Premiered April Fools' Day, 2004
A kingdom by the sea, wherein lives an Earl of renown and respect -- healthy, wealthy and blessed with a loving and devoted family. Together with his delightful and vivacious wife, his two darling children, he lives in a semi-enchanted and lush valley in a sparkling castle called Cameseldom. His fiefdom enjoys an era of calm seas, warm weather, beneficial tides, and all in the reign of a kinder and gentler Prince of the People. All is well. Nay, all is perfection.
Until the day the Zygo Mati flew by.
It was morning in Cameseldom. The first sounds Earl heard were the gentle chirps of two mockingbirds celebrating the morning. This was followed by the constant gentle breeze caressing the wind chimes to fill the air with the sounds of an Ode to Joy, a melody sufficient to have inspired a Beethoven a hundred or so years before to include in his Ninth Symphony.
Earl's eyes fluttered before focusing on the face of his loving and devoted wife, as she bent over, smiling, to inquire of his intentions to rise. Her Lord and Master consented with a smile. Whereupon his wife's face turned from loving and expectant to beaming joy and gratification. With a gentle touch she bent over and caressed his lips with that of her own. Momentarily 'the poor bastard' was in that blissful state reserved for heroes and gods. For his wife, Fantaasia, had lips that could soften the heart of the dreaded Tyranny Beast or even the heir to Attila the Bun. Earl always enjoyed his wife's tender and/or passionate kisses. Always. Every single (or multiple) times.
Then as heaven, for him, eased its grip and Fantaasia's lips left his own, her gentle and soothing voice filled his ears. "Good morning, my darling Earl. Did you sleep well?"
Exquisitely, he thought, re-fantasizing the incredible love making the night before. 'But one did not wear such thoughts on one's sleeve,' he thought. 'One must be discreet and aloof.' His reply was simply, "Quite pleasant, thank you."
Fantaasia beamed in delight; then recalled the aspirations of her children. "Your children are outside the door, hoping to greet you this fine morning."
Earl thought a moment of his son, Aspir, and his daughter, Demure. Twelve and ten years old, they were now coming fully into life, and apparently quite enamored with every thought or action of their father. 'Yes, why not,' he thought? 'Let me make their day.' "You may show them in, dear wife. I would be pleased to receive them." Within moments, two beaming children with freshly scrubbed faces were on either side of his bed, glorying in their father's attention.
Earl was very proud of his children. They seemed everything a father could want. They were well behaved, attentive to their parents (particularly their father), full of zest and life, and possessed of that rare and delightful characteristic of being completely comfortable with their status as royalty.
The latter aspect seemed essential to any child born of Earl and Fantaasia inasmuch as he and his lady had all the attributes of royalty, and their children would someday inevitably take their rightful place within their royal paradigm as well. Better yet, the children even now aspired to their names (or demurred -- depending on which child), a fact which stood them in good stead in the particular circumstance in which they currently found themselves.
The one small flaw which might have lessened Earl's joy was that his two darling children had not been born twins. This failing derived from the fact that their father had always wanted to be a twin -- the potential mischief that twins might achieve had somehow always inspired and intrigued him. Knowing that some of the best stories of his childhood might have involved an unknown and undisclosed twin of royalty, Earl had often fantasized that he too had such a brother among the common folk. In his best daydreams, the discovery of his fantasized twin had caused all manner of excitement and fun. At least, for him.
It had thus been the slightest disappointment to Earl when Aspir had been born alone. But with Demure's birth two years later, it seemed a straight-forward solution to simply pronounce them twins, dress them in similar costumes (always keeping in mind the difference in sex, of course), and proceed forthwith. And being an 'Earl', he could do that. Even nature cooperated by having Demure enter puberty just slightly ahead of Aspir. The result was that the twins were now of an age in which they shared many outward characteristics, including height. The long flowing blonde hair of Demure and the close-cropped, manly blonde mane of Aspir also contributed to the facade of twins. Even their tennis-tanned complexions, acquired under careful, tutored watchfulness, added to the carefully nurtured dream. Standing before their father on this fateful morning, one could almost accept Earl's edict of his two children being twins.
"I hope you slept well," his daughter wished. For a moment she dimpled her cheeks in the manner in which her father seemed to delight. Demure knew the rules and the rewards for obeying them.
The son then inquired, "Did you dream pleasant thoughts, dear father?"
