Post details: Chapter 94 - The King VS Boring Political IntrigueFlip the order!
Chapter 94 - The King VS Boring Political Intrigue
The party to mark the King's return to the amazing shores of Europe had been rocking on for a month and ten days. Every living serf and scraper in that wonderful time-lost Kingdom of old was partying harder than most people of today are capable of imagining.
All citizens, young and old had been required under European Law to kill at least one cat in celebration of a grand event like a return of a King, but once again the the brave people of Europe had shattered all expectations and really gone the extra mile: From Angleland in the West to Constantinople in the East, from the Southern spires of Atlantis to the Northern crinkles of Viking Europe, the delicious smell of roast cat clung sweetly to the air. Every valley in the Swiss Alps was a moist and furry carpet, while all the peaks and clifftops were alive with jubilant Europeans cherishing the thought of their King at last back amongst them. Dead cats clogged every alleyway, were crammed in every barbecue grill, were wrapped around every mill-stone and were jammed upon every jagged fence-post in the land. So many had been used to fuel the party that the King even thought he'd have to have a word with his old Adventure Friend, Baroness Catsex, who'd ascended to Heaven to become the European goddess of cats and dressing up like cats, to check if the supply would hold. But honestly, the King had more important things on his mind. Yes, some things were even more serious that parties. What could those things be? Well, I'll tell you. They are, in no particular order:
The King's Father
Terrorthaw acting out
The dissolution of Europe into a bloody, protracted Civil War
The King's mind was on the last one, of course. He could feel the fractures in the cat-soaked air around him with the fingertips of his mind. His Kingdom was a fairy-cake caught in the delicious moment before crumbling in the maw of chaos. No matter how much joy he saw on the faces of his beautiful subjects as they drank and cavorted and cheered and made stupendous bets on the hag races and put cat after cat after cat to the sword, or knife or hammer or whatever, he knew that their joy would soon be a lie. He had personally broken one of the most important laws of Europe, perhaps -the- most important law. It was bad enough when a normal dude pulls something like that, but for the King to try it – jeez man, that's something else. The King wanted so hard to put everything right – to grab those fractures by the neck and smash them to bits until they mended and everything was cool again – but he was still so weak from losing his Super-Chastity. Instead of smashing, his days were spent resting in bed with a hot water bottle and the Royal Cuddler, where he'd occasionally rise to walk over to the window to wave and crack a laugh for the partying crowds outside.
Frustrated and tearlogged, he focused his chi and his XP for a whole week, eating nothing and talking to no one. The witches and healers and sexy nurses and the Royal Cuddler - who'd been assigned to his bedside by Father Dominoes - were all worried and kept crowding around him as he sat there, glowing gently on the bed, his teeth gritted so hard you could hear them. They tried to wake him up by offering him ice-cream, flowers, figurines of his favourite cockfighting champions and all the rest of his favourite things, but the King would just grit his teeth even harder and they'd all have to run out of the the room with their ears ringing. Father Dominoes had to assure them at the end of every day of that week that the King was fine, he was just gathering strength for something important and Kingly. Most of the witches and healers and what-have-yous got the message and began working half-shifts so they could join in the partying.
Sure enough, at the end of that week of glowing and chi-gathering, the King's eyes sprang open like backwards bear traps and he screamed. He screamed as put on his purplest robe, screamed he ran to the Politics Forum and screamed until Commander Flightfeather appeared.
“Your Highness! How warm to see you're well and firm, but what -” but his words were no use. The King screamed and screamed until Timothy Clashradish and Jacob Hillmounter appeared in the Forum, until Gadfly and Formation, the heads of the Church and the Merchant Guilds and the Commander of Cashflow and the Chief Librarian and all the little Dukes and Barons and Sirs who thought they were so great were correct and present and seated there in the Politics Forum. Once they were there, the King stopped screaming and just breathed for a little while. Everyone took the opportunity to finish the drinks and nibbles they had brought with them from the party. Then the King spoke and it was real.
