In this never – ever – ever – ending tale, you may note a certain telescoping of events, not to mention a tendency to mix Kings and Presidents like raisins in a pot of porridge. But, even if we humble Web browsing souls could keep it all straight, unlike corporations and kingdoms with unlimited resources, we have a column to get out and a life to get on with. Still, long live the various Williams who should keep us in copy ’til the cows come home.
All this happened a long, long time ago, when William the Marketable was King of the land. Just before, in fact, he was proclaimed Emperor.
(No. No. Not that William, Son. That’s another story altogether. That William, they do tell, shot the head off his own Apple. You remember. People still say they see him on a frosty autumn night lurking beneath an apple tree, his head tucked snugly beneath his arm.)
No, this other William, our William, had a grand Palace by the sea and a very large Court of assorted Flunkies. His coastline was the longest in the known world and his harbors had, by default, a stranglehold on nearby ships and shipping. He also maintained a line of fine monasteries across his kingdom. Between the ships on the sea and the monasteries on the land, he was well in control of his world.
His Monks were perhaps his greatest treasure, brilliant, daring and far ahead of the average Monk of the time. They were divided into the Roving Orders that explored the surrounding kingdoms and the Cloistered sort that studied, with infinite detail, the words and deeds of wise men and hoi polloi alike.
This information overload, brought back by the Rovers, became, in the skilled hands of the Cloistered, an accumulation of the world’s wisdom and was soon scribed into the King’s Sacred Books. And everything, from the profound to the petty, was duly copied with a flourish and stored away for posterity. Or for the use of the King’s Flunkies, should the need arrive.
The King was pretty much ruler of all he surveyed, for his neighbors were a lowly, landlocked bunch and local domination came easy. But tantalizingly, across a stretch of open water lay other lands, not yet a part of William’s domain. They drove him mad.
Not because he had need of their gold. His treasuries were positively bursting. Not because he had need of more subjects. He had all the subjects any king could want-and lo, they were fruitful and multiplied quarterly. No. Just because they were there. It was a macho sort of thing.
But, in those far away lands were other Monks and Boat Builders equal to his own.They joyfully navigated the treacherous waters, hidden islands and large, unexplored territories that our King could not control. And rarely did they lose a crew for their boats were free of the pesky bugs that riddled the timbers of the King’s best clippers.
Of course, if you are a powerful king, with untold riches and (very) well paid Flunkies, anything is possible-even to shanghaiing the hapless Landlubbers onto your own leaky ships. For, whether navigating the rolling waters, or exploring the rocky bottoms, citizens of both sides of the divide, were lately lining up to get their feet wet.
Aware that those who had been navigating the longest had a certain edge, King William saw the need for an angle to increase his Territorial Imperative. “How about,” chuckled the Flunkies, “if you forced everyone with a license to sail in our waters to use our ships? Why, we’d bring them in like rats to the hold!”
“But,” pondered William, “what if our ships couldn’t carry their cargo?” No matter, he was assured. They could always come towing their own boats behind them. And so the decree went out: You wanna sail our Waters, You gotta use our Ships. Anything not stamped SMIE (Sir Majesty’s Imperial Explorers) was kaput.
This did not set well with the Navigators who knew a hornswoggle when they saw one. And they were quick to rally their people in protest. But William was not King of All He Surveyed for nothing. Now that he’d claimed it, Our Willy would fight for this new territory with typical Tudor determination. And so, shaking his fist at the passing ships, he bellowed, “We Will Bury You!”, though, in truth, he was just as likely to sink them.
The good folks among the Navigators could see that these new Explorers would change forever the face of their beloved lands. So they got all the non-aligned Monks banded together to get an injunction or something to stop King William from bossing everybody else around and making off with their shipping rights.
And it worked. Sort of. The Explorers soon had strict orders from the Judge, not to mention a stern warning from the Justice of the Realm, to stop forcing the world’s Navigators to use His Majesty’s ships-or else.
But even though the Judge had been quite explicit in his orders, the harrowing of sundry shippers was far from over. For now it was the turn of the Flunkies, and very bright, very well paid Flunkies they were, indeed.
Those Flunkies two-stepped, side-stepped, double-talked and danced the Fandango. It just never occurred to them to comply with the Judge’s order. Not once. Not even if they should cost King William a million gold pieces per day. But then, they knew he was good for it.
Eventually, even the Judge lost patience and spelled out, quite precisely, what he wanted. And that he wanted it now. A million gold pieces a day would have made scarcely a dent in William’s coffers, but you know how flunkies hate to lose face.
The Judge ordered that, henceforth, William’s waters must be sailable by all seaworthy ships. And the practice of requiring special majesty-approved, jerry-rigged vessels stamped SMIE as the only access must STOP. Anything that kept this order from being carried out would be considered Contempt of Court.
Oh, those Flunkies!This was meat, cheese and a vintage wine to boot. Better than the Fandango. Naturally, they would comply! Oh, how they would comply! They giggled all the way to the shipyards where new orders were duly given. “To avoid Contempt of Court,” they grinned, (these boys had nothing but contempt for Court. They were, after all, lawyers) “no ships may now be sold that contain so much as a smidgen of SMIE about them.”
And before the day was done, every last vestige of SMIE, down to the least crooked nail, had been wrenched out. The hapless ships gave a mighty death rattle and fell into the sea where they lay belly up. The Flunkies returned to Court forthwith wearing natty smiles and towing lines of flotsam and jetsam.
