A brief series of tales from the land of Oh!
The important message
“Husband!” the queen’s scream from her judging chamber could be heard clearly from the great hall, even through two closed, solid oak doors. “Come in here. There’s something important I want to tell you.”
“Velcro,” King Kannot said to his trusty retainer, “would you mind awfully going to my sweet bride and pointing out to her how castle etiquette works?”
“And how would that be Sire?” Velcro asked even though, as one of the king’s confidants, he was fully aware of all aspects of royal protocol and had even been the author of some.
“I am the king. I summon people to me. The queen does not summon the king. Tell her that if she has something to say, she should seek me out and request a moment or two of my precious royal time.”
“I’d rather not, Sire. You know how the queen scares me.”
“Delegate, then. Whom does she not scare?”
“No-one that’s met her, Sire. Not that I’m aware of, anyway.”
“Well, whom do you not mind being scared by her?”
“Let me think. Hmm. Jack, the stable boy, was caught nicking jam tarts last week—”
“Is that a euphemism?”
“I don’t hear anything, Sire.”
“You asked if I heard a euphemism, Sire. I know there is one in the palace orchestra, or is it the palace band? I can never tell the difference.”
“Velcro, your brain is wearing out. I said euphemism – a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing. I did not say euphonium.”
“Apologies, Sire. Is what a euphemism?”
“Nicking jam tarts.”
“No, Sire, that’s theft – petty larceny, really or even pilfering or defalcation.”
“Defalcation? That’s nothing like stealing. That’s a posh word for sh—”
“Ha ha ha. Oh, Sire. I do so enjoy these word-games. Sire is such a wit. But, no. Nicking jam tarts is precisely what Jack did.”
“In that case, Velcro, it is most appropriate that his punishment includes having to face the wrath of the queen.”
The lady in question chose that instant to repeat her call to the king, three-quarters of an octave higher in pitch and a good twenty decibels higher in volume.
“Should Sire respond?” Velcro asked.
“No, Sire should not. Get hold of Jack, and have him give her a piece of my mind.”
“Perhaps the prince might?”
“What about the Prince Mite?”
“Not the Prince Mite, Sire: the prince might, that is to say, his royal sonship may.”
“What may he do?”
“Confront the queen, Sire.”
“Are you joking?”
“Word is, Sire, the prince has his mother exactly where he wants her.”
“Find out who started that filthy rumour and have him flogged. I will not have that sort of thing going on in my castle. Now, off you go, Velcro; see to it and make haste.”
“What sort of thing is Sire objecting to?”
“That sort of thing you mentioned. My gosh, you’ll be saying next that I have an inappropriate physical relationship with the princess.”
“But there is no princess, Sire.”
“Don’t you think I know that? How senile do you think I am?”
“I… I wouldn’t presume to entertain such conjecture, Sire,” Velcro replied, his confusion reaching levels that would guarantee silver, perhaps even gold, at the next inter-governmental games.
“So why are you suggesting that I don’t even know how many children I have?”
“I’ll go and fetch Jack, Sire.”
“Hmmph. Do that.”
Velcro trotted off as fast as his seriously aged legs could carry him.
Minutes later, the queen entered the great hall, where her husband was waiting for his retainer to return – although by then he’d probably forgotten what he needed him for.
“You didn’t answer when I called you,” she said in a shrill, ear-splitting and accusing tone.
“No, dear. You’re right. I didn’t.”
“And why not, may I ask?”
“You may, but you’ll need to wait for Velcro to return with Jack.”
“What, Jack the stable boy?”
“The very same.”
“Jack, the stable boy who stole a whole batch of my very best jam tarts?”
“Were they yours?”
“No, they were yours. I made them for you.”
“For me? For me? I’ll have him strung up. I’ll have him flogged. I’ll—”
“You’ll do nothing with him until he, or someone, has told me what I want to know.”
“And what would that be, dearest?”
“I want to know why you didn’t answer when I called you.”
Fortuitously, Velcro chose that moment to return with Jack, the stable boy.
“Now then, young Jack,” the queen bellowed.
“I’m s-s-sorry, ma’am,” Jack stuttered in reply, “I thought the tarts were for the staff.”
“When have you ever known me to make confections for the working classes?”
“I didn’t know you’d made them, ma’am. I thought they were from the kitchen.”
“From the kitchen? From the kitchen? They were in my private chamber. Come to that, what were you doing in my private chamber in the first place?”
Kannot looked at Velcro and winked. This was going so much better than he could have hoped. Diversionary tactics were always his trump card.
“Word in the staff quarters was that you were looking for some, erm, entertainment, ma’am, and I drew the short straw.”
“Entertainment? Why would I want entertainment? And what sort of entertainment could you provide? You’re just a stable hand.”
“They say I’m good with the fillies, though, ma’am,” Jack said with a wink and, truth be told, just a hint of a leer.
Kannot and Velcro looked at each other and sniggered; interestingly, in exactly the way that the queen didn’t.
“Never mind that,” the queen said, “I’ll deal with that impertinence later – in my judging chamber.”
Jack blanched. The queen continued, “Meanwhile, what have you to tell me? Why did the king not answer when I called him?”
“With respect, ma’am,” he started, “His Majesty is the king, the ruler of Oh!”
“Yes, I know that. And I am the queen.”
“You, ma’am, are queen consort. You have authority only as granted to you by His Majesty.”
“What has that to do with his not answering me?”
“With the greatest respect, ma’am,” he said with appropriately downcast eyes (although if you could see where his gaze landed, appropriately would not be your adverb of choice), “it is not for the queen consort to summon the king. It should be the other way around.”
“But he didn’t want to speak to me, I wanted to speak to him.”
“Yes, ma’am. Nonetheless—”
“So? How am I to achieve that, except by summoning him?”
“Perhaps ma’am could request—”
“Request an audience? I’m not some commoner to bow and scrape to the crown.”
Velcro decided the boy had done enough and stepped into the breach. “Perhaps the queen could ask for a moment of His Majesty’s time,” he suggested.
“Maybe. Perhaps. But while we’re at it, why does no one ever call me by my name?”
“Ma’am,” Velcro responded with great respect and solemnity, “the queen doesn’t need a name. She is the queen. Isn’t that name enough?”
“It probably would be, if I had a capital Q. I don’t even have that. I want to be Queen with a big Q, not queen with a little one.”
“The king himself only has a capital letter when the word is used as a title, ma’am; as a proper noun. He is either the king, with a little K or King Kannot with a big one.”
The king grinned. One can only surmise at what.
“Then I can be Queen… drat! Now even I don’t know what my given name is.”
The queen turned and stormed off into her judging chamber. King Kannot ran after her.
“My precious,” he called.
“What is it?”
“What was it you wanted to discuss with me?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, “I’ve clean forgotten. Too much upset for one day. I’ll see if there’s someone to judge. If not, send Jack in; I’ll judge him.”
The king walked back to Velcro and shook him by the hand. “Another crisis averted,” he said. Then, turning to Jack, he said, “Punishment served, lad. Let that be a lesson to you. Run off, now, before the queen decides to exercise her judge mental skills on you.”
Jack the stable lad bowed and walked out of the hall backwards as quickly as he could, dipping his head frequently as he did so, all in accordance with the very best of royal protocol.
Just then, the queen poked her head around the door to her judging chamber. “Oh, yes,” she said, “I’ve invited the other queens and their husbands for a curry night next weekend.”
“What’s a curry night?” the king asked.
“No idea,” she replied, “I was quite happy being a waitress in a cocktail bar until you came along. You’re supposed to be the smart one. Get Velcro to find out what one is, then he can organise it.”