Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 19 – A New Kingdom
One day, as Salaronicus lay back on her couch pulling the legs off a live, inverted woodlouse, a scout appeared at her side. Not wanting to disturb her majesty as she sucked the contents of each leg dry, the scout stood and waited, a little restless with the critical news he brought. He watched impatiently as she gnawed each leg husk to a digestible power with her razor-sharp teeth.
‘S..top wiggling s..cout!’ Salaronicus snapped, not even looking towards the hapless scout as she concentrated her attention and her teeth on the body of the unfortunate woodlouse. ‘You look like you want to relieve yours..elf.., jumping from leg to leg.’
The scout, 374 (standing for 3rd battalion, 7th squad, 4th least important) was mortified. Falling to his knees, saliva dribbling down his chest through his profusion of poorly fitting teeth, he bowed low, mumbling an apology. Then, lifting his head while still in a kneeling position, he began, ‘Oh, mos..t ruthless.. and majes..tic S..alaronicus… Uncontes..ted empress.. of.. the 7.. rooms.., conqueror and vanquish..er of all before her. I have exciting news…We have f..ound another world to conquer …..’
Unfortunately for 374, Salaronicus was neither patient nor nice! So, before he had finished his little speech, her glass-like sword flashed from its sheath cleanly removing 374’s head from the rest of his body. I say, head. With salami, it’s rather hard to tell where head ends and body begins, but wherever it was, Salaronicus had hit the spot slightly before she realised what 374 was telling her.
As 374’s head and body hit the floor – in that order, Salaronicus swore loudly, spattering saliva over herself and her attendants.
(I should say that because of the sheer number of teeth salamis have and their lack of a nose, noisy breathing and saliva splattered speech was the norm, so no-one batted an eyelid.)
‘Oh f..amel!’ she swore. ‘What was.. he s..aying about another world?’
Her attendants, who looked at the bits of 374 and took lots of tiny steps backwards out of the reach of her sword whilst bowing and scraping, didn’t say a word because they didn’t know.
However, there was one brave one.
‘I’m s..orry your S..piciness..,’ spattered a rather tall and regal-looking salami. (It seemed they didn’t realise that avoiding words that started with ‘s’ and ‘f’ could help reduce their sprayings and spatterings!) ‘I do not know the ans..wer to your question.’ Then sucking up a stream of mucus that had started to trickle out of his mouth, he gulped as he saw the look in her eye and added, ‘But I will s..et f..orth s..traight away to s..ort this out!’
At that, he fair ran from her presence. (The Rampant Salamis had rather big feet which strangely resembled hobnail boots and seemed impervious to slippery surfaces, so running with all the saliva around wasn’t a problem.)
Thankfully, just behind a zombie wine bottle stood a small gaggle of scouts nibbling on ants and cracking rude jokes. Noticing they had the same colours on their helmets as the unfortunate 374, the long-legged regal attendant grabbed one and found he also knew about the new world. After some arguments and a couple of lost limbs (they grew back quite quickly), one of them stepped forward to go before the Empress.
The tall advisor turned and walked briskly back to the throne room with the scout following, who almost had to run to keep up.
Entering the throne room area (it wasn’t a room so much as a slightly raised platform), the advisor bowed very low – in fact, so low his head seemed to touch the floor. Maybe he figured that it would make it harder for Salaronicus to remove it with her sword. Whatever the reason, bowing, the advisor waited.
He didn’t have to wait long, Salaronicus wanted to hear more.
‘Well?’ she asked. ‘What have you f..ound?’ (The letter ‘f’ always seemed to eject saliva a considerable distance.)
‘Your Majes…ty, Empress.. of the s..even rooms.., conqueror and vanq…’ He didn’t finish as Salaronicus impatiently interrupted him, speaking directly to the new scout.
‘Yes.., yes.., yes.. … Who are you and what can you tell me about this.. s..upposed new world?’
The second scout also bowed. It wasn’t a very good bow and showed that he wasn’t used to this type of thing. You see, for salamis to bow, they need to do so from the hips as their bodies are reasonably resistant to bending and, he had obviously never practised.
‘Your S..picyness… I am 37..f…’ At that point, he caught sight of the previous scout being picked up in 2 pieces by some slave mice and removed from the throne room. With a bit of quick arithmetic, making allowances for the death of the first scout (it helped to have more than 2 arms and hands), he continued, ‘… ffff..our! Er, 37..4.. that is.., s..cout of the outer ranges… I was.. 37..5.. but then…,’ he indicated with his head towards the remains of 374 being carried away. Then he caught the glare in the empresses’ eye and quickly carried on after an especially noisy and slurpy sucking in of the breath. ‘We were s..couting the outer ranges.. as normal, looking f..or enemies.. to conquer in your name our Empress… It was.. as.. it normally was.. except that we had been f..orced to look after a wine bottle that had been f..ound hiding the day bef..ore.’
