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 24: Ruahine-nui Makutu

Copyright Robin Gordon, 1996/2004

The jostling had brought the Royal party near to the front of the third gallery at the end of the hall.

"I am here," the Queen called as regally as she could, but there was no chance of a single voice being heard in all the cacophony.

Her immediate neighbours heard her. "Ere vey are!" they called, and the message was passed from one to another till the whole of the third gallery was shouting and pointing: "Vere vey are! Vere vey are!"

"FETCH 'EN DAHN!" roared Khazgûn.

Queen Elizabeth, Prince Egbert and Princess Cinderella, clutching one another in panic, were pushed, jostled and shoved along the gallery. They lost their footing. Their feet were off the floor. They were bouncing and jolting over the heads of the people, passed by eager arms from one to the next, like corks bobbing in a torrent, through narrow doorways, striking elbows knees and heads on the pillars, then headfirst down the steps, tossing from hand to hand like the hero of that famous old film An Aquilian at Christminster - but this was no mere undergraduate rag. There was more at stake than trousers: their own lives and the lives of all their people.

Along the next gallery they went, like flotsam on the billows of a mighty river, spinning this way and that. Cinderella was sea-sick. Prince Egbert, folded in his cloak , his arms crossed on his chest, his head hunched low, felt as if he were back in the heaving, spinning labyrinth in the Underworld. The Queen had lost all semblance of dignity. She gasped and groaned as she was flung from hand to hand like an unwieldy sack of potatoes.

Down the narrow rapids of another staircase the violent current hurled them, grazing their heads against the low roof, then out into another gallery, spinning across it, until they shot over the edge, out into the void and fell ...

... but not very far. The lowest gallery was only just above the heads of the people on the floor of the cavernous hall. Again they were tossed like spars from some wrecked ship, over the heads of this human sea, to be cast at last on the black steps of the presidential dais.

Scungebucket Stormtroopers seized them by the arms, turned them to face the podium and threw them on their knees.

"CRAWL!" bellowed Khazgûn's harsh voice from somewhere above.

Crawl! It was all that they could have done. Slowly, from step to step, they crawled, and, as they crawled, they tried to set their spinning brains to rights, to remember why they had come and what they had to do.

At last they reached the top and halted, still on their hands and knees and trembling with the effort, before the President enthroned. Close before their faces they saw her feet: one on the Royal Crown of New Zephyria and one upon the Orb. The crosses surmounting each were bent beneath her shoes.

"Eungh! Welcome, Comrade Elizabeth and Comrade Cinderella," sniggered Nigel Crimper. "Welcome to the new Noo Zepheeria ... shee-hee-hee-hee ... Now swear allegiance to President Scungebucket!"

Queen Elizabeth knelt up so that she could see the grinning President. The other two kept their hands on the floor and their heads bowed.

"I Elizabeth," she began, "formerly Queen of New Zephyria ..."

At these words, formerly Queen of New Zephyria, Nanny Scungebucket, Khazgûn, the Crimpers, the Nightmares, the Hellcats, and the stormtroopers set up a great, mocking jeer of triumph that was taken up by the populace in the hall till it echoed all across the floor and around the galleries.

As it died away Cinderella raised herself back onto her knees.

"... and I Cinderella," she said, "Queen of New Zephyria ..."

Renewed jeering broke out and echoed round the cavern.

"Euuunnngh! Your brains are still scrambled from your journey," honked the Prime Minister. "Queen?! Shee-hee-hee-hee ... hee-hee-hee ...chee-hee-hee-hee!"

The third figure, the young man who had climbed the steps with them raised his head. He stood up.

"... and I, Egbert," he said loudly and boldly, "King of New Zephyria ..."

There was consternation. Even the unmusic and drumming stopped. The silence was like sudden deafness.

Then Crimper honked, "Nnnnnnghhh! You're dead!"

"At's righ', dearie," sneered Nanny Scungebucket. "Poor dear, Bertie's gone beyond ve Black Stump. We all know vat. So 'oo are you?"

