Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Good Rhymes of Tumbleby

There are many ways to upset a king, and King Tumble was no exception.  He felt his mood to be most upset indeed as he lifted the lid upon the latest fairy mischief and found a thin crust of bread served for that day’s lunch.  A Chief Adviser sat on either side of the throne, their hungry eyes upon the crust as though it was a slice of pie, and their plates already raised as the king cut the bread into three even pieces.
The king gave a piece of crust to each man; the jolly, round gaoler swallowed his crust in one, and the thin, Royal Bard pursed his lips and nibbled daintily at his own.  Only the king had a knife and fork; these he used with the greatest of care, carving his bread and chewing slowly on each morsel.  When he was done he returned the knife and fork to his breast pocket before hiding the plates within his coat.
            “This cannot continue,” the king said, addressing the bard; the man returned his look from behind the pince-nez that pinched his nose.
            “I agree, your Highness.”
            “The royal plate has not been so empty in many years.”
            “Nor the royal stomach,” joined the gaoler.
            “Then you must make a law,” said the bard, “that the royal bread must be fresh and thickly sliced.  And served with butter.”
            “And honey”, offered the gaoler.
            “Agreed”, responded the king, who had no care for honey, and was content indeed to have nothing but butter upon the royal slice of bread.
            “I will write out the order this day.”
            “In ink”, the bard continued, pleased that his advice had been so well received.
            “In ink.”
And yet, though the king emphasised the words as he agreed, and though, as a wise man, he knew that ink was the best way to prevent fairies from rubbing out what he had written, it was a pencil that he took from his pocket to begin his work.
            “You said ink, your Highness”, the bard repeated, clearing his throat as though he had a cough.
            “Yet, you have a pencil in your hand, your Highness.”
At this second ‘indeed’ the king removed the empty royal purse from the pocket where the knife and fork were hid.  He shook it once for his own attention; then he held it out for his advisers to see.
            “It is a matter of coins, Bard”, he explained, addressing this adviser once more; “ink costs coins, and the royal mint will give me no coins until I pay the royal bill.  So it is no coins that I have.”
The king lifted the pencil when he had said these words; he scowled at the device as though it was unworthy of his hands.
            “A pencil it will be then,” he concluded.
            “Have you tried the lining, your Royalness?” piped the gaoler; “I knew a man once, had so many coins hidden in the lining of his coat, that you could hear the coat rattle from Tumbletown to Tumblet.”
Though the king’s purse was perfectly silent, this suggestion was immediately welcomed.  He smiled as he gave the purse a last, hopeful shake; then he handed it over to the gaoler.  The gaoler too shook the purse, holding it close to his ear.  When nothing was revealed he turned it outside in and inside out, studying its emptiness until no further thought presented itself.  Then he passed the purse to the bard.
The bard was by far the wisest of advisers in the whole of the land.  He had watched the gaoler poke and prod the lining of the purse until it was clear that nothing could be found in that way; and so, holding the purse towards the light of the tall, royal window, he focused his sharp eyes upon the different shadows formed between the joins of the material.  This study convinced him that the purse was empty.
            “Empty,” he announced, returning the purse to the king.
            “Indeed, Bard.”
This disappointment, though it might have been expected, put the king out of sorts once more.
            “I am not a man”, the king continued, taking control of his upset, “who is unable to tell the emptiness of his own purse.”
            “No, your Highness,” the others agreed.
            “And so I declare this purse to be empty.  And I shall write my laws in pencil.”
            “You’re right, your Royalness,” said the gaoler.
The bard said nothing at first, his eyes upon the royal hand as it formed each letter with the greatest of care.  When it paused, hesitating over the spelling of a difficult word, then moving quickly to insert an ‘a’ to make ‘bread’, the wise adviser had a further thought.
            “Your Highness!”
            “Yes, Bard; though you can see that I am working.”
            “Yes, your Highness; but I have a new idea.”
            “Indeed.  Continue Bard.”
            “You have, your Highness, a knife and fork in your breast pocket.”
            “Yes, Bard.”
            “I say you take the knife and fork to the market in Tumbletown.  There you will get a good price; the knife and fork are indeed much favoured by the king.  You can buy some ink with the coins you receive.”
            “Indeed, Bard”, agreed the king.
But the king did not remove the knife and fork from his pocket as he had the purse.  So many knives and forks had run away with dishes once the spoons were all gone that the king found his cupboards quite bare.  The cutlery, as with the plates within his coat, were the last such in the whole of the castle, so the king had no thought to sell them
            “And what of the royal guests, Bard?”
            “Your Highness?”
            “I will not have it said by royal guests that in the Castle of Tumbleby we eat with our fingers.”
The bard and the gaoler who had not only eaten with their fingers, but had eaten so little that they wondered why any royal guest might choose to call, said nothing to this; they could see that the royal mind was decided in the matter, and would not consider it further.
            “Then”, said the gaoler, chuckling at the sudden wisdom of his thoughts; “your subjects must be good.  If they were a little better in their ways we would have no need for so many laws upon the castle walls.”
            “I agree,” responded the king, delighted with this advice; “this is the wisest of advice I have had all day.  And I shall take it.  From this day forth the subjects of Tumbleby will be good.  And no new laws will need to be written, in pencil or ink.  What say you, Bard?”
            “I say that you are both right”, the bard responded after a deliberate pause; “if the subjects were good there would be no need for laws.”
            “But there are so many laws hanging upon the castle walls, your Highness, that we must conclude that the subjects are not good.”
            “And so long as the laws are written in pencil, the fairies will be able to rub them out, or jumble them up as they wish. And we will be left to eat crusts.”
            “We need a better plan, your Highness, if we are to eat, and to have good subjects in your kingdom.”
The king, forced to accept the wickedness of the land, picked up his pencil again, and began, despite the bard’s words, to form the letters of the word ‘butter’, a wishful smile appearing upon his face.  The bard too smiled at the thought of food, and the gaoler, his stomach rumbling noisily, watched on.  All hoped that somehow the new decree might work.
            “I have it,” the king said, jumping up as he finished his writing; “I will ask the goblin.”
            “Your Highness?”
            “The subjects are naughty.”
“Yes, your Highness,”
“And the goblin reads naughty rhymes each day upon the steps of Tumblehall in Tumbletown.”
“Yes, your Highness.”
“So I shall ask him to read some good rhymes.”
            “And your subjects will be good.” the bard answered.
            “Yes, Bard.”
            “Or you could throw him in gaol,” offered the gaoler.
            “For reading naughty rhymes.”
            “They do make me laugh,” the king defended.
            “But they are naughty, your Highness”.
            “I see, Gaoler.”
            “And they give wicked thoughts to your subjects.”
            “And with the goblin in gaol I could write good rhymes”, the bard encouraged; “I know some already.”
            “Continue, Bard.”
            “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.  Humpty Dumpty let out a great call.  ‘All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, can stay at home, ‘cause I’m well again.”
This rhyme was so good that none of the men showed any reaction at all.  The bard, encouraged by this response, continued.
            “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.  The fairies were a lot of help, and went to bed straight after.”
The thought of sleeping fairies was enough for the king.  King Tumble, already standing, jumped where he stood.  Then he straightened his proclamation, ordered that it should be hung high on the castle wall and sent the gaoler to arrest the goblin of Tumbletown.  Then he took his rest before the fire as the bard composed.  The king dreamed of a land with bread and butter, where fairies slept and young ladies could sit upon tuffets without any fear of spiders.

©2011 Padraig De Brún

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