“Gentlemen and honourary gentlemen,” he roared, “As the newscriers and gossiptrees have told you, as the revellers sing it outside, as it has been written in psychic flowers across the ceiling of the Astral Plane, I have returned to you, cherished Europe, though my quest is not yet complete. My crazy ex, Oranje, who you all know well – remember all the messages she put up on the notice board – she opposed me at every turn. My Adventure Friends and I went to the Moon and there she was. We fell to the darks of Romania, home to the savage gypsies and their foul defilers, the Draculas, and there she was also I chased her from that shrouded realm across the sea all the way to the New World you may have heard about, the world of the New Viking Europe, where she fought me to a standstill. Yes, me. Eventually I ran up through the totally strange domain of the President Of The United States, where most things are different and they use words for things that we wouldn't use. She was the one who launched the recent attack on Normandy and she was the one who brought me back home prematurely. Had it not been for the brave and talented actions of my son, Prince David, who you all know well, the consequences of her feminine hysteria could have been grave indeed. Now she is defeated at last and my quest to murder Winter from ear to ear and free us from his chilly tyranny must continue. But for now, I am back in Europe, my home – the sweetest most awesomest land in all the lands of this world. And yet I sense that not all has been well in my long absence. You've got feelings, my countrymen, and some of them are hurt. Let them all out here, in front of your King. Let them spill out on the ground and I shall sort through them like a sea otter diving for clampets. Spill those feelings now before they fester and rot and wreck us from the inside. Speak!”
It took a little while before anyone could speak because they were so glad to be in the presence of the King and his voice. They were thrilled to be given this opportunity to clear the air, so thrilled that they didn't know what to say. The first to recover from the pleasant shock were the bird leaders, Gadfly, the penguin and Formation, the puffin. Gadfly fluttered and puffed and then squittered this to the King:
“Morning morning sun sun, hello girls, this is my location. Keep a comfortable distance, rivals-that-are-near: Morning morning, big nest very big all rivals all girls morningnoonevesleep – big nest very big ?not? Uncertain, uncerta - Aggression! Keep away, I am not showing pain! Morning.”
The King cleared his mighty throat. He had understood, of course, as there was no language of man nor beast he could not divine, but he sensed that the rump of the audience was lost.
“Commander Flightfeather, old friend – could you repeat honoured Gadfly's song in plain European for the benefit of those assembled?” said the King. Commander Flightfeather chirped nervously then stood and said,
“He feels – all of the birds nesting here in Europe feel – that they were promised the land of Luxembourg for a permanent nesting site, free from rats and the other enemies of birds. He is angry and hurt that this has not happened yet, but doesn't want you to know how sad it makes him feel.”
“What's this?” said the Duke of Luxembourg at the back.
“Don't fret about it. We told the little bird that they couldn't do that,” rolled Jacob.
“We told them ages ago,” added Timothy.
“There where did they get this blasted idea -” started the Duke.
“They don't understand the meaning of 'no,'” said Jacob.
“Because birds are stupid,” offered Timothy. At this, the King clenched his fists, sucked in a melonful of air and bellowed:
“Be nice to birds from now on!”
Nobody said anything for one whole minute. Jacob and Timothy looked in shame at each other's shoes. Their minds were full of images of birds, beautiful birds, drifting through the sky, so lucky, so musical. The King breathed heavily. He wouldn't be able to shout like that again for the rest of the day. He felt dizzy but he hung on. A small voice eventually arose from the heart of the crowd.
“Ahum, Your Highness, no doubt you are aware by now, but Europe's economy has floundered while you've been away.” The voice belonged to Henri Moneyfight, Warchief of the Moneyfight Pizanos. He was a slight, nervous man who'd inherited the centuries-old post of Commander of Cashflow for all of Europe during the King's absence and has having trouble getting the hang of it. He looked like he'd been up all night.
