by Robin Gordon
- Auksford -
Part IV: Nanny Scungebucket
Chapter 25: Choose!
Copyright Robin Gordon, 1996/2004
The Archbishop had come to shore. He and his chaplain had walked all through the night and come at last to the city. The streets were deserted. The cathedral was stripped of its finery. The archiepiscopal palace lay open, looted and plundered. They found their way at last to the chaplain's modest bed-sitting room in the attics of a side wing that the looters had largely ignored. His room was untouched. They turned on the television. They saw Prince Egbert challenge Nanny Scungebucket. They heard that the new President and Supreme Commander was one identity in an unholy trinity, one with Auld Hinnie McIldhu and some unknown sorceress called Rooey-Hinny McSomething-or-other, and they saw her transformation.
"The bells!" cried the Archbishop. They flew from the bedsit, down the stairs, across the close to the cathedral. The bells were still in place, and soon they were tolling out across the city.
Bishops, priests and deacons, skulking fearfully in hidey-holes, heard the bells, came running out to their own churches and joined the peal. Vergers and churchwardens ran from the ruins of cottages, seized the bell-ropes and rang a mighty peal across the city. The Archbishop relinquished his rope to a verger and ran towards the Presidential Palace. All around him he heard the sound of bells, and suddenly he remembered: not Rooey-Hinny McSomething-or other, Ruahine-nui Makutu.
In the villages churchmen and women ran to their churches to join their ministers in calling the people to arms. Across the whole country the message spread until the whole of New Zephyria heard the bells.
snarled the Sorceress. You
think to drive me from my prey with the sssound of bellssss? Too late!
Too late! Many New Zzzephyriansss are mine! Mine forever! All mussst
now choossse. Who will you
choose, dearies? Who will you choose? Don't forget poor old Nanny
Scungebucket, wot brought you Nursssery Pride an' Nightmare Topping.
Dear ol' Nanny wot drove aht ve gobbin' poshos wiv vere ol' catgut
moosic an' give you ve Nightmares an' ve 'Ellcats. You choose, dearies.
At's right, you choose. Nanny, or vem gobbin' poshos."
Every New Zephyrian heard her words and saw her metamorphose, as she spoke, back into Nanny Scungebucket, the proprietress of the Gingerbread Cottages - but they could not entirely forget Ruahine-nui Makutu.
"We must choose, Araxia!" bellowed Bulkomia. "Nanny or Egbert?"
"Our dear little Cinderella, who used to look after us ..."
"Or Nanny Scungebucket, who gave us those DELICIOUS ready-to-eat snackettes?
"Oh, what shall we do? What shall we do?"
"We are the new King's sisters-in-law ... almost"
"But we are the President's friends ..."
"Help me, Araxia!"
"Oh! Oh! What shall we do? What shall we do?"
Beside King Egbert stood an evil-smelling figure. "Excuse the slime, Sire," quavered Professor Jolly, and went down on one knee to kiss his sovereign's hand.
"Tally ho!" called a well-known voice, and a small man in brown came bounding up the steps. "Up and at 'em, Your Majesty! Sock 'em on the bean and biff 'em in the breadbasket!" cried Dr Pimple.
A bulky man, smelling somewhat the worse for overindulgence in cheap booze heaved himself up the steps, squared his shoulders, pulled his jacket straight, and almost, but not quite, glided to the King's side.
"Allow me, mate ... I mean Your Majesty," said Bastable, picking up the discarded cloak and draping it over his arm.
Arguments and fights broke out all over the hall and in the galleries. Some were for Nanny Scungebucket and others for Egbert, some for the traditions of New Zephyria and others for the fast life of ready-cooked pseudo-foods and cacophonous unmusic.
I like thisss! hissed the
Sorceress. Brother ssshall
kill brother. Sssissster ssshall ssslaughter sssissster, and the lassst
daysss ssshall come.
In vain King Egbert called on his people to stop, then again a figure burst through the struggling crowd and surged up the steps. It was the Archbishop, now in full robes.
