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 15: The last round-up

Copyright Robin Gordon, 1996/2004

"Eunnnngh! Speaking as Prime Minister, nnngh, nnngh, it gives my wife and I very great pleasure to rejoin my former colleagues in the television studio on this auspicious occasion when we bring you live from the Black Stump the - hee-hee-hee-hee - LAST round-up OF the unicorns. For far too long foolish sentimentality has allowed these creatures to roam unhindered over the plains around the Black Stump. But thanks to the present enlightened government these uneconomic creatures are to be exploited - nnngh, nnngh - and the land freed for MODERN agricultural enterprise.

"So, without further ado, over now to what we shall soon be calling the Scungebucket Plains ... sheee-heee-heee-heee-heee ... sh-sh-sh-sh hee-hee-hee-heeee."

"And over here on the Scungebucket Plains surrounding the ill-omened Black Stump Mountain the last round-up of the unicorns has begun," reported a new voice. "Scungebucket Enterprises hunters, using the latest four-wheel drive, all-terrain vehicles, and equipped with high-velocity repeater rifles, are setting off behind me here to round up the unicorns. They're going to sweep across the plain, driving the unicorns before them into the corralling pens down there, and then the slaughter will begin.

"Already we've had trouble from demonstrators trying to sabotage the vehicles, and the police are moving in now as more of the Sea People attempt to obstruct the hunters, but I think the demonstrators are in for more than they bargained for - and here's one who'll probably be quite glad to be dragged off to a nice quiet cell, don't you agree, Nigel?"

"I do indeed, John," came the Prime Minister's mellifluous tones, while the television screen showed the dazed and bloodied form of a young man of the Sea People collapsing under repeated blows with sticks and staves and being thoroughly kicked by the boots of the Scungebucket hunters.

"The hunters are all absolutely loyal to Nanny Scungebucket and they tend to react quite sharply to this sort of vandalism."

"Egad!" murmured the King. "How on earth is poor Bertie goin' to deal with this?"

"Crimper is quite unhinged," said the Queen. "The Sea People will march on Parliament."

"I've half a mind to join 'em," growled the King.

"You will do nothing of the sort, Arthur," snapped the Queen. "Apart from anything else, he is likely to call in the army to shoot any marchers - even you."

"But I'm their dashed Commander-in-Chief," grumbled the King.

"Look!" cried the Queen, and pointed at the screen.

As the terrified unicorn milled around, rearing and bucking, neighing, whinnying and screaming, kicking out and attempting to break out of their confinement, while the hunters pressed ever closer, revving their engines, hooting their horns, shouting and firing their guns into the air, and their snarling pit bull terriers attacked and worried the panic-stricken beasts, a helicopter landed nearby and two young men got out.

Scenting drama the television crews zoomed their cameras into close-up and the confrontation between the young men and the hunters filled the screen, though what was said could not be heard above the noise of engines, the snarling of dogs and the thunder of hoofs.

"It looks like the Sea People have stolen a helicopter in their efforts to disrupt the hunt. But this will give your government the chance to take decisive legal action, won't it, Nigel?"

"Nnnnnngh! Yes! This is just the sort of incident we've been waiting for. It shows the length these criminals will go to to disrupt the Government's programme of economic expansion."

"I expect these two will find themselves in gaol for twenty years?"

"Nnnngh! Mmmnnnngh! If they survive, sheeee-heee-heee-heee ... sh-sh-sh ... sh-sh hee-hee hee-hee-heeee."

"Egad!" barked the King. "They're pointin' guns at them!"

It was Prince Egbert who flew the helicopter. Both he and Bruce were qualified pilots. Although Bertie had always thought it rather a waste of time, he hadn't shirked his lessons. You never knew when a skill might come in useful.

The two princes leapt out, ducked under the spinning rotors and ran, crouching, towards the nearest hunters.

"I say, you chaps, it's all a d-d-dashed mistake, don't you know?" Prince Egbert cried. "The King doesn't want the unicorn rounded up after all."

"Who cares wot 'e wants," snarled the hunters' leader. "Nanny wants 'em exterminated!"

"You've got to stop!" wailed Prince Egbert.

"Oh yeah? You gonna stop us then?"

"Like to see 'em try."

"Yeah, we'll exterminate them."

The hunters came crowding round with nasty grins and loaded guns. It was at this point that the Prime Minister said "if they survive" and sniggered.

"A nasty accident," sneered the hunters' leader. "Guns went off in the heat of the moment while you was tryin' ter stop us doin' our job. Tsk, tsk, wot a pity."

Prince Egbert drew himself up to his full height. Though several inches shorter than Prince Bruce, he was taller than the hunters' leader, but beside him he looked slight, puny, and weedy, for the hunter was as broad as a barn door.

"Look here," said Prince Egbert. "Stop being silly. You know perfectly well you can't shoot us. I am Prince Egbert and this is my cousin, Prince Bruce."

"Pleased ter meet yer, yer royal 'ighnesses," sneered the hunter. "I'm Prince Boris of Borania."

In bulk he was a little like Prince Boris the Bear, but his face reminded Prince Egbert more of a picture in a book of fairy-tales he had owned as a child - it was a picture of a goblin, and it had always rather frightened him.

"Know wot?" put in an oafish young man. "I fink 'e really is Prince Egbert. 'E's just like 'im."

"Friend o' yours?" sneered the leader.

"I met 'im - once."

"So've I," growled another.

"An me."

"Me too."

"Yeah, 'im an' 'is posh friends."

The hunters' leader suddenly laughed. "Adyer gobbin' pants off, dinn'e?" he jeered. "Frew yer in a fahnting or summink."

"Yeah, well, 's ar gobbin' turn nah!"

