A day at the gallows
"Good morning, Master Cenwulf."
"Eh? Oh! What?"
"Sorry to intrude, sir, but it's almost time. We should get ready."
"Ready, eh? And who the hell are you, if I may ask, what?"
"My name is Sigurd Jeeveson, and I will be your host this afternoon."
"Jeeveson, eh? My host, eh? But you're English!"
"Actually Saxon, sir. From Blimey-on-the-sea. Here, let me help you with these rags…"
"Lay off my clothes, you collaborationist!"
"As you wish, sir, but they're crawling with louse, and I've brought a selection of fine linen for you."
"Indeed, sir. May I?"
"Pray do, yes, master Jeeveson. And how come you're helping the foreign conquerors and all that, what?"
"Well, sir, you know how it goes. It pays the bills, and you do get to travel and meet interesting people… allow me that sleeve, I think it's the blood that's sticking it… here."
"Yes, sir. On-the-sea. Charming place, if I say so myself. As I was saying, I've been traveling with His Grace for the last few years, and made the most extraordinary acquaintances."
"Travelled, have you? I bet he's needed your services."
"Indeed so, sir. He's very much an on-the-spot man, sir. You are very much the exception to his rule, if you will pardon my pun."
"Pun? Ah! Oh. Yes, I get it. Very droll."
"Thank you, sir."
"He must have had to deal with a lot of uprisings, what?"
"Well, certainly, sir. Three at a time more than once, indeed."
"Right ho! How many succeeded?"
"None to date, sir. Bloodily squashed and all that. Although if I may offer some consolation, he's always dealt rather fairly with the rebels. None of that Danish death-by-famished-goat tradition
, or Byzantine blinding and castration."
"Well, that is some consolation."
"Yes, sir. Plain old Danish live evisceration and quartering is the norm."
"Lasts less than an hour, sir. The goats could take weeks, I hear."
"That they are, sir. On the other hand, peasant leaders are hanged by the neck until they die."
"How very demeaning. I hear hung people soil themselves."
"Yes, sir. Among other special effects, much appreciated by the public."
"And the nobles? I imagine there have been dozens of uprisings already. Pretenderships, protests for vassal rights and all that?"
"Well, sir, sorry to disappoint you, but no. The Emperor has discouraged them."
"I should think so! Bloody iron glove on the iron hand and all that, what?"
"No, sir… here, will you take the sponge and do that yourself, please, I wouldn't touch it with a a barge pole, no offence meant but there's layers of it, sir… "
"Yes, it forms a kind of crust after a while, what with the lack of proper amenities… ouch, I think the skin is coming off with it."
"And a bit of rotten flesh, by the smell of it, sir."
"Wouldn't be surprised. But you were telling me about the Emperor's dark tricks to discourage uprisings. Pray go on. Ouch."
"Well, sir, he's actually bribing them by the wagonload. As soon as a faction gets started, its members become the Emperor's most ardent friends. Not a single rebellion has reared its head."
"Yes sir. On-the…"
"Yes, yes. How about the adventurers?"
"We've had a couple of visitors of that persuasion, yes, sir. On the other hand, quite a few Stenkils have gone against the Timurids in this time. Sadly none have come back."
"Too bad. That's my toe, if you don't mind."
"Oh, sorry, sir. Here, have it back."
"Thank you. And what about conspiracies?"
"All types, sir. Here, try these boots on, they're hardly used. Over one hundred and sixty plots at the same time at last count, sir. But the current Emperor has decided to let them all run. Says they're not worth the trouble."
"Rightful imprisonments and executions?"
"Very few, sir. He's taken to help lift excommunications and talk kindly to the rebels. I hear he has the most extraordinary effect at close quarters."
"I bet he uses torture, what."
"No, sir, he never calls me in. But he does wield a mean gold bag, he does. According to the census, only five Dukes are not ardent loyalists at the time."
"Certainly, sir. It's an specially enticing place during the shrimping season, if I may say. About the Emperor, he's freeing the insolvent and title-deprived now, too. All in all, the dungeons are down to less than two dozen people nowadays. It's almost a ghost town, sir. "
"Must be sad for you, what?"
"Indeed, sir. So many fond memories, every corner has its scream. Alas. Are you finished dressing up, sir? May I help you walk out?"
"I can hold up, disgusting Scandinavian lackey. No offence meant."
"None taken, sir. It goes with the job. Here, this way, please."
"After you, collaborationist running dog. No offence meant."
"None taken. But I must insist, sir. Regulations. This way I can stab you in the back if you run away."
"Well, we can't break regulations, can we? Not you, a sniveling, groveling tool of Imperial oppression, grinding the face of the peasantry with an iron spiked foot. No offence meant."
"None taken. Can't grind it so well these days, sir, what with them all being celebrating the Emperor's victories and capers. A shame, if you ask me, but there it is. And will you please lay off the descriptives, sir, you're making the guards nervous."
"Aha! And pray tell me, master Jeeveson, what else could they do to me now?"
"Well, sir, there's always the goats…"
"The… Ah! Yes. Well. Sorry."
"Indeed, sir. Up those stairs, if you please. We'll almost there."
"And tell me, master Jeeveson, what capers?"
"Well, sir, you know how people talk. The Emperor has a streak of earthy, human unpredictability that goes down very well with the common folk. Like when he personally belted a bunch of drunkards and brought them here by the ear."
"Yes, sir. Apparently they were singing too loud in the middle of the night, and it was appreciated."
"And how were those victories? All against popular uprisings?"
"Oh, no, sir. The Empire's been at war against lots of interesting foes. There were the Timurids…"
"An exotic people, I hear."
"Definitely, sir. Less exotic nowadays, after our invasion we brought back a lot of hostages, but they do have a peculiar and interesting culture, if I may presume to give my opinion."
"Thank you, sir, I will. Here, let me open the latch… There were the Hospitaler knights from Gibelin, although they mostly played and mortified... and there were the Venetians, sir, a prickly lot. The Empire's pushed them out of Italy at last."
"Not many enemies more, what, with the Hungarians finally inside the tent pissing out? Did he take on the Egyptians?"
"Sadly not, sir. Nor the Malians. The public bets on them before every Keynote, but it's been all rumors up to now, we know he's up to something but it's hard to guess what. But we've had a lot of very exciting visitors. There were several independent city-states and independent kinglets burrowing inside the Empire, and they're being brought in. The rulers often came here, sir, same way you're going."
"Well, I wouldn't call some country doge 'exciting' exactly…"
"Oh, but sir, you should have seen the Hasshishims! They had a secret outpost in the Levant, and it took years to find and rout it. An exciting chase, it had all the populace listening to the travelling bards. Their Emir only gave up when a Scandinavian army was at the gates of his main mountain fortress. An impressive place, too, even from afar."
"The mountain views?"
"And the weed smoke when they burned the fields, sir. Definitely in a class of its own."
"Blim… I mean, I don't wonder."
"No sir, you've surely seen it all. Here we are. Please put your feet on the trap, that's it, well done. Will sir be wearing the hood today?"
"No, I'll leave those modern fashions to dandyfied Nottingham archers like cousin Robin. Just a shroud for the eyes, if you will."
"Most discerning, sir, indeed. Elegance in simplicity. Are you ready?"
"Ah… just one question. Where has the Emperor decided to put my remains?"
"At Blott-on-the-Landscape, sir. Very scenic place, I believe. Old Norse worship place of some sort, apparently."
"No, sir. Blott. Ready? Here we go."
"Yes, sir. Very well put."