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Thread: Auntie's Fairly Flailing Tales #2--"The Lyin' King"

  1. #31
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    The Lyin' King --Part THIRTEEN

    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 –“

    –-“War?”


    “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.”

    ***

    Conga!

    ****
    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.)
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 03-08-2013 at 08:48 PM. Reason: add a line to identify speaker(s)

  2. #32
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    The Lyin' King - - The Beginning of the Final Four

    The Lyin’ King – - Chapter FOURTEEN

    Like an inveterate palfrey fresh out of giddy-up and go, the Royal Ball had come to a stop. By now, the revelers were long gone, many already snoring in their beds, the rest well en route to their relatively distant homes. Nary a stray hanger-on or straggler remained outside in the Royal Courtyard, with the exception of a pair of young Cappoccian natives. In the waning hours of the night, the opportunities for pickpockets and troublemakers had vanished along with the easy marks and naive gulls, leaving behind naught but the proverbial “slim pickin’s” for the petty, though eternally ambitious, criminals.*

    Neither lad was ready to call it quits, both stubborn in the mutual mission to wreak mischief –- if only through sheer force of will. Just as tenacious was the night, which maintained its dominance, despite the threat of the approaching day. There was a sky full of darkness left, though, and plenty of time for the boys to court chaos and raise hell before the sun would inevitably rise and blow their cover.

    With such trouble in mind, the duo inexplicably proceeded toward the area behind the palace, where, despite the presence of a few outbuildings, the population was sparse, especially at this time of night. Although the possibility of coming across potential robbery victims or property ripe for vandalism was nearly nil, the ne’er-do-wells nonetheless headed to the backfield -- the only territory that they hadn’t yet covered that evening, as well as providing a convenient way home, which is where they both would ultimately wind up, albeit reluctantly.

    While maneuvering across the uneven terrain, they intermittently tripped over unseen obstacles, a hidden hole here, an invisible stone there, each false step inspiring bursts of giggling jibes. Over in the corner of the eastern sky, a narrow band of gray light was beginning to peek through, but the raucous merriment was as fresh as it had been at sundown until one of the boys stumbled over something and fell flat on his face.

    “Gah – what is that?” the fallen boy gasped as he picked himself up, not bothering to brush himself off. Upon closer inspection, the object looked decidedly human, though seemingly lifeless: prone, with all four appendages spread out on the ground, as if the body had been dropped out of the sky.

    The other boy, having grabbed a nearby stick, flipped him over -- gingerly as it were a dead lizard.

    “Is ‘e dead?”

    “Dunno. It’s still too bloody dark out here. Can’t tell if his chest is movin’.”

    “Well, put your hand on it –“

    "I ain’t gonna touch ‘im – you touch ‘im!”

    “Check his eyes.”

    “They don’t look like crosses, like in that tapestry pitcha .”

    With such incontrovertible evidence that the man was still alive, the boys deduced that he must’ve passed out and was currently in the process of “sleepin’ it off.” By now a glowing magenta stripe bordered the bright gray covering the majority of the sky, making the transition between night and daybreak nearly complete. At this point, whatever the boys decided to do, they would have to do quickly, otherwise risk getting caught in an act of red-handed mayhem.

    In this case, the modus operandi was -- by its technical term --“rolling a drunk,” although the actual act of overturning the victim had already been accomplished. There only remained the obligatory rifling of the pockets, no easy task, given the man’s voluminous garment. The boys went through every crease and crevice, uncovering only an empty bag and a folded slip of paper with words, some scratched out and amended, written on it.

    “What’s it say?”

    “How the dickens do I know?** I can’t read no more than you can!”

    “Well, maybe it’s got ‘is name ‘n’ address on it or somethin’– -“

    Both boys agreed that such identifying information was quite logical, since it was uncertain precisely when the knave would “come to” under his own wretched power. A brief discussion followed concerning the question of what to do with the temporarily incapacitated gentleman, whether he should be transported to a somewhat better-traveled site in which he would be more readily noticed, as opposed to leaving him where he lay, thereby depositing into the lap of Fate the timing of the wretched soul’s eventual discovery. When one of the boys advocated the latter option, his companion strongly objected, precipitating a bit of a minor scuffle, which included bilateral insults, taunts, and arm-punches. By the time the ascendent sun exposed broad daylight, the squabble suddenly ceased, for the boys realized the necessity of separating themselves from what looked like one of their typical crime scenes. In short order the two dragged the unconscious deadweight across the field and dumped him in the muddy alley between the South Stable and the last outbuilding. “Somebody’ll spot him here for sure,” one of the boys said. “And the beauty part is ain’t nobody gonna make a connection with him and us. Maybe somebody can get his wife to come down and fetch ‘im.”

    “His ‘wife’? Look at ‘im! Who’d have this ugly son of a bee?”

    With that, the two punks swiftly fled the scene, and under the full sun’s undeniable declaration that the day had officially begun, an unconscious man lay flat on the ground. Attached to the front of his long, dark robe was a safety pin holding a note whose message essentially said: “Give him the ‘Royal Treatment’.”



    The Cappoccian townspeople were typically early risers, no less so on this particular morning after The King’s shindig. Except for the smoldering torches and melting ice blocks atop the damned dam, there was little evidence left to indicate that there had even been a Royal Ball the night before. In the village itself every banner, flag, and souvenir emporium had been ripped down and hidden -- if not thrown -- away, simply because the commoners had no use for mementoes of the event. (This was quite the opposite of how the villagers usually dealt with the trappings of holidays once they’d passed; each year after the Feast of the Epiphany, Cappoccian households blithely allowed mistletoe springs to lose their pearly berries, spindly branches of evergreens to drop their browning needles to the floor, and the burnt-out remains of the Yule log to remain in the hearth almost until Ash Wednesday.) The commoners had realized absolutely no benefit from the King’s Ball; indeed the ostensibly festive event had ended in a horrifying way, for the tyrant had exploited the occasion to declare war. Although practically no roturier had been a guest at the ball, the townsfolk had caught wind of the imminent war; word of the impending crisis had transpired fast.

    Moreover, the bad news was literally “brought home” with early-morning knocks on Cappoccian doors. Officers of the Royal Military as well as a number of Palace Guards were dragging sleepy-eyed Cappoccian youths out of their rough-hewn beds into the streets, where they were ordered to line up in rows. Most were seized and pushed, some were pulled and kicked, and still another found himself in the middle of a tug-o-war, an adamant soldier yanking one arm, a tearful mother yanking the other.

    Meanwhile, the literal sense of “cannon fodder” also had begun to litter the town, as, with single-minded dedication, the King’s “Harmy” rapidly stockpiled weaponry, ammunition, and the deadly machines blessed by the god of War. The aforementioned cannons had been rolled out and their payloads had been carted to a central location; likewise crossbows, longbows, and their arrows lay in regulated piles. Swords and bucklers, pointed pikes and deceptively blunt-edged bills, sharply-pronged halberds and most familiar to the guards, the nine-foot long partisan, as well as a limited number of firearms, featuring the arquebus, the musket, and their little brother, the dag, all belied their expressly deadly purpose by leisurely leaning, like lounging courtesans, against the walls of buildings. A relic of a centuries past, a creaky but formidable trebuchet had been wheeled, squeaking all the way, up to the crest of a small hill a short distance off the town’s main drag. (As of that particular date in the country’s history, Cappoccia had no naval vessels, so exactly how the unwieldy armaments as well as the developing divisions of personnel were to be transported to the shores of Gentletralia for the invasion was not immediately known.)

    Overnight, the Royal Guard had been “transitioned” out of its “domestic security” role into an officially military one, specifically ordered to locate and enroll all able-bodied (and not so able-bodied) Cappoccian commoners into the service of their King. Among the squads of recruiters, one guard was absent, but not conspicuously so, for the missing man was so relatively new that -–amid the frenetic activity marking that particular morning– -no one had missed him. To anyone interested in learning the truth, Officer Keith would willingly ‘fess up that he had found himself in a kind of Limbo, in which he could no longer serve his adopted kingdom which had declared war against the peaceful land of his birth. His heart felt the tug of his homeland entreating him to return, but just as compelling were the reasons for choosing to remain in what had recently exposed itself as enemy territory. In practical terms, he knew that there was no such thing as “safe passage,” with the already heavily patrolled borders shored up in anticipation of masses fleeing the threat of war; and philosophically speaking, he had forged an unwritten bond with his new colleague, in which both parties had tacitly understood that each would aid the other in the imminent times of trouble. Overriding both of these reasons was one that had escaped the bailiwick of rationality in order to gambol in the realm of affection and adoration. Consequently Officer Keith had assumed a low profile, away from the vulgarly bellicose ranks, until such time he could settle on his next move, meanwhile enjoying the company of a most pleasant companion.

    “You shaved your beard!”

    “Yea. It’s sort of a disguise, in reverse. What’s the matter -- don’t you like it?”

    “Yes, of course I do –“

    “But–?”

    “But nothing. You look dashing, Keith.”

    “Look at you, you’re blushing! “

    Astrid was doubly-flustered: for her inability to conceal her disappointment and for getting caught at it. And now she’d have to Explain Herself.

    “Something’s wrong, I just know it! Come on, you can tell your ol’ Uncle Keith.”

    “Oh, it’s nothing, really. Forget –“

    Officer Keith sat down right in front of her, rested his fist under his chin, and lovingly gazed into her eyes.

    “Well, if you put it that way, if you must know, I misunderstood why you got rid of the beard. I thought, I – - oh, you’re going to think I’m such a silly ninny. I thought you did it to make your face less scratchy, when we – we –“

    It was all Officer Keith could do to stifle a laugh, a triumphantly soaring expression of joy.“Hmmph. “ He coughed, cleared his throat. “Well, I guess there’s only one way to find out–-“ Then he pulled her close and dispelled all doubt.



    In the nameless town surrounding the Royal Palace, the conscription process continued as The King’s surrogates zealously commandeered unwilling townsfolk into service, to increase the ranks with what is euphemistically called “enlisted men.” “Here’s a couple more for ya.” A low-level military officer had emerged with two fresh recruits; holding each by the collar, he looked like a huntsman triumphantly showing off his recent conquests. “Found ‘em nosin’ around the backstretch.”

