LINDRA TAKES A TRIP
It had been during a radio chat with her pal Brolin, a couple of weeks before the scheduled launching of Ullyses, that Lindra had learned about the specially designed mining pod which was being installed in the ship. "How does it work?" she had asked.
"It slides in and out on rails. It has its own hydraulic system."
"Slides in and out, eh?" Lindra repeated to herself as she packed a rucksack ready for her journey to her favourite part of the Moon. The Argon Crater, formed millions of years ago by courtesy of a plunging asteroid, was a place of awesome beauty for her, and at least once a year she rode the human powered wagon down the old rail track to the one-time radio sub station perched on the very edge of the mile deep, five miles wide hole. The radio itself had not been used since the days of Draxy mania, and the airlocked concrete hut was now a leisure facility, with a single bunk bed, solar panel heating, a cylinder gas cooker, a self cleaning chemical toilet, and a small library maintained by the adventure seekers who used the place. Lindra had booked her weekend there months before, and long before the Ullyses expediton had even been thought of.
THE MAKING OF A CONSPIRACY
There was no time to be lost, for who could say when the Archdraxite might turn threats against the Queen into action? Even before he had got back to his rooms after visiting the prisoners, Rollo had sketched out an idea or two for the 'springing' - a term he remembered from the days when he still read Draxy novels - of the royal captive.
Terson and Rollo had been pages together, and working colleagues ever since. They had met regularly at household briefings, and not infrequently at Nell's teas; but of personal socialising between the two of them there had been none, not even when they had been children. For Rollo, the boy Terson had always seemed a little too rough, whilst Terson had always thought Rollo to be rather 'sniffy'.
After that odd business of the signature forging earlier in the day the guard captain was not altogether amazed to find in his letter box, on his return from lunch, a wax sealed letter whose designation was penned in the neat, slightly fussy hand, that betrayed the authorship of Her Grace's Butler. The Captain poured himself a generous slug of his own made damson gin - he thought he might just need it! - plonked himself in his favourite deep armchair, and broke the letter's seal. This is what he read:
ROLLO TAKES A HAND
Rollo was much perplexed. The incident at the spaceport had upset him. He had not wished to go along in the first place, and the business with the boy had gone awfully badly. Then the Queen had been arrested, and the scientists and the Councillors, too. Her Majesty in a cell? Could that be right? And now they were saying she was ill, weakening even? Well, he would see for himself.
It was with a shaking hand that the Butler made his first faltering attempt at imitating his mistress' signature; but barely an hour later he was able to view, with some modest satisfaction, a typed document 'signed' by the Archdraxite and authorising him to have 'private converse with the named persons'. In the morning he would seek out Captain Terson. It would be the day of the Rite of Culpability, and Her Grace would be away from Draxy Palace for at least two hours.
As prison cells went, the Queen's was not an especially bad one; there was a threadbare carpet, a table, a chair, a comfortable enough bed, and clean toilet facilities; light came from a barred and unglazed window set high in the wall, and from an oil lamp suspended from the ceiling; there was an oil stove for heat in the cool of the evening; plain but perfectly eatable meals were served three time daily, and, in the absence of the watch which had been taken from her, they gave Her Majesty some clues as to the time of day.
Since her incarceration, Cilla had had no company other than the guards who brought food, tended the lamp and the stove, and who refused to be drawn into any conversation whatsoever.
LOST IN SPACE
That the climbing adventure might have changed things a little in our favour was the fond hope of us all; even so, we were amazed by the speed with which events moved once the new friends of the rock face reached the ground. Trevon went up to Garth and whispered something in his ear. The Prince of the Outer Reaches looked startled. He opened his mouth as if to say something; then he appeared to think better of it. He was not exactly the epitome of graciousness when he turned to King Hamlet and asked, "How much do you want?"
'HE'S A CLIMBER, MAN!'
Breakfast over on the second day following the departure of Traveller and Garth, we were being entertained by Darek and Tullulah, who had discovered a mutual interest in the making of traditional Steefaxian mouth music. At first their recital was light and frothy, but soon a more melancholy mood set in, with singers and us sharing thoughts of home, friends, and loved ones. "Music too deep for tears," someone murmured.
"We have company!" Macroida shouted, perhaps to everyone's relief.
I cannot tell you much about the next two days, because nothing much happened in them. We strolled along the ridge, or over to the river, or to those peculiar rocks, always telling our guards where we were going, and even inviting them along; they watched us paddling in the river, took turns up on the ridge with His Majesty's binoculars, and became quite excited when Macroida described 'goable' routes up the 'parsnip' rock, which she was told by her captain not in any circumstances to try. She assured him that without a rope and pitons she would not even be tempted.
It was the middle of the morning of our third day on Fendergedano that Traveller came to call.
"Well, Hamlet," said our Hamlet, "what news on the Rialto?"
"Rattlelance! You too, eh, Hamlet?"
"You remember, after all this time."
"No need to. I brought the Complete Works with me."
THE FIRST AND THE LAST
"I never entirely gave up hope. I knew there was enough Draxy left for a one way trip. A clever scientist or two, a Hamlet with a bit of gumption, or even someone with the next name - what is it to be, by the way?"
"Theobald," our Hamlet said.
"Lucky to excape it, my boy."
We were all sitting at a great oak table in Traveller's house, and tucking into eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding, and fried bread - a feast of truly Steefaxian proportions. (It had been the first Hamlet himself who had introduced black pudding to the native diet!) The washing down tea was hot, strong, and sweet.
We were in the centre of a shallow bowl fifty yards or so in diameter. Darande had put us down on a level piece of ground close to a large, rectangular, flat topped mound. So flat, indeed, was its top, and so perfectly chiseled its angled side and ends, that I think most of us thought 'inhabitants' even before sheep were spotted grazing on low fells to the south.
To the north we could see Macroida's 'island mountains', and to the west, and very close to us, a low, undulating grassy ridge. The river which we had spotted from above, and which was behind us as we faced the mound, flowed - according to Darek's observations of the sun - south to north.
"Shall we take a look from up there, sire?" Daranded pointed to the ridge.
From the higher ground we could see an intricate patchwork of arable land supporting grass, corn, and a bright yellow crop which was new to us. We had come to our new world at the height of summer it seemed, and with the sun pretty high in the sky, and beating down unflichingly, I could have done with a hat.
In the middle distance was a vast area of forest stretching away towards a mountain range which dwarfed anything Steefax could boast. "If only we could have time to explore them," someone said.
"Just look at that river, and the shingle where it meanders," exclaimed Bryn. We all turned to look. "I bet there's Draxy there."
"Let's go get some!" I know who shouted that, but I'm not telling, and it wasn't me.
His Majesty stopped just short of real anger. "We shall not touch it, not a grain, unless we have the leave of those who live here."
OFF THE SCALE
When the ship's instruments showed that the planet beneath us had an atmosphere similar to that of Steefax, none of us were at all surprised. Really. You see, so much that had happened seemed to point to at least this degree of success: the Prophecy, the 'moment', my cracking of the King's code, the outcome of the Sun Garden meeting, the handing over of the Draxy, one thing after another leading apparently inevitably towards the next, had created in us an anticipation - no, an expectation of something other than an instant dashing of our hopes.