by Robin Gordon
- Auksford -
Part IV: Nanny Scungebucket
Chapter 16: The end of the Monarchy
Copyright Robin Gordon, 1996/2004
The Royal court went into mourning, and announcements of Prince Egbert's death were published in the newspapers and broadcast on radio and television.
King Arthur grew ever more tired and ill. The Queen called in Dr Pimple, but he shook his head gravely and said he could do nothing.
"His Majesty has lost the will to live," said the doctor. "The disappearance of his granddaughter, the curse of auld Hinny McIldhu, the loss of Oliver Simpkin on whom he had come to depend, the decline of his Kingdom into lawlessness and anarchy - all these have taken their toll. The death of Prince Egbert has been the final straw. There is nothing anyone can do."
Prince Bruce would never say anything more about the fate of his cousin. He looked unhappy, as if some hidden guilt was gnawing at his soul, but he said nothing. Sometimes the sight of the unhappy King seemed to drive him almost insane, but still he said nothing. He would look at the tearful face and red-rimmed eyes of the Princess Cinderella, and his mouth would open and close as if he were a moonstruck lover too shy to confess his love - but, whatever it was he had to confess, he never spoke of it.
To one person at least the news of Prince Egbert's death came as no surprise. The Right Honourable Nigel Crimper, PC, MP, Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury, had recognised the Prince on his television monitor. "If they survive," he had sniggered, hoping that a bullet would put an end to the life of his Royal adversary. It was not that he had any deep-laid scheme in mind that needed the elimination of the heir to the throne - at least not at that moment - merely that he hated to come off worst in any argument and loathed to the utmost depths of his being anyone who recognised him for what he was.
The Prime Minister fumed and fretted as the media told of Dick O'Reilly's sprained wrist and Darren Blyton's lost notebook. He paced round his office like a caged hyaena as current affairs programmes and news bulletins lamented the fate of the two brave and noble journalists and the blow struck that day at the freedom of the press to investigate without fear for the safety of its representatives. His beady eyes gleamed and his nose quivered in anticipation as the names of the dead and injured were read out. It was known that the leader of the hunters, Mr Azog, had been gored by one of the unicorn, but his body had not been found. Three other hunters had been shot dead, and several more were in hospital suffering from bullet wounds or broken limbs. Of Prince Egbert no mention was made, and Crimper could not ask about him without revealing that he had recognised the Prince and, instead of trying to rescue him, had sniggered over his impending fate.
The handwritten note from the Queen, delivered by a liveried footman, ended his anxiety.
"Please convey to Her Majesty my deepest sympathy," he said, then, alone once more in his office, he began to frisk and snigger. "Beastly Bertie's dead and gone, shee-hee-hee-hee ... sh-sh-sh-hee-hee-hee-heeeee! Whee-hee-hee-hee!"
By this time Nigel Crimper did have a scheme in mind: the ailing King could not last long, his heir was dead, and Princess Victoria had disappeared. The time had come to end the Monarchy and declare a republic. He discussed it with his cronies, and they sniggered and approved. He discussed it with leading industrialists, and they looked sly and approved. He discussed it with Nanny Scungebucket, and she was delighted. The idea came to him that Nanny Scungebucket, the economic saviour of New Zephyria, should become the first President of the New Republic, and as he looked at her he thought to himself, "She's so old she can't be much longer for this world, and when she's dead, nnnnnngh, it will be time for the reign of President Crimper, perhaps even KING NIGEL THE FIRST! Shee-hee-hee ... hee-hee-hee-hee!"
* * * * *
"This is a solemn and a sad time for us all," announced Nigel Crimper in his Prime Ministerial broadcast. "The Royal House of New Zephyria has suffered misfortune after misfortune. Eunnngh, it's future happiness blighted by the disappearance of the little Princess Victoria, nnngh, its present greatness fading with the health of His Majesty - and now the worst blow of all for we who love our country and its traditions: the news that Prince Egbert has met his death while out on some expedition with Prince Bruce.