    His comrade sniffed. “We only just started and already we’re scrapin’ the bottom of the barrel? All right, you two guttersnipes. Get the hell in line.” The verbal command was punctuated with a shove to one confused youth, a swift kick to the backside of the other.

    No less bewildered was Tom. Scratching his head and looking here and there with a puzzled look on his face, he wandered through the town. Tom’s personality was multi-faceted, but clueless was not one of them, so it took him very little time to gather what was going on: preparations for War on a massive –- and decidedly swift– -scale. Shouts and pleas and curses littered the air; the sounds of moving artillery and a facsimile of “marching” feet pounded on Cappoccia’s long-beleaguered ground. Above the din Tom distinctly heard the rackety wheels of a rickety cart and the crank of its sudden stop.

    Immediately one of the thugs yanked open the rear hatch of the cart and pulled out a physically-protesting passenger. “A stowaway, are ya? More like a dirty deserter if you ask me. Get in line with the rest of ‘em before I make an example of ya, you yellow-bellied draft dodger!”

    With equal portions of surprise and dismay the shipping and receiving clerk recognized the alleged shirker as one of his buddies, a co-worker in the palace. Tom’s initial instinct was to call out his friend’s name –“Morty!” and rush to his aid, but under the dangerous circumstances, reason overruled Tom’s selfless nature. Within a fraction of a second, however, he heard someone calling his own name. From within the cart, a pair of lovely feminine arms reached out through the vertical bars.

    “ ‘Gretchen!’ Why, what –“

    “Tom!” she cried. “The King has banished us-- the entire Royal Kitchen staff!”

    “Oh, that’s nuts – where will he get his meals?”

    “I don’t know – - order out? “

    “Listen, Gretch –- the little twerp is plum crazy. He’s probably forgotten the whole thing by now, what with The War and –“

    “But he’s serious! Padlocked the Royal Kitchen and everything. He’s shipping us all the way across the sea to New Amsterdam, to some place called ‘Manhattania,’ where the chefs are supposed to follow strange recipes with ingredients you can’t even pronounce, let alone find!”

    Tom attempted to conceal his utter helplessness in assuaging the weeping and wailing of the love of his life, but if asked whether her distraught condition had been the result of banishment from the only homeland she had ever known or leaving him, he could not have easily answered. Until she answered it for him –

    “Don’t let them take me away from you, Tom. I just can’t bear it!” The scullery maid stretched her arms through the narrow openings in the cart as far as they could go. Tom seized both of her delicate, though reddened, hands and squeezed them, then kissed them desperately.

    Tom remembered the most fortuitous, sun-sparkling day that they had first met. It had been in the midst of The King’s massive remodeling project, a scheme hatched after Brot had been emboldened by the quasi-successful completion of the damned dam. Every warm Cappoccian body, Tom’s ultra-strong one especially included, had been commanded to do the bull-work: tearing down the bulwarks and the parapets, dismantling and scrapping the very drawbridge upon which Tom had spent the good years of his youth, and filling in the moat with the best earth available in the Kingdom, good Cappoccian topsoil clawed away from already-strapped farms: all for the purpose of fulfilling HRH’s whim for a “many-splintered Royal Reticence,” his desire to “transpose” a hopelessly outdated castle into a modern Palace, worthy of The King’s self-proclaimed greatness. For the involuntary workers, the dreadful task was back-breaking and spirit-killing, until Tom looked down from his shaky ladder to see a girl’s sweet face grinning up at him as she offered him a ladle full of water dipped from a bucket too large and heavy for the slender arms to tote.

    “With His Majesty’s compliments,” she said.

    “Begrudgingly, I’m sure. A fellow would bet that His Royal Cheapness has stooped to allow us a sip of water only because he can’t afford to have any more workers drop dead of thirst.”

    “Oh, come now, Sir – it can’t be all that bad –“

    “Well, maybe not now, at this very moment -- “ Tom said, breaking into a smile, immediately and radiantly reciprocated, mutually marking the start of something good and lasting, until –

    Until the tyrant, in his latest act of insufferable cruelty, had split the adoring couple asunder, forever separating two halves of what was one devoted heart, now broken beyond repair. Tom was just about to utter something vainly optimistic– - a word or two of wishful thinking –- when the cart suddenly lunged forward, a mere inch a way from his foot. “Tom!” she screamed.

    He chased after the cart as far as he could, but in such emotional distress, Tom couldn’t even keep up with the pair of aged drays pulling the rig. There was nothing he could do, and there was nothing he could say, not even some lame send-off. “Yeah,” he thought. “Like, ‘Don’t forget to write.’ As if the poor kid had ever been taught how.”

    The clippity-clop of a decidedly younger horse approached, along with a bellowed rebuke. “Hey you- –get out of the way! Stop blocking the –“ Pulling back on the reins of steed, the officer slid off his mount. He yanked Tom around and stood uncomfortably close, the chins of both men nearly touching. “Identify yourself!”

    “Who, me? I, uh –-“

    “State your name or say your last act of contrition, you filthy vagabond!”

    “My name is Tobias Hufstedler.”

    “All right, Hogstuffer - – go stand over there with the rest of those sorry sacks of street crap. And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your trap shut!”

    Momentarily Tom was struck with the urge of making a quick break for it, subsequently to hide in one of the secret recesses within the palace, but the horseman never looked away, not for an instant. Evidently, this officer was a high-ranking one, for when he followed Tom across the road, the other solders snapped to attention, followed by sharp salutes all around. “At ease, Men. What d’we got here?”

    Apparently taking the “at ease” order a bit too literally, one of the lower echelon soldiers made a disagreeably guttural sound and spat out a disgusting substance upon the road. “A couple more, Sir, but from the looks o’ ‘em, they’re all gussied up for a night on the town.”

    “Or indeed leftovers from last night’s to-do.” The top officer inspected the duo as if he were looking at bargain-basement merchandise. “ I vow, Cappoccia has moved beyond scraping the bottom of the barrel – - now we’re gone so far that we’re arming rapscallions and sissy-faced courtiers. I suppose you’re both eagerly awaiting your own personal rapiers – - the latest thing for the rising young gentleman. Hah! You two would be lucky to score a rusty old, sawed-off mace.”

    “Now see here!” protested one member of the recently-conscripted pair. “This is outrageous! I’ll have you know my cousin and I are members of the Nobility. Exempt – exempt, I tell you – and –“

    The sergeant officer raised a threatening hand.“Shut your pie-hole or we’ll shut it for ya!”

    “I’ll do no such thing! I want to speak to your superior!”

    Bending to the side, the sergeant waved his hand, indicating the presence of “Brass.”

    “Not that tin soldier. I demand to see Entgleisung!”

    “Sorry, that’s not possible, Son,” the high-ranking officer said. “Certainly you must realize that the King’s loyal advisor is quite preoccupied with His Majesty at this most critical time.” He grabbed the sergeant and whispered in his ear: “By the way, has anyone seen the good doctor?”

    Tom, who had overheard every word, could have come up with a plausible answer: undoubtedly Entgleisung had already taken off for parts unknown, with a good portion of the Royal Treasury with him. Unless, of course, the villain had somehow met his arguably just deserts. Of course, Tom gave voice to none of this, for he remained, as ever, smart enough to keep his own personal pie-hole tightly clamped.

    *
    By the 1950s, a new sociological term had evolved for members of a class of disaffected American youth: “juvenile delinquent.” By the end of the following decade, the term virtually disappeared, and by the present day the former adolescents who had been described by the phrase had all grown up to become corporate executives, hedge fund managers, and members of Congress.

    **
    Not an anachronism! “What the dickens” and similar phrases have nothing to do with Charles Dickens but have been euphemisms for The Devil since at least Shakespearean times. Cf. The Merry Wives of Windsor, III,ii. (From Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.)


    TO BE CONTINUED (three more times)

    Last edited by AuntShecky; 02-04-2013 at 12:58 AM.

  3. #33
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    The Lyin' King -- Part FIFTEEN

    The Lyin’ King – - Part FIFTEEN

    It had only been a few hours that the kingdom had begun to accumulate materiel and beef up the number of its infantrymen, but for several years the current ruler had maintained a paramilitary force as a “shadow” component of the regime. Unlike the officially unsanctioned guilds with which every Cappoccian was familiar, the existence of a special, strong-armed unit was a secret unknown to most of the locals, aside from those who directly worked within and around the Palace proper. The people didn’t need to be told that they were already suffering under Brot’s rule, with the Cappoccian version of the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads every day. Were they to learn that the King had at his disposal a previously undisclosed agency against them, they wouldn’t have been the slightest bit surprised; any threat, old or new, was normal. Yet, as under any totalitarian rule, rumors and hearsay rumbled throughout the land; the more that people were kept in the dark, the more they tended to spin mythologies and crank out crackpot conspiracy theories. It was true that The “Vicarians”– - as Brot had dubbed them – - had invaded Cappoccia but did not “occupy” the country as such; instead they had been provided with a safe haven from their multitudinous enemies elsewhere on the continent.

    The King had also thrown in a certain percentage of wealth from the Royal Coffers, in exchange for various odd jobs and covert activity for The Crown. To that informal contract the Vicarians had attached an iron-clad rider, requiring that the kingdom issue to them an additional undisclosed fee as a hedge against possible robbery and violence: a form of extortion which much-later generations of the underworld would deem “protection money.” The quasi-mutual agreement was therefore heavily weighted on the side of the Nordic “enforcers,” who were savvy enough to exploit the duplicitous monarch’s braggadocio, avarice, and flat-out stupidity to their own advantage. In popular parlance, the Vicarians not only “had it made in the shade,” but also every known kind of weather–-that is, if one didn’t factor in the matter of accounts receivable.

    “By the great Odin it was damned nippy last night! But why is it so bloody hot already?” A small contingent of Vicarians, the leadership core, was making its way across the field behind the Palace. “And from what I hear, things gonna get even hotter. A certain party is itching for war,” said the chieftain.

    “No kidding! Who knew the little turd had it in ‘im?”

