mission to the interior

From the gigantic bronze bell at the top of the hundred foot tower boomed eleven monstrous tolls, deep and sonorous, marking the commencement of Elevenses, the time when Imperior Holocaustic III would hear the beseechings and complaints of plaintiffs from across the Land.

Into the Great Hall of our Fourmothers warily trudged the little people, each wondering whether today would be the day when zer Plaint would be heard. Perched precariously upon the highest seat of the Throne of Foreboding, the Imperior Holocaustic III heaved a weary sigh, yawned and scratched his groin simultaneously. “’S'truth, how I hate Elevenses,” he muttered wearily in the general (downward) direction of Hobartion, the evil Grand Vizier, who slunk menacingly at the foot of the Throne twirling his flamboyant eyebrows as he was wont to do.

Hobartion did not respond immediately. It took time to interpret Holocaustic’s disgruntled mutterings, which often bordered on the inaudible. Which was hardly surprising considering the height of the Throne (nine cubits) and the fact that the Imperior’s voice was no louder than the faint scratching of rats in an attic. Which in turn was hardly surprising considering that his larynx had been partially torn out at age nine by the High Priest during his, Holocaustic’s, Investiture.

“Nevertheless, your Orotunditude,” intoned Hobartion upwardly, ”of the nine hundred and ninety nine rituals and appeasements, Elevenses may least of all be dismissed without performance. The peons must be heard. As it is written, so shall it be…”

Horation beckoned for the guards to allow the first Plaintiff to approach.

She was a young woman who could have been described as beautiful had it not been for her wounds, bruised flesh, torn and ragged clothing, grime-streaked hair, wild eyes. Her Plaint concerned the depredations of the Barbarian hordes that had overrun the province (the Rind) in which her meagre village squatted.

Some fourteen terrifying months previously, she had escaped from a Barbarian POW camp, and had made her epic way to the Capital---hiding in bushes, travelling at night, exchanging her flesh for food. Her name was Clothilde, she of the Gift of the Tongue, and her Plaint concerned the Barbarians.

“None may stand before them, Greatness,” she wailed into the microphone, “they are too many, too fierce. Not even the armies of the Rind could subdue them. All is lost. No armies would be large enough to fight them. They are too fierce, too cruel. And they have powerful magic. ‘Tis said they have stolen the Scroll of Cthulu!”

Holocaustic sat up and started paying attention. If true, this would indeed be serious news. But before he could interrogate the girl further, Horation had motioned her to leave.

The next Plaintiff was a merchant complaining about the impact of the Barbarian invasion on the wholesale price of cotton. “A mountebank from the interior, Greatness, has spoken of the nose aprons these hideous fiends wear in polite company to prevent lice escaping from their moustaches. The net effect, Greatness, is that there is not a boll to be had, nary a bale nor a boll…. I’m ruined, Greatness, ruined…”

Next was a Priest who had envisioned in a dream the taking of the Scroll of Cthulu from the ancient underground tomb in Marth. “This is not good, Greatness,” quoth the Priest, “ not good at all. It bodes badly for us all. In the hands of Hausmarten, the Barbarian Chief, the Scroll will be the undoing of the World.

The final Plaintiff, a sad-eyed smiling man of around fifty summers, shuffled toward the Spot of Obeisance, where, upon reaching it, he struggled manfully through the required abasements. Then, speaking into the microphone, he humbly laid his Plaint before the Imperior:

“Many things are wrong, Highness, something must be done, else we shall all perish…”

Horation the Grand Vizier recorded the Sad-eyed Smiling Man’s Plaint in the Book of Plaints and raised his hand to indicate the allotted time was up. The Sad-eyed Smiling Man began to walk toward the exit reserved for those who had been heard.

And when the Great Hall of our Fourmothers had been emptied of peons, and the Great Bell of the Law had tolled the end of Elevenses, the Imperior Holocaustic III clambered down the Throne of Foreboding and waddled with a heavy heart to the Antechamber of Administrative Invigilation, followed closely behind by Horation, the evil Grand Vizier.

“Well, Horation, ‘tis a rum, rum thing all round…” said Holocaustic, sitting his well-rounded buttocks upon the Stool of Power behind the Desk of Decision-making.

“Indeed, your Steatopygousness,” responded the Grand Vizier unctuously, slinking evilly as he placed the Book of Plaints upon the Desk, turning it so that the writing was rightside up for Holocaustic’s perusal.

“I do wish you’d stop that evil slinking,” muttered Holocaustic, perusing the Plaints “’tis most irritating. And do something about those eyebrows, they’re far too flamboyant.”

Ten minutes later Holocaustic raised his piggy little eyes up from the Book of Plaints, and frowningly enquired of the Grand Vizier: “What’s to be done, Horation? Apply thy gruesome mind to this nest of predicaments, and be quick about it…”

“There would seem, your Opulence, to be but one way out of this thicket of thorns incircling the Imperium,” mused the Grand Vizier. “Of course the risks are great and the likelihood of success remote, but if it ‘twere done, ‘twould glorify thy name forevermore, if it ‘twere to be pulled off, that is, ‘twill require much fortitude, of course… and a cunning plan…”

“Spit it out man! Cease thy mendacious musings, desist with thy twere-ing and twilling and twirling!”

“Of course, Greatness, ‘twonce,” snarled Horation softly, “We must recover the Scroll of Cthulu from the Barbarians, and return it to the Tomb of the Old Ones, from whence it was taken.”

“But how?” enquired the Imperior despondently, “all is lost, remember, the Scroll is taken, the canaries are dying, there’s not a boll to be found. How would we pull it off?”

“We must mount a mission to the interior,” replied the Grand Vizier nonplussedly.

“But who?” wailed the Imperior owlishly, “to whit to whom would we entrust such a ridiculous endeavour? Our armies are in dissarray, mutiny infects the barracks, tush!”

“Not an army, Your Amplitudinitude, a small group of intrepid infiltrators, determined but invisible, unreliable but greedy, bizarre but unheard of…”

Holocaustic snorted derisively. ”But why would they do it? They’d have to have rocks in their heads to take on Hausmarten and his Horde of Bruised Thigh Running Dogs!”

“Yes, and I know just such an inchoate throng,” replied Horation enigmatically, “the Outcast Mutant Outlaws!”

The decision was made, and duly recorded in the right hand column of the Book of Plaints. As it was written, so shall it be.

Copyright © S R Schwarz 2007. All rights reserved.

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