Sunday 24 May 2020

Nickleodown: a fable

Once upon a time in a land called Rus there were two brothers Sanya and Kolya.  Everyone loved Sanya, but he was tormented about the path he had taken to power. Had he known about the plot to kill his father Pashka? He could hardly remember himself. One or two other youthful misjudgements he hoped would remain unknown. Sanya’s wife was much older and by now barren.  He had lost all desire to be with her just as he was no longer welcome in her bed. But he couldn’t pass a young woman without undressing her in his mind and trying to find a way to do so for real if he could get her on her own. 

Kolya had always been in Sanya’s shadow. He both envied Sanya’s confidence and success while secretly hating his brother looking always for a way to take revenge both for the death of their father and for the fact that he owed Sanya everything. 

Rus was involved in a great struggle for independence from Galliya. Sanya and Kolya spoke the lingua Galka as did all their friends. Only the peasants spoke Russki.

But Leonid had gone too far this time. Sanya had tried to make friends with him, but the demand to cease trading with Anglia was too much. Now Leonid was invading, and the Rus kept retreating. Sanya was stricken. He liked to gamble, but what horse could save Rus. “A hors a hors my kingdom for an œuvre” cried Sanya.

Kolya had married Alexandra, born princess Pyotra of Murmansk, but while each found the marriage a useful bushel each also looked for pleasure elsewhere. Alexandra preferred the company of her maids, while Kolya was devoted to the salon run by the Gallskii Herald Boba Saphier. They read Greek poetry together.

Sanya lost the great battle of the year fourteen. He couldn’t figure out how the great one-eyed Rus general had cut us off so badly from the rest of his troops and then became so bored o’ the din oh so bored that he asked Leonid if he could give in.

Kolya continued his secret correspondence with the Gallskii Herald Saphier seeking ways to arrange a truce with Leonid, but most of all seeking ways in which Kolya and Boba could be on the same side again.

Moskva was captured Sanya wanted to continue the fight, but Kolya staged a coup in Pyotraberg and Sanya was forced to abdicate.  Kolya sent an envoy to Boba telling him that he was willing to make peace with Leonid.

As the worst winter in memory began Kolya became tsar and all the Rus food and warmth kept Leonid cosy. Kolya and Boba were reunited and cosy too.

Sanya was exiled but plotted how he could return to power. Kolya pretended to be pleased when Sanya was successful in Lutetia in bringing about better terms for Rus. The Kuznetsov Commission gave Rus much more power than anyone expected.

But Kolya had waited long enough to be tsar and he realised the threat that Sanya posed to his power. Rus was ever more divided into the Sanya faction and the Kolya faction. Samara, Novgorod and Petrozavodsk were divided in half as was Rus.

Kolya knew that Sanya’s greatest weakness was his gambling and his insatiable desire for mental and substantial undressing. He sent spies to listen at Sanya’s bedroom door hoping that he might discover something incriminating.

Eventually there was enough evidence to put Sanya on trial, but just at that moment a great plague was starting in Rus.

The whole of Rus had waited for this moment for months. Those who loved Sanya took one side, those who loved Kolya another. But it didn’t go as Kolya had planned. Sanya was acquitted. People wondered what Kolya knew and when he knew it. More and more questions were being asked about him. Some thought Sanya had been lucky because the trial was hurried, and everyone wanted to go home. Others began to worry that all the witnesses worked for Kolya and couldn’t understand why he hadn’t given evidence even though he had constantly been in the same Palace or “Biutska domska” as Sanya.  

But there was no time. Everyone was sent back to their homes to stop the plague spreading. It was known as Nickleodown.

Kolya’s power and popularity increased every day he appeared before his public. He would dispense the wisdom he had learned from Boba who told him of the discoveries and advice of the Gallskii scientists. But Kolya never mentioned either Boba or the Gallskii.

But Kolya had a weakness too. He had always felt ugly even as a child, but since gaining power he had become swanlike with his stylish clothes his manicure and his carefully cut and coloured hair.

The Rus were forbidden to go to the hairdresser. It would spread the plague. So, they had cut their own hair with whatever implement was available from knives to garden shears. They were forbidden to visit anyone outside their own home unless it was to avoid starvation or else to listen to Kolya. One of the Gallskii scientists was ruined when it was discovered that he had been visited by his mistress. The Rus called him a plag-idiot.

But Kolya thought that the rules for Rus only applied to peasants. He wasn’t going to appear in public unless his mirror mirror told him who was the vainest of them all.  

Each night he would secretly go to the hairdresser. He would then go to the manicurist, the pedicurist, the tailor, the trainer and the waxer from Brazilka. Finally, he would get into his carriage and drive until he reached the back entrance to the Gallskii College of Arms. He felt clean, trimmed, coloured, perfumed with all the perfumes of Arabia, and smooth, ready for anything that the night might offer.

But Sanya had his network of spies too which he had cherry picked from the most talented of the Sanya faction and they carefully watched each breach of Nickleodown. They wrote down the time and the place of each infringement and Sanya began to fill his book with the details of not only Kolya’s past misdemeanours but his present ones too. As Sanya’s book grew larger he became ever more determined to show that Kolya was not merely a liar and a cheat he was a hypocrite and not at all the saintly figure he liked to present to the peasants.

Sanya had reflected and had read as well as wrote. He saw that the moral of the story was as Tolstoy put it “Бог правду видит, да не скоро скажет” [God sees the truth but waits].  So, Sanya also saw the truth but waited.