A very cruddy fable, Part 18: An unhealthy state of affairs
Alas and alack, the nation is ailing. There is a pox on the body politic and it has affected all and sundry with its malodorous malevolence. As the common folk watch on in mystified awe and apprehension they are presented with daily evidence that the gladiators who inhabit the Steel Cage have lost their stomach for no-holds-barred fighting. Yet the casualty rate has risen to astonishing levels. What is truly inexplicable is that the town criers yell from every corner that most of those who are ailing have suffered wounds that appear almost universally to have been self-inflicted. The question on everybody’s lips is: how can this have happened for truly this epidemic of self-harm is without precedent.
The Fabian foot soldiers are openly asking why they should continue to support the Emperor. Their point is valid – he looks passing strange without any clothes – and the word out of the Kirribilli palace is that he stripped himself naked. Whispers from the eunuchs have it that the Emperor did not want to be burdened by yesterday’s fashions and, so, cast aside his wardrobe proclaiming he is not interested in merely looking good. It is said that he has been heard wailing in his boudoir that the warming is no longer working. Impertinent wretches have been heard to mutter that perhaps it was because he shed his mantle of Mother Nature’s Staunch Protector that he is now feeling the chill. Other rumours have it that the Emperor restlessly wanders the catacombs beneath the palace vainly seeking a way out but is unable to do so because he has lost his moral compass.
Meantime, word has filtered through from the interior that a great war is now raging with the Miners who took-up arms after the Emperor decreed that they must tithe all but one–tenth of their profits for the common wealth or face the wrath of the peasants. The barbarian miners slew the Emperor’s messengers and sent their heads back to Kevvieberra impaled on sticks. “If it is war you want, then send forth your best legions and we will engage them unto the death,” was their defiant battle cry. Speculation abounded that the Emperor might sue for peace but palace insiders say talks would only ever be a stalling tactic to allow the Emperor time to swell the ranks of his supporters. Indeed, it is said that 38 and a half bags of gold have been despatched far and wide to send the message that the Emperor still rules by the authority of Divine Right and that he has a hearty hunger for war. Accusing the Miners of starving the peasants by their greed, he has demanded they pay tribute and bow down before him.
For their part, the Miners have been distributing their own purses filled with gold coinage in a bid to bolster their dusty legions. This led the Emperor to decree that the Pretender to the Throne, the dreaded papist Monsignor Antony, was in thrall to the barbarians and that he was actually the love child of one Clive the Cane Toad. Any genetic similarities were not immediately apparent but there has been much tittering as to who the mother might have been. The Virgin Mary was mentioned in despatches but her present whereabouts remain unknown so the conjecture must remain as such.
Mary Magdagillard was another suspect but her supporters swear she is more pure even than her namesake and that she has been falsely accused of distributing her favours freely. Many big builders have been mentioned in the same breath given Ms Magdagillard has been their benefactor non-pareil. Her revolution has seen them rewarded handsomely, not just by the laying-on of hands, but through the process of project fees which are said to rival a king’s ransom. Commoners complain that the shacks the builders have been providing do not match Mary’s promises and that some are so small as to make an outhouse seem commodious. Ever more strident calls for Mary to stop distributing her largesse far and wide with scant regard for quality outcomes have been met with disdain. This is the magic pudding, she assures all naysayers. Get yourself a taste and you’ll never go hungry again.
Meantime, the Lollipops lick their wounds, too. Monsignor Antony continues his penance for having declared openly that he is a part-time purveyor of untruths. It is understood his confessional penance of two million Hail Marys and one million Our Fathers was imposed not because of his sins – who, after all, expects better from a practitioner of the political arts? – but because, in the same breath, he asked the common folk to trust him. While even this was deemed a bold move and not in the category of a sin, the penance was imposed for foolishness. The Church, well-versed in such affairs, decrees that leaders must never make admissions that could weaken their standing, even if guilty of the most horrendous sins. Man up, Antony! came the chorus. Your purpose in life is to lead the lost tribes out of the wilderness so buck up, buddy, and get the hell on with it.
And in despatches just reaching the eastern shores, the Miners are said to have laid siege to Kevvieberra and dug in for a sustained campaign. Some mines have already been mothballed to allow heavy equipment to be brought in, the better to lob nasty things at the Emperor and his palace guard. As winter imposes its icy grip on the nation’s capital it appears the trading of furious insults and the lobbing of occasional vats of hot oil will be the only things keeping people warm for the next few months. Still, word has come from over the seas that the greatest warrior in the world – yes, The Blackfella himself – has forged a pact to come visit and scare the bejezus out of everyone who dares oppose the Emperor. Will his reinforcements be enough for the Spring campaign? The common folk, as always, are left to decide: will we sit on the sidelines or get down in the trenches? They ponder as they squirm uncomfortably between a rock and a hard place.