This piece first appeared in April 2006.
Prince Fulgencio had a heart of stone and his palace was a palace exceeding glum. No, no, it was not a palace, it was a castle, turreted and towered, with many flags and banners flying, every one of them showing blasphemous heraldic devices. All sorts of abominations featured on those flags, from unicorns with five legs to many-headed hydra, from fiery basilisks to crows whose heads were back to front.
The Prince’s henchmen patrolled the castle battlements through every hour of day and night, armed with swords and daggers and blunderbusses and glue guns and pipes from which to blow poisoned darts. Woe betide any interloper who made an unauthorised landing on the helipad! They would be immediately surrounded, overpowered, and delivered to Prince Fulgencio’s deepest dungeons, and their ‘copter smashed to smithereens. The Prince was proud of his guards, who were the most devoted and violent in the land, as well as the fittest. They were each given regular breaks from duty to take part in bio-chingÂ sessions. In addition, the Prince ensured they were all given a copy of his bookÂ Henchmen Are From Mars, Damsels Are From A Girly Planet, which they were expected to memorise. No one could argue that the henchmen did not have a martial bearing, clanking around in their armour, shouting their heads off, and generally being intimidating.
What they lacked, however, was entertainment. Prince Fulgencio himself did not understand fun, humour, nor high jinks, for his time on earth was spent exclusively in plotting dark and terrible deeds. He was alert, however, to unrest among his myrmidons, and it was clear that something would have to be done to appease them. He had a spy, or creature, like Bosola inÂ The Duchess Of Malfi, who mingled incognito among the henchmen to discover what secrets lurked in their foul and treacherous hearts. The spy was called George Kaplan (a name later borrowed by screenwriter Ernest Lehman for the non-existent agent inÂ Hitchcockâ€™s North By Northwest), and he reported to the Prince as follows:
KaplanÂ – The henchmen are becoming restive, O Prince.
FulgencioÂ – Then I shall have each of them put to death and replaced by other henchmen.
KaplanÂ – If I might say so, an unwise decision, O Prince, for though restive, your henchmen are fanatically loyal to you and I know not where you might find their like elsewhere.
FulgencioÂ – From Mars, of course! Have you not read my book?
KaplanÂ – I have indeed, O Prince, many a time, but – and I tread delicately here – though you are omnipotent and wise and princely, your helicopter is not equipped to journey through space as far as other planetoids, much as you might wish it.
FulgencioÂ – God blast the stars!
KaplanÂ – I am sure He will, O Prince. Meanwhile, I think that if you bring to the castle a fool or jester, an entertainer in cap and bells, the henchmen will be placated.
Prince Fulgencio’s face assumed a curdled cast, but he was pragmatic. Dismissing George Kaplan with a wave of his fat and pasty hand, he sat down at his metal tapping machine and sent an advert to the classified section of theÂ Daily Manacle.
Wanted. Fool for amusement of henchmen,Â it read,Â You will be responsible for devising, implementing and evaluating a core strategy for tomfoolery and japes, consulting with stakeholders, and demonstrating a proactive approach. The successful candidate will have a proven track record in delivering merrymaking within a goal-oriented environment. The Prince is working towards a castle which reflects the diversity of his earthly domain.
On the day of the interviews, Prince Fulgencio was sick with an attack of the seeds and bindings, so he delegated George Kaplan to weed out the chaff. Being a duplicitious knave, the spy appointed as jester a man named Selwyn Pob, a lugubrious cripple of downcast air and abject gloom. And thus it was that, upon hearing Pob’s dirges and threnodies, delivered while dragging himself around the castle on his worm-eaten crutches, the henchmen’s unrest turned to open rebellion, and they hacked Prince Fulgencio to pieces with their hatchets as he lay groaning in his sickbed, and his blood and gore were splattered upon the walls, and there, in the shadows, George Kaplan smiled, and went creeping down to the pantries, where he gorged himself on cake and buns and pies and pastries and custard, until he was replete.