The Front Cover

Camelopardis Castle

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An Introduction

Long, long ago, when Kings were Kings and men were either Knights, Gentleman or Plebs, the building of a Castle in the region of Leopardis was mooted as an extremely good idea. It provided an ideal spot for hit and run raids on nearby realms, towns, villages, cots, houses. Anywhere, indeed, that might have women, donkeys and/or money in the near vicinity. Since funds were plentiful, mainly from the prevailing violent forays and carpet-bagging excursions into other, nearby, weaker lands it was deemed that King Theodolite The Crusher himself should put forward a basic design for his dream home. His blueprint, being seen as having divine guidance behind it was, in a word, Universally accepted.

Committees being only a relatively new concept at the time, life was ruled by two principles. First : Follow divine guidance when it occurs in your neighbourhood and/or Second : Self preservation is next to Godliness.

After only a few years, with the foundation stones of Camelopardis Castle not yet properly dry, King Theodolite The Crusher suffered the ultimate indignity of losing his crown to a mob of marauding Barbarians. The fact that his head was still in close association with the crown when it was lost is of no real consequence at this point, except that it persuaded those former friends of King Theodolite The Headless who still lived, to abandon the first principle and wholeheartedly adopt the second.

True to form they closed ranks behind the new King, barbarian though he may be. When Michael The Barbarian threw his own ideas into the pot, in the form of Romanesque pillars and portals, the populace were a little disconcerted.

It came about that Michael, besides having a strange name for a Barbarian, also had some very intellectually stimulating ideas about architecture. Some people believe that Michael was not in fact a real Barbarian at all, but that he had simply been vaulted to power by a particularly nasty faction of P.R.A.G.B.A (The Pillage, Rape and Gang Bang Association) as a joke.

And then when in only his second proclamation King Michael outlawed Pillage and Rape the populace were, quite understandably, inscensed. After all, what else was there to do after the Pubs closed on a Saturday night and Television hadn’t yet been invented! His contribution to the promotion of concrete footwear has long been debated but his name will live on.

The next King, Grob The Gross, was much more to the liking of the populace. He would throw ‘Burn a Phillistine’ soirées and ‘Lob a Brick at a Tart’ cheese and wine parties. Alas, his idea of a Castle tended toward the ‘large blocks of flint and loads of cement’ school of architecture. He was deposed (decapitated, dismembered, dissected, all the same root verb!) to be replaced by King Percival the ½ st  (it is rumoured that he brutally beheaded his twin brother at the tender age of thirteen to achieve his kingly ambitions!)

King Percival the ½ st was a forward thinking Tudor, in a time before Henry VIII was even a twinkle in his Daddy’s eye. When the populace saw his black and white façades rising above their precious Castle they immediately condemned him as a witch (black being the colour of the devil) and burnt him at the stake.

During the following centuries Kings came and Kings went, each adding their own bits and pieces to an already elaborate structure. When finally complete the Castle was so large and so well fortified that the populace found that, without marauding enemies or invading armies, life was becoming rather dull! So they took a vote on the question and, as one man, packed up their belongings, chattels, children, wives and sundry non-tax-paying-hangers-on and went off to invade Norway. Since none of them ever came back to tell the tale it is not known if they were successful or not. (Presumably not. As a populace they were not particularly bright)

But be that as it may!

Camelopardis Castle then fell into a couple of centuries of decay, since there was no longer the money in any of the local Kingdoms to run such a monstrous white elephant. Until that is, King Multiceros The Wise returned from a long trip to the East bringing with him numerous white elephants carrying gold, gems, spices, tobacco, opium and large quantities rice wine.

He set himself up in luxury, giving the ruins the only form of renovation they were ever likely to get. Walls were repaired and plastered anew, paint work once more gleamed. Exotic Persian carpets, bought at extreme cost but sadly of very little aesthetic appeal, were scattered throughout the salons and chambers.

Surprisingly enough for an occupant of Camelopardis Castle King Multiceros lived a long and fruitful life, setting up educational establishments for all classes and grades of intellect in the region, re-organising medical resources, building a sound, environmentally aware, Government and establishing trade links with previously antagonistic Kingdoms! In fact he turned out to be ‘a very nice genuine guy’ and a ‘decent bloke’ to all who knew him.

His son and heir, King Monoceros, was a bit of a let down. Quite a big bit of a let down it has to be said, if we’re going to be brutally honest about it. In the course of a few short decades he squandered the massive family fortunes on such futile ventures as a coal-fired space ship, a horse driven speed-boat and imploding gunpowder.

In honour of his (failed!) quest for space travel, Monoceros named his only son Vulpecula. As it turned out he got that wrong as well. If you’re going to aim for the stars you have got to aim high, not far.

Our story therefore opens in a Castle of stupendous size, kleptomaniacal design and astronomical (about as close to the stars as King Monoceros ever got!) running costs and a close, interbred social hierarchy that is about to disintegrate into absolute chaos.

And you thought you had problems!

The Cast Of Characters

King Monoceros

The Late King, son of Multiceros the Wise, husband of Harmonia, and Father of the present incumbent. Doesn’t really participate, except in conversation or as a statue, being The Late King.

The Dowager Duchess Harmonia

The mother of the King, a small, shrewish woman with a glass eye who nags at her son and his way of running the Kingdom, always comparing him unfavourably to his late father.

King Vulpecula of Camelopardis

A much troubled, hen-pecked man ruled by his mother Harmonia who wishes only for the simple life. To achieve this he must get the hideous Princess married off for the dowry (not to mention the side bets with other local aristocrats) which would balance the Treasury and re-float the entire economy.

The Queen Berenice Vulpecula

A vague, hopeless woman, childish and petulant she spends most of her time playing the purpose built, extortionately expensive Wurlitzer organ installed in the upper room of the West Tower. She plays very, very badly.

The Prince Pyxis Vulpecula

Eldest son and heir to The Kingdom, young and incredibly stupid, he dreams only of the day he becomes King and can tell everybody what to do. He fails miserably in even that simple objective.

The Prince Ortolan Apus Vulpecula

The younger son, arrogant, spiteful and un-caring. Enjoys practical jokes and hurting people, especially those who stand in his way, but mainly big brother Pyxis. A worthy adversary to Lacertus.

The Princess Andromeda Vulpecula

Twenty five years old and still not married, much to the disgust of all concerned. Ugly, loud-mouthed and haughty, she considers herself a much misunderstood beauty.

Glimmergoyne, The Butler

Started as boot boy at the age of eleven and worked his way up the ladder. A cynical old man nearing the end of his career, he is disdainful of the staff and the much reduced circumstances of the Castle in these latter days of under funding.

Captain Parsus

Major-Domo to the King. The Fixer. An oily little man who has scant regard for other people, concerned mainly with keeping his cushy little job. He causes considerable distress and mayhem in pursuit of this end.

Corporal Serpens

First Corporal, then Private and finally, frog.when he falls foul of Mona-Cygnus’ mother in the course of a ‘nutter’ hunt,

 Corporal (Soon to be Sergeant etc.) Tucana

Corporal, then Sergeant. Son of the Duke of Leophus, kept on at the Castle only because his father is a financial ‘supporter’ of the King.

Private Volans

Large and completely hopeless, his single-minded devotion to duty is tainted with a penchant for blow up rubber dolls and thigh-length leather boots.

Izakiah Goldoor, (Our Hero)

Seduced by what is purported to be an image of the Princess Andromeda, he comes in search of his ‘Lady love’. Gormless and slow-witted, he falls in with Mona-Cygnus in his attempt to enter the Castle and meet what he believes to be the ravening beauty of a Princess.

Lacertus, The Kitchen Boy

Ambitious and cunning, Lacertus is the son of a liason between his mother Bessie, a maid at the Castle for many years and a passing Duke. He will stop at nothing to be King.

Chancellor Antila

A worried, persecuted little man who fusses over minor details and is held personally responsible for most of the financial troubles of the castle.

Viktor The Doorman

A contemporary of Glimmergoyne, who never made it past the job of doorman. Petty and officious, he brings up the Union rule-book at every opportunity and cashes in his chips somewhere about Pg. 43

Matron Beamish

The minder and nannie of the Royal children for years uncounted, she is an elderly, woolly headed individual who still sees her charges as children. Something they take full advantage of. Renowned for her collection of bawdy nursery rhymes when under the influence.

Chef Artemis Bootes

A large, corpulent man with outrageous waxed moustaches who sees himself as a Master Chef. Bootes has adopted an outrageous accent that is a mixture of many different languages, none of which seem to fit properly. Has a long running war of words with Glimmergoyne the butler.

The Prince Circinus Of Cornucopia

An unwilling applicant for the hand of Andromeda who escaped from the Royal Coach when it crashed into the lower Gatehouse and is still being hunted, his father already having paid a deposit.

Columba the Under-Maid

Spiteful and aggrieved, the only forty year old under-maid in the Realm, bitter and vengeful she comes to a rather sticky end about Pg. 67

Crater the Boot Boy

Also the pantry boy and general dogs-body. Young and eager to please he is the servant to the Servants Hall. A cheerful, happy-go-lucky idiot, he lasts a bit longer than some, but still cops his, rather messily about Pg. 85 or so.

Mona-Cygnus

The Witch of Leopardis. Not very competent and not very good but working on it. She assists the young Hero Goldoor to get into Camelopardis and subsequently a few diverse other places as well.

 Mr. Fred Dobbs

Landlord of the Artisans Arms who takes Goldoor in, in a moment of weakness, and regrets the kind action for a long, long time after.

Deidre Dobbs

Wife of Mr. Fred and landlady of the Artisans Arms. Given to flirting with anyone younger and thinner than Mr Fred, i.e. most men.

Ethelreda the Pastry Cook

A large, loud woman, deep voiced and coarse who despises the Chef and makes his life as miserable as possible, whenever possible. She longs for a small cottage by the sea with Glimmergoyne and his savings account.

