New Zephyria
by Robin Gordon

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

-  Auksford  -

Part IV: Nanny Scungebucket

Chapter 12: Oliver Simpkin forgets

Copyright Robin Gordon,1996/2004

About twenty minutes later the royal party gathered in the breakfast room, except for Princess Cinderella who was in her bedroom receiving sedation from Dr Pimple. A simple breakfast selection was laid out: cornflakes, muesli, bacon, sausages, grilled liver and kidneys, kedgeree, cold chicken, sliced ham, toast, anchovy relish, three kinds of marmalade, seven kinds of cheese, fruit juice, tea and coffee - but no-one seemed interested in eating.

King Arthur paced up and down, holding his gold watch and chain and muttering to himself, while the two queens sipped tea and the three princes stared mournfully at their plates.

"Did ye send for Simpkin?" the King asked.

"Yes, Your Majesty," replied the Royal Butler, "and I have taken the liberty of ringing his house again. Mrs Simpkin says he set out some time ago."

"Then where the deuce is he?"

"I could not say, Sire."

"And what is all that ghastly row in the street? As if we haven't got enough trouble without people carryin' on like lunatics!"

"I shall send a footman to ascertain the cause of the commotion, Sire, and another to search for Mr Simpkin. It is conceivable his progress may have been impeded by the crowds, Sire, in which case the assistance of a footman may expedite his arrival."

"I should bally well hope so. See to it, would you?"

"At once, Your Majesty."

There is something immensely calming about the sight of a New Zephyrian butler going about his duties. The progress of the Royal Butler as he left the room suggested a stately galleon under full sail, or an archbishop in procession. The three princes sighed and took up triangles of toast, and the queens sipped their tea with elegance and regal refinement. King Arthur returned his watch to his waistcoat pocket, took his seat at the table, and accepted tea and toast, despite the redoubled pandemonium of cheers and raucous laughter from outside - and even though he could distinctly hear shrieks of merriment from the fishmonger's wife whose voice had at one time made his life a misery.

Groans of disappointment mingled with the laughter, and then the hubbub began to die away. The royal party partook of tea and toast and maintained their attitudes of regal composure until the butler made his appearance again.

"Ah, Bastable, did ye find out the cause of all that hullabaloo and what has happened to Simpkin?" enquired the King.

"Yes, Sire. I am afraid Mr Simpkin was the cause of the unseemly behaviour of the populace. He appears to be not quite himself."

"Bring him in, would ye?"

"I wonder if Your Majesty would care to see him in private?"

"No, no! Family conference and all that. Need his advice. Wheel him in, dash it."

"Very good, Sire," said the butler calmly and nodded imperceptibly to an under-butler at the door. The under-butler turned his head and nodded, slightly less imperceptibly, to someone outside, and then Mr Secretary Simpkin entered between two footmen.

The queens set down their teacups, making the slightest of chinks. Prince Egbert stared goggle eyed. Prince Bruce hastily banished a smile. Prince Norman, who was not quite as royally born as the others, choked on a toast crumb and received a severe look from Queen Edna.

King Arthur swelled up like turkey-cock. "Simpkin!" he growled. "What is the meaning of this?"

Mr Secretary Simpkin, clad in a top hat, a morning coat, a gleaming white shirt, striped boxer shorts and a pair of dark socks, gawped around the room like a tourist.

"Nice place you've got here, Fatty," he remarked. "Ah, plenty of the jolly old what-d'you-call-it. I'm so hungry I could eat a thingummy-bob. Must have forgotten to have my whatnot. Called away suddenly, you see. Had to see the ... you know ... the big boss, him with the oojah on his ... that round thing on top where people have mouths, and talking of ... whatever it was - here goes."

With that Oliver Simpkin, who had been making himself a fat sandwich of toast, bacon and sausage while he talked, shoved it into his mouth and chomped.

"SIMPKIN!" bellowed the King.