    “All the more reason to shake ‘im down before he blows his entire wad on arrows and whatnot. The tight-fisted twit is into us for a bundle – - past due on his insurance premium and that’s not even countin’ the vigorish on his outstanding balance. I don’t hafta remind you his tab’s taller than he is.”

    “Ain’t that the truth, Chief! And it’s gettin’ longer every day, what with us takin’ care of the business with that bony-arsed handler we found on our doorstep this morning –-whatshisface, Engleshaft -- “

    “Well, it was only a matter of time before one or the other would fall. I know it, you know it, and the Cappoccian people know it.”

    “And today with the boat rental –“

    “One of our vessels? What the devil for?”

    “Oh, the usual. He’s banishing another bunch.”

    Again?” The chieftain made a clucking sound with his tongue, which developed into a full-scale yelp as he felt something scamper up his back and alight upon his shoulder. With a burly hand, he snatched it off and tossed it to the ground. “I told you not to follow us! Go home! G’wan. Git! “ Then he turned to his underlings and said, “Tell me again whose brilliant idea it was to have a monkey.”

    Meanwhile in the town, already plunged into confusion and despair by the ruthless rush to war, more trouble was a-brewing. Every male roughly between the ages of twelve and fifty had been pressed into service, an obligation to which neither the men nor their kith and kin took kindly. Despite the years of taking guff (and worse) from their ruler, the average Cappoccian could be pegged as mild-mannered and “peace-loving”– -in the sense that he tended to mind his own business and avoided all conflict whenever he could avoid it. It wasn’t that Cappoccians lacked patriotism: although they couldn’t stand The King, they loved their country, but they didn’t “love it to death;” certainly not to the point where they’d be willing to sacrifice their lives for the trivial whims of the demented despot.

    On top of everything else, the dilatory standard operating procedure had kept the recruits idly standing around for hours amid the collective and contagious sensations of gnawing fear and growing ennui. The little band into which Tom had been thrown was no exception; although the erstwhile shipping and receiving clerk had recently mastered the art of waiting, he was very much aware that no enemy can wear down a guy’s nerves more than boredom. Within the newly-formed ranks of ragtag “soldiers,” whispered curses ran through the lines, followed by louder grousing, finally escalating into a full-scale revolt all across town.

    A shout rang out: “Hell, no – I won’t go!” And then another: “Hey, Brot –what’s this for? We don’t want your [bleepin’] war!”

    Immediately, the authorities in charge of each scrappy platoon scrambled to tamp down the unrest and in some cases threatened to use their own personal weapons against the rebellious recruits, who would undoubtedly strike back. Devoted to duty – or at least relishing their power over the raw (and increasingly “sore”) recruits – - the guards’ assiduity flitted from one rebellious sector to another, like a fickle bee unable to decide which flower to pollinate. Tom, ever the opportunist, read the situation correctly: there was no better time to make a break for it. Thus, “Private Hufstedler” -– the nom de guerre of the recent draftee - – crouched down, broke ranks, and started sprinting away.

    “Hey, you! Hogswaddler! Get back in line!” Only seconds after the sergeant had noticed Tom had gone AWOL, he’d lost sight of him.

    Tom had headed for the hills – - or the hill, one should say –-where the unwieldy lot of munitions, heavy artillery, and the ancient trebuchet had been temporarily parked. In the middle of the road he nearly tripped over a finely-fashioned saddlebag which had evidently had fallen off a mount – - very likely the one belonging to the General who’d corralled Tom for the armed forces. In any event, the escapee retrieved the lost item and made a mental note to have it returned to its rightful owner when it was prudent – and safe!– to do so. A funny thing happened to him on the way up the hill. Out of nowhere a creature seldom (if ever) spotted in these shires dashed right across Tom’s feet. “Hmmph!” Tom muttered. “Gorilla warfare?”

    Upon reaching the crest of the hillock, Tom jumped onto the trebuchet and started climbing again, this time to the top, where he made himself comfortable inside the bucket, which had been previously cranked up and locked into its relatively lofty launching point to allow for easier transport of the medieval war machine. Now it was a makeshift conning tower looking over the entire town. According to Tom’s reckoning, this was the best possible locale for -– ironically -- lying low: essentially he was “hiding in plain sight,” for neither the long-term military men nor the new recruits would ever think of looking up. Their so-called superiors refused to take their eyes off the grunts who seldom broke their gaze, almost always aimed downward to scan for loose change on the ground. Tom was high enough that he could see all the way out toward the bay, where he could just make out the square sail of the Vicarian boat taking his “Gretchen” away from him forever. Weighed down with her loss, he felt as if a cannonball had already crushed his heart, and his stomach burned from the thought of the love of his life encountering sea-borne horrors: whirlwinds and tempests, pirates and The Kraken, or worst of all -- the unspeakable terror that would seize her --should the flimsy foreign vessel lose its bearings, completely missing the New World and dropping headfirst off the edge of the earth –- as she slipped into oblivion.

    Tom’s throat felt as if it had been caught in a vise, and his eyes opened their taps full-blast. He sniffed, but at the moment he lacked the ability to forestall an unmanly flow of emotionally-charged liquid. The least he could do was blow his nose. In search of a rag, he reached into his pockets -– empty as usual. As a last resort he grabbed the saddlebag he’d found and rifled through it in case its owner might have a handkerchief for Tom to borrow in a pinch. There was nothing in there that could serve as a snot-sop, but the roll of parchment that tumbled out instead was nothing to sneeze at: the official, actual, bona fide Royal Proclamation declaring war.

    His hands trembled at the significance of holding a Really Important Historical Document, even as Tom’s nasal membranes uncontrollably dappled it with dripping mucus. Scrutinizing it carefully, he saw the barely-legible scribbles and scratchy initials of The King, but the latter probably would offer only minimal value on the celebrity autograph market (although there must have existed a possible dealer or two who would willingly pay to have the Royal Signature taken away and burned.) Nevertheless, the item looked legit – except for one glaring omission. Just to be sure, Tom turned the document over and over, upside down. Nope. Nowhere on that crinkly-curly sheet could be found the unmistakable stamp of the Royal Seal, and without that all-important imprimatur -- the crucial cachet –- this war declaration was not only illegal, it was just about as toothless as an old backwoods poacher.

    Like a cabin boy shouting “Land Ho!” from a crow’s nest, Tom stood up inside the bucket. With an expansively sweeping motion, he waved the invalid proclamation like a flag. “Hey!” he shouted down to the town. “Hey, everybody – the proclamation’s no good! There’s no war!” Again and again he swung his arms and yelled, but nothing he did or said made any discernible difference in the scene below. In frustration, he almost tore the damned thing up, with the notion of scattering the bits like confetti over the town that finally had reason to celebrate but apparently had chosen to ignore the good news. At last it dawned on Tom that while he couldn’t be seen, he also couldn’t be heard.

    The pressure upon Tom was daunting, though it had originated from no one but himself. Even though he’d be the last to admit it, the imperative of spreading the news about the impotent proclamation, coupled with the treachery transpiring the previous day (which at this point seemed like ages ago), imposed way too much responsibility on a guy all by his lonesome. Meanwhile, his fellow commoners lacked the necessary – - for want of a better word -- “intelligence” that would once and for all send packing this cockamamie war nonsense. But it so happened that the Cappoccians had reached what is called in modern times their “tipping point,” at which they needed no impetus other than their own aggrieved sense of justice to demonstrate that they’d had enough.

    One of the conscripts strolled over to a stack of arrows, picked up a couple, and broke them him over his knee. In a gesture as dramatic as he could display, he hurled the pieces at the feet of his commanding officer, he said, “That’s it -– I’m done.” Likewise one of his comrades made a big to-do over clogging the business end of a cannon with a great clump of straw, and soon after members of the squad helped themselves to swords and similar bladed weaponry, which they used not as threats against the higher-ups, but as improvised tools to saw through and disable the once-mighty crossbows. Of course, from his vantage point, Tom witnessed none of these isolated incidents of insubordination, but he had little trouble seeing what happened next: contingents of townspeople congregating into one huge clump of Cappocians, like individual inhabitants of a hive congealing into the singular beast of a swarm. Spontaneously, but far too organized to constitute a riot, the formerly- compliant drones transformed into a feverish horde storming the Palace.


    The band of marauders from the North had beaten them to it, for they were already inside. “Where are you, you puny deadbeat?” the Chieftain roared, as the party searched every floor, kicked in every door, looked under every Royal Bed.

    Somebody mentioned that the minute the Vicarians entered the front door, he had spotted The King sneaking out the back exit. “Just like in the old saying, huh, Chief? Except we’re the perambulator rolling into the hallway, and Brot is “love.”

    From every sector of the Royal Residence shouts and crashes bounced off the walls as the crowd went to town knocking over chairs, upending tables, and performing sundry -– and unexpectedly satisfying – - acts of gratuitous vandalism. The taste of vengeance was pretty powerful: when the rebels had decided to smash the Royal Dinnerware and ransack the Royal Comestibles, they stomped downstairs, but upon discovery of the padlock on the Royal Kitchen door, they broke down into tears. Yet they weren’t so broken-hearted that they abandoned the purpose for which they’d come. Immediately they returned to the upper floors of the palace, where they grabbed each Royal Possession that hadn’t been nailed down and tossed them all out the windows, or shoved them backwards down the palace stairs.* Not even the fabled Cappoccian tapestry was sacred; a roguish band ripped it down, balled it up, and pitched it off the Royal Terrace.

    “Holy Valhalla!” one of the Vicarians exclaimed. “Who knew the Cappoccians had this much spunk?’

    “Ah, Chaos -- I love it!” the Chieftain announced. “Let’s get us a taste.”

    “One quick question, Chief – whose side are we on?”

    Ours!”

    Without warning, an unnatural noise reverberated throughout the town, if not the entire Kingdom. Not an explosion, actually -- not even a rumble, akin to that of an earthquake splitting the terra firma -- it more resembled a loud snap. The sound seemed to have come from the direction of the damned dam, toward which Tom swiftly turned his head.

    From the tippy-top of the dam right down to its base there appeared a distinctly black line, jagged as a lightning bolt. Tom hardly had time to blink before the wavering crack widened at the bottom, opening a convenient gate for a curving wave to gush --steadily and deliberately -– as if a pump had been installed behind the dam to push the water through.