Fornax The Gamekeeper

A drunken bum of a man who is constantly on the search for the ideal hangover cure. Cynical and bitter he hates the world he lives in and most of those in it. He achieves his ambition in very messy circumstances about Pg.100

Hydrus The Laundryman

A great, ham-fisted body of a man, always dressed in a grubby white uniform. He wears a small starched cap several sizes too small for him and is of no use to anybody really.

  Lyra The Ladies Maid

Suffers terribly under the cruel tongue of the Princess Andromeda. Man-hungry and voluptuous, she is drawn to Lacertus and his ambitions but is not necessarily all that fussy.

 M. Francis Belvoire

A gentleman taken on as fencing master to the young Ortolan Apus. A job he regrets ever taking on and for which he suffers quite a lot.

Pettigrew

Hand-maid to Queen Berenice, a long-suffering baby sitter of the moronic Queen, long resigned to her fate.

Secretary Puppis

A small mincing little man who does not appear until later and then doesn’t achieve a great deal even when he does.

The Duke of Venatici

The absent father of Lacertus who doesn’t really appear at all either except as a passing reference. But still, there you go.

Chapter 1

One

Glimmergoyne
Glimmergoyne

Even through the thick soles of his carpet slippers, Glimmergoyne could feel the cold seeping up from the bare stone flags in the passageway. Summer or Winter, the Castle floor was always cold here, especially at five thirty in the morning. A velveteen dressing gown of lurid colours covered a long white-linen night-gown. The pointed, drooping night-cap firmly fitted onto his scalp, with the bobble hanging over his left shoulder gave him the appearance of a mournful and tragic, if somewhat sartorially inept ghost. The flickering light from the candelabra held tightly in one scrawny hand caused the gown to flash and glitter madly but did little to lighten the deep shadows in the gloom of the passage. For the past twenty years as Head Butler to ‘Family Vulpecula’ Glimmergoyne had followed this route at this time in the slow measured tread that went with the job. He never faltered.

The trek to the bath-house from his own room was complex and convoluted. First he passed the sleeping quarters of the senior Castle staff, then third left, second right past a particularly obnoxious portrait of Queen Queen Xenophobe until he came to the outer corridor that ran around this the servants hall level of the castle. Small lead paned windows were set at intervals in the thick outer wall, but there was still too little daylight to help him along. Idly his eyes swept over the heavy padlocks on the store-rooms as he passed, confirming that all was secure. A welcome gust of warm air swept his exposed face as he crossed the entrance to the passage that led to the kitchens but his pace did not falter, not even to savour the warmth. The ludicrous Chef Bootes would be there, not a man Glimmergoyne particularly wished to meet first thing in the morning.

Shortly the windows ended and he was back in dark, black, slowly shifting shadow once more. Shortly the warm glow of light emanating from the Royal Laundry came into view, causing him to blow out the candles as he approached. Reaching the wide open double doors, Glimmergoyne peered into the perpetual steamy fug,

“Good morning Mr Hydrus. Everything is in readiness for his highness I trust?”

The deep sonorous tones of his voice penetrated the steam like a lutein bell.

“Good morning Mr Glimmergoyne. Yes, everything is in readiness.” boomed a voice from somewhere deep within a steam cloud, “So today is the anniversary then is it? Twenty years as Butler hey? You thought I didn’t know didn’t you? Well, well, my heartiest congratulations Mr Glimmergoyne.”

Hydrus, a giant of a man in grubby apron and dirty jacket that belied the very nature of his profession, with a badly stained cloth cap perched on the mop of fiery red hair, emerged from the steam cloud with a hand raised.

“Well thank you Mr Hydrus. Good of you to have remembered!” said Glimmergoyne nodding with practised diffidence, briefly taking the proffered hand, “Yes, twenty years ago today it was. For fifteen years before that I was Under-Butler to old Sextans and for ten years before that I was Doorman in this very . . .”

“Yes, I know. I know all that Mr Glimmergoyne,” said Hydrus hastily, belatedly wishing he had not started the old coot off, “A long way from being Boot Boy, though Mr Glimmergoyne?”

Hydrus winced as he said it, knowing the response off by heart.

“A long way indeed Mr Hydrus. I remember a time when the master said to me . . .”

“Your bath water is ready for you Mr Glimmergoyne” said Hydrus hastily, “Cubicle two. I’ve laid out your clean uniform for you.”

The Laundry man quickly shoved a towel and cake of soap into the claw like hands,

“Oh. Yes, right. Thank you Mr Hydrus. Very kind. As I was saying I remember when his Lordship said to me, now this is a very amusing story . . .”

“Oh dear is that the time? I must be getting on. Some pressing to catch up on. What you might call ‘pressing business‘ hah.”

“Oh, yes, very funny that Mr Hydrus. Hah hah”, answered Glimmergoyne dryly, “I shall have to try and remember that one!”

I’m sure you will you crashing old bore muttered Hydrus under his breath,

“Now, get along with you Mr Glimmergoyne. We don’t want the water going cold now do we?”

“No, no of course not.”

“I’ll give you his Highness’ gear when you come out, alright Mr Glimmergoyne? Yes? Good.”

Hydrus shook his head wearily as the old man headed off to the row of bathrooms. Glimmergoyne was a nice enough chap but he could be incredibly dull at times.

The enormous grubby bulk of Hydrus the laundryman managed to make even the high ceilinged Laundry appear small, as he plodded over to a long wooden, much abused ironing table. Picking up a red-hot flat-iron in his massive fist, he began to lovingly press an awful candy-striped dress shirt. He hummed happily to himself as he worked. Hydrus was not one of those who let his Masters bad taste in colours and appalling dress sense adversely affect his mood.

Emerging a little while later, from the bath cubicle in the immaculate black tailcoat, black bow-tie, white waistcoat and striped trousers of the Well Dressed Butler, Glimmergoyne peered across the steam filled room,

“Mr Hydrus? Mr Hydrus are you still there?”

“Yes Mr Glimmergoyne. Will you take His Majesty’s first apparel now?”

“No, I shall return within the hour. After breakfast to be more precise, Mr. Hydrus. The morning suit. Grey with red and mauve stripe I think. Yes, the grey with the red and mauve stripe if you please Mr Hydrus.”

“As you wish Mr Glimmergoyne.”

 *

The firm, measured tread of the immaculate servant carried Glimmergoyne through the vast wooden doors, first left, then left again, along the dismal, stone flagged corridors. The impeccably groomed Head Butler strode inexorably toward the Servant’s Hall,

“Good morning.” he said curtly as he entered,

Fornax the Gamekeeper
Fornax the Gamekeeper

“What’s good about it?” muttered Fornax the Gamekeeper from his appointed place by the blazing fire.

Glimmergoyne merely smiled the tooth filled smile of the long suffering father figure and ignored him. It was the smile of the wolf, the wolf that was trying to decide whether to bite first and ask questions later or just to give a friendly lick.

“Breakfast ready yet Crater?” he demanded of the pantry boy,

“Twenty minutes Sir, if that’s alright with you Sir!” whimpered a small pimply youth from the fireplace, cringing visibly.

“Make it so!” answered the butler tersely, “I shall return shortly.”

Glimmergoyne always found that children irritated him intensely.

*

Taking the polished wooden staircase at the left of the hall, he trod heavily upwards, towards the Hall of Fire.

“What’s so bloody good about it is what I’d like to know.” muttered Fornax to himself again, as the butler disappeared from view.

“Shut up you old fool.” said Matron Beamish from the dining table, “It’s not everybody in this castle gets drunk as a fart every night and ends up looking like a reject from a mortuary first thing in the morning.”

“Shut your gob you tiresome old biddy. Just go and give that Ortolan Apus of yours a good slapping. The little bastard put something in my beer again last night, I’m sure he did. I’ll swing for the little sod, I swear I will.”

“You’ll do nothing of the sort you lecherous old drunk. My little Orty is just a high spirited boy, that’s all.”

“High spirited?” said Fornax with a snort, “is that what you call it? I’d call it being bloody obnoxious and downright puerile.”

“My little Orty would do no such thing.”

“Now then people, let’s have no bickering, please!” piped up Chancellor Antila, the official holder of the Royal Purse Strings, “I mean, I’m sure his little Highness meant no harm.”

The little man giggled nervously.

“No harm? No harm? The little bastard tries to kill me and all you can do is sit there and say ‘meant no harm’?”

“Boys will be boys” said Matron Beamish, with a wistful smile.

“Hah!” said Fornax and sank deeper into his grubby tweed suit, glaring with bloodshot eyes at the gigantic Matron. The throbbing in his skull was not conducive to arguing at this ungodly hour of the day.

 *

At fourteen years old, The Prince Ortolan Apus, was everything Fornax said about him and more. Using the immunity of being a Royal Son as protection, he would vent his sense of dismay at being only second, third if you included her ugliness, in line to the throne on anybody and anything he felt deserved it. Namely therefore, anybody and anything.

Quite unaware that his reputation was being maligned, albeit truthfully, in the Servants Hall Ortolan himself was at that very moment perched on top of a stool outside The Crown Prince Pyxis’s room. He was involved in carefully balancing a bucket of iced water above the lintel. When it was positioned to his satisfaction, he gingerly stepped down from the stool, picked it up by one of the legs and tiptoed carefully across the scattered shards of broken glass to his own room. He smiled to himself as he gently closed his own door behind him. It was always worth the bother of getting up early just to hear darling, big brother Pyxie screaming in agony. Ortolan Apus climbed back into bed and waited for events to take their course.

