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 6: Prince Egbert and the Suit

Copyright Robin Gordon, 1996/2004

The King was wrong. Prince Egbert had seen the cloth, or, at least, he had seen the golden casket that was said to contain it. As soon as the interviews with the Prime Minister and the other members of the Government had been broadcast, Prince Boris had set out for Prince Egbert's hunting lodge. He arrived just after Prince Egbert had seen his bride's stepsisters telling the world about his wedding suit. The whole affair puzzled him greatly.

"I mean to say, Dandy, old chap," he said, "surely it's the bride's dress everyone wants to see. I've never heard of anyone making such a fuss about the groom's clothes. After all, a suit is just a suit, isn't it?"

"Not such a suit as my royal father sends YOU, my noble cousin!" roared Prince Boris, who hadn't waited to be announced.

Prince Egbert's butler raised his eyes heavenward and sighed. "His Imperial Highness, Prince Boris of Borania," he said half-heartedly, and tiptoed away. Had he been a less well-bred butler he might have muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath, but New Zephyrian butlers are unsurpassed. They can command high wages in Aquilia if they choose, for the Aquilians know a good thing when they see it, but very few of them do choose. A few travel to Old Zephyria, where the arts of butlery have fallen slightly from the high standards of former years, but hardly any go further afield.

Prince Boris waddled forward, talking volubly as he came. He told again the whole story of the creation of the cloth by Boranian weavers who worked all night under the enchantment of the Lezhki and then fell dead at their looms. Before Prince Egbert knew what was happening he found himself in Prince Boris's car being taken back to the Bear Hotel to see the wondrous cloth for himself - and all the while Prince Boris prised its beauty and talked glowingly of the shimmering iridescence of its ever-changing colours and the twinkling myriad of golden stars scattered across the fabric like constellations in the sky.

"Of course," boomed Prince Boris, "the legend of the fairy cloth tells that its beauty is invisible to the eyes of anyone who is incompetent for the position he holds. I do not know how it appears to such people. Such is the wisdom of my illustrious father - may he live forever - that every Boranian is in the place most fit for him, and here, in New Zephyria, you seem to have chosen your Government well. They all saw the cloth as clearly as I do myself. I am curious to know how it appears to the incompetent. Some say they see it as coarse sackcloth, others that it appears to them like filthy spiders' webs, and others say it is completely invisible. Perhaps your gentleman-in-waiting might be able to enlighten us, eh?"

Here Prince Boris slapped the unfortunate Dandy so hard on the back that he stumbled on the steps - they were going into the Bear Hotel at the time - and got the knees of his elegant white trousers covered in dust.

In Prince Boris's room the Argestian carpet was unrolled, the Skironian silk spread on top of it, the golden casket placed in the middle, and the enchanted cloth displayed.

Prince Egbert saw nothing. A joke! A colossal joke! He laughed, but nervously. The Boranians were not noted for their humour.

Prince Boris was talking again: colours - iridescence - golden stars - enchantment - the soul of the Boranians - he had to turn aside and weep at such beauty - his joy that the King had accepted the gift - the delight the Emperor would feel when he saw the Crown Prince of New Zephyria wearing the Boranian gift for his wedding procession.

Prince Egbert's head began to spin slightly. Whatever the joke was, it was not by any means over - if it was a joke.

Prince Boris spoke on and on. The King had admired the cloth, so had the Queen. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Minister of Tourism, all the Government had seen and admired it. Could it possibly be, Prince Egbert wondered, that he alone in the whole of New Zephyria could not see it. He glanced quickly at Dandy, but that gentleman refused to catch his eye. He seemed rapt in wonder, gazing at the contents of the casket.

"Is it not beautiful?" demanded Prince Boris, finishing at last.

"Er ... oh ... q-q-quite," stuttered Prince Egbert.

"I see you are overcome," bellowed Prince Boris. "We Boranians, when we are overcome by such beauty, we weep, we talk, sometimes we laugh. Our emotions well up from the depths of our soul and cannot be contained. You New Zephyrians are different. The understatement! The stiff upper lip! How well I understand you! But let us waste no more time! To work! You must be measured. Come, tailors! To work!"

The Boranian prince clapped his hands and the tailors sprang into action. The invisible cloth was rolled up and locked away, the silk and carpet removed, and the Prince of New Zephyria surrounded by eager experts with measuring tapes. They called out his measurements to others, who wrote them down in leather-bound notebooks.

"They will work day and night!" cried Prince Boris. "I can hardly wait to see you in the finished suit. And now my car shall take you back to your lodge."

