As the Hedgehog huddled in the mug that it had chosen for the night, it realised how tired it really was. The day’s exhaustion hit it like a pile of Parian marble, and the soft glow of the nightlamp, together with the sweet scent of Theodora’s nightcap that impregnated its spines, were lulling it to sleep. The whispers of the other toys faded away as it dozed off.
There was a fizzling noise and the Hedgehog’s eyes snapped open to find that the shop was now in pitch darkness. “What happened?” it asked sleepily.
“The nightlamp short-circuited,” Hephaestus’s grumpy voice said. “Looks like the Humans bought the cheap sort.”
The Hedgehog made a mental note to scold the Humans for not seeing that the toys deserved the best equipment there was, but there was nothing it could do about it in the middle of the night. “It’s okay, no one here is afraid of the dark, are we?” it said with forced cheerfulness. “Let’s all go back to sleep.”
It rolled itself into an even tighter ball and dozed off again. Soon it was having a delightful dream where it was bathing in a tub of the nightcap, its sweet scent so intoxicating that it felt as if it were flying rather than swimming. The sensation was elating, and it was extremely upset when a shriek pulled it out of its deep slumber. It unrolled itself and tried to stand up groggily, but its little legs were unsteady and it fell back into the mug. “What is going on?”
“Our friend the despot apparently acquired bad habits while he was alone in historical oblivion,” Hera’s aristocratic voice said sarcastically. “He is making such a ruckus with his snoring that he scared my peacock.”
The Hedgehog managed to lift itself up a little. It could now hear Nicephorus Palaiologos’s snoring as well; presumably the mug had sheltered it from the ear-splitting racket while it was asleep. “Can someone please give him a prod?” it asked.
There was a sudden catch in the despot’s breath followed by a gasp and the rustle of fabric, and silence returned to the dark shop. “Must’ve turned on his side,” the Albanian Butcher grumbled. “’Bout time too. Goodnight!”
The toys went back to sleep. The Hedgehog sniffed itself a little – the scent of Theodora’s nightcap was fading off – and tucked its snout between its body and the side of the mug to shelter itself from further noises during what was left of the night.
Alas, this moment of peace was short-lived. Soon the shop was echoing with the clip-clop of hooves on the marble floor. “What now?” the Hedgehog asked.
“I am merely going to the lavatory, if you’ll excuse me,” Suleyman’s voice came through the darkness. “Do I need anyone’s permission for this?”
“Certainly not, as it is the one place where even kings go alone,” the Duchess of Plaisance said. “However, I am not entirely certain why you had to go on horseback.”
“I am an Ottoman sultan, Duchess,” Suleyman retorted. “My horse is part and parcel of who I am.”
By now the Hedgehog’s nerves were rather frayed. “Let us save this discussion for the morning, shall we?” it said pointedly. “For now, could Your Majesty please make as little noise as possible, so that the rest of us can sleep?”
There were a few more hoofbeats, the door of the lavatories opened and closed, there was a flush of water, and the door opened and closed again. There was suddenly a loud crash. “Will you look where you’re going?” Constantine the Great’s irate voice shouted. “You made my miniature Constantinople fall down!”
“I can see why the fall of Constantinople would upset you,” Suleyman replied ironically. “Symbolic, isn’t it, Constantinople falling out of the hands of a Byzantine emperor?”
“I will not dignify that with a response,” Constantine retorted. “Seeing as there wouldn’t have been a Constantinople for you if I hadn’t been there in the first place.”
“Pfff. There wasn’t much of your city left when we came along. My ancestors even had to build an entire palace from scratch!”
“Stripping what was left of mine for stones, eh?” Theodora piped up. “You couldn’t bother going all the way to the quarries, could you? Oh, when I tell Justinian about this…”
“Childish,” the Classical Grandmother muttered. “I wonder how many centuries must pass before –”
“We don’t need a piece of broken pottery to teach us manners, than you very much” Theodora said haughtily.
By now, the Hedgehog was beginning to panic. It couldn’t let the situation evolve into a brawl in the middle of the night, what would the Humans say? It lifted itself above the lip of the mug and was about to let out a squeal to get everyone’s attention when a sharp hiss came from somewhere in the back of the room. “I remember saying something about unleashing the beasts of the Bronze Age,” the Serpent Goddess uttered ominously.
But Theodora wouldn’t let herself be intimidated. “I am sorry, Goddess, but this cannot wait. I will not have this spawn of Central Asian nomads barely off their horses comparing his city to mine.”
“Indeed,” Constantine seconded. “We in Byzantium knew that horses are for chariot racing, nothing else. These people… they don’t even know the difference between the hippodrome and their private homes!”
“Now just a minute,” Haseki interrupted crossly. “You don’t get to say –”
It was time for a different approach. “Stop it!” the Hedgehog said as softly as possible. “You will wake up Nicephorus Palaiologos!”
The implied threat achieved in an instant what pleading could not. “He has a point,” Theodora whispered. “We ought to keep this conversation among rational people.”
‘Rational’ was certainly not the word the Hedgehog would have chosen to describe the other toys, but he wasn’t about to open a new front. “Now, everyone please go back to sleep. There will be plenty of time to discuss such serious matters over the coming days.”
“And I will be glad to contribute,” Thucydides added. “Good night!”
Silence took hold of the shop once more. The Hedgehog curled up in its mug, but sleep wouldn’t come after so much agitation. It kept tossing and turning around, and he could perceive the first hints of daybreak as Morpheus came for it at last. It was about to close its little eyes when the Duchess of Plaisance let out a terrified shriek. “Oh dear, oh dear! Look!”
An exasperated Hedgehog lifted itself to the edge of the mug, but the acid comment it was about to let out died in its throat. The morning light revealed that the window display of the despotate of Mykonos toy collection had been ransacked during the night. The box of the “Naval Battle of the Aegean” had been smashed, shredded pages from the Gatatzis colouring book littered the floor, and the doll of Nicephorus Palaiologos hung from the ceiling lamp, a noose around its neck and cottony filling spilling out of its eviscerated body.
The despot of Mykonos had been murdered in his sleep.