Once upon a time, in a land, far, far away I found myself in the role of Most Excellent Narrator. Not sure how that happened; one minute I’m watching ripples concentric on a lake and making a wish that I’d much prefer not be given the role of thirty-seventh member of the mob or something; the next I’m sharpening quill pens and presenting as some sort of Harlequin-Otter cross in multi-coloured patch tunic and sleek, wet-effect breeches and being sent epistles – no, me neither – by this Lord Chamberlain dude that I need to do something to jazz up old Queenie’s profile or some such.
The Queen, right? She’s what you’d imagine in a place where rampant compulsory diabetes is the biggest health risk, given all the spun sugar everywhere but everyone is all smiley and cheery so we don’t mention that. The Queen is ancient, bewigged, five parts powder, five parts bored rigid and five parts grump. She isn’t wicked or anything like that, more a bit tetchy on Thursdays, but otherwise kind of okay with being all Queenly, despite the lack of a coherent or challenging story-line. Her people revere her because, well, they don’t get out much and when they do, she’s always there, proving to be a pretty fine waver and bestower of regal head nods and wotnot.
Which is fine, in its way. My predecessor, a cautious cove it seems, didn’t go in for mobs storming the castle or wild hordes or aliens, or rogue witches so it meant things had become a bit samey. Mind you, if you’ve met the Lord Chamberlain, you’ll realise why anyone would subdue any rioting multitude in the second paragraph, believe me.
And this was good, because there wasn’t any sort of health service and no one liked having to get up before lunch. Except Her Maj.
Then the Decrepit Monarch hinted she’d rather not do any more waving, thank you very much and couldn’t she have a paragraph or two where she gets to go to Ye Olde Inne once in a while and share a couple of preprandial sharpeners with Weasel the Poacher or go for a ride or visit something wondrous and magical, as long as there wasn’t any purple smoke, because she couldn’t be doing with purple smoke. I suggested a couple of scenarios, but after some initial enthusiasm, Her Regality backed off pronto. Someone slipped her a copy of the volume in the How To Queen series on health and safety and she began to worry about spinning wheels – inherently dangerous – and apples – always poisonous – and as for mirrors – well, let’s just say she made it pretty clear I should be the one doing the reflecting on the error of my suggestion we introduce a speaking looking glass, with wicked witch overtures.
I thought that had put an end to the Thrill A Queen shtick and we’d go back to the status quo ante. I mean it was obvious that His Meanness, the Lord Chamberlain was behind the spoiler but after a few days of royal promenading, see, a funny thing happened. She made up her own mind. The Lord C could threaten all kinds of egregious afters to the rest of us, but she wasn’t going to be intimidated. I was in the middle of my weekly script conference, when she reiterated her need for a new story arc. I tried to point out that maybe the risks lay more with the laity, but she was having none of it. ‘Are you frightened by a little human-reptile transconfiguration?’
Well, yes was the truth but whoever gets stuck with the truth in a magical realm? And the thought of a toad gave me an idea… ‘What about a pet?’
Now, I know they say don’t work with children or animals and after that Pied Piper farrago over fairyland way I knew it was a bit of risk to introduce another mammal into the story, but how bad could it be, writing in a pet for Queenie?
Which one, though? Horses are popular, especially white stallions but the old girl might find that a bit, you know, over stimulating. Owls aren’t as easy as you’d imagine, them being naturally smug and myopic, which tends to leave a narrator writing up blind allies and then being sneered at. And ravens are just too cool for school, you dig? They’re all a bit tropey, a touch cliched, if you ask me, so after a quick whizz though Magipedia, I decided on a cat. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Puss in boots. I hear you but I forgot, didn’t I and it hadn’t made the edition I was using and by the time it’s in the narrative it’s too late.
Anyhoo, the cat thing started off pretty well, if you ask me. Then there’s another epistle from His Meanness… I tell you, if you think trying to find somewhere to take a Collect+ return is a bugger, you try accepting an epistle from His Supreme Unpleasantness’ emissary… ‘Is the cat neutered?’ Apparently it’s a thing in fairy-tales, no gratuitous sex and stuff so we had to have the moggy de-balled, pronto. The Queen was miffed but she’s a stickler for the rules too, so I wrote in a vet.
Who appeared this morning.
First up it’s a she. Nothing wrong there except she isn’t keen on channelling her inner virginal maiden which is, you know a pretty standard requirement for a fairytale. Been to university she says; five years amongst hormonally saturated youngsters, she says; what do you think the chances of finding a virginal maiden are at the end of freshers’ week following a toga and toupee party, fifteen flaming sambucas and a dodgy kebab, let alone at the end of five years, she says. So we skipped that part.
Next it’s the issue of herbs and magic potions. Only there aren’t any. All she can offer, she says, are a sharp knife, something in a vial and a lot of blood. This is a magical kingdom, for pity’s sake, I try and impress on her. We don’t do bodily fluids anymore. Not after those Grimm brothers signed away their souls to Disney.
But then that thing happened again. The character takes over. ‘Go and ponder, scribe,’ she says. ‘I’ve got this.’
And you know, funnily enough, it’s not all bad. The Cat, without his castanets is a changed beast. He’s cartwheeling at the slightest thing. Her Maj is excited by what he might do next. The populous have something else to talk about beyond how many waves they’ll get from the old dowager dearie per diem. And His Most Excellent Psycho is quiet. Has been for a while.
I’ve done some writing ahead, taken advantage of the meme #catsoffairyland to get the old profile heightened and begun looking for less stressful roles, like food taster or dragon dentist. Though there’s a rumour circulating that the Lord Chamberlain is very taken with the Cat’s gymnastics and he may want me to script him some moves – he’s set on turning a cartwheel before they close the book on him, they say.
Which in and of itself wouldn’t be such an issue if just penning a few lines would do the trick. But getting the vet in has set a precedent. If the Big Man wants to do handstands then the Corporation’s finest nadgers will have be toast. I don’t want to be around when he gets to that chapter, thank you very much. They weren’t called Grimm for no reason.