New Zephyria
by Robin Gordon

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"

-  Auksford  -

Part II: The Royal Wedding

Chapter 5: Boris the Bear

Copyright Robin Gordon, 1996/2004

"Most potent of kings! Most excellent of monarchs! Revered ally of my most puissant, just and clement father, the Emperor of Borania!" bellowed Prince Boris. "I embrace you in filial love and in token of fraternal greetings! I kiss your royal feet, and, on behalf of my august father - may he live forever - throw my arms around your neck and kiss you on both your cheeks! I hug you to my heart! Our hearts beat as one! Our peoples are brothers and sisters! Let us never be parted from one another!"

"Ahem, yes ... Quite. We ... ahem ... OOF!"

The rest of King Arthur's speech was drowned in the Bear's hug.

"Our royal father," proclaimed Prince Boris, "the beloved father of all the peoples of Borania, will be overjoyed if you permit him to demonstrate before all the world the high regard in which he holds you, Uncle - I may call you "Uncle", may I not?"

"Er ... yes ... OOF!"

Again a massive bear-hug crushed the King's breath from him.

"My most noble and merciful father, the Emperor of Borania - may he live forever - regrets most sincerely that pressing business in the northernmost reaches of his mighty dominions prevents him from attending Prince Egbert's wedding in person," continued Prince Boris. He did not think it worth mentioning that the Emperor's urgent business included the extermination of several thousand peasants, a traditional Boranian custom designed to remind the survivors of their duty to love and obey their imperial overlord.

"To show you his regard he has sent in his stead ME, his first-born son, the heir to the mighty Boranian Empire, to bring you such a gift as might be dreamed of only by the tellers of fairy tales. I bring you a suit! A wedding suit! Yes! A wedding suit fit for the Prince of New Zephyria! And made of SUCH cloth! Not even my imperial father - may he live forever - not even HE possesses a suit of such cloth!

"It was woven in the mountain fastness of central Borania by weavers enchanted by the Lezhki, the Boranian fairy folk. Under this enchantment they perform a year's work in one night, then fall dead at their looms as the sun rises. - If only we had the secret, how our people would work! - All day the cloth lies in the sunshine, then, as darkness falls, the boggarts come and take it away to their hidden realms. But once! ONCE, I say, WE got there first. One bolt of the cloth is ours! The only one in human hands! - And THIS our most generous father has sent to YOU, Uncle, as a gift for the wedding of your son, my cousin, Prince Egbert.

"I see already his royal limbs encased in its beauty. All eyes will be drawn to him! The finest tailors in all of Borania are here with me - measuring tapes at the ready, needles and fairy thread to hand. What say you, Uncle? Will you see the cloth?"

"Er ... yes," said the King, moving hastily behind his throne to avoid being hugged again. But Prince Boris was otherwise engaged. Clapping his hands loudly he began to shout at his retinue. Any self-respecting New Zephyrian would have downed tools and gone on strike at once, but the Boranians seemed used to this treatment. Swiftly they unrolled a costly Argestian carpet over the floor. On it they spread a sheet of the finest Skironian silk, and on the silk they placed a golden casket.

"How glad I am," roared Prince Boris, "that you have accepted my imperial father's gift and set your seal on the friendship he offers. I think back with sadness to the fate of those countries that spurned the gifts we offered them. Their kings lie tumbled in the dust, their royal houses scattered, their princes working as tram-drivers, their queens as washerwomen, their peoples enslaved, their names forgotten. But ... I will not be sad on such a joyous occasion. If I drop this quiet tear in memory of forgotten princes, you must remember that we Boranians, above all other peoples, have deep and emotional souls. We weep at times of joy because we see beyond the surface pleasure to the immense sadness of the world. But now I will forget my soul, for you have accepted our gift! All thoughts of grief and the destruction of war I put aside. Let joy reign unconfined - for we Boranians, in the depth of our soul, are capable of greater joy than all others. Let joy reign unconfined, I say! BEHOLD THE CLOTH!"

As he spoke, two richly dressed courtiers, who, by the golden scissors they wore at their belts, must have been Imperial Boranian tailors, threw open wide the lid of the casket, bent over it, then straightened once more, holding in their arms for all to see ... nothing!

"Hrrgh?" said King Arthur.

"I perceive by your astonishment," announced Prince Boris, "that you are overcome by wonderment and awe. How could any mere humans, even Boranians enchanted by the Lezhki, produce such delicate tracery? By my Boranian soul, I have to turn away and weep at the sight of it!"