Oliver Simpkin glanced around. "Simpkin's in trouble," he observed. "Old Fatty's got it in for him. Poor old ... Whatsisname."

He spotted a comfortable chair and threw himself into it. The queens hastily averted their eyes from the secretarial thighs, now not just exposed but positively flaunted, while the King made peculiar noises as if about to explode under the pressure of his ill-suppressed rage.

The calming presence of the butler was once more in their midst.

"I have taken the liberty, Your Majesty," he murmured, "of asking Dr Pimple to attend to Mr Simpkin. He is waiting outside."

"Then bring him in, confound it," snarled the King, forgetful for once of etiquette and politesse.

Oliver Simpkin failed to recognise Dr Pimple.

"I'm a doctor," the doctor said. "Just want to take a quick look at you. No trouble with the old breadbasket, I suppose? Waterworks all right? Let's just have a look at the peepers. Good. Now say Ah for me."

"Why? said Oliver Simpkin.

"Not Why, Ah."

"Why? Why do you want me to say ... whatever it was?"

"That's what people always say when I look down their throats."

"Do they? How odd. Why do you want to look down their ... whatsits?"

"Because I'm a doctor."

"Are you? Well I'm jolly glad to meet you. I don't think I'm very well. I feel rather cold."

"I'm not surprised, running about in your shirt like that."

"Who's running about in his shirt?"

"You are."

"No, I'm not. I'm sitting on a chair. It's quite preposterous to say I'm running about. You ask Fatty there. He'll tell you."

"Mr Simpkin, do you know who that is?"

"No. Do you? More to the point, does he?"

"Do you know where you are?"

"In a whatsit. You know, a thingummy-bob - what you sit on. Didn't I just tell you? Or was that someone else? Who are you, anyway?"

"I'm a doctor."

"One of those make-you-well sort of fellows?"

"That's right."

"Well I'm very glad to meet you, Doctor. I think I must be ill. I'm cold."

"Perhaps you could find some trousers for Mr Simpkin," said Dr Pimple to the butler, then, turning to the King, he added: "Total amnesia. Complete loss of memory. Never seen a clearer case. Could try bringing his wife along, I suppose. Might work, but he'll probably not know her. Sad case. Brilliant man ... but what can you do?"

"I suggest we send Mr Simpkin to hospital and forget about him," said the Queen. "We have far more important matters to concern us. Have you forgotten that Vicky has been kidnapped?"

"What?!" cried Dr Pimple.

"Quite true," bleated Prince Egbert. "Nurse woke up this morning and found her gone."

"So let us waste no more time on Mr Simpkin," said the Queen. "We have work to do. Arthur, you must take charge. Come along, dear."

"No, but, look here, dash it," grumbled the King, "we can't just forget about Simpkin. He's part of it.

The gift auld Hinny brings, a present
without a future or a past.

I've paid with my two most precious treasures, just as she said I would."

Queen Edna smiled sympathetically at Queen Elizabeth and shook her head sadly. Had Queen Elizabeth been less well bred she might have sighed with exasperation.

"Arthur," she said quietly. "I am sure that what you are saying makes perfect sense, despite your atrocious imitation of a Highland accent, but I am afraid that its relevance to the matter in hand escapes me. I would deem it a great favour, my darling, if you could just concentrate on the disappearance of our only grandchild."

"But that's just what I'm doin', dash it!" protested the King. "The trouble is none of you remembers her."

"Arthur, I shall begin to wonder if perhaps Edna may not be right about your state of mind. All of us remember Vicky perfectly well."

"No, no, no," groaned the King. "I alone shall mind the words of Hinny McIldhu. She told us exactly what she was goin' to do: steal our future - that's Vicky, who's been taken to the underworld to serve old Hinny - ..."

"Arthur!"

"... and our past, startin' with Oliver Simpkin's memory."

"Arthur!" said the Queen severely. "Do you still insist that you saw this person at the christening?"

