Chapter 1

They stood together at the parapet, their arms about each other’s waists, her head against his cheek. Behind, the broad leaved shrubbery gossiped softly with the wind, and from the lower main terrace came music and laughing voices. The city of Wardshaven spread in front of them, white buildings rising from the wide spaces of green treetops, under a shimmer of sun-reflecting aircars above. Far away, the mountains were violet in the afternoon haze, and the huge red sun hung in a sky as yellow as a ripe peach.

His eye caught a twinkle ten miles to the southwest, and for an instant he was puzzled. Then he frowned. The sunlight on the two thousand-foot globe of Duke Angus’ new ship, the Enterprise, back at the Gorram shipyards after her final trial cruise. He didn’t want to think about that, now.

Instead, he pressed the girl closer and whispered her name, “Elaine,” and then, caressing every syllable, “Lady Elaine Trask of Traskon.”

“Oh, no, Lucas!” Her protest was half joking and half apprehensive. “It’s bad luck to be called by your married name before the wedding.”

“I’ve been calling you that in my mind since the night of the Duke’s ball, when you were just home from school on Excalibur.”

She looked up from the corner of her eye.

“That was when I started calling me that, too,” she confessed.

“There’s a terrace to the west at Traskon New House,” he told her. “Tomorrow, we’ll have our dinner there, and watch the sunset together.”

“I know. I thought that was to be our sunset-watching place.”

“You have been peeking,” he accused. “Traskon New House was to be your surprise.”

“I always was a present-peeker, New Year’s and my birthdays. But I only saw it from the air. I’ll be very surprised at everything inside,” she promised. “And very delighted.”

And when she’d seen everything and Traskon New House wasn’t a surprise any more, they’d take a long space trip. He hadn’t mentioned that to her, yet. To some of the other Sword-Worlds--Excalibur, of course, and Morglay and Flamberge and Durendal. No, not Durendal; the war had started there again. But they’d have so much fun. And she would see clear blue skies again, and stars at night. The cloud-veil hid the stars from Gram, and Elaine had missed them, since coming home from Excalibur.

The shadow of an aircar fell briefly upon them and they looked up and turned their heads, in time to see it sink with graceful dignity toward the landing-stage of Karval House, and he glimpsed its blazonry--sword and atom-symbol, the badge of the ducal house of Ward. He wondered if it were Duke Angus himself, or just some of his people come ahead of him. They should get back to their guests, he supposed. Then he took her in his arms and kissed her, and she responded ardently. It must have been all of five minutes since they’d done that before.


A slight cough behind them brought them apart and their heads around. It was Sesar Karvall, gray-haired and portly, the breast of his blue coat gleaming with orders and decorations and the sapphire in the pommel of his dress-dagger twinkling.

“I thought I’d find you two here,” Elaine’s father smiled. “You’ll have tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow together, but need I remind you that today we have guests, and more coming every minute.”

“Who came in the Ward car?” Elaine asked.

“Rovard Grauffis. And Otto Harkaman; you never met him, did you, Lucas?”

“No; not by introduction. I’d like to, before he spaces out.” He had nothing against Harkaman personally; only against what he represented. “Is the Duke coming?”

“Oh, surely. Lionel of Newhaven and the Lord of Northport are coming with him. They’re at the Palace now.” Karvall hesitated. “His nephew’s back in town.”

Elaine was distressed; she started to say: “Oh, dear! I hope he doesn’t--”

“Has Dunnan been bothering Elaine again?”

“Nothing to take notice of. He was here, yesterday, demanding to speak with her. We got him to leave without too much unpleasantness.”

“It’ll be something for me to take notice of, if he keeps it up after tomorrow.”

For his seconds and Andray Dunnan’s, that was; he hoped it wouldn’t come to that. He didn’t want to have to shoot a kinsman to the house of Ward, and a crazy man to boot.

“I’m terribly sorry for him,” Elaine was saying. “Father, you should have let me talk to him. I might have made him understand.”

Sesar Karvall was shocked. “Child, you couldn’t have subjected yourself to that! The man is insane!” Then he saw her bare shoulders, and was even more shocked. “Elaine, your shawl!”

