The elders had noted with increasing concern the monarchs restive moods of late. They grew apprehensive and solemn . They were reminded of his disposition just prior to the democratisation , and each eye was drawn with terror to the pleasant plaza , where the seditionists were hung . And then beheaded and their heads hoisted on spikes lest any forget .Now was a time of much uncertainty , and each of the Senators went about with a nervous step. But no utterance was made to hazard a guess as to what the Emperor had on his mind. Each held his thoughts to himself. Speculation at such a time was unwise.
When he summoned them to the palace it was with some light-hearted relief that they received his latest announcement ;.
- I have been giving this matter some thought - he spoke from his throne as they knelt in obeisance before him. Cushions were provided for those over eighty. Other that that it was decreed that all men should be equal. Each shoud kneel before the throne. It was a device which checked the ilds minds forom wandering.
- of this matter of Emperor.. .. , He continued slowly , as he stroked a purring cat on his lap.He scanned the puzzled faces. Rapt ; attentive.
- the title is outdated .. Archaic .. It is time our country took its rightful place among the kingdoms of old Europe..
Still no hint of anything of a challenge; not even the querulous flicker.
- and I was thinking that it is appropriate that the people should have a king .
Now the bewildered faces looked up as if into a dazzling light.
- yes . A king is what they deserve and a king they will have .it is my duty to grant them this small gesture - He took in the puzzled faces again, and continued.
-The question is . How is it to be arranged.?
He turned to the survivor of the last executions ; a pitiful creature whom he’d spared lest the others forget . This was the esteemed legal adviser. Pitiful , Pitiful all he feared was for his head , the emperor thought as he turned to him now.
- well Ronaldo - what do you advise .. I am presuming you all agree or do I have to put it to a vote.. No ? no .. well proceed Ronaldo. ! proceed senator and grant us the wisdom of your judgement ..
Ronaldo , shook himself form a pleasant and engaging dream. He hadn’t made a decision for four years . This coming so suddenly made his heart shudder, his legs weak and his knees , if they could tremble , would have trembled. He was not without guile however and he had mastered a certain art of delegation. He was now bereft of that option .But he pulled a trump card he’d long held for such occasions. He waited , stroked his beard in a ruminative manner, and at length he said.
- I think the course of action that would be appropriate in the circumstances with all due deference to the court …....
- Cut to the chaset Ronaldo - what is the answer.
- a plebiscite , Sir.
- A which ??
-A plebiscite sir
The emperor looked at with an angry furrowed brow but which now arched in expectation. There was an air of pleasantness about his aspect . This was to be feared .
-Yes sir,The Senator said , looking round with some satisfaction. His head has at least been soared . Thus far.
- how does it work.. Do the people vote,.. Would they vote the right way .. There is much they misunderstand .. Ronadlo I don’t know.... It would be unfortubtate , Ronaldo - the Emperor traield off
-unfoortunate it your advise we to have been misleading; we are all very fond of you Ronaldo. Now tell us about this plebiscite. We wait with batet breath.
- a plebiscite sir , would have its auditors and counters and polling booths , Sir . But the result could be given to them as a gift from your self Sir in your wisdom ,;after all you know the people better than anyone .
He regarded the senator with a mixture of suspicion and admiration , but mostly suspicion.
- creative counting of a sort.. ?? whats that !
- yes sir ; more amending the mistaken votes should the people misunderstand. Of course it may not be at all necessary because you sir are so revered..and the people are sod devoted to you for ...
- shut up Ronadldo .. So be it then . Well let us not waste time I’m thinking of an inauguration next Saturday. It will be my birthday. I trust this is remembered ;-he said again with that worrying pleasantness
-and I summon you to have a result by say Thursday. Any difficulties.. ..
He scanned the loathsome congregation beneath him. Lower than snakes everyone . Looking out fort his own skin. Or head . Which reminded him.
- which reminds me .. Senators .. A title for the new king.. What shall we be called .. You see I will be using the royal “we “ instead of me .. I read it about it in the British magazines.. I shall be “we” .mine will be “ ours“.. oh! Read about it yourselves. I want it adhered to henceforth. You’ll grasp it soon enough.. But the title ..
