In The Service Of Princes


Ever the child of the eighteenth century, Staszek made an elegant court bow to King Maxim. Then the other boy startled him by guffawing and taking him in a hearty embrace. ‘So cute, cuz. Now then. First thing. Books still exist here in 2038 but much more convenient for you will be this tablet. I’ve tested it in Eden and it works there, though of course there’s no connection to the web. It’ll keep a charge for at least a month, so you and your boyfriend should be able to get good use of it. It’s got all the major news sites downloaded in it and a huge library of politics, science and economics. So no need for a library raid this time around.’

‘Er … okay,’ Staszek stuttered, more than a little bewildered. ‘You still say “okay”? You can go to Eden at will, your majesty? You must be the same age as me? So you are at school? Your English seems accented American to me.’

‘Of course. Mom’s a Peacher. Say, now I think of it, didn’t you once meet Benjamin Franklin? Wow! What a life. And so much more of it to go too. That’s the second thing to talk about. But not here. Ready?’

In a blink the king and Staszek were in Eden, but not at the usual entry point. For the first time Staszek stood on the peak of the island opposite Orestes’ cottage. ‘Why …?’ he began.

‘This is the Isle of Meeting and the Place of Resurrection. I have a sorta special connection with this place, and for that matter with the Dead. They created me. And since I am the One then I’m their King too. So I commanded their seers and princes to be here. After 350 years the time’s come to give serious thought to your future, cuz.’

King Maxim took Staszek by the hand and led him into the tower and there Staszek found an intimidating assembly of solemn presences, staring at him with looks – he thought – of trepidation. Did he scare the Dead?

Maxim seated himself on a throne placed at the head of the stone table. A score of counsellors of the Dead seated themselves after he had, but many more presences crammed the room. ‘Now then,’ the king commenced. ‘Out in the living world the Black Horde has been defeated and a new world order has come into being. A great realm has risen, headed by my dad as Emperor. Rothenia is one of dozens of realms of his Oecumene, which is putting the world back together again. So far, so great. But there remains the problem of human nature and inadequacy. The Dead and the Satan (a.k.a. my buddy, Lance Atwood) long prepared a solution to this, going back before your own days, Prince Willem. Now it’s being brought into operation.’

Staszek interrupted, ‘Would this be the transformation I experienced ten years ago, the creation of winged humans?’

‘In one, cuz. They live longer, healthier lives in complete freedom and in a peace that is lasting, for unlike humans, they share minds. But they can’t inhabit the same world as the old-style humans, who would take them as a threat. So the new and great power of the seraph Mendamero, the chosen agent of the Creator, with the help of Lance’s angelic order has found a home for them far across space and transported them there. And there the angels have joined them, and are uniting with them in a new hybrid race. So on the far away planet they will call Rodinija these angelic humans, called the Petakhij, are now starting to build a great civilisation of their own.’

One of the leaders of the Dead stirred herself and addressed Staszek. ‘But, your serene highness, there is this important thing. The Petakhij still come to us after their long lives are done. Petakhij and humanity remain at the end one people, with a common fate and destiny, beyond the Final Sea. And we know that in the living world too their fate remains entwined. Far down the stream of time the threat of a monstrous enemy will bring them together once more.’

‘So, where do I and my husband come into this grand vision of the future?’ Staszek inquired.

The king smiled around the table. ‘When you transform, cuz, you’re an unusual Petakh. You have no difficulty in switching back to your original template. The Petakhij of Rodinija very soon become inescapably fixed in their winged shape, but it has no power over you and Orestes. It doesn’t seem to us that you have or ever will have the Petakh mind powers.

‘Also we mustn’t forget the other civilisation that has arisen out of what seems to have been the Creator’s will, the advanced equine people flourishing and steadily increasing here in Eden. The Dead have sensed that their unique nation must one day return to the Earth that gave them birth but that they will also come to inhabit Rodinija and its satellite, the moon Selene, alongside their human populations. To prepare and enable this, the Dead with the help of Orestes Ortolan have ensured that the pegasuses can now talk in human speech. Yet the Dead know that the horses do not go beyond the Final Sea that the humans and human-upgrades cross in the end. The Creator does not share his plan for their ultimate fate. But to some extent it seems to be wrapped up with you and Orestes.’