"Hear me!" he called from the dais. "This is no longer a matter for disputation. It is a question of theology. Each and everyone of you is responsible for his or her own soul. You cannot help or hinder anyone else. You cannot be helped or hindered by them. The choice is between life and death, between good and evil, between the service of God and that of the Devil. Who is your liege lord and sovereign? King Egbert of New Zephyria or Ruahine-nui Makutu, the Sorceress of Death?"
Again there arose a confused babble: "King Egbert!" "Nanny Scungebucket!" "King Egbert! King Egbert!" "Nanny! Nanny Scungebucket!"
Dr Pimple seized the King's right hand and raised it high. "Long live King Egbert!" he bawled.
"Long live King Egbert!" echoed the Archbishop.
"Long live King Egbert!" they cried again, and thousands of voices joined them.
"LONG LIVE NANNY SCUNGEBUCKET!" roared Khazgûn.
"Yeah! Long live Nanny!" yelled the Stormtroopers on the dais and others on the floor of the cavernous hall. Some hesitated, and a few sheepishly took off their plastic bomber-jackets with the blood-red "SS" symbols, dropped them under the feet of the milling crowds and quietly joined King Egbert's supporters.
From the swirling smoke in the great screen, reflected in all the little screen, came voices, sweet and angelic voices, suave and convincing voices, persuasive, reassuring, full of promise. Remember Nanny Scungebucket, they called. Remember all the good things she gave you: Nursery Pride (the bread that's so light you don't even know you've eaten), Nightmare Topping, Golden Gaspers, the Gingerbread Cottages, the Nightmares and the Hellcats. Who could forget Nanny Scungebucket, so old, so tiny?
"Long Live King Egbert! Long live King Egbert!" More and more New Zephyrians joined the cry, and now, from among the many sweet voices, one grew louder than the rest.
"Euungh! Is this the sort of loyalty we can expect? What has Nanny done to deserve this? Hasn't she done enough for you. Nursery pride ... Nnnngh! Nnnngh! .... Nightmare Topping ... Nnnngh! Nnnngh! ... Golden Gaspers ... Sheee-hee-hee ... Shee-hee-hee-hee ... Mmnnngh! The Nightmares and the Hellcats to drive away the silence. It was Nanny who saved you from the gobbin' poshos. Nnnnngh! What has Clown Prince Flirty Bertie ever done for you? He's a wastrel who goes around playing nasty tricks, stealing gates and garden gnomes, changing the time on clocks, tying doors together, kissing girls, debagging boys, and waking people up in the middle of the night!"
"Remember Ruahine-nui Makutu!" snapped Oliver Simpkin. "Never forget Ruahine-nui Makutu!"
"Long live King Egbert! Long Live King Egbert! LONG LIVE KING EGBERT!"
You think you have won, snarled
the Sorceress, but you have
not yet fought my champion.
"I will fight Khazgûn," said Egbert.
Khazzzgûn! My champion is the Great Taniwha, the
Earthssshaker! Let him come forth!
him come forth! snarled the
Sorceress, but still nothing happened. He
comesss! hissed the Sorceress. He
comesss from deep under the earth. Do not put your trussst in your puny
weaponsss, boy. It wasss by a lucky fluke that your ancssessstor,
Theowulf killed my pet, and you are not the man he wass!
"Maybe not," said King Egbert, "but my puny weapons have already killed a taniwha. Perhaps it is the one you seek?"
thisss ssso? she demanded.
"WHERE IS EARTHSHAKER TANIWHA?" roared Khazgûn.
"D...d...dead..." faltered one of the lesser demons.
Ruahine-nui Makutu rose up from her throne like a tornado. The Nightmares, the Hellcats, Khazgûn and the demons fled before her through the smoke of the colossal screen. Immense rose Ruahine-nui Makutu. Her blackness filled the cavern. The stench of her breath made the people reel and retch and almost faint. Then, like the blast of the hurricane she stormed through the screen. It billowed and writhed behind her. Great stones began to fall from the roof. The galleries began to crumble.
"Let us leave this place of iniquity!" shouted the Archbishop.