Noting a sudden harbor full of dead ships, the Judge suspected that he had been flim-flammed. (Well, presumably, he’d once been a lawyer himself.) He smacked the gavel down and decreed that a committee of learned Captains of the Sea would be appointed to investigate the whole debacle. Forthwith.
This did not sit at all well with the Flunkies who had, up to now, had things pretty much their own way. What if the Judge managed to find three stout men and true, with honest hearts and technological minds as well? They immediately contacted their Monks to check the Cloistered files for past indiscretions or, better yet, probable bias on all the Learned Captains of the Realm.
Now it is not possible to sail the Seven Seas without forming a few opinions. And if your boat has happened to be sunk now and again, it is quite likely that some of those opinions will not be favorable to the side that contributed to your calamity.
This, in the end, is what a jury of ‘your peers’ is all about. And this is why one Captain Larriel was especially persona non grata with the SMIE (generally pronounced ‘smee’ as in “SMIE First”) guys. It was a Been There/Done That sort of thing.
“A Tisket! A Tosket!” hummed a happy Monk. “Sent a letter to m’love. On the way I lost it!” The mills of the Monks grind swift, but they grind exceedingly fine. Some time previously, it seems, Captain Larriel had sent out a distress call.
“SOS!”, his missive ran. “I’m really narked, Mate, and could use some advice. I tried sailing the shoals with that new Explorer thing and now my boat has a permanent list. Nothing seems to help. I’d hate to think I’d sold my soul just for the chance to cruise a few new waters. Everything’s all screwed up. Is it me or is it SMIE? ‘Hi’ to the wife and kiddies. See ya soon if I make it into port. LL.”
It only took those wily Monks a simple name search through the Cloisters to bring in reams of missives from across the realm. And the Flunkies were ready next day with a comprehensive list of Not-on-your-Lives headed by Sir Larriel.
(Never again, My Boy, would those who sailed the waves sail unaware that their every word was forever inscribed in the King’s Sacred Book, even unto the last ‘see ya soon’.)
The Judge was not amused. He’d had it with flim-flams and Fandangos. He put the Captain straightaway on his team of Master Advisors and then ordered that the King himself be present in Court to account for his deeds-in the flesh and under oath. Or to take the Fifth as need be.
The Court was in a festive mood. Everyone had come for a glimpse of the King. Grown ups, in their holiday best, pushed to the front for a better look while the children played marbles and bobbed for apples at the rear. Dogs ran in and out between the legs of the Lawyers seated at little tables playing Monopoly. Well, it was the only game they knew and anyway, every dog must have his day.
They ushered in the King to a fanfare of bowing, scraping and trumpets and led him to the Witness Box. And there he stood, rather surprised at finding himself, after all this time, suddenly accountable.
“Hear Ye! Hear Ye!” The Court was called to order and the King made to promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and to, “Dagnabbit! Can the Fandango!” The King duly promised, though there were those who swore that his fingers had a strange tendency to cross while being sworn in. Others, more forgiving, said ‘No. He was simply born a little bent’.
The Judge and the Flunkies both had their turns with the King. And it must be admitted, he acquitted himself quite well.With a twist of his word and a wink of his eye, he wove about himself an aura of fine ideals and finer intentions.
Boiling it all down, what he actually said was: “I didn’t do it! And if I did, I don’t remember. And, anyway, I only did it for your own good.”
His Flunkies dressed these ideals and intentions in the illusory yarns of con men everywhere. And when they were done, the King stood resplendent in a virtual cloth spun of half-truths, partial fibs and outright prevarications. And very handsome he looked, too.
The difficulty with virtual strands of cloth is that they soon dissolve away the substance beneath and the wearer must keep retouching them molecule by molecule to keep his image intact. And, at the slightest misstep, the whole thing can come unraveled.
No one, later, could say just when it had happened. One moment William stood there looking majestic in his shimmering new clothes and then something, perhaps something to do with the inalienable integration of .dlls & .mies or maybe just the accumulated weight of humbug and flapdoodle, brought about a slow disintegration of his countenance.
“I say!” said a small boy spitting apple seeds at the back of the Court. “That guy up there on the stand. He isn’t wearing any clothes! Not a stitch.” And so he wasn’t. There he stood, buck-naked in a crowded room.
Now nobody wants a naked King. Kings are known for the bearing of large golden crowns and the wearing of long purple robes. And, though our King was, to be sure, baring plenty of purple, the robes were sadly absent.
No, a naked King was simply an embarrassment. But an Emperor now… Well, there was quite a nice precedent for naked Emperors. So they elevated him to Emperor, right there on the spot, and paraded him through the streets wrapped only in legal jargon. Chilly, but effective.
(Yes, it was a little like the Princess and the Pea. Those Royals did have a certain sang-froid and savoir faire. No, Son. When the rest of us pull stunts like that it’s called oppositional behavior and we are sent to our rooms without supper.)
And that is the story of how William the Marketable became Emperor I and why the world, to this day, does its Exploring in leaky little boats with loathsome little critters grinding away in the bowels.
Ah. You want to know why, in a thousand years, they never fixed those ships? A very perceptive question, My Boy, but you can see, with no competition…
Shh! Someone is coming. Quick. Back to your desk and let’s finish those dull times tables. Together now: 7×7 is 49. 8×8 is 64. 9×9 is 81. 10×10 is 100. Done. Remember, Son. Keep it mum.
Susan Howerter (firstname.lastname@example.org)