Staszek pondered all this in the silence that followed Maxim’s summary. Finally he said. ‘I was never given a promise as to when my long sleep would end, only an indication that one day I would wake again to the rule of my beloved Glottenburg and save it on a black day full of horror.’

The spokesperson of the Dead nodded. ‘We now know that it will happen far yet down the stream of time, and that it is not Glottenburg alone that you will rise from your grave to rule, but Holy and Sacred Rothenia, Queen of all Nations, as a gift to the truest son of Ruric.’

‘So how is this to be managed?’ Staszek asked.

The Dead looked at each other, and shrugged.


In the night of 28 September 2058 Staszek awoke to find King Maxim was once more there to greet him, looking no different from when he had first seen him two decades earlier. He was already naked, apart from two wide golden armlets clinging to his biceps..

‘Come on, cuz! A change this time. Me, you, Orestes and Brunhild are off on a special trip. First thing. Put on your wings. We’re going to fly.’

Maxim transformed into a huge horned Petakh, his wings of scarlet and gold. Staszek’s own body responded and it adopted the avian shape without any impulse from himself. Maxim indicated a window of blue light forming under the chapel vault and he launched into it, Staszek on his heels. He was momentarily dazzled by the transition from a dark medieval chapel and into the full light of day in the sky above a small city set on a hill in a green plain.

Maxim grinned at him. ‘This is the Petakh planet. With the help of the seraph Mendamero I now have the ability to cross the huge distance between Earth and Rodinija at will and bring others with me. My brother Leo is now an Elphberg king here in a Petakh fief called Radelngrad, down there beyond the river. But the ruler of this planet is a very different monarch, the Petakh emperor Damien Macavoy and his Empress Helen. His capital is in the mountains to the north, a marvellous stone city called Petakhrad, but the comfortable little settlement below with its hill of house-trees is called Antonsberh. The Petakh University is here, and I want you to come and meet some of my friends there. They have interesting ideas.’

The pair circled down to the clustered trees and limestone towers of the city, Maxim leading the way to a large precinct of cloisters and halls erected in a Gothic style. They alighted on the wide lawn on the east of the campus between the walks of a great cloister. A small crowd of Petakh students had already gathered to meet them and hail the arrival of the legendary One, Maxim II Elphberg. They cheered Maxim and mobbed him as he landed. One very handsome Petakh youth hugged and kissed the king, and neither seemed to be in any hurry to break the embrace. He was slim and pale with rich blue silver-shot wings. His forehead had the beginnings of blue horns.

‘Staszek, this is Prince David Corneliusson of House Skipper, he’s my sorta husband on this planet. We met in a milehij when he was a meledh and since then I’ve not been able to escape his fascination. Bastard won’t marry me though. His father’s forbidden it. Still whenever I’m here I find ways to get up his ass as often as I can.’

The charismatic Petakh boy winked at Staszek. ‘His cock’s imperial in scale, lord durchlaucht,’ he commented, with the frankness of his race. ‘I’d be a fool to pass up the opportunity.’

‘Hey, Staszek!’ a tall and very familiar-looking dark Petakh approached and took him by the shoulders.

‘Good God,’ Staszek cried as he hugged the man. ‘Jonas Niemand! Now you’re a horned Petakh on this planet?’

Maxim looked puzzled. ‘Jonas Nobody? Who’s he? This is Lance Atwood.’

Lance laughed, ‘It’s a very long story, your majesty, me and Willem go back centuries.’

The king rolled his eyes. ‘Any story about you is going to be a long one, Lord Satan. Very well. Take Prince Staszek over to the Metaphysical Department for me, Davey boy. I have to pick up two more guests.’ Resigning Staszek to his young mate, the king rose into the sky where another window of blue light was opening.

Taking the prince’s hand, David Corneliusson led him into a nearby building and an empty lecture theatre, where several more Petakhij were awaiting his arrival; they wore Petakh adaptations of lab coats, wings tightly folded to their backs.

