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 23:
The Inauguration of President Scungebucket

Copyright Robin Gordon, 1996/2004

If Queen Elizabeth had expected her conveyance to Nanny Scungebucket's inauguration to be a dignified progress through cheering crowds she was sadly disabused. She and the Princess Cinderella were loaded like animals into a closed and insanitary van, which, judging by its smell, had last been used to carry drunks. The mingled aroma of cheap booze, urine and vomit would have turned even the strongest of stomachs. No doubt the Stormtroopers - or the man who had given them their orders, Nigel Crimper - intended the Queen and her daughter-in-law to reel from the van retching and miserable so that the humiliation of their self-abasement before the ascendant power of Scungebucket and Crimper should be made all the more wretched by their physical discomfort.

"I can't bear it," sobbed Cinderella. "I'm going to be sick."

The Queen was made of sterner stuff. Generations of good breeding and decades of maintaining a dignified regal demeanour had given her an unparalleled sang froid, in fact her sang had become so froid that she could have cooled a bottle of champagne merely by clasping it to her bosom.

"Noblesse oblige," she said coldly and with an impeccable Mistralian accent. "We shall have worse things to face than mere unpleasant smells before this day is out. We must do our duty. When you have breathed this air a little while you will cease to notice its stench. Remember, we are on our way to save New Zephyria. We must not let our people down! We must not fail Bertie!"

"We must not fail Bertie," whispered the miserable princess.

"Remember what Bertie has been through," the Queen continued. "He has travelled the length and breadth of the Kingdom in all weathers and faced wild beasts and brigands. He has descended to the Underworld and faced Nightmares and other hellish creatures beyond our human imagining. Think of the Labyrinth. If Bertie could make his way through the Labyrinth we should not flinch at a journey in an ordinary van."

Thus spake Elizabeth, Queen of New Zephyria, as she sat on the floor of a disgusting old van, radiating from within a regal splendour that neither the vile smells nor the jolting, juddering, bouncing progress of the squalid vehicle could disturb. Looking at her, Cinderella was convinced that nothing could ever shake her equanimity, and she determined not to disappoint her.

As they approached the city the noise increased. From every lamp-post blared the unmusic of the Hellcats and the Nightmares. Helicopters hovered overhead with lights flashing, pulsating lasers raking the clouds, and projectors casting lurid and disgusting pictures onto every surface from clouds and rooftops to walls and the ground. From each of the helicopters the unmusic blasted, drowning the roar of its engines, shaking the windows of the houses, and terrifying the few remaining birds and animals, sending them scurrying for shelter or fleeing the city as if pursued by fire.

The van shuddered to a halt, the doors were flung open, and a Scungebucket Stormtrooper rattled on the sides, yelling: "Out! Come on, you gobbers! Out! Less be gobbin' avin' yer!"

With an icy regality the Queen descended, followed by Princess Cinderella. She gave the stormtrooper a regal smile and slightly inclined her head as if in thanks for a pleasant journey, then swept with royal aplomb towards the entrance to Nanny's palace.

The stormtrooper stood gaping after her with his mouth open, looking rather like a bemused codfish, though less intelligent. Confused thoughts jumbled in his brain, but all he said was, "Cor!"

* * * * *

To Prince Egbert the walk from the Three Goats to Nanny's palace was like a descent to the Underworld. Thousands of people in various states of confusion were flooding along the streets, more of them, it seemed, than any palace could possibly hold. They converged on the pink monstrosity like dead souls flooding to the Black Stump, and, like those same dead souls, entered the portals in a constant stream from which none returned.

Occasionally he saw unhappy people trying to break out of the crowd and escape down a side-street, but stormtroopers at every corner hemmed in the human flood and would allow no-one out. Here and there tributary streams flowed into the main concourse, bringing hundreds more to join the jostling throng, and then the torrent of stumbling humanity merged with another even bigger to form an ocean of New Zephyrians surging into the portals of the presidential palace that loomed over the city where the trees and flowers of the Royal Botanical Gardens had once grown.

Prince Egbert was swept through the portal. So too were Queen Elizabeth and Princess Cinderella, though he did not see them nor they him. The Queen had stalked grandly towards the entrance, with Princess Cinderella hurrying behind, anxious not to lose her - but all her regal grandeur had counted for nothing when she came to that unstoppable flood of humanity. Scungebucket Stormtroopers thrust the two women into the crowd, and they were swept along, scarcely able to keep their feet.