"Yes, of course. I keep tellin' you, dash it. You all saw her too, but you don't remember."

"Dr Pimple," said the Queen, "His Majesty is ... not well. I do not say, mark you, that he is ... not sane, but it would be ... appropriate - would it not? - for you to examine him."

"Do you think I'm mad, Liz? Am I mad, Pimple?"

"I don't think so, Your Majesty," replied Dr Pimple. "The fragments you have told us seem to me to add up to something rather sinister. I think you should tell us everything you saw and heard."

"Humouring him," murmured Queen Edna to no-one in particular.

Queen Elizabeth looked down her nose. "An excellent idea, Dr Pimple," she said. "Go on, Arthur."

The King's account was rather rambling, but it was clear that he had seen - or believed he had seen - a terrifying presence like a monstrous crone stretching out her power towards the cradle in the form of spreading darkness, and that she had been obstructed by other beings who were present as light. When he recited the curse he was word perfect. Dr Pimple asked him to recite it again, and he did so so perfectly that they might have been listening to a recording: every word, every syllable, every inflection was exactly as before. His Highland accent was impeccable, though he had never before shown any talent for mimicry. Even his voice seemed to change.

In the silence that followed, Queen Elizabeth turned to Dr Pimple and inclined her head very slightly as a sign that he should give his diagnosis.

"I believe," said Dr Pimple solemnly, "that His Majesty is quite right. He has been given a message by some evil enchantress whose purpose is to gain mastery over New Zephyria by stealing its past and its future. The people, living wholly in the present, will give themselves over to idle pleasures. They will abandon both the laws of the Kingdom and the dictates of morality, and they will become the prey of the Underworld.

"Clearly neither His Majesty nor anyone else would willingly recount a curse containing such insults to himself if he did not believe absolutely in its truth. The disappearance of the Princess Elizabeth Victoria and the otherwise inexplicable loss of Mr Simpkin's memory prove that the curse is already working.

"The power of the Evil Enchantress is not absolute, however. She has been constrained to leave us a loop-hole. If we can discover her identity we can recover both our past and our future, both the Princess and Mr Simpkin's memory."

"Then it's quite easy!" cried Prince Egbert. "Dad's remembered her name. It's old Hinny McWhatsit!"

"Bertie, you're a blitherin' dunderhead!" bellowed the King. "To think of all the money I spent on your education and you come out with a tomfool notion like that. Do you think she'd give us the answer on a plate? We have to find her real name. Question is: how in the world are we goin' to set about it?"

"Two ways, Your Majesty," said Dr Pimple. "Search for the name and search for the enchantress. Set scholars of Ancient, Middle and Modern Zephyrian to search the Chronicles of Old and New Zephyria, and send out a party of knights errant to seek for the Princess and Mr Simpkin's memory."

"I put no faith in philologists," said the Queen, "but knight errantry is another matter entirely. Bertie, you must lead the expedition. We shall advertise for eleven companions for you. Arthur, you must provide horses, armour and all that sort of thing - and a round table. The Prince and his Companions must have a Round Table."

"Why round?" queried poor King Arthur.

"Oh Arthur, I should have thought that even you would know that. It symbolises their equality in fortune and adversity."

"Oh ... yes ... I see. Didn't think you went in much for equality and that sort of thing, Old Girl."

"Arthur, do keep your wits about you. Bertie's companions will be young men of the highest rank, young men of noble birth, the sons of kings."

"I'd like to volunteer if I may," interjected Prince Bruce. "I mean, I know I wouldn't be much good at slaying dragons and all that sort of thing, but if there's room on the expedition I'd like to help, that is if there aren't enough proper knights ..."

Prince Egbert clasped his hand. "Good show, Bruce," he murmured.

"There you are!" cried the Queen triumphantly. "Young men of the very highest station in life! A Round Table! You must see to it, Arthur!"

* * * * *

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