Insufficient Stories by Patrick Alexander
A Song of Rice and Beans
The throne room was silent with grim expectation, save the sound of each man’s heart beating in his own ears, as all the court waited for the King’s judgement. Upon the Throne of Many Swords sat Bolbert of Trough, calloused fingers curled around the ends of its armrests – now tightening, now loosening, now tightening again; heavy eyebrows pressing down on weary eyes. The throne was cold and hard and made him sore – a right pain in the arse, he thought, which is clever because like, the throne represents his power? So I’ve conveyed the impression that he’s tired of power, without actually saying so directly.
“What,” he said at last, his growl echoing from the high stone walls, “was the question, again?”
Sir Walpock Benladder did not hesitate to reply. For many years he had served as captain of the King’s personal guard – hair now grey, but eyes as sharp and bright as the famed sword Prickbringer, hanging at his side like a tamed thunderbolt. In a tone stalwart and assured – for the knight spoke as he fought – he stepped forward and declared, “Your Majesty, I don’t remember either.”
The King sighed with undisguised impatience, provoking nervous glances between the nobles. But the the silver-tongued chief counsellor, Lord Spergyn Plamft, leaned close and whispered reassuringly into his royal ear. “O King, I also don’t remember what the question was either.” His knowing nod was not met with high regard.
Seeking, perhaps, to relieve the tension, some other character with traits that suggest a certain archetype – let’s call him Dave – opened the question to the room. “If there is anyone here,” he said, in the way you’d imagine, “who remembers the question, we entreat him to speak, knowing he will earn the King’s gratitude.”
At this, the great hall reverberated with chatterings and hubbubbery, but alas, for each chatter there was a shrug of the shoulders, and each hubbub, a waggle of the bonce. There were some who remarked that Dave did not seem quite like himself today, but none who knew the answer. That is to say, the question.
The King was actually pretty bored at this point, but determined to stay in character. He did that trick to make his face turn red, and yelled, “Fools! Numbskulls! Noodle-noggins and bean-beans! Jesus, I’m really angry!” He shook his fists, then banged them, and to his own surprise, even tore a chunk out of his beard. It stung like buggery, but he didn’t flinch. Everyone was terrified. He was having a great time.
Wise men were sent for; seers consulted; knights and thieves alike tasked with retrieving the question from whatever figurative couch it had rolled under. But though they looked and looked and looked and looked and looked – high and low, near and far, hither and thither – comingly did they look, and goingly sought they also; to-wards and fro-wards did they rummage; upways peered they, and downwise did them peep; in directions both back-like and forthular prodded they their worthy honkers – honker of prince and honker of pauper; snooter of master and tooter of slave; schnoz of large man with axe, and two bloody slits of smaller man who just had his nose chopped off with an axe; wet nose of dog, and nose of whatever degree of moistness is supposed to be typical of a cat, of cat; olfactory pore of bee, parietal third eye of iguana, vestigial tail of capybara, and front left leg of writing desk – yea and yes, verily and forsooth did all of nature, and then some, venture north, south, east and west, into the queendom’s every quadrant – without qualm, qualification or querulous quetching; quarterstaff in hand, or quirt, or quiver of quarrels; through quaking quartz quarries and quiescent quagmires of quitch and quillwort; neither quitting nor quavering, but questing quixotically for that queerest of quarries: a quantifiable query – yet still the plot did not budge one inch.
Still waiting in the throne room, and sensing the reader might be losing interest, King Bolbert made a decisive decision. He rose to his feet and declared, from the diaphragm, “Half my kingdom to whoever can remind me what the question was!” Those courtiers who had not yet collapsed from exhaustion gasped cooperatively.
Lord Plamft struggled to hide his fury and amazement at the King’s rashness. Would you believe he’d had his own plans for half the kingdom. A tone of urgency perforating his practiced obsequiousness, he whispered, “O King, is this truly wise? Would it not be more prudent to—”
“Silence, foul serpent!” boomed the King, and took off the chief counsellor’s head.
