Saturday, January 20, 2018

the road to the wicked city - 13. the princess


by jeremy witherington

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here





"help me… help me… “

what had at first sounded like a scratching at the little door was now a more distinct pounding.

the flowerseller’s only thought was that he did not want kobra to return, for any reason, and have himself, the flowerseller, brought back into his field of vision…

did he have time to reach the stairs and get safely up them before kobra and the innkeeper heard the cries and pounding and returned?

the flowerseller sprang to the door and turned the handle. the door did not open right away but with a jerk he got it open.

a gust of wind and rain hit him in the face, and a body brushed by him before he could focus his eyes on it.

but he knew immediately that the body belonged to a beautiful young woman.

“close the door - quickly!” the beautiful young woman whispered, and he obeyed.

“you must help me,” she hissed, and dragged him into the shadow beneath the stairs. too bewildered to speak, he listened as she went on,

“do you know who kobra is - the bandit?”

“why, yes,” stammered the flowerseller -

“keep your voice down!”

“i have just seen him,” the flowerseller continued in a lower voice, “he is in the front of the inn, with the landlord - “

“here - now? kobra is here?” the young woman’s eyes widened, and they burned into the flowerseller’s, through the strands of wet hair that lingered on her face.

“yes, i saw - and spoke to him not a minute ago.”

“ah - he is ahead of me!” the young woman glanced back toward the front of the inn. “now you must help me more than ever! i am a princess - “

“and a most beautiful one,” the flowerseller interjected gallantly. “the most beautiful i have ever seen.”

“thank you, kind sir, but as i say, i am a princess, come to claim my kingdom both from the wretched usurpers who violate it now, and from the threat of the even more wretched followers of kobra - “

seeing the terrified glances the flowerseller continued to cast toward the front of the inn, the self-styled princess paused and then continued -

“but perhaps we can discuss these matters in some safer and better lit venue. you have a room here in the inn, sir?’

“yes, i do.”

“then lead me to it,” the princess commanded.

“but the landlord - i am not sure -“

“you are not dealing with the landlord, you are dealing with me. you were courtier enough to pay me a compliment, now show yourself champion enough to help me!”

struck dumb, the flowerseller began to climb the stairs as rapidly as he could. he could hear his own heart beating , and the dripping of water from the princess’s clothes on the steps behind him…

the wind flared up again, and rain beat against the walls as they climbed the staircase.

the light was still showing underneath the door to the fool’s chamber when they reached the landing.

the princess followed the flowerseller into his room, and he closed the door behind them.

the princess shook some water off herself, took her hat off and threw it in the bed, and sat down in the one chair.

“now, sir, you shall be privileged to hear my story. it is a long one, and a sad one…”


to be continued


Thursday, January 18, 2018

the road to the wicked city - 12. kobra


by jeremy witherington

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here






the castle and the school and the inn on the road to the wicked city began to fill rapidly with water…

the flowerseller woke up.

it took him a few seconds to remember where he was.

it was still dark outside, but the wind and rain had slackened. it was quiet in the inn.

the flowerseller decided to go downstairs. maybe the innkeeper or his daughter were still down there, and could get him a coffee or a biscuit or even a piece of chocolate cake.

and even if they were not, he could just sit In the parlor and look out at the falling rain, a pastime he had always found very peaceful.

he dressed quickly in his wretched rags and tiptoed out into the corridor.

there was a light on under one door. the one the poor fool was captive in, where the innkeeper’s daughter was regaling him with her interminable tale…

the flowerseller fumbled his way down the dark staircase to the ground floor.

as he had suspected, he found nothing but darkness, as the innkeeper and his daughter had apparently retired for the night.

suddenly there was a loud banging on the front door.

the flowerseller ignored it, and settled into a chair in the corner of the parlor. it was up to the innkeeper to wake up and attend to the newcomer, if he chose to.

the knocking continued, even louder. the visitor was either very sure of his welcome, or desperate to get out of the storm.

the innkeeper suddenly appeared, more quickly than the flowerseller might have expected, and rushed to the door and opened it.