He was greeted by the largest of them, a golden Petakh of great beauty who introduced himself as Professor Underwood. Depite his glamorous form, the man seemed as detached and absent-minded as any cartoon academic. He informed Staszek that his dilemma was a fascinating problem that he and his colleagues in Metaphysics were very enthusiastic about, and they had a number of ideas they wished to consider. In the meantime his friend Dr Yuri Atwood wanted to conduct some tests on him. Apparently he was quite an unusual Petakh, if indeed he was Petakh at all.

A bustle heralded the appearance of Maxim’s other guests. But it was not the clip-clop of the equine empress and her looming bulk that drew the attention of the waiting crowd, but the fact that a human child rode confidently on her back, a golden-haired boy of some nine years of age, who smiled broadly around at the throng, and whose eyes lit up when the saw the prince.

A stunned-looking King Maxim picked the boy down off the horse and carried him over to Staszek. ‘Er … this is unexpected, and Orestes will have to explain this to you, but Staszek, this is your son.’


On a hill outside the city of Antonsberh overlooking the Great River, a seated Staszek held the future Willem Stanislas VII of Glottenburg between his thighs and stared into the child’s bright blue eyes. ‘You’re my other daddy?’ the boy asked.

‘So it seems, Willem,’ the prince said. He turned to his husband. ‘So explain this miracle.’

‘Well, the Dead gave a lot of thought to your dilemma and one thing they wanted to try was to exploit the possibility of our sort of Petakh to shift my sexual identity. When last you visited they equipped me with the means to reproduce, so when we enjoyed sex you implanted your seed in a womb of my own.’

‘But I ejaculated inside your arse, not into a vagina! How’s that possible?’

‘No real idea, but nonetheless you fertilised an egg which came to term, and I had to go through a very undignified and uncomfortable experience to get little Willem here out of me eight months after you left. Not easy for either of us, and I’ll never go through it again, even for you. But I could not help myself trying the experiment. You must remember the loneliness I experience between our reunions. But this past interlude, I had our child to care for and love. Forgive me for not telling you.’

Staszek shrugged. ‘I understand Orry, and I don’t condemn you for the deception.’ He took a deep breath. ‘So it’s like the scientists of Antonsberh said, we’re not their sort of Petakh. We’re closer to the template of the angel-hybrids in form, and so we can be made to shift sex just like them.’

‘Yes,’ and then Orestes laughed. ‘So I can make you pregnant if you’d like.’

‘Not on the cards, Orry. But still, little Willem, we’re very glad you came to us. It’s sad that you had to wait so long for us three to meet, and maybe we can find a way to be a family for a while.’ Then the prince was struck with an idea. ‘Hang on! There’s no growth in Eden, so how did our boy come to term and mature beyond babyhood?’

‘Ah, well that’s thanks to Brunhild. She took us both to the nursery planet of the equines where their own foals grow to maturity before they can return to Eden. It’s a beautiful place and little Willem grew in my womb there, and after he was born he was suckled by one of their herd queens herself, who’s his fostermother. Our boy was raised freely and happily as one of the nursery herd amongst his foster brothers and sisters, the pegasus colts and foals. You should see him ride his many equine foster-siblings. There’s never been an equestrian like him. He can talk with them in his mind. He doesn’t need words.’

Orestes took and squeezed his husband’s hand, and kissed their son’s golden head before continuing. ‘Anyway, our little Willem’s got wing buds on his shoulder blades. So he has the option of growing up with wings like a Petakh novachek if we want. What I think we should do is ask King Maxim’s help for us to take a ten-year break from your cycle of magical resurrections and spend it here on Rodinija, where our son can make friends, go to school and grow as a Petakh novachek and meledh, and we can watch him grow.’

‘And then what …?’

Orestes shrugged. ‘Maybe these clever Petakh scientists and wizards can come up with something. Who knows? Let’s get back to the meeting at the university.’


Maxim II Elphberg sat high on the Great Throne of the People in Petakhrad, Damien, king of the Petakhij slumped on a lesser throne to his side. He stood before the assembled throng of the Petakh princes to make his summary of what had been a week’s-long parliament on the question of Staszek’s dilemma.