Here Prince Boris buried his face in his hands and swept his cloak over his head. He stood in silence for a moment or two, save for a few muffled sobs - though the eyes of the Lezhki or any other fairy folk able to see through his cloak would have seen that the deep emotion of his soul expressed itself in something more like laughter than tears. Still, who are we to criticize the Boranians? The depth of their soul makes them weep in the midst of joy, why should they not mingle laughter and tears in the contemplation of beauty?

"There may be some here," said Prince Boris huskily, "who are blind to this magnificence. I pray that there are not, for it is said that no man or woman who is unfit for the place he or she holds in society can see the fairy cloth. What it is they see, I do not know. Some say it appears as coarse sacking, others as spiders' webs, and still others say it cannot be seen at all. I pity those who cannot see this beauty, but I am curious. If there is anyone here who cannot see these delicate, rainbow hues, these golden stars patterned upon an ever-changing, iridescent background, whose beauty makes me weep when I view it - if there is anyone here who cannot see it, then let him speak and tell me what it is he sees!"

Prince Boris glared around him fiercely, then stared hard at King Arthur.

"Ahem ... er ...," muttered the unhappy monarch. "Er ... yes ... it is ... um ... quite the most ... remarkable ... er ... isn't it?"

"Oh yes indeed, Your Majesty!" cried all those present.

"Absolutely ... er ... beautiful," said the Prime Minister.

"GOOD!" roared Prince Boris, beaming with delight. "It will give my august father - may he live forever - immense pleasure to see Prince Egbert of New Zephyria wearing our Boranian gift as he walks in procession to the cathedral!"

He bowed. His retinue bowed. The casket was closed, the silk folded, the carpet rolled. The Boranians bowed again, then they were gone.

"Dished!" muttered the King. "Gulled, ensnared, caught hook, line and sinker!"

The prime Minister and the rest of the Government took their leave.

"About this cloth ..." the King began.

"Beautiful-Your-Majesty-quite-beautiful," gabbled the Prime Minister, backing hastily towards the door; and before the King could say any more than "But ..." he had disappeared.

"You don't suppose the old goat could actually see anythin', do you, Liz," the King asked the Queen.

"Now Arthur, don't you start pretending that the stuff exists," snapped the Queen. "We're in enough trouble already."

* * * * *

"I see," said Oliver Simpkin coldly. "Well I can't think of any way out of it. If Prince Egbert wears the non-existent suit he'll be a laughing stock, and if he doesn't the Boranians will claim we've insulted them and invade. Which is the lesser of the two evils?"

"Well," said the King, "if the Boranians invade, we're done for, so he'll have to wear the bally thing. I suppose there's a chance he may live it down."

"A slight chance, Your Majesty," replied Oliver Simpkin. "The Republican movement will make as much of it as they can - and you know that some of them are in the pay of the Boranians. But you are right. It is the lesser of the two evils - even if it does mean falling out with Old Zephyria."

"The deuce it does!" said the King. "What on earth has it got to do with Old Zephyria?"

"I imagine Your Majesty has forgotten our ancient New Zephyrian tradition that the best man has to dress exactly like the groom. I don't imagine Queen Edna is going to be pleased if Prince Bruce has to parade through the town in his shirt and underpants."

"But ... pah ... er... pshaw ..." stuttered the King. "Then we'll have to refuse the Emperor's gift."

"And fight the Boranians?"

"Oh. Um ... no. Can't we change the tradition."

"Change a tradition that goes back in unbroken line for a thousand years?" said the Queen. "A tradition that goes back to the marriage of Prince Theowulf to the Sea King's daughter, Moana? You can't do it, Arthur!"

"There would be objections," said Oliver Simpkin. "The Sea People would be absolutely incensed. Your Majesty will just have to explain the situation to Queen Edna."

"Couldn't you do it, Liz?"

"No, Arthur," said the Queen severely. "It is your responsibility. You should have spoken up as soon as the Boranians opened the casket. As things stand now you will have some difficult explaining to do, and as Edna is a reigning monarch it is only right that you should see her yourself."

"Oh ..., very well."

* * * * *

As soon as he got back to the Bear Hotel Prince Boris called a press conference and announced to the whole world that the Emperor of Borania had presented the Crown Prince of New Zephyria with a wedding suit the like of which had never been seen before. The golden casket was displayed to the newspaper photographers and television cameras. The story of the magical cloth was told, but Prince Boris refused to display the cloth itself. It had been seen, he said, by the King and Queen, by the Prime Minister and by the whole Government of New Zephyria, all of whom would vouch for its beauty - but, as the gift had been accepted, the cloth was now the property of Prince Egbert and it would not be right for Prince Boris to put it on public display before the wedding.

