During the seventh century, England was a country split by northern and southern tribes living in various counties and villages. Times were hard as people struggled to support themselves with meager crops, fearing raids from by power-hungry kingdom grabbers and, for most, justice was just a flavor of the day. But soon, a Bretwalda (one who wields great power) would emerge and bring light into The Dark Ages.
Artie was a small boy with dreams of someday of becoming a sheepherder, because he loved the feel of fluffy wool on his cheek. He was an orphan who never knew who his parents were and was now being raised by an older blacksmith named Pelican who had found little Artie wandering the forest of Whitaker. The ornery man had a mind that would jump in and out of reality, often pretending to be a brave knight who battled Saxon barbarians, which were the size of small Birch trees. “Slayed another one, my boy!” he’d yell, sticking out his chest. But, through the disillusionment, he was always a good father figure for the boy.
Young Artie would spend much of his days exploring the Hills of Aneda and the banks of the river of Jonne. It was in the Woods of James where he stumbled upon an old man dressed in a wool robe and a pair of rabbit-furred slippers. His deep blue eyes hid behind a wrinkled face covered with a long, snow-white beard that was littered with birdseed.
“Hello Artie, my boy. I’ve been expecting you,” the old man said with a sly smirk.
“How do you know who I am?” Artie questioned.
“You might say a little owl told me,” the old man replied.
“Who?” Artie answered back.
“Very cute. I get it,” the old man responded as he rolled his eyes. “Have a seat on this log. I’m going to and tell you all about your future while I throw down this jug of wine.”
And throw down the wine he did. Coincidentally, his name was Merlot and he was known as the greatest sorcerer in the land. His red stained beard wavered as he enthusiastically revealed to the small child that, someday, the child would unite all of England when he ruled as the King. The boy loved the story but, deep down, he just figured it was the booze talking; after all, he’d seen Pelican after a snoot or two.
Merlot reassured Artie that all was foretold by Matilda, the maiden of the lakes of Rikki. “You must trust me, my boy. You will be King,” the magician slurred as his booze breath almost knocked Artie off the log.
Using his magician skills, Merlot taught little Artie about life, by changing him into different animals: a woodchuck, raccoon, horse, snake, fish were just a few. As another form of life, Artie learned good and evil, just and unjust and, most of all, how human beings should evolve above instinctive animals. He fully enjoyed each lesson and learned, while he grew in wisdom. His only beef was dealing with the fleas.
It was a cold, rainy day in the village of Peeples. The hillside was scattered with town folk circled around a large overgrown potato that had become petrified over the centuries. Buried deep within the mutated vegetable was an old sword known as Exposure. The jeweled handle protruded, glistening, without the help of any sunlight.
For nearly two centuries, it had become an annual event where folks would come from miles around to do their best to pull the sword out of the great potato. Oral accounts, passed down through Saxon history, told of a King Rodney, who had been severely injured in the Battle of the Saxes (a barbaric tribe of Scotland women, known as the Gaelic Gals, had pommeled the Britannia Boys on the Fields of Salley) crawled out of harm’s way to a remote area, northeast of the Rikki Lakes, and, lying helpless, mumbled his second to last words, “Damn, this hurts.” Then, he thrust his sword into the ground and, with his last dying breath breathed his final words, “may all thy royal powers be passed unto thy next possessor of thy sword Exposure.”
His blood seeped into the soil, blessing the sacred land. Later that night, under a red moon, a wayward warlock cast a spell over the protruding sword, which was coming from the sacred ground. By dawn the next day, a plump, juicy potato had fully grown, encasing the weapon. And so, a legend was born.
Standing amongst the on-lookers, Bishop Elvin unraveled a scroll and began to read, “Let it be known that thou whometh free thee thy sword of Exposure frometh thy grips of thy great potato shall be deemed thy new King to ruleth over thee lands of Britannia.”
The crowd murmured with excitement over the possibility that one of them could become the next King. Raising his arms, the holy religious leader tried to calm the raucous bunch, “Seize with the murmuring,” he exclaimed. “Murmuring is a sin in the eye of God, along with mumbling and muttering.”
One person after another stood in front of the large tater, attempting to yank the sword out. As in the years prior, each contestant failed, but were given a stale carrot as a parting gift. It looked like the sword would remain where it sat, lodged for the last 200 years.