    “JE-sus, Mary, and Joseph!” If stopping the war hadn’t been an urgent enough message,alerting the town about an imminent deluge certainly was. Tom yelled, screamed, and despite the dilapidated condition of the ancient trebuchet, jumped up and down. “Flood! Run for your lives!”

    By this point the rushing water was making enough of a ruckus to announce its own presence. The Cappoccians made haste to save themselves amid the understandable difficulty of keeping a clear head above the prevailing panic. The rebels who had been bold enough to invade the palace remained there to hunker down, whereas the most pessimistic of the bunch scurried up to the highest parapets and turrets left over from the former castle. Some had retreated to their cottages where they climbed to the roofs, only to fall through the loosely-woven thatch. Many took the option of fleeing to higher ground, namely the very hillock where Tom had earlier landed, and with the munitions already wasting space, the refuge soon became a crowded sanctuary, indeed. In order to make more room -- a gesture more symbolic than useful -- Tom vacated his bucket seat, climbed down, and stationed himself halfway down the hill, on a thick branch of a willow that grew--not up -- but sideways. Both the limb and the fugitive were hanging over the water, close enough that he could have reached down and nearly touched the surface. For Tom, drowning was not more than a mere arm’s length away, but from its own point of view, the water happily gurgled and bubbled as if to proclaim the sheer joy of release after imprisonment behind the up-until-now impermeable walls of the dam.

    The liberated liquid kept rising higher, spreading more broadly, running more swiftly. From his tree-branch perch Tom took in a seabird’s-eye -view of the myriad of objects flowing along with the current. Among the predictable sticks, straw, and nondescript detritus, exotic items not usually thought of as seaworthy had been caught up in the flow: various trinkets washed out of the stash of Royal Gifts, which Tom had hauled up the palace stairs the night before the rabble hurled them back down: oranges shipped at considerable expense from the Holy Land bobbing around like tiny, brightly-colored buoys; decorations from The King’s nearly-forgotten Ball, artificial seaweed entwining with the natural species, blue-and-white paper waves meshing around the real ones. Here and there in the mix were the remains of handcrafted Cappoccian souvenirs, including an officially forbidden “Chamber Brot” which, like a miniature bowl-shaped boat, seemed to possess the power of navigation, somehow knowing exactly where it was going in its circular course downstream.

    But it was The Water – - the unstoppable flow, the relentless turbulence – that hissed in Tom’s ears, dominated his vision, and terrified him as it rumbled just a mere couple of inches beneath his dangling feet. Sightings of floating objects were becoming rarer, until Tom noticed a bit of debris strikingly different from its predecessors. Whatever it was, it wasn’t an inanimate object passively captured by the inundation; indeed it appeared to be flailing around and fighting the current. At first sight, he took it to be an unfortunate dog, or perhaps a small boar, but as the water pushed this piece of debris closer to the hill, Tom saw it was The King.

    “Your Majesty!” Tom cried. “Over here, Sire!” In a rapid motion, Tom swung the massive bulk of his body out of a more-or-less sitting position on the branch, onto which he held with one hand, as he extended his other arm down and over the water.

    In turn The King most certainly could see and hear his would-be rescuer, and though he continued to flail and fight the tide-like current, he made no apparent attempt to move toward Tom, and therefore to safety.

    Caught up in the urgency of the moment, Tom almost thought of waving his free arm, until it dawned on him that such a sudden, vigorous movement might upset his balance and drop him into the drink, or his wild gesturing could crack and completely sever the branch from the mother tree.(For a willow, it had so far seemed surprisingly sturdy, but how long would its uncharacteristic hardiness hold up?) Without any assistance on Brot’s part, the swirling current deposited the drowning despot directly under the tree branch. A better than even chance of surviving was there for the taking, right above The King’s head -- if he were only willing to participate in his own rescue. Again Tom urged: “Take my hand, Sire! Please!”

    It might have been the churning action of the water or its ceaseless buffeting that limited Tom’s view of The King, with his head sinking and popping up at irregular intervals, but Tom could have sworn that The King had answered the previous plea with a shake of his head – - and a defiant one at that. Tom made still another attempt. To access the power to be heard above the thunderous roar, Tom’s voice emanated from the gut far below his lungs. It was loud enough to be heard across the bay in Gentletralia. “For the love of all that’s good and holy, don’t be a [bleeping] fool!”

    At that precise point, the steady current kicked it up a notch. Tom blinked, and then dared to look. Aside from the swirls of muddy water and an occasional white cap, all that was visible on the surface was a large circular object, neither sinking nor aimlessly floating, but moving back upstream against the current – - a golden crown, with its bejeweled points twinkling in the still-shining sun.


    Atop the hill, a refugee wrapped in an incongruously elegant blanket raised a cup with his water-wrinkled fingers. “Thank ye, dear Lady. You are a good Samaritan indeed.”

    “Please –- think nothing of it. It’s the very least we could do.” Geduld’s generosity did not stem from the quaint and –- let’s face it -- condescending custom of noblesse oblige; she would have volunteered to help, regardless of her station in life, though the chances of a scullery maid, say, possessing a private supply of freshly-imported, rich Arabica beans, as well as personal access to a crateful of China cups, would have been decidedly slimmer. “My only wish is that there had been some crullers to offer. Alas, the Royal Kitchen is –- shall we say -- out of commission.”

    Unheard above the still-thundering water, there was a faint splash as a thin figure emerged from the roiling water and ascended the muddy hill, slip-sliding all the way. The survivor was, as is said, soaked to the skin, and in this case, even more deeply, yet looked none the worse for wear, even as scores of tiny rivulets cascaded from the hem of the black garment.

    Similarly, limp and dripping hair lay flat against her head, though not quite unattractively so.** “Gee, maybe I should’ve never changed out of the mermaid get-up. It might’ve made it easier to swim, right, Keith?”

    Astrid turned around. “Where are you? Oh my God! Where’s Keith?” She craned her neck and scrutinized the percolating expanse the color of café au lait and saw nothing. Nothing. She put her palms together not to pray but to position herself to dive back in – - until Sir Valentine Hopewell seized her arm and pulled her back.

    “I wouldn’t do that, Miss --”

    Astrid nearly spit in his face. “Why? Is that against the law too? I gotta find Keith and nobody’s gonna stop me!” She took a few mincing steps toward the drop-off, but instead of plunging in, she sat down on the muddy crest, put her hands in her face, and wept.

    “Oh, the poor child – -“ Geduld said, as she handed Sir Val the last of her blankets, her favorite. “Please see what you can do to comfort her.”

    The bodyguard of the Queen –- er, the King’s consort -- sat right down in the mud, without a care about devastating his brand-new, finely-embroidered doublet, custom-tailored by an exclusive men’s haberdasher in Paris. Sir Val gently placed the blanket and an avuncular arm around the girl’s quivering shoulders. “Please try not to worry, Miss. Your - –boyfriend is it? –- will return before you know it. In the interim, I wish I knew how to console -- I know! Why don’t I tell you a story? Perhaps that will help get your mind off things. . .”

    Meanwhile, Tom had abandoned his now-precarious perch and climbed the hill from the other equally-muddy side. Although he was, as is said, bone-dry, he appeared agitated, if not down right dazed, yet still retaining enough of his faculties to stagger through the throng of refugees in search of an authority figure with whom he could dispatch the bad-good news about The King.

    “. . .And right after he handed the princess the bouquet he had picked, the knight lost his footing, but just before he fell into the river, he uttered his last words,‘Forget-Me-Not’ which to this day remain the name of that pretty blue flowers – –oh no, please don’t cry. I’m so sorry! I certainly didn’t want to make you feel worse–-“ Before Sir Val could say another word, Tom tapped him on the shoulder. “Yes? What is it, my boy?”

    “It’s the – The King, he’s, he’s – drowned!”

    The glimmering of an discordant grin briefly flashed upon Sir Val’s face, then swiftly switched into an expression intended to convey genuine concern.***

    “I tried to save him, Sir, I really did! Oh, why am I kidding myself? I’m a loser, that’s all. A big, fat, yellow-bellied coward!”

    Tom slumped down on the ground next to the still-bawling Astrid, who grabbed him by the front of his burlap smock and demanded, “Have you seen Keith?”

    “No, why? Is he -– Oh, no!”

    Oh, no is right, Valentine thought, glancing over at his own lady-love, who responded with a nod. Sir Val would go to the ends of the earth for her, but her assessment of his abilities was insurmountably high. Indeed, if anybody else needed immediate consolation, he’d have to call for back-up.

    “Don’t be so hard on yourself, Buddy. You couldn’t help him. No one could. And he certainly would never accept a helping hand from a, a –“

    “Go ahead and say it: a commoner, you mean.”

    “Well, uh, actually -- The King is -–was– - so stubborn. Besides, he believed he was immortal. And just look at all this water! It seems limitless, as if the whole bay will empty out, and lest we forget, there’s a huge ocean behind that. There’s just no end to it.”

    Which to Tom meant that the water would continue to rise, not to mention deepen, and would keep on doing so even after engulfing every last man, woman, and child in the kingdom. Not that he cared one way or another whether he survived (especially after losing his only Reason To Live), but he would have preferred not taking everybody else down with him. Alas, they were all doomed: that’s the way the crumpet crumbles, c’est la guerre, Pussycat, that’s all she wrote, unless – - unless he could come up with a way to plug that gaping hole in that damnable, damned dam.

    Tom looked down the hill at the raging monster of an enemy, cleverly camouflaged as a fat, silt-enriched river playfully allowing to ride upon its waves an assortment of whimsies, among them the torso section of a storybook-style suit of armor upon which pranced a real-life monkey wearing a crown at a jaunty angle.


    *
    Anent the items rolling backwards down the palace stairs: a perambulator was not among them, despite the Vicarian’s mention of one in a previous paragraph. More’s the pity, because this thing could use a classy Eisenstein allusion. Alas, The Simpsons beat me to it.

    **
    Thank you, Douglas Adams

    ***
    Cf. Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep (HBO)



    TO BE CONTINUED (Just two more to go!)
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 03-05-2013 at 06:10 PM. Reason: 1 word change; add a phrase

  4. #34
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    The Lyin' King -- The Penultimate Part

    The Lyin’ King – - The Penultimate Part

    Oh, the stench!