Desperately Cinderella seized her mother-in-law's hand, only just in time. The pressure of the crowd drove them away from each other, to arms' length, almost pulled their clutching hands apart, then suddenly, as they turned a corner, pressed them so close together that they were able to fling their arms tightly round one another. In this unstately posture they swept along, dancers in a clumsy waltz, swaying and spinning, always moving in the same direction, sometimes forwards, sometimes sideways, sometimes backwards.

On and on they were swept in the dizzying swirl, never resting, never, as the Queen had expected, finding a seat in the nave of some cathedral-like hall. The palace of Nanny Scungebucket was a labyrinth of movement. They whirled in never-ceasing, thronging pressure along corridors, down slopes, across a vast throne-room lit by flickering screens and pulsing lights, up steps, along galleries, round the edge of the vast space, crying out in terror as they were forced suddenly against a balustrade and almost toppled into the emptiness where the lights and screens still flickered, then, before their scream was uttered, they were pushed and jostled onwards, away from the danger, pressed for a moment into a dark corner, then propelled onwards, ever onwards, up steps, along galleries, then down again and out on to the floor of the immense throne-room, to the very steps of the presidential dais itself. There the crowd were brutally thrust back by stormtroopers, pushed on again by those behind, on, on, across the vast hall, into other galleries on the far side, then up and up again to the upper storeys, never ceasing, always in movement - and all the time the noise increased: the crowd screamed and groaned and shouted, though the only words the Queen could actually hear were "Gob!", "Gobber!" and "Gob off, you gobbin' gobber!" From loudspeakers mounted beside the viewing screens on every pillar pulsed the foul unmusic of the Hellcats and the Nightmares. Its beat, just faster than a human heartbeat, increased the sense of panic. The screeching of the singers, which the Queen had once thought subhuman, was now clearly inhuman.

Through this inferno of noise and movement they sensed a sudden heightening of excitement. The Queen and Cinderella were on one of the higher galleries when suddenly the cavernous throne-room was lit up by a more powerful, weirdly flickering light. The colossal screen, behind the stage on which stood the presidential throne, suddenly came to life. The Nightmares and the Hellcats flickered across its immense expanse. Then Nanny Scungebucket herself appeared, and, looking down, they saw the President Elect in person come suddenly on to the platform, presumably from a door below the screen.

Nanny Scungebucket took her seat upon the throne, with Khazgûn, the captain of her guard, behind her, and the cousins Crimper, Prime Minister and Archbishop of New Zephyria at her sides.

Archbishop Crimper stepped forward, and his face appeared, enlarged to obscene dimensions on the screen above.

"Euuuunnngh! In the name of Nanny Scungebucket, President and Supreme Commander of Noo Zepheeria," he honked, "let us all confess our debt to Nanny Scungebucket, the saviour of Noo Zepheeria. Hail Nanny!"

"HAIL NANNY!" bellowed Khazgûn and all the Presidential Guard.

"HAIL NANNY!" roared the crowd, still jostling and pushing and moving and swirling on the floor of the hall and round the galleries.

"Glory be to Nanny Scungebucket!" honked Archbishop Crimper.

"Glory! Glory!" barked Khazgûn and the stormtroopers.

"GLORY! GLORY!" roared the crowd.

"Nnngh! Now let's have a number from the Hellcats," howled the false Archbishop.

Instantly the screen changed and the Hellcats appeared. Blood dripped from their fangs as they howled a paean of praise to infernal anti-deities. It seemed scarcely possible that anyone could ever have thought them human.

Prime Minister Crimper now moved forward. "Euunngh! Nnngh! Nnngh! And now it's time for Nanny's enemies to learn their lesson," he howled. "Bring out the traitor Jolly!"

Stormtroopers charged through the body of the cavern, barging people out of the way, crashed up the steps, and threw down before the presidential throne the slight figure of an infirm old man. The Queen and Cinderella were jostled on and away and up more stairs and saw no more, but Prince Egbert found himself thrust to the front of a gallery, bracing his arms against the balustrade to stop himself being pushed over the edge to fall crashing into the cavern below, as seemed already to have happened to several unfortunates.

He stared down, straight into the face of his old friend and tutor, Professor James Jolly.

"Nnnnngh! Nnnnngh!," honked Nigel Crimper. "Now the catechism begins, and here's your first question, shee-hee-hee-hee-hee ... Name three hits by the Nightmares and you have fifteen seconds to answer starting from now!"

Professor Jolly gaped, uncomprehending.

"Nnnngh! Time's up!" honked Crimper. "You could have won a holiday for two at Scungebucket-on-Sea ... shee-hee-hee-hee ... but now you have to answer correctly this next question or else you'll be gunged ... hee-hee-hee-hee ... Nnnngh! Next question: name the lead singer of the Hellcats!"

