A fairy tale

Once upon a time, in the land of Western Podania, there lived a wise king called King Marcus, and a beautiful queen called Queen Catherine.

King Marcus and Queen Catherine had two sons, whom they both loved tenderly. The elder was called Prince Carlan, and he was destined to inherit the crown when his father would die; the younger son was called Prince Derek.

The kingdom was peaceful and prosperous, King Marcus's rule was enlightened and benevolent, the subjects were contented, and on the whole all was for the best in Western Podania. In the king's castle, also, everything was all right, and any sort of trouble was so remote as to seem inexistent. It is in this harmonious atmosphere that Carlan and Derek were raised, and they had a happy childhood.

As he grew up, Carlan seemed very much his father's like, both in body and in spirit. He was graceful in his proportions; his face was handsome and his bearing regal. His character was even, and he was intelligent. The heir apparent also turned out to be a fine politician, he talked well, and he had a gift for dealing with people.

Prince Derek, barely two years younger, though no less likeable than his brother, was an entirely different sort. More the warrior than the king, he had been an adventurous chap when small; but as he grew older, he also became quieter. He was a bit short, but manly and muscular. Whereas Carlan had the curly red hair of his father, and soon Marcus's abundant beard as well, Derek had his mother's straight black hair, and his face was always well shaven; somehow he never quite looked his age. He did not share the same interests as his brother. The athletic young Derek was more given to physical exercise than to intellectual thought or politics; he dreamed about the glory of the heroes of the past, and wished he would someday lead his brother's army as their uncle Armand now commanded Marcus's troops. But he was by no means rough: his dreams were in fact more about rescuing damsels in distress than about attacking enemy countries. “Derek the knight,” Carlan would fondly call him.

Derek had taken up the habit of hanging out with his father's soldiers, disregarding the difference in their social status. In spite of Queen Catherine's reticence, King Marcus allowed the Prince to mingle with the real warriors. They in turn were much honored by the company, adopted him as a mascot, and were careful not to drink, spit or swear too much in his presence (Derek himself never did drink, spit or swear). Podania had been at peace with its neighbors for over two generations, but there were always some interesting tales a seasoned veteran could tell the eager young man. Or they could be made up: Derek was no fool, but he liked them just as much. And one kind of tale he enjoyed particularly was that of travels to distant lands and discoveries of unknown regions, by land or by sea.

Now besides these soldiers, Derek cherished one very close friend: Elvire the Wizard — or the wizardess, as it were. Nobody could quite figure out how they possibly got along so well together. Elvire had been court wizard for Marcus's father and grandfather already, and nobody could tell how old she was. One thing was certain, though: the years had not taken away any of the gleam in the old woman's eyes, or any of the wit in her head. She liked to describe herself as an old cat, and indeed she looked like one. No one except King Marcus and Prince Derek liked her very much at the court, but nobody found her presence unbearable either; at worst, there was some sarcasm about her title of “wizard” (nobody had ever seen her perform any kind of magic; actually, nobody knew exactly what she was good for). But the fact was, Derek loved her, and from his early childhood she had been his confidante. The Prince was allowed in Elvire's “laboratory” on the topmost floor of the northwest tower of the castle, which even the king was not permitted to enter.


When Carlan was nineteen, his parents began to mention the subject of marriage. It was fitting, Marcus said, that a prince of his age should start looking for a suitable spouse. Carlan gladly agreed, and went off searching.

Fortunately, he did not have to search very long, because as soon as he crossed the kingdom's western border to the land of Eudilia, he was invited to stay some time with the monarchs in the capital, and immediately fell in love with the daughter of King Asgar and Queen Lucia.

King Asgar was nowhere as impressive as King Marcus. He was rather late in years, his hair was white but his silver beard smaller than Marcus's, and he was constantly smiling despite his somewhat melancholy temper. He spoke little. His wife Queen Lucia, who also happened to be Catherine's second cousin, was an energetic woman whom her ever-sunny disposition made agreeable to all. She was also a caring and devoted mother to two children. These had inherited both her pretty looks and her high intelligence. Only in their eye color could they be recognized as their father's offspring, since they had the very same emerald irides as Asgar. But in all other things, both the boy's slightly elvin grace and the daughter's fairy-like beauty were evidently their mother's gift.

