Lindra had always wanted to be an astronaut, but when she qualified in her chosen specialism of radio communications she was told there would be no flight course vacancies for at least six months. In the mean time she was offered a radio operator posting to the Moon. She accepted it, and never afterwards did she suffer even one moment of regret.
INTO THE DARKNESS
As they rode home after waving off Ullyses, and discussing as they went the extraordinary episode which ended in my going along for the ride, and concluding that all things considered I might be better off where I was, the Queen and the Councillors were stopped by a troop of horse, and 'requested' to go with them.
"Supposing we decline your 'request'?"
"Then, Your Majesty," answered one wearing the stripes of a sergeant on his arm, "I shall have to tell you that you are all under arrest. Please do not make things unnecessarily difficult for yourselves."
PERHAPS THERE WAS NOBODY LISTENING
Still strapped securely in my seat I had no great feeling of the weightlessness I had wondered about as we had accelerated - pretty uncomfortably for my part - out of Steefax atmosphere, and ultimately out of its gravity; but it did amuse me to discover that if I held my hand above my head, and just tried to let it drop, it wouldn't.
"Ran away from the Archdraxite, eh?" Commander Darande asked me.
"Yes, sir." That was part of the truth, and it would have to do. I could hardly say that I was also running away from the Queen! "She wanted me to go back to Draxy Palace with her."
"I think you're probably better off with us, old chap," the King said.
"Yes, sire, I think I am."
ROOM FOR ONE MORE
On a fine, cool promising warm, ground mist rapidly clearing morning in the third week of the tenth month of the year eleven hundred and seventy six, the countdown for the launching of the good ship Ullyses* entered its final hour. In the V.I.P. viewing enclosure, and standing in separate groups, were the Queen, Medoc, Morag and myself, and the Archdraxite, the Chief Reporter, and Butler Rollo, who, to my certain knowledge, had never before ventured beyond the confines of Draxy Palace. I was still in that high state of excitement which had begun at breakfast, when the King had said, "How would you like to come and see us off, old chap?"
* Hamlet himself had named the ship after a mythical Ee-arth adventurer who went on a long journey, meeting and triumphing over many hazards, before returning home to his wife.
I had expected Finola to miss Draxy Palace more than she actually did, for she, of course had been born and brought up to the place and its values, whilst I had done little more than make holiday there; but her disillusionment regarding Nell was so great that she never spoke one word of regret over the leaving of her old home.
Our life was good at the Royal Palace: we went to school, walked in the grounds, spied on the other palace through those binoculars, played hide and find with the pages, and helped His Majesty to compile a new catalogue for his library books. When I asked the King if he wanted me to resume my own paging duties he said that I had moved on, which I suppose I had. Finola was an instant hit with everyone - she was the only girl! - and of an evening, she and I were treated as sort of friends of the family.
The King's library was a special joy to us, and we had free use of it: Finola devoured the detective stories known on Ee-arth as 'whodunits', whilst I set myself to read through all the plays of Rattlelance, a project which I have recently completed.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MONOLITH
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?"
A BIT OF A PUZZLE
Finola had not been in her room. When I opened my door she leapt at me and flung her arms around my neck. "What happened?" she cried. "You've been gone so long. I thought you must have been caught - or you'd gone off with the King. Oh, Diken, I didn't know what to think! I was sure you'd be back by now, if you were going to be back at all!"
"But I am back now."
"Silly boy!" She punched my arm. It hurt. "You know what I mean."
"I couldn't have come any earlier." I rubbed my arm. "Vicious girl!"
"I'm sorry, Diken."
WELL MET BY MOONLIGHT
There were two of them, darkly cloaked and hooded, on the far side of the wall.
The King tossed up one end of a rope ladder which had loose cords attached to it. I stepped off the 'platform' onto the stoutest of the branches which overhung the wall. "I'll tie it here, sire."
"Make it fast."
"I know a knot or two, Your Majesty."
"Still got your cheek, then?"
"I expect so, sire."
There came a deep chuckling from the King's companion.
UPON THE PLATFORM
I had thought of pleading a continuing headache in order to get out of recreation time, but the thought of an evening alone brooding on the coming night's work was not a happy one.
The Archdraxite was in the games room from the start, and when Finola and I arrived she came straight to us. I had to fight back an urge to back away from her! "Rollo tells me you have been having a rotten day, Diken," she said.
"What's the matter, Diken?"
"There must be something the matter."
"Your're not usually like this."
"Like not saying anything."
"I am saying something."
"You're not saying anything to me."
"Who else am I talking to?"
Finola looked as though she was going to cry. I put my hand on her arm. "Sorry," I said.
"Then tell me what's the matter."
"I...I had a bad night."
"Tell me about it."
"Aren't we friends?"
"Course we are."