The Emperor's New Clothes
by Tony Noland
The day was warm and flawless, with scintillating sunshine streaming from a broad, blue sky. The Emperor's Own Brigade led the parade, the fearsome phalanx known to friend and foe as the Red Dragons. Proud and polished, they filed past in row upon row of majestic military might. They were followed in order by the Imperial Fife and Drum Corps, the Council of Governors and the High Priests of the Great Temple, with all their assorted acolytes and virgins.
In a flourish of gold brocade and purple silk, long bell-horn held high, the Herald of the Emperor paced in measured step, sounding the rhythmic, compelling notes of the Imperial March.
And then came His Imperial Majesty, head high and chest out-thrust, brown hair turned to loosely matted gray on his chest and legs, his pocked pale flesh rippling upwards with every step on the closely set cobblestones. The sunlight gleamed on his crown of gold, on his sapphire-encrusted scepter of office, and on his glistening, sweaty skin.
Whereas the citizens of the capitol had cheered the Emperor's Own, tossed goodnatured comments to the Council and begged blessings from the High Priests, every head bowed with silent reverence as the Emperor passed. With regal calm, he nodded to left and right, acknowledging the obeisance of his people.
It was in this silence that a child could be heard, laughing high and loud.
"He's naked, mama! Look! You can see his dangle!"
The Emperor, perhaps not hearing, perhaps choosing not to notice, continued his stately progression.
Though the child's mother tried to shush him, the little boy again shouted with glee. "But he IS! He's naked as a piggy! Just look at him, mama! He's so fat and funny looking!"
The Emperor stopped. Behind him, the rest of the parade ground to an instant, clashing halt. Ahead of him, the Herald of the Emperor, who kept a close eye on his master so as to be guided by him, also stopped. The musician broke off mid-phrase and tucked his bell-horn under his arm. When the Imperial March fell silent, the head of the parade stopped and turned. The High Priests, the Council, the Fife and Drums Corps and the Red Dragons all stopped and turned to face their absolute ruler. They all stood in silence as the Emperor stared at the little boy.
Squirming in his mother's frantic grasp, the boy shouted, "But can't you see he's naked? There's his bum and his dangle and his big belly. How come I can't go naked, mama?"
With a speed and power born of wartime victories too many to count, the Emperor stepped in close to the boy and yanked him from his mother's grasp. His huge, meaty hand gripped the boy's throat and he swung the child high into the air. The boy had time for a single cry of pain and terror, whined from his crushed windpipe, before the Emperor slammed his little body down onto the stones. Even his mother's scream could not drown out the drywood CRACK of his small back snapping when he hit.
In a single, smooth motion, the Emperor lifted his scepter and swung it down with brutal, battlefield force onto the boy's skull. The child's gurgling stopped, his little body twitching with animal motions, gushing and bleeding on the cobblestones. The only sound was the mother's wailing screams and the hissed voices of those restraining her, muffling her, keeping her back from her child.
The Emperor pulled the scepter free from the wreckage of the child's skull and turned to face the mother. He shoved the bloody instrument of death under her chin, grinding the symbol of his reign into her throat until she choked for breath through her frantic, hysterical tears. Terror spread through the crowd as they waited to learn the extent of the retribution the Emperor would extract for the child's insults.
Finally, after long minutes in the clear, perfect sunshine, the monarch released the woman. She sagged backward. He turned to her neighbors in the crowd, "As it is Our birthday, We choose to show mercy. Take her home."
Everyone who heard the Emperor's words hastened to obey, bowing and scraping, dragging the woman bodily away. The Emperor stood and watched as half the street emptied. Then, head held high, he stepped over the body of the child and stood in the middle of the boulevard, resuming his place in the parade.
He nodded to the Herald, who licked his lips and resumed the Imperial March, the clear, strident notes sounding through the air once again. The parade slowly wound its way through the capitol, and in turn, every head, young and old, trembled and bowed low to His Imperial Majesty.
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