His squinted eyes zipped through them from one to the other and each felt a strange weakness in the loins and an uneasy itch about the collar.
- you Roberto - he said scrutinising his brother in law, and minister, for something.. Arts and culture was agriculture ?.
- sir ?- ejaculated another aged seenator as if pierced with a lance on a tender spot.
- You .yes ! what title do you suggest !!
He thought desperately. His neck itched . He sweated profusely. His old heart rattled in his frail chest. Should it be something old or new. The emperor was unpredictable..Something remeniscent of the olld Order of Eiropean Royal houses of something suggestive of the piety of th Vatican.
- I would like some time to consider..- Roberto said aat some length.
-Consider be dammed .!. Think now.. !!You haven’t done any thing cultural for four years. Neither have any of you for that matter.!!!. He regarded them with the revulsion as if he had swallowed acid.
- King Innocence the first.. He ventured with great trepidation ..
The emperor looked at the pathetic man. Then he turned and looked out the open window across at his edifice in the pleasant plaza , and each head knew what thoughts were in the Emperor's head .
He looked down at the kneeling heads some now bowed as if in prayer. Then he distinctly saw the shudder of the traitor's torso. The man was trying was laughing and trying to conceal his mirth .Indeed . We shall see how funny this is..
- ahh!! Michelo .. Perhaps you would be good enough to share with us the source of merriment ..
The blood drained from the senators face and the shaking torso stopped shaking . Now his head shook.
- Sir .. I was not ..- he began to beseech.
- if you defy me ..he trailed off and looked again across at the plaza where the insurrectionist were hung.
- I like my subjects to be truthful. Now if its not merriment tell us what your industrious brain has come up with regarding the matter in hand ..
Think quickly now Michelo.!!. You haven’t had occasion to think for four ..like you all.. Four years.. Think well and think quickly now..! -
The menace in his voice steeled every heart.
-Pleasance .. Sir ?.. Hannibal.. Hector .. Henry…Horatio.. ??? - he pratteled them off as a deck of cads falling .
- No no ..!!- thundered the Epmeror impatiently
- all used before- you fool . I want some thing more .. more .inspirational..Are you all without a scintilla of inspiration.. There are ways to inspire inspiration in the indigent mind.. I can think of any.
And again he looked out the window , with that serenity which invoked the most immediate fears..-
An elder senator who had neither thought nor spoken nor taken any initiative for more that four years now raised a feeble hand ..
-Yes..- he regarded the man. What was his name . was he a conspirator. No he was the court bard.
- Yes Sentator . At last we have an idea.. What’s your name again senator.. Yes .. Yes you with the crooked shaky hand .. More like a claw.. Say on.
-I was wondering sir if the Damocles fable might inspire a sobriquet . .. Damocles of course was.
- By Jove ,, yes ! I like that .. Damocles ... Damocles .. Yes I like the sound of it .. .
Turning to the collected Senate he bellowed
-. Say it..now !! Again .. All together !!..
- Democles….!!!!! they said in deafening unison..
- That’s the most work any of you have done .. For..four.. ....What did he do this Democles ..The Emperor now demanded ...
- well sir it was rather more Dionysus I had in mind. - the Bard said patiently.
- what’s wrong with Democles.- The Emperor shouted plaintively.
- well sir - continued the bard ,
--In the legend the real king only allowed Damocles to be king for a day , and Damocles’ getting overly attached to the good wine and song ..
- is there a point to all this . The E|mperor was clearly impatient . His tolerance was minute . And the thing was becoming a bit of a riddle .
-. I rather liked Damocles.
- very well sir .. So It shall be..- the bars sat down and was silent .There was a foreboding silence in the hall . The emperor was puzzled . He had not needed nor heeded to think much for .. Well some time ..and the proposition whatever it was quite perplexed him to the point of annoyance.
