King Wenceslas, Look Out! - Part One
King Wenceslas studied the paper and sucked the end of his quill, thoughtfully, which was unfortunate because it resulted in a mouthful of feathers. He was trying to deal with this, when a gentle cough emanated from the doorway.
"Ah, my Page!" The King managed, between spitting feathers in all directions.
"Sire" The page bowed, respectfully.
"Hither Page and stand by me"
The Page glided across to his master's desk.
"What ails my Liege?"
"It's a bugger, this is." The King waved irritably at the paper before him, "How they expect normal people to be able to answer these is beyond me! I can't even get started. Look at this one. Four letters 'Fruit. Sounds like there might be two of them' What's that when it's at home, eh?"
"Perhaps, my Lord might benefit from thinking of the tree in which he might find a partridge?"
"Find a partridge!" The King exploded, "I'd be damn lucky to find a partridge, what with that thieving cook lurking in the royal kitchens. Do you know what he served me last night, eh? Two guinea fowl! TWO GUINEA FOWL!! You'd be hard put to make a decent sandwich out of two guinea fowl, let alone a royal feast."
"Would you like me to have a word with the Cook, Sire?"
"Well, I don't know" The King shuffled awkwardly on his throne, "You know how he gets. Last week I complained about how long I had to wait for my chicken and he sent up a plate with an egg on it and a note saying 'Patience is a virtue'"
"Cook does have a keen sense of humour, it is true my liege."
"Don't want a repeat of last Christmas" The King muttered, "'Supreme of Turnip' is no-one's idea of a main course."
"I believe there were…problems with the meat supply, my lord"
"I'll say there were problems! He'd had it away on his toes with the royal turkey, that's my guess. Speaking of thieving blighters, what's he doing?" The King was staring fixedly out of the window of his chambers.
"Yonder peasant, who is he? Strutting about on me lawn as bold as brass, I'll have his guts for garters." He thrust his head out of the aperture, "Oy, you, clear off and be quick about it or I'll set the dogs on you!" He bellowed.
The peasant grabbed his pathetic bundle of sticks and ran swiftly toward the forest.
"Well, I would if I had any dogs." The King chuntered, "'Oh, I can't be doing with dogs, not with my asthma'" He repeated in a high, whiny voice that was presumably meant to be the Queen. "Asthma my ar…"
The King remembered his place and continued, "My Aunt Sally! It doesn't stop her running after every stable lad we've ever had. Not that we keep them long, and I can't say I blame them"
"Sire, with regard to the peasant fellow"
"Thieving git! There ought to be a law…"
"I believe there is, Sire. You signed it yourself. However, I was thinking of my Lord's legacy."
"My Will, you mean? I wouldn't get your hopes up, my Page. I'm as fit as a fiddle and anyway, her in the other chambers will nab it all as soon as I fall off my perch"
"No, Sire, not your Will rather, how posterity might see you"
"Posterity eh?" The King stroked his luxurious beard, "You mean how people might remember me, is that it?"
"Precisely, my Lord. Will you be known as just another king, or…"
"You could be rather more than just King Wenceslas, my Liege."
"Oh, I don't know about that. It's pretty much the top job, you know. I was damned lucky to get it, what with my elder brother falling from the castle battlements like that."
"Very unfortunate, Sire."
"My god, he'd got a grip" The King mused, "Took me ages to prise his fingers loose, selfish sod!"
"Nevertheless, you could be…Good King Wenceslas" The Page allowed the idea to hang in the air between them. You could almost hear the sound of the King thinking furiously.
"Pear!" He yelled, "It's pear, isn't it? That fruit? 'Sounds like there might be two of them', oh very clever! It's a play on words, d'you see?"
"Very droll, Sire. But, to return to my point…"
"How do they think of them? Damned clever, what?"
"Most impressive, Sire. As I was saying…"
"Good King Wenceslas, you say? How would that happen then?" The King was printing the relevant letters onto the crossword grid with intense concentration.
"Well, Sire, you could, just for an example, take some food to that peasant who was gathering wood"
"Me? Take him some food? I'm not ruddy Meals on Wheels you know! I'll send one of the stable lads round, at least it'll get them out from under the Queen…"
"The Queen's feet, is what I meant to say."
"No, Sire, it has to be you. Just think how it would look to future generations, a King, tramping through the snow to bring sustenance to a poor peasant fellow. They would write stories, poems, songs even!"
"Songs eh? Hmmm." The King stroked his beard thoughtfully. "You're right, Page, we'll do it! Now then," He licked the end of his quill, which left him with a blue tongue, and smoothed out a new piece of parchment, "Where and what is his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain, right against the forest fence, by St. Agnes' fountain"
"Really? Oh well, you can stuff that for a game of soldiers! I'm not going all that way. No, see if you can find somebody poor who's a stone's throw away. There must be one, I'm tripping over them everywhere I go"
NOW READ PART TWO
You can find a lot more like this in the special Christmas collection of stories "A Christmas Cracker"