“you might have come a little quicker,” a deep voice rasped. “were you not expecting me?”

“no, kobra, i was not,” the innkeeper replied, “but come in, make yourself at home. you must be soaked.”

“yes, i will make myself at home. i make myself at home everywhere.”

kobra! the flowerseller gasped. kobra, the dread bandit and revolutionary who had been terrorizing the countryside for years! here, in the inn, and on good terms with the innkeeper!

the flowerseller shrank back in his corner, hoping that the innkeeper and his fearsome guest would not notice him.

but it was not to be. the eagle eyes of the bandit spotted him immediately.

“eh! who is this, innkeeper?” kobra demanded. “who is this little fellow, keeping late hours?”

the innkeeper glanced sleepily over at the flowerseller. “oh, just a guest, one who just arrived.”

“just arrived, eh? how convenient.”

“what are you doing there, anyway?” the innkeeper asked the flowerseller. “couldn’t sleep, with the wind outside?”

“yes, exactly, sir, exactly,” the flowerseller managed to answer.

“come out, here, fellow, and let me get a look at you,” the bandit growled.

the flowerseller obeyed, and found himself looking up at the dark wild boar’s eyes and bristling black mustache of the bandit.

“just look at him,” the innkeeper said. “i am sure he is harmless.”

“i will be the judge of that,” kobra answered. “who are you, and what is your business? are you a spy? a spy of the emperor and the lord mayor?”

“oh no, sir, i am just a humble vendor of flowers. a humble vendor of flowers on his way to the city to - to meet some old friends.”

“a vendor of flowers, eh?” kobra laughed. “a humble enough occupation, to be sure. well, we will all have need of flowers soon enough, when the little children can throw them in the streets in celebration of the triumph of the revolution.”

“to be sure, sir,” replied the flowerseller, “and i would be happy to supply them! free of charge!”

“i am most gratified to hear that,” kobra replied, now apparenty in a jovial mood, though not taking his eyes off the flowerseller’s.

“yes, sir, and allow me to say, i look forward eagerly to the day when the revolution triumphs over the evil creatures who rule our poor kingdom now, and justice is restored to the land.”

“yes, i am sure you do.” kobra laughed and turned to the innkeeper. “come, get me something to eat and drink, and some dry clothing.”

the innkeeper nodded. “i thought you would never ask.”

kobra followed the innkeeper, and gave the flowerseller a last glance, which clearly said, be grateful i have spared your miserable life…

the flowerseller trembled with relief and hastened back to the stairs.

there was a small, barely visible door behind the stairs.

as the flowerseller put a foot on the bottom stair, he heard a scratching at the small door and a voice crying,

“help me… help me… “

13. the princess




Tuesday, January 16, 2018

the road to the wicked city - 11. the innkeeper's daughter's tale, continued


by jeremy witherington

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here






life went on in the old dark house, with the dragon lying upstairs in his sickbed, and the two girls waiting on him and trying to find enough food in the swamp to keep all three of them alive.

after the fiasco with the genie, alexa wanted to continue trying to guess the magic word which would make the genie do their bidding.

and to keep tearing pages out of the three books and burning them to summon the genie as they tried words.

but zucky wanted to keep the three books to write her novel in. this led to disagreements.

let us join the two sisters in the “drawing room” as another day is drawing to a close outside.

“why don’t we use two of the books to burn the pages,” alexa asked, “and you can write your novel in the third?”

“it might be a long novel. haven’t you ever heard of a three volume novel? all novels used to be three volumes. “

“we will compromise. we will use one book, and you can keep two. that’s a good compromise. compromise is the basis of civilization.”

“we are not in civilization. we are in an old falling down house on the edge of a swamp.”

as if in response to zucky’s statement, the wind outside began whistling a little louder.

“and besides,” zucky continued. “you won’t be able to guess the word in a million years - especially as he did not even say it was a word in the dictionary. if you just make combinations of sounds, of any length, there are infinite combinations - more than there are atoms in the universe, or demons in the 99 circles of hell.”