“My son Gaal,” Asgar said as he introduced them, “heir to the crown of Eudilia. And his sister Invar. Children, this is Prince Carlan of Podania, who will be staying with us for a few weeks.”

Carlan, however, barely heard the words. Invar's green eyes, her gleaming white smile, hazel locks and lightly tanned complexion, her tall and slender build, and her absolute delicacy held him so in charm that for a moment he could not breathe. And when he heard her sweet voice saying “Hello, Carlan,” he nearly fainted.

Before the month was over, the two youngsters were engaged.


The wedding took place soon afterward. King Marcus, Queen Catherine, Prince Derek, Elvire and a few members of their court, with escort, were greeted at King Asgar's castle. The ceremony itself was grand. Prince Carlan was wearing a scarlet mantle and had a golden circlet on his head. The bride was dressed in a diaphanous azure robe and wore an identical crown but made of silver. King Asgar was leading his daughter forth, and Queen Catherine her son; behind them, King Marcus and Queen Lucia walked arm in arm. On either side of the room, a row of soldiers stood at attention: to the left, those wearing the blue colors of Eudilia, and to the right, those with the gules of Podania. The latter men were headed by Prince Derek, who looked positively magnificent in his brand new suit of armor. Prince Gaal was first page for the ceremony. The marriage between Carlan heir of Podania and Princess Invar was officially pronounced by the Royal Chamberlain of Eudilia.

The banquet that followed was no less splendid. Dish after dish of the finest meats was brought to the table, while the most agile acrobats performed to entertain the guests.

King Marcus (along with a few others) was starting to be slightly drunk when suddenly Queen Lucia raised her voice and announced:

“Lords and Ladies, may I have your attention? I think my son Gaal has something to tell us all.”

The Prince got up and walked toward the center of the table, which was shaped like a horseshoe, so everyone could see him. Gaal was slightly younger than Derek: only sixteen — he had been born four years after his sister. He was of average build, his body in no way remarkable, especially not when dressed in such a common black suit as he was wearing, while everyone else's robes were ornate and festive. His face, however, was very fine and his stare's slightly unsettling quality lent it an interesting attractiveness; most beautiful, however, was his golden hair, much the same as Invar's, only fairer.

“Most gracious Ladies, most noble Lords, for your amusement and pleasure, and in the honor of my royal now brother, Prince Carlan heir apparent of Podania, and of my royal sister, Princess Invar, I would, to conclude merrily this day's rejoicing, give recitation of a ballad. If you would fain hear me, here, then, is the tale of the meeting of the King Oberon of the Elves and the Queen Titania of the Fairies, and of their marriage, as told by Asalon of Harwick.”

“By whom?” asked Derek out loud, irrespective of etiquette.

“Asalon of Harwick,” Elvire answered. “The greatest bard the world has ever known.”

Gaal look straight at Derek:

“Asalon of Harwick,” he said. “Born in a southern province of the Great Lashenian Empire in the seventeenth year of the reign of Tibur V. When he came to the Empire's capital at the age of nine, he is said to have so charmed the Emperor that he was made official court chronicler and bard. He is also famous for his lasting friendship with Paramus of Shergon, whose geste we know chiefly through him. Asalon and Paramus were executed the same year by the Mad Emperor, Cerquine III. Does that answer your question?”

Derek nodded, unwilling to show how impressed he was. Paramus of Shergon was his very favorite hero, and he realized he knew nothing of his life except for a few gallant and heroic deeds.

Gaal returned to the center of the stage; he was brought a mandolin by a servant, and started playing softly. Then he started telling the story of noble Oberon and gentle Titania, of how they met, fell in love, quarreled because of the foul deeds of evil Athymos, but finally reconciled and were married.

As a matter of song, it was something of a play, in fact, Gaal performing every part with astounding versatility. One moment he was Titania in all her grace, and the next he was the kingly Oberon; one instant he was the foul Athymos, and a second later he was faithful Robin, servant to Oberon. With no instrument other than his lute, with no other costume than a plain black dress which seemed to fit every character perfectly, he convinced everyone that the King and Queen of Elves were before their eyes. And even the half drunken nobles at the end of the table ceased their inane chatter and senseless laughing so they would miss nothing of the storytelling.

Then Gaal saluted, and the audience recovered their wits.

