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 19: Nanny's reign begins

Copyright Robin Gordon, 1996/2004

In the Three Goats landlord Sam Holland switched on the television. "May as well watch it," he said gloomily.

Oliver Simpkin, erstwhile Secretary to the King, nodded. He sipped his beer.

"What's on?" he asked.

Sam Holland told him again. "It's the results of the Presidential election."

"Ah yes," murmured Oliver Simpkin. "The presidential what-d'you-call-it. Forgive my asking, John, but what is a thingummibob."

"The people of New Zephyria have cast their votes to choose a President - and my name is Sam."

"Congratulations, President Sam" said Simpkin brightly.

"Cheers, Olly," murmured Sam, not bothering to explain that he was not the new President.

Oliver sipped. "Nice drop of ... um ..."

"Beer."

"Yes, beer. What's on telly?"

"The election. It'll be that blasted Scungebucket woman - forget I said that."

"Said what, John?"

"Sam," said Sam.

"Hello?" said Oliver.

"No. Look. Me Sam, you Olly. Right?

"I'm not simple," said Oliver Simpkin with dignity. "I'm Sam, you're whats-is-name, and that box-thing there is called a thingummyjig!"

"Good enough," said Sam. "Drink up and let's watch and know the worst."

* * * * *

"Eunnnnnngh! The election results are coming in thick and fast, and so far every constituency has voted Scungebucket by a large majority."

"So, Prime Minister, you are confident that Nanny Scungebucket will sweep the board?"

"Nnnngh! Indubitably. Nanny Scungebucket is by far the most popular of the candidates."

"Sorry to interrupt you there, Nigel, but as you can see the grand total of Nanny's votes brings her already into an unassailable position. Yes, with little more than half the half the votes counted, Nanny Scungebucket has already achieved more than 52% of the total possible votes. The figures are Mervyn Winetrobb, garage mechanic from Boreham St Nicholas, Keep New Zephyria White Party, 700 votes; Kevin Priestley, retired librarian, Books-are-Nice Party, 305 votes; Olive Blackshed, Ban the Hellcats Party, 483 votes; and Nanny Scungebucket, 19,754,516 votes."

"Nnngh, nnngh it's a landslide!"

"So now we take you over to Boreham St Nicholas, where jubilant Scungebucket supporters are already celebrating their candidate's victory. There's Mervyn Winetrobb's house, going up in flames - and there's Mervyn himself, but I don't think he'll outrun his pursuers. Well tackled! Mervyn Winetrobb's down. Nice bit of footwork there as they swarm around kicking him. Well, that'll probably put Mervyn Winetrobb in hospital for several months, if he survives at all. But back now to the results ..."

* * * * *

Bertie rode like the wind. Behind him he heard the screech and wail of the Nightmares. His hand went to his sword.

"No!" the Unicorn commanded. "Do not look back. Ignore them! We must not delay for an instant. Just pray Heaven that the demons will be too cowardly to tell their chiefs of their failure to kill you."

On they sped. The noise behind increased. The voices of the Nightmares shrieked and roared like an approaching hurricane. The ground rumbled and shook as though all the taniwha in Whiro's kingdom were at their heels like hounds from Hell. Prince Egbert was afraid, but he clung with his knees to the Unicorn's flanks and rested his hands lightly in its mane, as he had been taught, and saw at last the portal. They crashed though its narrow way, thrusting aside the souls of the dead, who wailed piteously at the sight of the Nightmares, and emerged onto the Plain of the Unicorn.

Like the unseen wind the Unicorn King rushed over the plain. Past villages he galloped, over fields and meadows, avoiding towns and the noise-filled habitations of men. Like an arrow he sped towards the capital city, and Prince Egbert saw before him a glow in the sky - not the glow of lights alone, but the flickering glimmer of fire - and he heard above the crackle of flames the shrieking and howling of the people, but whether they wailed in joy or terror he could not say. Through all came the throb of drums. He could feel it in his head more than he could hear it. It was as if Hell itself had come to Earth.