"I am Egbert, King of New Zephyria," said Prince Egbert. "Like my great ancestor, Theowulf, First Prince of New Zephyria, I have gone in this mortal body beyond the Black Stump and into the Underworld, and now I am returned to claim my inheritance."

"Well, dearie, at's all very nice," murmured Nanny Scungebucket, not in the least put out, "but you're too late. Church an' state 'ave both sworn allegiance to me. 'F yer wanna challenge me nah, y'll 'ave ter fight me champion, won't'cher? Kill 'im, Khazgûn!"

The Captain of her guard grinned evilly and slowly slid the Sword of State out of its sheath.

"Wait!" Prince Egbert rapped out. "I have come to challenge you, Nanny Scungebucket, and you must hear me!"

"Must I though, dearie?"

"In the name of the Twelve Great Spirits of New Zephyria, I command you!"

"Vey've all gone, dearie."

"The spell is broken if I can tell the true name of Auld Hinnie McIldhu!"

For a moment she hesitated. Then her eyes glittered and she hissed, "Tell us then, dearie! Tell us abaht Auld Hinnie ... wass'ername?"

"You, Nanny Scungebucket, are Auld Hinnie McIldhu!"

She reared upright on her throne. For an instant he seemed to see an immense, black-clad crone, then the moment passed, and Nanny Scungebucket, tiny, ancient Nanny Scungebucket in her lurid hues, was staring at him.

"Why, so I may be, dearie, so I may, but vat's neever 'ere nor vere. You've failed!"

"You, Nanny Scungebucket, Auld Hinnie McIldhu," he said, "are Ruahine-nui Makutu!"

Sssssssssssssssss!

This time there was no mistaking the change. The thing on the Presidential Throne was no longer Nanny Scungebucket. Prince Egbert jerked back. Queen Elizabeth and Cinderella clung to each other in terror. On the floor below and in the galleries above the people pressed back and turned their faces away, but it was impossible to avoid the ghastly sight. On the colossal screen she was shown, on every screen on every pillar, on every television screen throughout the land where New Zephyrians were watching the Inauguration. In every home fathers and mothers gagged and gasped, children retched and fainted. What was on the screen was not human, nor was it animal, not like any of the foul things that breed in putrefaction. It was not of life, but it was eternal, and it was evil.

Sssso! she hissed, You know me, but you have recognised me too late. Church and ssstate have sssworn.

"The oaths of a hypocrite are not binding on the just," said Prince Egbert, "and yonder thing is no archbishop."

Nigel Crimper meanwhile was stirring. His complexion flushed fiery red, then whitened, deadly pale. His sharp nose quivered, and he honked.

"Eungh! Nnnnngh! Nnnnngh! You! You! You! You have betrayed me!"

Beside himself with rage he seemed to have lost all fear of the figure on the throne.

"You! You! You let me go on thinking you were old! I thought I should be President when you died. They should all serve me! I should be Supreme Commander! I should be King! But you you you ... you won't die!! You have cheated ME!!! Nnnngh! Nnnngh! Nnnngh!"

For a moment Nanny Scungebucket was back. "At's right, dearie," she grinned, "an' you've swore allegiance to me as long as I shall live."

Again Ruahine-nui Makutu occupied the throne. Asss long asss I ssshall live! she hissed.

Crimper's wild rush at her was frozen.

I have a place for you, she hissed. Sssee, he comes, my ssservant Barb, the Father of Lies.

Swirling smoke filled the immense screen above the throne. Through it there came a serpent, coiling and writhing. Closer it came till its immense head filled the screen. Then it lunged forward through the smoke and out of the screen. The mouth of the serpent opened and from it protruded a tongue of livid, fungoid blue, forked and barbed, and on that tongue grew pustules - and every pustule was the head of a hypocrite.