Her hands went up and couldn’t find it; she looked about in confused embarrassment. Amused, Lucas picked it from the shrub onto which she had tossed it and draped it over her shoulders, his hands lingering briefly. Then he gestured to the older man to precede them, and they entered the arbored walk. At the other end, in an open circle, a fountain played; white marble girls and boys bathing in the jade-green basin. Another piece of loot from one of the Old Federation planets; that was something he’d tried to avoid in furnishing Traskon New House. There’d be a lot of that coming to Gram, after Otto Harkaman took the Enterprise to space.

“I’ll have to come back, some time, and visit them,” Elaine whispered to him. “They’ll miss me.”

“You’ll find a lot of new friends at your new home,” he whispered back. “You wait till tomorrow.”

“I’m going to put a word in the Duke’s ear about that fellow,” Sesar Karvall, still thinking of Dunnan, was saying. “If he speaks to him, maybe it’ll do some good.”

“I doubt it. I don’t think Duke Angus has any influence over him at all.”

Dunnan’s mother had been the Duke’s younger sister; from his father he had inherited what had originally been a prosperous barony. Now it was mortgaged to the top of the manor-house aerial-mast. The Duke had once assumed Dunnan’s debts, and refused to do so again. Dunnan had gone to space a few times, as a junior officer on trade-and-raid voyages into the Old Federation. He was supposed to be a fair astrogator. He had expected his uncle to give him command of the Enterprise, which had been ridiculous. Disappointed in that, he had recruited a mercenary company and was seeking military employment: It was suspected that he was in correspondence with his uncle’s worst enemy, Duke Omfray of Glaspyth.

And he was obsessively in love with Elaine Karvall, a passion which seemed to nourish itself on its own hopelessness. Maybe it would be a good idea to take that space trip right away. There ought to be a ship leaving Bigglersport for one of the other Sword-Worlds, before long.


They paused at the head of the escalators; the garden below was thronged with guests, the bright shawls of the ladies and the coats of the men making shifting color-patterns among the flower-beds and on the lawns and under the trees. Serving-robots, flame-yellow and black in the Karvall colors, floated about playing soft music and offering refreshments. There was a continuous spiral of changing costume-color around the circular robo-table. Voices babbled happily like a mountain river.

As they stood looking down, another aircar circled low; green and gold, lettered PANPLANET NEWS SERVICE. Sesar Karvall swore in irritation.

“Didn’t there use to be something they called privacy?” he asked.

“It’s a big story, Sesar.”

It was; more than the marriage of two people who happened to be in love with each other. It was the marriage of the farming and ranching barony of Traskon and the Karvall steel mills. More, it was public announcement that the wealth and fighting-men of both baronies were now aligned behind Duke Angus of Wardshaven. So it was a general holiday. Every industry had closed down at noon today, and would be closed until morning-after-next, and there would be dancing in every park and feasting in every tavern. To Sword-Worlders, any excuse for a holiday was better than none.

“They’re our people, Sesar; they have a right to have a good time with us. I know everybody at Traskon is watching this by screen.”

He raised his hand and waved to the news car, and when it swung its pickup around, he waved again. Then they went down the long escalator.

Lady Lavina Karvall was the center of a cluster of matrons and dowagers, around which tomorrow’s bridesmaids fluttered like many-colored butterflies. She took possession of her daughter and dragged her into the feminine circle. He saw Rovard Grauffis, small and saturnine, Duke Angus’ henchman, and Burt Sandrasan, Lady Lavina’s brother. They spoke, and then an upper-servant, his tabard blazoned with the yellow flame and black hammer of Karvall mills, approached his master with some tale of domestic crisis, and the two went away together.

“You haven’t met Captain Harkaman, Lucas,” Rovard Grauffis said. “I wish you’d come over and say hello and have a drink with him. I know your attitude, but he’s a good sort. Personally, I wish we had a few like him around here.”

That was his main objection. There were fewer and fewer men of that sort on any of the Sword-Worlds.

Chapter 2 »

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