Invar was the first to congratulate. “Brother,” she said, “I had never heard you play so marvelously. Truly, I will never forget it. Let me simply say that I am proud to be your sibling.”

“Had I been told that one could be both prince and minstrel at once,” said Marcus in turn, “I would have laughed. But now I know there is nothing to mock, since you held us all in awe for many minutes. Young man, I am sure your subjects will bless your name when you are king yourself.”

“Verily I must congratulate King Asgar, and Queen Lucia,” exclaimed Carlan, “for having given birth to such a beautiful woman as my wife and such an amazing magician as Prince Gaal.”

“Rightly you call him magician, Carlan,” said Elvire, speaking next. “For this young man has amazed me despite my age and my wisdom. Gaal, as wizard to fellow wizard, I congratulate you.”

Gaal had turned to each of them as they spoke to compliment him. Now he stood in front of Derek, who had remained silent, and stared intensely at him. For a long minute, Derek's onyx eyes remained locked in Gaal's celadon gaze. At last they broke free when King Asgar cleared his throat.

“Ahem… Methinks the night is getting on, and many are tired; maybe it were time we all went to our beds.”


That night, as she was about to undress herself, Elvire heard a knock on her door. It was Derek.

“You ought to be asleep.” she said reproachfully.

“I can't sleep. Elvire, I must talk to you.”

“Well, so be it. Come inside. What is it about? Some more mischief?”

“Elvire, I… I think I'm in love, Elvire.”

Elvire made that particular catty smile of hers. “So it's that. I knew, of course. But I really didn't think you'd notice so soon. Well, get on with it. Who's the lucky boy, then?”

Derek froze instantly, like a trapped animal.

“Ah, Derek, Derek, innocent young prince,” Elvire scolded, “you must stop thinking I'm a fool. From the time you were ten, it was obvious to me it'd be like that. Now, to the fact. My question was only rhetorical: evidently you have fallen for that adorable rascal, the heir apparent of Eudilia.”

Derek sat down and hid his face in his hands.

“Is it…” He stopped. “Is it so obvious?”

“To me it was,” Elvire answered. “And, mind you, he got the message also. He's very close to his sister, so I'm sure she understood too. I'm not so sure about the mother. As for King Asgar… well, he's the sort that knows more than they will say. But if you're worried that your father might see something, don't. He isn't used to noticing people's feelings. And neither is that infernal brother of yours.”

The prince looked up. “Don't you understand, Elvire? I don't care what my father, mother and brother think, I care what I think!”

“And what do you think?”

“I can't be… Well, like that. That's impossible. I don't want to be.”

“I assure you, it's quite true. And consequently quite possible. Now, now, there's nothing to cry about. It's not like there were anything wrong about you, Derek. That's just the way you are. I always knew you'd lose your heart for some charming boy of your age.”

“I am no sissy!” Derek protested.

“Nobody ever though that. Very manly on the contrary: all this military training, this hanging around valiant knights, and all the talk about rescuing damsels in distress. Just a tad too manly, in fact. Be honest: weren't you always more interested in the knights themselves than in the damsels?”

The prince looked obviously hurt by this last comment.

“Mind you,” Elvire continued, “damsels quite possibly might prefer it that way. I've heard some rather nasty tales about the way some were ‘rescued’. Of course, that's not the sort of stories your…”

“Elvire, stop it!” he barked.

“If you wish. I will say this, though: rather than knock on my door and cry on my shoulder, you should go up to his room. I'm sure you have much more interesting things to tell him — and more to do than cry, in Gaal's room at night.”

Derek seemed utterly horrified. “Elvire!” he pleaded.

“All right, all right: I will stop here. But let me tell you one last thing. I've never told anybody. When I was merely an apprentice of the court wizard under your great-grandfather's rule, I met a young woman…” Elvire sighed softly. “She wasn't as beautiful as your new sister-in-law; but she was very pretty. Well, I didn't feel exactly as you do now, but I was still too shy to bring myself to talk to her. She moved away a month later, and I never saw her again. Do you know what? I've been regretting it up to this day. Please don't start crying again, boy.”

“I can't do it. I can't go to Gaal's room and tell him I love him. I can't possibly do it, Elvire. I'd rather die.”

