hope is there for us now? With our cities in ruins and our armies in retreat,
this must surely be the end. Hypermorphia has become an occupied territory, a
kingdom without a king.
will, of course, surrender to our enemies. There is no alternative. But first
they will crush what remains of our spirit and trample our national identity in
the dust. For these are ruthless people, aggressors from another world who do
not understand ours.
fellow countrymen blame Kaptain Komfort, and with some justification. But what
they cannot bring themselves to do is to examine their own part in this
perdition. For one individual alone cannot bring about the ruin of a great
truth is this: We are all culpable. We became complacent and arrogant, and we
failed in our duty to the children of Mundania.
Kaptain Komfort - villain that he is - should not have to carry the burden of
our collective guilt. Nonetheless, if ever I see him again, I will kill him.
air in this cave is damp and chilly. I spend my days in misery, tormented by
hunger and the thought that I will probably not live long enough to wreak
revenge upon Kaptain Komfort. My only escape from this despair are the brief
snatches of sleep which grow ever rarer. At night, I forage for berries,
careful to avert my eyes from the sky, which has now taken on a greenish hue.
I had the strength, I would attempt to reach the border. If I had the courage,
I would seek the remnants of our army and prepare to die in battle.
I can do now is hope for a peaceful, if ignominious, end.
dingy cave, full of bat droppings and the smell of dank decay. Maybe Kaptain
Komfort is holed up in such a place - perhaps even one of the caves that litter
these desolate hills. I know there are others hiding hereabouts. I have seen
them at night, foraging for food, fighting amongst each other for sour berries
and stagnant water. Sometimes, the temptation to show myself, to seek their
friendship and company, has been almost overwhelming. But that would be folly,
for the Mundanes have put a price on my head and I am hated by my own people,
many of whom hold me in some part responsible for our collective ruin.
I stumbled across a dying man. He had no hair, no eyebrows. The slight breeze
peeled flakes of skin from his body. I gave him water and he told me I was the
last Senior Minister to remain at liberty. Many of my colleagues had
surrendered to the enemy, only to be summarily executed. The rest had taken
their own lives or been murdered by lynch mobs.
dying man had no news of Kaptain Komfort. It is likely that the villain has
fled this land and will be seen no more.
asked after Princess Aurora; the man sighed and died in my arms. I envied him.
Aurora. She, as much as Kaptain Komfort, was the agent of our catastrophe. If
she had kept her vow of chastity, if she had not soiled herself and her
family's name by taking Kaptain Komfort to her bed, then perhaps none of the
subsequent events would have happened.
if the King had listened to me when I begged him to keep the Princess and the
many ifs. So many mistakes and missed chances.
I do partly blame myself for not persuading the King that the old ways were
best. Indeed, I was sometimes instrumental in laying the foundations for his
more liberal policies. But how was I to know it would come to this?
think I was among the first to sense that something was amiss. It was just a
feeling, nothing I could have expressed in words or placed a finger on. The
citizens went about their business as ever they did and Kaptain Komfort himself
bore no outward sign of the guilt that must have been gnawing at his soul.
I ask myself, how could he? How could he still befriend and console the lonely
and lost children of Mundania when all the time he was carrying such a dreadful
secret? How many of those poor innocents did he corrupt?
still recall the chill that crept into my heart that morning when Rufus,
Minister for Chocolate, announced that the nation's honey had soured. It was at
a special cabinet meeting to which I was summoned at a moment's notice.
had to close off the vats,’ he proclaimed with tears streaming down his face.
‘I – I – I -’
Rufus could not bring himself to say any more. He ran from the Cabinet Room as
fast as his corpulent frame could carry him. The rest of us were too stunned to
block his flight. He was then only hours away from hanging himself.
was Herman, President of the Board of Toys, who finally broke the silence. He
slapped his hands on the Round Table and said, ‘Well, I for one am not prepared
to put up with this.’
looked at him in amazement. His oft-used phrase seemed singularly
inappropriate. It was not a case of putting up or not putting up with anything.
