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A Princess of Mars

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Time's glory is to calm contending kings,
To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light,
To stamp the seal of time in aged things,
To wake the morn of sentinel the night,
To wrong the wronger till he render right,
To ruinate proud buildings with thy hour
And smear with dust their glittering golden towers.The Rape of Lucrece, Stanza 135.

With the exception of nineteen-year-old Henry VI, nearly everyone at the English Court was shocked to learn that Mars was inhabited.

Not that science was unknown, for by 1457, the Sophian Age had been thriving for four or five generations. Brassheads—either commonplace tool-like "devices" or the far rarer "gimmors" that were capable of independent thought—had been around for several generations. Revivifying the dead (or the mostly dead) was less a wonder than expected treatment for those dying unexpectedly in relatively good health. Airships floated across the skies with the seemingly effortless grace of accomplished dancers—though many of the younger generation grumbled that airships had been fine for their parents and grandparents, but what they wanted were sleek ships that could leap across the heavens like salmon leaping upstream.

Yet, at the same time, they also demanded miracles—and if spiritual wonders were unavailable, then diabolic ones would do just as well. Magic, angels, demons, and long-leggedy beasties were all the rage now—no matter that no one could prove they existed. The world needed spirituality, the young explained patiently to their parents. Yes, science had improved the lots of many people…but it had also been the cause of a political coup so subtle that for two years, no one had dreamt that it even existed. And once Good Queen Anne had found out that her husband had been replaced by a lookalike gimmor, she and the gimmor's creator had begun fighting the War of the Brasshead King. Which had taken rather longer to win than anyone had expected.

Once the dust had settled, however, and the man who had executed the coup had been slain and brought back wrong, Richard—much the weaker for time spent in the dungeons of a lover-minion and frailer for having escaped and then having walked barefoot across the length and breadth of winter-struck England —managed to clamber back onto his throne, much to the unadulterated joy of Anne and the intermingled happiness and frustration of Henry Bolingbroke. Not that he had wished his cousin any ill…but even before the war was over, he knew all too well that he coveted the throne. Richard—probably at Anne's behest—named Henry heir presumptive. For it was 1390—eight years since their wedding. No one expected Anne to bear a child now.

The babe—strong, plump, healthy and blessed with a set of lungs that would have made Stentor envious— was born on the Feast of the Annunciation, 1406. Richard had hoped to name the child Edward, after his father and brother, but even he had to admit that Joanna was a better choice.

Convinced that, if not for his wife's wisdom and courage, the War of the Brasshead King would have smashed England and sent it spiraling into chaos, Richard took his daughter's birth as a sign. He reared her as one rears an heir to the throne, even allowing her to study English law at Oxford and to serve a sort of apprenticeship with her Great-Aunt Eleanor. And, after many a political battle, he persuaded Parliament to pass a law saying that the ruler's eldest child was the heir, not the eldest son.

They say that when Henry heard of this, he shut himself up in his castle for a month and spoke to no one.

Many thought that Joanna and Henry's son Hal should wed, uniting both halves of the family once more. Politically, it would have been a sound move. Regrettably, as the two grew, they learned something significant: they couldn't abide each other.

Crowned queen at twenty, wed at twenty-one, and both widow and mother at twenty-two, Joanna strove with all her heart to be a wise and peaceful ruler out of legend. By avoiding the errors of her father—who might well have been deposed if his uncles had not learned that the thought patterns of the king's brasshead double had been altered by Henry Green, forcing the double to make some ghastly decisions— sometimes she even succeeded.

But the court had no desire for a shrewd yet hot-tempered young queen who was endeavoring to be wise and peaceful. Most of her advisors wanted war with France…or perhaps "conquest" would be a better word. And if the only way to begin such a war was to overthrow the English queen and place her warrior cousin Hal on the throne, then they had to do what was needful…no matter how much it pained them personally.

Certain that all the taxes in England would not pay for a month-long invasion, let alone years of battles, knowing that England could not endure another civil war so soon, and bitterly aware that she had no allies or forces to speak of, Joanna did the one thing that no one expected her to do. One moonless night in September 1435, she packed a back-bundle of simple, warm traveling clothes for herself and her seven-year-old daughter Philippa, concealed a fat purse of battered pence and silver beneath her cloak, and fled. The two never reached any ports, however, and no airship carried them across the Channel to Italy or Bohemia or distant Cathay. In fact, no witnesses—none in this world, anyway—saw either after they left the palace. Both mother and child simply melted into air.

Even two generations later, people still spoke of this. Many of the older people, sickened by the notion that Good Queen Anne's daughter would abandon her people so readily and without a fight, muttered of kidnappings, tragic queens imprisoned in dungeons, and secret executions. The young pointed out patiently that if any human conspirator had chosen to make Joanna and her daughter vanish, they had picked a foolishly public way of doing so. It was far more likely that she and Pippa had accidentally slipped sideways into a different dimension and were even now guests of Queen Mab or being guarded by angels. A few prophesied that, like King Arthur, Joanna would return—but only when the world had changed so drastically that she could not recognize it any more.

And, as his supporters had wished, Hal took the throne as Henry V, his father having died—some say of disappointment—not long before. (One of the first things Hal did as king was to declare that his father had been Henry IV in fact as well as in desire, and that his reign had lasted the length of Joanna's.) And his supporters settled in for what they were certain would be a long and glorious reign.

The glorious reign lasted for three years, beginning with Hal's marriage to a French princess and ending with him dying of camp fever on the battlefields that he and his supporters had so hungered for. His nine-month-old son became Henry VI …and life went on.

There were those who whispered that Henry VI was Heaven's judgment on England, for he did not grow up to be a replica of his warrior prince father but a sweet-tempered, trusting, devout man whose wits occasionally went wandering…never in a way perilous to himself or others, but wandering all the same. Perhaps as a result, his kin were inclined to treat him as a naïve and brainless child who undeservedly wore a crown, and nothing more.

They could not have been more wrong.