The Lyin’ King– Part THIRTEEN
After The King paused to catch his breath, the Royal Proclamation continued. “Greviousance Number 27 point one. This kingdom across the bay is washy-wishy about security. They got porcelain borders –- people can come and go as they please. Nobody comes here, but everybody goes there! We can’t tell you, Laddies and Gentile men, how many of our beloved Cappoccian subjects we’ve lost this way. The raisin we can’t tell you how many is because we’ve lost count!”
“I say, Cousin, The King’s got lots of stamina for a little fella,” the rustic gentleman remarked.
“Yeah, once he gets his second wind, he can go on for hours, all night if he wants to. Looks like we’ll be stuck here for quite a while.”
“ Maybe I will have another dose of that cheap vino after all.”
“Obviously, mistakes were made. A minor mix-up, a breakdown in communications. Merely the everyday red tape that inevitably tangles up the various agencies of the Court. I’m certain that you, of all people, should understand that, as an officer of Cappoccia’s finest. And a distinguished member at that, I might add.” One would think that if there was anything that the slippery Entgleisung should have been good at, it would’ve been wiggling out of a jam. Not tonight, though. Accompanying the “non-apology apology” was the most convincing simper he was able to assume, the effort required to contort his jaw muscles into a self-effacing grin all for naught, since the darkness rendered it nearly invisible.
“Yeah, well, be that as it may, you sent me on a wild-goose hunt, and you still owe me my reward. So cough it up.” Officer Keith maintained absolutely zero qualms about calling the villain’s bluff. He knew perfectly well that the chance of getting a reward was as likely as a commoner becoming an anointed king. Nevertheless, the guard played along, if only to watch the scoundrel squirming and thrashing around for his next move.
“Oh, you’ll be compensated, my boy, don’t you fret. Heh-heh.” Entgleisung’s version of a chuckle would have nauseated the strongest stomach in Christendom. “But why settle for a hastily-cast medal or a couple of measly coins, when you could have the opportunity of a lifetime?” Putting on a confidential tone which he believed sounded amicable, Entgleisung was trying to pass himself off as a trusted comrade – a role that did not at all come easily to him. “You know what? I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Cappoccia’s military is expanding, even as we speak. Right at this moment a whole world of opportunity is opening up, tailor-made for an upstanding soldier such as yourself.” With that, the chief advisor slapped his icy hand down on the guard’s shoulder. It was all Officer Keith could do not to brush it away, as if an over-sized, disgusting insect had landed there.
“How would you like to be in charge of your own unit– - a whole regiment, perhaps? If you play your cards right, you might even find yourself knighted! Sounds good, huh? Or– - “ Entgleisung was running out of bribery fodder, “–or how about a title? You could be an earl – or a duke! A duke with your own duchy! Now wouldn’t that be ducky?”
By this point, it occurred to Keith that the cheating/embezzling/double-crossing traitor had gone completely off the deep end. He was actually beginning to sound like The King.
“. . .And that was – let us see now, where where we?– Oh, yes, Greviousance Number 42.* That occludes the list of greviousances –“
“This is outrageous!“ The criticism, though true, stemmed from the root of one ingrained with conviction of his own intellectual superiority (also true.) “The damn fool’s making up stuff as he goes along!” The speaker’s irritation quickly segued to abashment. “Oh! Forgive me, dear lady! That was uncalled for.**I did not intend to offend you with my seditious remarks and -- ”
Geduld forgave him with a wave of her hand. “You should know me better than that by now, Val. ” she said. “I never pay attention to anything the pipsqueak ever says.”
“And so, Jadies and Lents, in conclusion –“ (the last word seemed to be a hopeful sign that compelled a few to respond with spontaneous, involuntary applause) “we hair abide issue the following ejaculation. We, Brot the Magnificient, Supreme Ruler of Cappoccia and all of its Provinces, Territories, and Possessions and on behalf of all of our beloved subjects do hair abide denounce to the neighboring kingdom of Genitalia this here Decoration of War!”
A collective gasp let out from the crowd, followed by a swarm of whispers:
--“ War? Did I hear him right?”
--“Did he say Gentletralia?”
