The Fall

Hrothgar Valinaryon was a bit of a jerk.

From the first it was evident to the canny that the fall of the House of Valinaryon was at hand. The new King was neither properly cruel nor respectably dissipated. In defiance of all precedent, he would hold none of the dusk to dawn orgies that had enlivened his ancestors’ reigns, and bored the poor court to distraction. Likewise, in lieu of running after every female between six and sixty, he treated all the court ladies with propriety and distant respect, thereby earning their righteous wrath.

Seven and twenty years of age found him a staid married man, devoted to his wife, his dinner and his chessboard. To the consternation of his chief Awenyd, who ran the country while he dandled his son on his knee and mooned after Queen Matilda, he even eschewed the Royal sport of ‘banish-people-and-confiscate-their-money’, which had kept the Royal Treasury satisfyingly full for generations. He taxed the people equitably, and thereby affronted them mortally.

Moreover, he had an implacable objection to hanging, beheading and impaling people for public amusement. Had he complied with this very just desire of a populace suffering from ennui, as his well-wishers tactfully advised, he would doubtless have been Beloved.

He did not. When King Hrothgar felt grumpy or out of sorts – and his temper grew shorter as his girth increased – he made people stand on their heads, tickled them with goose-feathers, or had them dunked in the Palace Pond. Wherefore he was Bemoaned.

In death with Honour those of Noble birth find Glory, and imperishable renown. Penurious Exile theirs is the privilege of Enduring; the Suffering of blue blood sely folk deem hallowed. These serve but to render their Names illustrious, especially if tangled somehow with War – that single syllable more potent than the purest opiates to banish kind-wit and set blood and land aflame. But who can command the unquestioning adulation of a mob that has seen him with bare legs, quivering high in the air, his head squelching as he flounders red-faced in the mud? Or roll on dank grass, shrieking and squealing, and then thunder forth to evict unruly tenants? As for being sat down plump in icy slime, that is, as any creature of sensibility must realise, not only incompatible with all pretensions to sartorial elegance, but dashed expensive too.

So, you see, King Hrothgar did most rashly Seal his own Doom.

It happened like this. One dismal winter evening, his cousin and Chief Torturer, Prince Raimund, forgot himself so far as to checkmate His Majesty six blitz games in a row. The storm-clouds gathering on the August Brow might still have been dispelled by circumspect behaviour. But it was quarter day, and Ray had received his allowance that very morning. The celebration of this happy event – evidence of which was borne away at intervals by a sombre, wooden-faced individual – had induced in the gentleman a somewhat frolicsome humour.

He poured the remains of his glass neatly over the Royal Leg, just as King Hrothgar was conducting Queen Matilda to dinner, and promptly offered to escort her instead. So that His Most Serene Highness Prince Raimund was Her Majesty’s cavalier for the Feast and the State Ball afterwards, while King Hrothgar fumed and cursed and smashed vases. His flabbergasted attendants swathed an invisible scratch on his knee in a sea of lint and tried in vain to find attire that would suit their master’s suddenly fastidious taste.

Raimund got all three, to no one’s surprise. First he had to head-stand in full view of the sniggering Court until the King’s finest tomatoes envied him his complexion. Then he was tickled from head to toe before the same delighted audience, and tossed into the Pond six-times-six in succession.

Small wonder that he went home smouldering, and swore vengeance with a pungency that moved his lackeys to unfeigned awe. It required little effort to find others who were sore and disgruntled; every one about the King’s Person had undergone much the same ordeal. Most at Raimund’s own hands – but that was a detail they delicately shelved, as became Gentlemen engaged upon a Plan of which he was the Mastermind.

They exchanged mysterious signals, messages and tokens to an extent calculated to madden those not in the know; gathered on deliciously perilous rooftops, in cellars and on deserted mounds to spout bad verse and worse rhetoric over sandwiches and hot chocolate, and set each other absurd dares. After two weeks, half a dozen duels and a broken collarbone or so, this began rather to pall, and Raimund decided it was time to dashed well do something.

So the next morning they knocked out the guards at the door of the Royal Bedchamber and kicked Hrothgar out of the window. Queen Matilda, presented on the traditional bended knee with an artificial peony from her own table-dormant, was given a Choice.

For all her coquetting and philandering, Matty was quite genuinely fond of her husband – and fonder of melodrama. So she punched Raimund in the gut and scratched his face, screeching that he was a squint-eyed, frog-legged, roach-hearted baboon. Upon which he threw her out too, and when she set up a squawk, chucked down Baby Herethric for her to catch. Then he threw all of his gang one whale of a party.

Ensued a lot of squabbling over who would next become King. Finally, the Chief Awenyd declared himself sick and tired of the whole wrangling crew, and locked them up, along with Hrothgar, in the remote Castle of Onfroi. On the throne he put a bookish princeling of an insignificant branch family.

Queen Matilda and Herethric had vanished, but he attempted no more than a token search. He then fired two-thirds of the Royal Entourage, and heartened immensely by the cut in expenditure, resolved to dwell no more on the absurd farce. By way of further catharsis, he gave himself up to the invention of a staggering new tax.

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