The Return of the King

The whole of the Orange Palace was in a heightened state of anxiety, what Crotchet the cook referred to as Code Yellow on the Trouser Scale.

Earlier that morning, Pox, the Town Crier, had vocally proclaimed the triumphal return of King Grump from his foreign visit. Always a source of anxiety, because no matter what the official news proclaimed, no-one could ever predict Grump’s moods, and he was always, well, Grumpy after being too long away from his weekend resorts.

Regardless of the general mood downstairs, I had reason to elevate my personal mood to Code Brown. Spider had been noticeably absent since fleeing the Vulture Corps seeking news of Coma, the King’s chief Inquisitor, and so I had no idea how he planned to deal with the coronation painting and it’s embarrassing lack of jubilant crowds.

Worse, Grump had been overheard bragging yet again about the size of his following to the other Kings, Queens, and assorted nobility on his foreign trip.

The painting would surely have been unveiled by now? And yet, there had been no explosion of outrage from upstairs. No dismembered body parts fluttering from the battlements. What could have happened?

Night fell. Many hours later, the Palace fell into its customary few hours of slumber.

By the light of a single candle, guttering in dank breezes whispering through the lofty halls, I crept towards the gallery where hung the coronation paintings of rulers present and past.

As I drew near, it became clear that the new painting had indeed been hung and unveiled. The acres of ornate and highly tasteful gold leaf threw back a thousand glittering highlights from my meager light.

Puzzled, I approached closer. There was King Grump, and his retinue of grey-faced officials, and ... and ... a whole crowd of happy onlookers!

I stared. The painting certainly looked like the style of Nat Parks, but he couldn’t possibly have done this. A student, maybe?

The figures looked awfully familiar, though. I stepped closer yet and held my candle up to the canvas.

The work had been done with exquisite care. Only the closest of scrutiny would reveal that the figures had been stuck on top of the original canvas, but where could they have come from?

My gaze drifted along the hallway. This painting, alone of all those in the long hallway, was set in an alcove all of its own flanked by marble columns that I could have sworn were not there yesterday. Beyond the columns, a generous acreage of plush velvet hangings ensured nothing of interest for at least a dozen yards in either direction competed for this painting’s claim on the onlooker’s attention.

Suspicious, I tweaked back one corner of the far curtain. There, hidden from view, was the Predecessor’s coronation painting, with blank gaps where the foreground had been carefully cut out.

Nobody had noticed. Or, at least, nobody had voiced any suspicions.

I would do well to follow suit.

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