The honey was soured and that was that. Now we could do little more than
minimize the harm that would no doubt ensue.
honey must be destroyed,’ I said, realizing no one else was about to come
forward with a plan of action. ‘And the vats. And the warehouses that hold
Prime Minister cleared his throat. He seemed to have aged considerably.
Grand Vizier is, of course, right. We must destroy this contamination before it
spreads. A simple matter, of course, but then we must go much, much further.
There is the question of the children.’
the true import of Rufus' announcement came home to me. The children who had
taken the soured honey would also be tainted.
we have any means,’ asked the Heritage Secretary, ‘of knowing which children
took the honey?’
Prime Minister shook his head. ‘We cannot risk missing a single one of them;
the consequences would be too awful to contemplate.’
I for one am not prepared to put up with this,’ Herman reiterated.
have no choice. I don't have to remind you what happened not so many years ago
when some fool put salt instead of sugar in a batch of ice cream.’
flinched inwardly, aware of the gaze of my colleagues upon me. My grandfather
had been Prime Minister at the time and had reacted to the crisis by expelling
all non-native children. No one had thought any more about it until a
generation later when the mundane world was engulfed in global war.
we have the right,’ asked the Prime Minister gravely, ‘to once again equip the
Mundanes with so many potential tyrants?’
I for one - ‘
debate went on for some hours, but the outcome was inevitable. By a unanimous
decision, it was decreed that all mundane children currently visiting Hypermorphia
should, without exception, be hanged.
were more suicides in the days that followed - not just within the cabinet, but
throughout the populace as a whole. Riots swept our cities. In the Northern
Province, a full-scale insurrection had to be crushed by the army. The
ringleaders were burned in public.
dark days indeed. But worse was to come.
had barely hung the last of the children when cracks in the Sugar Mountain were
discovered, forcing us to evacuate several villages for fear of avalanches. A
day later, the cinnamon mines had to be closed when the spice elves complained
of severe headaches and stomach cramps. A detachment of alchemists was sent to
investigate; they reported that the mines were filled with noxious gases.
was grim, but even then I was certain that we would somehow pull through.
optimism evaporated, however, when word reached me that the animals in the
Garden of Fabulous Creatures had begun to die. I went at once to the Garden,
which was now closed to the public, and spoke to Ozymandias in his office.
to say, Ozzy was distraught. ‘It started with the kraken,’ he said, pacing in
front of a cabinet filled with stuffed birds. ‘The stupid creature leapt out of
his enclosure right on top of three members of the public, one of whom was
it eat any of them?’
When we tried to entice it back to the water with freshly slaughtered seals, it
just ignored them. It took a whole platoon of the King's Engineers to drag the
serpent back to the water. And then - and then - ‘
suddenly let out a great wracking sob. He was clearly close to breaking point.
waited some moments until he had regained something like his composure, then
prompted him. ‘What happened?’
leapt out of the water again. No matter how many times we returned it to the
water, it just kept doing it. It was as if it wanted to die. Finally -
we had no choice but to destroy the damn beast. In all my years as Keeper of
the Garden, I had never seen such a thing.’
must have been very distressing.’
It was my great grandfather, you know, who captured the beast barely a day
after it hatched. All its life was spent in this zoo. We have no idea why it
was so hell-bent on its own destruction. Every veterinarian in this city - or
so it seems - has examined the corpse. They all say the kraken was in fine
I was sorry at first, but now I'm beyond sorry. The centaurs were next to die.
They all passed away one night. So far as we can tell, they just went to sleep
and then expired. There's no rational reason for it. We've lost our snark, our
jubjub bird and even the sphinxes. What animals we have left are in very poor
shape. I don't expect a single one to survive the week. Except, of course, the
unicorn. He seems totally unaffected by whatever is happening here.’ Ozzy put
his face in his hands and asked in a coarse whisper, ‘What is happening here?’
had no more answer to that than he did. ‘Perhaps Wizard Serrc knows.’
I left Ozymandias' office, I was almost forced back in by the stench of putrid
flesh. Placing a scented kerchief to my face, I hurried past enclosures of dead
animals. At the gate, a detachment of the King's Men were digging lime pits.
