utside, rain fell with such violence that great, pulsating sheets of water seemed to hang suspended between earth and sky. Squatting in the attic, Teddy watched raindrops roll like beads of quicksilver down the glass of the high, diamond-shaped window, and listened to the muted banjo twanging on the roof.
Blinking, he shifted his position and transferred his attention to the things that lay around him on the floor. In the centre of the room stood a fort and a palace, painstakingly constructed from corrugated cardboard cartons. These were surrounded by humbler dwellings made from matchboxes and the covers of exercise books. The streets and alleys were full of nobles, peasants and soldiers, their two-dimensional bodies scissored from paper, theirs faces and clothing drawn in crayon and lead pencil. From the turreted roof of the palace, hung a green, white and gold tricolour, the flag of the Kingdom of Upalia . . .
Sombre gray eyes glinted in teddy’s pale, triangular face. He shoved his hands deeper in the pockets of his worn khaki shorts. He decided that what he heard was not the rattle of rain on the roof and window, but the muffled roar of distant cannon. The armies of the Emperor Kang of Danova were attacking the fortifications on the Upalian frontier!
Teddy inhaled deeply and held his breath, his thin chest pressing against his sweat shirt. His Majesty King Theodore I, resplendent in the red and black uniform of a generalissimo, emerged on the balcony of his winter palace in Theodoresburg, capital of the Kingdom of Upalia. Through the square below rode squadrons of lancers, dragoons and hussars, batteries of horse artillery; behind them marched regiments of infantry. grasping the diamond-studded hilt of his sword. King Theodore watched his army march out to give battle to the enemy.
This would be the third war between Danova and Upalia. The first had been fought in the year 2032 and had ended in the defeat of the Emperor Kang and his imprisonment on the Isle of Hawks. But he had escaped through the treachery of Zikla, Duke of Anders, a general in the Upalian army, and in 2043 the Danovans had invaded Upalia a second time, aided by the renegade force under the command of Zikla. This time, they conquered Theodoresburg and massacred the populace before being routed by King Theodore. On the day of victory, the Duke of Anders was brought to Theodoresburg in chains and hanged in the city square.
The Emperor Kang was as evil and cunning as the Fu Manchu about whom Teddy had read in books. Tow, astride a black war-horse, he directed his troops as they besieged For Lion on the Carian River. Hopelessly outnumbered, the defenders rallied behind their commander, Duke Lani of Caria, and prayed for the coming of King Theodore . . .
He sighed. This was his aunt, shouting from the foot of the stairs. “Teddy!”
He opened the door. “Yeah?” he called sulkily.
“Come down here this minute and get ready for supper! How many times do I have to call you?”
“Okay, okay, I’m comin’!”
“—And be quick about it!”
“I’m comin’, I told yuh!”
She stood in the hall, a tall, stooped woman with tired, suspicious eyes.
“Seems to me that you’re spending a lot of time in that attic.” She wiped red, swollen hands on her apron. “You been into some mischief up there?”
He shrugged impatiently. “I ain’t been doin’ nothin’ — just playin’,” he told her sullenly.
“Well, young man, you better wipe that scowl off your face and march to the bathroom and get ready for supper.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he enunciated carefully.
During supper, he was scarcely aware of what he ate; he was so deep in thought that his pork chop tasted no different from his whipped cream and jello. Mechanically, he obeyed his aunt when she told him to take smaller bites and to take his elbows off the table. He was pondering on the tactics that would have to be used by King Theodore in relieving the siege of the fort by...