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An Audience with Lord Porkington

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Stories

An Audience with Lord Porkington

Stewart Swining followed the huge armored guard through the ornate double doors into Lord Porkington’s inner chamber.  It seemed to the young pig that everything in the palace was made of the most expensive imported marble; Stewart had never seen anything shine so brightly.  He tried to hide his nervousness at this most unexpected private audience with the ruler of all Pigdom, but beads of sweat insisted on forming on his pink forehead anyway, and Stewart resisted the urge to wipe them away.  Such an open movement in the presence of the leader of Pigdom would surely be considered bad form at best, thought the pig, and a mortal threat to Lord Porkington’s person at worst.  He stifled a new wave of worry at this last thought. 

Stewart Swining was a young clerk in the employ of the government of Pigdom, which was essentially Lord Porkington and his own personally appointed administrators.  Stewart had  recently started his career in the Royal Construction Commission, the government body responsible for approving and administering all construction projects in Pigdom.  Lord Porkington, having made his reputation as a builder of the finest brick houses anywhere, was keenly interested in the Commission, and insisted on interviewing all new clerks.  Today was Stewart’s turn.

The burly boar stopped suddenly so Stewart stopped too, remaining a few paces behind the guard.  Suddenly the sound of somebody clearing their throat broke the silence in the small but luxuriously appointed room.  The throat-clearing became a persistent hacking and coughing, and then Stewart felt his own throat grow scratchy, much to his dismay.  He stifled a tiny cough, but the guard turned his head slightly and scowled at the young pig.  Stewart’s eyes went wide with fear.  Lord Porkington’s personal guards were all boars; big, mean, and violent.  Now that Lord Porkington was growing old, and in spite of his best efforts had not been able to eliminate all of his enemies in the course of his long life, he feared for his life.  So he surrounded himself with the biggest, meanest, and most violent boars as his personal guard.

Finally the coughing subsided and a young wolf, his teeth filed down and his fur completely shaven, came running in with his head bowed to serve the Lord Porkington a glass of liquid of some sort.  Stewart was not surprised to see the wolf, because wolves were a common sight in Pigdom.  They had been subjugated by Lord Porkington back when he was just General Porkington and subsequently enslaved en masse.  All wolves now had their teeth filed down at birth, their claws permanently cut, and their fur removed.  However, they didn’t live very long so the demand for them was always high.  In fact, the wolf shortage was a topic on the minds of many citizens of Pigdom, especially those of the wealthy patrician class.

“Come closer,” croaked Lord Porkington.

The guard moved to one side, sneering menacingly at Stewart, then stepped outside the inner chamber and closed the door.  Stewart could hear the clang of the boar’s armor as he stood at attention outside the door.  The sound of the door closing echoed in the room, and the young pig felt a fresh bead of perspiration form on his forehead.

Stewart was alone with the Lord Porkington.  His heart pounded in his chest.  He stole a glance at the legendary leader and swallowed some nervous spit that had gathered in his mouth.  Lord Porkington was simply the fattest pig Stewart had ever seen.

“Sit, young pig,” said the Lord Porkington.  His voice was soft and gentle, surprising Stewart. 

There was a plush red lounge chair opposite Lord Porkington’s own raised, overstuffed seat, which was filled with cushions of all colors and sizes and crumbs of food, as well as the folds of the great pig’s own considerable bulk.  Stewart gingerly stepped to the lounge chair and looked up at the Lord Porkington, his eyes questioning.

Lord Porkington chuckled at the lad’s nervousness.  “Yes yes, you can sit there.  Right there.”

Stewart sat down, but couldn’t relax.  He kept his back as straight as possible and his hands on his lap.

“Come now, you’re not at attention,” said Lord Porkington.  “You can relax in here.”

Lord Porkington’s voice had a calming effect on Stewart, and the young pig found himself relaxing a little. 

Lord Porkington stared at him for a moment, as if assessing the young pig’s worth.  “So, you’re the young Swining who clerks for my Royal Construction Commission.”

“Yes, m’lord,” replied Stewart.

“You want to be a builder, do you?”

“Yes, m’lord, I hope so.”

The great pig grinned broadly.  “Excellent! Can’t have enough talented builders, that’s what I always say.  Of course, I was a builder myself in my younger days…” He paused and stared at Stewart expectantly.