Each ‘F’ was so powerfully delivered that it covered the Empress and her still bowing advisor with a spattering of phlegm, infused with little pieces of ant.
‘Of.. course, we f..orced it to work hard,’ the new 374 continued, ‘chained it and kept a close watch on it. Then, 37..4.. – not me, or the previous.. one, but … but … but the one before that – had the bright idea of us..ing the bottle as a way to travel. Climbing onto the bottle, 37..4.. s..at, legs.. wrapped around its.. neck to try to keep it under control. But the bottle jumped up and ran s..traight into the wall. They really are f..oolish those wine bottles! It didn’t break, much to our s..urprise, but when we looked, 37..4.. had dis..appeared! He mus..t have been thrown from the wine bottle, but we couldn’t s..ee him anywhere. We had jus..t about given up hope of.. f..inding his.. remains.. when we heard his.. voice, coming from the heavens..! “Up here,” his.. voice sh..outed.’ (I can’t tell you quite how bad an ‘sh’ was for saliva delivery!) ‘When we tried to f..ind him, all we could s..ee was a wall, and then s..omething f..ell to the f..loor at our f..eet. “I am on another plane,” came the voice of 37..4… We thought he mus..t have become a ghos..t.’
Seeing impatience plant itself again on the empress’ face, and remembering what had happened to the previous 374, the new 374 hurried on to the significant bit.
‘In sh..ort, my Empress.., we have discovered a s..eries.. of.. plateaus… Each plateau is narrow and very s..teep and goes.. to yet another plateau, and all of them s..eem to be leading us f..orward in a s..eries of giant s..teps.., out of this world into a new one. No doubt it is.. a world des..tined f..or your Majes..ty’s.. f..ull and f..inal conquest…’ Seeing her interest piqued with this news, 374 continued, ‘We have dis..covered 13 of.. these plateaus.., each leading higher and f..urther until eventually, we reached a f..rustrating wall.’ Seeing a look of concern flit across the Empress’ face, 374 hurried on, ‘But at the bottom of.. that wall, your Majesty, there is.. a great gap, and when we looked through that gap, we f..ound a whole new world, a vas..t world, a bright world and a world, as.. f..ar as.. we can tell, where no s..alamis live!’
This latest news caused Salaronicus to frown. How could there be a world where no salamis lived? Hadn’t they conquered the whole of the seven rooms aeons ago? So what was this place? To cut a long story short, the expedition of the Rampant Salamis to conquer the ‘new-world’ began – starting at the bottom of the cellar stairs.
Eller Beck had a lot of time on her hands. When you can’t be seen, can’t touch much and can’t really interact with, well, anyone, you spend plenty of time on your own! The upshot of this was that Eller got to know the villages of Rott, Grott & Snott especially well, and she was also particularly familiar with the Manor.
Interestingly, in the Manor itself, it was often the shadows that caught Eller’s attention and helped her pass her day. It was probably because they didn’t know she was watching that Eller was able to see just how free and unbound they were. If someone like Roseberry, the Baron or Thornton came anywhere near, the shadows would make an effort to snap to whatever was nearest. Sometimes, they even snapped to Eller herself, even though they didn’t seem to realise she was there. Of course, this led to many double-takes by those coming into the room. Still, often that slight looking away in the middle of the double-take was enough for the shadows to sort themselves out. That said, if something caught the shadows attention then snapping to anything was entirely out of the question. Instead, they would crowd around whatever it was to take a closer look. As I said before, the shadows in the Manor were VERY nosey!
It was when no-one was around that the shadows were most active, leaving their objects and getting on with their lives, often meeting and having animated discussions – although Eller never heard a word.
As time passed, Eller started to get to know the characters of the more familiar shadows, even growing quite fond of some of them. She especially enjoyed the curtain shadows when the windows were open on a breezy day. For, even though they could go wherever they wanted, they still got affected by the breeze, and this could be quite comical.
Of course, it was the shadows that first noticed the rise of the salami civilisation in the cellar. Eller found out about it when she followed a group of shadows being beckoned by…, I think it was the kettle shadow, but I can’t be sure.
Once she knew about the salamis, she would often pop down to the cellar to see how they were doing. It both impressed and horrified her just how quickly they developed from being simple, vicious and mindless cannibals to, within weeks, becoming a more organised and structured society of death-dealing menaces.
