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Finola woke me. I had fallen asleep, instantly and deeply, on a camp bed in our house mother's quarters.

"Aora says it's time to go, Diken."


Dressed in the warm cloaks Aoroa had provided for us, we stood with all the others in the inner gatehouse, sipping from mugs of hot, thick, lentil soup. "A good winter warmer, though b'aint hardly autumn yet awhile, Master Diken," said Mulch. That really is the way he spoke to me; perhaps it goes with being a gardener.

Mugs drained, Nell said, "Now, Captain, will you please lead the way?"

At the outer gatehouse we were joined by the Chief Reporter. As the last gate closed behind us Nell said, "Keep close, people, and please, no talking."


It was as bright as a moonlit night could be. We had been standing in a semi-circle in the shadopw of the Monolith for about twenty minutes when through the gap in the tall yew hedge which borders the Sun Garden marched, in single file, the seven Guardians, dressed in black cloaks with hoods up. When they had come to a smart halt, they wheeled around and dressed to an evenly spaced straight line facing the Archdraxite and the rest of us. Then they threw back their hoods, to reveal ancient faces straight out of the old picture books: what amazing cosmetic arts had been practised upon them! One of the wise ones took a step forward from the rest, and the Reporter licked his pencil in readiness.*

*None what the scribe wrote down that night was published at the time. However, the full account was left on file, and I had to teach myself Miner's shorthand in order to decipher it!

"Who has summoned us?" asked the Guardians' spokeswoman.

"I, Nell, Archdraxite of All Steefax."

"What is your business?"

"To consult with you."

"Upon what matter?"

"Upon the usefulness of the Monarchy."

Hold on a bit That's not the reason she gave the King

"Then proceed."

"For a century and more, kings of Steefax have not ruled."


"They have had neither power nor usefulness."

"The two things do not necessarily go together. In fact we know that the last of the Hamlets has usefulness. Attending a Royal Tea these days is considered a pleasure -or so our Succourers have gleaned as they have gone about the City."

"That's as may be. But our kings have no powers. They play no part in government."

"So you tell us."

"I can produce documents, histories. They can be fetched."

"That will not be necessary. Just tell us what King Hamlet actually does, apart from hosting a good tea?"

"If you know about the Tea, I am sure you must know of the weekly audiences."

"What happens at them?"

"Nothing at all, unless there are edicts to be presented."

"For the King to sign?"


"Does he have to sign them?"

"Since the first archdraxite till now, no king has ever refused."

"There could alawys be a precedent."

"After a hundred years?"

"So, wherein lies the problem? The Archdraxite prepares an edict, presents it to the King, and he signs it. Business as usual."

"It is such a waste of time."

"Your time?"

"Steefax time. There is much to be done."

"We do not doubt it. But to the matter in hand, Your Grace. What is it that you actually want from us?"

"I wish to abolish the monarchy."

"And you ask our blessing?"


"You would, of course, prepare an edict of abolition?"


"Which you would expect His Majetsy to sign?"

"If he knew it had your blessing, he'd sign."

"But that is hardly the point, is it?"

"I don't understand you."

"You have summoned us so that we may make a judgement regarding the continuation or otherwise of the instituiton of the Monarchy. We cannot do that upon mere request. We need to hear further arguments."

"What further arguments?"

"How about the King's? If you are planning to abolish him and all his works, might he not have something to say about it? And why is he not here?"

"He did not wish to come."

"Did you invite him?"

"He knew of this meeting. But he did not choose to attend it."



"I'm sorry, Your Grace, but it's not true - what you said, Your Grace."

"Aora, take the boy home!"

"Not just yet, Archdraxite!" Aora took a step towards me. "Leave him!" The Guardian turned to me. "What is it that is not true, Diken? Please tell us."

I blessed this person who knew my name from just one mention of it. She gave me courage. But what should I call her? "Thank you, oh wise...oh sage..."

"Guardian will do." The voice was kind.

"Thank you - Guardian." I looked at Finola. Her nervous little smile encouraged me.

"What is not true, Diken?"

"It is not true that His Majesty did not want to be here tonight, Guardian. He did want to be here. He asked me to find out the meeting place."

"And did you?"

"Yes, Guardian, from that crossword. But it was too late for me to do anything about it."

"But not, perhaps, too late for me!"

Snaking round one end of the line of Guardians came King Hamlet, Queen Cilla, Medoc, Morag, Drainin, Polikova, and Scaffold - the 'gang of seven' as they were later to refer to themselves! Nell gaped in astonishment and horror: it was the second time in my presence that she had been rendered speechless by His Majesty.

"No need to look surprised, Your Grace," Hamlet said. "Diken is not the only one who can solve crossword puzzles, you know."

I shot a glance at Medoc. I know it is a stale old chestnut, but he really did grin from ear to ear!

