IN THE QUEENDOM OF QUILFF the Day of Resurrection has already come and gone: its citizens live outside Profane Time, which they hold at bay with daggers and poisons. Behind crenellations and slit-windowed towers they wake with scholars and fedayeen in narrow monolithic cells. Star-maps, astrolabes, alembics and retorts, piles of open books in a shaft of morning sunlight: an unsheathed scimitar. Each of you who have entered the realm of the Imam-of-one's-own-being becomes a sultan of inverted revelation, a monarch of abrogation and apostasy. In a central chamber scalloped with light and hung with tapestried arabesques you lean on bolsters and smoke long chibouks of haschisch scented with opium and amber...

<<I wonder>> Croon was saying on a headland one headline afternoon <<I wonder what lies over the sea?>>

Bjork had been asked the question so many times, her response was automatic: <<There'd be dragons, I suppose, and giants, and giant ants.>> Although she made sure to yawn, he actually took her response as encouragement, and pummelled her into the grass. <<There's no such thing as giants, silly!>> he clamoured, climbing on to her waist. <<My father told me so, and he's the bravest captain in Her Highness's fleet.>>

Bjork felt like punching him in the mouth - that boy could be so obnoxious when he wasn't getting his way! <<I'm Her Highness's daughter, silly, and when this world ascends, I'm ascending with it. So it's with the highest possible regality that I tell you that there are giants, and if you don't believe me then I'll summon one to eat you!>>

The little oaf just uppuckered his lips and said: <<You couldn't do that, even if you were the Queen. Why, with all your spells and graces you can't even enchant me, and god knows how long you've tried!>>

Bjork's cheeks were flushing pink, she was panting, and if she had her sabre she didn't know what she'd do! As it was she was unarmed, so all she could say was (breathless): <<Why... why, I'm going to summon one right now!>> And she folded her arms in a posture which the fedayeen guaranteed would induce magiic spells. She wasn't very good at it, she knew that, but she scared Croon enough for him to climb off and say: <<Time out, time out!>>

<<Hah!>> she said, spitting on him.

<<I'm not scared of giants, fish-face, I'm just worried about being caught. You know what the laws say about sorcery.>>

<<Bah, laws!>> Bjork jumped to her feet, signalled that she was sick of talking and ready to run, ribbons awash, down the tender slopes of the imperial headland. <<Come on, let's go munch some mushrooms!>>

Cassius Croon and other characters copyright Robert Sullivan 1996-2000.