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THE LAST HAMLET: or The Readiness is all. - 3. THE WEAKENING.


The history of the 'glory' years, those almost two centuries in which Steefax first explored, then dominated the galaxy, will not be told here. For it is not really part of my story. My brief is a different one, and it is to relate the causes and results of the catastrophe which plunged us into a dark age, and to describe our attempts to emerge once more into the light.

But, if you really wish to learn about first and developing contacts with Ee-arth, Bog, Kryptos, and the handful of other planets inhabited by humanoid life, then there are several books available for purchase or borrowing. (Particularly good, I think, is The Grand Illusion, by Tournai.)

It is hardly possible to present a balance sheet for the good and ill brought to those people in deepest space whose lives and economies were transformed, for a while, by Draxy; but when they were unable to get hold of any more of the stuff, we may be sure that they would have endured their own most bitter catastrophes. Our calamity was, of course, different, in kind as well as in degree; for while other-worlders made use of the stuff, we needed it, in the air we breathed, and in the water we drank. That we could no longer import scientific and technological equipment, industrial processes and hardware, precious metals and jewels, marbled building stone, ebony black hard woods, textiles and crafts, great literature, gorgeous wines, exotic fruits and vegetables, and so on and more, all became most horribly irrelevant.

During the days of profligacy, the grey sand, which contained the pangstum, which in turn bore those traces of vitamin B15 we needed just to be able to live out a normal life span, had been taken from where it lay on sea and lake shore, in estuaries, river beds, bogs and marshes, by mountain tarns and Wilderness dew ponds, and in those wind defying craters of the southern tundra. At the beginning of 1061 ND - that fateful year of the 'mystery virus', which carried off everyone over the age of sixty - we were still selling the stuff to all-comers; by the end of that year there was not a single tinful to be had! Of course, there were still traces of Draxy left, but none that could be 'harvested'. Visiting ships were turned away with shots across their bows, if verbal warnings went unheeded. Nobody came to us anymore, and we did not go anywhere. The great Ee-arth empire of Remo declined and fell over hundreds of years; but we did it all at once.

Could not the Guardians have prevented at least some of the misery? Well, in the Spring of 1060 they were in fact summoned, by Rudo the Fourth, whose place amongst the so called 'Draxy sceptics' had made him very unpopular in commercial circles; but before the meeting with the Wise Ones could be convened, the fifty year old king, who was already showing symptons of the 'virus', slipped on a scattering of his grandson's marbles, and broke his neck in a headlong tumble down the palace back stairs. Rudo's son declined to implement his father's summoning: during his short reign, Rudo the Fifth - the last but one monarch to inherit from his father for more than a century - was credited with only one public pronouncement: "All is vanity, all is defeat, all is death."

Half of our population of just over one and a half million died during the first two years of the Great Catastrophe, and a third year saw the remnant cut by half again. Death was not for most people all that terrible, as death goes. The first sign of the 'virus' taking hold was a tiredness that could not be appeased by sleep. After two or three months, any effort, physical, mental, or emotional, was not be contemplated. Partners lost interest in each other and in their children. Friends were not recognized. One morning, six to nine months into what became known as the weakening, a victim of it would simply not wake up.

The catastrophe was over - in so much that the worst was known - by the time Rudo the Fifth and Last died. His son and successor was only six years old. Now, there had been minors on the throne before, with councils of regents ruling in their names; but at this time of severe crisis it was decided that a 'proper' king was needed, which led to there being two kings of Steefax being named Hamlet the First!

Rudo the Fifth was the last of his name because of a custom going back to the days of the fabled Argons, Kings of Steefax during the eighteen hundreds OD. Those times - according to the old books taken out of circulation by the Archdraxity - were called the Golden Age. Then, so we are told, there was an unprecedented flourishing of the arts and sciences, joined with universal prosperity and happiness. So venerated was Argon the Fifth, that when he died it was decided by the Succession Council that his son should take the next name in the Book of Names. Historical dating began afresh, with the year 1 ND. The section of the Royal Constitution dealing with the Continuity of Names was changed to read: 'Each royal name shall be passed to legitimate heirs four times, not nine as formerly, making five times in all that each name shall be used.' Of course, as you will surely know, the Catastrophe brought about a double reversal of the amendment. The Regency of the first of the Hamlets the First reckoned that twenty reigns beginning at, say, twenty two, and ending at thirty at best, would be more or less equal in duration to five of the former reigns. This was sensible. Equally sound was the edict governing the age at which people might legally take partners. Licences were not to be issued to those who had entered their twentieth years, thus ensuring that the majority of first born children would reach the age of ten before losing their parents.

That mothers and fathers were never able to see their children grow up even into the first stages of adolecence was, perhaps, the one dreadful sadness that made it impossible for the archdraxites ever to achieve that total domination over the lives and minds of our people they so relentlessly pursued; for whilst the worst that life may offer may be stoically accepted, a vision of something better will never completely desert the imaginations of those able to dream.

kelson.philo's picture

Well, I certainly hope they

Well, I certainly hope they find a way out of that. A forced short life I think could turn quite cruel.