Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Pig Myths - Chapter 4 - Eric and the Wolf King

The Samurai of which Professor Boyd spoke would be best known in the generations to come.  Boyd imagined then that the men before him would sire great leaders, even if they were not already great leaders themselves.  This view he elaborated and detailed at length, whilst one of his own off-spring, the youngest, Thomas Boyd, sat in the snug of a hotel bar in Sloane Square.

Thomas Boyd drank tea, not by choice; he was waiting to visit the statue of the Bronze Pig.  That statue was in Battersea, a district of London more notorious even than Whitechapel.  The young Boyd was aware then, that he was taking risks as he planned to visit the statue.  He had decided to do so, however; and he had a natural confidence, one that would allow for no displays of doubt.  Though he would have preferred to drink ale, he was a picture of relaxation as he sat back in the support of a winged armchair.
           His companion, Brandon Lewis, was also relaxed, though preparing for an informal audition.  His immediate concern was likewise pigs, fairy-pigs, a story he had composed and one that Thomas Boyd had agreed to listen to.  The purpose, one within the gift of the professor’s youngest son, was to decide whether to introduce Brandon to the Penny Periodical.  Boyd prepared to listen then with a critical ear, gauging both the narrative and its possible reception.

“Once upon a time;” Brandon knew the story well enough to recite it.  He wore reading-glasses nonetheless, wire-framed on his thin face.  He had the earnest look of a performer, a kindly and wizened narrator that belied his age; “in a land just beyond imagination and nestled next to dreams, there lived a miserable old King in a miserable old castle.  This castle, dark and lonely, with battlements stretching into the clouds, sat at the very tip of a steep and winding hill.  The castle was visible throughout the kingdom, its threat, like the threat of the King himself, a constant reminder of the tyranny that ruled the many subjects in the farms and villages below.

            The King, a wolf by nature, was known simply as King Wolf.  He was not the tallest of his kind, nor was he broad and strong like the guards who followed him.  His shape indeed was closer to the lean and cunning fox, though his fur was black and he walked on his hind legs, his muzzle turning readily and repeatedly to a snarl.”

Brandon’s voice had the edge of his uncertain art.  Though a child’s story he read with the utmost purpose, the movement of his lean face expressing the dangers of the tyrant described.  Boyd, studying him closely, saw the starved garret-living in the student.  He was conscious also of the animation of Brandon’s words; they were honed and precise.  He raised his cup of tea, sniffed the bergamot with displeasure, and returned the floral china, its contents un-tasted to his saucer.

“King Wolf,” Brandon continued; he had paused only for a brief look, gauging the effect on Thomas Boyd.  His usual audience was Mary, a fellow orphan, and her expression was easier to read.  Whilst Mary was an active listener, playing out the fear, humour and escapes of his story, Boyd listened impassively.  The distraction of Boyd’s cup might have been boredom then.  Brandon persisted nonetheless, imagining Mary’s head curled upon his lap; “was as lonely as he was cruel, and with each passing, lonely year the King’s cruelty increased.  This cruelty meant that none should be happy in his Kingdom; and yet, though his messengers went everywhere acting out the King’s displeasure, there were some creatures that still preferred to laugh, sing and dance.

Most noted of these were the fairy-pigs.  These subjects, short and thin, with round, pink heads, inhabited dry tufts of soil in the marshy lands, near woods, brooks and even the wash of the sea.  They kept mainly to themselves, preferring the merriment of their fun-filled lives; yet, wherever they lived one could usually guess their presence from the sound of sweet-singing voices and the merry rustle as they skipped in their day-long dances.

It is hardly to be surprised then that among the King’s chiefest displeasures was the lives and reputation of this merry folk.  As the sound of their singing was reported over and again to his court the King felt the power of their pleasure threaten to unseat his own.  He issued then the sternest of edicts, a proclamation to be read aloud in village, farm and marsh:

‘On pain of death no subject shall raise their head in song, skip with the merry movement of dance; nor undertake to have any pleasure at all.’”