I reached my coach, the horses were agitated. I leapt into the cab and my
driver did not wait for my command. Halfway back to the Palace, I remembered
the Wizard Serrc and gave orders to proceed to his grotto at once.
the wizard was at home, having just returned from a pilgrimage to some shrine
or another. He was preparing a potion in a large cauldron when I burst in
well,’ he said, emptying a jar of eyes into the boiling mixture, ‘the Grand
Vizier. No need to knock.’
apologies. I would have knocked if you had a door knocker. Or a door, come to
from the sweat on your brow and the rapidity of your breathing, I would guess
that you are here with regards to a matter of great urgency.’
have not heard, then?’
Serrc ladled some of his mixture with a wooden spoon and blew upon it until it
was cool enough for him to taste. He smacked his lips. ‘Quite delicious. Would
you like to try some? It's a wonderful laxative.’
Kingdom is in great peril.’
don't say? What is it this time? Another rise in unemployment?’
briefly as I could, I related the events of recent days and watched with some
satisfaction as the flippancy drained steadily from Serrc's manner. He had
never had much respect for authority, but then wizard' never do.
see,’ he said, when I had finished my tale. ‘That would explain the mirror.’
yes.’ Serrc pulled aside a small, square curtain on the cave wall to reveal an
ornate looking glass. ‘Just watch and you'll see what I mean.’
cleared his throat, then, in a very wizardly voice, intoned: ‘Mirror, mirror on
the wall, who's the greatest wiz of all?’
mirror clouded, then replied, ‘Not you, dog-breath. I've seen elves do better
magic than you.’
looked at me with a see-what-I-mean expression on his face. ‘It's been like
that ever since I got back. I just took it to be teenage rebellion - magic
mirrors have certain human qualities, you know - but after what you've just
told me, I realize that that probably isn't the case.’
what's going on?’
evil, obviously. Someone, somewhere has performed a deed so foul, so disgusting
that dark forces have been able to manifest themselves in the Kingdom.’
anything be done?’
would depend on the nature of the misdemeanour. However, judging from what's
happened so far, I would guess we're in deep doo-doo. I doubt anything can save
Serrc was right. With no children allowed to come to us in their dreams, the
Kingdom had no purpose. Reports of civil unrest reached us daily.
became commonplace. The workers refused to work. The peasants gave up toiling
in their fields. Drunkenness, crime, disrespect toward authority - all these
meetings were held daily. When we weren't despondent, we were angry.
at each other, angry at ourselves, angry at the whole sorry state in which we
was talk of bringing the children back, even though there was no end to the
crisis in sight. It was felt, by a few, that having the children around would
restore normality. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and it was accepted that
such a course could only compound our problems.
grew wearier by the day. The King aged visibly. There were suicides. And
through it all, only two people seemed untouched by the growing tragedy.
Kaptain Komfort, if you only knew how many times I saw you leaving Princess
Aurora's apartments with that stupid, self-satisfied grin on your face. On each
occasion, my hatred for you grew stronger. While the Kingdom went to ruin, you
indulged your carnal desires with our beloved princess. You cared not one jot
for the lonely children of Mundania whom you could no longer befriend.
was the time I had to stay my hand upon the halberd of my sword. I dreamt of
murdering you on so many nights in so many ways.
now, there can scarce be a soul in the Kingdom who does not do the same.
took his life the day the bong died. Aside from the unicorn, it was the last of
his fabulous beasts. He covered himself in lamp oil and went out of this world
in a blaze of despair.
unicorn was moved to the Royal Stables, where the King's own vet kept a watch
on it night and day. It was he who gave us our first clue as to the cause of
yet another interminable cabinet meeting, he was called for by Herman who said
he had some information that might or might not throw some light on the
fellow stood before us, cap in hand, trembling at being suddenly thrust before
the most powerful men in the land. He asked for - and was granted - a tot of
whisky to steady his nerves.
said Herman, in that grand manner he adopts when addressing social inferiors.
