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Not Eudora  By Harry Welty
Published May 31, 2002

The King is Naked

"The King is naked!" shouted the boy.

An awkward hush fell across the crowd as excited murmurings ceased. Faces turned first to the youth sitting on his father's shoulders and then to the Monarch.

The child was triumphant. He had been the first to see, or at least to say, the remarkable truth. 

The King visibly stiffened at the sound of the small piping voice. The King's guards faltered at their reins and their horses reared causing the great palanquin to halt momentarily before lurching ahead. The King pitched forward in a most undignified manner. Only a quick step saved him from toppling over. The King did not turn back to look at the boy who had dared lift the blissful veil of ignorance.

The delighted boy beamed as faces all about him in the crowd turned toward him in acknowledgment of his discovery. The sudden and unexpected silence was broken by the King's shrill command to his horsemen to better control their mounts. The palanquin lurched forward again as the King's procession creaked magisterially down the royal thoroughfare. 

The boy felt his father's grip tighten around his spindly ankles. He winced as he looked down. Although the temperature was mild his father's bald spot flushed an angry red. He leaned down uncertainly to his father's ear and reasserted, "The King is naked." Then to make sure his father understood he added, "Isn't he?"

The father said nothing but tightened his grip still more. 

Before the King had disappeared from view a halo formed around the boy and his father as the crowd drew away from them. The spectators began fleeing to their homes and livelihoods. Some faces in the throng turned furtively to stare at them both, father and son. The sound of feet shuffling over dry pavement was joined with that of suppressed whispers.

The father turned on his heels too and tried to rejoin the crowd. Again the boy implored, "The King was naked wasn't he?"

"Quiet lad," said the father in a curt and unfamiliar voice as he turned into his home bolting the door behind him and setting the boy on the floor. A passerby peered nervously through their window as he sped past.

"Boy," said the father. "You saw nothing. Do you understand me?"

"But why?" asked the confused and injured boy.

"Never you mind why," said his father with finality. "Don't let me or anyone else ever catch you saying that again. Do you understand me?" 

The boy looked up at his father uncomprehending. 

"Do you understand me?" His father repeated with genuine menace in his voice.

"Yes," the boy lied, too shocked to argue. 

"Good," said the father. "Forget what you said at the parade today and maybe no harm will come of it."

But harm did come.

No customers visited his father's shop for the rest of the day. It wasn't until the next morning that a single customer came round. He hung back at the doorway and would not enter. Instead he glanced fearfully out into the street.

"I've come to collect my order," he sniveled. "It'll be my last. From now on I'll do my business with the tanner at St. Crispin's Parish."

"What!" the father started. "But that's a full day's travel from here!"

"Don't think I don't know it!" said the figure in the doorway, "The King's guard have been making inquiries. About you" he said, "... and your boy." 

The visitor turned and peered anxiously down the street again. "Never mind my order," he quailed. Backing away the customer beat a hasty retreat. The boy rushed to the door and saw the man scurrying away from a troop of the king's guard, which was marching grimly toward the tanner's shop.

In the days that followed neighbors guiltily avoided walking past the tanner's empty abode. No proclamation was necessary. The nation understood. No one in the land was more splendidly attired than the king. 

If you're a US citizen don't take this column too seriously. Sure, people often feel as though speaking out will get them into trouble but its rarely a life or death issue in America. Someday I'll tell you about my friend Bedru, who stayed with my family for a year back when I was in high school. He was a Muslim. He disappeared after returning to his nation with its Christian regime. 

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com
If you'd like to straighten him out send an Email to: harrywelty@snowbizz.com: harrywelty@snowbizz.com