Castles Built on Sand
Premiered – April Fools' Day, 2004
Slowly, Earl began to find more purpose in his movements. This was first noticeable in that he quit colliding with stationary objects. Then it resolved itself into a quest to find his Jiffy, with which he could quickly return to the bosom of his family at Cameseldom, to the protection of his home and castle. "After all," he said to himself, "I still have my..."
It was in the midst of his sentence Earl noticed the absence of his beloved Jiffy, his carriage with Multiple Dual Spring Suspension, Matched Golden Gargoyles, Leveraged Remote Hand Brakes for the Rear Wheels, and Perfectly Situated Riding Docks. Earl was accustomed to returning from his forays into town and finding the carriage awaiting his beck and call. But now it was missing!
Earl fretted about the Jiffy's absence before he dismissed his concerns, realizing that he was returning home abnormally early and that his Jiffy had undoubtedly returned to the castle for additional polishing of the Golden Gargoyles. Thus it could not have been expected to return to pick up Earl until the usual time. And in lieu thereof, Earl decided to laugh and stride toward home as if nothing important had happened that day.
Perhaps this was the hysterical reaction to which Varenna had alluded.
On the other hand, as Earl thought of his family and his castle, he was able to find small remnants of genuine comfort. For despite all the disasters of the day, he still had a great deal. Cameseldom was wondrous, to say the least, and his family provided every form of nurturing of which a young foundling might have ever dreamed. Earl, in fact, could feel a sense of joy and delight. He could even laugh again, this time with some genuineness and depth. Despite the recent losses, he still had the greatest of assets.
For those townsfolk who witnessed Earl's last moments of his old way, there was an immediate lifting of their spirits. Obviously, if he could laugh and so casually saunter down the road leading back to his castle, every thing must be as it should be. Thus the townsfolk could relax as well. Which they did. En masse, they went to join the regulars at the pub with its earlier modified roof.
All things considered, it was an incredibly fine day for a walk. The recent sandstorm had left no evidence of its being anything but an extremely local event, enough to affect Earl and Varenna, but to otherwise have gone with the wind. One perhaps named Moira. Birds chirped and bees buzzed, and in the distance, one could hear the occasional sound of a peasant being flogged.
Undoubtedly the peasant, whoever or whatever he was, was being flogged for some subtle breaking of an inane fiefdom rule, the rule having been specifically designed to be easily broken and thus provide the local overseers with an excuse for yet another flogging. In addition to the local overseers thoroughly enjoying the flogging of an occasional peasant, the assurance of yet another flogging was part of the fiefdom's continuing effort to maintain full employment throughout the realm.
For Earl, the slapping of a cat-o'-nine tails against a bare back, followed by a distinct groan of anguish and unremitting pain, was faintly erotic and eased the sadness of the other, less normal events of the day. At the same time, he sensed the ill feeling that, perhaps, flogging was no longer in vogue. Perhaps times were changing, and Earl's preferences for amusement and entertainment might also be overdue for change. It was a thought to be sure, but not one to gain his undivided attention. At least not now.
For Earl had noticed that while the flogging was continuing, the birds had apparently ceased to chirp and the bees to buzz. That was disturbing to him, as he retreated momentarily to his old ways of thinking. 'Perhaps it was time to flog a few birds or bees as object lessons.'
Earl glanced around the lush countryside, to find an overseer to carry out his latest morale builder. Even if he were no longer royalty in the strictest sense of the word, he was still the king of his castle -- all that he surveyed was his to own and command -- and which he would continue to do in his accustomed fashion.
But it was in surveying his realm that Earl noticed several confusing things. For one, the lush countryside had unaccountable areas of brown located in random patches strewn about the rolling hills. Earl could never recall having seen brown foliage in his semi-enchanted and lush valley, and was only aware of its meaning from having visited other, less-lush fiefdoms. It was not pleasant to see such conditions within his valley.
Worst yet, not only was the grass a great deal more brown than green, but it also seemed to be behaving strangely as well. Or else there was a lot of movement in it. Upon closer inspection, Earl noticed that there were indeed all manner of small, furry creatures on the move, as if fleeing his valley. Some seemed to be hobbling along, others running full tilt, and still others dragging what could only be construed to be the household furnishing of that particular small, furry creature.
Earl looked up, bewildered by the apparent exodus. But then he abruptly saw the stranger sight of that same weird, fowl-flying bird that had plagued his day. The dragon-like, stork-like, multi-colored flying creature was apparently none the worse for having been recently fried by lightening and was now flying low over a field of grain, to all appearances, crop-dusting. Then Earl realized that the bird's tail feathers were, in fact, still on fire and the flying fire hazard was now attempting to glide gently to a halt on a small pond of water.
Unfortunately however, he, she or it missed the water altogether and instead blasted into a haystack, obliterating any semblance of quaintness in the formerly idyllic field.
For several moments Earl watched the conflagration in the haystack, until he realized that while the tail feathers were no longer smoking, the air was still filled with something. Glancing around, he made the conjecture that a mist had slowly manifested itself in the lower elevations of the valley. 'But no,' he thought, 'that was not quite right. It was not a mist, but a fog… or something resembling a fog. Perhaps it was not a fog at all.' The idea of smog came to Earl, but having no previous experience in the concept, he dismissed it and went back to fog. 'But an unusual fog,' Earl thought.
