Un conte des fées et fessées
de Paulus "le lutin des bois" Perrault.
It was an excellent spanking: everybody was agreed on that. Even the prince himself, whose misdemeanours had occasioned the need for such a condign punishment, professed himself impressed and duly repentant, while those courtiers and officials whose rank or standing had permitted them to attend were heard to remark that it was a pity that more young men did not receive such firm retribution in these wishy-washy times: "It quite took me back," said Silver Stick Equerry of the Right Hand, a florid old gentleman with a taste for gin and low women, "quite took me back to when I was a lad. That was the way we caught it in those days for everything." His companion, the Deputy Lord Portmanteau to Her Dowager Majesty, agreed sagely that it had been a spanking of the old school, and none the worse for that. And certainly the prince would think twice about trying his tricks again.
For it had been a grand spectacle. First had come the discovery of the crime: Lady Bertha de Belwether-FitzAll, one of the ladies in waiting to the Queen (and not, it must be admitted, the brightest of them) had run screaming horribly through the palace corridors on discovering that Her Majesty's two French poodles, on which she doted, and which were temporarily in the charge of Lady Bertha, had, during a moment of inattention, been surreptitiously abducted and dyed bright green. Since green was not a colour that the Queen cared to wear (she thought, correctly, that it made her look sallow) this was a calamity: white dogs looked very fetching against the royal ensemble, but green was quite out of the question.
The noise came to the attention of Her Majesty, and very shortly thereafter the crime came to the attention of Her Majesty: and in a remarkably brief space of time after that a very great number of people (foremost among them Lady Bertha) were made acutely aware of Her Majesty's displeasure in the matter. The Lord Chamberlain was sent for, and dismissed from the Royal Presence with some flying crockery and a stern injunction to find the culprit. (The broken crockery, which included a rather charming old Chinese vase sent as a wedding gift by the Sultan in Baghdad, was later gathered together, and the shards were taken away by one of the maids, who got a tidy sum for them from a dealer with a roguish smile and a clever way with glue, so the Chamberlain's bruised head was in a good cause.)
The Lord Chamberlain rousted the Grand Censor from his study of an obscure Latin poet, and that austere and formidable man sent for the head of his agents within the palace: and such was the efficacy of the spy network that within an hour a small scroll was slipped into the Censor's hand as he walked in the palace gardens, feeding the ducks (for this has always been the traditional prerogative of spies and spy masters). The Censor unrolled the scroll and read the two words thereon. No trace of an expression crossed his hawkish features, but the faintest of wrinkles appeared between his brows.
The name was passed to the Lord Chamberlain, who turned white, and who went most reluctantly before his mistress to inform her, from what he hoped was sufficient distance to give him a head start, that her son, Prince Florian, was the éminence grise (or in this case, verte) behind this terrible occurrence. To do her credit, Her Majesty did not flinch from the information, but drew herself up to her full five feet and informed the world that the appropriate punishment was to be meted out and that the Lord Chamberlain was to arrange it immediately - immediately, did he hear ?
He did hear, and with relief and gratitude withdrew as rapidly as was consonant with dignity from the Presence. Then of course, it was the turn of the Grand Tetrarch of the Protocols to be summoned, and he and the Chancellor consulted the great books of Court Etiquette, with much muttering and placing of paper strips as bookmarks, until in the end it was decided that the offence was Gross Accessorisation before the Fact, and following the example of R v. HRH Valdemir in Good King Egbert's time the appropriate punishment would be a full Court Spanking.
And the arrangements were set in motion. The Serjeant at Arms was deputed to find a husky young guardsman with a strong right arm and leathery palms who would nonetheless look good enough in uniform to befit such a glittering occasion. The Grand Tetrarch undertook to send out the invitations - "for we must take care," he added, "that no-one under the rank of Baron is admitted to lower the tone of the occasion" - while the Chamberlain sent for the Over Chatelaine and the Under Chatelaine to ensure that a suitably grand room of the palace was dusted, polished and swept, and that arrangements were put in hand to provide a light buffet in the next room. "Nothing too elaborate," he said, "but perhaps forty brace of pheasant, some salmon - say twenty, cold, in aspic - a baron of beef, maybe some lobsters with plenty of mayonnaise, some sallets, prettily bedecked with marigolds, two or three marchpane fantasies, a hundred loaves, cakes, tarts, some fresh fruit - well, you know the sort of thing. There's nothing like a spanking to make people peckish," added the Chancellor, "unless it's an execution."
