He was crucified, and crowned with a crown of thorns. Who had they done that to? Somebody long ago, on Terra. His arms were drawn out stiffly, and hurt; his feet and legs hurt, too, and he couldn’t move them, and there was this prickling at his brow. And he was blind.

No; his eyes were just closed. He opened them, and there was a white wall in front of him, patterned with a blue snow-crystal design, and he realized that it was a ceiling and that he was lying on his back. He couldn’t move his head, but by shifting his eyes he saw that he was completely naked and surrounded by a tangle of tubes and wires, which puzzled him briefly. Then he knew that he was not on a bed, but on a robomedic, and the tubes would be for medication and wound drainage and intravenous feeding, and the wires would be to electrodes imbedded in his body for diagnosis, and the crown-of-thorns thing would be more electrodes for an encephalograph. He’d been on one of those robomedics before, when he had been gored by a bisonoid on the cattle range.

That was what it was; he was still under treatment. But that seemed so long ago; so many things⁠—he must have dreamed them⁠—seemed to have happened.

Then he remembered, and struggled futilely to rise.

“Elaine!” he called. “Elaine, where are you?”

There was a stir and somebody came into his limited view; his cousin, Nikkolay Trask.

“Nikkolay; Andray Dunnan,” he said. “What happened to Elaine?”

Nikkolay winced, as though something he had expected to hurt had hurt worse than he had expected.

“Lucas.” He swallowed. “Elaine⁠ ⁠… Elaine is dead.”

Elaine is dead. That didn’t make sense.

“She was killed instantly, Lucas. Hit six times; I don’t think she even felt the first one. She didn’t suffer at all.”

Somebody moaned, and then he realized that it had been himself.

“You were hit twice,” Nikkolay was telling him. “One in the leg; smashed the femur. And one in the chest. That one missed your heart by an inch.”

“Pity it did.” He was beginning to remember clearly, now. “I threw her down, and tried to cover her. I must have thrown her straight into the burst and only caught the last of it myself.” There was something else; oh, yes. “Dunnan. Did they get him?”

Nikkolay shook his head. “He got away. Stole the Enterprise and took her off-planet.”

“I want to get him myself.”

He started to rise again; Nikkolay nodded to someone out of sight. A cool hand touched his chin, and he smelled a woman’s perfume, nothing at all like Elaine’s. Something like a small insect bit him on the neck. The room grew dark.

Elaine was dead. There was no more Elaine, nowhere at all. Why, that must mean there was no more world. So that was why it had gotten so dark.

He woke again, fitfully, and it would be daylight and he could see the yellow sky through an open window or it would be night and the wall-lights would be on. There would always be somebody with him. Nikkolay’s wife, Dame Cecelia; Rovard Grauffis; Lady Lavina Karvall⁠—he must have slept a long time, for she was so much older than he remembered⁠—and her brother, Burt Sandrasan. And a woman with dark hair, in a white smock with a gold caduceus on her breast.

Once, Duchess Flavia, and once Duke Angus himself. He asked where he was, not much caring. They told him, at the Ducal Palace.

He wished they’d all go away, and let him go wherever Elaine was.

Then it would be dark, and he would be trying to find her, because there was something he wanted desperately to show her. Stars in the sky at night, that was it. But there were no stars, there was no Elaine, there was no anything, and he wished that there was no Lucas Trask, either.

But there was an Andray Dunnan. He could see him standing black-cloaked on the terrace, the diamonds in his beret-jewel glittering evilly; he could see the mad face peering at him over the rising barrel of the submachine gun. And then he would hunt for him without finding him, through the cold darkness of space.

The waking periods grew longer, and during them his mind was clear. They relieved him of his crown of electronic thorns. The feeding tubes came out, and they gave him cups of broth and fruit juice. He wanted to know why he had been brought to the Palace.

“About the only thing we could do,” Rovard Grauffis told him. “They had too much trouble at Karvall House as it was. You know, Sesar got shot, too.”

“No.” So that was why Sesar hadn’t come to see him. “Was he killed?”

“Wounded; he’s in worse shape than you are. When the shooting started, he went charging up the escalator. Didn’t have anything but his dress-dagger. Dunnan gave him a quick burst; I think that was why he didn’t have time to finish you off. By that time, the guards who’d been shooting blanks from that rapid-fire gun got in a clip of live rounds and fired at him. He got out of there as fast as he could. They have Sesar on a robomedic like yours. He isn’t in any danger.”

