The Curmudgeon


Monday, February 04, 2013

4 February 211

It was almost the hour of closing at the Gallows and Glockenspiel, and Limbless Fred had just told Throaty Gubbins in considerable detail exactly what he could do with his laryngeal prosthetic, and exactly where he could do it, and was just working up to one or two hints about the method.

At the bar, a grizzled gentleman sat in his waterproof toga and downed measure after measure of Muddler's Cudgel, several barrels of which Hooligan Motts had acquired by suspicious means during a brief and unscheduled sojourn in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had been trying to get rid of the stuff ever since, but it was too oily for Melon Head Myrtle, too disorienting for Limbless Fred, too carcinogenic for Pippa Twelve Toes, too assertive for Mr Blodgett and Mr Boggust, too alkaline for Malvolio Quabbage, and Granny Forbus had used it to cause explosions in the ladies' room. The grizzled gentleman knew nothing of all this, however, and Hooligan Motts was not aware of any evidence to indicate that he would have cared.

"Fourth of February, two hundred and eleven," said Hooligan Motts. "Nearly closing time."

The grizzled gentleman reacted by reaching for the bottle of Muddler's Cudgel and refilling his earthenware cup. The bottle was almost empty, and Hooligan Motts was reasonably sure that by the end of the day he would be able to dispose of it in good conscience, without pouring any of the contents down the drain and thereby risking the plumbing.

The grizzled gentleman raised his cup in the general direction of Hooligan Motts, although by the nature and quantity of his previous imbibings the direction was very general indeed. "To the Emperor," he said.
"What Emperor would that be, dearie?" asked Melon Head Myrtle.
The grizzled gentleman bleared at her. "The Emperor of Rome," he said; "his glorious and terrible majesty, Lucius Septimius Severus Eusebes Pertinax Augustus Caesar, the scourge of the Senate, would-be conqueror of Caledonia and soon, no doubt, to be made a god."
"That's nice," said Melon Head Myrtle.
"He was from Lepcis Magna, you see," the grizzled gentleman said. "A great city in Africa. From a cultural point of view, it was most unfortunate. He was far too civilised for us, here in the barbarous north."
"I don't think you're barbarous, much," said Melon Head Myrtle charitably.
"He did have his good points," the grizzled gentleman said; "put up some fine buildings, and executed people in commendable quantities. In most cases he even took the trouble to have them found guilty of something first. If only he hadn't wasted so much time and effort on this business of conquering the Caledonians. It isn't natural, you know."
"I know, dearie," said Melon Head Myrtle. "Unnatural bunch all round, emperors are. They're known for it."
"We do, after all, have a wall to keep them out," the grizzled gentleman said.
"I shouldn't think that would help a great deal," said Melon Head Myrtle. "Most emperors are a determined lot. The ones I've known have been, anyway."
"Not emperors, Caledonians," said the grizzled gentleman. "The wall was put there to keep the Caledonians out, thus enforcing the Pax Britannia and enabling us to punch above our weight on the imperial stage."
"Really," said Melon Head Myrtle, who liked a bit of wrestling here and there.

The grizzled gentleman gulped his latest cupful of Muddler's Cudgel and his eyeballs reacted in the customary fashion, protruding momentarily from their sockets as though a large leather surprise had been forcefully applied to the back of the grizzled gentleman's head.

"And even supposing he had managed to conquer them," the grizzled gentleman resumed, once his optics had settled back more or less into their accustomed orbits, "and even supposing they could have been persuaded to settle down and become law-abiding Roman citizens, what then? What would happen, for example, to our representation in Rome? Would the Caledonians consent to be represented by the present Britannic ambassador? I very much doubt it. Or would there be two ambassadors, one for the Caledonians and one for the island proper? Either way, it would make for dreadul instability, to say nothing of the confusion over our tribal identities. You can see the problem, I'm sure."
"Oh, yes, dearie, I can see problems all right," said Melon Head Myrtle. "Sounds like his glamorous and terrible majesty died just in time to save everyone a lot of unpleasantness."
"At least he made sure of the succession before he went," said the grizzled gentleman. "He named his two sons joint emperors, to stop them squabbling about it."
"Well, that's one way to keep two brothers from fighting," said Melon Head Myrtle. "Ask them to share something both of them want."

The grizzled gentleman grasped the bottle once more, and upended it over his drinking vessel. When the last trickle had transferred itself he put down the bottle, picked up the cup and swivelled unsteadily to face the patrons of the Gallows and Glockenspiel, or as many as middle-aged binocular vision addled by Muddler's Cudgel could encompass.

"The emperor is dead," the grizzled gentleman proclaimed; "long live the emperors."
"Eh?" said Granny Forbus.
"Closing time," said Hooligan Motts.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home