“i don’t believe it,” alexa told her. “there has to be a way. and besides, i don’t even believe in atoms or in the universe.”

“if you want to get out of here, maybe you should look elsewhere, try a new approach.”

“such as?”

“you could try poisoning our friend upstairs. ever think of that?”

“what! you can’t poison a dragon! everybody knows that! if you try to poison a dragon the world will disappear!”

“you think so? how do you know? maybe that is just what they want you to think.”

alexa just stared at zucky, too astonished to answer.

“has anyone ever tried to poison a dragon?” zucky went on. “how do they know the world will disappear? if anyone ever tried it, the world wouldn’t be here, would it? and if nobody ever tried it, how do they know? so we might as well take a chance.”

“oh, no, miss, that will not do at all,” alexa responded. “it’s easy for you to say, let’s take a chance, let’s let the world disappear, because you are just an ugly little nobody that will never go anywhere or do anything or that nobody will ever care about anyway! but i am the most beautiful girl in the world, and if i ever get out of here i will be queen or empress of all i survey - or at least a princess.”

zucky shrugged. “suit yourself. it was just a suggestion. and i am not giving you the books again. so do you want to give me the deck of cards so i can still start my novel?”

“oh, all right, here!” alexa took the deck of cards out of her apron and slapped them on the drawing room table in front of zucky. “write your stupid book, no one is ever going to want to read it anyway!”

zucky picked up the cards and smiled sweetly at alexa. “you never know. thank you for the cards. i said i would play gin rummy with you. do you want to play now or later?”

“later. let’s make the soup, and eat first.”

“all right.”

they got up and headed for the stairs to the kitchen.

outside the wind stopped whistling, and began to howl.


12. kobra



Monday, January 15, 2018

the road to the wicked city - 10. the mountebank's dream


by jeremy witherington

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here





the mountebank, too, had a dream.

he dreamed he was one of his remote ancestors.

every human being has a direct line of male ancestors , father’s father’s father’s father, etc - stretching back millions of generations to before “humans” evolved.

and every human has a similar direct line of female ancestors - mother’s mother’s mother’s mother…

the mountebank dreamed he was his direct male ancestor of 80 million years ago - 3,896,403 generations ago.

a lemur like creature weighing 26 ounces, with big blue eyes and a long orange nose, sitting in a big tree.at the edge of a sea of grass.

as the mountebank chewed on a leaf and watched the green and blue blades of grass dance in the wind, suddenly a ship appeared in the sky.

and landed in the sea of grass, just as its dance was about to come to a rousing climax.

the mountebank watched as the ship’s door slid open and lancelot and guinevere stepped out.

they looked around, guinevere with a slightly quizzical expression, lancelot with a neutral one.

“what do you think?” guinevere asked.

lancelot shrugged. “it might do.” as he spoke, a third individual walked out of the ship.

it was robin hood.

robin hood pointed to the mountebank in the tree. “let’s ask that little fellow.”

lancelot noticed the mountebank on his branch. “indeed. look here, my little man, is the grass always green on this planet?’

“yes, sir,” replied the mountebank, “except when it is blue, or when it turns brown or yellow.”

“but does it ever turn red our white?” asked lancelot.

“not that i have ever noticed.”

“excellent. this seems like the place for us.” lancelot looked around at the grass - the grass that had not been disturbed - and nodded.

“he seems a clever little fellow,” guinevere said to lancelot. “perhaps we can make use of him.”

“indeed.” lancelot looked directly up at the mountebank. “i say, how would you like to join our team. we are going to take over this planet. we can make it worth your while.

before the mountebank could reply, guinevere added, “perhaps he can replace merlin.” she turned back to robin hood, who was surveying the scene with a rather vacant expression. “where is merlin - still asleep?”

“yes, so far as i know,” robin hood answered.

“i thought so.”

suddenly the sky turned red and the sun went down, leaving the world in darkness. a pale right streamed from the door of the ship.