Suddenly, from out of the group Merlot the Magician staggered forward. He smiled as he held up his arms. “There is one more,” finishing the sentence with a bubbly burp. Then, stepping out from under the great magician’s robe, stood a timid, young boy. It was Artie from the Forest of Whitaker.
With both tiny hands on the handle of Exposure, the small boy stood trembling in front of the skeptically towns people, sporting smirks on their faces as if they were amid a court jester preparing himself for the afternoon amusement.
The steady downfall of rain pelted Artie’s face as he stood there shaking, doing his best to ignore the jeers of the peasant folk who were anxious to witness the side show buffoonery. Hoping to quickly get it over with, little Artie swallowed hard; then, with all his might, pulled on the sword. Nothing moved. To save face, he tried again until one of hands slipped off and he fell back on his tiny bum. The mocking and laughter from the crowd told him to end his feeble attempts of unlodging a sword that was cemented in time. With his head held low, he began to shuffle away. Merlot’s hand sternly fell on Artie’s shoulder and turned him around back towards the sword. The youngster knew that he had to try one more time, fearing the old wizard would vomit on him again as he had done so many times before.
This time, Artie gripped the sword tightly then planted his feet on the giant potato. Strangely, he felt a sense of courage. He looked at Merlot who beamed with an all-knowing smile. And just as the boy pulled on the sword, the sky opened with a flash of lightening and a burst of thunder. The noise startled the people, causing them to cover their heads and fall to the ground. When they looked up, the rain had stopped falling and a young Artie stood before them, holding the sword Exposure high above his head. A loud cheer reverberated throughout the countryside and, thus, a new King emerged.
Twenty years had passed, and Artie had settled into his destiny as King and built a promising kingdom known as Camelrot. The fair and just ruler was loved by the people who were well fed and protected.
On a day in May, an anxious King Artie paced the castle floor, gnawing on a long baguette, peering out the window every five minutes. Pelican, who had been made his console, did his best to console him.
“Ootie” he reassured, calling him by the nickname he had coined when Artie was a boy, “They will announce her when she arrives. You’re moving around like a scared fox.”
King Artie set his bread on the throne, nervously running his fingers through his hair. “What if she’s pretty, Pellie? What if she doesn’t find me… attractive?” he said plopping down on his throne, causing the long baguette to unknowingly pop up between his legs.
Pelican’s eyes bugged out as he shot a quick glance at the protruding loaf. “I’m sure she’ll find you quite… gifted, sire,” he bashfully responded.
King Artie noticed the bread between his legs. Frustrated, he yanked it out, and then broke a piece of it off, where he sloppily dunked it into the porridge and chomped at it. “Now what if she’s hideous? We will need a plan.” “Yes, yes, yes, Oootie. Good thinking,” Pellie jumped with excitement.
“I know. If she’s a sheep dog, you nimbly sneak up behind her and clunk her over the head with this bread,” King Artie proposed.
“Ooo, that’s a great plan. I love it, love it, love it, your majesty,” Pellie concurred. “And it rhymes. Bread. Head.”
Lady Chandelier sat in the carriage with her assistant, Flameer, who had a feminine way about him, but kept a close watch over her. On their way to Camelrot, they had journeyed from Wales for an arranged marriage in hopes of uniting the two waring countries.
“So, what do you know about this thing… the King… thing… a ling?” Lady Chandelier inquired.
“Woof! Totally hunky,” Flameer said as he brushed her hair. “I saw him in the town of Cankersore about six years ago. A jousting tournament. Such a long lance… and could his buns fill a saddle.”
“Really? Did he whip his horse gently or… slap it?” she inquisitively asked.
“Whatever do you mean?” he questioned.
“Never you mind, pig. Your mind is in the loo,” she snapped. “We need a signal. If I do not like him, I will cough four times. After that, you will say, ‘You will have to excuse my lady, she has a tickle in her throat.’ Got it?”
“You bet your frizzy curls,” Flameer replied.
“Perhaps, we should practice,” she said.
“Yes, yes, wonderful idea, my lady,” Flameer perked up. “A little tickle test.”
Lady Chandelier clears her throat and lightly coughs. Flameer seems preoccupied, checking out the countryside scenery. She coughs again, louder. The little assistant continues to stare out the window. She releases a gurgled hack and elbows him.