The Unicorn stopped. "I can go no nearer," he said.

Prince Egbert dismounted. "You have my thanks," he whispered. "If ever I am King in New Zephyria the Plains of the Unicorn will be returned to you and your people for all time."

The Unicorn King bowed his head in acknowledgement. "You are our only hope," he murmured, then he turned away and was gone.

Prince Egbert made his way slowly towards the city. Even on the outskirts the noise was appalling. Amplified unmusic thumped and thudded from every house. Gangs of youths and gangs of girls swarmed about the streets with radios and tape- or disc-players, all at full volume. He saw them break into cars and steal whatever they found. He saw them break windows or kick down doors and burst into houses. Older people too were wandering about, either singly or in small groups, singing drunkenly and joining in the general destruction. A gang of youths with linked arms came sweeping and chanting along the street, and he hurriedly took refuge in a shattered doorway to avoid being captured and compelled to join their mad campaign.

As he emerged he heard their chanting turn to shouts of glee. They had surrounded a middle-aged man of portly build, seized his arms and the tail of his coat, and were spinning him madly round and round, till he staggered and dropped. Then they came at him with their boots, kicking his legs and ribs while he bellowed in pain.

Prince Egbert drew his sword and dashed into their midst.

"Back you dogs!" he shouted. "Back, or you'll feel cold steel at your throats!"

They turned on him at once, but a quick flick of his sword drew blood from the fists of their leaders. All the fight went out of them, and they fled.

Prince Egbert turned to the fallen man and helped him up. It was Bastable.

"You took your gobbin' time, dincha?" he snarled. "I could have ... could a' been killed by those ... them gobbin' louts for all you'd a'cared. Just like all your gobbin' family! Livin' in luxury an' the fat o' the land, but when the going gets rough, where are you? Thought you were ... was dead anyway."

"No, Bastable. I am not dead. Why don't you come home with me?"

"What ... wot? 'Ome to the gobbin' Palace? Zat where you're goin'? Oh dearie me! 'E doesn't know! The gobbin' Palace is all shut up, mate. Since the ol' King popped 'is clogs, rest 'is soul. 'E was always good to me, not like the rest of you. Since 'e popped 'is clogs she's had the Palace shut up, and the old Queen and that pale princess who ... wot never says nothing to nobody but just hangs ... 'angs round cryin' all day ... what was I saying, Your roy... Mate?"

"You said she's closed the Palace."

"Oh yes ... yeah, President Scungebucket, may she live forever, (I don't think). Closed the Palace up. Got lines of ... o' soldiers outside, Scungebucket Stormtroopers, brave lads, (curse 'em). Shunted the Queen and the Princess out ... aht ter the Princess's old 'ome ahtside town ... tahn. Gottem under house arrest."

"What? Where the two old frights live?"

"Useter live, Matey. They's all thick with the President now. Live in her Palace, eat at her table. Servants to wait on them, just like before. Never a gobbin' word about being related to them gobbin' royals. Livin' in luxury, whereas I, who was butler to His Majesty ... 'is gobbin' ex-majesty, I mean, I'm out on the streets being mauled and manhandled by every passing stranger. I never seed you before, Matey, so don't say I have ... 'ave. I got my .. me rights. Kindly take your 'ands off ve ol' whistle!"

"Whistle?"

"I mean me gobbin' suit, don' I, sonny?"

"Oh, sorry."

"I should think ... fink so. Just cos you're a gobbin' ghost doesn't give you the right to lay hands on a faithful servant who ... wot 'as served faithfully all his ... 'is gobbin' days. Dunno wot the world is coming to, I really don't."

Brushing aside the Prince's steadying arm, Bastable continued on his way down the street with the exaggerated steadiness of a man who is just tipsy enough not to be quite sure that he won't fall over, but not drunk enough not to care whether he does or not.

