By Jan Warrington
It’s been a rainy Saturday morning, so please indulge my goofiness. Thanks for reading, as always.
Once upon a time, in what once was called the Land of Hope for Mankind, 100 princes and princesses traveled from all over the country to a shining city. They went there to represent their fellow citizens, to make laws that would serve the best interests of those citizens. The 100 didn’t always agree, but every now and then they were able to accomplish the seemingly impossible and pass legislation that would help their fellow citizens (or — ahem — sometimes not).
One day, during an especially tumultuous time, a wise and observant child accused the emperor of the Land of Hope for Mankind of not wearing clothes. As you can imagine, great chaos and much handwringing ensued. The emperor was defiant, denied it, saying he was “perfect.” And the child, said the emperor, was not only wrong but quite possibly a liar and a traitor.
Now it was the task of this esteemed legislative chamber of 100 to determine The Truth. And very quickly — the blink of an eye really — 53 of those princes and princesses took the emperor’s side; they didn’t want to read more documents or hear from witnesses. The other 47? They wanted to hear more about the wise and observant child’s claims, and they were ready to listen.
“No way,” cried Prince Lindsey. “They just hate the emperor so much. He’s a victim, he’s being persecuted.”
The Lowly Managers from the People’s House brought the charge to the chamber where the princes and princesses met. Rules for the trial were strict, and among the 53 were many aggrieved princes and princesses. They were being forced to listen, maybe learn. (Can you imagine, being forced to listen? Outrageous!)
“We will stop this nonsense quickly,” stated Prince Mitch. “Looks to me like the emperor is wearing clothes.”
The first day of the trial seemed to last for decades, according to Prince Ted. The chamber adjourned at 1 in the morning, and then later that night — a curious thing happened. Those 53 princes and princesses? Not one slept a wink. They tossed, rotated, lay spread eagle, pushed off comforters, pulled up sheets, tiptoed to the loo — more than once. And strangest of all, many of them felt something under their mattresses, a physical presence — hard, resolute, unyielding.
The next morning one prince cursed what he viewed as the unfounded charge against the emperor.
“Why, that disgruntled little child,” grumbled Prince Rand, sounding like a disgruntled little child.
Princess Lisa and Princess Susan didn’t like it when the Lowly Manager from the People’s House suggested that the 53 would be participating in a cover-up if new evidence was not allowed.
“Offended,” said Princess Susan.
“Disturbed,” echoed Princess Lisa.
During their breaks that day, the 53 princes and princesses exchanged stories of how tough it had been that night to catch any shut-eye, how they had felt the real presence of something unyielding, something solid. Prince Chuck, one of the 47, chuckled when he overheard this: This sure isn’t the story of The Princess and The Pea, he thought; that pea was a sign of genuine sensitivity and awareness!
By the end of the trial’s second day, and despite the Lowly Manager’s rousing speech — nothing less than the survival of the Land of Hope for Mankind is at stake, he proclaimed — the 53 remained unmoved.
Princess Joni dissed the charge. “All emperors behave differently,” she stated.
“Repetitive and boring,” cried a prince from Wyoming.
“Jeez, no one is listening,” exclaimed Prince Mitt. (Jeez? A prince who says “Jeez”? Jeez!) In fact, someone among the 53 had been seen reading a book, another drawing a picture, a third doing a crossword puzzle.
And that second night? No sleep again for the 53, and the mysterious thing under their mattresses? Even more pronounced.
By the end of the third day, as the trial was reaching its culmination, the Lowly Manager repeated a threat that he had heard and one that he said he hoped was not true — that the emperor would have the heads of any of those 53 who defied him.
Well, that seemed too violent — murder, really — so the naked emperor walked it back. (Oops, the“genius” emperor!)
“The genius emperor said pikes on their heads, not their heads on pikes!” said Stephanie G., the emperor’s press secretary.
And yes, yes, this really did happen: On the fourth trial day, after another sleepless night during which that under-the-bed presence — harder, so unyielding — had only grown, each of the 53 princes and princesses appeared in the august chamber with a dead fish (Northern Pike, to be exact) draped over their heads.
Like the wise and observant child who had tried to tell the world that the emperor had no clothes, the 47 tried to tell the 53 about the rotting fish on their heads. But the 53? They’d have nothing of it.
“Every one of us knows it’s not true,” said many princes, as they sniffed and frowned and looked around for the source of that growing odor.
Nothing and no one could convince them that they were wearing dead fish — or that the emperor was not wearing clothes. The 53 persisted, not grasping the broad and deep damage that was being done to the Land of Hope for Mankind.
The trial was over in a few short days, and the emperor — well, nothing would ever change him.
But it was the 53, the 53 who could not listen or learn, who could not see or accept reality, who wore the dead fish on their heads for the rest of their lives — and who slept fitfully most nights. If any one of the 53 ever did figure out what that presence was under their beds — it was The Truth, right there, just waiting to be found — they never told a soul.
Thankfully, many citizens in the Land of Hope for Mankind were able to recognize The Truth. And legend has it that many house cats even turned up their noses at the dead-fish-draped 53 princes and princesses. And the wise and observant child grew up to be — what else? — a star reporter.