"Yeah! Sen' 'im 'ome wivvaht 'is gobbin' trahziz!"

"Wivvaht 'is gobbin' 'ead!" snarled the leader. "We ain't plyin' gimes! 'F 'e gits in Nanny's wy she wants 'im dead!"

"Vere'll be trouble. 'E's a gobbin' prince."

"Vere'll be more gobbin' trouble 'f 'e gits away," snarled the leader. "Shoot 'im!"

Several hunters raised their guns.

"I wonder, what is the penalty for encompassing the death of the heir to the throne," mused Prince Egbert, suddenly icy cool.

"It's so long since it's been used," murmured Prince Bruce, "it's probably horrendously cruel in a medieval sort of way."

"Yes," drawled Prince Egbert. "Something lingering, I fancy - with boiling oil in it."

The hunters hesitated.

"Kill 'em!" howled the leader, looking more goblin-like than ever. "Blow veir gobbin' 'eads awff!"

"I fancy it did have boiling oil in it," Prince Bruce agreed.

Viewers saw the hunters' leader snatch a gun, then the television screen erupted into confusion.

"What's happenin'?" raged the King.

Charging unicorn swept the princes and the hunters out of sight. Gunshots sounded. The thunder of hooves drowned the howling of dogs and men. The picture lurched suddenly, and then all was black and silent.

A moment later the Prime Minister's sharp-nosed features appeared. "Nnnnngh! Nnnnnnnnngh! We don't ... that is ... we appear to have lost touch with our man on the spot, nnnngh, we don't quite know exactly what has happened. We assume that demonstrators have stampeded the unicorns and attacked both the hunters and our own crew. Nnnngh! Nnnnngh! You can rest assured that this cowardly attack will be punished with the utmost rigour of the law.

"I'm just getting some news. Eunnngh, yes, the cameras were overturned in the stampede and one of our camera crew has a broken wrist. It appears that at least three men have been killed in the fracas and many more wounded.

"A radio link has just been established. Are you there, John?"

"Yes, I'm here, Nigel. Feeling rather shaken after this upset, but no bones broken."

"Eunnnnngh! Tell us what happened."

"Well, Nigel, as you saw, we were watching the confrontation between the hunters and the demonstrators when suddenly the unicorns stampeded. They came straight for us, and, as you've probably heard, one of our camera crew, Dick O'Reilly, was slightly injured. The doctors are looking at his arm now, and we hope to bring you an interview with him in just a few minutes. Dick, as you know, Nigel, was awarded the TVNZ Golden Camera Award last year ..."

"Egad!" moaned the King. "They're goin' to go on all night about this beastly cameraman and his bally wrist. We'll have to wait for the mornin' papers."

* * * * *

The morning papers did nothing to allay the King's anxiety.

TV MAN HURT

the headlines proclaimed. Even the quality press concentrated on the fate of Dick O'Reilly:

CAMERAMAN INJURED
AS DEMONSTRATORS
DISRUPT UNICORN ROUND-UP

Only one paper did not make Mr O'Reilly's injury its main lead story, and that was the Daily Trumpet. The Trumpet had its own hero to celebrate, a bold young reporter who had almost been injured and who might have been badly hurt:

TRUMPET
MAN IN
DEATH PERIL

Daily Trumpet ace reporter Darren Blyton

looked death in the face last night!

He just managed to scramble clear as thousands of unicorns charged down on him.

The plucky teenager was covering the hunt for The Daily Trumpet when demonstrators struck with helicopters and the latest high-velocity rifles.

HORRIFIC INJURIES

Darren's notebook was swept out of his hand and vanished under the thundering hooves.

He watched in horror as TV cameras were overturned.

He saw horrific injuries.

He heard gunshots and screams.

THE
TRUMPET
SAYS:

BRING THESE MEN TO JUSTICE

= NOW! =

The story that emerged from the papers bore little relation to the truth. Armed saboteurs had attacked the hunters from Scungebucket enterprises with stolen helicopters, rifles looted from army camps, and many other kinds of weapon. While the hunters were distracted by a diversionary attack, other members of the criminal gang had stampeded the unicorn with intent to cause the maximum possible number of deaths and injuries. They had taken particular care to attack the representatives of the media who were present, and it was this attack on brave reporters and noble cameramen which especially enraged the commentators.

Both prize-winning cameraman Dick O'Reilly and heroic teenage reporter Darren Blyton were interviewed and photographed ad nauseam, which means until everyone except their fellow journalists was sick of the sight of them. But still there was no news of the princes.

* * * * *

Several days afterwards, in the late evening, Prince Bruce arrived back at the Palace. He was bruised and battered, and his clothes were torn and covered in both mud and blood. Passers-by in the street had merely assumed that he had been involved in one of the many battles between gangs of youths or set upon by muggers, but a torn and bleeding prince is not a common sight in a royal palace. Even Bastable blinked, but he recovered his poise at once and insisted on preceding him to the Royal sitting room.

"Ahem. Prince Bruce is here, Your Majesties, and wishes to speak with you."

"What? Bruce? Then fetch him in, would ye?"

"Yes, Your Majesty. Ah, His Royal Highness is rather dishevelled ..."

"Never mind! Never mind! Wheel him in!"

"Yes, Your Majesty."

Thus prepared the King and Queen were able to conceal their shock at the sight of their favourite nephew. Both his eyes were blacked, his handsome face was bruised and scratched, his clothes were ripped, and he limped. He looked, in short, as if he had been trampled by a herd of stampeding animals.

"We did our best," was all he would say. "It may be enough to save the unicorn."

"Where is Bertie?" cried the Queen. "What has happened to him?"

Prince Bruce sagged wearily onto a chair.

"Bertie's gone beyond the Black Stump," he said.

* * * * *

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