    The man-made disaster in the Kingdom of Cappoccia had left in its wake a malodorous aura, a miasma of misery lingering over the town like an unwelcome guest immune to hinting yawns. Even to the least discriminating of noses, this wasn’t a singular onslaught of an unidentifiable odor but a series of attacks that besieged the olfactory nerves full-force, nagging reminders of the recent catastrophe with one stomach-flipping smell layered atop another: stagnant water and salt mixed with mud and muck, decomposing fish and the swamp of sewage, seaweed and sodden hay, various scraps of animal offal and awful vegetation rotting together in a disgusting conspiracy, the unexpectedly wretch-inducing reek of already-rusting metal, along with an undertone of mildew, the passively aggressive child of the Mother of All Molds.

    This was the nauseous milieu into which a survivor approached, the odors creeping in with stark intensity, as he stumbled down the erstwhile road into town. Although his boots had already been soaked beyond the hope of ever drying out, the man took care to step only on relatively less-wet ground rather than venturing anywhere near the newly-formed changes in the town’s topography: hundreds of impromptu puddles and murky ponds, each a potential hazard with a dangerously unknown depth. There was little the man wanted to do less than to plunge into another body of water (though he badly needed a hot bath.)

    Exactly when had the existential crisis happened -– a few hours, an entire day, or longer? A period of unconsciousness – - especially one of indeterminate duration -- can screw up a guy’s sense of time. Even so, the details of his own personal ordeal were as fresh as a oozing sore. Like nearly everyone else in Cappoccia, the man and a devoted female companion had been caught up in the flood. All had been going swimmingly (so to speak) until a thick piece of random driftwood suddenly blocked his path; the obstruction refused to allow him to go over, around, or under itself. Moreover, this errant branch had hitched itself under the swimmer’s neck, as if deliberately impeding calls for help.

    With the weight of the wood crushing his voice box, he hadn’t been able to produce the monosyllabic sound of what had instantaneously become the most important word in the world, let alone calling out the two syllables to form the name of his beloved who -- to his infinite relief - – had already made it to drier and higher ground. Meanwhile, he would have been hard pressed to remember his own name. The feeble attempt to dislodge the branch from his throat while keeping his head above water had just about drained him of energy. To make matters worse, it had become increasingly difficult to breathe. Plus, an especially vicious wave, mocking him with a full-frontal facial splash, had robbed him of his hat.

    Somehow the current must have shifted, and/or his wooden captor had suddenly acted as a ship’s rudder, for inexplicably the man had been propelled ashore to the bank of the ad hoc river, to be deposited against a boulder which, although knocking him out upon impact, provided him with a relatively safe haven until such time the waters finally receded.

    Eventually he had “come to,” blindly staggering around for a few moments before trekking into town (or what was left of it.) In his water-logged boots and still-damp clothes and his formerly-smooth face having reverted to a grove of stubble, he trudged, all the while with neither drastic fears nor unrealistic hopes, amid the obvious handicaps of fatigue and physical weakness. It occurred to him that he couldn’t quite remember the last time he’d had any nourishment, but as approached the town, he vowed that he would never, ever eat again. The fetid atmosphere sucked away every trace of appetite, just as surely as the current had confiscated his cherished chapeau.

    The stench overpowered everything, so much so that the other senses fled: there was nothing a soul would dare taste nor touch for fear of contracting a fatal illness that would reduce the historic plagues of Europe to a minor case of the sniffles. Precious little scenery remained to be seen and, as far as one could tell, no human voices to be heard. Any signs of life still extant were minimal, albeit -- in the case of the insects buzzing in and out of the man’s ears – -vexing. A couple of scavenging gulls pecked around the muddy edges of a puddle, from which intermittently bubbled up a joyless croak. The distinct stillness in the air was not the peaceful kind; it was quiet, but oppressive. (1) Even the wind had wisely run away.

    Continuing on the once well-defined road downgraded to a sketchy outline of a path, the survivor came across a still-standing cottage, its shutters gone, the front door three-quarters of the way off its hinges, the glistening thatch on its roof slicked down like the mane of a kid prepared for a homespun haircut. Conceivably the interior might still have been fit for human habitation but at the moment, a woman and an adolescent occupied the grey ghost of the front lawn. The mother was kneeling in front of a battered washtub, while the son shared the suds for scrubbing the udders of a uncooperative nanny-goat, registering her objections with a series of shrill bleats.

    Suddenly the woman’s face took on an aspect of sheer terror, as if she were witnessing the rapid approach of a second flood. With a shriek, she instinctively reached over and clutched her boy, while out from behind her the man of the house rushed out, wild-eyed and brandishing a bent but still-formidable pitchfork.

    “You’ll not be takin’ me son!” he cried.

    “What?” Despite the survivor’s groggy state, it was hard for him to ignore his own clammy clothes; it took him a moment to realize that what he was wearing was more-or-less still recognizable as a uniform. The irate papa must’ve thought that he was culling warm bodies for the draft. “I’m merely a member of the Royal Guard, or –- I should say -- was, until I became a deserter – -I mean, conscientious objector. Just a survivor, like yourselves. The name -- the name's --" (It would come, eventually.)

    Although he didn’t shake the stranger’s hand, the head of the household ditched the pitchfork, which landed business-end down, the claw-like tines piercing the sodden lawn. “Oh, I keep forgettin’! That’s what happens when you live under the t’umb o’ a tyrant. Well, ‘e may be ended , but the fear lingers on, don’cha know.” He punctuated this with an a capella St. Vitus dance, including, among the usual jittery moves, improvisational slaps to both cheeks, as if applying an equally-stinging elixir after a shave. “Bloody no-see-ums!” he cried, while a small number of midges invisibly fell to their deaths, though presumably the majority clung to their host and continued to chomp. “Can’t say I’ll miss that damned dam,” he added, scratching various areas of his person. “I knew when they threw it together it wouldn’t stand, what with ‘em buildin’ it so fast and on the cheap. Then th‘ other day the cockeyed idea to put heavy ice up there, and then by night to set torches to th’ice whilst forgettin’ to douse ‘em yest’day, while the hot sun beat down– - me dumb little furry beast over there’s got more sense than that! No wonder the damned thing busted.”

    “But truly, Sir, you must be grateful that the waters mercifully have receded – “

    “Aye, praise the dear saints -– but ‘tweren’t prayers o’ thanksgivin’ that were comin’ out of the wife an’ son an’ me, when we grabbed the wee creature and climbed to the roof to clutch our very lives by the slimmest, slimiest o’ straws an’ the tears flooded me eyes as I watched my quarter-acre all but wash away.”

    The traveler stole a stealthy glance down the incline behind the devastated cottage where the patch of land lay under at least a half-foot of fetid brine (2) which – - when and if it ever evaporated -- would become permanently contaminated by an unremovable film of salt, like a microcosmic Carthage forced to kiss its arable days goodbye. The former Royal Guardsman did not mention this.

    Even so, an overwhelming curiosity compelled him to broach another highly-sensitive subject. “I hate to ask -- where is everybody?”

    “Why at the King’s send-off, o’ course! Soon as we finish the tidyin’ up, the three of us is goin’ up there our own selves. ‘Cause just between you and me and the you-know-what, I wouldn’t miss it for the wor--“

    “Enough of this praddle!” chimed in the wife, “ere the wrath of the heavens come crashin’ down on yer poor hospitality,” though the sour expression with which she’d initially greeted the lost guardsman never wavered an inch off her face. With a leg of her washboard, she poked her son’s back. “Dick, fetch this gentleman a bowl of porridge.”

    Releasing the goat who immediately scampered into the compromised cottage, the son stood up and flashed a smirk. “One lump or two?”

    “No, no, I couldn’t possibly –“ he said, not adding take food from a starving family.

    “ Ya sure?” insisted the wife. “It was mostly dry when it came out o’ the sack, and the water ‘twas boiled in didn’t hardly stink a’tall.“

    “No doubt, dear Lady, but no. Thank you just the same.” And just the same his stomach did a half-gainer, followed by a somersault.


    Some sticklers for tradition and protocol expressed their concerns about the speedy processing of the rituals, but at the same time, the practical streak in the Cappoccian fiber mandated that as soon as the body had been found -– slumped belly-down over a mammoth, mud-encased log -- it would be relegated to its final earthly resting spot with a minimum of delay, for the simple reason that the last thing the country needed was another ghastly odor. Ergo, the once and never-again King Brot the Mendacious was still lyin’, but this time lyin’ in state.

    No other event in Cappoccian history had ever brought so many people together. (3) A mix of noblemen and roturiers, the crowd paid its respects (a loose use of the word) as, one by one, courtier and commoner shuffled past the small wooden casket, its lid clamped tight, precluding the possibility of proof as to whether the contents had really, truly expired, a question necessarily left unanswered without the opportunity to ascertain whether the eyes were cross-hatched or merely shut. There was no similar difficulty in the age-old belief about noise “loud enough to wake the dead,” for some of the quasi-mourners and pseudo-keeners conducted their tests by rapping hard on the top of the coffin and running their voices at full-lung capacity.

    “Some kings is good and somes is bad, but here lies Brot -- worst!”

    “Ain’t that the truth! Good riddance to bad rubbish!”

    “So long, you miserable little piss-pot!” The source of the comment received a sharp elbow to the ribs, followed by a hissing retort both from the woman standing next to him. “What? What did I say? I know it’s the same as in Church. ‘Despot’ -- that’s all I said.”

    Yet it wasn’t quite like a High Requiem Mass, for the Cappoccian diocese did not see the wisdom of laying the groundwork for another full-scale riot, which is how the Faithful would have responded to what they’d deem a sacrilege. The corporeal remains of the former ruler would, however, be interred in hallowed ground, but planted in a modest plot purged of the near occasion of hypocrisy. No one saw the need to send this soul on its journey with pro forma sanctity. Still –- the officiate solemnly shook his head.

    Because all the other priests in the Kingdom had shuttled out of town to attend a Friars’ convention, officiating duties had fallen upon Fr. Brian Brian from the parish of St. James the Neglected Middle Child. (4) “Now, now, boys --what’s with the insults? Perhaps deserved, but a little late wouldn’t you say, considering that the, ahem, departed soul can’t defend himself?”