“Die? Nonsense. You are a born survivor, Derek. You will die a hero, with a sword in your hand — not of a broken heart.”


The next morning, King Marcus and Queen Catherine, Prince Carlan and Princess Invar, and Prince Derek were to return to Podania with their train.

It was decided — by Queen Lucia — that Prince Gaal should go with them, as the experience gained by visiting the neighboring country (and now ally) would be valuable to the future king. So, much as she grieved to be separated from both her children at once, Queen Lucia asked King Marcus for his hospitality on behalf of her son; and he agreed at once, commenting that Prince Derek and Prince Gaal should have much to share as they were almost the same age.

Derek's tired eyes registered no emotion as he learned of the news.

So they set out: Marcus and Catherine rode proudly in front, with Gaal immediately behind and Carlan and Invar yet behind; Derek rode last, in sullen silence, just before the squadron of palace guards. The voyage should have been uneventful. But it so chanced that, soon after crossing the Great Forest that lay between the capital of Eudilia and that of Podania, they were attacked by a very rare beast: a wyvern. Before any had time to react, or indeed realize what was happening, the critter had captured Princess Invar and flown away.

Terrible confusion ensued. Derek, however, was the first to recover his wits, and immediately galloped away in pursuit of the monster.

“I'll kill the wyvern and rescue Invar,” he shouted as he parted; “don't you worry. I'll meet you at the castle.”

King Marcus tried, with some success, to appear still in control.

“The guards are on foot,” he said. “It would be useless to try to catch Derek or the beast. We must haste back to the castle and send some horsemen back to find them.”

I could try to catch them!” Carlan protested.

“You will do no such thing. I forbid it.”

“But it's my wife — and my brother. I must go after them.”

“If something happens to Derek, you are also my only son left. And you are the heir to the throne of Podania. You will not play the hero like that fool brother of yours, nay, but you will heed my commands.”

Carlan lowered his eyes. “Yes father.”

“I think,” Elvire intervened, “the danger is not quite as great as you believe. The wyvern was a young one, and not especially strong. Its lair must be close, because it couldn't carry the princess over a great distance; nor could it possibly lift Derek, with the hauberk that he had the good sense of having on. Your royal father is right, Prince Carlan, you couldn't possibly help your brother — and I'm sure he'll know how to handle the animal.”

Carlan looked at the wizardess with dubiousness and a measure of disdain; but Gaal smiled — if somewhat timidly — at the old woman, who returned a reassuring wink.

The party resumed their journey.

In the meantime, Derek was chasing the wyvern. He didn't have to chase it long, though, because Elvire's predictions to Carlan proved correct. It flew to a cliff nearby and entered a cave's mouth on the cliff's face. Derek wasted no time, rode to the base of the steep, dismounted, put his shield on his back, and climbed his way up to the monster's lair.

The wyvern could speak. “Ah,” it said, upon seeing Derek, “a valiant and handsome prince. The likes of you taste delicious. I am going to eat you, young man. After I eat the lady.”

“You can try to eat me,” Derek answered, “after I have killed you. Because that is what I will do now.” He unsheathed his sword and bravely charged the dragon.

The battle was short. The wyvern was used to eating livestock and an occasional unsuspecting peasant; despite its claims, it had never tasted a prince's flesh, let alone his sword. And it discovered that the innocent-looking seventeen-year-old warrior was a deadly enemy. Derek, who for his part had never fought a real foe, found himself dispatching a dangerous monster as if he had done this all his life; in no time, the beast lay dead, its head cut off from its body.

Derek then rushed to the princess, who was just regaining consciousness. She was somewhat bruised but not seriously wounded.

“Derek!” she began. “What…?” Then she saw the wyvern's body. “Oh!” she cried. “You saved me.”

She rose, and took Derek's head in her hands. “Here's to my hero,” she said as she kissed him on the forehead, causing him to blush. “The damsel is no longer a damsel, but I thank thee, savior of the princess in distress.” Derek blushed even more.

He helped her climb down to where he had left his horse, and then went back up to the lair to retrieve his sword and shield, and the creature's head as a token of his deed. They rode off in silence.

“Tell me, Prince Derek,” Invar asked after a few miles' ride, “what do you think of my brother?”

“Prince Gaal?…” Derek stammered. “I…”

“You love him, don't you?”

