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THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 46 SANCTUARY

SANCTUARY

"If you find yourself on the wrong side of a door, can't you simply go back through it?"

For three hours or more there had been sighings and head shakings, manipulations of computers, calculators, and even slide rules, and the passing of bits of paper bearing the latest scribbled conjectures. The King's question lit up the scientific and technological fog with luminous simplicity. It was just the sort of thing that I might have come out with, but on this occasion I was jolly glad that I hadn't! When the ship had been turned round, and we were as close as Darek could calculate to where we had been immediately after being flung out of our galaxy in the first place, we accelerated to the same displacement velocity as before, and injected the same amount of Draxy. Moments later we saw Fendergedano beneath us once again. Were we surprised? Not really. I think we were all well beyond being surprised at anything by that point in our adventure.

"It'll be trial and error," Darande said, "as it was in those pioneering days. We know where we are, and where we want to get to. We're loaded up with super rich Draxy, and as long as we take care we should have enough conventional fuel for later on. Each smaller or greater leap will give us more information. Eventually we will be in full control of our movements. When we are, we shall go home."

********

********

Captain Terson was not surprised to find the lamp and matches where he had left them, an arm's length deep in a crack in the cliff face. Lamp lit, he set off alone down the tunnel.

"Are we not to follow?" Cilla asked Rollo.

"When the Captain has made sure all is safe, Your Majesty."

"What risks you are both taking for me."

"My life, though agreeable enough, has not been all that exciting, Your Majesty. I must own that in the late events there has been a certain relish for me. Besides, my former mistress must be stopped. Now, Captain Terson says there is electric light down in the tunnel, and I am to watch for it, and listen. If we are able to see any light, or hear any machinery, then it will not be safe to make use of what I am appraised is called a generator. We will have to make do with oil lamps. There is plenty of food and water, I believe, and a fire and coals. There is a hut, with furniture."

"How long will we have to remain there, I wonder?"

"Until His Majesty returns, madam. Only until then."

"Yes, of course, Mister Rollo."

Queen and Butler stood in tranquil silence, at peace in each other's company, until the latter exclaimed, "There, madam!"

Terson's swinging lantern was approaching out of the blackness.

"See anything, Mister Rollo?"

"No, Captain. Nor did we hear anything."

"Excellent. Keep close to me, Your Majesty - both of you - as we go."

*

Cilla and Rollo were amazed by the brightness of the lights.

"Impressive, isn't it?" Terson said. "If it wasn't for that big bend in the tunnel, it would certainly show outside."

"How did you find this place, Captain?"

"I'm sure Mister Rollo is looking forward to telling you all about it, madam, and I wouldn't wish to spoil his fun! I've wound up the clock, and it's still ticking happily, as you can hear. Should be alright, but you can have my watch, if you like. I know Rollo doesn't use one."*

"No, Captain, thank you. The clock will do very well."

*Rollo had never kept a watch. There were clocks all over Draxy Palace to see, and Big Bertha to hear. The Butler had always been a byword for his punctuality.

"Well, I'd better be going," Terson said. "I would like three peacefully grazing horses to be discovered east of the City by breakfast time."

"Take care, Captain. How may I thank you?"

"By keeping Rollo out of mischief, Your Majesty." And with a grin, he was gone.

"You judged your man well, Mister Rollo."

"I never really doubted him - nor he me, I suspect. But I must get this place sorted out, make it as comfortable for us as may be."

"Not you alone, Mister Rollo. We will do it together. Now, what's all this about Captain Terson? I'm dying to know."

*

Three horses grazed contentedly off a lush late season meadow situated some three miles east of the City. The owner of the land, who was fetching in his cows for the morning milking, saw a tall military gentleman strolling nonchalantly into a wood belonging to his neighbour.

*

So startled was Narbon's relieving guard to see the Archdraxite and not the Queen in the cell, that he dropped the breakfast tray on the floor. Or so I was told when I was researching the episode!

*

From theEVENING GAZETTE:

It is with great sorrow that we have to report that late last night Her Majesty the Queen was forcibly removed from the protection of the Archdraxite. Her Grace herself was wickedly deceived, and most brutally attacked, by the foul traitor Terson, her former Captain of the Guard, and threatened by him with death! Aiding and abetting these crimes, and equal in villainy, was Rollo, Her Grace's former Butler.

Our hearts go out today to the sadly weakening Queen, who may not even be aware of what is happening to her.

We ask that all of you, the good, faithful, law abiding citizens of Steefax, do all that you can to help bring these criminals to justice. If you see either of them, or suspect that they may be in your district, then it will be your most urgent duty to report to your nearest citizen agent post.

When the farmer who had seen Terson going into the wood had read this piece, in the early lunchtime edition delivered by special messenger, he screwed up the paper, tossed it on his kitchen fire, spat after it, went outside, saddled a horse, rode to the neighbourhood spy post about a mile away, and reported having seen a man "who looked very much like a captain" coming out a wood, before starting to "creep furtively" along a hedge boittom in the direction of the City. "Wherever he were going, I reckon he'd have got there by now," he told the citizen corporal on the desk, who thanked him, but was unable to promise a reward in the event of a capture!

*

Polikova and Drainin had been wondering whether less well trained eyes than their own might be unable to tell the difference between one dot on a screen and another, and wished they'd thought of it earlier. They longed for news.

*

Medoc and Morag, having asked for and received pencils and paper, made up crossword puzzles for each other to solve. They longed for news.

*

Using blankets and lengths of rope, Rollo had managed to curtain the window, and partition off parts of the main room of the hut, so that the occupants could have separate 'bedrooms'. The continously burning coal fire - the chimney and rock cavities above cleared all the smoke - maintained a tolerably warmth. The dried foods, when mixed with water and left for an hour or so, cooked up into messes of meats and vegetables which tasted rather better than they looked on the plate.

After an initial protest or two, Rollo accepted the Queen's determination to share the household duties; he cooked breakfast and lunch, and she did the tea; she tidied her 'bedroom', and Rollo saw to the rest.

For passing of the time there were some rather grubby packs of playing cards, royal armies, and an Ee-arth game played with black tablets of wood embossed with white dots called Geronimoes.

At first Rollo had worried about 'keeping up the Queen's spirits; but as it turned out it was only 'Her Majesty's indomitable courage, optimism, and good humour', that kept him going. Queen Cilla remembers it a little differently. 'Mister Rollo's honest, practical cheefulness sustained me. It was very difficult to be miserable for long in his company.' "Say la vee!" - meaning 'that's life', as Ee-arth's Frenchies used to put it.