‘What you say in this room is privileged information. You need fear no
retribution for telling us what you saw - or think you saw.’
vet wrung his cap as if to dry it. ‘I'm not sure I saw anything.’
seemed sure enough when you spoke to my Private Secretary this morning. Now, in
your own time, just tell us what you told him.’
it was about midnight, I think. I was asleep in the stables on a bed of hay as
His Majesty commanded, when I suddenly awoke, certain I was not alone in the
building. Of course, there were the horses and the unicorn, but I felt the
presence of another person and I knew whoever it was had no right being there.
So, fearing someone was up to no good, I lay still with my eyes open.
was - as you might recall - a full moon last night, so it wasn't as dark in
that stable as you might think. I looked to where the unicorn had been bedded,
and there the beast stood, bathed in moonlight. And – and - ‘
was a man on the unicorn. Not exactly sitting on it - more like lying on its
hindquarters. Surmising that the creature was in some sort of danger - of being
purloined, if nothing else - I got to my feet and made slowly toward the door.’
from the unicorn?’
was going to fetch the guard. Only I never made it to the door on account of there
being a bucket I didn't see and which I walked right into. Needless to say it
made an awful clutter. I thought for sure that the man on the unicorn would
attack me, but when I looked round, he was gone.’
you recognize this phantom rider?’
might have dreamt the whole thing. Maybe it was a trick of the light.’
you recognize him?’
looked like Kaptain Komfort.’
was puzzled as to why Herman should bring the matter to our attention. If
Kaptain Komfort had been in the stables without permission, then what of it?
worse misdemeanours were occurring throughout the Kingdom.
the vet had been dismissed, I turned to Herman. ‘I'm afraid I can see no
significance in that fellow's story. As he said himself, it was probably just a
gave me that old look of his, the one that said ‘I know something you don't.’
It was just one more move in the constant power game he was always playing. ‘I
believe every word the vet says. It tallies with a report I received from a
source I decline to name the night before the honey turned sour. It seems my
man was in the zoo around midnight. What he was doing there need not concern us
now. According to his account, he was in the vicinity of the unicorn's
enclosure when his attention was caught by what he describes as a wild braying.
there was a full moon, just as there was last night. He crept stealthily toward
the source of the sound, and there, in the unicorn's enclosure, neatly framed
by the silhouette of two oaks, he saw a bizarre sight. There was a man lying on
the unicorn, his trousers round his ankles, his buttocks heaving up and down. I
need not relay all the details that were imparted to me.
to say, my informant was able to get close enough to the unicorn to positively
identify the rider. It was Kaptain Komfort.’
was uproar in the Cabinet Room. Shrill voices demanded to know why the
President of the Board of Toys had not brought this matter to our attention
before now. There were calls for proof of the allegation. The Minister for
Lullabies demanded that Kaptain Komfort be arrested at once.
the Prime Minister restored order by banging his shoe - first on the table,
then on the heads of those nearest to him. ‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘we must be
sure of our facts before we proceed against Kaptain Komfort. Perhaps Herman
would care to explain why he did not enlighten us previously?’
Prime Minister, until the vet came to me, I dismissed the tale as a flight of
fancy. In retrospect, I can see that was a mistake for which I now apologize.’
bollocks,’ exclaimed the Minister for Lullabies. ‘You, Mister President, have
again been playing games with us. The reason you kept this to yourself was
because you thought you could gain some advantage by it.’
was on his feet. ‘How dare you! In all my years in government - ‘
down!’ yelled the Prime Minister. ‘I will not have my cabinet behaving like
wilful schoolchildren! If you two have your differences, you can settle them
somewhere else. In the meantime, I want the Chief Constable to apprehend
Kaptain Komfort in person.’
was too good a chance to miss. I flicked my hanky to gain the PM's attention.
‘I rather fancy I know where Komfort is to be found. May I suggest I take a
detachment of my men and bring him here forthwith? It will take no more than a
Prime Minister beamed at me. ‘It is good to know, Grand Vizier, that there is
still one amongst us able to show initiative. Yes. Fetch me Kaptain Komfort if
you can. I would be most grateful.’