“My lady, I…”

“Yes, evidently, you do love him. Why, Derek, don't look so terrified. It seems as though you're more frightened of me than of that horrible monster you saved me from. And please keep holding me, I don't want to fall off this horse.”

“What is it… What…”

“Look, Prince. I love your brother — you love my brother. That makes us friends of a kind, doesn't it? Even if you hadn't saved my life, I mean. I'll help you all I can.”

“Thank you,” was all Derek could manage to say.

“Don't mention it. You know, Prince, you have much good taste. Nearly as much as Carlan, who chose me for his wife; because, after all, Gaal is my brother.”

After a short pause, the princess added:

“Oh, and I should mention: he has much good taste also. Nearly as much as I do. See what I mean?”

In a whisper, she explained: “Your love is returned, Derek.”


Prince Derek and Princess Invar met with King Marcus's group well before they arrived at the castle. All were overjoyed to see them, particularly Carlan of course. Invar dropped from Derek's horse and ran to her husband's open arms.

“Derek, my son,” said the king, “you have proved your valor. Though I disapprove of the suddenness of your departure, yet your dexterity saved the day. No longer a boy, you are now truly a man.”

Derek grabbed the head of the wyvern from the bag where he had stored it and showed it around in triumph.

Unfortunately, the sudden vision of this monstrous head frightened the horses. Two of them bucked. Queen Catherine was able to keep her balance, but Prince Gaal lost his, and fell into a river that the road was following. Gaal could not swim and the current was swift.

“Gaal!” Derek shouted, alarmed.

This time, however, it was Carlan's turn to react quickly. He was nearest to the prince of Eudilia; without hesitation, he plunged into the water and helped Gaal reach the bank. Both princes were soaked but unharmed.

“It seems, brother, that we are even.” Derek walked toward Gaal as he spoke to Carlan. “I have rescued your beloved. And you have rescued mine.”

Without pausing to examine the effect caused by the revelation, he took Invar's brother in his arms, and the princes embraced lovingly.

“What is the meaning of this?” cried Marcus. “I will not tolerate such mockery before my own men and train.”

“It is no mockery, father. Gaal and I are truly in love.”


“Derek, this is your last chance,” Marcus said finally. “You will come to reason or you will leave the castle. I have been more than patient enough already.”

The ride back to the capital of Podania had been terribly tense. Derek had returned to the back of the group and Gaal had remained in front. Nobody had dared say a word. Then Derek remained in his suite, waiting for the summons from his father which he knew must come.

Now Marcus was threatening his son, but to no avail. Derek's stubbornness was adamant: his reluctance to admit his love for Gaal to himself had turned to brashness. He felt like spitting it at his father's face, proclaiming it to the entire world.

King Marcus was not choleric. But he did not like affronts. At last he gave out judgment:

“Theodoric Lionsguard, you are banned from this kingdom. You will leave within a month; and until such day as you are wed, you will not set foot upon it again. Thus have I, Marcus king of Podania, spoken.”

In a slightly gentler tone, Marcus added:

“Find yourself a suitable spouse, Derek, who will take these silly notions out of your head. Then I will give my consent, and you will be my son again. Do what your brother did: travel around. Be a man.”

Then the king turned to a secretary and said:

“Send for the ambassador of Eudilia. We will return Gaal to his parents — with our regrets.”

And without further ado, Derek was dismissed. Elvire, however, was most displeased, and she did not hesitate to tell the king what she thought of his decision.

“You are just as foolish as your son is, Marcus,” she told him when she was alone with him. “We both know how much you love him.”

“I have heard your advice, Elvire, and I will not heed it. Remember that you are the counselor and I the monarch. And you may dispense with the lèse-majesté. Derek will have to clear his head of this nonsense: we of Podania do not have the deviant manners of certain foreign courts.”

“I had better leave before we have a diplomatic incident,” Elvire agreed. “Soon you will be telling the Eudilian ambassador that her prince is a pervert.” Under her breath, the wizardess added: “Meizlo, old friend, I seem to remember you owe me a favor.”


Derek headed southeast, and rode all the way to the Emperor's distant capital: Lashni, City of a Thousand Gates.