“Oh your Excellency, everyone knows you’re the greatest builder in the history of Pigdom!” Stewart exclaimed, suddenly excited that Lord Porkington had taken an interest in him. “I’ve studied all your work and read all your papers.  It’s what inspired me to beco-“

“Yes yes, that’s all very good,” said Lord Porkington, waving his pudgy hand in instant dismissal.  He coughed twice, then put his fist over his mouth to stifle a third cough.  They were small coughs though, and the fat lord recovered quickly.  “Now then, what is your opinion - and I want your honest opinion, young Swining - which is the higher quality brick, northern or eastern?”  Lord Porkington had a twinkle in his eye as he waited for Stewart to answer.

Stewart thought for a moment.  Northern brick was the approved standard in most of Pigdom, and was easy to work with, while eastern brick looked better and lasted much longer. Eastern brick was currently banned by royal decree, however.  Stewart decided this was a test, and determined to tell the truth.  He swallowed hard.

“Your Excellency, while northern brick is a fine choice for any construction project, eastern brick maintains a qualitative advantage in terms of asthetic and longevity metrics.”

Lord Porkington was silent for a long moment.  Then he burst out laughing.  “Ho ho, spoken like a true bureaucrat!  A wonderful answer, young pig!  I applaud you.”

Laughs turned into coughs, and Lord Porkington’s face grew beet red.  He couldn’t stop coughing, and his fat shook amid the  cushions.  The wolf slave came running back in, this time with a cloth and bowl and proceeded to adminster to the great pig.

Stewart was shocked to see Lord Porkington in such a state.  He, well nobody really, had any idea that the Lord was so ill.  The great leader rarely appeared in public anymore, and when he did, it was on a stage far removed from any crowds.  Stewart suddenly felt very awkward and began to get up, intending to leave.

Lord Porkington saw this and raised his hand to stop the young pig, unable to speak as he recovered from the coughing fit.  The slave wolf was wiping fresh spittle and blood from the Lord’s mouth and prodigious jowls.  The wolf did this quickly and easily, having perfected the skill from years of cleaning his master’s oral detritus from between the folds of fat on his face and neck.  The wolf held up a glass of amber-colored liquid to Lord Porkington’s mouth and respectfully requested that he drink it.  The Lord Porkington drank the liquid gratefully, then curled his lips in disgust and shoved the empty glass at the slave.

Stewart had stopped where he was when Lord Porkington had put up his hand.  Surely he should leave and return when the Lord was feeling better.  But now the lord apparently wanted him to stay.

The great pig’s face returned to its normal mottled color, and he shooed the slave away.  “I’m sorry you had to see that, Swining.  As you can tell, my health is not good these days.  No matter, old age and infirmity come to us all.  Unless you’re lucky enough to go early and escape all this nonsense.”  He grinned at Stewart.

The fat old pig looked down at Stewart and sighed.  Then he pulled a golden cord that was one of several hanging  from the ceiling above the imperial seat.

He cleared his throat. “There, that’s better.  Damned old age, it’s the enemy of us all young pig, mark my words.  As I said, it’s a shame you had to see me in such dire straits.  Unfortunately, I can’t have my political enemies know of my physical weakness.  I must protect my image at all costs, and you now have information that could be used to aid my enemies.”  He stared at Stewart, who looked confused.

“My Lord, I don’t understand – “

“Of course you don’t, Swining.  More’s the pity.”

Suddenly the door burst open and the burly boar who had been waiting outside strode into the room.  He immediately siezed Stewart from behind and dragged him off the lounge chair.

“Hey, what’s going on?” complained Stewart as he thrashed and kicked to break free.  What was this? Why was he being manhandled all of a sudden.

“We’re gonna have some fun you and me, piglet,” growled the guard, who pulled Stewart to a standing position.  Stewart felt the guard jab the point of a sword into the small of his back.  “Don’t make any sudden moves, piglet,” spat the guard.

Stewart looked at Lord Porkington, his eyes pleading.

“I’m sorry Swining, it’s nothing personal.  I’m sure you’re a good pig, and a hard worker and all that.  You’ve seen something that you’re not supposed to, and now you must be silenced.”  He looked up at the guard.  “Do your duty, Guardsman.”

The guard started dragging Stewart out of the inner chamber roughly, and suddenly Stewart cried out. “But why?  WHY??” he cried.  I’d never tell anyone, my Lord.  You know that!”

Lord Porkington picked a fruit snack from a tray next to him and popped it neatly into his mouth.  He swallowed it whole.  “Why?  Because, my young friend, even a lonely old Lord needs some entertainment.”  The big pig started to laugh, loudly and heartily, with no trace of the cough that had seemed to nearly kill him earlier.  He kept laughing as the guard forced Stewart out of the room and down the hall.

Stewart could hear his laughing even as he felt the guard’s rough hands on him, and just before everything went dark.

THE END.

2011 Michael S. Cohen

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