‘We’ve heard your request, Willem Stanislas, our brother,’ Maxim said. ‘We’ve also consulted the Dead. They say there is a prophecy to fulfil, though how it’s done and how it affects Orestes and little Willem are not for them to say. Emperor Damien is willing to grant you a fief within his realm in Rodinja or Selene, where you can be prince and your son Willem Stanislas after you. You would be a family, but that would leave the prophecy unfulfilled which would be perilous. So the advice of all is to summon the Seraph Mendamero to bring his wisdom and his mighty power to bear. And that is what we have done.’

All eyes switched to the insignificant shape of a slight human who walked in amongst the huge and vibrant assembly of winged avians. The assembly parted respectfully and the Petakhij bowed reverently as the seraph passed.

‘Hi, Staszek,’ Mendamero said as he approached the prince, who had also kept to his human form, though he was naked, as the seraph was not. ‘We met about 70 years ago, when I visited your resting place as a kid. I don’t suppose you’ll remember it, but I did take the same liberty with you as Glottenburg’s students have been doing for centuries. I think you stirred in your long sleep when I touched you. Did you?’

Staszek smiled and shrugged. ‘No memory of it, my lord,’ he said.

‘Ah well,’ the seraph continued. ‘I wasn’t an immortal being of vast power in those days, and otherwise nothing special. So what’s to be done? The prophecy concerning you is one for the far future, so far indeed that it may yet take several centuries to act itself out. I may, like as not, see it do so in due course, which gives me a dog in the fight so to speak. Something tells me I’ll still be around to be wrapped up in its fulfilment. It doesn’t take much of a seer now to work out that the hideous black race of the Yahl may be your adversary on that distant day. So how to get you into that future?

‘It was the magic of the Dead who created the spell that brought you back to life every ten years. If we let it play out then you could have hundreds of resurrections yet in front of you. And for your husband and son it would be back to occasional meetings by the shores of the Isle of Reunion, where they will eke out a very long wait for you indeed.

‘The Dead have no ideas as to how this great spell could be altered to fit the new circumstances. If I engineer it so that you spend much longer in stone between resurrections, it may assist you, but not much affect the long wait of your little family. So all I can suggest is that I, as Chancellor of Rothenia (which is my present hobby), commission two new statues for the University of Glottenberh.

‘The Empress Brunhild was very helpful. Little Willem’s best equine friend and milkbrother, the pegasus who goes by the name of Prince Brightheart Erebuscolt of the High Moors, wants to help. He’s willing to join with the spell and pose with Willem for a statuary group as ‘Boy on a Winged Horse’ and so travel down the ages with his dearest human friend. Orestes on the other hand will occupy a new slab jointly with his husband, which will replace the old single one on his tomb. We’ll do our best to make it very tasteful and artistic.

‘The only problem may be explaining why it’s necessary. But it may well be argued by the Chancellor’s office that Willem Stanislas VI of Glottenberh’s poetry and papers reveal him to have been what he was: an openly gay youth in a very romantic relationship with his blind servant boy, Orestes Ortolan, who scholars have long known to have been the poet-prince’s muse. And when the old statue is found to be cracked and shattered (as I’ll make sure it is), I’ll commission the replacement along those lines, a new lid that depicts the prince and his lover together in a new pose. I can also alter the spell this far, that instead of waking periodically as you did, so as to experience and understand the changes in human society that have happened over the intervening years, now you’ll sleep in the way your people have long believed, to awake only to come to their aid in their moment of greatest need.’

The seraph finished amidst murmuring from the assembled avians. Maxim stood to respond. ‘Thanks Uncle Henry. I knew you’d come up with something that has a good chance of success. Staszek’s trapped in the prophecy and great spell made in 1788, but this way some of its complications can be lessened. It’s given me a prod too. Future sovereigns of the Imperial House of Elphberg need to be given the heads-up about the secret of Glottenburg and about many other things yet to come. I’ll write it up in a book which will stay within the Imperial House and be shared only between the Emperor or Empress and their heir, generation by generation. Keeping a record of this may also stop any avoidable accident happening in the University Chapel which might disturb your long sleep, Willem and Orry.’


Captain Piotr Antonin of the 16th Regiment of the Imperial Lion Guard marshalled his small garrison and looked up at his temporary command: the ancient ducal castle of Glottenberh, which for the past eleven centuries had housed the central campus of the distinguished Rothenian University. He led his company under the cavernous painted gate and into the empty building.