Prince Egbert watched him till he turned a corner. He felt depressed. The Palace was locked up and guarded. His wife and his mother were under house arrest outside the city. He had no family to welcome him home, but at least he could still get inside the Palace, and, with luck, find a safe place to sleep. He was very, very tired. Almost without thinking he helped himself to a loaf of bread and a packet of butter from a partly looted shop. Then he turned down the side street that led to the Three Goats.

It was comparatively quiet in the older part of the town. The rampaging vandals had concentrated their destruction and robbery on the bigger houses out in the suburbs and on the main shopping areas. Although the incessant, all-pervasive thumping of the Hellcats, the Nightmares and other unmusic-performers was inescapable anywhere in the city, there were fewer revellers in the narrow streets and alleys, and most of those were too drunk to bother with strangers. Not many buildings were on fire.

The Three Goats stood a little way back from the street. It was open and light streamed from its windows, but it was not crowded. Prince Egbert slipped cautiously under the old archway that led into the yard, and made his way across to the old stables. It was pitch dark inside, but he was on familiar ground and had no trouble in finding and operating the hidden levers that opened the secret passage. He had often used them to sneak back home after a night of fun with his gang.

He collided with something hard, and found the passage almost blocked with packing cases. Sam Holland must have hidden away all his valuables, and those of his neighbours too - unless he'd been joining in the general looting sprees.

Bertie pushed his way past and found the little door to the passage that led to the palace. Not for the first time he grinned over the strange and convenient alliance between the Royal House of New Zephyria and the proprietors of an old smuggling inn. King Norbert's Brandy must have come this way. This way too Prince Lemuel must have crept out to meet his forbidden love, the future Queen Maud, stern and moral matriarch, and mother of seven sons and daughters.

Bertie entered the Palace cautiously. The cellars were quiet and empty. He tiptoed to the ground floor. It too was deserted. The grand staircase took him to the first floor. All seemed free of Scungebucket Stormtroopers. Only the ceaseless thud-thud of unmusic reminded him of what lay outside.

He entered King Arthur's study. Its window commanded a view of the main square. There riotous citizens were smashing windows and looting shops, but the Palace was safe from their attention: a line of black-clad stormtroopers guarded the main gate. Prince Egbert turned away and sought his own apartments.

Everything was just as he had left it. He sat down on his bed, took off his shoes, looked at the loaf and butter he had stolen, but was suddenly too weary to eat. He slumped on to his pillow and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

When he awoke it was daylight. Unmusic still thumped and thudded in unceasing mechanical beat. Bertie started up in alarm. Had he slept too long? He tiptoed to the door, opened it a crack, and listened. There was no sound of movement. Back to his father's study he went and peeped from behind the curtain at the square and the wide street beyond. The fountain that he and his friends had filled with sherbet powder so that it frothed and bubbled cascades of lemonade, was now grey mud, greasy food wrappings, and general rubbish, streaked here and there with blood. From the gates of the park, which he had once festooned with trouserian trophies, a solitary figure hung, suspended by the neck. Along the front of the Palace gates stood the menacing rank of Scungebucket Stormtroopers.

Prince Egbert made his way downstairs. He was hungry. He still had his loaf, but in the clear light of day he read on the wrapper Nanny Scungebucket's Nursery Pride, the bread that's so light you won't even know you've eaten. The butter turned out to be Nanny Scungebucket's Sooperlyte "Health" Spread, with more "real dairy butter" flavour but less calories. Both packages were adorned with pictures of the President herself proclaiming, "Nanny knows best, an' wot Nanny knows is a little of wot you fancy perks you up no end!" He threw them aside in disgust and went to the kitchen.

Everything was just as it always had been. The electricity was still on. The fridge was working. The food inside was still fresh. The Prince made himself a snack and went through to the servants' sitting room to eat it. Before he sat down he turned on the television and after flicking channels through a selection of gory films and Hellcat concerts, he found what seemed to be a news programme.

