Story for the Day: The Joy of a Pyre
It is so easy to take revenge on one's enemies when one suddenly find oneself in a position of power. A good king, however, never seeks revenge no matter how terribly his adversaries have plagued him.
The Joy of a Pyre
The Joy of a Pyre
The procession carrying the banner of Count Rosse’s humiliation continued through the main hall, gathering parishioners as it went, collecting to it everyone in the keep who had been, atsome time or other, affronted by Count Rosse’s strident attire and offensive remarks. No body liked to rejoice at the idea of the Count being disgraced, but as the count was not present, there could be no harm in a little retribution. Pastaddams, Gaumhin, and Carrigh pageanted the banner, leading the congregation from the courtyard into the far field, and once they had reached the memorial, Alasdair gave the order and Gaumhin went to work building a small pyre from the dried juniper wood that was stacked beside the stone brazier by the Brennin family monument.
“Considering how much his outfits have plagued the various members of my family over the years,” said Alasdair, “I think it fitting that we should do it here.”
This was unanimously agreed to, and once Gaumhin had cleared away the snow, laid the juniper branches, and fitted stones round the bundled wood, the banner was given, placed in the centre of the pyre, and the fire was lit. The wood began to smoulder, clouds of smoke billowed forth, the amber glow of nascent flames began to flicker, climbing the wood and raging against the frigid climate, pervading the area with a cesious hue. The scent of simmering wood tinged the air, and the congregation watched and waited for the flames to climb to even greater heights. Surrounded by a host of cypress and willow and cottonwood trees, their boughs bending in honour of the arrival of so coveted a standard, such a masterpiece of revenge and innovation, the flames at last caught the bottom of the banner, and as the material began to burn, a fulmination of cheers rang out. Hats were tossed, women were swung about in jubilation, and all those who were ever offended by the Count were felt a certain pride in knowing that their revenge was here exacted.While it was indecorous and ill bred of them to exult at an enemy’s demise, it was a rapturous delight to see one of the Count’s outfits razed. The mismatch of fabrics, the wreck of design, the insufferable spangles deserved to be burned for blinding so many, and as the backboard caught fire and burned over black and charred, Pastaddams flung himself at Gaumhin, grabbing his hands and dancing about in high glee, skipping and leaping and kicking up, promenading and turning in place while Gaumhin only laughed and tired to follow the tailor’s movements.
“Pastaddams is hysterically pleased with himself,” said Alasdair. “In the thirty years I have known him, I don’t believe I have ever seen him this delirious.”
“You have never seen him after he is just returned from the Royal Theatre,” said Boudicca, smiling. “Once he has seen the misbegotten frights that those performers pageant across the state, poor Pastaddams is aglifft and can talk of nothing but his horror of their outfits for hours. The misdirection of a performance is nothing where a mismanagement of fabrics can shock him. Considering how many of their outfits he has wanted to burn, I should think he’ll be delirious for a few hours. Setting Rosse on fire has been all his ambition—and yours—for the last twenty years at least, and as this is likely never to happen again, you must allow him his triumph. I am rather more astonished at your allowing the barbarism of a pyre in the first place.”
“Well,” said Alasdair, somewhat abashedly, “while it does show a poor character to burn one’s enemies, we’re not burning the man,” and folding his arms and looking complacent, he added, “And I'm king and I can do whatever I like, as long as it's doesn't hurt anyone and doesn't use any resources or money from the treasury.”
“A prudent despot, to be sure. You are all cautious authority.”
“I hope I am.”
“Your upbringing should never allow you to be the tyrant you wish.”
Alasdair clicked his tongue and pressed his arm against hers.
“Does seeing this monstrosity burn make you feel any better?”
Alasdair glanced at the pyre, the flames engulfing the banner, and then glanced back at her. “No, only because I know he's going to have another outfit even worse than this one when he returns.”
“And shall you commission Gaumhin to take them from him when he does?”
“I might do. I might have Gaumhin unravel Rosse and swing him from the battlements. We can conduct court that way. I’ll keep the doors to the court open, and every time he makes a ridiculous remark or an insufferable opinion, I can have Gaumhin give him a push and we can all watch him swing back and forth like a pendulum from one crenel to the other, trying to grasp at the merlons as he swings by.” Alasdair paused and reveled in fiendish grins. “I quite like that plan,” he proclaimed. “I can have the herald echo my proclamations from the court, Rosse can repudiate, which he always does, and we can leave him filipendulous until the afternoon session is over. I’m not violating any laws by doing so. I might be impinging upon Rosse’s personal rights by having him hung up there, but there is little he can do but make a formal complaint about it. He won’t be harmed, and the only thing I have to worry about is Rosse trying to claim emotional distress.”
“Even if he should contest such torment, Alasdair, you can fine yourself and take the money out of the taxes you collect from his estate. I’m sure Aldus can manage that for you.”
It was tempting to think of such a scheme, and Alasdair turned about in circles, wrung his fists, and groaned, writhing in the agony of all the happiness he should suffer in seeing Rosse wriggle and dangle from the battlements. “No, no, I can’t,” he decided reluctantly. “It would be unpardonable of a king to single someone out merely because he gives opinions I don’t agree with and wears outfits I would rather gouge my eyes over than bear to witness. He does insult my wife, but Gaumhin already took revenge for that, and he will be humiliated when he pays his fine at the orphanage.”
“You sound as though you are trying to convince yourself to be kinder to him than he deserves.”
“Perhaps I am,” Alasdair acknowledged, “but I have to maintain the hope that he can be changed, even after all this time.” His aspect grew sober as he watched the flame overwhelm the banner, and in sincere but kindly hue, he added, “A good king always gives his subjects a more favorable judgement than evidence would otherwise recommend.”
“Did your grandfather tell you that after a day in court with Rosse’s father?”
Alasdair folded his arms and thought to himself, hummed in rumination, and raised a brow. “Now that I think of it, he did.”