“Do you mean to tell me that your masters’ gift to Princess Naomi is a – a play?”
Flopknot’s fuzzy little nose twitched with a profound irritation which careless onlookers might misinterpret as adorable cuteness. It was the sort of mistake some people only got to make once in their lives.
“A performance of a theatrical treasure.” The Envoy from Nonemyr was too canny a diplomat to further provoke a fluffy white rabbit in executive wear. “Perhaps, rather than gift, we should call it a cultural exchange. A beginning which may yet lead to a better understanding between our people.”
Mellowgrass had already calculated the exact degree to which the meeting was a waste of their time, to two decimal places of golden franchets. He muttered under his breath, “You know what’s even easier to understand than culture? Gifts.”
The Envoy smiled thinly. “Of course, my masters hope their humble gesture will lead in time to a richer and more rewarding relationship with the Gleaming Principalities.” He slid a book across the table, a slender volume tastelessly bound in gently sparkled unicorn leather and embossed in gold with the title. It was entitled ‘The Gallery of Errors.’
“Why a play?” asked Cloudpuff, regarding the Envoy’s hooded features with rank suspicion. “Don’t you have any proper hobbies? Martial arts? Death races? Gotta say, around here you’re not going to win hearts and minds with four acts and an intermission.”
Standing, the Envoy shook his head with a convincing show of deep regret. “We Nonemyr are a people of the mildest disposition. Our tastes run to the sublime and intellectual. But perhaps if you review the manuscript, you may find something to arouse your curiosity.”
When the Envoy had departed with his retinue of stalk-thin bodyguards the size of emaciated ogres, Flopknot pawed the book across to the team’s forensic accountant.
“In exchange for presenting the Nonemyr delegation to the Council of Princes, Naomi’s expecting a gratuity generous enough to tremble a dragon’s knees. Trashy melodrama and a couple of musical numbers are not going to cut it. You’re good with numbers, Mellowgrass. Read that and calculate exactly how screwed we are.”
The mottled angora pinched a set of glasses on his nose and flattened his ears in concentration. He flipped the cover open and scanned the first couple of pages. “Unless I miss my guess, it’s an existential farce about disaffected artists starving at the inimical feet of rampant capitalism.”
Cloudpuff groaned. “Oh, we are very screwed.”
Mellowgrass puffed out his cheeks in dismay. “You have no idea. Listen to this: ‘Canst virtue thrive beyond the moth-eaten walls of the consumptive lung? Canst a heart not wracked with whiskey’s grief be true unto its convictions? I deny and denounce it, lords!”
“That’s just gibberish-”
Is’t not so?
Thine words resound, my friend. Hold them affixed and
surrounded at all quarters by my heartfelt clapplause.
How speakest thou, dear ones? And likewise I also?
Whence such florid and obtuse utterances?
I like it not.
(reading the Book)
These words, these dense articulations, are writ upon the pages!
They writhe in inks of serpentine facility as e’er they are pronounced.
What vexatious business is this?
‘Tis the play itself, and we three are not apart from it!
Not apart, but playing parts? How so, pray?
By designs heptagonal, and ill-inclined deceits, by some
malign thaumaturgy unknown in our fair domains, are we
bound to these theatrical recitations, ‘pon the Nonemyr stage!
(with urgent leaps)
Stage-bound, undeniably. A giant’s scrotum
bounces farther than my lustiest hops will carry.
What is the Envoy’s sinister purpose? Is this vile entrapment
a prelude to subornment or invasion?
This insult cannot be borne beyond this moment.
‘Pon my oath shall I swear bloody vengeance.
Doest the Nonemyr hand grow by kings and aces at our dispossession?
Will they gain by act of liturgical incarceration some advantage of trade?
Would that we perceiv’d the angles of their design.
By the glisten of their entrails may we surmise their intent.
Let one but stray too close to these hungry paws. I’ll-
Sh – sh -shut up. Both of you. I’m concentrating.
Mellowgrass and Cloudpuff
Say on, Flopknot.
The book triggered some kind of environmental enchantment.
That Nonemyr bastard trapped us inside a rite of procedural immurement.
Apart from us, the only things inside the blast radius were the walls
and about six minutes of breathable air.
Such potent workings are not easily undone.
Are we bound thus, to recite explanations until our expiration?
We probably would be, if I weren’t tattooed with about fifty
separate counterspells, disenchantments and antihex equations.
I knew not of your ink’d hide, dear Flopknot.
Pft. As if you’re ever getting a look under my fluffy white fur, buddy.
Now both of you back up. I’m detonating an illogic bomb under this little bunny snare.
Mellowgrass and Cloudpuff
(withdraw stage left)
Flopknot’s ears drooped with the exertion of the dispelling magic. She sniffed the air for lingering signs of the entrapment but found none. “Are you both okay?”
Quaking all over, Mellowgrass panted indignantly, “That was awful. I feel typecast. I couldn’t think of anything but idiotic plot theories.”
Cloudpuff turned his head this way and that, clicking his neck bones. He stood slowly, balancing on his hindquarters in a centred stance. Cracking his knuckles, he said, “I feel a powerful urge for narrative closure, boss.”
Flopknot nodded. “The Gleaming Principalities has a literacy rate in the high 90’s. My bet is copies of this book are being delivered to every other doorstep from here to Point Fantabulous. We can track down the Envoy and introduce him to his own innards later.”
Flopknot picked up ‘The Gallery of Errors’ and weighed it thoughtfully in her paws.
“I think it’s time for some old-fashioned book burning.”
This issue of Friday flash fiction has been pre-scheduled while I gallivant around Europe on holiday with the family. Hopefully it all worked as planned, because it’s going up on my birthday, and i wouldn’t want to get it wrong.
This is, of course, a sequel to two previous flash stories of the Gleaming Principalities (known less formally as the “Mafia bunnies” sequence): The Overzone Rule and The Going Rate for Peace and Harmony. I can’t believe I am saying this, but the bunnies are back by popular demand.