Flameer snaps out of his fog, “Oh… yes…. Excuse me sire, my lady has a test tickle in her throat.”
She wallops him in the head, “Oh, forget about it.”
King Artie shifted several times in his throne as he attempted to find the best pose where he would look confident and composed, knowing that, any minute, his bride-to-be would come through the doors. Pelican did his best to calm the nervous King by pantomiming an old Greek tragedy in which a Spartan warrior, Demitrus, dreams of someday having Zeus turn him into a mountain goat that dances for Aphrodite — the goddess of love. While Pellie pranced around, holding his fingers up by his head to act as goat horns, the doors swung open and in marched Lady Chandelier and Flameer.
The King leapt to his feet, while pushing Pellie out of way, who was in the midst of a goat gallop. The King approached the royal princess and eyes her from top to bottom. Taken by her radiant beauty, he releases a soft growl, as his right leg shoots out and shakes. He subdues the limb then murmurs “Hubbada.”
“Welcome to Camelrot, my lady,” Artie said as he bowed and then kissed her hand. “I so hope your ride wasn’t too treacherous.”
“Only through Rottsdale, Pottsdale, and Scottsdale. I never cared much for the dales. I find the dales dull and dreary,” she snottily responded. “Anyhoodle, I brought you a basket of fruit goodies,” she politely responded, grabbing the basket from Flameer and holding it up in front of her chest.
“You have lovely melons,” the King stated.
“Thank you. And they’re real,” replying as she tapped the fruit. “Oh Flamer, bring this up to the good King.”
“It’s Flameer” he said rolling his eyes. A short-exasperated sigh, he grabs the basket and prances up to the throne. With a quick dainty curtsy, he smiles, and hands the basket to the King.
“Thank you, my good ma… person… thing” the King stammered. “I enjoy a little fruit.”
“I enjoy you too, sire,” Flameer blushed.
King Artie pays no attention to the little assistant. He grabs two cups of wine and saunters over to Chandelier. “Some muscadine, my lady?”
“It is a bit early for cocktails, but… well, it is a special occasion. I’ll have a… snippet,” responding as she snatches the goblet from his hand. “I very rarely drink. Rarely really. I mean, really rarely, alrighty?”
Flameer assuredly nods. King Artie turns his back and she guzzles down her wine, staining the corners of her mouth.
Artie looks over at Pellie, on all fours, still caught in his pantomiming world. “Chandelier. That’s a unique name.”
“Yes, well, my father was crushed by a ceiling lantern fixture, three days before my birth. My good, good, good-for-nothing mother thought it appropriate to honor him and…, yada, yada, yada, thus the name. I’m just lucky a horse didn’t sit on him.”
“Sad, but very interesting. So, what are your impressions of Camelrot?” the King inquired.
“I find the weather drab. The people a tad aloof. The animals stinky. And this castle quite drafty. And was certainly not fond of the cat call from your town cobbler,” she complained.
“Pay no heed to him. He was hit in the head with a shekel loafer by an irate customer,” Artie shrugged. “Is there anything you like about Camelrot?”
“The drapes!” Flameer spoke up.
Chandelier hit the back of Flameer’s head to quiet him and circled the room. “There is a subtle warm, mustiness in the air. Perhaps, Camelrot will grow on me. Perhaps even, you shall grow on me.”
King Artie smiles as he holds out bottle. “More wine, my lady?”
“I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I shouldn’t,” coyly responding then holding out her cup. “Just to the thumb.” As he pours some wine she slides her thumb to the top of the cup.
Approaching her, the ruler asked, “So, tell my lady, what is the secret to your enchanting beauty?”
“Oh, you stop while you continue. You don’t think I look… plump-ish?” she asked.
“Most certainly not, but if you were, say chunky, I’m sure I would find that fat flabby mound ravishing,” he said, gently touching her face. “Your skin has a… radiant glow. Smooth as the bum of lamb.”
Chandelier stood frozen and starry-eyed. “You bahhh’d boy.”
The two are face-to-face, almost kissing. She smiles then daintily takes a sip of wine. It goes down the wrong pipe, causing her to begin coughing.
Flameer, checking out the drapes, rushes over and jumps between the two. “Excuse us sire, the lady has a test tickle in her throat.”