*

Glimmergoyne reached the top of the servants staircase where there was a broad landing with stored tables and large walk-in cupboards for the use of the footmen and waiters who served table at the grander functions. He inspected the area out of habit more than anything for there were seldom the great parties and dinners these days. Not like there used to be in the old days. The lift shaft from the kitchen was the only source of sound in the deathly quiet of this level of the castle. Moving closer, Glimmergoyne could hear Chef Bootes shouting and swearing at some poor unfortunate down below. Glimmergoyne and the over-weight, pompous Bootes shared a mutual dislike of each other that bordered on hatred. Glimmergoyne smiled to himself in satisfaction when he heard the deep, manly voice of Ethelreda the pastry cook berating the Chef as an ignoramus lard-ball before turning happily toward the entrance to the Hall of Fire.

Chef BootesChef Bootes strode across the kitchen to his tiny office fuming. She always managed to put him down, that stupid fat cow, das verdamter pastry kochin. Slamming the frosted glass door behind him he glared out at the kitchen through the plate glass window, at the hidden smiles on the faces of the staff. He knew they all laughed at him behind his back. The bastards. Squeezing his enormous bulk between the handkerchief sized desk and the back wall he glowered under bristling eyebrows and glared at them.

Suddenly he smiled, a devious calculating smile. He needed a classy menu for next Friday nights Gala Dinner, a particularly lavish bash for the Duke of Philbert. The King was wanting to impress him. Something to do with a loan Captain Parsus had said, when he brought the instructions down. No matter. It would give him the opportunity to teach them a lesson. Teach them not to laugh at him behind his back. Reaching up behind himself to the groaning bookcase bolted precariously to the wall, he pulled down a heavy tome entitled ‘Gracious Dining for Palace and Castle’ and began to flick through its pages.

Chef Bootes had never really accepted the need for women in the kitchen. If he had his way they would be confined to the pot-wash where they belonged. She always managed to put him down, either by mimicking his accent or stuffing a pillow up under her jacket and waddling about in gross imitation of his own gait.

It was not his fault he was so large. The doctors had told his mother that it was a gland problem. He didn’t eat that much. Not really. His eyes lit up as he read, ‘Aspic de liévrè en Brioche’. There was still some of that rabbit left from last week, it would be high enough by now that only the most discerning palate would know the difference; most of them would be so legless by the time the meal started that they would eat anything put in front of them anyway. Still, that would do for a start. And then how about some ‘Truite du lac en papillote’? Fifty-five trout to be boned out. Loads of vegetable julienne. That would keep the bastards busy. And then? What was the beef fillet thingy? The one with the stuffed truffles? Lucullus. That was it, ‘Filet de boeuf Lucullus’ Marvellous. Couldn’t let them use truffles of course, Antila the penny-pincher would throw a right wobbly. They could stuff loads of baby mushrooms though. Cockscombs? Well maybe not exactly but there must be something interesting in the store they could use. Right, and the next. Some of that smelly old Stilton. Powerful stuff that. The smell of that would strip paint at hundred paces. All those peeled grapes and celery flowers too, another half days work. Bootes mentally rubbed his hands in glee. And then what? There had to be a spun sugar thingy in there somewhere. The fat slag of a Pastry Cook hated spun sugar. What about a ‘Gateau St. Honoré’? Fill the centre with spun sugar and candied fruits, then loads of Petit Four. Very nice. The punters would love it! Chef Bootes read down his list and smiled wickedly. On top of that of course, there would be two hundred and twenty turned potatoes, four hundred and forty pieces of turned carrot, four hundred and forty pieces of turned zucchini. They were really going to hate him for this one.

A sudden vision sprang unbidden into his mind; large voluptuous thighs as smooth and white as alabaster, plump, heavy breasts with taught brown nipples, surmounted by the welcoming, inviting smile of Ethelreda the Pastry Cook. He buried his face in his hands and tried to dismiss the image but with little success. The truth of the matter was that she had been the central point of his lustful fantasies for many years. The real truth of the matter was that Chef Bootes was madly and passionately in love with his fat slag of a flour dusted Pastry Cook. The very thought of it terrified him. She must never ever find out. Never.

*

For Glimmergoyne, entering the Hall of Fire was always a moment to be savoured. To the right as he came through the servants doors was the Great Staircase, a monument to many a grand and extravagant entrance. From the Reception Hall above one could look down upon the entire Hall of Fire. The huge fire-place that gave the room its name stood in an oval surround of quartz and marble, with intricate gilt metal garnitures, that dominated the middle of the floor. Fully twelve feet across it had required a full time fire watcher just to keep it burning in its days of glory. Then it would have burned for fifteen hours of the day and have consumed several trees before it was doused. Those were the days.

Today there would only be a small blaze set in the middle of the oval. One of the guard detail would carry out the fire setting duties in these days of straightened circumstances.

The tapestries depicting the heroic deeds of the many Kings who had lived and caroused here in times past hanging around the walls had themselves seen many famous, and in some cases infamous, celebrities revelling with gusto. All the while the goings on had been watched by the highly polished, shining suits of armour on black mahogany pedestals scattered around the hall. Helms and shields, misericordes and battle harness’ hung from the walls, mingling with the banners and pennants of a bygone, braver era. A time when honour had shone as brightly as the gleaming spearheads carried by the soldiery.

Sighing deeply, Glimmergoyne was woken from his reverie of times past by a bellow from the bandstand,

“Don’t put that bit there you imbecilic little moron. That won’t bleedin’ burn. To the left, man, to the left!”

“Good morning Corporal Serpens.” called the butler wearily to the dapper little man in the bright red dress uniform smothered in gold braid,

“Good morning to you Mr Glimmergoyne, Sir. A nice day for it.”

“A nice day for what Corporal?” asked Glimmergoyne, puzzled.

The little man just frowned, shrugged his shoulders and bellowed again,

“No Private 2nd Class Gramm, you moron. Move the little log there to the left. Yes, that’s better. Now that one. That one. No, not that one, the one I’m pointing at . . . look, do you want to have to clean the stables before lunch?”

The bemused butler shook his head in disbelief at the level of common sense in the soldiery of today. As thick as pig shit was a phrase that sprang readily to mind.

Glimmergoyne progressed up the huge, stately central staircase in his careful tempo one step at a time, between the exquisitely shaped marble columns that supported the highly polished mahogany bannister rails. The early morning light was beginning to creep in through the windows on this level as he followed the balustrade, past the apartments of the Dowager Duchess Harmonia, to the florist’s conservatory.

“Good morning Philomena my dear!” he called pleasantly, “Is it ready yet?”

“Ah, Mr Glimmergroyne. Always a pleasure to see you,” brayed a tall horse faced woman who was watering the roses on a bench by the windows, “yes dear, the dianthus is on the table over there.”

“The white one?”

“The dianthus floribunda, yes.”

She walked toward him, watering can grasped tightly in both hands,

“You really ought to know the names by now Mr Glimmergroyne you naughty boy, you.” she said, braying with laughter once more.

“Look. All I want is a white carnation Miss Philomena, not a lecture in bloody botany!” answered Glimmergoyne with more than a tinge of exasperation.

She brayed again showing him the full extent of her large, horse like teeth, and said loudly,

“Oh Mr Glimmergroyne, you are a hoot. Shall I pin it on for you?”

“No thank you,” he said frostily, “I can manage.”

“As you like” she said and brayed again.

‘I can manage you silly cow!‘ Glimmergoyne muttered to her retreating back as he pinned the flower to his lapel. Why she had to use only stupid latin names and not the good, strong common names for these things he never could fathom. She couldn’t even pronounce his name properly for that matter.

The small fire in the Hall was well ablaze as he returned down the stairs. Mercifully the Captain had gone off about his duties and the vast room was quiet and peaceful once more. Glancing around at the polished suits of armour gleaming in the rays of the morning sun now pouring in through the vast windows of the East Wall, he took in the majestic ambience of the Hall.

Stepping up to the nearest metallic mannequin, Glimmergoyne checked his tie and adjusted the white carnation in his lapel in the reflective surface of the breastplate before taking a turn around the room. The glitter of the silverware on the long polished Great Dining Table gave him a thrill of pride.

Lacertus & Frog
Lacertus the Kitchen Boy (and Frog)

Lacertus the kitchen boy was still buffing cutlery, giving the seven lonely looking place settings a final lustre before the arrival of the Family.

“Ah, Good morning Lacertus.” said the butler in his most affable manner. The boy was such an asset to the household, always working hard at something or other. His mother, Bessie, had been a chamber maid in the Castle for a great many years.

“Good morning Mr Glimmergoyne, and how are you this fine morning?” said the young man, smiling cheerfully.

Glimmergoyne, having been a bit of a ladies man in his prime, secretly nurtured the fond belief that the boy was in actual fact his own son. Though this was an unproven, not to say unmentioned point, it gave him a feeling of paternal affection toward the boy, from which both of them profited.

“Oh, I can’t complain you know,” replied the old man, “a few aches and pains but no more than normal at my age.”

“I’m sure you’ll be good for many more years yet.” said Lacertus confidently,

“Well, I hope you are right boy. You know, I have worked in this Castle for over fifty years. I was only eleven years old when I came here as Boot-Boy you know!”

“Is that so Mr Glimmergoyne? Well I never!” said Lacertus groaning inwardly. Not the rags-to-immaculate-tailcoat story again, “I imagine you’ll be thinking of retiring soon then Sir?”

“Oh no, not yet. Far too much to do first.”

“Not yet ready to be put out to pasture then Mr Glimmergoyne?”

“Certainly not.”

With a smile the boy picked up another already shining spoon and began to polish it carefully.

“Is anybody coming to see . . .” he pointed to the ceiling with a jabbing motion of the spoon, “today?”

“I believe so, yes. A Prince Scutum from some tiny out of the way Realm. There is also the son of a Tea Merchant would you believe on the list for today. If either of them turn up today that is. I don’t know. Traders in the family! Such a thing would never have happened in old King Monoceros’ day, that I can tell you!”

“A bad business all round Mr Glimmergoyne”

“Indeed boy, indeed. Well, I can’t stand here nattering all day. Time for breakfast I think. Will you be down?”