As far as Piotr was aware he was the entire military presence in Glottenberh. The rest of the Imperial Guard had been hastily redeployed at the Empress’s direct order – bypassing the Ministry of Defence – into remote bunkers, such as those deep in the salt mines of Silesia. The Rothenian cities were left with only token garrisons. High command had not shared with Piotr why this should be, but an order from the office of the Empress Osra Elphberg had instructed him to make his headquarters in the old University chapel. The empress’s adjutant had intimated that the empress herself had given the command, and that he was to await further instructions.

As his troops set up comms and went looking for defensive positions, Piotr poked around the historic chapel. He knew a few things about it. Like all Rothenian children his secondary schooling had included the works of Prince Willem Stanislas, the great Rothenian romantic poet, and he went over to survey the monument to the man. The prince lay depicted high on his tomb chest in marble as a naked teenager, his handsome head nestled in the lap of another naked boy, his muse Orestes, who sat cross-legged behind his husband’s cradled head. The bigger boy’s eyes were bandaged to signify his blindness. He looked as if he had just raised his head from kissing the forehead of the poet-prince, his lover. The skill of the sculptor was remarkable. Both figures were entirely undamaged by the centuries, and not so much as a chip or scrape marred the stone in the twenty-ninth century. Other monuments in the chapel were less lucky. The hands of vandalising students had not been idle over the years.

There was a lot more statuary in the chapel. Where the altar once had been now rose another notable group. A rearing pegasus of dramatic dimensions, wings outspread, dominated the east end of the chapel, its great wings spread, and a beautiful nude child perched on its back between them, the boy himself winged. An installation next to it played a number of talking heads discoursing learnedly on the symbolism and mythological references of the statue. But he noted as he watched that the name of the sculptor was nowhere given. The only historical information was that it was a gift to the university from the famous Chancellor Atvood of Rothenia back in 2059, in memory of his late husband, the Marshal Count Cornish of Ebersfeld, who was buried in the cathedral of Strelzen. The principal theory was that it represented his soul ascending to heaven.

His curiosity satisfied, Piotr climbed up to the battlements of the gatehouse, where he found the observers he had stationed there observing the dim yet threatening alien ships visible above the troposphere of Earth, where they had sat silent and unmoving now for twenty-four hours. They were watching Earth below, as Earth watched them, Piotr had no doubt. The city around the castle carried on its business, though the eyes of its people were often directed upwards and into the sky as they passed by. The captain addressed the master sergeant in command, who he knew was a native of the city and a graduate of its university.

‘What do you know about that chapel where the empress stationed us, Franzicec?’

The man laughed. ‘All sorts of crap. Glottenburgers will still tell you that one day the old prince will rise from his grave when the duchy is in mortal danger.’

Piotr shrugged. ‘His time might well be here then,’ he said with a smile.

The sergeant frowned. ‘I wonder if Her Imperial Majesty may have had that legend in mind when we were despatched here.’

‘What? That Prince Staszek would climb out of his tomb?’

‘Unlikely,’ said the sergeant. ‘When the grave was opened back in 2058 to replace the old lid with the one that’s there now. The coffin within was opened and found to be entirely empty.’

‘Very odd that. Had the corpse just rotted away?’

‘Who’s to know? But the silk lining was unstained by decomposition. The theory is that the actual body was secreted away by the prince’s instructions awaiting a joint burial with his lover, whenever he died. Point is, no one knows when Herr Ortolan passed or where he was buried, so it remains an insoluble mystery.’

It was just at that moment that a brilliant light lit up the eastern sky. It was so bright that Piotr and his men covered their eyes and ducked below the parapet. Not long after the ground shook, and a similar light burned briefly in the northern sky. Piotr ran down to the chapel, to find his comms crew frantically at work.

‘All links down, sir!’ his lieutenant called over. ‘Nothing as yet from High Command or the Imperium.’

‘Looks like the aliens have made their move,’ Piotr pronounced, ‘and it’s not a friendly one. Send up scouting drones. High altitude. Let’s find out what we can!’

The screens within a half hour revealed the worst, the cities of Strelzen, Hofbau and Radelngrad were wastelands of rubble, their populations and the very Imperium itself, all evaporated.

‘So why are we still here?’ Piotr mused.