Truly, if splendor was to be found anywhere on terra firma, it was in Lashni; and even the sunken realms and the heavenly kingdoms hardly compared with that city's opulence. Derek had heard about it in tales, but they couldn't possibly match what he now beheld.

The entire urban area, except for the parklands, was paved with marble and alabaster. A thousand gates led the way to as many palaces; and each palace shone with the beauty of uncountable golden pinnacles. Richly woven banners atop the turrets flew in the breeze. Seemingly frail bridges connecting the towers looked like they floated in air. Glittering cascades and luxurious gardens served to counterpoint the almost oppressive mass of precious stones everywhere. And even the people seemed so prosperous! The sight of so many rich robes and gaily colorful raiments turned Derek's head. His own clothes, he was sure, would appear infinitely barbaric to this refined people: even beggars in Lashni were better dressed than princes in Podania.

Atop what was known as the “Crown's Hill” rested what must be the grandest building of the city, although Derek felt incompetent to judge in that matter because countless monuments were far beyond his ability to reckon. The Emperor's palace.

When he reached that edifice, the prince felt a moment's uncertainty. Surely a visiting member of foreign royalty — if banned — should be announced. Should he crave an audience? But then the guards at the doors seemed willing to let anyone in. Inside the building, courtiers everywhere talked easily, in a manner that Derek found distinctly outlandish, and they paid no more heed to the young man than the soldiers had. Servants were constantly bringing food, which the hosts ate with hardly the attention that such exquisite pastries should deserve.

Then, as Derek was walking from bewilderment to bewilderment in this exotic palace, a trumpet sounded, and everyone fell to the ground. Not wanting to attract attention, the prince of Podania did the same. A herald announced the cause for agitation: “His Imperial Highness the Duke of Lashni, Prince of Aglir and Lord of Sewenec: His Majesty, the Emperor.” A hitherto unnoticed door opened and let monarch and train through.

Tibur XII walked in complete indifference to what surrounded him. He leaned on a cane, which he evidently did not need in the least for his step was fast and agile. It was nearly impossible to tell, upon seeing him, whether this was a man of eighty who looked like a youngster of twenty, or the other way around. Next to the Emperor, on his right, stood his First Minister, also court magician, the great and famous Meizlo. And if Tibur was a sight to behold, Meizlo was even more so, for this strange man, with his enormous turban and his purple colored robes was exoticism incarnate to Derek's eyes.

As the Emperor walked before the Podanian prince, his minister caught his attention and whispered a few words to the sovereign's ear.

“Drekar Lovenvaght!” Tibur exclaimed. Derek was unsure whether this was a Lashenian variant of his own name, or whether the Emperor was simply senile. Not knowing the etiquette, he stood up but continued to look down: that appeared to satisfy everyone. “Our royal cousin! We are most happy to welcome you to our capital. Our vassal your father has sent us word. Some question of marriage, was there not?” Derek's heart sank: even here he was not safe. And it sank even more with the Emperor's next words: “We have the exact spouse you need. The president of our Senate's child, whom you will love and adore. Gladir, I believe the name is. We will arrange it for you to be wed as shortly as possible — I'm sure we'll be delighted to reconcile you with your father.”

And with that, Tibur XII moved away, not even expecting an answer and leaving Derek in an unpleasant situation. That was all the prince ever saw of him.

He did see Meizlo again, however, and soon afterward. As Derek was settling in the enormous apartment that had been assigned to him in the palace, he received the magician's visit.

“I have sent with the fastest means for your father's approval. You understand we need it, of course. But there should be no difficulty under the Emperor's seal. Naturally, we already have the other's father's consent. For various reasons, there cannot be a dowry, I'm sure…”

“Excuse-me,” Derek interrupted, glad to finally get a chance to speak, “may I have a word in this? You might get all the consents you want, but you will not get mine. I am sorry, but I will not marry this woman, be it the Emperor's will.”

Meizlo looked at the prince sideways, as though horrified by such barbaric manners.

I am sorry,” he said finally, “I had forgotten to show you the bride.”

Before Derek could reply, Meizlo clapped his hands, and a servant appeared, leading a veiled figure in the prince's suite.

“I am a friend of Elvire's,” Meizlo explained. But rather than these words, what convinced Derek into agreement was the eyes he saw through the veil. That unmistakable celadon gaze.

“How… How did you…?” he stammered.