Thank God for small mercies, muttered Lacertus under his breath,

“Once I am done here Mr Glimmergoyne, I shall be down.”

Glimmergoyne nodded happily, and strode off toward the stairway that led to the Servants Hall.

Lacertus watched him disappear through the door with a great sense of relief. The old man was a fool. It was useful for an ambitious young man like himself to have an ally like the boring old coot of a butler, but he found the pretence of actually liking the man could be a real pain at times. Lacertus knew of the old mans secret paternal yearnings, but he also knew who his real father was. Many years ago his mother had let it slip. Things that were secret did not remain so for very long with Lacertus around. His real father was none other than the Duke of Vinatici himself. Lacertus was an ambitious young man, being the son of a Duke when all was said and done, and in spite the very minor point about the lack of actual proof of his legitimacy, his aims were high. He wanted to be King. Nothing more and nothing less.

His plans, developed over long years of servitude and built on base cunning, had been carefully nurtured. The main objective would be getting the Princess Andromeda to marry him. Despite the fact that she was eight years older and rather ugly; well, supremely ugly if truth be told, he considered such things merely as drawbacks in the grand scheme, in the broader picture of things. To this end that he had so far managed to discourage or otherwise deflect about a dozen possible suitors for the Princess’ hand.

The first real objective though would have to be the removal of the other runners from the field, namely the awesomely brain dead Prince Pyxis Vulpecula, the son and heir, and his obnoxious little brother Ortolan Apus. Then, once the king either lost his marbles, was persuaded to abdicate or otherwise shucked off the reins of power, he, Lacertus would move in and assume his rightful destiny.

Her Ugliness, the Princess, could be dealt with at some later, as yet undefined stage. She was in a sense, the price to be paid for greatness. His intimate knowledge of the Castle, both the public and private areas and all of the secret arteries connecting and interconnecting them in a honeycomb of dank and dismal passages, discovered through a single minded effort to do just that, would soon prove to be invaluable.

In a few short weeks, on his eighteenth birthday the campaign would begin in earnest. Lacertus stared into the depths of the blazing fire pit, rubbing the silver spoon on the cloth in his hands emphatically, an evil smile playing around his lips.

*

Breakfast in the servants hall had been a dismal affair, as per usual, mused Glimmergoyne on his return trip to the Laundry. Matron Beamish had been nagging at Fornax again about his drinking, Columba the under-maid had been bemoaning her fate as the only under-maid over forty in the entire Kingdom as she did with regular, mind numbing monotony and Antila, the petty little bean-counter, had been moaning in his habitual high pitched whine about the amount of food wasted to the fat, white swathed figure of Chef Bootes who had studiously ignored him the whole time. He had studiously ignored everybody in fact. Morale was not what it had been when he had been a boy.

As Hydrus handed him the Kings first clothing of the day, the formal but not-too-stiff grey suit with the subdued red stripes and diabolical mauve ones, Glimmergoyne found himself thinking of a small cottage by the sea. For the first time in his life he felt an intense desire to be somewhere other than Castle Camelopardis. The very thought of such a thing frightened the life out of him.

Approaching the Kings bedroom, just as he was about to rap on the thick metal studded wooden door, Glimmergoyne heard all hell break loose on the corridor above. Screams of pain intermingled with violent oaths and threats of blood-letting being imminent caused Glimmergoyne to dash, as fast as the butlers’ regulated pace would allow anyway, up the circular staircase. There he found the ludicrous figure of His Highness The Crown Prince Pyxis in his knee length yellow and blue striped night-shirt dancing up and down on one foot, soaking wet from head to toe.

Calmly, the butler strode up to the hopping, swearing Prince, and slapped him hard across the cheek. Picking up the stunned youth, Glimmergoyne carried him bodily away from the broken glass that had mysteriously appeared from nowhere and set him down carefully in a glass-free space beside the wall. As he was examining the lacerated soles of the Crown Princes’ feet he glanced up at the sound of a giggle and saw Prince Ortolan Apus watching the action from the sanctuary of his own bedroom doorway.

“Ah, Your Highness? Would you be so good as to inform Matron Beamish that her presence is required here forth-with? Thank you.”

“You bloody little creep. I shall tell father about this, just you wait and see . . .” shouted the suddenly conscious Pyxis at the retreating back of Ortolan, but he got no reply.

“Matron, Matron!” shouted the young Ortolan as he bounded down the stairs to the Servants Hall.

“Why, mercy me Orty, whatever’s the matter?”

Matron Beamish
Matron Beamish

“It’s Pyxis. He’s hurt.” sobbed Ortolan throwing both his arms around the Matrons ample waist.

“Oh dear,” she said, “there, there dear. Beamish is coming.”

“It’s horrible Beamy. He’s blaming me for it. It wasn’t me, honest!”

“There, there dear,” she said again in soothing tones, “I’ll get him sorted out, never you mind. Here, have some hot tea while I go and see what’s wrong.”

The smile on the face of The Prince Ortolan Apus as she picked up her small black medical bag and strode from the Hall was not as angelic as she would have liked to believe.

Arriving at the scene of the ‘accident’ with all the grace of a massive, blue cotton, air balloon, Glimmergoyne looked up at immensity of Matron Beamish from his crouched position on the floor and said with relief,

“Ah, Matron. Good of you to come so quickly.”

“No problem Mr. Glimmergoyne. What seems to be the trouble?”

“There are cuts to the soles of the feet here and here. Well, all over the place actually. From that glass over there I surmise. There is a rather nasty bump and bruise on the side of the head caused by,” he looked at the boy pointedly and indicated, “by that bucket I believe Your Highness said, is that correct?”

The miserable Pyxis grimaced unhappily.

“Let me have a look” said Matron Beamish in her most conciliatory ‘everything will be alright now’ tone, and picked up one of the blood stained feet to examine it more closely,

“Not as bad as it looks really. I’ve got some nice soothing cream in here somewhere.” she said brightly. Opening the bulky black Gladstone bag she started to rummage around inside.

“Um, Matron?”

“Yes Mr Glimmergoyne?”

“Why do you have a dead rat tied by its tail to your belt?”

Matron Beamish uttered a scream of such a piercingly loud, glass shattering quality that Glimmergoyne was rendered totally deaf for several long minutes.

The King still safely tucked up in his bed on the floor below heard it quite clearly.

“That bloody Ortolan,” he muttered as he swung his feet out of bed, “he’ll have to go!”

Chapter 2

Two

Izakiah GoldoorThrough the early morning mist, the tall, golden haired figure of Izakiah Goldoor strode along the twin lane dirt track, which for want of a better word was called a road. There was a broad smile on his clean-cut handsome features, not so much a smile of happiness, not so much a smile of anything at all really. It was the vacant smile of one who had discovered that it is easier to smile than to grimace. It required far less thinking about, far less mental effort.

The twin laned road led from his home village of Picton, a small isolated village in the middle of nowhere in particular, to the Mountains Of Capheus, which were most definitely a vast blue-grey shape right in the middle of the far horizon.

Goldoor had been walking for nearly two weeks by the time he arrived at the tiny hamlet of Borning Major, two weeks of living rough in hedgerows, barns and ditches, but the experience had done nothing to diminish the fervour of his stride, for Goldoor was a man on a mission. A man with a purpose!

Since he had eaten the last of the bread and cheese from his once cumbersome knapsack the previous day, he was feeling extremely hungry.

At a swift pace Goldoor walked down what appeared to be the main thoroughfare of Borning Major. The confident smile on his face wavered slightly, but only very slightly, as he passed the rows of cottages. All of the windows were covered or boarded up and the obviously once-well-kept gardens were over-run with weeds. Some of the doors had large, crudely painted red crosses on them, though it did not occur to him to wonder why this should be. His simple, one track mind was on a collision course with food.

An air of dismal decay, of lifeless dereliction, pervaded the genteel scene. Even the small village shop and bakery was as cold and empty as the rest of the street, not that he had any money anyway, but Goldoor was sociable type and the absence of people unnerved him. A dismal creak of wood from up ahead caught his attention.

The badly weathered Inn sign, swinging gently in the breeze looked as if it would fall down at any moment. There was a lamp burning in one of the grubby windows indicating at least the presence of an occupant, so Goldoor in the eternally optimistic high spirits of the slow witted approached the entrance.

Maybe, just maybe, he could speak with the owner about re-painting and re-hanging his sign in exchange for something to eat. The bright hopeful smile on his face, as he pushed open the rotting timbers that had once been a highly polished and perfectly serviceable door, was received with only hard stares from the three occupants of the room.

“Good morning gentlemen.” he called cheerfully, “Where is everybody? Not been a bout of plague or something in the area recently has there?” he said with a hearty laugh. A deathly silence fell on the already quiet room and the hard stares doubled and trebled their bleak intensity.

“Look, it was only a joke, I mean . . .” he began again but as his eyes met first one stony gaze followed by another, glaring at him. The laughter died on his lips.

“I say, look, um, I’m sorry. I mean, um,” he babbled, completely flustered by now, “um. Is the, um, is the landlord here by any chance?”

The rat faced, surly little man polishing glasses behind the bar stared at the tall, broad shouldered newcomer for a long moment,

“An’ who might be askin’?”

“I am.”

“An’ who might ‘I’ be?”

“I don’t know” said Goldoor puzzled, “Who are you?”

The rat faced man screwed up his eyes and looked at the boy again, quizzically.

“No, who might you be?”

“I know who I am,” Goldoor announced proudly, “I am Izekiah Goldoor. From the village of Picton, away over yonder,” he waved his arm vaguely in completely the wrong direction, “who you are I don’t know since I’ve only just arrived and you haven’t told me yet.”

The winning smile he threw at the rat faced man was so full of charm and so completely lacking in guile that the man put a hand to his eyes and pulled it slowly down his face. The boy was either exceptionally clever and hid it well or a complete imbecile.

