THE LAST HAMLET: or The Readiness is All - 1. PROLOGUE
Hamlet, of that name the Last, King of Steefax, of that ilk the Minor, sighed. He was in the second year of his reign, and Steefax Major was in conjuction with Cylos, and tomorrow it would be time for the Prophecy. With a bit of luck, it would be like the sort of gobbledygook offered to most of his predecessors: not even the great Argons would have been expected to make much of -
When the wolf down lies with the jay,
The bunting will a golden egg lay,
given to Boris the Fourth; or -
When stars at noon very bright shine,
The rich brown loam will at night shine,
provided for the bemusement of Adolphus the Second. Poor felix the Fifth was told -
Like leaping frog, to water take as a newt,
And you'll be, of all kings, the most astute.
That monarch's jump from a high bank into the shallow end of the Royal Lake did not quite cost him his life, but it certainly deprived him of what was left of his reason. At the reprising of this little nugget of royal history, Hamlet sighed again, leaned back in his favourite armchair in the Palace library, and fell asleep over his book.
Hamlet dreamed. He saw an old man. He had never seen an old person before. Nobody had in more than a hundred years. Yet the King knew that this man was old. Those in the final stages of the weakening looked drawn and haggard, but they did not have such deeply furrowed brows, nor such elaborate networks of wrinkles around such ancient eyes. Neither did they have white hair. The man was staring at something. A tear began to trickle down a wan, leathery cheek.
When King Hamlet asked me to write an account of the Great Adventure, I assumed he meant simply a catalogue of events, a sort of diary; but he soon disabused me of that idea.
"No," he said, "we don't want anything like those dreary chronicles of the archdraxites. Let's have flesh and blood, real people doing real things. Good things, bad things, silly things, done by heroes and villains and neither, and by people just doing their jobs and getting on with their lives. Tell the truth - about everything."
"Yes, Diken, everything. People seem to like me well enough now, so let them have me warts and all!"
"Where shall I start, sire?"
"At the beginning. At the very beginning. Start with Draxy."
So I, one time page to His Majesty, and later to Her Grace the Archdraxite, accidental crew member of the good ship Ullyses, and presently employed as Royal Secretary, have done as I was bidden. I hope that the results may prove pleasing to most, and offensive to none. I have been too closely involved with events, and with the players in them, to be altogether objective, but I have presented nothing as fact unless I am certain of it. For background and historical data I am indebted to scholarly works once forbidden, but which are now displayed openly again on library shelves. Royal and archdraxical archives have proved useful, and the files of the Evening Gazette, have been invaluable. I also owe much to Archdraxite Nell's personal diary.
Notebook in hand, I have had lengthy conversations with many of the actors in the adventure, and they have been generous in sharing with me their vivid memories of people and events.
Which leaves the Guardians, without whom there would be no story worth the telling. We have all seen the Succourers scurrying about their business in the City, and some who are still alive have actually met the Wise Ones. Of them, more at the proper time.
Where neither hard facts nor anecdotes nor personal recollections have been forthcoming, I must beg the reader's indulgence for the odd flight of fance. Did Hamlet sigh once, twice, or more times? Well, I do not know, and he certainly does not rememmber. But there must have been some sighing, so I have put it in.
And so to Draxy.