It was unusual enough, in fact, to inspire Earl to inquire of the peasant-dressed woman who was traveling by in much the same direction as the small, furry creatures. Earl held up his hand to greet the peasant.
"I say, good woman, can you tell me what's happening?"
Earl ignored the slow reaction time of the peasant and her vacant smile, and repeated his question, "Can you tell me what is happening with the small, furry creatures?"
The woman stopped in her tracks, looked at Earl, looked at the small, furry, fleeing creatures, and then looked back at Earl.
"The small furries," Earl repeated, "appear to be leaving the valley. Do you know why?"
"Well, of course!" the woman answered. "Isn't it obvious?"
Earl looked at her for a moment. To him, nothing was obvious. "No, it's not," he replied, eager for further enlightenment.
The woman's response was direct. "The fiefdom's going down the drain!"
Earl found the answer nonsensical. "What?"
"Look! It's bad enough that all of us peasants are treated like chattel..."
"But you are chattel!"
"But every winter on the coldest and dreariest day of the year, when we visit the neighboring fiefdoms during the Festival of the Weary and Downtrodden, we can hardly hold our heads up..."
"Well, that's always tough when you're wearing head blocks."
"I know. But not only that, our earl never gives his peasants unique and interesting tortures or thoroughly unpleasant fringe benefits to Wow the other peasants. Oh, no! He has to be Mister Nice Guy, who just happens to have a castle with terminal gastritis..."
"Terminal what?" Earl was shocked. "What's wrong with Cameseldom?"
The woman was incredibly blasé. "You don't know?"
"OF COURSE I DON'T KNOW!" Earl yelled, ending his streak for Longest Time for an Earl to go Without Having to Have Raised His August Voice. "WHAT IS WRONG IN CAMESELDOM?"
Immediately, Earl recognized his momentary loss of control, stiffened his posture, and vowed to maintain his composure as befitted his station, however former. No more would he allow diverting and divisive discomforts to discombobulate his demanding demeanor.
"Well, for one thing, they've discovered the underlying and surrounding grounds of Cameseldom were ancient dumping sites for radioactive waste. Whoever had left such long term garbage had left no other traces of their civilization, save for this small hint as to the quality of their lives. This revelation should also account for the fact that the castle glows at night, a fact long noted in the annals of the fiefdom."
"Oh? I thought it was due to the enlightened residents."
"In addition, the interior dark walls and the enormous family fireplace, was built with rock containing large amounts of oil shale. Were the fireplace to have a fire, the surrounding masonry would have burned rather prolifically and would probably have consumed the entire castle, radioactive dump and all."
"But we've never had a fire in the fireplace. The weather at Cameseldom has always been so pleasant."
"Which is fortunate for you, because had you started a fire, the chemical dump in the vegetable gardens would probably have burned as well, yielding a variety of toxic gases, any one of which could have decimated the population."
"Chemicals in my veggie garden!!?"
"Oh yes! A fact which probably accounts for the unique flavoring in your broccoli for which your French cook has managed to become internationally famous."
"This is not good news!" Earl said, with minimal apparent emotion.
The peasant was somewhat put out by Earl's interruption. "Excuse me. But did you want me to finish?"
"There's more?" Earl was having to make something more than a slight effort to maintain his lofty composure -- not to mention his recent vow not to raise his voice.
"The River Rampant is no longer rampant, having become clogged with seepage from both the chemical and radioactive dumps and is at this very moment ablaze, on fire, churning out immense amounts of toxic fumes, smoke, and flying debris. Considering how the local populace hates broiled and/or fried fish, with or without being laced with chemical and radioactive ingredients, there would appear to be the possibility of a severe shortage of edible food in the near future, which in turn suggests an early departure from this now profoundly un-enchanted valley just in order to survive."
For a moment Earl merely looked at the peasant. Then after a brief pause, his eyes squinting with suspicion, he asked, "There's more, right?"
"Glad you asked," the woman replied. "As you may have noticed, the fumes from the river fire have made the air only marginally breathable. In addition, there appears to be considerable radon gas in the air as well, making it a bit of a contest between dying from either suffocation or radioactive poisoning for anyone who wishes to continue to breathe in the area."
"It does sound as if Cameseldom has lost some of its luster," Earl said. "I must admit that I'm really rather devastated by the news."
"I'm sure you'll understand when I tell you that as a lowly peasant, I find the castle revolting… If you'll pardon the pun. Consequently, I'm going somewhere else to organize something which I think I'll call a 'union'. I've heard there's a place in the west called ' Cleveland ', which, from all reports, can use all the help it can get."
"I know the place. I wouldn't be caught dead there."
"They'll be happy to hear it."
"Besides, I can't leave!" When the woman looked at him as if he was suffering from something distantly related to toxic shock syndrome, Earl explained, "I have my family to think of. And just because of a..."
"Yes?" the woman encouraged.
"Well," Earl continued, "a 'momentary difficulty in the ancestral estates'... I can't just leave!"
The peasant looked at Earl for a moment. Then with complete sincerity, she said, "Good luck with the world, Earl." With that she began hurrying to catch up with her small, furry friends.
Earl maintained his relatively calm composure and began walking the remaining distance to Cameseldom. He may have lost his castle, but as long as he had his family, he thought, things were still right with the world. Well, maybe not right, but at least, livable. Still, Earl wondered what the woman had meant by her last statement.
Chapter 8 – The Really Bad News
Chapter 10 – Fair Weather Families
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]