The Curmudgeon


Saturday, June 01, 2013

1 June 973

It was nearly closing time at the Gallows and Glockenspiel when a small, middle-aged king strode in. He was followed by three more kings who stumped, shuffled and slouched, and who were rather younger than the first king and even more diminutive. The small, middle-aged king marched regally up to the bar, and snapped his little fingers with noble insouciance at the nearest of the smaller and younger kings. The smaller king sighed, like a king with a royal pain somewhere, then delved in his little robes and extracted a silver coin, which the small, middle-aged king plucked from his grasp with princely unconcern and placed before Hooligan Motts.

"A large one," he said, "and three small ones."
"Relatively speaking," put in Malvolio Quabbage.
"That was an order, not a description," snapped the smallest of the three younger kings; and, turning to the barman: "Now hurry it up, for we have business elsewhere."
"Come, come," said the small, middle-aged king; "there's no need to speak harshly. Excuse my servants' manners," he told Hooligan Motts, eliciting snorts of discontent from the three younger kings; "but this is a very special day for us all."
"First of June, nine seventy-three," agreed Hooligan Motts. "Nearly closing time."
"Precisely," said the small, middle-aged king; "and we must take our refreshment and be away fairly quickly, for there is much to do."
"Much for us to do, he means," muttered the largest of the three younger kings, as they all clambered up onto bar-stools, Pippa Twelve Toes giving the smallest king a leg-up; and Hooligan Motts served four measures of Crumley's New Style mead and turpentine, one large and three relatively small.

The small, middle-aged king picked up his drink and held it aloft. After a moment and a few nudges, the younger kings all did the same, amid much muttering and mumbling and rolling of eyes.

"To the long, happy and holy reign of Edgar the Peaceable," said the small, middle-aged king in loud yet reverent tones; and the three younger kings rolled their eyes and repeated the toast in mutters and mumbles that were more subdued and possibly nearly as reverent, though Granny Forbus compromised the matter by blowing them all a raspberry.

"Are you all friends of Edgar the Peaceable, then?" inquired Pippa Twelve Toes of the smallest king.
The smallest king looked sideways at the small, middle-aged king and, seeing that his back was turned, pointed at him with a little finger and very little respect. "That is Edgar the Peaceable," he said, "and we are all his vassals, come to pledge him our fealty on the day of his coronation."
"Oh, that's nice," said Pippa Twelve Toes, who preferred royal weddings but would settle for a coronation if there was nothing else going.
"That," said the smallest king, pointing the same disrespectful digit at the second-smallest king, "is Máel Coluim of Strathclyde, and that," he pointed at the largest of the three younger kings, "is Cináed an Fionnghalach of Alba, known to his friends as the Fratricide, or as Kenneth to those with no particular urge to long life; and I myself am Maccus mac Arailt, king of many islands; and here we are all three, forced to submit ourselves to that wife-stealing bandit Edgar, just because he is more peaceable than we are."
"Oh, he's peaceable all right," muttered Máel Coluim of Strathclyde.
"He's very peaceable indeed," mumbled Cináed an Fionnghalach of Alba.
"Well, if you don't like being his vassals, why don't you all join forces against him?" asked Pippa Twelve Toes. "He can't be terribly strong, not if he's just come to the throne and if he's as peaceable as you say."
"Those two will never join forces," said the smallest king. "Cináed an Fionnghalach has raided Strathclyde on various occasions, and plundered Northumbria as well, so Máel Coluim resents him like a brother, even though they both hate Edgar like a father. And Edgar has been on the throne a full fourteen years, during which he killed Earl Aethelwold of Wherwell and married his widow, among other peaceable actions."
"Oh," said Pippa Twelve Toes, who thought it possible that even a royal wedding ought not to come at any price.

"Well, come along, you three," said the small, middle-aged king, draining his Crumley's New Style mead and turpentine and descending from his stool almost entirely deliberately; "we haven't got all day, you know. Never let it be said that transportation in my kingdom is in any way unreliable."
"We have to row him to church," said the smallest king tragically to Pippa Twelve Toes; "row him in a boat, like wherry-men skiffing on the bale-barges. And the chroniclers will record it all. A thousand years will not wipe out the shame of it."
"Now, don't you worry," said the small, middle-aged king, who had caught the last few words. "The chroniclers need not record everything; you can always stop for a breather here and there, and posterity none the wiser. The business will be given a bit of colour, naturally; among other things, I've ordered the chroniclers to write that there are eight of you, but without necessarily naming the five whose presences will be less factually corporeal. But each of you three will be mentioned, I guarantee. Row me well, and your names will be remembered as long as the name of Englaland endures."

He strode regally out, followed by the three younger kings and the bilious gaze of Granny Forbus.

"Good of him to have our shame preserved for the ages," grumbled Cináed an Fionnghalach of Alba.
"As long as the name of Englaland endures," mumbled Máel Coluim of Strathclyde.
"Thinks he can do as he pleases, just because he's so peaceable," muttered Maccus mac Arailt, king of many islands. "If he weren't so bloody peaceable, I'd show him."

"Closing time," said Hooligan Motts.


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