The Crown of Fools, Chapter Twenty-Six

Something startled Petka as he and Raksha worked their way up towards the castle on the ill-cared for cobblestone streets. First, he noticed that the grass had grown tall and unruly between the shops, and further, that every shop had been changed to either a bakery, restaurant, confectionery, or looming house of torture and pain.

 Petka found that literally everything was sugar in some form- sure, there was no meat; no leafy greens either- even things that outwardly resembled something as healthy as a salad turned out to be little more than a painfully sculpted marzipan copy. It was true too- the place smelled like pancakes. And doughnuts. And frosting. All this, mixed with the sweat of throngs of enslaved humans breaking apart a literal “Big Rock Candy Mountain” with pick axes created quite an unpleasant scent that hung about the air.

The enslaved humans stared at Petka and his clearly Canine/”Italian Barber” companion with a mixture of disbelief and bewilderment. A burly man with a neglected high-and-tight haircut and a long, deep, ragged scar that ran over a milky eye looked into Petka’s two good orbs with his one good one And though, slightly restrained by his fetters, he made a discreet “A” with his fingers- Petka nodded quickly, and continued to walk inconspicuously, as a broad smile formed on the bald man’s ragged face. And no sooner had this brief, nearly imperceptible exchange take place, a very deep voice boomed behind the milk-eyed prisoner.

“Whatcha doin’ there Gordy?”

The voice emanated from an impossibly tall pig with a five o’clock shadow, thick-black aviator glasses, a marzipan sheriff’s star (one point conspicuously missing from a bite), and held in his hands a hellish looking Cat Of Nine Tails.

“Breaking rock-candy, Boss-Man,” replied the milk-eyed man respectfully.

“Okay, good.” replied the ruff swine, spitting a wad of flavorless gum onto the ground, then wiping the sweat from his brow with a handful of candy-floss then (disturbingly) eating it.

“Now, now,” said the Boss-man-pig, “We’ve talked about your work ethic before, Gordy. I mean, look at Wendel and Stephen! Sure, their work is a ‘C minus’ at best, but you can’t beat their willingness to try. That’s all we’re looking for! And that’s why when I dish out thrashings, Wendel and Stephen get a 8/9th s measure- they earned 1/9th of mercy. Do you see what I’m saying, Gordy? You could receive a 9th of mercy, but you have to want it.”

“The only thing I want to know,” said Gordy, leaning upon his pick ax, milky eye clashing with the ragged, purple-pink scar, “is if Wendel and Stephen had to get a running start.”

“A running start for what?” asked the Boss-Man-Pig, perplexed.

“Well, I imagine to kiss that much ass, they must have gotten a running start as to get in past their shoulders.”

The Cat O’ Nine Tails sounded nine times, but in between the lashes was the muffled laughter of Gordy. He had received some very good news in the form of a quivering cake, and not even the sting of the lash was going to wipe the smile from his face.

As Petka and Raksha (Chaim still muttering curses from the latter half of the barber costume) continued to wend their way up the road to the nicer (or perhaps wealthier) districts, he noticed a distinct difference. The gardens and homes were far better cared for, but despite its nicer coat of paint, it still had the same issue of the peasant districts- every shop had been changed into something made entirely out of sugar, or corn syrup, or evaporated cane juice, or whatever they called it these days. The only real difference was the maddening word “Artisan” tacked in front of every shop sign. It was…exhausting.

“Apparently,” thought Petka, “Insufferable conceit is endemic across all sentient beings.”

It was also in the wealthier districts, Petka saw smaller, more traditional pink pigs, dressed to the nines- tuxedos, top hats and tails, all wearing a monocle and carrying silver canes– the lady pigs were wearing flowing bell shaped, humility-at-all-costs ballroom gowns, with elaborate hairstyles that had to be wigs, as pigs were not wont to grow such elaborate hairstyles, but rather a few stray whiskers upon their heads and chins. Fortunately, these clothes were actually made of cloth rather than marzipan and gingerbread, so the tooth-aching sugary-sweet scent was lessened.

The upper class, it seemed, did not speak English, but rather preferred to use their native tongue- all oinks and snorts, and pawing at the ground. Apparently it was quite important as, between their guttural noises, they gestured wildly at the strange looking gang, with what Petka could have sworn was smug, mocking, piggy-laughter. Despite the clearly conceited aura of the more diminutive pigs, the area around the old houses was quite beautiful- the scent of bougainvillea blooms filled the air, and slightly intoxicated Petka, Chaim, and Raksha- the strong perfume seemed to attempt to lure them into a deep sleep, as if they could find succor and comfort by simply laying upon the cool cobblestone pathway, and allowing the whispering breeze to wind around them, mission be damned.

Fortunately, the constant quivering of the cake kept Petka, Chaim, and Raksha from succumbing to the scent and song of somnolence. In their state of pleasant dizziness, one of the smarter-dressed micro-pigs stood directly in Petka’s path and snorted in a particular way directly towards Raksha- clearly, Petka did not speak pig or dog, and often had trouble grasping the more arcane things that came out of Chaim’s mouth, but it seemed very much like the guttural snort was some manner of speciesist slur, and one (I might add) that Raksha did not take to kindly to. The mustachioed wolf opened her lips to reveal rows of pink-stained white teeth, running her tongue over them as if to indicate her love of bacon. The little gentleman swine wobbled away- he was clearly not a part of the warrior class.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the terrain leveled out in front of a beautiful, and indeed immaculately manicured lawn complete with pig-shaped shrubbery (a little bit went a long way, to say the least). Roses, flowering vines, and beautiful orchids climbed the ancient, white stone walls, reaching for the brilliant, warming sun.

The building loomed large beyond and immaculate golden gate where a haphazardly written sign read, “Oinkingham Palace” (Sweet Jesus).

After a short conversation with the guards, who were wearing imposing actual metal armor and carrying skull-splitting axes, the Petka, Raksha, and the Cake were begrudgingly allowed into the throne room. The palace itself was quite sizable, its white marble floors covered by immaculate blue carpet, fringed in gold and decorated with a white fleur-de-lis every few inches. Velvet drapes hung from the walls adjacent to ornate paintings of past kings, queens, huntsman with their beagles, and knights of renown- thankfully, these had not yet been despoiled by piggy-painters looking to make more porcine these heroes of old. Finally, in the center of the entryway was an enormous fountain, which sprayed water two stories high in amazing patterns; lights either electric or magical changed the water from blue, to red, to royal purple and gold. The whole thing was distinctly…human, or at least non-pig, as if whatever lied in wait behind the enormous gold-painted throne room doors (covered with bas-reliefs of some ancient battle between men and some manner of great, toothy sea leviathans) had tried to preserve the very pinnacle of this kingdom as something retaining its humanity.

With a deep, shuddering breath, and a great case of nerves, Petka Fawcett knocked three times on the gold-colored door– and though he distinctly tried a gentle approach, his knocks seemed to echo and boom much like cannon fire. After the report of Petka’s request for entrance finally faded away, a thick voice, clearly chewing something, shouted through whatever confection was occupying the owner of the voice’s mouth spat one word.

“Enter!”

Petka Cautiously opened the great, creaking door, truly afraid of what may lay behind it, and if its great appetite was for more than sugars alone.

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