Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Across a starfield as vast as it is unexplored, two pinpricks of light crawl. Getting closer, their crawling progress is revealed to be a trick of distance. Both specks are moving at tremendous speed.

“How far, Davey?”

“Less than an AU, kid. How much less depends on how dead we want to be before the fuel runs out.”

“How much further do we need to go to outrun them?”

“Across the drift. Which we don’t have the fuel for. A fact that may be irrelevant.”


“We’ve picked up a close tail. One who can track us by vessel lock, not emission trail.”

“One we don’t have the fuel to shake?”

“Even if we had the fuel, the drastic manoeuvres required would attract the attention of the Roekuld, and delay us sufficiently for them to make up a lot of the head start your folks died to give us.”

“How dangerous is the close tail?”

“It’s an Urson Destroyer.”

“My mother’s people! Didn’t we have treaties with them?”

“Until the Senate tried to placate the Roekuld by reneging on them.”

“What do we do, Davey?”

“Remember, I can only advise. It’s royalty who make the decisions, kid.”

“Not really. Mum and dad were royal. They always tried to keep what they called ‘the pomp and circumstance’ away from me, at least until I got a little older.”

“That’s the problem with being Blood Royal, kid. Getting promoted usually involves heartbreak and tough decisions.”

“I’ve done the heartbreak. Anything else will be easy.”

“Then wipe your eyes, Eagle Princess of the Sunward Towers, and rise to be Queen of the Sunward Reach, with her one loyal retainer, David Knight.”

“It seems that I am in dire straits, good Knight.”

“You are, milady.”

“Then heave to and make parlay with those aboard the Urson ship. I will take their anger as fairer than the hatred of the Roekuld who slaughtered my family.”

“You do the queen thing well, kid.”

“Let’s see how short my reign is to be, Davey.”

“This is Sunward Talirand hailing the Urson Destroyer in our wake.”

“Hail to you from Destroyer Bearclaw. We note your ‘Sunward’ claim, Talirand. You have royalty on board?”

She places her hand on my wrist, then leans forward to speak clearly into the pickup: “Maliean Mar, Eagle Princess of the Sunward Towers. To whom do I speak?”

There is a pause. Then a warmer voice relies: “With regret, dear highness, we recognise and declare you to be Mar the Second, Queen of the Sunward Reach.”

I feel a tear splash onto the back of my hand.

“I suspected it would be so, Grandmother Chantrie.”

“You recognise me, Maliean? Well done.”

“We would have stopped sooner, but we thought you were chasing us.”

“No, granddaughter. We were overlaying your emission trail with ours, like the ‘Bear Follower’ in the nursery tale. The Roekuld are cowards. They will never provoke a confrontation with the Urson unless they can get someone else to do so.”

“What now, grandmother?”

“You and yours come aboard, Maliean. Then, again like the bear in the tale, let us carry you to safety. Once there, you can start to build your court-in-exile.”

Across a starfield as vast as it is unexplored, a pinprick of light hurtles. Far behind, a cluster of pinpricks mill about for a while, then turn away.

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