“Commander Flightfeather did mention it to me,” said the King, “But I thought it didn't matter. What of the great boons I brought from those faraway shores? What of the haunted gold I personally plundered from a temple full of ghosts? I had to fight them by smell. And are we not ass-deep in United Statesian trade?” There was a murmur around the Forum. Many had heard about the riches that had flowed forth from the King's inventory and of course everyone had already gotten used to the idea of the United Statesian trade-canoes sailing in once every while. Henri Moneyfight dabbed his mouth with a hanky and spoke:
“Yes, Your Highness, but the gold you brought to the coffers was a drop in the ocean of our debts now that the Rock Kingdom has raised its price on precious jewels to fifty horses per ounce. Our horse reserves are almost exhausted and if we don't open up a new trade route with the Kingdom of Sharing or -” he swallowed, “- Islamaland, there soon will not be a horse to be found anywhere in Europe.” York Sykes, Europe's Executive Slavemaster, stood up and joined his words to Henri's.
“Not only that, Your Highness, but our workforce has been crippled since the trial period on those United Statesian slaves expired,” he said.
“Trial period?” asked the King, a bit too surprised for his own liking.
“There was a poison in them, magical, I expect.” York said. “Six months to the day after we put them to work, they fall asleep. Every last one of them, didn't matter where they were or what they were doing. We can't wake em by any earthly means, and believe me, we've tried. All we can get them to do is talk. They all say the same thing and they all say it in the same voice. They want gold, every one of them. That adds up to a lot of gold, Your Highness, you don't need be to point it out. They say we're to pay the gold to a representative of the Sidewinder Slavery Corporation next time the United Statesian boats are in, in which event the antidote will be given and they'll wake up and get back to work. It's caused a world of trouble, needless to say. We've got unfinished projects all over the Kingdom gathering dust as we speak – the new Cathedral, the statue, the conference centre – and we were supposed to sell most of the slaves off to the Kingdom of Sharing to pay for it all, but we can't do that now, obviously. We're in quite a state.” He sat down and Henri Moneyfight continued to jam.
“The trade with the United States is the only thing keeping us afloat from day to day, Your Highness. Your return was very fortuitously timed. But, as our good representatives of the banks and the trade unions will tell you, they're not talking to each other until they get quality sitting time in the conference centre that hasn't yet been built. Our industries and businesses can't expand until that happens, so we're left at the mercy of the United States' whims. If they decide to raise their prices or boycott even part of our agreement, we could all starve. We must reinvest what we have wisely or we'll have to convert back to a conquest economy and decide which nation we should sack first.”
“Only we can't,” barked Jacob, fully intending to spoil the party.
“Our once-mighty army is a depleted to the point of being a wholly regrettable shambles,” said Timothy.
“The attack at Normandy knocked us for six – we're still licking our wounds from that,” said Jacob.
“Commander Flightfeather's commanding wasn't quite up to scratch on that one, eh Your Highness?” Commander Flightfeather twitched in his chair.
“Not to mention,” went on Timothy, “That all of the mercenaries we hired from the Kingdom of Sharing have up and -” The King rose.
“Again with the Kingdom of Sharing!” growled the King. “I thought we didn't deal with those guys! Those guys are bad guys!” Commander Flightfeather flapped in a calming way.
“Your Highness, we've kept our doings with them as limited as possible, but Ethiopia won't return our calls, we've left so many messages and weren't here and we didn't deal with the Sharingists directly -”
“We've had reports of Irish attacks in Angleland,” said Timothy.
“And the Minister of the City Of Ric sends word of Islamaland encroachment into the formerly Dracula-held territories in Romania,” said Jacob. “Remember when we went for the big push against those Draculas, Your Highness?”
“We're all out of red!” cried Hieronymous Adelaide, head of the Bible-Maker's Guild. He had frankly had enough. He was pink and wet and quivering, like a finger that had just been pulled out of a dyke. The flood that followed only helped to strengthen the simile. Every voice rang out and every voice was tagged with a grievance. The voices filled every part of the Politics Forum and smashed against each other like angry sperm, they got inside people's heads and made them angry, they jostled and pleaded and bit and complained and confused and hurt. There were so many solutions being offered, but only one of them was right.