"Eunnnngh, eunnnnnngh, what can one say about Prince Egbert. His sense of humour, nngh, nngh, was well known and loved. We have all rejoiced with him on the occasion of his marriage and the birth of his daughter and commiserated with him when she disappeared. His nobility and heroism in setting off to seek for her, nnnngh, nnnnngh, nnnngh, accompanied, not as we had all hoped by a circle of companions but only by his cousin, Prince Bruce of Old Zephyria, who in the absence of both Prince Egbert and his daughter, is next in line for the throne.
"Of the circumstances of Prince Egbert's death we know nothing. Was he involved in the disgraceful events surrounding the round-up of the unicorns, and, if so on whose instigation? What part did he play in the violence that resulted in the death of Mr Azog, a close associate of Nanny Scungebucket, who was supervising the cull, and in the injuries inflicted on those two fearless representatives of the media, nnnngh, nnnngh, who earned through their courage in their ordeal the respect and sympathy of we who value the freedom of the press? Was the heir to the throne of NEW Zephyria seeking to end the violence - or had he been suborned by those anti-social elements who have killed and injured so many of our citizens through their illegal bombing campaign in support of the rights of animals? And what part in all this was played by Prince Bruce of OLD Zephyria?
"He alone knows what happened to Prince Egbert, to the ONLY hope for stability in New Zephyria. We know that he was not killed during the riot, for his body was never found. Prince Bruce will only say that he has gone beyond the Black Stump. Eunnngh, nnngh, nnnngh! More he will not say, though it is clear from the circumstances and from his avoidance of the topic that he knows much more. It is only to spare the feelings of Their Majesties that MY Government has not called for a public enquiry. We wish to spare our beloved Royal Family further distress at this sad time.
"But the interests of the Kingdom cannot allow this mystery to remain for ever unsolved. Prince Bruce, IF he hopes to ascend the throne of New Zephyria, must tell us what happened to the last heir - for HE was the last person to see him alive!".
Prince Egbert, it was clear, was the best beloved of all the Royal family. The capering ninny portrayed in Scungebucket advertising disappeared for good and was soon forgotten. The fun-loving people of New Zephyria remembered only that, like themselves, Prince Egbert was a lover of fun. Had he been present to share in the wonders of New Zephyria's economic resurgence, doubtless he too would have been roaring round the streets on a de-silenced motorbike with the latest Hellcats recording blaring from his radio, cheering on Aquilian pit bull terriers as they tore each other to pieces at dogfights, and leading a gang of patriotic lads to smash up the houses of the Sea People and other foreigners.
What had happened to the people's prince? How had this fun-loving paragon, this idol who embodied the spirit of the new New Zephyria, this veritable epitome of Scungebucketry at its best - how had he met his death? The Royal Family might wish to avoid the pain of an official enquiry, but the people knew. Nothing could be hidden from the people. Their eyes and ears were everywhere, and their whispers ran the length and breadth of the country: Prince Bruce had murdered him. Prince Bruce wanted to be King of both Old and New Zephyria. Prince Bruce wanted the Princess Cinderella for his wife. It was Prince Bruce who had kidnapped the baby Princess, killed her, and dropped her body down a well. It was Prince Bruce who had inveigled the innocent, fun-loving Bertie into his ill-fated expeditions. Prince Bruce was always with him, waiting for his chance - and, when it came, Prince Bruce murdered him.
He could never be King! The people would prevent it. He would be a tyrant like Crookback Richard in the fairytales about Ingland. The people would rise against him. There would be revolution and slaughter. The tyrant would be driven out and the Republic declared.
Why not proclaim a Republic now? Before the need for bloodshed! Before the murderer seized power! The Prime Minister was known to be in favour - and who better for President than Nanny Scungebucket?
She had saved the country from ruin. She had transformed its antiquated rural economy into an agronomic paradise. She had created Nursery Pride, the bread that's so light you won't even know you've eaten. She had devised Nightmare Topping in ever new and wonderful flavours. Everything you ate was made by Scungebucket Enterprises. Everything you wore was made by Scungebucket Enterprises.