Earl smiled for a moment, before suddenly recalling his dream. It had been of a very strange bird, something like a flying red dragon with faulty rudder control. And with the strangest sound he had ever heard from a flying creature: a strained giggling mixed with a rush of wind and roaring guffawing. Earl had been sitting at a strange table in the midst of one of Cameseldom's magnificent gardens, writing an invitation on gold embossed paper. Signing his name with a flourish, he had then looked up to see the bird -- or whatever flying creature it might have been. It had merely circled Cameseldom at first, and then after swooping in a low pass by the resident's Lord and Master, the flying creature had crashed into the trees of the north-by-northwest orchard. A giant swath had been ripped into Earl's favorite covey of bountiful fruit trees, as the formerly-flying fiasco had careened from tree to tree, with unbelievable noise and destruction. Then he had heard the sound of bemused laughing, just before the dream had ended in blissful rapture.
"Well yes, I did dream," he replied, as his family waited with expectant patience. "A very strange dream."
"Surely it had great and profound meaning," his son ventured. "All of your dreams are so significant."
Fantaasia's and Demure's eyes rolled in virtually synchronous fashion, while each wondered in their own special manner about Aspir's apparent breech of carefully controlled and sophisticated supplication. The diversion, however, was only momentary for Fantaasia. Regaining her character within her chosen play, Fantaasia turned to her son and gently chided, "Don't interrupt your father."
The boy's enthusiasm was immediately dashed. "Oh, I'm sorry, father." Then Aspir held his tongue, awaiting Earl's verdict, willing to accept any retribution his father might care to hand down from on high. At the same time, Aspir was kicking himself for an over-zealous moment of 'kissing up'.
But Earl had not noticed the interruption, as the dream replayed itself in his mind. Then the patient, expectant faces recalled him to the moment. He smiled. "A dream, I think, of entertainment rather than profound prophecy. But I will dwell on it for a time. Later, perhaps, I will tell you of it. But not now."
"We will wait with eagerness, won't we children?"
"Oh, yes!" his daughter chimed, while his son exclaimed, "I'll bet it turns out to be a very important dream."
"Perhaps," Earl smiled.
"Would you like breakfast in your bedroom alone," Fantaasia asked, "Or perhaps on the veranda? It's a very lovely day."
It was clear to Earl that Fantaasia would much prefer the veranda, as her husband usually invited her and the children to join him there. For a moment he was content to look at his wife, and admire her soft-tanned complexion, her long blonde hair highlighted with a soft auburn coloring, and her athletic yet incredibly soft body with its delicate contours. 'Ah, those contours!' he thought. But then her smiling gentle face, the kind he always liked to have across a breakfast table, gathered his attention. Looking into her dazzling blue eyes, his decision became obvious. "Why not all of us break our fast on the veranda?"
Genteel pandemonium broke out. "Oh goodie," Demure shouted, before she recalled her name and reverted to a mere bouncing excitement. Aspir was more proper. "Smashing!" was his grown up response. Only Fantaasia kept her silence. But the smile on her face made it clear that she was more than delighted.
Earl smiled again. He so enjoyed bringing happiness into the lives of his family, which he could do or not do on a whim. Being royalty, at least in his own mind, the normal attributes of husbandry and parenting, such as those involving survival, protection from wild beasts, carpooling, etc. were always to be taken care of by servants. His contribution, therefore, could be limited to adding bits of spice to their day, and, ultimately, bequeathing a great inheritance to them. This day, it seemed, he had already commenced to do the former. And he would continue to do so, without any apparent effort on his part.
When his family had gone to prepare themselves for breakfast, he began to dress with the enthusiastic but proper assistance from his two gorgeous and very willing, twin chambermaids. Despite the distraction they offered, however, the dream flitted across his mind again. 'It was a very strange dream,' he thought.
On the veranda, breakfast now but a pleasant and tasteful memory, Earl sat gazing out on one of the many manicured lawns of Cameseldom. As usual, breakfast had been moderately delightful for him, and, he assumed based upon their reactions, the crowning achievement to date of his family's lives. Fantaasia had been glowing, loving and fulfilling of every possible wish and fantasy that he might ever have had -- while still being the model of proper femininity and devoted wife and lover. It was, after all, breakfast. And in front of the children as well.
The children had been bubbling with excitement at the enormity of being allowed to share their father's space on the breakfast veranda (the latter not to be confused with the separate lunch, dinner and tea verandas located elsewhere on the spacious and gracious grounds of Cameseldom). Their father had inquired into his children's activities of the past week, while they in turn had gushed forth with all manner of ten- and twelve-year old adventures and other futile attempts to impress their father.
Whereupon, Aspir, calculating that the time was ripe, asked with genuine and undisguised interest, "Will you be visiting the family business today, father?"
Earl smiled. He knew all too well Aspir's enchantment with the family business and his son's eagerness to be included in its operations. But Earl was also of the mind that all things should occur in their proper season, and that Aspir was not ready for too heavy a dose of participating in the only aspect of his father's life which might remotely be considered work. Thus his father's reply was, "I do intend to visit our shop in town, today. It seems a particularly apt time for such an outing."
