Where is the Emperor?
In his bath. Verily, his tub overfloweth. Water scented with bergamot and petunias and lilac cascaded over the side and has formed puddles and streams upon the imperial bathroom floor tiles. Flunkies with mops mop, to no avail, for the Emperor splashes about like a hippopotamus in a swamp, and he will not allow the taps to be turned off. Water gushes from them, water already scented, in its tank, above under the eaves of the imperial palace roof. The Emperor is playing with his ducks. The imperial ducks are not yellow plastic ones as might be found in a commoner’s or a pauper’s bath, but real living breathing quacking bebeaked and befeathered ducks, such as might be mesmerised by Gerard Manley Hopkins or Orson Welles, were either of those noteworthies alive to see the Emperor in his bath, if, of course, they were allowed into his presence, and that of his ducks. Each duck is tagged with the imperial duck-tag, designed by the Emperor himself, one day when he had nothing better to do, and his Empire was at peace.
Is the Empire at peace still?
No. Wars rage in almost every corner of the Empire, and where wars do not rage there are skirmishes. Some of the skirmishes are bloodier and more gruesome than the wars. There is lopping of limbs and burning of barns. Imperial military strategists huddle in groups, fighting among themselves. Several of the most senior strategists expect a summons to attend the Emperor in his bath. They have ordered a consignment of galoshes to ensure, in the event of a summons, their elegantly shaped leathern imperial army boots do not get wet, stamping through the imperial bathroom puddles and streams, those as yet unmopped by mopping flunkies. The galoshes have not yet arrived at the imperial palace, for such is the chaos wrought by wars and skirmishes that supply lines are unreliable. Train carriages sit abandoned in sidings, or are blown up by the bombs of insurgents and partisans and any number of raggle-taggle enemies of the mighty Empire.
What is the latest news?
Anti-imperialist forces have taken parts of the capital, and are encroaching upon the imperial palace itself. Some windows on the lower floors, gorgeous windows of stained glass for which the Empire is famous, have been shattered by insurgent rifle fire. Krishnan Guru-Murthy from Channel Four News has been helicoptered in to present live updates under trying conditions. His makeshift broadcast centre was until last week the home of the imperial duckman, who was forced to flee across the mountains. Before he fled, he ferried the ducks one by one to a place of safety in the imperial palace. Fanatically loyal to the last, he scrubbed each and every duck-tag clean of grease and spottings. If ever the Emperor sees the duckman again, he is going to award him a medal.
Will the Emperor ever see his duckman again?
That we cannot say. Events are moving so fast only a fool would predict what lies ahead in the next ten minutes, let alone in the coming days and weeks and months. And though it seems a paradox, what with all the splashing and sloshing and quacking, the one still centre of calm throughout the Empire is the imperial bathtub. For the Emperor has a glint in his eye, a glint that would announce to the mopping flunkies, were they allowed to look upon the imperial countenance, and to the senior military strategists, were they summoned in their galoshes to the imperial presence, that the Emperor has a plan.
What is the imperial plan?
The glint in the imperial eye has been studied by top glintists, and they report the blurred outline of a large and lovely house perched high in the Swiss Alps, the seat of a government in exile, and within, on an upper floor, beneath a tank brimming with water scented with bergamot and petunias and lilac, a magnificently-appointed bathroom, at its centre a tub, in which ducks splash and quack, and an Emperor weeps for what was lost.