His Majesty stood face to face with Nell. "So, Your Grace, you wish to abolish me, do you?"

"Not you personally, sire." I thought that sounded pretty feeble.

"Well, starting with me. But it realy won't do, you know. At least not now, not here."

"And what is that supposed to mean, Your Majesty?"

"The abolition of the Monarchy was not on your original agenda for this summoning."

"Reasons for summoning may alter - according to circumstances."

"Oh no they may not!" The Guardian spake with an unassailable authority. "A reason for summoning may not be revoked, once it has been announced. This has been so from the beginning."

"I did not know."

"If you did not - which I beg leave to doubt - then you ought to have known." The Guardian turned to the King. "Your Majesty, please tell us the grounds for our summoning, as stated by the Archdraxite at the time. I expect you will have witnesses?"

"That I will, Guardian, all these who have come with me tonight - plus my good friend, Diken. I think, old chap, you might be better off over here, with us. You too, Finola. I presume you are Finola?"

"Oh, yes, Your Majesty. Thank you, Your Majesty." My pal put her hand in mine, and together we crossed over between the two parties. No one tried to stop us. The Queen held out to us welcoming hands, and we took one each.

King Hamlet told the Guardians of the finding of the 'mystery' planet, of how with the aid of Draxy it might easily be reached, of his saying to the Archdraxite that he needed some of the stuff in her little leaden urn, and of how she had said she would summon the Guardians.

"Is all this true?" the spokeswoman asked Nell.

"Substantially, yes."

"There had been no talk of abolishing the Monarchy?"

"The King's account is accurate - so far as it goes. But there other issues which need to be looked at."

"Not here they do not, Archdraxite. We intend to hear only arguments relating to the stated reason for the summoning."

"But there are treasons to be considered!"

"Not by us! You will give way, Archdraxite, to His Majesty."

Nell hung her head, in resignation.

King Hamlet began to speak. "Guardians, the Royal Empiricist and the Royal Astronomer know precisely where Hamlet the First's planet is, and they know that it can be reached with the aid of a little Draxy. Records show that there is enough left in the Scared Urn for a one way trip - with a little kept back for the rites and ceremonies of the Temple. The planet is probably a great lump of uselessness in the sky, completely inhabitable. Even if it does have means to support human life, the odds against there being any Draxy there are incalcuable. However, we are not talking about a mission entirely impossible. We will go with hope. We will go with a hope that one day our people may again live to see their children growing up and becoming adults. Is that not a good hope, however slim it might be, and one worth, well, hoping for?

"We have drawn up a protocol which would be used to govern our actiuons in the extremly unlikey event of a successful mission. If the planet is inhabited by intelligent beings, we will not take away so much as a single grain of Draxy without their permission. Under no circumstance will we take more than our scientists say is necessary for a significant lengthening of our lives. We will not use Draxy to contact or visit other planets. There will be no return of Draxy Mania."

"So you say!"

"So I mean, Archdraxite! So I promise, Guardians. I submit to you my case."

"What about my case?"

"You have put your case, Archdraxite, and it was the wrong one," the Guardian said.

"Then let me now adress the original agenda."

"You are too late."

"Is that fair?"

"Possibly not. Bu who said life had always to be fair?"

Then the seven Guardians went into a close huddle. I for one heard no sound at all from them. After a while they separated, and their spokeswoman said, "Your Majesty, we say that your argument is a worthy one. We not expect you to succeed in your mission any more than you do yourself, but you go with our blessing."

"Thank you, Guardian."

"We judge that you, Your Grace, shall see to the handing over of the necessary amount of Draxy to the King, his scientists, and whomsoever else."

"As you please, Guardian." Nell turned to Hamlet. "Tomorrow morning at the Temple - shall we say ten of the clock?" Her tone was almost affable.

"Thank you, Your Grace. I am obliged."

The Guardians, without more ado, formed up in single file and marched briskly away.

"Congratulations, Your Majesty," Nell said to Hamlet. "I had quite underestimated you, it would seem. I will not wish you well, for I have no doubt that your failure will be absolute. Look after Diken and Finola, while you have time. And Diken, you are a clever boy, aren't you? Something in the King's letter, was it? And in that play? Some sort of code? Where did you meet - in the old oak tree?" I think I gasped. "Yes, of course. But how did you get back in? Well, another time, perhaps."

Nell turned on her heel and strode briskly out of the barden, her party falling in behind he. When they had all gone there was applause for the King and back slapping for me. Then we all trooped off to the palace - the Royal Palace!

The handing over of the Draxy took place the next morning as arranged. The Archdraxite seemed content with the amount of the grey powder left for her use. Later in the day she had this to say to her diary:

Was it, after all, so foolish of me to summon the Guardians? They have sent this king into space, and abolished him at the same time. For it is certain that he will not return!


Wow, really interesting...

Many thanks!

It is comments like yours which help to keep me going!