The breath of the serpent came upon Crimper and his cousin, the false archbishop. The tongue of the serpent swept around them, and they were gone - but upon the tongue of the serpent were two new pustules. From one of them came the thin wail of a well-known voice: "No-o-o-o! Nnnngh! Nnnngh! You cheated me!"

That'sss where you belong hissed Ruahine-nui Makutu. You ssshall ssserve Barb and invent new lies. You ssshall continue forever as you were in life - but now you are the ssslave of Ruahine-nui Makutu!

The serpent Barb gave a sinister snigger, then receded again into the swirling smoke. It vanished and the smoke began to clear, revealing to the astonished New Zephyrians a furious Oliphaunt. The legendary beast was bellowing and stamping, and again a current of movement swirled through the crowd as those nearest the dais pushed back.

Take what isss yoursss if you dare, hissed the sorceress.

Prince Egbert stepped forward.

Not you! You have been in my realm before. You may not go there again before your time. You ssshall not go, but if there isss any here you can trussst, if there isss any here who will risssk hisss life for your cause, sssend him! If not you are lossst!

Ruahine-nui Makutu leaned back in her throne with an expression of immense self-satisfaction.

Cinderella stepped forward.

Ssssssss! You dare face the Oliphaunt?

"Vicky," murmured Cinderella, more to give herself courage than as a reply.

She walked into the swirling smoke, into the screen, small and frail before the Oliphaunt.

"I am Cinderella," she said, "wife of Egbert, King of New Zephyria. If you remember Egbert, let me pass!"

The Oliphaunt trumpeted wildly. Ruahine-nui Makutu sniggered. The crowd gasped. Egbert's jaw dropped open. Cinderella shuddered and drew back. Then the Oliphaunt sank to its knees.

Egbert and the crowd breathed again. Ruahine-nui Makutu gave a screech of fury that sent the people at the front of the galleries pushing and jostling to hide, and Cinderella disappeared behind the Oliphaunt and through a door.

Time passed. King Egbert could scarcely bear to stay still. His mother laid her hand on his arm, and he stood and waited.

At last Cinderella appeared holding the baby princess. She passed the Oliphaunt and stood by King Egbert.

"We claim our baby! We claim our future!" he cried. "We claim Oliver Simpkin's memory! We claim our past!"

"Oliver Simpkin's memory, dearie," murmured Nanny Scungebucket. "I don't fink so, not less 'e claims it 'isself."

"Unfair!" said Queen Elizabeth, outraged.

Do you exssspect the Powersss of Darknesss to be fair?

"I suppose not," said the Queen icily. "Mr Holland!"

"Here, Your Majesty."

Another swirling and jostling in the sea of people in the hall, and Sam Holland burst forth and dragged Oliver Simpkin up the steps.

"Where are we going? I don't want to go near that ... whatever it is."

"Come along, Mr Simpkin," the Queen commanded.

Sam and King Egbert each took one of his arms and propelled him towards the Oliphaunt. The great grey beast strained eagerly towards him. Its trunk touched his face. Beast and man cried out together in one great shout. Then the Oliphaunt was gone, back to the veldt and scrubland of Africa in its own mythical world, and Mr Secretary Simpkin was in possession of his memory.

"Where am I?" he snapped. "What is this place? Sam! What are you doing here? How did I get here? I was on my way to see the King. I must go!"

"A lot of water has flowed under the bridges since that day, Olly," replied Sam. "You lost your memory and ..."

"Absurd!" snapped Oliver Simpkin. "I remember perfectly well. I was on my way to see the King ... then dreams ... horrible dreams ... I dreamt I was an Oliphaunt ... GREAT HEAVENS! THAT'S RUAHINE-NUI MAKUTU!!"

At these words the people remembered their whole history. They had recoiled from the thing on the throne as a hideous evil, now they recognised her, the Bane of New Zephyria, the One who had tried to destroy the People of the Sea and been defeated by the First Prince, the One who had sworn her revenge.

Then the bells of the cathedral began to ring and Ruahine-nui Makutu rose from her throne in awe-inspiring rage.

* * * * *

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