“As I said, I'm a friend of Elvire's. We magicians have our tricks. And did Queen Lucia not mention she was honorary president of the Imperial Senate?”

But Derek did not listen for an answer: he had already removed Gaal's veil, and was fondling his fiancé.

“It is customary,” Meizlo pointed out, “to wait until after the ceremony before removing the hood. Ah well, I suppose we'll make an exception for foreign royalty. In thy own way, Theodoric, uncouthness becomes thee.”

Meizlo was about to leave. But he did turn around to make a final comment:

“One last thing, Drekar. You must stop thinking the Emperor is senile.”

Well within a month, “Gladir Rosencron” — Gaal — and “Drekar Lovenvaght” — Derek — were wed before the Imperial Palace clerk. The act had Asgar's signature on it, and Marcus's, as well as Tibur's own; and a copy was kept in the Lashenian archives. “There —” Meizlo commented with satisfaction, “that was a bit tricky, but now there isn't much that Marcus can do, should he try to rescind this marriage.”


“So you tricked me. Now what more do you want? I hope you do not expect me to welcome you with open arms: I have no love for liars and traitors.”

Marcus's reaction, although fierce, was not as bad as it could have been, thought Derek. He had received a somewhat embarrassed welcome from his mother, and one even more so from his brother. Fortunately, Invar at least had seemed happy to see him back; and, of course, Elvire.

“I expect nothing from you, father. Tomorrow, Gaal and I are leaving for Eudilia: word has come that King Asgar is not well, so Gaal's place is by him, and, of course, mine is by my husband. I will not return to Podania save by your leave. I simply wished to tell you, father, that there are no bitter thoughts on my side, and, should you choose to forget those you might have, we could be friends again. If only for the better of both countries, for there are two bonds between Podania and Eudilia now.”

“In Eudilia I have gained a daughter,” King Marcus replied bitterly, “but I have also lost a son. You travel without any blessings of mine, Derek.”

“Then I grieve a father lost, King Marcus.”

Before the year was over, King Asgar passed away. Gaal Rosecrown was enthroned in his place, and Derek officially became prince consort. As for the Queen Mother, she chose to retire in Lashni.


The war that the oligarchy of Eastern Podania declared upon the kingdom of Western Podania was a surprise to everybody (except presumably the oligarchs).

Eastern Podania, although smaller and poorer than its western neighbor, was also militarily the stronger. Evidently this war had been prepared in secret for some time, and Western Podania was in serious danger of defeat.

In very serious danger, in fact. It is only when the Eastern Podanian soldiers were nearly at his castle's feet, and because Carlan and Invar both pressed very hard, that Marcus finally decided to call upon Eudilia's help, which King Gaal had several times offered to his father-in-law.

By then, it was almost too late. The Western Podanian troops were nearly crushed when Derek arrived as savior, heading at once a good part of the Eudilian army and the entire fifth legion of His Imperial Majesty's armed forces. More bloody fight took place, until at last the invaders were driven back to the frontier and the oligarchs were exiled.

Derek returned to the capital of the Western kingdom with news of victory, but only to learn that the king was dying — mortally wounded by one of the blows he had suffered during the siege of the capital.

The bell tolled already when Derek kneeled before his father at last.

“Ah, Derek, Derek, what a fool I have been. Elvire was right, I was a fool all the time. But it is too late to turn back, now.”


“No, Derek, do not speak. I will be gone very soon now. But I leave my hard fealings behind me. I wish for us to part as friends, my son. I give you my blessings… Tell Carlan I hope the first thing he does when he is king is to have you named Savior of Podania. Now you are truly a veteran, my son, and not merely in make believe. And Derek…” Marcus winced.


“Tell Gaal — I mean King Gaal — I also give him my blessings. As father to son.”

After that, Marcus took Catherine's hand in his own and grasped it strongly.

The knell ceased. The king was dead: Carlan was king of Western Podania.


King Gaal and Prince Derek, and King Carlan and Queen Invar, all lived happily ever after. Carlan and Invar had three children: a daughter whom they named Elvira, and who later became Empress, a son called Leo who later became king of Eudilia and Podania at once and granted its peoples the Grand Charter, and a second son called Marcus, who became historian and told the lives of his parents and uncles.

But that is another tale.

David Madore