Such a hustle and a bustle spread throughout the palace that it even arose to the tall tower where the 16-year-old Prince Florian and Guy his boon companion were standing admiring a young jess peregrine belonging to the royal mews. They knew - how not ? - what it was all about of course, but neither made any comment apart from Guy's somewhat rueful: "I still wish you hadn't done it," and the prince's answering shrug.
Even in the best run of palaces, however, such an affair naturally cannot be prepared overnight, and given the temperament of the palace chef, who flew into a rage on being asked if he could provide his famous "fantaisie de fessée aux fruits" (twin peach halves, poached in muscat and artfully presented with stripes of raspberry coulis across them and a little cane of twisted caramel - better known to the lower members of the royal entourage as "bum surprise") for 200 people on the morrow, it was amazing that it could be prepared in so short a time as it was, but it was not until a week after the commission of the terrible act that retribution was actually visited upon the guilty party.
Many of the invitees arrived early, and there was considerable jostling among the lesser nobility for the best places near the front, immediately behind the reserved seats. Baron Grosporc of Vaches sur Rouleaux nearly came to blows with the Vicomte Petomane, while Lady Sieglinde of Waxe-Lyrica and the Marchioness of Hornswoggle resorted to hair-pulling and name calling in a disagreement over which had the right of precedence for the last chair in the fourth row (settled by the Earl of Borborygmus, who bagged the seat while neither was looking).
The audience eventually settled down: presently the great officials of the court and the high nobility swept in somewhat disdainfully just before matters were due to begin and took their places in the reserved seats at the front. A fanfare of trumpets followed by the national anthem signified that all present should rise, and the King and Queen entered, to the cheers and plaudits of the crowd. Her Majesty looking cross, if immaculate (both normal), His Majesty looking as if he had rather be back at his beloved pig-breeding, they took up their seats on a raised dais at the far end of the room, at right angles to the crowd.
The Lord Chancellor bowed low before Their Majesties, and began to read the charges.
"Whereas it hath pleased their most gracious and sovereign majesties . . ."
The King waved a hand.
"Yes, yes, man," he said. "Take it as read, what ? Just get on with the damn' leathering."
The Chancellor, somewhat flustered, lost both his scroll and his place, but fortunately someone quick-thinking on the Grand Tetrarch's staff signalled the trumpeter to blow the Last Post, and to a roll of drums the Prince (stoutly supported by Guy) was led into the room by two sturdy men-at-arms, preceded by the handsome young guardsman appointed to avenge the honour of the Queen's lapdogs. The Queen's expression was somewhat mollified by the sight of this six-foot-two vision of military prowess in his scarlet and gold uniform.
"If your Majesties permit," said the Chancellor huffily.
The King waved a languid hand; the Queen smiled very fetchingly and murmured that she would be happy to see the young soldier do his duty.
"Proceed," sighed the Lord Chancellor. The young man was led forward to stand in front of the guardsman, who unseen by any of the other observers winked at his victim from under the brim of his shako, leading to a sudden burst of hope in the youth's breast that perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all.
The guardsman sat on a sturdy wooden stool, hastily gilded for the occasion, then undid the lacings on the young man's hose, allowing them to slide to the ground and reveal what a number of observers, not all of one gender, noted to be an extremely fine, firm young bottom. (Other observers might have noted a well-developed manhood that suggested that the lad would not disappoint in other departments, but so coarse an idea can hardly have crossed the minds of an audience as refined as the present one.) The youth was duly bent over the regimental trousers, the Lord Chamberlain turned over a small sandglass, and at the command: "By the right, begin spanking !" the muscular young soldier began to do just that.
At first, in truth, it wasn't too bad: the individual blows, although firm and stinging, produced a general sensation of heat which was not entirely unpleasant, and a not-unaesthetic redness flushed the teenager's buttocks. "Oh, just like a sunset !" exclaimed Lady Dorinda Trinkle, mistress of the elderly Lord Custodian of the Chamberpot.
However, as the punishment proceeded apace, the hand falling with metronomic precision over every inch of the attractively upturned behind, it began to seem far less bearable. The blows seemed to increase in force, the speed increased too, and dark plum-coloured welts and marks began to mar the smoothness of the exposed skin. The young man's breath grew ragged, began to hiss between his teeth at the fiery pain of it. Particular attention was being paid, he noticed, to certain sensitive areas, such as the point where cheeks meet thighs: Christ Jesu ! he thought, I'll never sit a horse again !