    One of the attendees, who either hadn’t heard or pretended not to have heard the reprimand, cupped his hand over his mouth and, looking down at the still-soggy ground, sent a message to another realm in the nether regions. “Hey! You down there – make room for another customer!”

    Fr. Brian’s eyes, though in color a sparkling blue, shot fire. “De mortuis nihil nisi bonum!”

    “Uh, sorry, Father, I don’t know from Lat–-“

    “ ‘Don’t talk trash in front of the stiff!’ ”

    Apparently approving the vernacular translation, the widow nodded, as she sat on the sidelines with her ever-present protector. Both were dry-eyed.

    The cleric had enough experience with end-of-life rituals that he had come to the natural conclusion that the primary beneficiary of a Christian funeral was not the so-called “guest-of-honor” but rather the deceased’s immediate “survivors” (the funereal term as normally used, i.e. not in a post-catastrophe context.) The historic significance of this particular obsequy did not escape Fr. Brian’s ken, though nothing in his previous experience had prepared him for such a perverse reaction to a man’s death. In the past he had done his share of comforting grieving family members, consoling them as best as God’s grace allowed him to do, but never in the span of his entire priestly career had he ever encountered an instance in which he’d been called upon to stanch a flow of glee. He would have much preferred to bring comfort to the sorrowful, sad task that it was; so when he chanced to see a young man, with his eyes downcast and his mouth set in a melancholy pose all but crying out for spiritual succor, the priest was relieved to find a duty actually included in his original job description.

    Like a loving grandfather, he put a comforting hand on the young man’s shoulders and said,“It’s all right to mourn, my son, but remember, everything is in the hands of Our Lord and His Holy Will –-“

    “Easy for you to say, Father, with all due respect. But God called upon me to save that little bas–uh, His Majesty, and I failed miserably.”

    “But at least you tried – that was the main thing.” Fr. Brian squinted and stared hard. “Say, aren’t you the young fella who turned back the flood? My goodness! You should be rejoicing along with the rest of us, er -- I’m certain Our Lord wouldn’t mind your indulging in a little pride. After all, you rescued the entire town!”

    The young man shook his head. “A guy all by his lonesome can’t do a damned –- I mean, a blessed thing, Father. You’ve got to have help.”

    On the fateful day in question, with everybody dripping wet and hunkered down together up on that poor excuse of a hill, their inevitable doom merely temporarily procrastinating as they all gaped in horror at the rush of water that wouldn’t quit, things looked hopeless. Even the normal sunniness of Sir Val’s public disposition had started to dim: ”. . .[A]ll this water. It seems limitless, as if the whole bay will empty out, and lest we forget, there’s a huge ocean behind that. There’s just no end to it.”

    “Don’t you think we ought to do something?” Tom replied. “I mean, what do we have to lose?” Within a few precious seconds, he’d come up with a cockeyed plan, which he sounded off Sir Val.

    The Royal Consort’s protector stroked his impeccably-groomed goatee. “Hmm. You know something? That’s such a crazy idea, it just might work!” (5)

    Within moments, Tom and Sir Val got busy, demonstrating organizational skills that had never before shown their faces in the kingdom. Likewise the kind of cooperative spirit which Tom and Sir Val were able to elicit from the townsfolk, previously paralyzed by fear, bordered on the preternatural, but nebulous Platonic ideals stayed in the clouds to allow for pragmatic solutions.

    With an expression registering as much desperation as determination, Tom strode over to one of the pyramids stacked with ancient cannonballs. Having grabbed the crowning one, he had no time to revel in his relief that its companions didn’t start rolling down the hill and splashing and sinking into the water; indeed the tiers of formerly lethal spheres stayed intact. Tom loaded the cannonball into the bucket of the trebuchet and let her rip.

    To his eminent surprise, the cannonball followed a smooth projection through the air, and when it fell, it neither exploded nor shattered upon impact, landing squarely at the base of the dam near the breach. He tried launching another; then another. So far, so good.

    The men lined themselves up along the stockpiled cannonballs, which they passed relay-style down to Tom, who stood at the ready to drop the black spheres, one-by-one, into the bucket , whereupon the de facto leader with his massive muscles cultivated during the years manning the Royal Drawbridge, cranked the creaking winch round and round, hoisting the bucket upward and upward, launching each payload both outward and downward into the direction of the gaping hole in the dam. Loading, cranking, letting go, pulling down, loading, cranking, letting go, pulling down.

    In between shouts of encouragement to the men, Sir Val was beside himself with awe.“Will you look at that? They’re going to block that breach in the dam tighter than a whole army of little Dutch boys with massive fingers!”

    “Keep ‘em comin’!” Tom yelled, as the veins in his arms bulged like engorged worms and the volume of sweat on his face began to rival the waters still rushing beneath the hill.

    They did keep coming, but in no time the supply of cannonballs ran low, finally altogether disappearing, while the treacherous tear in the dam remained open enough for water to continue to gush through. “You’ll soon be closing the gap,” Sir Val shouted. “Can’t stop now!”

    With his back bent over and his hands clenching the handle, Tom turned his head and called for more improvised projectiles. “Gimme some rocks, sticks -– anything!” and upon that command the men on the hillock grabbed whatever items they could find and lift: small boulders, half-rotten logs; some brave souls even resorted to reaching down into the still-flowing current in order to fish out bits of supernatant debris. A miscellany of disparate objects made the trip down the relay line, into the bucket, up in the air, finally landing in the pile doing its damnedest to plug up the hole. Then, when the dam’s gusher finally had been reduced down to a mere trickle, Tom shot off the last payload which hit its mark squarely and shut off the water for good. It was a “Chamber Brot” that did the trick.

    Instantly the crowd let out a collective cheer, the sounds of vengeance, salvation, gratitude all blended into one triumphant hallelujah. The townspeople clustered round Tom; they slapped him on the back, and gripped his hand, still shaking from the physical stress.“You’ve catapulted yourself into heroism, Tom,” Sir Val exclaimed.

    “Not just me. Everybody pitched in.”

    So much for sharing the glory- – the people weren’t having any of it. They hoisted Tom up on their shoulders as if he were an ancient Olympic champion.

    Though few would have noted and fewer still would have remembered, that was the scene exactly depicted on the last panel of the Royal Tapestry. After the rebels had ripped the historic object from its designated site and tossed it off the balcony, the subsequent flood had swept it a mere dozen feet from its landing space in the courtyard, where it swirled around a hitching post, getting stuck and stranded there in a pulpy lump after the waters had mercifully subsided.

    The unofficial caretaker of the Royal Tapestry wouldn’t have marked the coincidence. Even if the chambermaid had witnessed the real-life incident first hand, she’d probably would never have made the connection, because she wasn’t the sort of gal who bothered herself with details, rather concentrating on the bigger picture of her assigned chores, one of which included beating dust off the cursed nuisance once a year. That the work of art had been all but lately destroyed, essentially eliminating the annual task from her job description, did not occur to her, for when she spotted the sodden lump of cloth on the ground, her natural instinct was to pick it up and salvage what she could. No one had commanded her to serve on the clean-up committee, but whenever she perceived a need, she instinctively pitched in with little ceremony or fanfare. That was the kind of woman Astrid was.

    There was, however, another reason: a stiletto stabbing her heart, compelling her to grope for the salve of distraction -– some brainless, menial task, anything that would temporarily deflect her mind off grief. Oh, it was silly, really -– to be bent out of shape over losing someone she’d known little more than a night and a day, but – - the pain was real, just as real as the disgusting stink that had invaded the town. She picked up the tangled mass of damp cloth and tried to separate the clinging folds. The outermost edges of the thing were nearly dry, but devoid of all trace of softness, the rough mementoes of the “hard” water difficult to shake. Just like her sorrow. “Oh, poor Keith!” she said aloud.

    Keith. “That’s it!” he exclaimed.

    The chambermaid swiftly turned and let out a silent shriek. It was the second time in fewer than three days that someone had mistaken him for a ghost.

    “Oh, thank God! You’re all right!”

    He picked her up, spun her around, and held onto her for dear life. “I can take care of myself. I’m a big boy.”


    Meanwhile, the gathering at the wake was showing signs of breaking up, now that the mourners were pretty much satisfied that the guest of honor had been irrevocably dispatched into the next world. Geduld considered inviting everyone up for coffee and cake as is customary after these rituals until she remembered, once again, that the Royal Kitchen remained locked up tighter than a courtesan’s stomacher. “Not to mention lacking a chef and his staff,” she thought. “If only that pig-headed Brot hadn’t banished -–Ugh! De mortuis nihil –“

    “Yuck, the stink’s like to suffocate me!” a member of the congregation groused. “Hey, Father! How’s about smokin’ up summa that ol’ incense for us?”

    No. No incense. The Church had reserved the holy vapors only for sacramental ceremonies of the highest order in perpetuum. Standing in front of the casket, Fr. Brian blessed the air above it with his hand pointing up to Heaven, and that was that. So much for the dead; as far as the quick, he looked over at Tom, the unlikely hero, and shook his head in wonder about the omniscience of Our Lord and His Mysterious Ways. A humble wretch like that, a commoner, elevated into heroism, but then -- lest we forget the lowly stable in Bethlehem, couldn’t get more humble than that, could we, but certainly that had been a special case, an Extremely Special Case indeed. Yet here he was, an ordained priest, having racked up decades of ministering to the Faithful, and despite all those years of sporting the tonsure and the cowl and the sandals, never gaining the slightest clue of how this world runs any more than that big goofy guy who’d suddenly discovered in himself the power to stop the tide. Yet wasn't he, Fr. Brian, forever a duly-anointed priest after the order of Melchisedech, hence the more qualified? Uh-oh, the seductively wiggling finger of the sin of pride, venial at the very least, veiling a potentially mortal one. He’d have to remember to mention it to his confessor upon the friars’ return from Retreat all renewed and fired-up with the Spirit.

    Tom happened to take a long view toward the bay, where he spotted the tell-tale square sails heading out to sea. “Looks like the Vicarians are making a hasty exit.”