Professor Jolly made no reply. Above Nanny's throne the colossal screen showed his worried face amid a swirling collage of howling Hellcats.

"Eeeuuuuunnnnngh! Time's UP!" honked Crimper. "Prepare the gunge!"

A huge cauldron rose rumbling through the floor next to the presidential podium.

"Eunngh! Open the gunge!" cried Nigel Crimper.

A chain rattled from the darkness of the roof. A magnet clanged against the lid of the cauldron, then, slowly, it was raised.

The smell from the gunge was unimaginably, indescribably awful. The crowd in the galleries above pressed back and jostled the weakest to the front. The Queen and Cinderella were pushed and shoved to the very edge of the gallery, and there, at last, they found Prince Egbert.

On the dais Prime Minister Crimper and Archbishop Crimper turned an intriguing greenish-yellow shade, not unlike Araxia's complexion, and edged over to the far side. Nanny Scungebucket leaned forward on her throne and twitched her nostrils. Alone in that crowd she and the demon, Khazgûn breathed deeply, as though enraptured by the aroma.

"Gunge 'im, dearies," said Nanny sweetly.

White faced stormtroopers hurriedly bundled the motionless professor into a harness attached to a rope, swung him out over the side of the podium, and plunged him into the gunge, where he struggled and spluttered.

"At's nuff," murmured Nanny.

They swung him back onto the platform and scurried off as far as possible. Professor Jolly lay gasping and wheezing.

"At's jussa start o' wot'll 'appen ter Nanny's em'mies," murmured the President, and her amplified voice was heard all over the cavern and the labyrinth of galleries, while the immense screen and all the myriad lesser screens showed in close-up the spluttering victim.

Then Khazgûn strode forward and swung his boot to send the miserable old man rolling down the steps into the body of the hall. The people there jerked back from the stench of his filth-encrusted body and sent another shock-wave rippling through the tightly packed hall and galleries. Again the Royal family were jostled from their vantage point and sent staggering along the gallery, clinging to each other for dear life. In their confusion they heard the unmusic of the Hellcats and Nightmares reach fever pitch once more. They were pressed tightly into a dark corner, but through the struggling crowd around them they could just see a small screen mounted on a pillar.

Scungebucket Stormtroopers came swaggering into the cavernous hall, shoving and kicking the crowds aside, and setting in motion another jostling, swirling current across the floor. Behind them came others bearing aloft the symbols of the New Zephyrian state: the Royal Crown, the Sacred Orb, the Sceptre of Justice and the Sword of State. The Queen, Prince and Princess saw them climb the steps with their trophies, but then they were jostled away from the screen.

As they struggled along the galleries, pushed this way and that, shoved forwards, backwards and sideways all at once, jostled, elbowed, kneed and kicked, they caught fleeting glimpses - now on the dais, now on the colossal screen above it, now on one of the smaller screens - of the ceremonial delivery of power into the hands of Nanny Scungebucket.

Prime Minister Crimper took the crown with a snigger, knelt before the President-Elect, then laid it on the floor and lifted her right foot onto it. His cousin, the false Archbishop, took the Orb, symbol of the World surmounted by the Cross, and placed it beneath the left foot of Nanny Scungebucket. Then he took the Sceptre and put it into her hands. She held it up, then passed it to the Prime Minister. The Sword of State she brandished with surprising strength for so old and seemingly frail a woman, then handed it to Khazgûn. For a moment the eyes of the Prime Minister and the Captain of the Presidential Guard met, and Crimper determined in that instant that Khazgûn must go.

"Nah, ve oaves," Nanny commanded, then she added quietly to Crimper, "Ven arter vat we'll sacrifice ve babies an' I'll 'ave a nice drink o' baby's blood."

Crimper sniggered. Still clutching the Sceptre, he flung himself down on his knees in front of the enthroned President.

Euuuuunnnngh! Nnngh! Nnngh! I, Nigel Crimper ... nnngh nnngh ... Prime Minister of Noo Zepheeria and First Lord of the Treasury do solemnly swear on my immortal soul that I will faithfully serve you, Nanny Scungebucket, as long as you shall live ... shee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee ... chee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee!"

"At's nice, dearie," the President murmured. "Nah ve gobbin' Church!"

Archbishop Crimper flung himself on his knees and swore on his immortal soul that he too would serve her as long as she should live.

"At's lovely," she murmured sweetly. "Nah I want ve gobbin' ex-Queen!"

"WHERE'S VE GOBBIN' EX-QUEEN?" roared Khazgûn. "WHERE'S CINDERELLA?"

* * * * *

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