* * * * *

"And all over New Zephyria supporters of President Scungebucket were celebrating her victory in style. The whole country was ablaze with triumphant bonfires and rocking to the wicked sounds of the Hellcats and the Nightmares.

"Things were really jumping at the University, where it was out with all those fusty old books and in with the latest rave music.

"Dave Midwich snatched a few words with the President on her way to Parliament."

"President Scungebucket, you are now President and Supreme Commander of new Zephyria. How does it feel?"

"How d'yer gobbin' well fink it feels, dearie? Gobbin' marvellous, 'at's wot. I'd like ter fank all vem people wot voted for little me - an' I tell yer summink, jus' you 'member wot Nanny allus says, a little bit of wot yer fancies perks yer up no end, an' togevver we'll make vis ve land where dreams come true."

"Well, that was our wonderful new President, and after the next song from the Nightmares you'll have another chance to hear her tell us just how we can make our new Republic the land where dreams come true."

Prince Egbert shuddered as the Nightmares appeared. They were made up to look just like the Nightmares he had seen in the Underworld. Their shrieking reminded him of the underworld Nightmares too. He quickly turned the sound down until it was time for Nanny Scungebucket's speech.

She appeared, dressed in a variety of shades of pink and orange, looking more wizened and monkey-like than ever, and lounging on a pink and red divan. As the camera moved in for a close-up she looked straight at her audience and spoke.

"Ullo, dearies," she said, and drew deeply on a Golden Gasper. "Nice to see yer. I wanna fank you fer makin' me President an' Supreme Commander o' Noo Zepheeria. I gotta special message for all you lovely people, I 'ave, an' wo' I gotta say is zis: nah vat I'm President, we're gonn 'ave some fun. We're gonna make Noo Zepheeria ve lan' where dreams come true. Jus' you 'member: Nanny knows best, and wot Nanny knows is a little bit o' wot yer fancies perks yer up no end.

"Nah listen! You've all seen vem gobbin' poshos wot won't join in ve fun, ain'cha? Vey finks it's neaf veir dignity to let veir 'air dahn like wot you an' me do. Too gobbin' good fer us, ain't vey? Don't join in ve raves. Never see 'em wiv a fag in veir mahves, do yer? Ho dear me no. Smoking's soooo dirty. Ve 'Ellcat's is too noisy. Don't like ve narsty vi'lence on telly. Dont like nuffin' wot ord'nary people like. Gobbin' poshos!

"Vey're ve people wot wants to stop you 'avin' fun! Vey want ter make you miserable gobbers like wot vey are. Vey're ve ones wot want ter stop Noo Zepheeria bein' ve land where dreams come true.

"You know wot I fink? Well I'll tell yer. Vese gobbin' poshos want ter bring back ve monarchy. Vey wanna kick poor ol' Nanny out, tear dahn 'er lovely palace, close all 'er Gingerbread Cottages - an' make vat vere Prince Bruce King, 'im wot murdered poor, dear Prince Bertie wot was ve only fun-lovin' one out of ve 'ole gobbin' lot of 'em.

"Well, donchoo stan' for it, dearies. 'F you catch any of vem gobbin' miserable poshos wot wants to stop us 'avin' fun, jus' you mike 'em join in. Play ve 'Ellcats an' ve Nightmares loud as yer can, shove a fag in veir gob, an' make 'em dance.

"Wot would poor dear Prince Bertie 'ave done? 'Im as was sent out by 'is own muvver so's he could be murdered by 'is own cousin? 'Im wot's gorn beyond ve Black Stump and can never come back to us. I'll tell you wot 'e would've done wiv vem gobbin' miserable poshos: 'e'd 'ave 'ad ve trahziz off'em, vat's wot e'd a' done. So go get 'em dearies. 'F vey wanna stop you 'avin' fun, you go an' 'ave some fun wiv vem.