    “No doubt,” agreed Sir Val. “Most likely in search of a new meal ticket. But they neither require nor deserve our concern. On a brighter note, aren’t you pleased that we’re all safe– and” (sotto voce) “out from under the thrall of you-know-who?”

    “I guess so, but look at that ungodly mess over there.”

    “A veritable edifice wrecks, I’ll warrant. Give it time, though, Tom. Some day the Cappoccia River will revert to its natural course, and we can dismantle the remains of the dam once the original stream regains its muscle memory.”

    “Well, I wish me own muscles would forget the pain and burning from twisting that bloody winch – - Say, look who’s here! Hail fellow, well met as they say -“

    “Yeah, thanks Tom, I’m alive, we’re both okay, and so forth.” Though Keith was out of breath, he talked fast. “Listen, Astrid found something really significant –“

    “Uh-huh,” she said. “The ancient tapestry-- well, that old rag’s a goner, it came apart at the seams, but this thing was inside. We couldn’t make heads nor tails of it, Keith and me. But we knew this gentleman was good with stories and the like, so maybe he could cipher it out for us.”

    “I’ll certainly give it a try, young lady.” Sir Val took the stiff oblong cloth and squinted at it. “Hmm. It’s like a palimpsest, only rendered with cross-stitching rather than with ink. The letters are a bit hard to make out, the flood waters must’ve made the dye run. Looks like some lines of verse.” He read them aloud:


    In this is sewn the happy fate
    of the laughing boy who cranked the gate
    and hauled the parcels up and down
    for one who falsely wore the crown.

    He tried to prove the tell-tale page
    of foolish war ne’er to be waged,
    and when the waters washed the town,
    to save the cur destined to drown.

    Failing at both, he did instead
    stop the flood at its monstrous head.
    Much he deserved his new renown,
    all lauded and lifted up off the ground.

    For the kind queen, the choice would be
    Corrina, from across the sea,
    With this man, of mind and body sound,
    your new and truthful king was found.
    The moment he finished reading the lines, the crowd didn’t know how to react–- were they supposed to applaud the poetry reading or what? As for Sir Val himself, he turned pale. The knight’s hand began to tremble, nearly dropping the stitched cloth to the ground, where subsequently his knees also dropped, as he softly proclaimed, “Your Majesty!”

    “Huh? What? What happened here?”

    Keith, who’d lately learned not to stand on ceremony, slapped his buddy on the back. “This means you’ve gone way up in the world, Man! It's all right there in blue and white.You’re The King!”

    “No, no – none of that stuff applies to me. Nope. Not me. No, sir. I don’t even know anybody named Corrina. (6) I’m not the King.” Oh, but would that he were and would that mumbo-jumbo prophecy had said “Kitchen Gretchen.” But it was all moot, for by now the love of his life was in all likelihood on the bottom of the sea, scrubbing the barnacles off Davy Jones’s locker. "I'm no king."

    “Indeed you are, Tom -- er, Sire,” pronounced the priest. At that precise moment, a totally out-of-place monkey emerged from out of the shadows and jumped directly inside the friar’s hood. Fr. Brian reached back and pulled it out. “Get out of there, you devilish beast! One day an old maid will lead you round the circles of Hell!” (7)

    Tom made a mental note that if indeed he were the king (incredible as it seemed) and if that missing Royal Seal ever resurfaced, his first official act as monarch would be to outlaw
    cruelty to animals.

    And just when the former King’s funeral had begun to wind down, at last starting to assume an air of sedate propriety, a character dressed in disheveled motley loudly broke into the scene. “ I just stowed away on a Barbary pirate ship and boy, are my yardarms tired! Home at last!” (8) He sniffed the air and made a disgusted face. “Ho-lee saints in heaven! Who cut one?”

    The new king’s eyebrows hit the top of his head; his mouth hung open. “Dad?”





    (1)
    A recurrent comment in 20th century American films– - “It’s quiet. Too quiet.” The line fully qualifies as a cliché, but according to the Trivial Pursuit board game, it is not the most common line of movie dialogue.

    (2)
    Not quite the same as what American homeowners in the post-mortgage crisis era mean by “underwater,” alas amid similar hardships.

    (3)
    “Give the people what they want and they’ll come out for it.” – Quip attributed to Red Skelton, at the funeral of a movie mogul (either Louis B. Mayer or Harry Cohn, or both.)

    http://msgboard.snopes.com/cgi-bin/u...2;t=000457;p=0

    (4)
    Located exactly midway between the two other Cappoccian parishes: St. James the Great and St. James the Lesser.

    (5)
    See FN (1) Although it’s also a stock line of dialogue, it still isn’t the Trivial Pursuit answer.

    (6)
    Apologies to: Bo Carter, Joe Turner, Maurice Williams, Chuck Willis, Ray Peterson, et al.

    (7)
    Much Ado About Nothing, II, i.

    (8)
    Immediately following the climax of the famous The Simpsons two-parter, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” Krusty the Clown bursts through the courtroom door and shouts, “I just flew in from Vegas! Did I miss anything?”


    TO BE CONTINUED (just one more time.)
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 04-22-2013 at 11:48 PM. Reason: bits and pieces, also a very stubborn line break

  5. #35
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    The Lyin' King -- CONCLUSION

    The Lyin’ King – - Conclusion

    Plink, plink, plink. The King was in the counting house, counting all his money. Straight and stately, like a scale-model of a Greek column, each stack of gold sovereigns stood high enough on the table to hide the monarch from view. At this point in his inchoate reign, he was serving as his own Chancellor of the Exchequer. As he tallied up the prodigious value of the golden bankroll, The King assigned to each vertical pile an “earmark”: this one for completing the clean-up of the accidentally demolished and deliberately unmourned dam, that one for a “double wedding,” covering all expenses to be incurred anent the celebration of the unions of the first Duke of Rockenwood, Lord (the former “Officer”) Keith, with his future Lady (née Astrid, the former chambermaid) and that of Sir Valentine Hopewell with The King’s aunt, Geduld. The tallest stack of money was to be distributed to the good sisters in the parishes of all three St. Jameses to establish schools for young Cappoccians, especially female children whose education in previous regimes had been sorely neglected, indeed, summarily outlawed.

    Though he was much too modest a guy to admit it, it thrilled him to his bones that he had acquired the power to do such good works. Every once in a while, he had to remind himself that he was indeed the ruler of his country. To be thrust into a position of a world leader was far beyond his immediate understanding; certainly only a madman would have possessed delusions of such an elaborate elevation in status. Yet here he was issuing sensible Royal Proclamations and attending to delicate affairs of state, such as forming an alliance with the ever-peaceful kingdom of Gentletralia. His lifelong vocation had beckoned him to a career in the entertainment business, namely tossing out quips and quirks in exchange for exquisitely satisfying laughs. Albeit a dream of upward mobility had never approached the outermost borders of his mind, his passions decidedly leaned more toward comedy than geopolitics, though some have argued to this day that the fields are identical.

    As the King reached for the first group of coins to deposit them in a clearly-labeled leather bag, an unannounced presence blocked his sight: a set of somewhat chafed but decidedly feminine hands covering his eyes accompanied by a dulcet voice chirping “Guess who?”

    “Lady Godiva?”

    “Nope.”

    “Johanna the Mad?”

    “Guess again.”

    “Uh– - Gertie from Mesertie?”

    The lady responded with a sigh.“Aw, how soon we forget!”

    When The King stood up and turned around, his face took on a beatific glow, as if he’d been suddenly snatched up to Heaven, thereby returning to an earth made more radiant from the journey. He pulled her into an embrace that simultaneously expressed relief and gratitude to God, not to mention an earthier emotion, the robust flame which -- despite his sad and previous belief that the couple would ne’er reunite – - time could not extinguish. Several minutes later, he composed himself enough to speak. “Where? How? When did you back?”

    “Oh, you would not believe it. That Vicarian tub got us all the way over there, we were right smack in the harbor, not two feet away from dry land. But the Dutch wouldn’t let us in! Nobody had a groene kaart. So we had to turn around and come all the way back! Not that I wasn’t thrilled - – don’t get me wrong. Ooh, I almost forgot! We had a layover in London. There was a used bookstore right on the wharf, so I picked up this little souvenir. Of course, I can’t read anything, but the bookseller recommended it.” The girl handed him a small volume, its cover stained and battered, the frayed binding weeping strings.

    “Oh, how thoughtful of you. It’s right up my alley. See?” He pointed to the title. “Joe Miller’s Jest-Book.”

    “I’m sorry it’s a little shopworn –“

    So are the jests, the recipient thought. “That’s all right. Thanks so much.” He kissed her once again, this time on the sunburnt forehead -- briefly, for fear of losing his place in the conversation. “That reminds me, Sweetheart -- you’ll never guess who else has come home! My old man. What a card! You’ve got to meet him. He’s a real pisser –-“

    “I heard! Some folks in town filled me on everything. But Tom -- or should I say ‘Sire?’ Look at you! Didn’t I tell you that you’d come up in the world? Though I can’t really say you’re dressed for the part.” She referred to The King’s less-than-optimally-fitting doublet, uncomfortably snug in places, tight around the sinewy shoulders.

    “Yeah, I know what ‘cha mean,” he said. “Sir Val gave me some of his garments. Just haven’t had the time to get fitted for a wardrobe yet. All the trappings of this king-stuff are all new to me, and – - hey, where’d ya go?”

    She was nowhere in sight, until he looked down to see her on her knees. In her hands she wielded a pair of scissors, snipping at the hems of his hand-me-down garments. “Don’t mind me. Just taking care of loose threads.” Grabbing the edge of the table, the pretty visitor stood up and for the first time noticed the huge display of cash. “Wow! I see that the little weasel left behind a ton of dough - –“

    The King shook his head. “ Pfft! Gone. Every farthing. All divvied up and returned to the rightful owners, the Cappoccian people.”

    “So where did all this come from?” Her waving arm inadvertently nudged the top of one of the golden towers. More than a few precious coins tumbled to the floor, tinkling like a bell announcing a very, very good day for the sweeper.

