[A Kingdom Story]
“We’ve never worked as hard as this, Your Majesty. Teaching has never been a burden, but in the new institutions, well, some of the children are little monsters, and your advisor, Ser Millie, says that we are not allowed to beat them if they are naughty.” Said the new Head of the Teacher’s Guild. The guild had formed in the past month in response to the rules Millie had imposed and hours of work. The King was looking morose at this, fourth representation from guilds this morning about how hard their lives were under the new regime.
Except for the Butchers, Grocers and Farmers. They all seemed to be enjoying a moment of slight wealth as their patrons found they could afford food and drink in reasonable amounts.
In the last six months, Millie had bought up properties entirely on the waterfront and seemed to be working away at a sizable portion of the rest of the city. The population was beginning to look upon her as some sort of folk hero as she lowered rents and improved living conditions. Houses were painted brightly, and waste was disposed of in buckets instead of the street. She was clearly undertaking a vision of her own, and the King was very glad that it was so closely aligned with what he had in mind, in general. What he hadn’t expected was for her to have such an eye for detail or such energy.
Even the treasury was doing alright as she brought the spare revenue from the properties under the aegis of the Crown, and now the Crown itself had many workers; Carpenters, Builders, Roofers, Plasters and Painters, all working towards the upkeep of the buildings that were in their care. The King was beginning to wonder who the true Monarch was here.
It seemed as if, with her mother cured, her mind was free to invent and roam and think about big pictures and small details in equal measure. And in this light, she’d gone to visit the Dwarves in their distant caves, miners and mineralogists and metallurgists. She’d drawn great diagrams of vaults under the city, and he’d asked naively if the citizenry were to live in these clean precise caves. It had only come as a small surprise when she said what was going down there, he’d half expected it.
But when he’d said he go along with her, she’s said, quite firmly,
“No Your Majesty, I need to you here. I don’t need your retinue and the pomp and circumstance. I just need the power to negotiate.”
“Alright,” he’d said, mildly. “You’ve got it, but…”
“No,” She interrupted, “they’ll see me as a little girl. Everyone does at first. I need Marjorie.” She thought about this for a second. “Excuse me, Queen Marjorie.” The King blinked at her for a second and then seemed to break out of some kind of reverie.
“Alright, I’ll ask her to…” Millie waved a hand in the air.
“I’ve already asked her, Your Majesty.” Millie drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. “She already said yes.”
And that is how the King ended up with the Guild of Teachers complaining about their terrible workload of four hours and some prep time a day, five days a week. And no Millie to slap them down. Oh well, it was up to him.
“Sir, my treasury is not paying you on a per-child basis, no matter what representations you might make, you’re already paid a very generous stipend as I understand it, twice the current mean salary for the city.” The King shuffled through papers. “And six weeks holiday per year. Better than most of the populace.”
“But My King, you must understand, the extra stress, the time, the marking…”
“Four hours teaching per day, five days per week with generous holidays? I think the extra stress has been accounted for, don’t you?” The Head tried the tack he always tried at this point, it hadn’t worked so far, but he was hoping to wear the King down a bit.
“Well you know these conditions were set by a slip of a girl…” he began.
“I’ve been giving her sword lessons, Sir, I think you’ll find that she’s less of a ‘slip of a girl’ and more the Knight my wife invested her, as you’ll find out to your cost should you use that phrase in front of her.”
“As you say, My King, nevertheless…” The King cut him off again.
“Nevertheless, I’ll report your dissatisfactions to her on her return.”
“Oh well, there’s no need to…” A stony look was on the King’s face, so the Head tried another tack. “May I ask where she has gone, Your Majesty?” The King’s patience was used up, however, so he was curt in his reply.
“No, you may not, it is the business of the Crown. You’re dismissed.” And he stood up and leant on the massive sword he’d taken to keep by the throne again. He hadn’t swung it at anyone in a year, but it did service to intimidate the more aggressive and persistent subjects when they were a pain. The man before him left with as much dignity as he could muster.
These days, well, these days were a lot more like these days; paperwork and plans and representations and book-keeping. These days he had no enemies. Couldn’t go out on the battlefield where everything was clear cut; he could see the enemy, because there was one, and cut them down, kill or be killed. Simple and clean. Well, not clean exactly, but simple.
And now here he was an, an administrator dealing with little things for little people. His mind stretched back to his father, long dead in the wars, but before that a calm and peaceful man.
“Remember Son,” he’d said. “All this will be yours one day, and you’ll have to look after these people. Maybe one day we won’t be a poor Baron and his Son, and the serfs won’t dress in rags and live in squalor.”
“Why do they do that, Poppa?” His father looked down at him.
“Because we’re a noble family, but poor, son. We can’t afford to feed and clothe the serfs.”
But the King knew now and had then that servitude was the bigger problem. The peasants and the serfs depended on the lords because that’s how they were brought up, never to expect anything better, never to be industrious for themselves, because they were the property of someone else. He thought of his father as a kind man; but he thought about how there was always meat at table, how the plates were beaten from silver and how his father had never, ever, used a fork, and had thrown great hunk of meat that would a family of five for a week down for the dogs to chew on. He thought about that, and how his father, who was a good man in his son’s eyes, fell short of being great, because of how he was raised, and what his expectations were.
And the future King promised himself that he would end these ways, and find those who would help him end them, for the benefit of all, so that no one had to live in squalor anymore.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Interrupted Granny, suddenly. The King jumped in his chair, well, throne. She was looking somehow more refined than when he had last seen her. Her dress was still voluminous, but now shiny, and clean. She had a large bag with her, but it appeared organised, with little compartments inside and out. He rose from the throne. “Now, now, don’t make a fuss over an old woman…” began Granny, but he bought her into a huge bear hug and kissed her on the head several times before she fought him off. “Get off you great oaf!” But she was smiling as she said it.