“why don’t you come inside with us?” guinevere asked the mountebank. “we can discuss all this more comfortably.”

the mountebank hopped down from the tree and followed lancelot and guinevere into the ship. robin hood followed behind the mountebank and the door closed.

the mountebank found himself in a low-ceilinged room like the parlor of an inn. he sat down at a round table with his trio of new friends.

guinevere rang a little bell on the table and a couple of servants appeared. the mountebank recognized them as the wandering jew and pope joan.

“is lord merlin still asleep?” lancelot asked the servants.

“yes, sir, like the dead,” replied the wandering jew.

“he might be dead,” added pope joan.

“dead or alive, this fellow is replacing him,” said lancelot to the wandering jew.

“very good, sir,” said the wandering jew. “what shall be done with lord merlin?”

“if he is dead, bury him. if he is alive, drive him out into the countryside, to make his way as best he can.”

“yes, sir.”

lancelot turned to pope joan. “and bring our friend here - what dd you say you name was?” lancelot asked the mountebank.

“moloch,” replied the mountebank.

“bring moloch a great lusty flagon of ale," lancelot told pope joan. "and the same for ourselves of course.”

“yes, sir,” pope joan nodded.

“to your great health, moloch!” lancelot cried, when the flagons had been brought out.

“yes, to moloch!” robin hood and guinevere echoed. “and to a new world!”


11. the innkeeper's daughter's tale, continued


Saturday, January 13, 2018

the road to the wicked city - 9. across the blasted heath


by jeremy witherington

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here





haltingly, snively began to tell the widow about the serpent as best he could…

“and there you have it, mum,” he concluded. “the follows thought it a good idea that i come out and … and test the serpent’s mettle, as it were.”

“i see,” the widow drawled after a long pause. “yes. i think i heard something about a great serpent when i moved in . why don’t you come in?” and she opened the door wider and snidely ducked under her shapely arm and into a short, dark corridor.

snidely bumped into a small table but the widow took no notice and led him down the corridor to a dimly lit little parlor.

lord salisbury and chancellor von bismarck were seated at a small table sipping tea.

the widow had snively repeat his tale to them.

neither spoke for a few moments after he concluded.

“sounds a lot of damned nonsense to me,” growled chancellor von bismarck. “what say you, salisbury?”

“repent, or else i will come to you quickly . revelations 2:16.”

“hmm. what say you to that, madam?” bismarck addressed the widow.

“i gave her time to repent…and she did not repent. revelations 2:21.”

“how about you, young fellow? do you have any pithy quotes from revelations, or from any scripture?”

“no, sir,” snively replied. “but i can quote some verses from vergil, the prince of poets.”

“spare us.” the chancellor proceeded to finish the remains of a jelly tart on the plate in front of him.

lord salisbury stroked his tremendous beard and addressed snively. “so, young fellow, what is your understanding of the direction this monster, or serpent, is heading? and what would be the best route to avoid it?”

“my understanding is that it will approach from the north, sir, across the moor.”

“from the north, eh?” lord salisbury continued stroking his beard. “hmmm. hmmm. well in that case we might be best advised to head south, i believe, yes, south. do you agree, chancellor?”

bismarck shrugged. “it seems as good a route as any. whether this monster exists, or is trying to trick us… or… or… i believe i will have another jelly tart. by the way, exactly what lies in the other direction from the so-called moors? more moors?”

“a blasted heath,” said the widow. “a very blasted heath. we would go past the school this young man is from, and then enter upon a blasted heath.”

lord salisbury turned to snively. “in any case, we have a dilemna. the chauffeur who brought us here has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. he seems to have turned into a bird and flown away, or a mouse and hidden in the walls, but in any case he is gone. can you operate a motorcar, young man?

“i can try, sir,” snively replied bravely.

“he doesn’t have to try,” said the widow. “i can drive the damned motorcar. i suggest both of you eminent personages finish your tea and tarts and we will be on our way.”