The journalists hurried off to interview the Government. Was it true, they asked, that the incompetent and the simple-minded were unable to see the true beauty of the cloth?

"So we have been told," bleated the Prime Minister, "but of course until it is displayed to the Opposition we shan't be able to tell, beh-heh-heh-heh-heh!"

"But you all saw it?"

"Oh yes!"

"And can you describe it?"

"Well, it is quite ... er ... breathtaking."

"Unusual?"

"Oh, very."

"And the colour?"

"Ah. Well, sort of ... changing according to the ... er ... way you look at it, you know, ... er ... yes."

"Could you be more specific, Prime Minister?"

"Ah. Well ..." Inspiration came suddenly. "I don't think I should say anything more specific. After all, as His Imperial Highness, Prince Boris of Borania, has said, the cloth now belongs to our own beloved Prince Egbert, and doubtless he would wish to ... ahem ... surprise the world when the day comes. Er ... yes."

* * * * *

"He said WHAT?" roared the King.

"He said it was quite breathtaking, very unusual, and the colours changed according to the angle from which it was seen," replied Oliver Simpkin, "and the Foreign Secretary made a long speech about our gratitude to the Emperor of Borania, mentioning, among other things, iridescent hues, gossamer lightness and gold stars."

"Why couldn't they keep their bally mouths shut?"

"Perhaps," suggested Mr Secretary Simpkin, "Your Majesty might like to instruct Your Ministers that a reticent discretion might be appropriate?"

"Come here, boy!" bellowed the King, beckoning to a page. "Find the Prime Minister and tell the old fool to keep his trap shut - and the rest of 'em too!"

"Yes, Your Majesty," said the page with a grin. "It'll be a pleasure, Your Majesty."

"I'm sure it will," murmured Oliver Simpkin as the youth hurried away.

* * * * *

"Of COURSE we have seen the cloth for the Prince's wedding suit," breathed Bulkomia. "DEAR Bertie regards us as his SISTERS already and CONFIDES in us TOTALLY."

"Totally," whined Araxia. "Why, he will hardly take a step outside his door without consulting us."

We were so CLOSE to our DEAR sister," boomed Bulkomia.

"And the cloth?" said the television interviewer. "Is it as beautiful as people say?"

Ever MORE so!" cried Bulkomia. "It's SO beautiful it takes my BREATH away!"

"I feel quite dizzy whenever I see it," drivelled Araxia. "My head spins and I sometimes feel as if I'm going to faint. I'm not very strong, you see, and my doctor says that extreme emotions aren't good for me. They affect ..."

"Araxia!"

"... my blood pressure and then of course that affects my digestion and how I'm going to cope ..."

"Araxia!!"

"... with this wedding I really don't know, what with all the extra worry and ..."

"ARAXIA!!" Bulkomia bellowed her sister's name right in her ear, at the same time shaking her with one massive arm.

"Oh ... oh ... oh, don't, Bulkomia. Oh, I'm ... I'm completely shaken ..."

"QUIET!" snapped Bulkomia and turned once more to the reporter. "I'm afraid my sister is a little highly strung," she said. "She has an artistic temperament, you know, and EXTREME BEAUTY affects her in a way that COARSER natures might misunderstand."

"You are not so affected yourself," asked the reporter.

"I combine ARTISTIC FEELING with the CONSTITUTION of the fabled OLIPHAUNT," replied Bulkomia proudly. "Not even the fairy cloth of Borania can shake MY digestion. I LONG to see Prince Egbert PARADING in its iridescent, ever-changing colours, the golden stars that glint sometimes like MOONLIT SILVER ..."

"Quite breathtaking," breathed Araxia.

* * * * *

"They said WHAT?!" bellowed the King.

"Among other things," replied Mr Secretary Simpkin, "they alluded to iridescent, ever-changing colours, golden stars that glint sometimes like moonlit silver, delicate traceries of faery colour, and your son's excitement at the prospect of wearing the stuff for the procession to the cathedral."

"The boy hasn't even seen it yet," muttered the King.

"You mean you haven't told him about it, Your Majesty?"

"Well ... you know how it is?"

"Or Queen Edna?"

"Ah, now ... I think that calls for tact and diplomacy, what? Look here, Simpkin, couldn't you see Queen Edna ...?"

"No, Your Majesty."

"No?"

"No, Your Majesty."

"Oh."

* * * * *

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