The toys watched in silence as the Hedgehog read the inscription carefully and returned the marble slab to the Classical Grandmother. It allowed for a moment’s meditation, took a deep breath, and began.
“As you all remember, last night Empress Theodora offered us a nightcap before we went to bed. Only two toys took her up on the offer: Mister Hephaestus and Nicephorus Palaiologos.”
“Did he just call me ‘mister’?” Hephaestus grumbled angrily.
The Hedgehog lifted a finger to stop the rant that it knew was coming. “Please do not interrupt me. The Humans will be here in less than two hours. We will not resolve this case before that if we engage in pointless bickering.”
Hephaestus went to protest again, but Hera silenced him with a slap on his wrist. The Hedgehog bowed its head to thank her and continued.
“However, Empress Theodora did not make this nightcap on her own. She had help from the Classical Grandmother and the Serpent Goddess. And…” – it paused for dramatic effect – “the inscription on the Classical Grandmother’s tablet is the Draught of Eternal Sleep, of which snake venom is a key ingredient.”
A murmur ran across the room. “So it was the three of them?” Aphrodite asked.
The Hedgehog lifted a finger again. “I said no such thing. The Draught of Eternal Sleep merely put the despot to sleep. I myself experienced its effects through the residual smell on my spines. I was indeed extremely sleepy all night, I could barely stand on my feet.”
“So was I,” Hephaestus interjected.
“I am afraid that is not so,” the Hedgehog replied calmly. “The Draught of Eternal Sleep was a creation of the Olympian Gods. Surely you made sure that you were immune to it?” At this the smithing god remained slack-jawed. The Hedgehog continued before he could say anything else. “Instead, you made your way to the electrical board and burned the fuse that kept the night lamps on. Then you did your best to clean the traces of soot around it.”
“That is impossible,” the Classical Grandmother said. “One of us would have seen him.”
The Hedgehog smiled. “That is the beauty of this plot, my dear Grandmother. All of you saw him. All of you, except me, because I was curled up in a mug.”
A murmur ran around the room again. “Please let me finish,” the Hedgehog snapped in its squeaky voice. “Once the lights went out, Madam Hera plucked a tail-feather from her peacock and handed it to the Duchess of Plaisance who wrote the sign that hangs around the despot’s neck.”
“Someone tell him that ‘mister’ and ‘madam’ are not an appropriate way to refer to gods,” Hera muttered under her breath. “This is not going to end well.”
The Duchess of Plaisance had turned deep red. “How do you know that Hera didn’t write it herself?”
“Elementary, my dear Duchess,” the Hedgehog said sternly. “In ancient times, people wrote with styluses on wax tablets. In your time however, quills were the norm. Furthermore, you lost an earring when you went to hang the sign on the body.”
“As far as I can tell, there is no body at this point in your narration,” the Duchess protested. “Only a sleeping despot.”
“Indeed. In fact, by the time you got to Nicephorus Palaiologos, our friends Governor Haseki and the Albanian Butcher had already been there on the tips of their toes. Governor Haseki hung him with the strangling cord he carries in his pocket, and the Albanian Butcher split his belly open with his knife. The despot could not react as he was deeply asleep.”
At this Haseki let out an angry snarl. “You’ll be hanging from a cord next if you keep up this sort of accusations.”
“By all means,” the Hedgehog replied mildly. “I only request that you wait until I’m done, and I will be glad to be proven wrong.”
Haseki sat back with an angry frown.
“Moments later, Sultan Suleyman helped Emperor Constantine onto his horse and made for the window display to destroy the remaining toys about the Despotate of Mykonos. However, by that time of the night, the scent of Empress Theodora’s nightcap on my spines was beginning to wear off, and while I was still a little dizzy it could not prevent me from hearing the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves, as discreet as the Sultan tried to be. Our two riders therefore went all the way to the lavatory to fool me. Upon exiting, they made their way to the display and smashed the miniature Constantinople into it. They then profited from the ensuing commotion and shouting to return to their shelf unnoticed. Or, I should say, unnoticed by me, since the rest of you were all fully aware of what was going on.”
There was a long, heavy silence. “Quod erat demonstrandum,” the Hedgehog finally said. “Nicephorus Palaiologos was not killed by Andronicus’s agents or any such thing. He was eliminated because of a conspiracy of his fellow toys.”
The room exploded in protests.
“This is hardly credible,” Hera said.
“It is actually entirely unbelievable,” the Serpent Goddess hissed contemptuously. “I would like to see the Humans take it at face value.”
The Albanian Butcher unsheathed his knife. “I can make sure that the Humans never hear any of it. Haseki, will you please assist me?”
The Hedgehog shrugged. “I am made of clay, Butcher. Knives and cords cannot do much against me.”
“That can be arranged,” Hephaestus grumbled as he swung his hammer. “Last I checked clay didn’t fare very well against cast iron.”
“Nor could it survive the contact with stone at high velocity,” Constantine the Great muttered.
Suleyman reared his horse. “Should I help?”
The Byzantine emperor took a step towards the Hedgehog. The Serpent Goddess hissed at him angrily, but before she could do anything else there was a loud bang. Constantine’s crown broke apart and he crumpled to the floor, revealing the Classical Grandmother who had just whacked him on the head with her marble slab.
“Stop this nonsense, boys,” she said primly. “We are not murderers.”
Suleyman turned on her with a fury. “I am an Ottoman sultan, Grandmother. You cannot address me as ‘boy’.”
“Oh, she definitely can, and quite rightly so,” Theodora intervened. “The Hedgehog is a genuine archaeological finding. It would be entirely unacceptable to damage it in any way. Any grown man would know this.”
The Olympian God and the Ottoman sultan took a step back as she stared them down. The Serpent Goddess, the Classical Grandmother, the Duchess of Plaisance and Hera came to stand at her side, making a wall to keep the Hedgehog from harm. “Men,” the Duchess of Plaisance muttered. “All brawl, no brains.”
Thucydides, who had been sitting quietly on his shelf until then, stepped forward. “Not all men, Duchess, if you’ll allow me.” He turned to the Hedgehog. “Please spare my friends. Eliminating Nicephorus Palaiologos in this way was my idea. I alone should take the blame when the Humans come.”
The Hedgehog let out a surprised squeak at this unexpected turn of events. “You? But why? You are the father of history. I would have expected you to be delighted at new historical sources coming to light.”
“I would be,” Thucydides said with a tired sigh. “But the Despotate of Mykonos never existed. It was all a hoax.”