The gigantic golden bell at the top of the hundred-foot tower boomed eleven monstrous tolls, deep and sonorous, marking the commencement of Elevenses. The Hour of Whining had arrived — the time when Imperior Holocaustic III would hear the beseechings and complaints of plaintiffs and beseechers from across the Land.
Into the Great Hall of our Fourmothers warily wondered the little people, each wandering whether today would be the day when zer Plaint would be heard.
Perched precariously upon the highest seat of the Throne of Foreboding, Holocaustic III heaved a weary sigh, which fell to the floor and evaporated, then yawned whilst scratching the imperial groin, amongst other things.
“‘Struth, muchly hateth I Elevenses,” he muttered in the general (downward) direction of Hobartion, the evil Grand Vizier, who slunk menacingly at the foot of the Throne twirling his flamboyant moustaches as he was wont to do.
“Nevertheless, your Orotunditude,” intoned Hobartion upwardly, “of the nine hundred and twenty six rituals and appeasements, Elevenses may least of all be dismissed without performance. The peons must be heard. As it is written, so shall it be…”
Holocaustic yawned again, then sighed again, then scratched again, then resigned himself to his fete. Slinking menacingly, Hobartion beckoned for the guards to allow the first Plaintiff to approach.
She was a young woman who could have been described as beautiful but for her wounds, bruises, scars, scabs and sores. She had wild eyes and white teeth, and the smell of the fisheries wafted eerily about her person.
Her Plaint concerned the depredations of the Barbarian horror-hordes that had overrun the province (the Rind) in which her meagre village squatted to do its ugly business.
Some terrifying months previously she had escaped and made her epic way to the Capital — hiding in ditches, travelling at night, exchanging her flesh for food. She was a tasty morsel indeed, named Clothilde for mysteriously unknown reasons, but she was known in her homely home village as “She of the Gift of the Tongue”, in acknowledgement of her birthborn godsgift: the ability to speak to the beasts, birds, bushes and boulders.
“None may stand before them, Greatness,” wailed Clothilde into the microphone, “they are too many, too fierce, too cruel. Drunk on mead they came down upon us like the screaming heebie-jeebies. And they have powerful magic. ‘Tis said they have stolen the Scroll of Cthulu!”
Holocaustic sat up and started paying attention. If true, this would indeed be serious news. But before he could interrogate the girl, his loathsome vizier Hobartion had motioned her to depart, thenceforth or even fifth.
The next Plaintiff was an obese merchant of textiles who wobbled and trembled with anxiety as he waddled to the foot of the Throne of Foreboding. The Merchant was fraught and frantic with worry about the impact of the Barbarian invasion on the wholesale price of cotton.
“A mountebank from the interior, Greatness, has been heard in the taverns crying foul and wicked warnings as to the hellish hussar horror-hordes that have swept down upon the outer provinces like wicked war-wolves with very sore fangs.
“This mountebank, Hugeness, tells of the loathsome schnott-gardeze, the hideous and barbaric nose-aprons that constrain the lousy lice escaping from their moth-nibbled moustaches,” continued the textiles merchant.
“The cruelty and stench of these fiendish lip-warmer-wearers, o Largeness, is legion, whatever that means. Meticulousness matters not a jot to them. Refinedness is unrespected. Fastidiousness is unfamiliar to them. Particularity is unknown to them, except in one fiendish particular: their obsessive preference for desert cotton as the fabric for their nose-aprons.
“The net effect, Ampleness, is that all the cotton is gone. There is none to be had across the seven seas, nary a bale nor a boll… I’m runed, totally runed,” wailed the Merchant, whose Plaint was duly recorded and the Plaintiff dismissed by the flick of a Vizierly finger.
Next was a Priest who had envisioned in a dream the taking of the Scroll of Cthulu from an ancient underground tomb in Marth.
“It be-ist not good, o Abundanceness,” quoth the Priest, “not good at all. It bodes ill. Very badly ill. A very bad boding indeed. In the hands of Hausmarten, the Barbarian Leaderchief, the Scroll will be the undoing of the World, nay, the very Kosmos herself will come undone if nothing’s done...”
Some time and a whole lot of whining, whinging, yawning and slinking later, the final Plaintiff, a sad-eyed smiling man of around fifty summers, shuffled toward the Spot of Obeisance. Upon reaching it, he struggled manfully through the required abasements. Then, into the microphone, he humbly laid his Plaint before the Imperior:
“Many things are wrong, Greatness and Highness, something must be done, else we shall all perish, or at least be very uncomfortable for quite a longish time.”
Hobartion duly recorded the sad-eyed smiling man’s plaint in the Book of Plaints and then made the gesture of dismissal.
And when the Great Hall of our Fourmothers had been emptied of peons, and the Great Bell of the Law had tolled the end of Elevenses, Imperior Holocaustic III clambered down the Throne of Foreboding and waddled with a heavy heart to the Antechamber of Administrative Invigilation, followed closely behind by the slinkful Grand Vizier.
“Well, Hobartion, ‘tis a rum, rum thing all round,” said Holocaustic, sitting his well-rounded buttocks upon the Stool of Power behind the Desk of Decision-making.
“Indeed, your Steatopygousness,” responded the Grand Vizier unctuously, slinking evilly as he placed the Book of Plaints upon the Desk, turning it so that the writing was right-side up for Holocaustic’s perusal.
“I do wish thee’d stop that evil slinking,” muttered Holocaustic, perusing the Plaints “‘tis most irritating. And do something about those moustaches, they’re far too flamboyant.”
Ten minutes later Holocaustic raised his piggy little eyes up from the Book of Plaints, and frowningly enquired of the Grand Vizier: “What’s to be done, Hobartion? Apply thy gruesome mind to this nest of predicaments, and be quick about it.”
“There would seem, your Opulence, to be but one way out of this thicket of thorns incircling the Imperium,” mused Hobartion blithely. “Of course the risks are great and the likelihood of success remote, but if it ‘twere done, ‘twould glorify thy name forevermore. If ‘twere to be pulled off, that is, ‘twill require much fortitude, of course… and a cunning plan…”
“Spit it out man! Cease thy mendacious musings,” grumbled Holocaustic, “desist with thy twere-ing and twilling and twirling!”
“Of course, Greatness, ‘twonce,” snarled Hobartion, softly, “We must recover the Scroll of Cthulu from the Barbarians, and return it to the Tomb of the Old Ones, from whence it was taken.”
“But how?” sighed the Imperior despondently, “all is lost, remember? The Scroll is taken, the canaries are dying, there’s no cotton, lots of things are not going according to plan. So how might it be done? How might it be pulled off?”
“We must mount a mission to the interior,” replied the Grand Vizier nonplussedly.
“But who?” groaned Holocaustic, “to whit to whom would we entrust such a ridiculous endeavour? Our armies are in disarray, mutiny infects the barracks, there are no more bolls, tush!”
“Not an army, Your Amplitudinitude, a small group of intrepid infiltrators, determined but sclerotic, unreliable but antidisestablishmentarian, bizarre but unheard of…”
Holocaustic snorted derisively. “But why would they do it? They’d have to have rocks in their heads to take on Hausmarten and his horror-hordes of nose-apron-wearing, bruised-thigh-anti-imperialist running dogs!”
“Yes, rocks within the head and without mulberries. And I know just such an inchoate throng,” replied Hobartion enigmatically, the Outcast Mutant Outlaws, the Omoze! They will mount a mission to the interior to recover the Scroll.”
“And return it to the Tomb of the Old Ones,” mused Holocaustic bemusedly.
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