Lords and Ladies, I beseech of your time as I come before you to continue the tale of the kingdom wherein resided Tiny-er-er O’penmouth. I beg of you to bring to mind my last tale when, although no more than a lowly jester, he created himself anew as Tiny Napoleon O’penmouth, creating visions of his own grandeur which triggered unease among the Lords and Ladies of his land. Tiny Napoleon O’penmouth dreamed of setting his aim higher, of placing his new majestic self above his Lords and Ladies, something they could not countenance but nor could they speak of it except in the concealed comfort of their great halls; so instead they stealthily spread tales of revolting peasants in Tiny Napoleon O’penmouth’s own green great hall.
The tale continues: the Lords and Ladies strike back
The Lords and Ladies secretly send their envoys into Tiny Napoleon O’penmouth’s green great hall, to speak in muffled tones among the jesters, clowns and goblins gathered therein: he is frightening the peasants, they whisper; they are abandoning their fields and forges; if this continues the peasants will revolt and storm the castle walls, burn the great halls to ash; then there will be no need for clowns and jesters — the goblins, however, may yet prosper in a chaotic land, they hint. The clowns and jesters anxiously survey the goblins among them: they always feared whether they could be trusted and now the emissaries fan the embers of internal discord.
The jesters, clowns and goblins mutter among themselves. What can be done? How can the peasants be returned to their fields, despite the rising waters and the seemingly endless fires, despite the demonic tales of the tree monks? They murmur and plot. They whisper and plan. And the Lords and Ladies, with their whispering crusade, adroitly prepare the way for their man, Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull.
Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull is a man of substance, not an inept jester. Although not a lord, he possesses his own castle, grander even than those of some of the Lords and Ladies. He gained his name from the legend he could turn a charging bull at 30 paces with his withering smile, that he could quiet raging peasants, even lull them into sleep, with his three hundred mellifluous words — whereas Tiny Napoleon O’penmouth was limited to three words. The Lords and Ladies were confident he could charm the peasants into working harder and longer without them even noticing.
The ghostly heralds of the Lords and Ladies glide like wisps of wind among the jesters, clowns and goblins of the green great hall and slowly but surely their stories spread and take hold: they tell the clowns, jesters and goblins they can keep their places in that hall only if Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull replaces the upstart Tiny Napoleon O’penmouth. The thread of mutiny knits itself quietly into a golden gown. And it is ‘quietly’ until Mal C’od-turn-a-bull strides confidently, defiantly to the centre of the great hall and declares he will now be ruler of that edifice. Tiny Napoleon O’penmouth asserts he is still master of the green great hall but, by then, the clowns, jesters and goblins have succumbed to the whisperings, have come to believe the tales that Mal C’od-turn-a-bull will restore tranquillity to the kingdom — and allow them to continue feasting and debauching in the green great hall.
Tiny Napoleon O’penmouth has now disappeared into his paper castle, where some still protect him but their cause is now lost — or perhaps lost only for now. He retains a place, now isolated, sulking in a dimmed nook of the green great hall, no longer its possessor, but still with a remnant of goblins who surround him and chatter excitedly of the dreams he and they had dared. They sometimes prattle among themselves but, as yet, can do nought to undo the prodigious smile of Mal C’od-turn-a-bull.
The Lords and Ladies are well pleased. The parvenu jester is replaced with a man of (almost) their own class, a man who appreciates their desires and wants, who is cognisant they require seclusion within the shelter of their castle walls and ignorance among the peasants so as to pursue their artful, gold-making dealings. Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull well understands such artfulness for he has practised it himself.
Almost immediately the peasants are calmed. They like the timbre of his words even if they do not fathom them. He tells them only he can conquer the rising waters and endless fires — but he does nothing. His words alone are enough for now, convincing some that this illustrious man empathises and will eventually quell the waters and the flames. Behind the castle walls, the Lords and Ladies smirk in relieved delight. Already their man has won over the peasants, just as they had foreseen, his endless numbing words and glowing smile working their mesmerising spell on the ignorant, unwitting peasants.
Mal C’od-turn-a-bull moves among the peasants, among the impoverished and outcast and pronounces that no longer will the knights and yeomen ride against them but still the peasants with the matches in their ragged coat pockets are covertly watched, sometimes furtively whisked away to fetid, windowless dungeons.
He rides slowly by the peasants in his own imposing coach.
‘What about Godwin’s coach?’ a ragged, mud-clad peasant shouts from the throng.
Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull does not like being reminded of the time when he thought the coach of another prominent rival, Kev de Flick O’Hair, had been plundered goods. As it transpired, it was the peasant Godwin spreading falsehoods. That was a mistake in his past that he desires be left there. But this peasant, who, indeed, must be hiding matches in his pocket to bring forth such a matter, has not forgotten. How many others out there also remember? Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull ponders that question but continues by without bothering to pause or answer. His flowing words cannot simply decree that incident to invisibility. But as he moves genially onward, his hand moves almost imperceptibly at the coach window, and the yeoman guard spirit that peasant away with barely a soul noticing and, if they do discover the matches in his pocket, he may never be seen again.