His breathing took on a sobbing quality, became strangulated gasps: at last, it was no good, he could not help himself, he cried out loud. A collective sigh, replete and satisfied arose from the audience: this was more like it, really quite the thing. The guardsman immediately redoubled the force and speed of his blows, and the unfortunate lad found that having opened his mouth he could no longer keep it shut, and very soon a stream of cries and pleas for mercy issued from his lips as he bucked and twisted in vain in the iron grip of his punisher.
At last the Lord Chamberlain nodded: the sand in his glass had quite run dry, and at a further command the young guardsman released his sobbing and only slightly younger charge into a crumpled heap on the floor.
"And let that be a lesson to you," said the Queen, fixing her son with a terrible glare. The contrite prince ran over to his mother, bowed low before her, and in a very small voice begged Her Majesty's pardon for having so offended her, the which Her Majesty was graciously pleased to grant. She gathered her robes around her, made ready to rise (prodding her husband in the ribs to alert him to the fact) when the sounds of a disturbance came to the ears of those present.
It sounded (said the Undersecretary for the Royal Prerogative to his neighbour) like two servants having their ears boxed, and this was extremely perceptive of him, for that was exactly what it was, and having so dealt with those who dared to stand in her way, the doors were flung open and a terrifying figure entered the room. Clad in robes of the richest and darkest purple velvet imaginable, her iron-grey hair braided and bound under a fillet of enormous diamonds, she drew herself up to her full five foot eminence (and width - she was after all a descendent of Wulfrida the Broad) and hurtled down the room like a thunder cloud.
"Oh no, Mother !" exclaimed the Queen.
"Yes, your own mother," retorted the Dowager Queen, "to whom you did not have the courtesy to send an invitation to this ridiculous affair."
"Ridiculous ?" expostulated the Lord Chancellor and the Grand Tetrarch simultaneously, but with a contemptuous gesture the Dowager Queen simply turned the pair of them into frogs. (It should be explained that the Royal Family, tired of being plagued with fairy curses at christenings, had solved the problem by marrying fairies into the royal bloodline whenever possible: a side effect of this was that the royal displeasure, particularly on the distaff side, had a habit of being expressed in rather unconventional ways: junior female royals were, however, kept in readiness at all times to kiss the unfortunate victims back to personhood.)
"Yes, ridiculous," said the Dowager. "Look at that poor boy, now," indicating the sorry sight of the well beaten Guy being helped up by Florian, "while the real villain of the piece gets away with it."
"But that's what whipping boys are for, grandmother," said Florian, reasonably, as the audience nodded its agreement. "And I really am very sorry: poor Guy is my friend, after all."
"Not sorry enough to keep from mischief, I'll be bound," said his grandmother sternly. "But I have a remedy for that." And with a strange gesture, and a mutter of words under her breath, she cast another spell.
"OWWW !" screamed Florian, clutching his bottom with both hands. "My bum's on fire !"
"Mother, what have you done ?" said the Queen, alarmed, peering at her son hopping madly around the room clutching his backside.
"Nothing that shouldn't have been done ages ago: you really ought to hire a decent magician as that boy's tutor," said the Dowager.
"What, madam, what ?" asked the King.
"What, what ?" mocked the Dowager. "I have simply ensured that from now on what one boy feels, the other will too. Florian is experiencing the consequences of his actions rather closer to home than he had expected, and so he will in future every time Guy is beaten. That should keep the pair of them out of mischief."
And with a flash of lightning that singed the frescoes on the ceiling (it was undoubtedly from the maternal side that Her Majesty inherited her melodramatic streak), the Dowager was gone.
Her spell did wear off eventually, after many years, but by that time Florian and Guy were beyond court spankings. Not, it is rumoured, beyond spanking each other though, for they had discovered that painful though the immediate consequences might be when shared between two, the pleasures that might be had in soothing the fevered flesh afterwards were also doubled. But over the private pleasures of King Florian the Longstanding and Sir Guy Fortmains, his Earl Marshal, this chronicler, moved by sympathy and a keen appreciation of the laws of libel and high treason, prefers to draw a discreet and sympathetic veil.