Flameer pulls her away as she resists him. Through her coughing bout she hoarsely croaks, “No, I don’t.”
He is unsure of her meaning, crouching to look in her eyes. “Do you or don’t you… do?”
Chandelier holds up her hand attempting to catch a breath. She pauses, then starts coughing again. Flameer is completely baffled. “So, you do?” he probes, gently tugging on her arm.
“I don’t do… have a… tickle,” she says with a slight cough.
Confused, the gay helper stares at her trying to figure out what she wants.
” So… no tickle?”
Chandelier fights not to cough, waving her hand. With her mouth closed, she muffles a cough, and her cheeks puff out. Flameer springs into action and grabs her. “We’re outta here!”
The testy woman pushes the little fellow over a table of food then quickly composes herself as she gracefully sips her wine. “So, tell me a little about yourself, hot stuff.”
It was a lusty autumn day when King Artie married the woman of high-maintenance, Lady Chandelier from Dinglebury. With Pellie playing the part of best man and Flameer hamming it up as a bridegroom, the royal wedding became the talk of the decade as the townsfolk were excited to finally have a queen that would provide an heir to the Camelrot kingdom. The reception included the peasants and the nobles, as wine and ale flowed freely throughout the night. The new Queen stumbled around, flirting with every gentlemen guest she could find, who could tolerate her slurred stories of her worldly travels to lands where sheiks rode on camels and dark-skinned people made clicking noises when they talked. The King began to have second thoughts about his new bride, thinking that he had wed himself to a genuine booze hag who loved attention, but soon chalked it up to an innocent evening of revelry.
Camelrot had enjoyed almost twenty years of peace and prosperity under the reign of King Artie, but the territories in the north had not been so fortunate. Over time, the insidious Duke of Wayne had been ransacking, pillaging, and snatching up land from terrified villagers.
“The winds of tyranny have set Camelrot in his sights,” Merlot informed Artie as they walked along the hills of Jonnah. “He will not be content until all that is and all that shall be is under his rule.”
“The Duke has been a wart on the nose of England since I was a boy,” Artie continued. “And nobody likes a hideous lump of scabby flesh. But how, oh tell me how, great Merlot, how can I deal with this festering wart?”
Merlot bent down and picked up a pebble. He dropped it in the river causing ripples to blossom outwards. Through the tiny waves, a vision could be seen appearing on the surface of the glassy water. A large triangular table occupied the center of the King’s planning chambers; around it, sat a variety of recognizable knights who were dutifully serving their ruler. Their right hands were on the bible as they chanted a Latin oath, stating their undying allegiance to King Artie. Next to the holy book, was a skull of Saint Augustine, who was thought to encompass the four virtues of Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude.
As the image faded, Merlot tossed another pebble into the water that brought about a new vision. It showed King Artie standing in the garden next to Queen Chandelier and kneeling before them was a muscular man with his head bowed, sporting a tiny French-ish moustache. In knighthood dubbing fashion, Artie touched his sword Exposure down on the warrior then placed his hand on the man’s head and Chandelier followed suit, placing her hand on top of the King’s.
Just then, the sky opened, and rain began to pour down, disintegrating the apparition in the water. Puzzled, Artie began to question Merlot through the driving rain. “Who were those knights? And why were they sitting around that big wooden table? What oath were they swearing? And what about the man who was kneeling? Who was he?” Lightening flashed accompanied by a crack of thunder that reverberated in the atmosphere. Artie turned to Merlot, but he had vanished.
Later the night, King Artie tossed and turned in bed, mumbling an Irish limerick as he unconsciously kicked the Queen, who was fortunately passed out from the goblets of wine she had thrown down after the glazed duck dinner. Suddenly, the King sat up in his bed, awakened from a dream.
“By Jove, I got it,” he exclaimed. “A dream has revealed my purpose as a King. I can make Camelrot the greatest civilized kingdom in the world. A society built on justice and righteousness for all. From the poorest peasant to the wealthiest prince. Where all people have self-worth no matter what their status might be. My dear, would you like to hear my wonderous plans?”
The Queen stirred for a moment, and then went back to snoring as droplets of drawl dribbled out the corner of her mouth. King Artie sighed then went back to sleep.
to be continued…