    “Oh. Well, there was this deed addressed to You-Know-Who, but knowing the property was a real craphole, I realized that The King, er– - Brot, would take it the wrong way, so I decided not to deliver the deed for the sake of the donor’s safety. I’d forgotten about the damn thing, what with the Royal Ball and the proclamation of the phony war, the rebellion, the Big Flood, and then finally discovering that I was actually The Ki –- well, to make a long story short –“

    “Too late!”

    “ Very clever, Gretch. Ranks right up there with the chicken crossing the road. Or the one about throwing the clock out the window. Anyway, Morty –- you remember Morty, don’t cha, Hon? – went down to my old quarters to salvage whatever personal belongings had made it through the Flood, and what do you know, he finds the deed. Imagine that – the water washed away all of my stuff – every stitch, including the suit of armor that –“

    “Huh?”

    “–-but somehow that deed managed to make it through Hell and high water. But here’s the beauty part, my love – - that swampland happened to be the site of a fortune in buried treasure, and –- get this – - the deed was spelled out not to ‘Brot’ but to ‘The Current King of Cappoccia.’ Voila! “ Now it was The King’s turn to make the sweeping motion, but without toppling down any of the stacked coins. “How about that, huh, Gretchen? That was some lucky break - – surely! “

    “I’ve told you a hundred times, don’t call me ‘Shirley.’ “ The woman’s glance took on a sudden seriousness. “And, uh, don’t call me ‘Gretchen,’ either.”

    The King pushed back the front of his crown, as if it were an ordinary cap; he scratched his head like a flummoxed gull from out of town. “I don’t get it.”

    “I didn’t get it either, at first. ‘Bout four long, long years ago the thugs came a-poundin’ at our door. Just before they dragged me away, as me mother held me tight for one last hug, she whispered in me ear. ‘My dear, dear daughter,’ she said through her tears. ‘Whatever you do, don’t ever, ever tell anyone in the castle what your real name is–‘

    “ ‘All right, Ma, I won’t,’ I said, but why? ‘

    “ ‘Never mind,’ she cried. ‘Just keep it to yourself. Promise me!’ Well, I promised all right-- after all, this was me sainted Ma. I never did tell anyone my real name, not even you, Tom. Of course, I wondered and wondered what in heaven’s name that was all about. Then, just last month on the voyage back over here, I couldn’t hardly sleep at’all, not with the excitement of thinking I might see you again, Tom. But with the stars twinkling above in the purple sea of the sky, and the waves hitting that creaky old Vicarian ship rocking me to sleep, I finally fell into a deep, dark slumber. I had this dream-- well, maybe it was more like a memory bubbling up to the surface. I was about four, five years old. Me ma was telling old stories about our family.“

    “Me ma said that when she was still carrying me, and sitting in the very same rocking chair where I was sitting on her lap, her mother -– me grandmother – - was working on her needlepoint. Grandma was the most famous seamstress in all the land, so she’d been commissioned to stitch in thread the words of something Very Important, a Sacred Prophecy so secret that she had to swear on her immortal soul that she’d never breathe a syllable of it. Even so, she told me mother what name to choose for my Christening, once I was born. ‘Call her Corrina,’ me grandmother said. And that’s exactly what happened, Tom. I am your Corrina, Corrina, from across the sea.”

    It took a while for it all to sink in. Then in a flash his face brightened like the rising sun; it was as if the All-Loving God had sent down to Earth a little piece of Paradise as a gift for the devoted couple. Shipping and receiving: the way it ought to be. The King took his beloved into his arms and kissed her again. And again. “I’ll never let you leave my side,” he vowed.

    “Never?”

    “Well, all right, but only when you have to use the chamber pot. “ Still more hugs and tender busses. “Let me ask you something -- what d’ya say about you and me as the third leg of a Triple Wedding?”

    And so began the long, prosperous, and graceful reign of King Thomas the Truthful and his Queen, Corrina (the once and never-again scullery maid formerly known as “Kitchen Gretchen.”) With a loving hand and an open heart they ruled good-natured people in a contented realm where no one ever told a lie, except to protect against hurt feelings and, of course, whenever somebody wanted to tell a good joke.


    THE END
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 03-12-2013 at 05:04 PM.

  6. #36
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    Forgive the blatant self-indulgence in "bumping" this, in case anyone wants to post a comment before Fairly Flailing Tale #3 appears, which I hope will occur within a few days.

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    Brazenly "bumped" in search of comments, since another Fairly Flailing Tale is coming soon to a computer screen near you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AuntShecky View Post
    Brazenly "bumped" in search of comments, since another Fairly Flailing Tale is coming soon to a computer screen near you.
    The club swings on and Aunty out puts a birdie.

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    Shameless Self-Promotion

    Simply because I feel like it -- I'm bumping this.

    (So sue me.)

  10. #40
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    Nicely bumped Auntie ... and just in time for me to offer my compliments.

    I can visualize this story as a play or even a Broadway musical. A beautiful combination of A Connecticut Yankee In King Authur's Court, Don Quixote, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and ... errrr .... Oklahoma !!! *LOL*

    Long, but lotssa fun to read.

  11. #41
    Registered User 108 fountains's Avatar
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    Hi Auntie,
    I'm not ignoring this, just taking my time enjoying it. I'm about halfway through so far. Don't know when I've read something so bursting with energy.
    Reading it is leaving me breathless.
    A just conception of life is too large a thing to grasp during the short interval of passing through it.
    Thomas Hardy

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    Thank you, DATo and 108 Fountains, for taking the time to read and comment on this lengthy piece.

  13. #43
    Registered User 108 fountains's Avatar
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    I've been doing 2-3 chapters a day except on weekends. Have three chapters to go. The strongest overall impression I have is the amount of energy in the piece and secondly I would say is the unique style, both of which make it enjoyable reading. I'll need a few more days to put more thoughtful comments together.
    A just conception of life is too large a thing to grasp during the short interval of passing through it.
    Thomas Hardy

  14. #44
    Registered User 108 fountains's Avatar
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    Auntie,

    As I mentioned earlier, what struck me most strongly is the incredible energy of the writing in this story. I was left breathless at the end of each chapter. The non-stop humor, the convoluted, rollicking plot, the wild vernacular of the speakers, the ever-present allusions (the footnotes were much appreciated; I caught many other allusions that were not footnoted and probably missed many more), and the sheer zaniness of the characters and their situations all combined for an entertaining, farcical, fun-filled read.

    Reading the story was in many ways like watching a Marx Brothers movie or the Three Stooges. At other times it was like watching a cartoon. The characterization of the story as one of Auntie's Fairly Flailing Tales and the title “Lyin’ King put me in the frame of mind to expect something along the lines of old Fractured Fairy Tales of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, which I always enjoyed, and the story lived up to that expectation.

    Writing humor that works is, I think, really difficult, and the humor here works, but rather than fill up this space with laudatory comments, I imagine you would probably appreciate some constructive criticism, so here are a couple of suggestions:

    My main criticism, and my only real criticism, is that I think the story goes on too long. The problem with most comedy movies that I’ve seen is that they need to fill up 90 minutes or more. Even the best Marx Brothers movies tend to languish toward the middle. The more modern comedies, with Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, and Adam Sandler, share the same problem of having to deal with a plot rather than focusing entirely on the humor. The 1987 Ishtar is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen - for the first 30 minutes, and then it just flounders. I think Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields, and the Three Stooges made their “shorts” for a reason - it’s hard to keep ‘em laughing very long.

    In the case of “The Lyin’ King,” it does not languish or lag anywhere; the energy and the humor continue straight through, but it just seems to go on a little too long, which may be why the earlier chapters received many more comments from readers than did the later chapters. You could probably make revisions to take out some material, although I’d be at a loss to suggest what. It appeared that you were posting each chapter as it was written, so I suspect that if you went back and looked at it again as a whole, you’d find areas to cut.

    The only other criticisms I can offer are really more a matter of taste, and every author and reader has his/her own tastes, so I won't pretend mine are any better than anyone else’s. One example is that because the characters were all sort of cartoonish characters, I was not able to identify or sympathize closely with the main character or any of the other characters. But I don’t believe that it was your intention to develop strong or complex characters here; it would not have been in keeping with the purpose of the piece, which was humor. (Although I will admit that I began to sympathize with Tom at the end when he was reunited with Gretchen. If you were to do a re-write, I would suggest emphasizing the character of Gretchen more and her relationship with Tom more at the beginning, since it becomes such an important piece at the end.)

    I did catch the allusion to the old song, Corrina, Corrina, and enjoyed that part, especially the phrase “from across the sea” (which is not in the Bob Dylan version of the lyrics). But I have to say, the last verse embroidered into the old tapestry totally confused me:

    For the kind queen, the choice would be
    Corrina, from across the sea,
    With this man, of mind and body sound,
    your new and truthful king was found.

    I thought you were talking about the queen, er… the Royal Consort Geduld in the first line ("the kind queen"). I know that you made a point throughout the story of not referring to her as the Queen, and now I know why. But even then, I was confused at first reading. However, I think you could easily clear up the confusion with a bit of rearranging and a couple of small word changes to that last verse as follows:

    With this man, of mind and body sound,
    your new and truthful king was found
    And for his queen, the choice would be
    Corrina, Corrina from across the sea.


    I also felt like you missed an opportunity for satire with the character of the King - where else have I seen a national leader who sometimes stumbled over his words and who brought his country into an ill-planned war for dubious reasons? I tried, but was unable to find other parallels between the King and the real life persona, so again, I think that was not your purpose. (Although it’s possible that, because I missed some allusions, there may have been some satire that I also just missed.)

    The sort of modern, urban dialect of many of the characters was incongruous to the fantastical, medieval setting, but that, I’m sure, was intentional as part of the humor. The only danger is that it might be overdone, but again, for purposes of humor, it’s the overdoing that makes it funny. (I’m working on a story of my own where the main character has a humorous, heavy North Carolina/Tennessee accent, and I’m concerned that you and Calidore will think that it is overdone.)

    I could go on and on picking out things that I enjoyed, as well as things that I thought could be improved, but then my comments might be longer than the story itself! I’m looking forward to the next installment of Auntie's Fairly Flailing Tales.
    A just conception of life is too large a thing to grasp during the short interval of passing through it.
    Thomas Hardy

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