The King closed his eyes and tried to hear every voice at once, to hear that one solution that would win the day. He knew before he even tried that it wouldn't be there. He moved to touch his Ring of Diplomacy, to give it two twists and activate its power. But his Ring was gone – it was still on his finger, which he'd left inside the President Of The United States, along with his awesome Bear Claw. He'd replaced his hand with an old one – the extendo-hand that he'd used back in the Bird Wars. He'd used it to swing from certain platforms to get across wide gaps, and it could beat enemies from half a screen away. It wasn't nearly as powerful as his missing rocket-fist, but it would do in a pinch. It was the Ring that was the real loss. He might have been able to have calmed the crowd down before, even without his Ring, but now he just felt so tired. He wanted to leave them all to their squabbles and go back to bed. But he was still the King and this was still Europe. He gathered up the threads of his strength and wove them into a Quilt Of Resolve.
“Gentlemen!” he yelled. The Forum quietened once again. It had to. “Let's put it to a vote.” There was a hum of agreement. Voting always solved problems. The King would hold a vote and they would vote, 'Yes,' because they loved him. “Good, good. Now. Hands on your knees, get ready,” coaxed the King. “Now, who votes 'Yes,' on the motion to not argue and to all get along and don't worry? Who votes 'Yes' to that? Raise your hands - - Now!”
Exactly half of the people sitting there in the Politics Forum rose their hands. The silence was stunned, concussed, and came round to the sound of tears. Every Headof and Princelet and Lord cried all over their chests right there and then because this had never happened before. They usually all voted 'Yes.' It's not that they don't love the King, it's just -
The assembly broke up soon afterwards. No one spoke much – there suddenly wasn't a lot to say. A lot of the Barons and Ministers and Knights and what-have-yous went outside into the streets and tried to join the party but they couldn't get into it. A crowd of Danes accosted the King as he staggered through the Town Square, bleary-eyed and afraid. They handed him a cat and he smiled faintly, asked them their names and obliged them. He threw the cat high up into the air and launched a rocket-punch at the pinwheeling furball. The blazing fist completely missed the cat, which fell somewhere among the marching band. The Danes tried to hand the King another cat but it was all too much for him. He clasped his hand, when it had returned, to his mouth to stop himself from throwing up out of shame and ran through the partying crowd to nowhere in particular.
And then, on the far side of the Laeken Palace grounds, at the mouth of the heavy woods that served as the King's personal hunting/training spa - where Axe Axewound's animal friends now roamed and fed and bred and grew mighty - inside the warm little cottage whose lofty windows caught the forest-filtered light just so, slept an old priest and a broken werewolf. Father Dominoes was all tuckered out after a hard day of healing Axe Axewound. Axe was tired simply because his body didn't work properly.
Father Dominoes had spent much of the past month-and-a-bit in prayer and meditation, fasting as hard as he could, in order to discover which parts of the Bible would even work on a werewolf. His god, Yahweh – a tough old desert god, contemporary of Ba'al, who'd made a name for himself when he had teamed up with a newfangled sun god and a netball team of Mother Natures and changed the whole god game around – was not in a revelatory mood. Heaven was disturbed by the political situation in Europe, the King's Father was in a tizz, there were rumblings coming in from all the factions of the extant gods and no one had heard from the Devil in weeks. All Yahweh wanted to talk about was which verses of the Bible hurt werewolves, or hurt the Celtish, or which could hurt anyone. This was helpful in itself but Father Dominoes had to pray very carefully to tempt him out of his bad mood.
Despite this, progress had been good. Father Dominoes wasn't just any fat old man with a drinking problem. He'd helped Axe Axewound mend to the point where he could stay awake for an hour or longer and he was quite able to move his arms in any direction he wished without experiencing much pain. His grip was weak and it would be an age before he could walk, but it was a great improvement over the insensible lump he'd been a month previously. And so the priest dozed on his bed after a hard day's healing and a stout drink. His attendants had all retired to their own quarters within the Palace. The sounds of the forest hid the nervous bleats of the goats outside and no one saw the old man walk over to the bed and whisper in the warrior's ear.
End of Chapter 94