“Why do you want the Landlord?” he asked, squinting,

“Well, I thought I might offer to re-paint the shabby old Inn sign hanging outside in exchange for a good meal.” said Goldoor enthusiastically and smiled again.

“You want to paint the sign?”

“Well, no, not really, I want something to eat you see, but since I don’t have any money, it seemed to be the most likely means of paying for some food. You see.”

Goldoors’ pearly white teeth shone in the light oozing through the dirty windows.

The rat faced man took his hand from his grisled chin and threw a side-long glance at the two old men perched on stools at the end of the bar. He tapped his temple with his forefinger and made a universal gesture of disbelief before returning his attention to the stranger.

“So you want to re-paint my sign in exchange for some food, is that it?”

“That’s it in a nut shell” said Goldoor nodding vigorously.

“I take it you have done this sort of thing before?” asked the rat faced man suspiciously.

“Oh yes. Back home in Picton I am well known for ‘dipping my brush’ so to speak.” replied Goldoor, still smiling.

A complete idiot then, thought the rat faced man, shaking his head sadly,

“Alright. You’re on. There’s some paint in the shed at the back. I’ll get some food for you while you work.”

“Great!” said Goldoor. He smiled his most winning smile and waltzed out of the door.

“What were tha’ all about Charlie?” asked one of the old men,

“Don’t ask me,” answered the rat faced man called Charlie “the boy’s either a complete lame-brain, or a very good actor.”

After few short moments, the cheerful smile, accompanied by the rest of the blond head, poked itself into the bar-room,

“Excuse me?”

“Yes?” said Charlie with infinite patience,

“I say, umm, could you tell me please, what’s the name of the Inn?”

“The name of the Inn? ‘The Bishops Head'” said the rat faced man called Charlie, with only a subtle trace of sarcasm,

“You have done this kind of thing before haven’t you? I mean, you think you can manage that do you?”

“Oh yes. I’ve done plenty of heads. Back home in Picton. No worries” said the smiling face as the head backed out of the door.

After a brief pause of total silence in the bar the rat faced man called Charlie asked,

“So what do you reckon then ‘Arry? A nut case or what?” as he poured a stream of dark beer into a grubby old tankard.

“Dunno. ‘E seems keen enough tho’. ‘E can’t possibly mek it any worse than it is now can ‘e?” said the man at the bar.

“No. That is true.” said Charlie as he returned to the desultory glass polishing he had been involved in before the interruption, “That is very true.”

*

 An hour later, the voice of Goldoor called through the rotting ruin of a doorway,

“Right then chaps, it’s done”

“This I’ve got to see” said Charlie, lifting the flap of the bar and walking toward the voice. The two old men exchanged a quick smirk and followed him. Outside, they found a happily smiling, paint-spattered Goldoor.

“There you are.” said the golden haired young man smugly, pointing up at the now brightly painted square of wood, “What do you think? Be honest now!”

Charlie looked up at the sign and shook his head sadly. He took in the bright orange, laughing face with triangular black eyes. A crudely shaped red mitre balanced precariously in the approximate position of the top of the head and splashes of purple in the approximate region of the shoulders clashed violently with a lime green scarf.

“What the hell is that? What have you done to my sign?” he muttered through clenched teeth, “I thought you said you’d done plenty of heads. What kind of heads were they? Bloody scarecrows?”

“Well, yes as a matter of fact . . .”

Charlie buried his head in his hands and shook slowly in despair while the two old men from the bar howled with laughter and punched each other like a couple of school children.

“Is something wrong?” asked Goldoor, smiling innocently, “Don’t you like it? You don’t like it do you?”

The nasty hurtful words of the rat faced Charlie were still ringing in his ears five miles later. It wasn’t right for him to have said the things he did. How was a poor, simple woodsmans’ son from Picton supposed to know what a bishop looked like anyway? Life was so unfair.

 *

Castle (Normal)Striding morosely over the rise of a small hill, Goldoor caught his first glimpse of the monstrosity that was known as Camelopardis Castle. The sight of it, sitting on it’s heap of granite with it’s many-paned, multi-faceted windows gleaming in the afternoon sun, cheered the down-cast Goldoor immensely. The smile returned to his face as he took in the eclectic jumble of windows and the conglomeration of the many and various types of stone and masonry used in its construction. From this distance it had the look of a battered and discarded child’s toy. Having been built by many hands at many different times without any kind of central game plan, Castle Camelopardis represented the refined, tasteful architect’s worst nightmare. Goldoor thought it was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen in his life. Besides which of course, she lived there. The love of his life.

His mind, or at least that portion of it that was not directly involved in the day to day maintenance of the face splitting smile, drifted back to Picton, to that fateful Summers day when the awful old peddlar woman who had caused all the trouble had rolled up in her grotty, smelly old wagon drawn by a grotty, smelly old pony. She had knocked most politely on the door of the little wooden shack he shared with his elderly parents, and the gesture had marked the turning point in his life. First of all it had been quite innocent. A bit of palm reading and a touch of the hard-sell on some battered, second-or-third-hand saucepans. It was when she had produced the miniature portrait that his previously contented soul had changed. The pale faced, blonde, high cheek boned image had caught his imagination as nothing he had ever known before had.

“I say! Who is she?” he had demanded, “Where can I find her?”

At first the old crone had been reticent about telling him. It had taken all the coins he had in his purse to persuade her to part with the tiny picture. He had then had to give the cart a complete overhaul, including greasing the axles and a paint job, before she would tell him. It was, she had finally announced, The Princess Andromeda of Camelopardis.

The argument with his parents lasted the next two days and nights, as he tried to explain his need to find this girl. He smiled as he remembered his fathers words,

“Izzy, Izzy my boy. Please, just think about this. Think with your head and not with your…”

“Eric!” his mother screamed, “I won’t have language like that in this house. And definitely not in front of the boy!”

“Oh. Right dear. Sorry.”

And that had been that.

The following day he had waved goodbye to them both, with his heavily laden knapsack slung over his immense shoulder, and without a backward glance he had set off to find Castle Camelopardis. As soon as he was happily married and living in the splendid Castle that his limited imagination made Camelopardis out to be, he would send for them both, to show them that he had been right all along.

Then they could all live happily ever after. With a wistful sigh he tore his gaze from the awesome sight of the gigantic edifice, and turned his steps toward the small village nestled at the foot of the Castle promontory.

 *

The village of Leopardis had started life as the base camp for the early builders of the Castle. As the years passed and the sporadic building work stuttered along, so the workers, faced with long years away from their families had brought them here, lock, stock and baby carriage. The very houses they built for themselves showed the same diverse stonework and architecture as that used for the Castle itself. As each successive generation of builders had used any remaining materials for their own accommodation it came about that red brick mingled with wattle-and-daub, flint with marble slab and granite blocks with oaken beams, all in a confused melange of styles and fashions. As is common with settlements of this type one of the oldest buildings was the hostelry, built only a few hundred yards from the gatehouse that marked the start of the road to the castle.

Goldoor stood and looked up at the Inn sign. ‘The Artisans Arms’ he read slowly, his lips moving as his eyes followed the words. He shrugged his shoulders despairingly and shook his head as he pushed open the door. Arms were a different colour of penguin altogether. The early evening crowd around the bar appeared to have been the early morning crowd around the bar as well, judging by the raucous shouting and singing that was going on.

Striding confidently up to the bar Goldoor flashed his magnificent smile at the big florid man standing behind the counter and asked gaily,

“I say. Are you by any chance the landlord?” the lamp light glittered on his brilliantly polished white teeth,

“That I am,” said the man cheerfully, “who wants to know?”

“Izzy Goldoor.” he said through the glittering teeth, “I wonder if I might have a word with you?”

The very nasty and hurtful things shouted at him by the rat faced Charlie kept Goldoor from mentioning his painting abilities as he asked the large man for a job of some description. A job and, more importantly, food. The rat faced Charlie had given him only a measly lump of cheese and a mouldy piece of dry bread for all his effort. And that was over four days ago now.

“I’ll do most things,” he said eagerly, “all I need is a bed and lodging for a little while.”

“Can you chop wood?”

“Oh yes, at home in Picton I . . .”

“Lift barrels and crates?”

“Yes, at home I . . .”

“Scrub floors and whitewash walls?”

“Er, yes, I mean back home I . . .”

“You’re hired. The woodshed’s out the back. You can start there.”

Fred & Deidre Dobbs
Mr Fred and Deidre

“Um, yes. Thank you Mr . . . Mr . . .”

“Call me Fred.”

“Right. Mr Fred. I’ll start now shall I? Tonight?” he began but the Landlord had already bustled off to serve a customer.

With another shrug of his immense shoulders, Goldoor turned and left the bar.

Goldoor squeezed himself out of the rickety old back door and approached the ramshackle building that he supposed was the woodshed. He glanced upwards momentarily at the vast mass of the Castle on top of its hill looming up toward the darkening sky. He sighed deeply as the windows caught the last rays of the dying sun. At least he was in sight of Castle Camelopardis. Close to her, to his love.

Lighting a long yellow candle, one of a pair he found on the work bench in the shed and picking up the short handled axe in his great paw, Goldoor began to hack away at the huge piles of logs littering the floor of the shed. Mr Fred appeared after about an hour with a tray of what appeared to be kitchen scraps. With a thankful smile, Goldoor ate the entire tray full, without a second thought as to their origin. In all probability he would have eaten the tray as well had Mr Fred not whipped it away immediately.

At about midnight, when the second candle had guttered out and he could find no more, he decided to get some sleep. Curling himself up on the heap of rags and tarpaulins piled in a corner of the shed, he pulled a small picture frame from his knapsack and gazed lovingly at the tiny meticulously painted image that had cost him so dear.

“Good night my darling” he said aloud, “Soon we will be together.”