* * * * *

It was not until they were both home again that Prince Egbert spoke.

"Er ... Dandy," he said.

"Yes, Your Highness?"

"Um ... how did the ...er ... cloth look to you?"

"Oh ... most unusual, Your Highness."

"Iridescent?"

"Well ... certainly ... not any one definite colour."

"Gold stars?"

"Oh, quite, Your Highness."

"Not too many gold stars, you think? After all ... gold stars, what?"

"Oh no, not too many."

"Don't want to look ... well, girlish, what?"

"Oh I don't think you'd look girlish, Your Highness. Quite the opposite."

"Ah."

There was a short silence. Dandy contemplated the dusty patches on his knees.

"Er ... Dandy?"

"Yes, Your Highness?"

"The ... er ... the colour."

"Yes, Your Highness?"

"Well, I mean, all right for the fairy folk and all that, don't you know, but I mean, this is New Zephyria, what?"

"Yes, Your Highness."

"I mean to say ... don't want to look to much like a ... well, like a fairy, don't you know, what?"

"I don't think Your Highness will look in the least like a fairy," said Dandy. "Your Highness is much too solid for that - but, if Your Highness will excuse me, I really must change my trousers. One feels such a fool when improperly dressed."

"Not such a fool as I shall feel," said the Prince to himself after Dandy had gone out. "Let's see now: either it's a joke, or it isn't. I mean, either the cloth exists, or it doesn't. If it does and I can't see it, then I'm not fit to be a prince; and if it doesn't I'm going to be paraded through town in my shirt-tails and no-one will ever take me seriously again, so I won't be fit to be King in any case. I wish I knew what on earth possessed my father to accept the rotten gift. I can't get any sense out of Dandy. He's still in a huff because I laughed when he told me how they threw him in the pond the day I got engaged to Cinderella. I don't even know whether he can see the stuff.

"Dear little Cinderella's locked away with her dressmaker all day, or she might tell me what to do. I daren't go to Father and say Look here, it's all a joke, isn't it. There's no beastly cloth there at all, because there just might be.

"Wait a minute though! If I've got to wear a suit made out of the frightful stuff, so has my best man! Perhaps he'll take it seriously."

* * * * *

Prince Bruce of Old Zephyria rarely took anything seriously. When his cousin told him all about the invisible cloth and admitted that he could not see it, Prince Bruce laughed and laughed.

"It'll be the funniest sight for decades," he chuckled, "probably for centuries. You'll go down in history, Bertie. They'll give you a comic nickname like Prince Barelegs or the Knight of the Knobbly Knees. You know what? Every time anything happens in New Zephyria all the television stations all over the world will replay their tapes of your wedding procession. Strikes in New Zephyria? Earthquake in New Zephyria? Hospital burned down in New Zephyria? Now motorway opened in New Zephyria? Every time it'll be King Egbert of New Zephyria, shown here in his world-famous wedding suit ... What a laugh!"

"Well, I'm glad you think so," said Prince Egbert, "because it'll be the same for you. Don't you know the tradition? The best man has to wear exactly the same clothes as the groom."

"WHAT?!"

"So it'll be King Bruce of Old Zephyria, shown here in his best-man suit."

"All right! Don't go on! I can see we're going to have to do something about it. When do you see the stuff again?

"First fitting day after tomorrow," said prince Egbert gloomily.

"I'll come too."

* * * * *

The first fitting was even worse than Prince Egbert had imagined. He stood for what seemed hours in his shirt while the Boranian tailors fussed around pretending to dress him in a suit that wasn't there, smoothing non-existent creases in non-existent trousers down the length of his all too existent legs, fussing round the invisible lapels of a transparent jacket, adjusting the underarm fit of sleeves that had no reality, and debating the precise position of imaginary buttons in the empty air.

All the while Prince Boris stood by talking expressively of colours and iridescence, of golden stars, of enchanted weavers, of the skill of the Boranian tailors, and of how all eyes would be irresistibly drawn to the wearer of the fairy cloth.

From time to time emotion welled up from the depths of his soul and he turned away, snorting prodigiously.

"We Boranians, we have such SOUL!" he would say as he turned back again, his piggy little eyes gleaming with a sparkle that might have been tears.

Prince Bruce of Old Zephyria stood by glumly, nodding whenever the bear pointed out to him the beauties of the cloth, but saying nothing. Neither of the Princes though it wise to tell the Boranian that a second suit would be needed.

* * * * *

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