The music you heard day and night, the music that kept silence at bay and saved you from being alone with your thoughts, it all came from Scungebucket Enterprises. Nanny knew what you wanted even before you did. Nanny always knew best, and what Nanny knew was that a little of what you fancied perked you up no end. What a fun-loving President she would be - and, being so old, she couldn't possibly have any dangerous ambitions.
If there was anyone who still had any doubts the Daily Trumpet put them to flight. The Trumpet knew what was what, and the Trumpet wasn't afraid to say so. In the name of the freedom of the press, in the name of the people of New Zephyria, in the name of truth and justice the Trumpet branded Prince Bruce a murderer and put to the Government the people's legitimate demands for an end to fudge and a new beginning.
BRING THIS MURDERER
That the Daily Trumpet, like almost everything else in New Zephyria, was now wholly owned by Scungebucket Enterprises, was either not known to its readers or not thought by them to have any bearing on its impartiality.
* * * * *
The equinoctial gales of autumn whirled across the land, stripping the trees of their leaves, dislodging the odd tile from a roof and hurling it onto the ground, and tossing around the streets the greasy food-wrappings dropped by patrons of the various Scungebucket food vans and snacketerias.
"The end will be very soon now," said Dr Pimple quietly.
Queen Elizabeth nodded and took King Arthur's hand. he seemed to be trying to say something. She bent over him.
"Do you hear the hoofbeats? ... It's comin' for me ... It's all true, you see ... Don't be too long, Old Girl ..." - and he was gone.
* * * * *
Nigel Crimper, PC, MP, Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury, made the announcement of the King's death in person. For the first time since the reign of Theowulf I, for the first time since the foundation of the Kingdom of New Zephyria, the death of a reigning monarch was not followed by the acclamation of his successor. The Prime Minister's speech did not end with the words "God save the King". No King was named. The throne was vacant.
"This is intolerable," said Queen Elizabeth. "Despite the allegations of that sniggering popinjay, you are now King, Bruce. Bastable, summon the Archbishop! He should have announced ... it was his place ..."
"I'm afraid the Archbishop is out of the country, Your Majesty," murmured the butler. "His Grace has still not returned from Omphalos."
"Still? Then ... the Lord Chancellor."
"The Lord Chancellor was obliged to retire through ill-health, Your Majesty. The new Lord Chancellor is Mr Crimper's brother-in-law."
"Then you must proclaim yourself King, Bruce."
"No, Aunt Elizabeth. I can't. I'm not King, and I don't want to be King here. Someone will have to be made regent until B...b...better arrangements can be made."
"Then you must be regent!"
"I fear that a regency will not be possible, Your Majesty," murmured the Royal Butler. "The Prime Minister is on his way up, and I am afraid he may have bad news."
Nigel Crimper came frisking in at that moment, and it was clear that he thought his news very good indeed.
"Eunnngh! Nnnnnngh! NNNNNNNGH! I've come straight from Parliament," he sniggered, writhing and squirming with delight. Nnnngh, I thought you should be the first to know! We've just voted on the resolution to abolish the monarchy AND establish a republic. It was carried unanimously! Shee-hee-hee-hee ... Sh-sh-sh-sheeeee hee-hee-hee-hee!
"I also have another duty to perform, hee-hee-hee-hee, and that is to arrest Prince Bruce on suspicion of murder. Shee-hee-hee-hee. Guards! Aresshgggghhhhh ... ggrrmmmmph ... mmmmph ... nnngh, nnngh ... pfrrrghmmmp ..."
As the Prime Minister turned to call his guards two loyal footmen had lunged forward and enveloped him in a heavy curtain.
"I am afraid the Prime Minister appears to have been taken ill, Your Majesty," murmured the imperturbable Bastable. "Luckily Dr Pimple is close at hand. I imagine he will wish to give Mr Crimper a sedative. I have taken the liberty of packing Prince Bruce's personal belongings as I knew he was anxious to return home without delay."
"Thank you, Bastable," said the Queen. "Goodbye, Bruce. I am so glad you were able to stay until ... the end."
"Goodbye, Aunt Elizabeth," replied Prince Bruce. Then be followed Bastable to the waiting car.
* * * * *
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