(This is original fiction. You are welcome to link to it. If you quote it or cite it, give me credit. Marion)
“Our roads are rutted. The books in the university library are older than us! There’s still no bridge across the Tumblebukket River.” Merf the Passionate University Student banged his glass of juice on the table and tried to look fierce.
“Shhh!” his One Loyal Friend said. They glanced across the tavern, where two of the Despot’s Royal Guards sat sipping from tankards.
“I won’t be silenced!” Merf the Passionate University Student raised his voice. “We need action! We need progress! What this country needs is, is a revolution!”
One of the Despot’s Royal Guards tipped back his head and rolled his eyes. “Oh, my God!” he said. “Can you keep it down? Otherwise, I’ll have to get up, walk all the way over to your table, put my hand on my sword hilt and glare… Don’t make me come over there, student!”
The students immediately grew silent. “The Guards of the Slacker Despot are fearsome indeed,” Merf whispered.
On the anniversary of the victory of the nation’s army over some enemy, during some war, sometime, Merf the Passionate University Student organized a protest march to the Castle of the Slacker Despot. About thirty people joined him. Most were students who wanted to avoid studying for their exams. Some were townsfolk. Aimee the Comely Tavern Maid joined in because it was her lunch-break and she enjoyed walking. They marched from the tavern. They reached Victory Square, where a huge block of granite marked the spot where, maybe, someday, the Despot would commission a statue carved to commemorate something. Nine of the marchers got tired of walking and stopped for a sandwich. At the Crossroads of Manythings, six more remembered something they had to do at home. A block later, two more decided to take a nap. Five paused to skip stones over the still water of the Tumblebukket River. Five more, including the One Loyal Friend, stopped to try on shoes in the Cobbler’s Quarter.
Merf and Aimee approached the castle. Aimee thought they weren’t making a very good impression, but she didn’t say that because she wanted to be supportive.
“I demand to see the Despot!” Merf the Passionate University Student shouted.
The guard shrugged. “Whatever.”
Merf the Passionate University Student stormed into the great hall, where the Slacker Despot lounged on his throne, his feet dangling over one arm of it, the ancestral crown worn backwards. He was watching a game. His courtiers portrayed the game pieces, each wearing a placard that gave their character’s name, talent and a bit of background. The Slacker Despot rolled dice and turned over cards. This seemed to be part of the game.
Merf the Passionate University Student cleared his throat and pulled out a packet of notes. “Your Majesty, I am a loyal subject– ”
“Who is this guy?” the Slacker Despot said. He was about the same age as Merf. “Oh, hey, hi,” he said to Aimee the Comely Tavern Maid, who curtseyed.
Merf lost his place. “I um… Your Majesty, you must do something!”
Merf waved his arms, because he was a Passionate University Student. “I don’t know. Just something. For goodness’s sake do something!”
The Slacker Despot straightened up. His gaze grew distant. “Yeah…” he said. “Do something. That sounds… good. I will.”
“That’s great, Your Majesty! I will carry the word to your people!” Merf the Passionate University Student started to back away. Two steps and he stopped. “Um, any idea what, Your Majesty?”
“What you’ll do.”
“Oh. Yeah. Uh, something.”
“Any idea when?”
“Oh, you know.” The Slacker Despot shrugged. “Whenever.”
“The Slacker Despot is a liar!” Merf the Passionate University Student fumed as they headed back to the tavern.
“Pssst,” said the robed, masked man in the shadowy alley. “I can help you, Passionate University Student.”
“Sure,” said Aimee the Comely Tavern Maid. “That’s why you’re skulking in an alley, wearing a mask. Because you’re helpful.”
“I am Cosco the Enigmatic Wizard. I’m in disguise. I have a potion that will cure the Despot and help him reach his full potential.”
“Right,” said Aimee the Comely Tavern Maid. “Come on, Merf.”
“Suit yourself,” Cosco the Enigmatic Wizard said, “but without me, the Despot will never do anything.”
“No!” Merf cried passionately. “I can’t risk that, Aimee.” He marched into the alley.
The face of Merf the Passionate University Student scrunched up like a crushed sponge. “My God, that’s horrible! The Despot will never drink that!”