With a sigh he put the portrait against the wall, close to his head and passed into a deep, peaceful sleep. As he did so, the small face of The Princess Andromeda Vulpecula of Camelopardis smiled down at him.

*

Goldoor had always been an early riser. Standing in the early dawn with the axe in his hand made him think once more of home. At home in Picton he had worked with his father as a woodsman.

It had been a very quiet, idyllic life style, he realised, now that he had been out in the big wide world for two whole weeks. The voice of Mr Fred the Landlord broke into his reverie,

“What the fook do you think you’re playing at, mekkin’ all that racket first thing in the mornin’?” he shouted, with the pale green look of the terminally hung-over,

“Good morning Mr Fred. Nearly done now,” said Goldoor, “What time is breakfast?”

“Breakfast? What do you think this is a bloody doss house or summat . . .”

Mr Fred’s voice trailed off as his blood-shot eyes caught sight of the huge pile of neatly stacked cords of fire-wood, “Bloody hell, You’ve done all that by yourself?” he asked in disbelief.

“Nobody else Mr Fred.”

“Bloody ‘ell. Sorry, I mean I’ll go tell the wife to get the eggs on.”

As he turned and shambled off toward the Inn, a faint “Bloody ‘ell!” from Mr Fred floated back to Goldoor, and he picked up the axe once more, smiling gently.

At seven thirty, when Mr. Fred called him in for breakfast, Goldoor was just stacking the last of the kindling in the shed. Arriving at the kitchen door he was ushered in by the round, red faced and portly figure of a woman. There he found a large wooden table with a sumptuous feast laid out on it that covered the bare boards.

“There you go lovey, get stuck in. I’m the fat little gits’ wife, for me sins.” said the portly woman and cackled hideously, “but you can call me Deidre.” with a sly wink.

“Oh, great, food, I say, this is grand.” he said rubbing his hands together and completely missing the point of her words. Sitting down, he grabbed a plate and started to fill it with great mounds of bacon and eggs, covered with dollops of butter and hunks of bread. Clutching a cup of coffee in his two hands, the seriously unwell Fred looked awestruck as the pile of food began to disappear.

“Bloody hell.” he said softly.

“You not eating Mr Fred?” asked Goldoor solicitously,

“Later. Not just now.” said Mr Fred, a little green around the gills,

“You shouldn’t drink so much Mr Fred. My mother says that alcohol is the evil of the working classes. She says it shouldn’t be allowed. It disrupts your ability to work and ruins your liver. She says that the best cure is pigs blood. Raw pigs blood mixed with raw egg yolks and lemon . . . Mr Fred? Are you alright over there Mr Fred?”

Deidre snorted over the washing up as Mr Fred made a dash for the door. Goldoor turned back to his food shaking his head gently. The sounds of the over-weight, not-so-florid-now Innkeeper being violently ill in the flowerbeds outside caused him to smile smugly.

“Serves you right.” he said in a self satisfied tone.

“Your mother sounds like a sensible woman lovey.” said Mrs Fred

By lunch time, Goldoor had completely whitewashed the entire shed, inside and out. He was just washing the brushes when Fred came out of the Inn with a large jug of ale and an empty tankard,

“I just brought you a some . . .” he stopped in his tracks when he saw Goldoor and the gleaming white paintwork, “Bloody hell!”

“Thank you Mr Fred,” boomed Goldoor, “just what I needed.”

He drained the jug in one smooth swallow, not bothering to touch the tankard.

“Bloody hell” said Fred, “I thought your mother was against drinking?”

“Only to excess Mr Fred, only to excess.”

“Bloody hell.”

“Do you have to keep saying that? It’s not very nice you know. My mother always says . . .”

“Sorry. Bad habit. It just sort of slips out, like.”

“That’s alright.” smiled the irrepressible youth, “I thought I might take a stroll round the village this afternoon if that’s alright with you Mr Fred?”

“Yes, yes of course. As you please. I only came out here to get a keg of Best”

Mr Fred gingerly stepped through the painted doorway and went inside. After a short stunned silence an unintelligible scream of dismay came from the obviously distressed Mr Fred, until, finding more suitable sounds he shouted out,

“Why the hell have you painted all the bloody beer barrels you useless great moron? I’ll have your guts for garters you imbecilic great oaf.”

By the time he reached the door, Goldoor had already crept quietly away.

“I’ll kill him,” muttered Fred, “I swear, I’ll kill the stupid bugger.”

 *

 Goldoor neared the Gatehouse of Camelopardis Castle with a fair degree of apprehension. Maybe he should wait until he had been in the village for a few days before trying the direct approach. Once or twice he had stopped, turned as if to return to the Inn, thought of Mr Fred and the beer barrels and had turned to face the gatehouse once more. Inside the building, Private 2nd Class Crux was watching this display of hopeless indecision with an air of disbelief.

Corporal Serpens
Corporal Serpens

“‘Nutter’ on the starboard bow, Corporal” he said over his shoulder. In an instant the slight figure of Corporal Serpens, in the bright red cap with the shiny black peak, was at his side,

“Where away?”

“Yonder, under the crooked Elm.” said Crux pointing,

“What’s he doing?”

“Dancing. I think.”

“Dancing? Here? Very suspicious. Call Private 2nd Class Gramm, we may need him.”

Poking his head out of the window, he shouted,

“You. I say, you there. What do you think you are doing? This is private property y’know.”

Goldoor turned again at the sound of the voice, smiled his most winning smile at the nice man in the shiny peaked cap and walked forward.

“Hello” he said cheerfully, “I wonder, could you help me. Only I need to get to the Castle you see. I have an, what do you call those things now?” he creased his brow and searched for the right word, “Ah yes, an appointment”

“Who with?”

“Um, with er, with The Princess Andromeda if you must know.”

“Her Royal Highness is expecting you?” asked Serpens incredulously,

“Well, she doesn’t actually know that I’m coming yet but she will be ever so pleased to see me.”

“You’re right” murmured Corporal Serpens over his shoulder, “He is a nutter. Get Private 2nd Class Gramm here double quick. A big one this. He could be trouble.”, and then to Goldoor,

“And why do you suppose that is Mr, erm, Mr?”

“Goldoor. Izzy Goldoor. From Picton.”, with an arm wave toward the forestless mountains, and once again gave the smile full of teeth, “She will want to meet the man she is going to marry. I would have thought . . .”

A badly suppressed snort of laughter escaped the Corporal,

“Look, if you are not going to take me seriously I shall demand to see your superior and . . . ”

“Sorry,” a snigger, “but I thought you said,” a giggle, “that you was going to,” another snort, “to marry the Princess?” a loud guffaw.

“If you are going to take that tone my man . . .”

Corporal Serpens’ head disappeared backwards into the room as he spoke and the sounds of uncontrollable laughter from deep inside could be heard quite clearly by the confounded Goldoor. He had expected some kind of response, but not this.

“I say there,” he called, “I don’t think you are taking this seriously enough. I must get in to the Castle today, only . . .”

A fresh burst of laughter, this time from several different voices, incensed Goldoor into action. He was going to have to report this stupid little man to the Princess. Get him sacked or fired or whatever it is they did with soldiers. He turned on his heel and strode off down the path.

“You’ll regret this” he shouted back over his shoulder, to be answered with another, even louder peal of laughter. Red-faced with shame he made his way, deep in thought about what to do next, back to the Artisans Arms.

As deep in thought as he ever managed to get that is.

*

The very same mid-day sunlight that witnessed the embarrassment of our hero by the gatehouse, was by now streaming in through the stone braced windows of Castle Camelopardis itself, the Princess Andromeda stretched herself and yawned widely.

Never renowned as an early riser she was actually conscious before midday today,

“Who have we got today I wonder?” she mused, pouting into the large, oval dressing table mirror and applying some rouge in the approximate region of what could have been high, delicately chiselled cheek bones but weren’t.

“I’m sure I don’t know Your Highness.” said the maid softly,

“Who was talking to you? Get on with your cleaning, girl. And don’t slouch.

“Yes Ma’am” whispered the maid, dejectedly.

Princess Andromeda
The Princess Andromeda Vulpecula

It has been mentioned vaguely in passing that the Princess Andromeda was ugly. The truth of the matter is that she was hideous. This was a fact known to all in the Kingdom with the possible exception of two. One of them being herself.

Her lack of even a trace of prettiness, combined with not a vestige of feminine charm or grace, was legendary. The fate of the prospective suitor who had compared her face to an Elephant’s backside served as a warning to all who followed. Two years later he still walked with a limp, wore a leather truss and spoke with a harsh lisp. The Elephant was rumoured to have been pretty upset when he heard about the remark as well, so it is said.

Looking across at the large breasted maid brushing down the long, richly embroidered, pristine white, wedding dress hanging in a place of honour on the far wall The Princess Andromeda of Camelopardis suddenly bellowed,

“STOP THAT you STUPID girl. I’m NOT going to need THAT thing today. SOME days I think you do that JUST TO UPSET ME!. Get my shawl and slippers and be quick about it. And DON’T SLOUCH!”

Lyra, the pretty, young, large breasted ladies-maid, nervously dropped the clothes brush as the loud, coarse voice echoed around the room.

“Yes your highness.” she whispered,

“AND PICK UP THAT BLOODY BRUSH!” bawled the Princess, causing the glass in the window frames to rattle. If there was one thing she really hated first thing in the morning it was pretty, young, large breasted maids tarting around with her dress.

“And DON’T SLOUCH!”

Chapter 3

THREE

King Vulpecula
King Vulpecula

In his small private office, adjacent to the throne room, King Vulpecula of Camelopardis sat at his vast hand carved desk. Ostentatiously ornate it was an object, a relic, from the days when wood was plentiful and labour was cheap.

“So what exactly did this man do that aroused your suspicions?” asked the king. Corporal Serpens shifted uneasily from one foot to the other and looked nervously about him.

