PROLOGUE ~ The Tallest Tower

There is nothing to be seen at a single glance, but as we look closer, to the tip of the tallest tower, where two big glass doors have been opened out onto a peachy balcony faded to grey in the dying light, the grave voice comes more clearly.

“Shall I fetch the King, Your Highness?”

We strain to catch the words of a high-pitched moan from a person somewhere within the round walls of the tallest tower—grey as grey, dry as dry.

“Immediately, Your Highness.” There is a swish of petticoats, and we realise that it is a young palace maid, waiting on her mistress, who is evidently feeling unwell. And we remember that the highest room of the tallest tower is solar to King Duaryth and Queen Taspeth. Queen Taspeth is ill!—and in the week of the Festival of Nations!

Struck with horror and disbelief, we are blind and deaf to all the happiness below and all the suffering across, until another voice cuts our contemplations.

“You are sick, my dear?”

It is King Duaryth VI himself—I said that six is a magic number, did I not?—But we are intruding—we are eavesdropping—upon a private conversation between King and Queen. We miss the Queen’s response as our ears regain their normal hue, but our curiosity is more pronounced than our guilt—we can never be discovered in such a place. Nobody would ever look up on such a night, through the gloom cast by the brightness of the Square. As for the King and Queen, why should they suspect a listener, and from such a distance? Ah, how we do thank our lucky stars for our superb hearing skills.

“You are quite certain of this?” The King’s words are very weighty.

“Yes, my dear Duaryth—I am dying.”

The End

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