“Come and have a cup of tea,” he said.
“Well then, the magic words.” She cackled, “Go on then.” And she took his arm as he escorted her to the other end of the great room, where the constantly near-boiling kettle was on the huge fire, and by some ordinary magic, Carruthers was there, preparing the tea and some biscuits.
They sat in silence for a few moments drinking the hot tea. As was the continuing habit now, Carruthers joined them, and a note-taker, Patrice sat as well, nibbling a biscuit while she waited for any significant talk.
“Got a retinew now I see.” Said Granny. “Hangin’ on yer every word are they?”
“Ah well, now I have a note-taker so I don’t forget things, and so there’s a record of what was decided. Future rulers can learn from my mistakes.” Replied the King, modestly.
“Der yer think that’s likely?” Granny fixed him with a one-eyed, glare as she sipped her tea again.
“I think so. I think so,” he replied.
“Bit optimistic ain’t yer?” Said Granny tonging many sugar lumps into her tea. The King noticed that she didn’t bother wrapping any up. “Building a Dynasty are yer?”
“No, nothing like that. But I don’t have to stand for election either, so I can select my successor.” The King somehow managed to look shifty here, and Granny caught this easily.
“What are you planning?” She said, mustering as much suspicion into her voice as she could manage, which was a lot. “What are you up to? I thought inheritance, er, primogeniture.” She reached for a biscuit, primly taking just one and nibbling at it for a moment.
“Are you wanting for anything Granny?” Said the King, changing the subject, he hoped. Granny’s face brightened.
“No, I ain’t got any needs, thanks to you. I should be grateful I guess, and I am, on behalf of all the witches. Got the respect now. Got some status.” She nibbled her biscuit again. “Got a new title too. Midwives. Got a school, too, ‘specially for us. I’m the head lecturer.” She looked proud and defiant.
“I’m pleased.” The King paused. “Wait, do you mean that shack at the end of Phedre Street? That’s not a school, that’s a, a…” He looked down, a bit shamefaced, “…a dump.”
“Don’t get out much do yer?” Said Granny, a big grin on her face. “People still got money to be payin’ for keepin’ ’emselves alive, so’s we got volunteers doin’ the work for us, and very kind they bin too.” She sipped her tea again. “Sorry, slipped into a bit of vernacular there. point is, we’re doing alright because the community comes together when we save a baby or two when they might not ‘o made it. Talkin’ o’ which, when are you goin’ to chase around that wife o’ yours and get a baby on up there?” Carruthers coughed into his tea so violently that he had to mop himself down, and Patrice blushed bright red, but wrote down Granny’s enquiry, in less, blunt, language.
“Whats I mean to say is, when are you going to do your patriotic duty and make sure the Queen is with child?” Said Granny innocently. “Her mother is well enough to be concerned now, and so am I.”
“Well,” began the King, “the thing is that she’s away with Millie and they’ve been rather busy. This undertaking, it’s time-consuming.”
“I know what you’re doing boy, I got eyes. When are you going to get my granddaughter a baby?” The King looked about a bit helplessly, and then let some guile enter his soul.
“I understand that Doctor Cervantes is staying at your house?” He said, trying to divert Granny.
“What of it? What business is it of yourn?” She said abruptly, upsetting her teacup. “Drat.” She set it down. “He’s been useful and cleaned up nicely.” She looked up from sponging herself off with a hankie, “What I means is, the man has made himself presentable instead of being a walking holly bush.” The King smiled.
“I’m sure.” He drawled.
“I knows what you’re implying! I’m too old for any of that!” She napped again, but somehow her face looked a little softer. She shook it off. “I know what you’re doing! you can’t fool me, you whippersnapper! When are you going to have a child?”
“It doesn’t matter Granny, I’ve got someone else in mind to sit on the throne next. Being my child doesn’t guarantee being a good ruler, no matter how I raise them, so I need someone with the same vision.” Granny raised her eyebrow.
The Slip and the Queen approached the large cave, arched over at the entrance with Dwarf runes and foreboding signs, though some of them were sheely practical, such as “Don’t enter without adequate light.” and “Risk of rockfall in unbuttressed areas.” Sir Millie had chosen a practical sword slung on her back for the journey, over a practical green leather tunic and thick knitted leggings covered with fairly hefty armour on her shins and lower thighs. The glint of chainmail poked from under the tunic at the bottom. Her hair was tied back in a plait, and the overall effect was of a woman as stripped for action as possible.
The Queen, Marjorie, had chosen a similar effect in brown. They resemble nothing so much as sisters on a very serious adventure. The months they had walked and sparred had honed them both into a very lean and muscled condition. They walked in step, wary and alert.
“Ho!” A deep voice called. “Well met.” The figure was short, inevitably, and broad, heavily armoured with layers of mail and overlapping plate with padding in-between. He sported a huge red beard and thick helmet, and the impression the women had was of a metal house walking towards them. He had wraparound sunglasses on as well. They looked absolutely black, and the women would find out later that they were impervious to their own vision. The Dwarf seemed to see clearly though. “Queen Marjorie and Sir Millie, I understand?”
“You have us at an advantage, Sir.” Said the Queen.
“Oh, you’re right. I’m King Rolf. Though in our language that’s more like, ‘Supervising Mining Engineer’. Welcome.”
Published January 2022