“Tell his Majesty what the man said to arouse your suspicions Corporal and tell him now, the King hates to be kept waiting you know.” purred the cultured voice of Captain Parsus of the Royal Guard. Cold, pin sharp eyes belied the amused smile on his face.

“Erm. Well,” Serpens swallowed hard, “Private 2nd Class Crux informed me that there was an unusual personage dancing,” he swallowed hard again, “dancing under the Elm.”

“And did you ask this personage what he wanted?” oozed the voice of Captain Parsus.

“Yes Sir. He said he wanted to . . . to . . . wanted to meet the Princess Andromeda Sir.” he blurted suddenly.

“Now that is bloody suspicious!” said the King, “What is the point of all this Parsus? Why are you wasting my time with ‘nutters’?”

“Why don’t you tell His Majesty what else the ‘nutter’ said?” the face still smiled but the oily voice was full of dire threat,

“He said,” gulp, “he said that,” his eyes shot from expectantly waiting face to expectantly waiting face, “he said that he wanted to marry the Princess Andromeda. Sire.” blurted the terror stricken Corporal. The Kings eyes widened and his jaw dropped several feet toward the desk,

“And you let him go?” he whispered, “He wanted to marry her and you let him go?”

“Well, you see, he looked so down at heel and not the sort of material that would fit with the Royal image and I thought . . . I thought . . .”

The thin voice trailed off pathetically under the vicious glare of the King.

Captain Parsus“Do you know the odds I could have got on even a proposal of marriage from the Duke of Leophus alone?” he said coldly, “If I could have got the bloody mill-stone actually married off, I would have been able to re-float the entire bloody economy.”

“But Sire, I thought that, you know, a Princess and all that . . .”

“You are not supposed to think Private Serpens. That is for your elders and betters! Now, I would strongly suggest that you go and find this ‘nutter’ and see if he is still interested. If he is, I may reinstate your stripe. If he isn’t . . .”

The Kings voice trembled with barely suppressed rage, but the voice tailed off, the threat unspoken.

“GET OUT NOW”

“Yes Sir. Thank you Sir. I shall go now shall I Sir?”

“On the double Private,” said the suave tones of Captain Parsus, adding quite unnecessarily, “now would be good!”

“Yes Sir, sorry Sir” muttered the pitiful, newly created, Private Serpens backing ungracefully out of the door.

*

It was only a knock on the door that connected directly with the bursars office that stopped the King from shouting rude remarks unfitting of a Royal personage after the retreating back.

“Damn. See what the little bugger of a penny pincher wants now Parsus” he said abruptly to the Captain.

Striding to the door, Captain Parsus yanked it open, causing the insignificant shape of Chancellor Antila to fall forward into the room.

“S-S-Sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear . . .” stuttered the nervous, mousey little Chancellor, ”

“What is it now Bursar?” asked the King wearily,

She’s called them out again Your Highness. Leopardis Organ Replacement and Repair Service. Another eighty Ducat bill that we can’t afford!”

The King hid his head in his hands and mumbled to himself quietly about the trials and tribulations of being a poor King in a rich mans’ Castle.

“Alright Antila,” he said quietly, raising his face, “I’ll have a word with her.”

“Thank you your Majesty. Thank you so very much.”

Chancellor Antila backed out obsequiously, thankful that he hadn’t been blamed for anything this time and closed the door softly behind him.

“I know,” said the King suddenly with a manic smile on his face, his eyes round and shining, “I’ll shoot the lot of ’em. I’ll start with the obnoxious Orlotan Apus and work my way up.”

“Nice idea Sire” said Captain Parsus with his oily smiled slicked greasily into place.

 *

In the darkness of his hiding place within the Kings private spiral staircase, Lacertus also smiled. An idea of stupendous proportions was beginning to form in his mind. The lynch pin would be the ‘nutter’.

He, Lacertus would have to locate him before the unfortunate Private Serpens did. Then he could persuade the poor unfortunate person to try and get in to Camelopardis, into the Princess private chambers and he, Lacertus could then rush in and save her from his clutches. The prestige would be enormous if he could pull it off. Quietly he crept down the steeply winding stairs to the Servants Hall to prepare for a foray into Leopardis. He was also in quiet agreement with the Kings plans for his family, but in most cases, especially that of the obnoxious Ortolan, shooting would be too good for them.

Goldoor sat heavily on a barstool in ‘The Artisans Arms’ and reflected on the cruelties of life, as he stared into the depths of his beer tankard. Mr Fred had bawled and ranted about those stupid beer barrels for close on an hour after he had returned from the embarrassment of the Guard house experience. And then the fat little man had laughed like a loon when the poor lovelorn Goldoor had described the events to him by way of partial explanation. He had said some very hurtful things about his lady love. If he hadn’t been so depressed he would have punched the fat slob in the face.

Goldoor was plunged so deep in his own grief and despair that he did not notice the dark haired young man pull up a stool beside him and order two beers.

“Excuse me,” said the young man, with a polite cough “but you’re new around here aren’t you?”

Goldoor turned his glazed expression to face the stranger,

“What?”

“I said, ‘you’re new around here aren’t you'”

*

Goldoors eyes drifted into focus and looked directly at the young man. If he so much as brushes my knee with his fingers, I’ll definitely punch him thought Goldoor,

“What’s that to you?” he asked suspiciously,

“I’ve heard that you were interested in gaining access,” the low voice dropped almost to a whisper, “to a certain not-to-be-named building.”

“What? The Castle?”

“Shh. I said don’t name it.”

“Name what?” frowned Goldoor,

“The Castle.” hissed the dark haired young man,

“You just said don’t . . .” said Goldoor loudly,

“Shhhhhh” hissed Lacertus,

“Oh. Sorry.”

“That’s alright. Now, I have friends. I may be able to help you.”

“Why should you want to help me?”

“Let’s just say I have a vested interest in the ah, the outcome.”

Goldoor looked around the bar, warily but nobody appeared to be listening,

“Tell me more.” he whispered conspiratorially.

 *

Up at the Castle, Glimmergoynes’ day was not progressing very well. The Family Lunch had been as farcical as the staff bash had been. The wimp Pyxis had moaned throughout, about his stupid head and painful feet, the old bag of a Duchess had complained five times about her egg being over cooked which eventually turned out to be a rubber substitute put on her plate by the insufferable little creep Ortolan. Later still, His Majesty had refused the subtle blue and saffron striped suit against Glimmergoynes’ manifest protests and insisted on the black and lime green tweeds that made him look so obese.

The meeting with the Duke of Leophus had gone badly. The man was insisting on his hapless son, Corporal Tucana of the Royal Guard, getting a promotion before he would cough up the ‘donation to the Royal coffers’ for this quarter. The King had to agree of course. Money was tight enough as it was. Then to cap it all, the messenger had arrived to say that the coach carrying the next of the prospective ‘husbands’, the ‘Teaboy’, had lost a wheel and would be unavoidably detained for up to two days. Glimmergoyne could not understand the reluctance of the young men of the Realm to come forward.

They did not have to actually like the Princess, nor even be seen in close proximity to her afterwards. All they had to do was hand over the money, sign the papers and live on the prestige, happily ever after. Maybe the King had set the Dowry too high? A shameful state of affairs at the best of times but, when all was said and done, it did take a lot of money to run a Castle this size. In the midst of these dismal thoughts there came a thunderous knocking at the door on the level above.

Glimmergoyne listened for a few moments to hear who it might be. After a few moments, when nothing happened, he heard the thunderous knocking again. Where’s Viktor got to now, he thought making his stately progress up the staircase from the Hall of Fire.

“Victor?” he called aloud, “Viktor, there’s someone at the door. Where are you?”

“Here I am Mr Glimmergoyne.” the voice of Viktor floated across from the depths of the high backed, green leather Hall Porters chair in the far corner,

 

“I am taking my official tea break, as outlined in the Footmen, Doormen and Ancillary Staff Union handbook. It quite clearly states that the employee, i.e. myself, is entitled to fifteen minutes for necessary refreshment every three hours. I still have four and a half minutes left. Get it yourself.”

The loud hammering was more impatient this time, insistent. Fuming at the horrible little doorman and muttering oaths under his breath, Glimmergoyne opened the heavy wooden doors to reveal the dirty figure of Hugo Lepus, the ‘Organ Repair Operative’ from Leopardis Organ Replacement and Repair Services.

“Oh. It’s only you.”

“Who were you expecting? The Queen of bloody Sheba?” said the surly little man, “She needs a fixer again. Got the call just now.”

“Well, you know the way. You should do by now. Take off that ridiculous cap and get going.”

“Yes Sir” said the Fixer and shot him an evil look as he made his way past.

Closing the huge doors with some effort, Glimmergoyne reflected once more on the vagaries of life; on the fact that a man in his position and at his time of life still had to open doors for grotty little tradespeople.

Turning on his heel to go back down the stairs he found that, Viktor the diminutive doorman, had appeared at his side.

“All done. The rule book is satisfied, as indeed I am. Thank you Mr Glimmergoyne.”

Viktor did not even see the heavy roundhouse blow coming and the force of it lifted him from his feet and sent him sprawling on his back across the polished marble floor.

“Stick that in your rule book and eat it. Useless bloody clock watcher.” said Glimmergoyne, pulling down his immaculate sleeves and dusting them off with his hands as he stalked off.

Viktor, from his prone position on the floor just rubbed his chin with his hand and glared at the smartly attired back of the Butler as it descended the stairs to the Hall of Fire.

*

“All I did was to press the key, that one there, the white one, and I broke a nail. Can you believe it? I want it replaced now. Today. Horrible thing” whined the voice of Queen Berenice.

“No problem your Ladyship,” replied the servile tones of The Fixer from the depths of the ripped out keyboards of the huge great Wurlitzer Organ, “no problem at all.”