- what’s wrong Damocles’ the emperor said in a state of anxiety rising slightly breathless from his throne .. For neither had he exercised too much ..in the past .. Some time.
The old bard stood up again and started his explanation slowly and painfuly.
-Dionysus , he began - had a sword hung above the head of Damocles by a horsehair lest he ever forget who was really king. Upon seeing this Damocles lost all appetite for power. And returned the throne to Dionysus saying he did not wish to be so fortunate as to assume the throne ...
- intriguing .. Dam good story .. Where do you get them.. You must get me these books .. So I see.. Dionysus was the real king.. The other .. Was but a …usurper..;He considered this , and turned to the kneeling body of the assembled senate ..
-And you lot cheering for a usurper.. You are all beneath contempt... ; The emperor's countenance had brightened considerably , and there was much relief in the body of the senate.
-Well done bard of court. You shall be promoted to .. Well something.. Pick some ministry .. Michelo.. Youre out of Culture .. The bard will henceforth over the ministry.
- but I am a humble bard , I know nothing but to make silly stories ..and write long poems. One poem alone has taken me over fours years to write.
- bard- ! I admire you. Come from your knees .- the emperor said and with a renewed vigour he came down from his throne
- From this day forth you shall sit by my right hand side..
Turning to the senate in general , he seethed with brittle contempt.
- you wasters … dismissed .. Arrange the coronation for Saturday.. Bard .. Come .. We must sup wine together ..
The old bard struggled muttering some plaintiff protest as he shuffled up to the throne. H bowed before the emperor . It killed him but dam it he bowed. Better not be killed for not doing so. How ,he had wondered had he got into this charade. Had he been that drunk and for so long.?
- my loyal bard.. Come ; No need for you to curtsey before me ..No No -the Emperor said genially .
- No . you and I are kindred spirits. Come let us be less formal.
They walked the long passage , on deep piled carpet of the finest cashmeres. On the walls were paintings of the emperor in various regal poses. One particularly absurd one caught him in regal stature astride his white steed in front of the battlements , with a lance poised ready to defend the realm.
- oh lord thought the bard . This fool and his fool’s gallery, deliver me from this , and I will drink no more.
They came at last to the open banqueting hall , where there were several servants waiting for to attend the emperor’s pleasure.
- Wine ! - he bellowed and a dozen eunuchs scurried to the cellars , and a maiden with a lyre came to the foot of the throne and started to play..
- you get out !! My bard and I have matters of state to discuss..
The wine was wheeled into the hall in great amphorae decorated with ivory handles. A small mug of each wine was laid on the carrying cart for he emperors pleasure.
- he tasted the first .. Then the second .. The third. But he made no comment . This man of letters shows no fear of me he mused . Maybe because he is so old and so near death . But there was about him a disinterest which in other company the emperor would have deemed insulting and the miscreant would be punished roundly , if not executed for .. Well any thing .. Insubordination , sedition , conspiracy…
- Come let out guest select the wine .
The bard , whose longing for strong drink had surpassed his appetite for urgings of the flesh , drank deep from the first. Then rattled the mug before the servant with a wild petulance.
- more !
The cravings had taken hold within him.
- AH ! - said the emperor, you have fine taste in wine . One of my own favourites- he said wondering where this had come from. Cheap plonk from some ungrateful peasants winery. But the bard liked it .
They drank each dark deeply and the hours passed and the emperor grew more curious and mellow.
- we have not spoken in a long time bard
- never before .- said the bard
- Really ? Never ! Strange ..
- you never asked me to speak before . No , it is not strange , It is forbidden..he said looking sideways aat his Emperor , with an open blandness.
- yes ! Well there’s that... True . there's that - the Emperor said in some confusion
-. But I should have audience with you more frequently.. I find your company convivial.. I am also convivial. You know I too write verse..
The bard regarded him with dim suspicion.
- shall I recite you some of my own verse
- I’d rather not. In my trade people are constantly offering me their verse to read.. And I get melancholy when I read it..
-Oh very well .. Cant have the bard growing melancholy..- The Emperor said not a little miffed .Then;
- tell me more of this Dionysus . You see my court are uneducated men. They have no sense of the high arts.