-- “It can’t be true –“
“The offer’s on the table, Buddy Boy. It would behoove you to make a decision without delay. Come sunup we’re going to start invading Gentletralia, and –-“ Entgleisung stopped mid-sentence, as if he’d heard something. “Excuse me just a minute, Officer. I’ll be right back.”
Had Keith heard “Gentletralia”? Why, that was Keith’s homeland! What kind of untenable situation had he gotten himself into, having sworn allegiance to the country about to go to war against the land of his birth? From the outer limits of his toenails to the very ends of the hairs on his head, he started shaking, piqued at himself, but furious at Entgleisung, the evil instigator, whom he vowed to fight with the zeal of a righteous Huguenot.
Though Officer Keith could see little in the darkness, the sound of a scuffle was unmistakable. Entgleisung’s grating voice escalated toward an octave that could be heard far across the bay. “You worthless piece of garbage! Leaving an official post like that is not just irresponsible-- it’s criminal! Prepare for a long stretch in the dungeon, you little slut!” This was followed by the unmistakable sound of a slap. And then another. In between them shrieks of a decidedly feminine nature pierced the cool night air. At that point– perhaps a little belatedly – the constable sprang into action.
He followed the sound of the voices until he stood directly in front of the squabbling pair. “Unhand her, you Hellhound!”
The proximity of Officer Keith on the scene did not affect Entgleisung a whit, except for the fact it reminded him of another transgression by Astrid. From beneath his shroud-like robe, a long, spindly leg rose and aimed itself toward Astrid’s backside, and though it made contact, the impact fell short of its intended strength. “And that’s for failing to deliver the note!” Entglesiung shouted before returning to his chosen mode of combat, namely pummeling the young woman with his bony fists.
Officer Keith, seething with wrath, gripped both ends of his partisan, and thrust it forward toward the chief adviser’s bobbling Adam’s apple. When it became immediately evident that the slender club was not up to the task, the guard tossed it aside and drew his sword – which the chief advisor promptly seized by the hilt and tossed to the ground.
Thus, the fracas evolved into a bare-bones, mano a mano type of conflict, both parties with their fists raised high, neither man making contact as the pair circled round and round, merely marking time until the moment when one would succeed in landing the first blow, if indeed that moment were ever to arrive.
It looked as if the only “injury” that could occur would be two pairs of sore feet, resulting from the continuous dancing around in circles. A brief break in the seemingly interminable stalemate occurred when Entgleisung happened to crouch down closer to the ground, ostensibly to get a better bead on his somewhat shorter opponent. It was at that serendipitous point that Astrid saw her opportunity. She extracted a heavy metal object out of her pocket, ran up behind her constant tormentor, and conked him squarely on the base of his skull. With that, it seemed as if Entgleisung’s fate had been sealed. Royally.
The country cousin had lost count of just how many goblets of wine he had quaffed, yet he remained sober as a prioress. “ ‘Swounds. The mere prospect of being drafted positively gags me.”
“What are you talking about? You forget that we happen to belong to the nobility. They’ll scrub every hill and dale for every able-bodied slob before they touch the likes of us.”
“And when all the commoners have been conscripted?”
The know-it-all Cappoccian smugly shook his head. “Not gonna happen. By the time they run out of conscriptees, it’ll be all over. These little ‘military skirmishes’ or ‘police actions’ or whatever you want to call ‘em never last very long. In and out. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.”
“Well, I hope you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right. So relax. Have another drink.”
At last it was time for the promised “extravaganza” to be preceded by a procession of the King and his honored guests out to the designated “viewing area” recently constructed on the spacious Royal Terrace. According to His Majesty’s expressed wishes, the guests were not expected merely to walk in an orderly fashion, but to “dance” out there, en masse.
With assistance from D.J. Harold along with a handful of sullen waiters, the party-goers were instructed to line up, each guest behind another, single-file in a slightly curving line. The person directly behind was to hold the waist of the person in front of him. When the jagged rhythms of D.J. Harold’s “music” struck up, the line was supposed to move in unison, with the human components swaying to and fro while performing the basic prescribed step –“ One-two-three-four-KICK! KICK! One-two-three-four-KICK! KICK!”***
“Quite an odd type of rhythm, wouldn’t cha say,Cousin?” The bumpkin remarked, as he gripped the waist of his relative in front of him. “Not actually a Scottish reel – more like a brawl or perhaps some sort of modified jig?”