“I just don’t understand it,” whined the tall white clad Queen from her large heavy parlour chair, “it was no trouble yesterday. Do you understand it Pettigrew?” of the ladies maid tying a neat bow on a crepe bandage around the damaged digit,

“No your Ladyship, I don’t understand it at all.” Said Pettigrew. Ten years of nursing the Queen Berenice through broken nails and bruised thumbs had all but left her immune to understanding anything the stupid woman did or said,

“I’m sure the nice man will be able to fix it for you. Then you can carry on with your practice. Won’t that be nice?”

“Yes. Yes it will. I really do think I’m starting to get the hang of it you know.”

Pettigrew stood up as she finished and said,

“I’ll bring you a nice cup of tea while you’re waiting shall I?”

“Yes, thank you Pettigrew. It’s the shock that gets to one you know.”

“I know, I know.” said Pettigrew as she dropped a curtsey and left the room.

*

The clatter of hooves and the creak of over-stressed timber announced the imminent arrival of the stately, but severely dilapidated, Royal Carriage to the watchers in the Guardhouse. Only the heavy iron bars bolted to the window and door frames had any feel of permanence in the trembling mess. As the carriage drew to a juddering halt in front of the massive gates the much stressed horses coughed and steamed in the cool of the afternoon. The red uniformed guard on the box seat at the back had the look of a man in severe shock. His hands gripped the support bar in front of him, white knuckled, while the look in his eyes suggested sheer, unadulterated terror.

A chubby little man in the blue and gold livery of Castle Camelopardis climbed drunkenly down from the box and staggered over to the doors. Lifting his fist he hammered at the solid wood.

“Gues’ for the Cas’le! Open up theer! The Prince Cirsic . . . Cirsic . . . Circinus of Corna . . . Cornia . . . Cornucopia for the Pri’cess An’romeda”, he slurred.

A small hatch swung open in the top of the door and the florid round face of Private 2nd Class Gramm appeared, his jaws chewing on an unmentionably large amount of something or other, popped out,

“Wot?” spluttered the face, “not now. I’m ‘avin’ me tea!” and the hatch slammed shut.

Incensed, the Coachman lurched forward and hammered once more,

“I ‘ave himpor’ant business wi’ tha Pri’cess An’romeda. I ‘as a guest for ‘er” he shouted, “Now open this bleedin’ door afore I puts you on report. I’m already owerdue by . . . by . . . ” he pulled a large gold pocket watch from his waistcoat and tried unsuccessfully to open it, “by, oh sod that” he said stuffing it back in his pocket, “I’se already late. Now jus’ open this bleedin’ door you igno . . . igno . . . you dolt.”

Finally managing to disengage his fists, the trembling body and staring eyes of Corporal Corvus came up behind the Coachman,

“Open up Gramm,” he said trying to put some kind of authority into his terror stricken voice, “unless you want to be cleaning the stables for the next month.”

After a brief silence, the bolts were heard being drawn back very slowly. As the two huge doors were pulled slowly open a small voice said,

“Sorry Sir!” obsequiously.

An enormous shape, wrapped rather than dressed in the red Guard livery, stood in their place,

“I was ‘avin’ me tea”, he said, by way of explanation.

“It’s not good enough Gramm,” said Corporal Corvus, regaining his composure somewhat, “is there nobody else here? Where’s your second? Sleeping I suppose.”

“No Sir. Honest. Private Volans has gone with Private Serpens on a ‘nutter’ hunt, Sir.”

Private Serpens? A ‘nutter’ hunt?” incredulously, “You are talking in riddles Gramm. I shall sort this out with Captain Parsus.”

“Yes Sir” muttered Gramm.

“Righ’ the’ Sur. Shall’us be off?” slurred the coachman, swaying gently at his side.

“Ah, no.” said Corvus looking up the sloping carriageway with its steep drop on one side, “No. I think I shall walk if you don’t mind”

“As yo’ like Sur” said the Coachman clambering clumsily back onto the box and picking up the reins. With a crack of his whip at the still steaming horses the coach lurched forward ungracefully. Watching the carriage pass through the tunnel, Corporal Corvus felt a certain degree of relief at still being on solid ground.

As the coach passed the stone pillars on the other side, already going at a fair lick despite the knackered horses, it lurched once more, hit the far pillar and seemed to disintegrate in slow motion. The horses, released from their burden, leapt forward joyously, pulling the blue coated Coachman still clutching the long reins in his fists, with them. The battered young man who leapt from the wreckage smiled maniacally, shouted, “Free, haha, FREE!” and dashed off toward the village, the chains on his wrists jangling as he picked up speed. Quickly, but not quickly enough, Corporal Corvus tried to set off in hot pursuit. His legs, still trembling with the terror of the high-speed coach ride, would not function in proper order and after only a few steps he fell face down into the dusty road.

“Damn, damn, DAMN!” he muttered. Private 2nd class Gramm gazed down at him for a moment and then ambled across to where he lay and asked dutifully,

“Are you alright Sir?”

“Report to Corporal Equuleus in the stables Private 2nd Class Gramm. Immediately.” said Corporal Corvus to the road under his face.

*

The Dowager Duchess Harmonia
The Dowager Duchess Harmonia

In the early evening sunlight, The Dowager Duchess Harmonia sat in the huge, embroidered armchair in the tower room of Queen Berenice Vulpecula. The rest of the room was filled with the huge, voluminous, tuneless rumbling of the multi-keyboard Wurlitzer organ being hammered to death by the Queen herself.

The old lady felt the tears rolling down her cheek, only the left one since the right eye was a glass one, and smiled happily. Being completely tone deaf was an asset when ones’ daughter in law, after ten years of diligent practice, only managed to hit one good note in ten. Even the Queen’s beloved spaniel would leave the room with his stump of a tail between his legs when his mistress started to play. As the final notes of a particularly horrendous, barely recognisable rendition of Danny Boy died away the elderly Duchess applauded enthusiastically and said,

“Lovely dear, very beautiful. Almost a good as my dear old Mum used to play it.”

The Queen simpering under the adulation was about to ask if an encore would be appreciated, when the doors flew open and King Vulpecula stormed in,

“Right. Shut that racket up. NOW” he bawled commandingly. So far he too had not had a very good day and things looked like going downhill very rapidly.

“What the HELL do you mean by calling out that outrageously expensive repair man again?” he fumed, “Didn’t I spend four hours yesterday explaining to you the financial state this Castle is in? Are you just trying to upset me?”

“But dearest, the horrid key broke my nail. I had to have it changed. Otherwise my playing would have been disturbed.”

“I think you must be disturbed.”

“PECCY!” Just hold with that kind of talk. Honestly, since you became King your manners have deteriorated very badly.”

King Vulpecula cringed. How he despised that stupid nursery name,

“Oh. Mumsy. Sorry Mumsy. I didn’t know you were there.” he said abjectly,

“Well I am. Do you think your poor dear father would have talked to me like that?”

“Look Mumsy, the thing is we just don’t have the money any more! And then with that accident this afternoon with the carriage there may not be any more coming in for a while . . .”

“Excuses, excuses. You’re King aren’t you? Go and institute a new tax or something. That’s what your poor dear father always used to do.”

“Things have changed Mumsy dear, the populace don’t like all these taxes we have now. If I . . .”

“Piffle!” exclaimed the old lady, “The populace love their Royal Family, they loved your poor dear old Dad and they still love me. Just because you’re soft, over-weight and unpopular doesn’t mean your family should do without.”

“But eighty Ducats a time is daylight robbery.”

“The Queen Berenice needs to practice and that means proper equipment” said the Duchess sharply,

The Queen simpered again more volubly at this welcome burst of support and enjoyed the look of discomfort on the Royal visage,

“But Mumsy I . . .”

“No buts. Just go and organise your finances in a proper Kingly fashion and everything will be alright again. And don’t let me hear that you’ve been persecuting the poor dear Queen Berenice for your own shortcomings.”

She switched her attention back to the Queen and said sweetly,

“Right my dear, where were we? Danny Boy I think wasn’t it?”

“Again Duchess?” simpered the Queen,

“Yes dear it’s such a lovely tune.”

“I’ll go and see the Bursar then, shall I?” said the King but the two women simply ignored him. As the awesome swelling sound of the mighty organ hit a string of duff notes under the leaden fingers of Queen Berenice, he cringed.

“Yes, that’s what I shall do. I’ll go and see the Chancellor.” he repeated softly, but he had the distinct impression that he had already been dismissed.

 *

 “What do you mean the Carriage has not arrived yet?” demanded Glimmergoyne of the grinning doorman,

“I mean that it has not arrived yet” replied Viktor, relishing the stiff old butlers dismay,

“But I’ve just seen the Coachman staggering across the courtyard. The coach must be here too. And what’s he done with today’s applicant? That Circinus fellow?”

“Coachman and horses are back, true enough but the coach is still down by the Gatehouse. In about ten thousand pieces by all accounts. Dunno where the poor devil of a candidate got to either. If he’s got any sense he’s legged it.”

“Ye Gods” swore Glimmergoyne vehemently, “What has the drunken bastard done this time? I’ll have his hide for this.”

“I should like to take this opportunity to remind you Mr Glimmergoyne, that under rule twenty seven of the current edition of the F.D.A.S.U. handbook members are to be treated with due respect at all times. Physical violence performed on a member will be very heavily frowned upon and, and . . .” his voice tailed off under the cold, hard gaze of the solemn faced butler,

“You stupid little man.” he said in the cold, hard, clearly enunciated tone that went with the look, “Sod the bloody handbook. I’ll skin him and you as well if I have a mind. Now just get out of my way.”

Glimmergoyne
Glimmergoyne

He stalked out of the door shaking his head. Viktor gazed after him with hate filled eyes,

“Bloody fascist dictator.” he muttered under his breath,

“I heard that.” called Glimmergoyne without looking back.

Viktor slammed the heavy door violently in his wake.