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.”
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 Brún