“Yes, it’s quite exotic. I’m told it was discovered in the New World, way down in the steamy regions occupied by the Conquistadores.”
“I guess they draft people over there as well.”
“I told you: quit worrying! Now, One-two-three-four-KICK! KICK!”
“Oh, dear God -– I’ve killed him!” With both fists tightly clenched and clutched against her cheeks, Astrid shrank back from the enemy whom she’d single-handedly conquered. “Not that he didn’t have it comin’, the lousy bast–“
“Nay, he’s just knocked out,” assured Officer Keith, recognizing the sterling opportunity to comfort her. “Are you all right? – that’s the important thing!” Covering her shoulders with his own cloak, he attempted to make a move to hold her in his arms. “Oh, my dear, I just don’t –I mean, it distresses me to see you putting yourself in danger like that. You shouldn’t have risked it–especially when a man was here to save you. Why didn’t you let me rescue - –“
“Hey! Where do you get off telling me what to do? What do you take me for, some kind of helpless damsel in distress? Some dumb female who can’t defend herself?”
“Please, Astrid, you’re breaking my -–“
“ ‘Cute little Astrid,’ huh? Let me tell you somethin’, Bub: the ‘cute’ part ain’t gonna last forever. Same with the ‘little.’ The ol’ avoirdupois is creepin’ up on me every day –“ At that, Officer Keith started to giggle. And so did she.
The King’s personal project, the top-secret “Operation Gateway” was well under way. His Majesty beamed with pride as the Cappoccian Dam became transformed into a pageant of sparkling rainbows fronting a ballet of gurgling streams. A lengthy string of colored lanterns had been symmetrically arranged along the very top of the structure where hidden torches slowly melted hundreds of blocks of ice, their newly-liquid form cascading down the side of the dam. It was an extravagant display, to be sure, yet one custom-designed for a naively-receptive, easily-dazzled, and quasi-articulate audience, including the out-of-town partygoers who would on the morrow gush to their stay-at-home neighbors that it had been ”truly a sight to see.”
During the event, there were the expected “Ooohs and ahs,” but, alas, an undercurrent of anxiety had put a damper on the gaiety. The Royal Terrace held fast under the weight of shock and dismay, surreptitiously expressed by a low rumble of mutterings, sighs, and half-whispered prayers. It was difficult to appreciate the beauty of the artifice, when reality kept rearing its ugly head: impeding warfare and everything that grim prospect entailed – including the oft-cited caution that the first casualty of war is the truth (though even in peace time the difference in Cappoccia was imperceptible.)
An elder-nobleman turned to one of his peers and questioned the wisdom of the ruler’s latest plans. “ I say, if we weren’t taxed to the limit before, just wait till the War gets underway. And Gentletralia! Can you imagine? There’s not a more peace-loving kingdom on the entire continent, truly!”
“Even so, ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and d– -well, perhaps not us, personally. His Majesty has his reasons, which reason cannot recognize.”
“No, not in its wildest dreams. . .”
At the same time, a couple who could charitably be described as being slightly on the south side of "middle-aged" likewise expressed misgivings over His Majesty's latest scheme.
“. . .good thing Erick’s up at the University, Dear," the lady remarked. "I could hardly bear it if he –“
“Well, he’d damned well better get his grades up or his educational deferment will be as useless as a cracked chamber pot.. .”
Like rampant weeds claiming territory between rows of crops, softly-spoken comments of a similar nature popped up here and there across the Royal Terrace. The initial disbelief and denial at The King’s announcement fell by the proverbial wayside as indignation and fear took their places. Within many a young and terror-rattled soul, the desperate word “desert” came to mind at the same time that the Royal Chef was rolling out -–on literal wheels!-- the highly-anticipated dessert, what The King had touted as “the piece of resistance,” an astoundingly enormous pie. Needless to say, so soon after the distressing news about the War, few had much of an appetite for much of anything –- definitely not for pastry, not even the debut of a culinary creation.
