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John_"Cougary"_Yates

THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 23 THE PLAY'S THE THING

THE PLAY'S THE THING

ARCHDRAXITE TO KING HAMLET

Your Majesty, I believe that further meetings between us will serve little purpose - until the Guardians have delivered their judjment.

KING TO ARCHDRAXITE NELL

Your Grace, I agree with you. When do you mean to summon the wise ones, and where will they assemble? I understand they come only when the Moon is full.

ARCHDRAXITE TO KING HAMLET

Your Majesty, the Guardians will come when I summon them. They choose the place. When all is done, I shall send you a full report.

THE LAST HAMLET - or The Readiness Is All - 22 THE LAIR OF THE GUARDIANS

THE LAIR OF THE GUARDIANS

I had no idea how long I had been there, hopelessly lost, parched in the stifling heat, and stomach rumblingly hungry; if only I had brought my picnic in with me, instead of leaving the egg and cress sandwiches, the slab of rich dark fruit cake, and a bottle of pop, in the wood at the bottom of the serpentine track which lead to the forward defences of the Lair of the Guardians.

THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 21 THE MOMENT

THE MOMENT

"Last night, under cover of darkness,the Empiricist and the Astronomer, aided and abetted by the Master of the Royal Works, absconded from their conditional house arrest and fled to the Royal Palace." Nell was addressing a gathering of Draxy Palace heads of departments.

THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 20 MYSTERY NO LONGER

MYSTERY NO LONGER

For thirteen days, from dusk to dawn, one or other of them, or both, had been staring at that blob on the edge of the constellation of Vagos. At first, there had been the excitement of the quest to spur my friends on, but as their adrenalin pumps had begun to seize up, they had sunk ever more deeply into what the improbably named Ee-arth visionary Jon Verucca had called the 'slough of the pond'.

THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 19 A LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY

A LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY

The thing is, there had been no key, and as neither of them had ever felt either physically or temperamentally up to a spot of breaking and entering, Polikova and Drainin had been left merely to wonder, now and then, what might lie behind that door at the end of the long corridor in sub-basement two.

THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 18 AFTERMATH

AFTERMATH

And so my story comes full circle, to the evening of the day after it began. During recreation time the Archdraxite was in sparkling form, and if we children had thought about the Prophecy at all, we would have assumed that everything had gone according to her wishes.

THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 17 THE PROPHECY

THE PROPHECY

Walking past the House of the Sages can be quite an unsettling experience for newcomers to the City, for of course it has no doors! People, alive or dead, and things, and provisions, go in and out of the place in baskets hoisted and lowered by block and tackle. Each year, two or three girls aged between one and two, being the only children of their parents, and having moles in the centres of their right cheeks, enter the house with their mothers. None of the inhabitants ever come out again alive, save she who emerges at the time of Prophecy as the Reigning Sage.

THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 16 A WORLD ON ITS OWN

A WORLD ON ITS OWN

Apart from the Archdraxite herself no one at Draxy Palace was mole qualified: everyone else was free to follow their own star. It was not given to all, of course, to become Her Grace's Butler, or Mistress of Pages, or Master of Horse, or Housekeeper, or Head Chef, or Head Gardener, or Brewmaster, or Captain of the Guard, but any who held ambitions along these or other lines were encouraged to go just as far as they were able.

THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 15 A NEW HOME AND A NEW LIFE

A NEW HOME AND A NEW LIFE

As I bowled along in the slipstream of the Archdraxite down an Argon Mall whose lining poplar trees were beginning to show their spring leaves, I felt somehow more aware of myself than I had ever been before in my life: I do not actually remember seeing anyone during that helter-skelter, half walking, half scampering to keep up little journey; but I felt that I must have been under the gaze of half the City.

THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 14 THE SCIENTISTS

THE SCIENTISTS

For a page doing duty at the Royal Tea to be addressed by any of the guests was at the least unusual, and quite possibly unprecedented; but it happened to me at what turned out to be the very last Tea of Hamlet the Nineteenth.

"You look a bit fed up, old chap," Royal Empiricist Drainin said.

"How would you like to come and see the Observatory, sometime?" Royal Astronomer Polikova asked.

"I would like it very much, Ma'am."

"Then you shall," said the scientists together, as if the exchange had been premeditated, even rehearsed, which it had, they later admitted.