Aspir, already learning diplomacy, did not want to ask directly for permission to accompany his father, and so took a different tack. "You've never told me, father, but exactly what is it that the family business does?"
This occasioned a momentary silence. For the young diplomat and would-be entrepreneur had asked a question not easily answered by his father. The truth of the matter was that Earl had no real idea what the family business did, other than it had always provided him and his ancestors with something with which to while away their days. He suspected that the family business was somehow involved in producing, warehousing, and/or distributing Generics, but unfortunately Earl had no idea as to what a Generic was. Or did. Or... whatever.
On the other hand, Earl was a quick thinker. "Perhaps next week, you can join me in visiting the business. But I think not today." Meanwhile, he thought, he could spend this day finding out what the family business did in fact do.
Aspir was delighted at his good fortune, even if it required a small amount of patience. "Oh wonderful, father. I will look forward to next week with great anticipation." But then, not leaving well enough alone, "I am so very interested in learning all about the family business so that someday I can contribute my own unworthy talents."
Aspir's last statement was enough to perk up Demure's ears, who had had her own designs on the business. "But..." When everyone turned to her, Demure eased her apparent concern and said, "I had always hoped, perhaps, the business might someday make a wonderful dowry."
"No way!" Aspir challenged. Just as quickly, he regained his control.
Earl felt a momentary pang at the children's squabble, but then dismissed it with a gesture. "It's a family business, my darling Demure. It's been in the family for many generations. It's a tradition."
"It's not appropriate for a dowry, dearest," Fantaasia added.
Aspir smiled. "Only an earl is fit to run the family business!" he gloated. "And you're not likely to marry so well!"
"Hush!" Fantaasia ordered, in a quiet but forceful way.
But Demure had already begun her retort. "Someday my prince will come!"
Whereupon Fantaasia almost gagged. For a moment you could see in her eyes that she knew it was time to have a good mother-daughter talk.
"That's silly!" Aspir replied. "There's only one prince and very few earls."
Demure was not to be denied. "Whoever I marry becomes important!"
"You can't raise someone's station in life!" Aspir insisted.
"That's enough!" Fantaasia stated, in no uncertain terms.
As the children quieted under the watchful eye of Fantaasia, Earl decided it was time once again to add to their education. It was obvious, at least to him that their squabbling was due to a lack of sophistication, experience in the world, and an understanding of the more profound aspects of life -- which, in his mind, he could rectify with ease. "We are all born into circumstances," he began, "which account for much of our lives. But we must not prejudge someone because of that. For example, many people firmly believe that blondes have more fun."
Earl waited for the impact of his questioning such a well-established fact to reach his young audience. When their bewildered expressions told him that they were indeed stunned, he continued his shocking revelation.
"This may be true in many cases, but there are also many blondes, who often prefer to mope around and have anything but fun. Unfortunately, everyone else is going around telling them that they've got to go out and have more fun, and here what they're looking for is to sit at home and have a good cry."
Fantaasia looked at her husband, wondering what in the world Earl was talking about. The children, on the other hand, seldom understood any of their father's brilliant ideas and examples of life, and were therefore less disturbed by the lack of intelligible thought being promulgated. As a result, everyone remained quiet and attentive, while their Lord and Master continued. Earl was still the Earl.
"The truth is that blondes are born into all kinds of circumstances and their approach to life is dependent upon their situation. Moreover, blondes, like most everyone else, take their station in life for granted. We are all born with different talents, social position, color of hair, etcetera, etcetera, and it may never occur to us to question our attributes, or to wonder why we too are not afflicted with poor tastes, occasional bouts of the blahs, and so forth. So why not extend the same courtesy to all of those we meet?"
Everyone smiled. No one, including Earl, understood what he had just said. But deep within his rambling was the hint of profound meaning, particularly for Earl. For here was a fellow who was raised by underlings, none of which had the courage to suggest that their young charge was anything but Heaven's personal gift to the local populace. Nor was there anyone to teach him how to be an earl. The truth of the situation was that our hero was, so to speak, a royal-foundling, his parents having departed this earth shortly after his birth.
Or else, they had run off to Tahiti to sell macadamia nuts to American tourists. The inhabitants of Cameseldom's semi-enchanted valley had never been quite sure.
In any case, Earl had never had the motivation or inclination to question his station in life. It was frankly too enjoyable. Or as someone had once candidly pointed out, "It was the best of all possible worlds."
Prelude -- The Flight of the Zygo Mati
Chapter 2 – The Ole Geezer
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