The kitchen staff rigged up a custom-made step-stool for His Majesty to stand upon in order to cut the pie. With ineluctable courage, the Royal Chef knelt before him with a red satin pillow, on the top of which sat a alarmingly sharp cleaver. The King grabbed the handle as if the fat knife had been in his tiny hand the minute he was born, and with one swift blow, he pierced the mammoth circle of golden crust. The very moment the pie was opened, a chorus of birds poked out the points of their beaks, which broke into song celebrating their imminent liberation.
Immediately, The King fell backward off the little stool. Having survived the half-foot fall, he nonetheless rolled around the floor while clutching his chest. “Great saints in Heaven! We’re undergoing carbolic arrest! Who dusted -dost-dares to send us to an early grave by scarring us to death?”
Springing to his feet, he was fuming now, sputtering, jumping up and down. “What kind of trash is this to set before The King? Dirty old birds baked inside a pie? Were we to be poisoned by their deprecation on the bottom crust! ‘Sblood! We shall puke!”
This was followed by a lengthy string of invective-laced recriminations, then, with the “chickens,” so to speak, having come home to roost, came the pronouncement of the Royal Punishment: “Vanish them! Vanish them all immediately!” A squad of Palace Guards (Officer Keith in absentia) seized the Royal Chef and his entire staff, including the petrified waiters in the ballroom as well as the unwitting servants still toiling away down in the Royal Kitchen. “Throw them out into the street! Barb the door!”
Despite the melee, the visitor from the country was highly impressed. “My, that’s some dainty dish – - four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.”
His cousin concurred. “Two score and four rooks en crusté. Incidentally, whatever happened to the Queen of Tarts?”
“Maybe some miracle restored her virtue.”
Out in the all-but- deserted topiary garden, Tom was beginning to worry. “Kitchen Gretchen” had yet to arrive. Sure it was late, but it wasn’t like her to stand him up. Maybe she had to work overtime: what with the cockamamie Royal shindig, the poor kid was probably stuck washing hundreds of dishes, scores of serving platters, and an untold number of goblets.
Tom stationed himself in their long-standing rendevous point, right under the shrub sculpted into the shape of a unicorn. Ordinarily this was a popular spot for Cappoccian couples whether their liaisons were licit or not, the legend about the affinity between unicorns and virgins not necessarily applicable in the latter case. Some nights there’d be a flock of lovebirds waiting their turns to tryst in the shadow of the unicorn, and the coveted privilege would necessarily come with a time limit, requiring that their billing and cooing and--whatever else – -be done expediently.**** But on this particular night, everyone was still at the Ball, so Tom and his lady-love would have –- would have had–- the place all to themselves. They’d be in a rare state of complete privacy, in which just the two of them could enjoy the spectacle of the artificial waterfalls, maybe even pretend that “Operation Gatewater” was presented for them alone. And wouldn’t you know it-- “Kitchen Gretchen” was a no-show.
Unaccustomed to exhaustion, Tom began to feel the effect of his unprecedented active day in its waning hours. It would have taken only the slightest nudge to convince him to give it up, go on home, and get some much-needed sleep on the rock-hard slab called his bed. But this was “Kitchen Gretchen” he was waiting for, not some garden variety scullery maid. And what if a few short moments after he had left, she finally were to arrive, only to find Tom not there? That would be awful, unthinkable, the repercussions irreparable.
He decided he would wait it out a few more minutes. In order to rest, he leaned against the topiary sculpture without looking where he was going, and in the process inadvertently backed into the unicorn’s horn, surprisingly sharp for a section of pruned foliage.
Then, on top of everything else, along came a blackbird which nearly snipped off his nose.
Plug “42"+ “the meaning of life” into the “Google” machine.
At least he didn’t say “inartful.”
Trysting the night away under a deadline--
Woody Allen: “We’d better hurry. Before you know it, it will be the Renaissance and everybody will be painting.”
TO BE CONTINUED ---
(Believe it or not, we're coming down to the home stretch.)