This edict, read as though Brandon were a wolf-guard himself, was announced with a raised imperative.  The sound brought stares from outside the snug, and Boyd laughed to see the startled attention.  He was pleased that Brandon, also aware of the unexpected audience, did not waiver in his telling; Brandon included any listener that looked to him, glancing from his page to their uncertain faces.

“Now, the fairy-pigs were neither powerful nor particularly brave.  If they had been either they might long before have raised themselves from their mostly private lives.  As it was their chief weapons were their size and their mostly invisible lifestyle.  It could not be doubted, however, when the crier paused by each patch of marshy land, that it was they and their unwelcome ways that were being threatened.

Such threats, as you might well imagine, were not welcome in the marshlands.  How would you, indeed, like it, if the King was to prohibit your defining qualities?  You would not be happy at all, I dare say; and that is exactly how the fairy-pigs felt.  They had not asked to be prohibited; they had not even invited any to listen to their merriment, and so it seemed the greatest of injustices to have it taken from them.”

“Here, here,” Boyd said; Brandon smiled at this the first response; it disappeared as quickly as it came, but he was encouraged still as he regained his focus.

“The fairy-pigs needed then some way to contest the orders of the King.  Though the King had never visited their homes, nor so much as dipped his sharp claws into the muddy waters where they washed, the fairy-pigs knew his reputation well-enough.  They did not talk for long, that was not their way, and knowing that singing and dancing was their chiefest delight, it was quickly agreed that they should hold a party in the King’s honour.”

William Botherin’s head arrived first, peeping round the partition, and smiling to hear the performance.  Brandon paused; this was the signal for Boyd to leave, and he waited for some direction.  Boyd did not stand up.

“I’m listening to a story for Brown’s magazine,” he said to William; “now sit down.  We’ll go shortly.”

“It can wait,” Brandon excused.

“Of course it can; but give me the hero, and then William and I will be off.”

Brandon scanned, skipping the next paragraph and some dialogue that seemed tired now that he read it in silence.  He chose the few lines with which he would conclude.  Then he offered a brief explanation.

“They need a hero,” Brandon said, “someone to invite the King to the party; and Eric, the merriest of the lot, has been chosen.”

“Excellent,” Boyd answered; “tea William?”

“I’d prefer ale.”

“Tea, William; it’s a fairy-tale.”

“Fairy-pigs choose their names according to their character.  Eric, or Ever Reliable in Crisis, knew then that the duty of inviting the King was his.  He gave a merry kiss to his wife, tickled her until she squealed and together they did a merry dance to show that all would be well despite the dangers that he faced.  This done, his round face still giggling with pleasures he had shared, Eric set off for the castle on his own.”

“I love it,” Boyd said, standing up, “and Mr Brown will love it too.  Now, William and I have some dangers of our own to face.  We’ll see you at eight.”

“Battersea Bridge.”

The two medics left; Brandon drank his cold tea as he folded the pages and hid them away in his pocket.  His head felt dizzy with the pleasure of the moment, his performance and the prospect that his story might earn some money; but he had little time and he knew that he would need to hurry if he was to meet Boyd as arranged.  He walked back to his room with a lively step, songs forming in his head.

©2012 Padraig De BrĂșn

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Pig Myths - Chapter 3 - The Samurai

“What do we learn from this story?” Professor Boyd continued when the silence had returned to Logan Hall.  Jack had sat back, conscious that he was being watched by Arthur; and unused to such attention he was pretending an ease that he did not feel.  Despite his pretence, he shifted repeatedly in his seat, adjusting his arms and legs, and trying to relax the tension in his back.  From the corner of his eye he watched the bulge of book in Arthur’s jacket pocket.

“Firstly, the Irishman, however wealthy, should never have risked those roads.  Criminals prey upon the unsuspecting because they are easy targets; and our Irish friend should have known better.  Next, he should know that it is not the quality of your reasoning that wins on such occasions; it is your understanding.  The Irishman was a fool, and deserves a fool’s death............Yes, Gentlemen.  Deserves.”

Arthur leaned forward, the slightest of gestures, barely noticeable to any but Jack.  He took a card from the stack on the table, and used his own pen to write: harsh but true.