The people began to throng towards the exits, screaming as the building crumbled around them. They crowded and pushed and jostled, but some pushed and elbowed their way in the opposite direction, up the steps, onto the dais, and into the still smoking mirror of Hell.
King Egbert, Bastable and Dr Pimple began to try and turn them back. Queen Elizabeth and Queen Cinderella called to them in vain.
"They have made their choice," said the Archbishop. "They have been called. We cannot stop them."
Stormtroopers and shopkeepers, lawyers and librarians, bakers and bus-drivers, janitors, journalists, judges and jacks-of-all-trades, ministers of religion and members of the Government trooped silently past and into the mirror, and as the last passed through it, it solidified, cracked, and collapsed in a shower of jagged shards.
The Royal party and their supporters snatched up the Crown, the Orb, the Sceptre and the Sword and fled from the podium. They followed the loyal New Zephyrians through the hail of falling stones. The whole ghastly edifice was crumbling and tumbling around them, but by some miracle no-one was hit, no-one was left behind, no-one was buried in the ruins.
Outside they turned to watch as the immense pink palace folded in upon itself. The roof crashed down. The walls shook, split, and came cascading down. The galleries collapsed into the cavernous hall, until all that was left was rubble.
The last crash died away and there was silence. Then, suddenly, from the cathedral the bells rang out again. The cathedral campanologists had taken over from the inexperienced ringers, and now a tuneful peal of joy rang out over the city, and the people, freed at last from the dream that had become a nightmare, cried out again:
"Long live King Egbert!"
* * * * *
Two elderly gentlemen were sitting together in the garden. Birds sang in the trees, and the scent of flowers drifted lazily on the warm air. The old men's wives and daughters were attending to a minor dispute between a couple of their grandchildren, and their sons and sons-in-law were chatting quietly and admiring the agility of another grandchild who had climbed a tree and was showing off abominably in its branches.
One of the old chaps was long and lean, and, when he got to his feet, proved to be extremely tall. The other, shorter, and inclining to stoutness, also got up, and they strolled towards the tea-table.
"I never thought you'd manage it, Bertie," said the tall old man.
"Well, I must admit it was touch and go at times," replied King Egbert, "but the New Zephyrians are good people at heart and they rallied round amazingly. Remembered the good old days, y'see, when m'dear old Dad was King. And, of course, we had Simpkin in those days. Never forgot a thing you know. Memory like an Oliphaunt, though that was a word he didn't like to hear. And Pimple too. What would we have done without Pimple? Dashed clever fellow, what?"
"Even so," said king Bruce of Old Zephyria, "you gave them the leadership. Without you they'd have been lost."
"No, no, m'dear fellow. We all played our parts. And we'd never have managed it without your help. All those sheep and cattle and pigs you gave us to replace our diseased stock. We'd have been totally bankrupt without Old Zephyria. Besides, you know quite well, the New Zephyrians aren't like the Inglish. Poor old Jolly never would write any more about them, you know. Said they'd got themselves into such a pickle they weren't fit to be in fairy-tales any more. But my people pulled together magnificently - and we had a lot of luck. Even Ruahine-nui Makutu contributed to it, though she didn't mean to."
King Bruce raised a questioning eyebrow.
"Well, y'see," Bertie explained. "She had to have her pound of flesh in defeat, so she took all those poor souls who had thrown in their lot on her side. If she'd left 'em alive they'd have caused no end of trouble. Poor souls, but we were better off without them."
"The most amazing thing," said King Bruce, "was that cage full of babies!"
"Yes, lyin' there completely unharmed on top of the rubble. The People of the Sea said it was the Twelve Great Spirits who rescued them."
"And do you think it was?"
"Must have been, m'dear fellow. No other explanation."
"They're calling you Egbert the Great, you know."
"Are they? By Jove, can't have that, what?" said Bertie, but, when at last his reign came to its end, and his old friend the Unicorn Prince, now King of the Unicorn, came to carry him off beyond the Black Stump to the Rainbow Bridge, the Chroniclers of New Zephyria wrote in the high and ancient language of antiquity:
Here endeth the book
of the deeds
of Egbert the Great.
* * * * *
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