Kaptain Komfort had fled. He was neither with the Princess nor in his own
apartments. Orders were issued throughout the land for his immediate arrest,
but the cowardly rogue was nowhere to be found. By his own unwillingness to
surrender to the authorities, he admitted his guilt.
a stroke, Kaptain Komfort had made himself the most despised person in the
Kingdom. He became the bogeyman. Mothers kept their children in order by
promising them a visit from that vile villain should they misbehave.
was a feeling abroad that we were at last nearing the end of our misfortunes,
that the deep well of our misery was running dry. The lawlessness which had
threatened to break up our society began to abate as communities united in
their determination to find Kaptain Komfort and bring him to book.
were no suicides in high places over the next few days. Cabinet meetings
reverted to their usual format of quiet debate and sly power mongering,
punctuated of course by Herman's frequent declaration that he was not prepared
to put up with one thing or another.
contrast, all was not well with Princess Aurora, who was convinced of her
paramour's innocence. She became a recluse, never venturing from her
visited her often, always on pretence of official business. She no longer ate
and refused to wash. Her face bore a wild expression, like a trapped animal. At
my insistence, a team of physicians stood by her every hour of every day, but
they were powerless to bring her around. Poor, besotted wench.
distressed me to see her decline.
of alleged sightings of the fugitive became a daily, if not hourly, event. He
was seen in every corner of the Kingdom, often in several places at once.
Armies of peasants spent their days scouring mountains and plains. My spies
followed every slim lead, every wild rumour, only to come up against one dead
end after another.
seemed Kaptain Komfort was everywhere and yet nowhere at all.
Wizard Serrc arrived at my apartments declaring he bore news of great import, I
was momentarily gladdened, for I was certain he had found Kaptain Komfort. With
his wizardly powers, he could roam the Kingdom at will without even leaving his
grotto. If anyone could track down our quarry, it was surely he.
took him but one sentence to demolish my hope. ‘We are being invaded,’ he said.
slumped into an armchair. Under other circumstances I would have been inclined
to disbelief, but I was by now conditioned to accept bad news at face value.
‘Who by?’ was the only question my addled and weary mind could formulate.
wizard paced from one side of my desk to the other and back again. ‘The
Mundanes have entered our territory to the north. Already they have laid to
waste the City of Light.’
did this happen?’
very morning. They have war machines beyond our comprehension. It took them
less than an hour to reduce the city to rubble. No doubt messengers will arrive
here bearing this awful news before the day is out.’
big a force...?’
Mundane Army is perhaps thirty thousand strong. We have superior numbers, but
they have tanks and aircraft and all their other paraphernalia of war. We
cannot hope to defeat them.’
no more. The Mundane flying machines shot them down almost the moment they
became airborne. Grand Vizier, we can mount no defense against such machines.
We must offer our surrender immediately.’
that is a matter for the cabinet.’
be damned. Besides, I know they will take the same view as I. Giving up the
Kingdom to the Mundanes is unthinkable.’
we don't give it to them, they will take it anyway. Our only hope is to reach
rose to my feet. ‘I would rather see the entire Kingdom in ruins than surrender
to these barbarians. We have a duty to the children – ‘
Mundane children? The very children whose parents are burning our villages with
napalm? We no longer have any duty except to ourselves.’
will speak to the King and recommend we muster every force at our disposal.’
what end? We cannot hope to resist.’
you, Wizard Serrc. That will be all.’