“Once we have accepted the Irishman’s death, we must look to the role of the criminal.  He might, for some, deserve respect.  Who amongst you, I ask, has not broken rules for some better gain?  And yet, consider his motives.  Is this some Robin Hood?  No.  He is a man driven only by personal gain; and his gain is taken from the suffering of others, however witless.........”

The criminals are banished from the kingdom, Arthur wrote, ignoring the explanation that was given; they deserve no pity, no pity at all.  They simply take.

Jack did not need such prompting; the professor’s sentiments were familiar.  He guessed, however, that there was more to Arthur’s actions than his words; and so he smiled, as though relaxed.  This did not bring the expected response, Arthur was in control; and whilst Jack was waiting for some further mention of the Myths, Arthur put his pen away and looked once more to Professor Boyd.

“We cannot expect to survive, Gentlemen, if we continue as we are.  I look at you where you sit, old and new wealth, influence, position and profession; and I see the Samurai of our time.  A Samurai, yes; the greatest we could ever expect.  And yet, look at you; no more than men.  How can you, or I for that matter, ever hope to survive, when we are no more than men; and when we live in a society that treats our greatness as no different to the idiocy of the Irishman, or the criminality of the outlaw?

That, Gentlemen, is the challenge I pose for you this evening.  It is no idle challenge; we have not gathered here for merriment, or to listen to some well-worn story.  If The Society of which you are honoured, and honourable members is to be of any use, to be more than just a talk-shop; then we must recognise the threat of democracy, and we must rise to it.”

The hall did rise, almost as one.  Jack alone kept his seat, whilst the hall applauded.  He felt his instincts complain at the show of support; Jack’s politics were studied, rather than fixed; and what Jack wanted was knowledge, reason and understanding, as opposed to this display of blind, collective faith.  Arthur did not seem to notice the rebellion as he sat down, keeping his eyes on the podium where Professor Boyd stood.  Instead, with a casual, indifferent gesture Arthur removed the book once more from his pocket.  Then he passed it to Jack whilst he stood up and moved off about some other business.

As Arthur did so Professor Boyd’s lecture continued as some back-drop to Jack’s concentration.  Like many Jack had heard of the myths, mostly folk-tales, or the gossip of chattering intellects.  It seemed incredible, therefore, that he had a copy open in front of him; it was real, physical.  Though the translation of a Russian priest, Jack could picture the original authors as if the Elder Pigs were gathered in the hall all about him.

These pigs, despite their name, were of many ages, each fattening for the kill.  That was part of the wonder of their work; the pigs were owned, confined, held in one of the many farms that emerged in early Chinese society.  They could no longer act for themselves, find shelter, food, water or mates; and so they simply observed the lives of their captors, learning to talk and write about what they found.

“They’re fascinating,” Arthur whispered, returning to his seat; “it’s a translation of course; but you’ll recognise the name Fr Nilus.”

Jack nodded, not as accomplished at such private conversations as Arthur was.  He noticed the man next along turn, disapproval on his face.  The man did not comment, and Arthur mimed an apology, taking the book back as he did so.  A smile of conspiracy said that he would return it to Jack later.  That was enough for now, and Jack pretended to listen to the remainder of Boyd’s lecture.

“Greatness,” Boyd announced at that moment, “is not commonplace; it is neither within the scope, nor the dreams of the common man.  We cannot, and should not then, leave our futures to be determined by the many.  History is littered with such determinations; be it the gabble of Babel, the mob-rule of Athens, or the corrupt Senate of Rome.  All point in one direction, the demise of civilization.

If that is what you want, and I know it is not, then you may turn a blind eye to the bill for plural voting currently being debated in our chamber of Government.  The bill, if passed, will give the vote to the honourable, mediocre and criminal alike, man and woman.

I say, Gentlemen, that we cannot afford such risks.  Multiples of flawed reasoning and flawed understanding leads to flawed decisions.  We owe it then, to ourselves, to our children and to the future of this great nation, to take control, to rule the kingdom of tomorrow, just as Samurai were meant to do.”

©2012 Padraig De BrĂșn

Chapter 2

       Chapter 4