The Despotate of Mykonos | Chapter V

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    The silence that followed was deafening. The toys sat stunned on their shelves, staring at the devastation. They could now see that a piece of cardboard hung around the dead despot’s neck. On it were scribbled the words: “Fake history belongs into oblivion.” The eviscerated doll revolved upon itself around the noose, and no one seemed to know what to do or to understand what had happened, until Thucydides spoke gravely. 

    “Perhaps the despot wasn’t exaggerating when he claimed to be hunted by Andronicus’s agents.” 

    “Impossible!” Constantine the Great spluttered. “A Byzantine emperor would do no such thing!” 

    “You jest!” Suleyman interjected. “The history of your empire is riddled with tales of intrigue, deceit and murder.” 

    Theodora gave him a scornful look. “You’re one to talk! Last I checked, it was your dynasty’s custom to slaughter each other in order to accede to the throne.” 

    “At any rate, the despot claimed to be hunted by his brother and we can all see the results,” the Classical Grandmother said soothingly. “The question is, how did Andronicus’s agents come into our shop.” 

    It had taken the Hedgehog a few minutes to collect its wits, but at the Grandmother’s comment it perked up immediately. “No agent could have entered the shop during the night,” it said. “The Humans locked all the doors when they left.”

    “They must have found a way,” the Grandmother insisted. “We should –”

    “It is impossible. The shutters are padlocked. There was no one here but us.” 

    The Albanian Butcher scratched his head. “What does that mean?” 

    The Hedgehog lifted itself over the lip of the cup and hopped gracefully onto the shelf. It raised itself to its full height. “Elementary, my dear Butcher. The murderer is one of us.” 

    There was another silence. For a moment, the only sound came from the Duchess of Plaisance, who was muttering “Mon Dieu, mon Dieu” under her breath, until the room erupted into protests. 

    Hephaestus raised his hammer ominously. “Are you accusing us?”

    “How dare you!” Hera exclaimed over the Serpent Goddess’s hiss. “I will not tolerate –”

    “Preposterous!” Haseki interrupted. “You have no grounds to imply that we are killers.” 

    “Well, in your case, the Hedgehog wouldn’t be entirely wrong,” the Duchess of Plaisance cut in. “Hanging and stabbing people used to be one of your hobbies, after all.” 

    The Ottoman governor turned on her with such fury that she took a step back. “This – is – not – the – time –” 

    “Oh, but it is absolutely the time,” Theodora said calmly. “If there is a murderer among us, we certainly ought to look at each other’s past.” 

    Haseki’s eyes narrowed. “How about we start with yours, then? Tell me, Empress, how many people did you have slaughtered during the Nika Riots? That alone gives us a fine idea of how you would treat your enemies.” 

    “And it seems to me that you have motive as well,” Suleyman chimed in. “You were hoping to represent the glory of Byzantium in this shop. Nicephorus Palaiologos took the wind out of your sails.” 

    “And you, no doubt, thought you would represent the biggest board game in this toy collection with Constantinopoly, until the Naval Battle of the Aegean came along” Theodora snapped back. “It seems to me that your motive is at least as good as mine.” 

    “If this is the sort of motive we’re looking for, there can be only one culprit,” Constantine the Great said. “There is one historical period that is accustomed to being in the spotlight, and that’s precisely what they’re not getting in this shop. Namely, Antiquity.” He looked at the Olympian Gods, the Serpent Goddess and the Classical Grandmother accusingly. 

    “Oh, don’t be ridiculous,” Thucydides retorted disdainfully. “Our glory is secure for all time. The historians that I trained have made sure of it. We don’t feel threatened by Byzantine princelings.” 

    “Besides, only one of us ever made deals with the Franks,” the Duchess of Plaisance said. “Yes, I’m looking at you, Sultan Suleyman. Weren’t you a close ally of King Francis I of France? Couldn’t that alliance have given you contacts among his predecessors and kin? Nicephorus Palaiologos was hated by the Franks as much as he was hated by his brother.” 

    “The founder of my dynasty conquered Bithynia from the Byzantines,” Suleyman protested. “My ancestor’s enmity with Byzantium is a matter of record.” 

    The Duchess gave him a disdainful look. “Yada, yada.” She paused and added dramatically: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” 

    At this the Sultan made his horse rear up, threatening to bring it down on the shelf where the Duchess stood, together with the other figures of the Attic Biriba. The Hedgehog had been pressing its tiny paws to its ears to block out the noise and try to think, but it realised that it needed to intervene before any more damage could come to the shop. “Enough!” it squealed sharply as the startled horse landed back on the floor with a thunder of hooves. “Don’t you see how serious the situation is? Do I need to remind you all that the penalty for misbehaving toys is destruction? We need to resolve this murder before the Humans come back and decide that you should all be reduced to paper pulp.” 

    The toys all took in a sharp breath, but Theodora decided to go back on the offensive. “What about you? You think you won’t you be reduced to paper pulp?” 

    “I, for one, am not made of paper, Empress,” the Hedgehog said. “And I am not a toy. I am this shop’s mascot, and the Humans have put me in charge. Now if you will all please go back to your shelves, I will investigate and present you my conclusions.”

    ***

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