21. Long live the King! It’s the coronation of the century.


Tracy gave up trying to assassinate the King and got on with organising the coronation. Nicky Tams read a lot of books while he was in Scarborough hospital, recovering from his burns, and managed to acquire a certain amount of knowledge and wisdom. He felt far better about this King business and was sure that, after the coronation, he could look forward to a long and just reign at home as King of Nosepipe and, at a distance, Emperor of Ang Gonnaseck. Tracy was willing to change schools, live in Scarborough and be Princess Regent, so that was all right.

It was a spectacular event, the coronation, at York Minster. There were royals and all kinds of Very Superior Persons from everywhere, and all in their best ceremonial gear. The massed bands and choirs made beautiful music and the whole thing was absolutely fascinating. Every person was thrilled and absorbed, except for one small boy called Ranald Dragonsbane, who was a young prince from a strange country way up north and across the sea somewhere.

He knew that when they shouted “Vivat Rex” it meant Long Live The King, because he did Latin at school. But the rest of it was in Ang Gonnaseckian, a totally foreign language to him, so he got bored and began to think his own thoughts in his own language. These thoughts turned into a poem and, after a few mental alterations, he’d got it right. It went like this:

SNIMsnimglik THURPplenit gloffdup pernoop,

PABgaitle padjer nadonker macspoop.

NORFFweffy buxvuj, zakLAXbo binaa,

DOYNkil herGIFgaf, vulnana vulnaa.

Ranald was delighted with his poem. He ran it through several times and then began to count the little dots of light that were floating in the sunbeams.

It was a beautiful day outside and there were hundreds of shafts of glorious sunlight coming into the Minster through the many leaded panes of the vast stained glass windows. Ranald could see no end to the job of counting the dancing dots (‘snerk’ was the word he used in his language for a dot of dust dancing in the sunlight. We would call it a ‘mote’).

He had reached acknip throop (seven hundred and forty nine) snerkim (motes) when the sunbeam in which he was counting disappeared, as if its light had been turned off.

Then it came on again, and the one next to it went off. Then that came back on, the next one went out, and so on. He looked up at the massive window. A small, round black shadow was passing across it, like a bodyless head, switching the sunbeams off and on as it went. It looked like there was a circular, dense patch of fog moving along between the window and the sun, eclipsing the beams.

Or, Ranald might have said, it was like a ghah, which was his word for a little cloud. But it couldn’t have been a ghah, not on a day like this without a single cloud in the sky. Could it?


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