I predicted, the cabinet shared my views on the matter. It was agreed that we
should fight to the end. No mercy, no surrender. As Herman so predictably put
it, we were not prepared to put up with it.
all we had done for the Mundanes...
evening, the King summoned me to the Palace Dungeons. We had, by great luck,
brought down a mundane aircraft and taken captive its pilot.
was all for hanging the prisoner in a public place, but the King insisted that
we should not descend to the level of the enemy. He did, however, accede to my
request to interview the Mundane.
armed men stood guard outside the prisoner's cell when I was shown in, a
needless precaution in light of the Mundane being manacled. Despite his
predicament, the pilot seemed wholly unbowed. He looked at me with an
unwavering gaze that was part insolence, part arrogance. I judged he could not
have long attained his majority and wondered that the Mundanes could send their
children to war.
uniform consisted of a leather jacket and khaki trousers, scarcely a uniform at
all. More the garb of a barbarian. On the back of the jacket was emblazoned
introduced myself, then leant against the damp wall, not caring that I was
soiling my robe. ‘Why?’ I asked.
airman shrugged his shoulders. ‘You were asking for it.’
did you manage to find our borders? Adult Mundanes should not know of this
place. They should forget it even exists.’
That's what you were counting on, wasn't it? You take our children here in
their sleep and brainwash them. Then you wipe their memories. You fucking
help the lonely and the lost. We give them an escape from the harsh realities
of their waking lives.’
you ever here when you were young?’
airman laughed. ‘What would I want to do in a crummy place like this? When I
was a boy, I went to Disneyland. We don't need your dreams.’
did you find us?’
only supposed to give my name, rank and number. However, I can't see that it
can do any harm to tell you. It was our President who remembered you. He's a
very old man. His mind's going. You know how old men get. They revert to their
see.’ It had happened before. Senile Mundanes often managed to find their way
back to the Kingdom of Dreams. We always welcomed them on the grounds that in
their twilight they needed us as much as they did in their dawn.
did you kill the children? The President saw it all, you know. And he saw that
pervert ride the unicorn.’
Komfort? If ever I see him again, I will kill him.’
left the cell feeling more despondent than ever. So the Mundanes were taking
revenge for their lost children? I couldn't blame them for that. How could they
know that we did it for their sake? If we had taken any other course, we could
have been inflicting their future with another Hitler, another Stalin, another
could not sleep that night. The curfew had brought with it an eerie silence
that was alien to the city.
sat in my library, trying to read various volumes, but always thinking of our
brave soldiers marching off to take on an invincible foe. Wizard Serrc had been
right. Our only choice was surrender. But then what would be left for us?
entire existence revolved around the Mundane children. Without them for us to
give our dreams to, would any of us care to carry on? Would life be worth
living under foreign occupation?
answer to that last question was clearly no. Shortly before dawn, I determined
to flee the Palace. Perhaps I could cross over the border to the Mundane world.
as a peasant and carrying little more than some food and a handful of gold
coins, I sneaked out of my apartment and up to the ramparts where I knew I
would encounter no more than an occasional guard. My plan was to take a horse
from the stables and shelter in Bil-au-Nor until the following night when I
would make my way to the border.
was halfway across the roof when a brilliant light washed away the night and
its shadows. Dazzled, I instinctively fell to my knees, wondering what had
happened to all the colors in the world. There was only whiteness.
wave of heat hit the back of my head. This was followed by a wind that drew the
breath from my lungs. Then came the roaring and rumbling; a terrible sound that
filled my head and seemed to drill into my bones. Dirt rained from the sky.
a time - and I know not whether it was seconds or minutes - the air became
wondrously still. I was aware that my hair and eyebrows were singed; my back
felt as if it had been burnt by a ferocious sun.
I rose to my feet and turned. On the far horizon, where the city of Bil-au-Nor
had once stood, there rose a pillar of fire and smoke.
at once, the silence was broken by a great clamour. Windows were thrown open;
heads poked out. People ran into the courtyard crying in disbelief. We stood
gazing in awe at this nebulous mushroom which more than anything signalled the
end of all hope.
Bil-au-Nor reduced to ruins, I had little chance of reaching the Mundane world.
I realised my only sensible option was to seek refuge in the Velvet Mountains.
On such a journey, a horse would be a hindrance, so I set off on foot. Along
the way, I encountered many refugees from Bil-au-Nor.
tales they told of the aftermath of the Bomb will haunt me to the end of my
air in this cave is damp and chilly. I am hungry. My hair is falling out; my
gums bleed; my teeth are coming loose.
ever I see Kaptain Komfort again, I will kill him.