King Wenestl was a short, stout, ruddy-faced man – a caricature of a middle-aged merchant. All praised his munificence and graciousness, his wisdom and strength; did everything, in short, to keep him in a gift-bestowing land-granting mood instead of a banishing and boiling-in-oil tantrum.
But eventually someone would lose his cool, and then there’d be the devil to pay. The Virlai, especially, were ever a hot-tempered, touchy sort, and Conallan, Chieftain because he was Wenestl’s oldest friend, was the worst. One day, the King, being in a funning humour, began calling him a lamppost, a beanpole, and so forth. (He was rather the long lean type) The courtiers and even the other clan-chieftains followed suit, and soon Conallan was burning with rage. He smashed his fist into the Royal Tea-Table so hard that it jumped a foot. “Shut up! With your hog’s belly and blasted egg-pate –“
A sudden hush fell upon the court. All eyes were upon the King, who was swelling as though connected to a particularly industrious air-hose. “You’re banished!” He screamed, throwing his sceptre at Conallan. “Get out of my Kingdom, insolent Knave!”
Conallan caught the sceptre and hurled it back. “Fine! I’m going!”
Now had the Virlai risen, or even threatened to rise in revolt, Conallan had not long been an exile. But Tivrin Virlai, his cousin, had long awaited such an opportunity, and he scotched the whole idea so effectively Conallan never even got to deliver the speech he had spent days writing. However, Conallan Virlai made no attempt to leave Nakushita. Instead, he set up camp in the Royal Forest and nailed rebel recruitment posters to oak-trunks. In the next two months he gathered some three-score wolf’s-heads to him, and breakfasted, dined and supped on roast venison a hundred and eighty-three times. Finally he decided it was time to strike, and pulled out his speech.
“Brothers! We have been insulted and exiled –”
“Have we? Oh – Hear, hear!”
“We have bonded together in this hour of travail –”
“Let me finish! – in this hour of travail, to rid the Land of the tyrant Wenestl!”
“And I am sick of venison!”
Shouts of ‘Yeah’, and ‘So are we’, greeted this inspired addition.
“Okay! Is’t to be aye or niggardly nay?”
“Begin! We leave at daybreak, and ‘tis short shrift the laggards will get!
They scattered with another resounding ‘aye’. One remained. A little boy.
“Art witless, lad? Get thee gone!”
“Yes sir, but it’s just–”
“No sir, but – exactly how are we going to capture the King, sir?”
“Eh? Didn’t really think –I mean, it’s a secret plan, dunderhead! Be off! Stay! Summon my Council! Go!”
The blacksmith suggested laming the King’s horse, the cook poisoning his food, the highwayman holding him up, the soldier digging a tunnel … by this time Conallan was quite apoplectic, but he couldn’t think of anything at all himself, except for barging in and throttling everybody. Then a sleepy fisherman spoke.
“I say,” He said. “Doesn’t he go wall-tramping in the morning? Why don’t we drag him down in a shrimp-net?”
Conallan denounced this as unfit for their glorious enterprise. But for once he was shouted down, and preparations began in earnest.
It was customary for the King to promenade the outer wall of the palace once a week, accompanied by a single guard, to demonstrate his trust in The Love of The People. They crept up to the wall without incident, and netted the King with one neat flick.
Wenestl the forty-seventh, known to an irreverent people as Wenestl the Stumpy, woke to find himself trussed up in a noisome tree-hollow. On the third day, Conallan visited him in person. He had thought to find a foe hysterical with fright and anger, and was rather disconcerted to find him consuming a hearty meal instead.
“Shame of the Valinaryon, thy end has come!” thundered Conallan, throwing off his cloak. “Death hovers over ye!”
Wenestl raised one weary eyebrow. “Didn’t I banish you? Or perhaps it was some other wastrel? I forget…”
The guards giggled. Conallan had turned puce. He felt like gutting the King then and there. But that was a proceeding Honour forbade.
“I would fain spit thee as a hog! But I am generous. Take this rapier, cur, and fight me like a man!”
Wenestl tossed the rapier aside. “But I just had lunch!” He protested. “One does not duel after lunch. It is unseemly.”
“Shall I then run ye through?” demanded Conallan.
“Oh, come on, Conallan, what good would that do?”
“The land would groan no more for ye, tyrant! And,” he added wistfully. “I can go home, murder my cousin, and eat something, anything, besides this blasted venison!”
“Really? I thought it was rather good… Well, you won’t go home if you kill me.”
“Eh? Why not?”
“Ensel will become king if I die, and you can bet he won’t repeal your banishment. You fool, why the deuce didn’t you just go into exile, and then write a petition or something? I would have recalled you within the month!”
Conallan digested this. “And what am I to do now?” He demanded querulously. “Let you go, I suppose?”
“Oh please don’t. I don’t want to die just yet.”
“What? Dost mock me even here? Art in my power, foul knave -”
“Conallan, stop play-acting and listen! The net your lout threw over me – I cut the strings with the first sword-slash. I cut the strings, do you understand? It was my guard who shoved me off the wall.”
“What? Why? I didn’t bribe him, I swear!”
“Not you. Ensel, my beloved son and heir. Half your men are his spies.”
“What are we going to do now?”
Wenestl shrugged and held out his plate. “Want some?”
Conallan threw the shrimp-net at his head.
Conallan Virlai was kept in the Palace dungeons for two whole months, without bedding or change of raiment. Yet all marvelled at the new King’s ways, for the prisoner was fed most sumptuously. Naught but the finest venison would do for him.
On the sixty-second day he was run through with the rapier he had given Wenestl.