He paused to better articulate his predicament . He liked the Damocles title, but didn’t quite understand about the other..
- This Dionysus .. ??
- why did he give his kingdom to the Damocles for even an instant , much less a day..?
- it was to show his wisdom.
- oh yes .. I see.. He wanted to show this usurper that he wasn’t regal material ,so to speak.
- No ,
No ..it was for Damocles to show himself that he was not.
- I see said the emperor through the fogged reasoning , which was not hus strongest suit.
- no . you don’t - said the bard simply
- very few do see the wisdom of Dionysus.- the bard continued slowly
- But I do see !!- said the emperor , in an unbecoming petulant whine
-I do .I do .I see all.
-.. When .- the bard continued ignoring the whining interruption..
- When Damocles saw the sword suspended by the horse hair he knew that the smallest deviation from the path of righteousness would mean his instant death….-And therefore he rather settled for the life of the peasant than take the responsibilities of the king. The king wouldn’t take his head. His excesses would be rewarded by fate. Instant decapitation..
He looked with pity on his challenged pupil. Spare me Lord Spare me - he prayed.
- I see now , said the emperor slowly. -Something about this mysticism of this man was unfolding in his head. A terrorsome logic , if it could be true was dawning
They drank some more .The emperor sighed and said at length.
- tell me bard, you are acquainted with other bards in … other kingdoms
- oh yes .. We have a brotherhood.
His worst fears were materialising..
- and if one bard in this say well.. .. This brotherhood.. Well .. Let us say that you had heard of say.. In some remote circumstances .. Well that that bard had given offence to the king and he .. The bard were executed for . Treason.. Or sedition.
- or disrespect, or conspiracy. Or collusion .or illegal congregation yes yes... and all of those.. Yes ! .. Yes in those circumstances the brotherhood would agree that the ultimate option would be exercised..
No . it couldn’t be ,;the emperor had begun to grow distinctly uneasy.
- yes ! There would be no other recourse..
- so they .. The would collude.. The brotherhood..
- they would not need to collude. Each bard writes with his own hand.
- I see and the subject of their barditry` , so to speak , .. Would be the vilification of the king.
- yes the bard continued ;
- the king would be pilloried in verse. There are the three modes; first there is the lampooning , this is followed by the derision.. Always the most popular verses with the masses.. And then there is the Satiric verses ..The whole kingdom would learn by heart the verses…
-They would learn them by heart…- The Emperor with growing concern
- Indeed .. It is rarely a necessary tactic .. But one never knows..
- one never does- said the emperor slowly , then turning his head sideways at the bard , like a turtle trapped on the sand.The bard raised his tankard.
- to the brotherhood ..
-oh .. Yes.. Indeed .. The brotherhood…- he hesitated as he felt the stark sword of bard hoisted above his head by the slenderest horsehair.
- to the brotherhood - the bard said again , this time in clear anticipation of a more enthusiastic response .
- to the brotherhood Indeed !! The Brotherhood !! He said as an exclamation to every hall and corridor of the great palace .
-.. Tell me bard .. Were the brotherhood always .. What shall I say .. Wise.. No judicious .. .. Prudent .. in their verse .. so to speak .. as it were ??
- A bard is only wise - He alone knows only wisdom !! Never ! - the bard thundered
- He would not be a bard were he not wise .. it would be an oxymoron..Simply an oxymoron..- Never ! Has a bard invoked his verse in wrath ..unless it was warranted .. Say for example , on the occasion of the execution of a fellow bard .. Never ..! It is the bardic tradition., to digress from such a tradition would be a betrayal of the bardic traditon.-
Of Course.. of course - the Emperor said timidly. Whatever this 'oxymoron ' was he saw with an ever decending gloom , his own subservience to this wild mystic of the forrest.
They drank the health of the Brotherhood od bards many times.
And each eunoch and unmolested virgin peeped out from the shadows and wondered .
They had much to wonder about . Why, they hadn’t really wondered so much in four full years.