A call came from the sentry at the castle gate. ‘Crowd growing here, sir. They want to take shelter in the Voyvodeskehrad. Many of them want to go to the chapel.’

Simultaneously the drone monitors warned them of a fleet of strange ships heading in the direction of Glottenberh. There were several large round vessels and behind them clustered squadrons of curious flat-bed ships. Piotr ordered the drone crews to engage the capital ships. They did some damage but the drones were neutralised all too soon. Piotr said to himself wryly, ‘Now’s your time, serene highness.’ But as he did, there was a peculiar crackling sound behind him and a shout from some of his men. He spun around.

Two naked men were standing on the otherwise empty tomb table. The slighter boy was beautiful beyond description, with rich golden hair and a strange light in his eyes. Behind him, gripping the boy’s shoulder, was a more solid man, who had just removed a bandage from his head and seemed to be wondering where to put it. If he was Orestes Ortolan, he was plainly no longer blind.

The youth leapt lightly to the floor and looked around him. He smiled and walked over to Piotr. ‘Hello,’ he said, in a matter of fact fashion, offering his hand, ‘My name’s Willem, and I’m the duke of this land. Look. I’d guess we don’t have much time, but I have a number of tricks that’ll save the land of Rothenia. So can you clear your people out of this chapel?’

‘Er … certainly your … er … serene highness.’

The boy then ran to the end of the chapel, and put his hand on the nose of the pegasus, who sneezed and shook his wings. The boy on his back leapt off his mount, flexed his wings and fluttered down into the prince’s waiting arms. With a delighted cry of ‘Daddy!’ he kissed and hugged his father.

Staszek turned, cuddling the boy. ‘Strange things are about to happen, Captain,’ he observed to Piotr. Then his frame swelled and green and red wings broke out of his back, with the same happening to his husband. The great horse let out a neigh that was as loud as a war trumpet. Then he winked kindly at Piotr and observed. ‘You better believe it, friend.’ And that, for Piotr, was the most astonishing thing that happened to him on that astonishing day.

Piotr Antonin ordered his men up to the battlements as the revenants and the great pegasus exited into the thronged square outside the castle gate. Awed Glottenburgers went to their knees as Staszek and his family emerged.

‘People of my city!’ the prince cried. ‘On this black day, I return as has long been promised that I would. I bring hope, for the forces of heaven itself are come to rout the black plague from the stars, and preserve great Rothenia. Much will pass away this day and many lives be surrendered, but all that is good will survive and pass into an unclouded future.’

So saying, his wings beat and he and his family ascended into the skies above the city. They did not hover there alone for long, for a shimmering window of blue light opened and through it stampeded a vast herd of thousands of winged horses, and on their backs rode strange beings, their eyes alight. They may once have been human but it was difficult to say what they now were, as no eye could quite fix on their shape. Gathering behind Staszek they flew west towards the oncoming Yahl fleet. And above the hills to the west of the Radeln valley an uncanny battle was joined. Pegasuses swooped between the alien vessels. Bolts of strange energy flew like shining spears from the warriors of the Dead mounted on their backs. Ships exploded and fell, and within the hour, the Yahl battle fleet in Eastern Europe was swept from the skies and their hunting packs all slain.


Henry Atwood appeared unexpectedly out of nowhere before Staszek, as he was in the gardens of his ducal residence. The authorities of the province had accepted that the strange golden-skinned naked youth, who declined all clothing, was indeed Duke Willem Stanislas VI of Glottenburg, who had not in fact died in September 1788 but had lived on and was the undoubted and rightful sovereign of Glottenberh, though the legality of his position was as yet not entirely established. Nonetheless, in acknowledgement of the fact of who the revenant clearly was, the provincial governor made over to him his great ancestral palace of the Casimirhof which Staszek’s father had built and which still stood north of the city. Henry found Staszek and his son playing chase in the gardens.

‘People don’t live in giant palaces like this these days, Willem.’ Henry observed.

‘Difficult to get the staff, I suppose,’ the boy said with a grin, failing to catch his son who had transformed into an avian and shot off above the trees. ‘Cheat!’ Staszek called after his laughing, fleeing child.

‘So what can I do for Mendamero?’ Staszek said.