She watched as the salamis colonised the 7 large rooms in the cellar which became 7 separate kingdoms.
It saddened Eller when the wars started. At first, it was one kingdom against another. Then, within weeks, it became one empire against another, until eventually the rise of the Rampant Salamis had seen the realms unite under the rule of Salamerours the Great. Or not so great as it transpired when he was assassinated and eaten by his own daughter, Salaronicus, who willingly took on the title, ‘Salaronicus the Destroyer’, and ruthlessly subjected the entire salami empire to her bitter and selfish will.
Within days, creatures that had no part to play in the salamis’ empire were overrun and enslaved – even the wine bottles!
Those poor bottles, having been laid in the cellar many years before, had also developed a civilisation. Graceful and witty, with a great sense of humour, they had been quickly outnumbered and overrun, ending in their savage enslavement. Many of them were drained until empty – becoming zombie-bottles with no will of their own. Instead, as slaves, they mindlessly did the will of their captors, the Rampant Salamis, until they were smashed and forgotten. It was a sad time for such a beautiful people.
Eller loved watching all the drama of the cellar – the intrigue and action. What she hadn’t expected was that the day would come when the Rampant Salamis would work out that there was more to the world than the 7 rooms of the cellar.
Once again, it was the shadows that alerted Eller to the change.
While watching an argument between a shadow coal-scuttle and a shadow ornamental pony, a gaggle of shadow coats and hats raced into the room and interrupted them. A very animated discussion took place between them all, the leader appearing to be a shadow deer-stalker hat!
Although she didn’t notice it at first, eventually she realised that right at the centre of this conglomeration of shadows was a small shadow that looked remarkably like a salami. All the other shadows were pointing at it. Then, after a short animated discussion, they seemed to reach a consensus. At that, they rushed out of the room, leaving the shadow salami looking rather cross, which was the default look for salamis as far as Eller could tell. Shortly after, it appeared to hitch up some shadow trousers, push forward what looked like a shadow flat-cap and march out the room with its extra-large shadow hob-nail-boot-like feet.
Eller couldn’t help herself; she had to see what was happening. So, getting up, she followed the determined shadow salami to see where it went.
As she got up, the shadow salami paused, just for a moment, as if it had heard something. After a quick glance around the room, it took a deep breath (which Eller could only imagine as being very noisy and salivary) and marched out into the hall.
You must realise that salamis don’t have particularly long legs. So, it took quite a while for the shadow salami and Eller to reach the other shadows. It seemed that just about every shadow in the whole Manor had turned up at the cellar door, which was slightly ajar. Coming up from the cellar were hundreds of real salamis along with several zombie-bottles and enslaved mice. Somehow, they’d even managed to get some chariots up from the cellar for the mice and rats to pull!
Eller had arrived just in time to see Salaronicus herself emerge from the darkness of the cellar. The same look of awe that swept across the faces of all the salamis as they came out into the ‘new world’ only rested on Salaronicus’ face a moment, before being quickly replaced with hatred.
Looking around at her army and then at the shadows watching and talking and gesticulating to one another, Salaronicus raised her hand. Everyone – that is, every salami and every shadow – stopped talking and waited for the Empress to speak.
‘I am S..alaronicus the Destroyer, Empress.. of.. the 7.. rooms.. and,’ she paused for a moment, ‘Queen of all I s..urvey’.
As she said this, she dramatically waved her long arms, pointing up and down the hallway that the cellar opened up into. To be honest, this was probably far more impressive to the salamis who had never been out of the cellar before than it was to everyone else who already lived in the real world.
‘Today,’ she continued, ‘I command the victorious.., f..ortuitous, gallant, brave and noble f..ighting armies.. of the Rampant S..alamis to s..earch, explore, s..eize and conquer all they f..ind here in MY new kingdom. Go everywhere, f..ind out everything you can in preparation f..or the day we take what is.. rightfully ours… I will return to the 7.. rooms.. and build an army the likes.. of.. which.. has.. never been s..een bef..ore in preparation f..or our day of glorious.. victory.’
At that, Salaronicus lowered her hand and turned smartly back to the cellar stairs, obviously quite keen to get away from this new place. As she turned, the Rampant Salami army cheered and roared their approval. Then, as she returned to the cellar stairs, commanders and leaders started ordering salami soldiers and scouts around. Mice and rats were hitched to chariots; spiders were whipped to make them scurry up walls and act as spies. Preparations for the invasion had begun.