The tree monks are also not convinced. They harangue the peasants: ‘Until he does something about the rising waters and endless fires, you should not be deceived by his milky words. Demand he walk with you here in the mud and rising waters. Demand he confronts the fires himself. Then challenge what he is willing to do.’
Yes, the tree monks are invigorated by his presence. He does not denounce them as bellicosely as Tiny Napoleon O’penmouth once did. He smiles benignly upon them, promises a few more trees that they may scramble upon, but passes them by as if his passing alone should satiate their exclamations of doom.
“There will be changes”, Malcom Co’d-turn-a-bull tells the carefully assembled peasants and lingering tree monks. ‘If I think what I’m doing or not doing is not working well, or if working well could be done differently, be done in a better way … but I will only change those things that need to be changed, that aren’t working well, or aren’t getting the results I … the Lords and … the results you want, or good results that help you or make life easier for you, or help you get more done in less time, or even the same time, but more … We live in an exciting time and we can …’
Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull has much more to say (he has not yet reached his three hundred words), and does say much more, but it is somewhere about that point in his oration that peasants begin slumbering or returning to their work: yes, even work is more interesting than this, even scrabbling in the deepening mud.
Deep within the living soul of Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull dwells the certain knowledge that the Lords and Ladies are masters of this world and he hovers deliciously close to them. Unlike the uncouth jester he replaced, he is welcomed at the dining tables in the halls of the Lords and Ladies’ castles, is accepted into their company, where he exchanges pleasantries, where the Lords and Ladies deviously suggest the peasants do not actually require very much to be happy. ‘That is the way of the world’, they entice him, offering another goblet of wine, another pheasant’s egg topped with caviar from a distant kingdom. Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull dips his silver spoon into the black fish roe. ‘You must beguile them. Another wine? You must fulfil your duty to your own.’ Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull appreciates that, has always believed in the privileged right of the Lords and Ladies to fashion their money-making ways.
‘We will need more wood for the forges so they can burn longer and produce more horseshoes, barrel hoops, sickles and scythes, swords and axes, and all our other useful tools of metal. There will be more work for the tree-fellers and the carters carrying the wood. We will all be better off,’ Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull announces to the peasants.
‘That means felling more trees,’ the tree monks lament. ‘That means more smoke hanging over your homes during the still winter nights, veiling your vision on the roads, making your children cough,’ they add. Some peasants nod their heads knowingly but the yeoman guard keep their watchful gaze upon them.
‘Tree monks will be left more trees’, Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull promises somewhere through the long distance of his discourse but nimbly fails to reveal where. The Lords and Ladies have determined they will be on vastly separated knolls at the kingdom’s far edges, where tree monks can do no damage — only the most ardent fire-threatening peasant will travel that far merely to consult a tree monk or be influenced by their heretical teaching.
‘And you on the farms, you will be able to till more soil, grow more food for your families and neighbours who all will have more work. And they can choose their work’ but Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull conceals that most of the increased produce of the fields will fill the tables of the Lords and Ladies (and the next tier below them, people of his own ilk — he will do well from this extra work and all he has to do is entrance the peasants to do it).
‘There is no longer any need to be afraid. We are a kingdom of opportunities for all’, but especially the Lords and Ladies (and me), he mutely continues. ‘Take heed of the greatness of … of our … of your kingdom and how much greater it can be if we all work together, if we each work as hard as we possibly can, if we contribute …’ Blah, blah, blah! Yes, again, somewhere around this point peasants begin to nod off or wander back to their dank fields and smoky forges.
There is certainly more work being done if only because the peasants do not well endure Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull’s prolixity, the myriad words, his phantasmagoria of words.
For now the kingdom glows, reflecting the boundless, unceasing smile of Mal C’od-turn-a-bull but dangers lurk. There are goblins with spittle-laden words hissing that the peasants are simply lazy, avoiding, when they can, their labouring duties to their Lords and Ladies, that the peasants must be left with no choice other than the dank fields and the cough-inducing forges, and there is no reason to stem the fires and rising waters. The Lords and Ladies do not discourage such hateful words but sit by idly, taking satisfied account and awaiting their next opportunity.
There are goblins who yet believe Tiny Napoleon O’penmouth is their true leader and still believe in his word. They could yet turn against Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull. And the clowns and jesters cannot be relied upon. Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull just smiles his beatific smile, and no-one yet knows whether that will be enough.
For now, the Lords and Ladies delight in the emerging new shape of their kingdom.
For now, the future seems clear but more smoke rises, more eerie night fogs descend, and more muted thoughts choose another time for expression.
What do you think?
To understand some of the references in this tale, we encourage you to read the earlier ‘Lords and Ladies’ tales linked at the beginning of the piece.
Will Mal Co’d-turn-a-bull continue to lull and charm the peasants? Will Tiny-er –er O’penmouth continue idly accepting his fate? How long will the Lords and Ladies continue to delight in their newfound wealth? Come back in 2016 when the tale continues.
Next week 2353 sums up the year as we saw it on TPS.