‘Just here to tidy things up. The Emperor Rudolf Leopold is now resident on Rodinija under the tutelage of the avian King Maxim Elphberg, as his ward. He’s taken Petakh form and will likely have to stick with it in the end. Changing back is not an option after a while. He seems happy enough with the trade, but he realises that there needs to be some stability back at the core of his terrestrial realm. So I have brought from Rodinija a joint mandate of the King Regent and the Petakh Emperor concerning Earth. It recognises the realm of Rothenia to be now by hereditary right the sole possession of Willem Stanislas Ruricic, duke of Glottenberh, to be proclaimed this day Willem Stanislas, Most Pious and Steadfast King of Rothenia, and to be crowned with the Crown of Tassilo in the cathedral of St Vitalis in Strelzen on the Feast of Christ the King.’

‘So how did the cathedral manage to survive intact when all the rest of the city is a building site?’ Staszek asked.

‘That was me. It was a pretty much harmless display of seraphic power. But I suppose it counts as a miracle. The old crown had been stored by the Imperium in deep vaults before the city was hit, so we still have that invaluable accessory. You’ll have to go to Rodinija after that and swear allegiance to the Twelfth Elphberg Emperor of Earth. You can go off planet as an avian, but it seems the Petakh shape unaccountably has no hold over you, and you’ll always be a human king. By the way … nudity?’

‘Why not? I feel comfortable this way, and little Willem refuses to have anything to do with clothing, which he’s never worn.’

‘Hah! Reminds me of an archangel I once knew.’

‘Thing is, there’s a cult of Staszek grown up in my duchy, and the younger population are adopting nudity too. Naturism’s always been a Rothenian thing. Now we’re going full naked, like the avians. I’ve started a fashion! My kid’s started human school and none of his class will wear a thing, since the boy who will be Crown Prince and Duke of Mittenheim doesn’t and is perfectly unselfconscious about it. It’s cute.’

‘What about Orry?’

‘Oh, he’s so glad to be back in the stream of time on Earth, especially as his long time in Eden rebuilt his eyes. He spends all his time in the gardens and greenhouses of this old place, enjoying flowers and talking with gardeners and foresters. Because of the time he spent with Willem on the Pegasus Planet he’s a bit older than me, which somehow seems right. But since we’re “super-sap”, as the people here say, we likely still have the best part of two centuries of youth ahead of us. I’ll make him a duke and King-Consort or something. Now, I have a question. What about the pegasuses?’

‘Good question. The Petakh scientists have determined the location of the Equine Nursery Planet that the Dead found for them. It’s well within range of Petakh spacecraft. The Empress Brunhild and Emperor Erebus, her prime consort, have moved their people there. Apparently my old friends the rogue seraphs were in any case making life difficult for them in Eden and the Unlikely Forest is no longer a safe refuge. So their empire has been created in the living universe and recognised as an ally of the Human and Petakh Imperiums.’

Staszek continued. ‘I ask because my son and his foster-brother, Brightheart Erebuscolt, are the closest of friends, and something needs to be done about where the colt can live and who’s responsible for him. In real time, Brightheart is only six years of age.’

Mendamero laughed. ‘I think that there’ll be Equine embassies on Earth and Rodinija in due course. I don’t know anything about the sort of schooling pegasuses give their foals, but I imagine it’s not the human sort. So I’ll refer that problem to Brunhild herself.’ ‘Brightheart’s not her colt, but Erebus’s with the High Common herd queen. He’s still in the imperial family though, and a proper associate for my Crown Prince. And what about you, Henry?’

The seraph did a double-take. ‘What d’you mean?’

‘The Kingdom has truly come, and all prophecies have been fulfilled. The Dead are returning to their Final Imperium and closing the door behind them. We’ll never again see the like of what happened here in Glottenberh, when the Dead revealed themselves and went to war on Earth in the Wild Ride of the Phantoms. So what’s left for you to do?’

The seraph shrugged and after a while deflected the question. ‘What about you too, sunshine? You could have fun reclaiming the outstanding royalties of your verse from the publishing houses of Earth. Or you could start writing new epics.’

The prince smiled. ‘I was thinking of writing history, myself. My account of life in 18th-century Mittel Europa will be unassailably authentic. You must admit!’