"An' ere's anovver fing. Vem gobbin' poshos wot won't listen to ve 'Ellcats, vem as wants to stop you playing ve Nightmares at full belt like wot you 'ave a right to, vey plays veir own moosic - moosic vey calls it - all ve ol' catgut stuff. Well, we can't 'ave vat, can we? An' all vem ol' books wot vey reads, all full o' po'try and 'ist'ry and vat sort o' boring posho stuff? Not a decent murder nor a nice punch up for pages and pages. Wot we gonna do abaht it?

"I'll tell yer wot we're gonna do 'baht it. We're gonna get rid of all vat ol' vat ol'catgut stuff, an' we're gonna burn all vem ol' books, all vat po'try an 'ist'ry an vat. We're gonna celebrate ve noo Republic by burnin' all ve lib'ries an' all ve mooseums - an' we're gonna turn ve University into a People's Fun Palace. Go an' mike bonfires, dearies! Go an' mike bonfires of all vem ol' books. Mike ve biggest bonfires wot 'as ever been seen in Noo Zepheeria, jus' to show poor ol' Nanny 'ow much you love 'er."

Nanny Scungebucket leered into the camera, and then the scene changed. Before Prince Egbert's horrified gaze there passed across the screen scenes like those he had witnessed the previous night, but now they made a coherent story of widespread destruction: libraries and museums were looted and their contents hurled onto bonfires. Gangs of thieves and vandals smashed their way into the houses of suspected "poshos" and emerged laden with books and pictures to feed the fires, or with clothes, jewellery and electronic equipment with which they scurried away into the darkness. Tearful students clutching precious volumes, or theses to which they had devoted years of labour, were dragged out of their rooms, beaten up, and forced to watch the flames consume their books and their own work. Dishevelled musicians watched in mute or wailing agony as violins and cellos, flutes, clarinets and even pianos were burned to ash.

Prince Egbert watched in despair and disbelief. He saw a crowd surround the Waka-nui, the Great War-Canoe, the most sacred of all the monuments of the People of the Sea. He saw the Elders of the Sea People driven back with volleys of stones while the fun-loving crowd smashed the beautifully carved boat to pieces and hurled its fragments on to the fire. Among the dancing youths, devil-like in the smoke, he saw the squat form of a man who could have been the twin brother of Azog, urging them on, and he saw that among those smashing the canoe and stoning the elders were brown as well as white faces.

He saw churches stripped of statues, chalices, vestments, altar-cloths, altars and pews. Centuries-old stained-glass was shattered Even the great west doors of the Cathedral were hauled from their hinges - here too he saw a twin to Azog - and all the while the thumping, throbbing unmusic of the Hellcats and the Nightmares inspired the fun-loving followers of the new Supreme Commander to ever more senseless, cruel and violent acts of destruction.

Nigel Crimper appeared. "Eunnngh! Supreme Commander Nanny Scungebucket is very pleased with the celebration of the beginning of her reign," he sniggered. "And there will be more celebrations tonight. Nnnngh, nnngh, nnngh, Scungebucket Stormtroopers have been guarding the Royal Palace and the University, to say nothing of the National Library ... sheee-heee-heee-heee ... and tonight Nanny herself will lead the revels at one or another of these monarchist monuments. Sheee-heee-heee ... hee-heee-heeee. We'll have even bigger bonfires on the next three nights. Nngh, nngh, long live Nanny Scungebucket, President and Supreme Commander of Noo Zepheeria ... Sheee-heee-heee-heee ... shee-hee ... sh-sh-sheee-heee-heee."

Prince Egbert sprang to his feet and switched off the television. The Palace, the University and the National Library had not been looted. Nanny wanted to be there herself to make sure that everything in them was properly destroyed. She wanted no monarchist relics that might be venerated by dissidents. She wanted to be sure of destroying every record of New Zephyria's past history - in particular she wanted to ensure that no trace remained of the Chronicle of New Zephyria. Prince Egbert had to find it before it was burned.

* * * * *

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