“Would you put my head back on please,” said Lord Plamft, as calmly as he could manage.
“I don’t take orders from an android!” replied Bolbert of Trough, and booted Spergyn Plamft’s head clear across the room, knocking down the remaining nobles like skittles. Their last words were, “Hurrah!” Then a wizard came in and made everyone all better.
Now it happened that the King had seven daughters, each one younger than the last, and the youngest and tiniest princess was named Bingo. For some time now, Bingo had been trying to gain the King’s attention, at first by coughing politely, then by saying “Excuse me” quite loudly, then by getting engaged to a blacksmith, and eventually by biting her own head off – but in all the hullabaloo and alliteration, no-one had paid her any mind. Now, with that boyish boldness for which her sisters would ever chastise her, Princess Bingo marched right up to her father the King and stabbed him in the face with a big knife.
“Ho ho!” the King laughed, with a twinkle in his remaining eye. He scooped the little girl into his arms and bounced her on his knee. “Who’s this, who’s this?” he wondered aloud, and planted a raspberry on each of her blushing cheeks. He actually knew who she was though; he was just being playful.
“Daddy,” said Bingo, after some giggles, “I know what the question is.”
The King’s eyes widened with astonishment. A hush fell upon those assembled, in reverent anticipation of the childlike wisdom that was surely about to hit them like an atom bomb, or a large boulder flung from a trebuchet, if you want to be a nerd about it.
Bolbert of Trough stared seriously into his daughter’s face, but spoke in a voice low and gentle. “Do you really?”
“Oh yes, Daddy.”
“Well my darling, won’t you please tell me?”
“Oh yes, Daddy,” the child repeated, smiling like a woodland pixie. “I asked you before: which princess is the prettiest princess?”
“God that’s fucking stupid,” thought absolutely everyone, but observing the King’s amusement, they cooed and applauded appropriately. “Ha ha,” went the King, and “Ho ho” too, and glowing with paternal warmth, he declared that every one of his daughters was the prettiest princess in the universe. The applause reached a crescendo; the princesses blushed beautifully.
“Except—!” the King suddenly bellowed, “except for my third daughter, Caroline, who as you can see is a real dog!”
A roar of laughter filled the room, which was the result of everyone laughing and laughing and laughing. Even Princess Caroline laughed, through tears of anguish – even when all the nobles spontaneously formed an orderly queue in order to laugh in her face one by one; even when the King called for minstrels to immortalise her hideousness in song; even when tiny Princess Bingo squealed “Off with her head!” and the King doubled over with laughter and summoned the executioner; even though she knew that her younger sister Princess Coleslaw was an actual real dog: the Queen, some years prior, having miscarried, and presented her husband with a puppy instead, hoping that he wouldn’t notice anything suspicious.
The man whose dick is tied to a brick
Is worst at learning to swim;
The other lot, whose dicks are not,
Are worst at being him.
He whose knackers are tied to firecrackers
Is worst at staying in place;
And though benign, it’s Caroline
Who’s worst at having a face.
What a mess, what a mess;
Caroline’s face – ooh mama!
So sang the minstrels, amidst wine and dancing, as Caroline, still laughing along, placed her head on the chopping block. “Yee-haw!” hollered the executioner, revving his chainsaw and raising it over his head. Princess Coleslaw watched in silent pleasure: one more obstacle between her and the Throne was about to be eliminated with bloody permanence. Who would have expected this peasant’s mongrel – the runt of a sheepdog’s litter – to rise to the position of Royal Princess? Yes, they had always underestimated her, and soon they would pay. One by one, they would all – hey, a chicken! Woof! Woof woof!
Caroline closed her eyes and braced for a messy end. But all in a moment, she was saved; saved from the chainsaw’s murderous teeth! The dragons had come! The dragons finally turned up and burned everyone to death.