“I don’t know why you did,” said Aimee the Comely Tavern Maid, who stood at the mouth of the alley, arms crossed, tapping her foot.
“Here, try it like this,” Cosco said. He poured milk into the dark brown potion and added a dollop of honey. Merf tasted it.
“Well, it’s a little better but— whoa!” His eyes opened wide. “Wow!”
“What?” said Aimee.
“The blood is coursing through my veins!” Merf the Passionate University Student shouted.
“That’s what blood does,” said Aimee.
“Not like this! Whoa! I feel like I could, I could, I could do anything! Cosco, my man! What is that stuff?”
“It comes from deep in the equatorial jungle. The fruit is picked and dried in the sun for days and days, then roasted over coals and — ”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, cut to the chase! What is it?”
“It’s called cawfii. It’s harmless, but it will return the Despot’s ambition to him, which he seems to have lost,” said Cosco the Enigmatic Wizard.
“Oh, that is awesome! I’m running back to the castle right now! Let’s go! Aimee, c’mon! It’ll be fun!”
“Oh, no,” Aimee the Comely Tavern Maid said. “You’ve gone mad, and my break’s over. You be careful, Merf.”
“Hah! Careful is for losers!” Merf the caffeinated Passionate University Student snatched the pitcher of cawfii from Cosco and bolted away. Aimee the Comely Tavern Maid shook her head, glared at Cosco, and headed back to the Tavern.
Alone with no one to observe him, Cosco cackled and rubbed his hands together. “Soon my plan will come to fruition!”
“The Despot wants a sandwich,” the courtier said.
“Oh, he does, does he?” said the Irascible Castle Cook. “I’ll tell you, his father never sent some flunky in to demand a sandwich in the middle of the day. You know what he would do if he was hungry? Invade a country, that’s what. And eat their sandwiches. There was a real despot. Now I’ll have to get up, walk all the way over to the cutting board, slice the bread, twice, slice some roast, layer it onto the bread… it’s exhausting.”
“Hi!” Merf the Passionate University Student said, skidding to a stop in the kitchen. “Excuse me. Hello. I’m a messenger. I bring important tidings for the Despot.”
He had sneaked in through one of the many secret passages that a guard had shown him. The guard did not normally show people the secret passages, but Merf would just not stop talking, and the guard caved under the pressure.
“Who’re you?” the Irascible Castle Cook said.
“I’m a messenger. Try to keep up. I’m bringing the Despot the most amazing drink. Here, try it. Put some honey in it. No-no-no-no, not by itself, with honey. Honey and milk. Just try it. Try it. Go on, take a sip.”
“Shut up, you,” said the Irascible Castle Cook. She sipped from the cup Merf had shoved in her face. “That’s weird.” She took another swallow. “Mmm. I don’t think the Despot will like this.”
Her eyes opened wide. “Wow! That is amazing!” She leaped to her feet, catching the falling cup of cawfii before a drop spilled. “The Despot needs a sandwich! That stuff, it smells like burnt wood, but whoa!” She sliced up half a loaf of bread, whipped up three roast beef and onion sandwiches and carved a bunch of radishes into rosebuds that she used to garnish the plates.
“Here, give him this,” Merf said, putting the pitcher on the tray next to the plates.
“Oh, heck yeah!” The Irascible Castle Cook picked up the tray. “The Despot will love this stuff!”
The Despot started projects. Sculptors carved the block of granite into royal cawfii tables. Engineers designed a bridge across the Tumblebukket. The Despot recruited an army and sent it on maneuvers. He ordered new books for the University and hired more professors. He ordered that the roads of the city be repaved. To pay for all this, he raised taxes.
Cosco the Enigmatic Wizard became the primary provider of the magic cawfii beans, and changed his name to Cosco the Unbelievably Wealthy Merchant.
“This is intolerable! We work ten hours a day! We’re expected to serve in the army and complete university in three years!” Merf the Disgruntled Second Generation University Student downed his cawfii. His fingers shook, but he ignored that, and tried to look fierce. “We need a rest! We need vacations! We need calm! What this country needs – is a revolution!”