The drainage tubes and medication tubes came out; the tangle of wires around him was removed, and the electrodes with them. They bandaged his wounds and dressed him in a loose robe and lifted him from the robomedic to a couch, where he could sit up when he wished; they began giving him solid food, and wine to drink, and allowed him to smoke. The woman doctor told him he’d had a bad time, as though he didn’t know that. He wondered if she expected him to thank her for keeping him alive.

“You’ll be up and around in a few weeks,” his cousin added. “I’ve seen to it that everything at Traskon New House will be ready for you by then.”

“I’ll never enter that house as long as I live, and I wish that wouldn’t be more than the next minute. That was to be Elaine’s house. I won’t go to it alone.”

The dreams troubled his sleep less and less as he grew stronger. Visitors came often, bringing amusing little gifts, and he found that he enjoyed their company. He wanted to know what had really happened, and how Dunnan had gotten away.

“He pirated the Enterprise,” Rovard Grauffis told him. “He had that company of mercenaries of his, and he’d bribed some of the people at the Gorram shipyards. I thought Alex would kill his chief of security when he found out what had happened. We can’t prove anything⁠—we’re trying hard enough to⁠—but we’re sure Omfray of Glaspyth furnished the money. He’s been denying it just a shade too emphatically.”

“Then the whole thing was planned in advance.”

“Taking the ship was; he must have been planning that for months; before he started recruiting that company. I think he meant to do it the night before the wedding. Then he tried to persuade the Lady-Demoiselle Elaine to elope with him⁠—he seems to have actually thought that was possible⁠—and when she humiliated him, he decided to kill both of you first.” He turned to Otto Harkaman, who had accompanied him. “As long as I live, I’ll regret not taking you at your word and accepting your offer, then.”

“How did he get hold of that Westlands Telecast and Teleprint car?”

“Oh. The morning of the wedding, he screened Westlands editorial office and told them he had the inside story on the marriage and why the Duke was sponsoring it. Made it sound as though there was some scandal; insisted that a reporter come to Dunnan House for a face-to-face interview. They sent a man, and that was the last they saw him alive; our people found his body at Dunnan House when we were searching the place afterward. We found the car at the shipyard; it had taken a couple of hits from the guns at Karvall House, but you know what these press cars are built to stand. He went directly to the shipyard, where his men already had the Enterprise; as soon as he arrived, she lifted out.”

He stared at the cigarette between his fingers. It was almost short enough to burn him. With an effort, he leaned forward to crush it out.

“Rovard, how soon will that second ship be finished?”

Grauffis laughed bitterly. “Building the Enterprise took everything we had. The duchy’s on the edge of bankruptcy now. We stopped work on the second ship six months ago because we didn’t have enough money to keep on with her and still get the Enterprise finished. We were expecting the Enterprise to make enough in the Old Federation to finish the second one. Then, with two ships and a base on Tanith, the money would begin coming in instead of going out. But now⁠—”

“It leaves me where I was on Flamberge,” Harkaman added. “Worse. King Napolyon was going to help the Elmersans, and I’d have gotten a command in that. It’s too late for that now.”

He picked up his cane and used it to push himself to his feet. The broken leg had mended, but he was still weak. He took a few tottering steps, paused to lean on the cane, and then forced himself on to the open window and stood for a moment staring out. Then he turned.

“Captain Harkaman, it might be that you could still get a command, here on Gram. That’s if you don’t mind commanding under me as owner-aboard. I am going hunting for Andray Dunnan.”

They both looked at him. After a moment, Harkaman said:

“I’d count it an honor, Lord Trask. But where will you get a ship?”

“She’s half finished now. You already have a crew for her. Duke Angus can finish her for me, and pay for it by pledging his new barony of Traskon.”

He had known Rovard Grauffis all his life; until this moment, he had never seen Duke Angus’ henchman show surprise.

“You mean, you’ll trade Traskon for that ship?” he demanded.

“Finished, equipped and ready for space, yes.”

“The Duke will agree to that,” Grauffis said promptly. “But, Lucas; Traskon is all you own.”

“If I have a ship, I won’t need them. I am turning Space Viking.”

That brought Harkaman to his feet with a roar of approval. Grauffis looked at him, his mouth slightly open.

“Lucas Trask⁠—Space Viking,” he said. “Now I’ve heard everything.”

Well, why not? He had deplored the effects of Viking raiding on the Sword-Worlds, because Gram was a Sword-World, and Traskon was on Gram, and Traskon was to have been the home where he and Elaine would live and where their children and children’s children would be born and live. Now the little point on which all of it had rested was gone.

“That was another Lucas Trask, Rovard. He’s dead, now.”