you.”

“You think I believe that? You’re holding her a prisoner; Satan only knows how you’ve been torturing her to force her into this abominable marriage⁠—”

There was a stir among the bystanders; that was more than well-mannered restraint could stand. Out of the murmur of incredulous voices, one woman’s was quite audible:

“Well, really! He actually is crazy!”

Dunnan, like everybody else, heard it. “Crazy, am I?” he blazed. “Because I can see through this hypocritical sham? Here’s Lucas Trask, he wants an interest in Karvall mills, and here’s Sesar Karvall, he wants access to iron deposits on Traskon land. And my loving uncle, he wants the help of both of them in stealing Omfray of Glaspyth’s duchy. And here’s this loan-shark of a Ffayle, trying to claw my lands away from me, and Rovard Grauffis, the fetchdog of my uncle who won’t lift a finger to save his kinsman from ruin, and this foreigner Harkaman who’s swindled me out of command of the Enterprise. You’re all plotting against me⁠—”

“Sir Nevil,” Grauffis said, “you can see that Lord Dunnan’s not himself. If you’re a good friend to him, you’ll get him out of here before Duke Angus arrives.”

Ormm leaned forward and spoke urgently in Dunnan’s ear. Dunnan pushed him angrily away.

“Great Satan, are you against me, too?” he demanded.

Ormm caught his arm. “You fool, do you want to ruin everything, now⁠—” He lowered his voice; the rest was inaudible.

“No, curse you, I won’t go till I’ve spoken to her, face to face⁠—”

There was another stir among the spectators; the crowd was parting, and Elaine was coming through, followed by her mother and Lady Sandrasan and five or six other matrons. They all had their shawls over their heads, right ends over left shoulders; they all stopped except Elaine, who took a few steps forward and confronted Andray Dunnan. He had never seen her look more beautiful, but it was the icy beauty of a honed dagger.

“Lord Dunnan, what do you wish to say to me?” she asked. “Say it quickly and then go; you are not welcome here.”

“Elaine!” Dunnan cried, taking a step forward. “Why do you cover your head; why do you speak to me as a stranger? I am Andray, who loves you. Why are you letting them force you into this wicked marriage?”

“No one is forcing me; I am marrying Lord Trask willingly and happily, because I love him. Now, please, go and make no more trouble at my wedding.”

“That’s a lie! They’re making you say that! You don’t have to marry him; they can’t make you. Come with me now. They won’t dare stop you. I’ll take you away from all these cruel, greedy people. You love me, you’ve always loved me. You’ve told me you loved me, again and again⁠—”

Yes, in his own private dreamworld, a world of fantasy that had now become Andray Dunnan’s reality, in which an Elaine Karvall whom his imagination had created existed only to love him. Confronted by the real Elaine, he simply rejected the reality.

“I never loved you, Lord Dunnan, and I never told you so. I never hated you, either, but you are making it very hard for me not to. Now go, and never let me see you again.”

With that, she turned and started back through the crowd, which parted in front of her. Her mother and her aunt and the other ladies followed.

“You lied to me!” Dunnan shrieked after her. “You lied all the time. You’re as bad as the rest of them, all scheming and plotting against me, betraying me. I know what it’s about; you all want to cheat me of my rights, and keep my usurping uncle on the ducal throne. And you, you false-hearted harlot, you’re the worst of them all!”

Sir Nevil Ormm caught his shoulder and spun him around, propelling him toward the escalators. Dunnan struggled, screaming inarticulately like a wounded wolf. Ormm was cursing furiously.

“You two!” he shouted. “Help me, here. Get hold of him.”

Dunnan was still howling as they forced him onto the escalator, the backs of the two retainers’ cloaks, badged with the Dunnan crescent, light blue on black, hiding him. After a little, an aircar with the blue crescent blazonry lifted and sped away.

“Lucas, he’s crazy,” Sesar Karvall was insisting. “Elaine hasn’t spoken fifty words to him since he came back from his last voyage⁠—”

He laughed and put a hand on Karvall’s shoulder. “I know that, Sesar. You don’t think, do you, that I need assurance of it?”

“Crazy, I’ll say he’s crazy,” Rovard Grauffis put in. “Did you hear what he said about his rights? Wait till his Grace hears about that.”

“Does he lay claim to the ducal throne, Sir Rovard?” Otto Harkaman asked, sharply and seriously.

“Oh, he claims that his mother was born a year and a half before Duke Angus and the true date of her birth falsified to give Angus the succession. Why, his present Grace was three years old when she was born. I was old Duke Fergus’ esquire; I carried Angus on my shoulder when Andray Dunnan’s mother was presented to the lords and barons the day after she was born.”

“Of course he’s crazy,” Alex Gorram agreed. “I don’t know why the Duke doesn’t have him put under psychiatric treatment.”

“I’d put him under treatment,” Harkaman said, drawing a finger across under his beard. “Crazy men who pretend to thrones are bombs that ought to be deactivated, before they blow things up.”

“We couldn’t do that,” Grauffis said. “After all, he’s Duke Angus’ nephew⁠—”

“I could do it,” Harkaman said. “He only has three hundred men in this company of his. Why you people ever let him recruit them Satan only knows,” he parenthesized. “I have eight hundred; five hundred ground-fighters. I’d like to see how they shape up in combat, before we space out. I can have them ready for action in two hours, and it’d be all over before midnight.”

“No, Captain Harkaman; his Grace would never permit it,” Grauffis vetoed. “You have no idea of the political harm that would do among the independent lords on whom we’re counting for support. You weren’t here on Gram when Duke Ridgerd of Didreksburg had his sister Sancia’s second husband poisoned⁠—”