“please, mum” said snively, “if we pass bickenden and chitworth on their way back to the school, might we stop and pick them up - or at least pick bickenden up?”

“that seems an odd request,” said bismarck. “they seem to have treated you rather cavalierly.”

“please, sir,” snively repied, “though he has treated me a bit rudely at times, i often dream of bickenden being my best chum, and of us perhaps joining the french foreign legion , or becoming gauchos on the pampas.”

“stay away from the damned french,” bismarck began, but before he could continue the ground beneath the cottage began to shake.

“i suggest we get out to the motor car right now,” said the widow.

“may i take my jelly tart with me?” lord salisbury asked her.

“yes, but not the tea, we don’t want you spilling it all over - “

the ground began to shake more violently, and a hissing sound filled the air…….


10. the mountebank's dream



Friday, January 12, 2018

nesty


the road to the wicked city - 8. the widow


by jeremy witherington

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here





"snively, snively! snively against the world!”

trembling, snively stood up from his desk and looked back at his cheering, mocking classmate.

“i am willing,” he squeaked. “it is a far, far, better thing i do…”

the boys erupted in laughter. “bugger that weak treacle!” one of them shouted.

“you are for it, old son!” cried another. “better thing you do or not!”

snively hung his head, and let the jeers wash over him.

“come, gentlemen,” said bickenden, when the laughter died down, “let’s give the little fellow credit for his little dollop of spunk. are you ready to come along, snively?”

“yes, bickenden,” snively asseted bravely.

“then let us get going. chitwotth, you will accompany us. just in case our little man has a change of heart and tries to make a run for it, two can chase him better than one.” bickenden turned to the teacher. “wickler, keep these fellows in line - i will hold you responsible for anything going amiss in my absence.”

“yes, bickenden,” wickler replied humbly.

bickenden and chitworth then each took snively by one limp arm and marched him out of the classroom, down the corridor, and out onto the school grounds.

the wind had died down a bit, but the darkness had deepened, and the moor was as threatening as ever.

“which way will the monster come?” chitworth asked bickenden.

“from across the moor, i presume,” bickenden replied. “we will march our little friend straight north. look, the widow has her light on, we can guide by that.”

“and maybe pay the widow herself a visit,” sniggered chitworth.

bickenden considered, or pretended to consider, this. “i don’t think so, we need to organize our march out of here, and not waste time.”

“the widow” was a mysterious raven haired young woman who lived alone in a small house on the edge of the moor, and was the object of the lads’ most pathetic, disgusting, and relentless fantasies.

“you can leave me,” said snively. ”i can go out on the moor myself.”

“are you sure?” bickenden asked. “i think we will take you out a little further.”

“maybe we should tie him to a tree,” chitworth offered.

“do you have a rope with you?” bickenden snapped.

they marched along. the light in the widow’s window was now clearly visible.

“all right, we will leave you here,” bickenden told snively. “but we will watch you to make sure you get out on to the moor. no tricks, now!”

“i won’t play any tricks,” snively answered dolefully. “you can trust me.”

bickenden and chitworth watched as snively passed the widow’s house and entered on to the moor proper.

then they turned back.

*

as snively had passed the widow’s house he thought he saw a gleam of metal behind the house.

could it be a motorcar?

he looked back. bickenden and chitworth were out of sight.

he cautiously retreated and crept behind the widow’s house.

it was indeed a motorcar that he had seen!

it was almost completely concealed under a black tarpaulin, but it was indeed a motorcar.

here was a chance! if he could somehow persuade the widow of the danger…

he went around to the front of the widow’s house and knocked on the door as loudly as he dared… though surely bickenden and chitworth were well out of hearing range.

no one answered. he knocked again, a bit louder.

he was about to give up, when he saw movement behind the door.

the door opened a crack, without any light going on above or behind it, and snively felt, rather than saw , the widow’s dark eye upon him…

“yes? what can i do for you? i have told your headmaster i want no nonsense from you little wretches.”

haltingly, snively began to tell the widow about the serpent as best he could…


9. across the blasted heath