ضیافت سلطنی

کتاب: شبح باجه اخذ عوارض / فصل 7

ضیافت سلطنی

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7.The Royal Banquet

“Right this way.”

“Follow us.”

“Come along.”

“Step lively.”

“Here we go,” they shouted, hopping from the wagon and bounding up the broad marble stairway. Milo and Tock followed close behind. It was a strange-looking palace, and if he didn’t know better he would have said that it looked exactly like an enormous book, standing on end, with its front door in the lower part of the binding just where they usually place the publisher’s name.

Once inside, they hurried down a long hallway, which glittered with crystal chandeliers and echoed with their footsteps. The walls and ceiling were covered with mirrors, whose reflections danced dizzily along with them, and the footmen bowed coldly.

“We must be terribly late,” gasped the earl nervously as they reached the tall doors of the banquet hall.

It was a vast room, full of people loudly talking and arguing. The long table was carefully set with gold plates and linen napkins. An attendant stood behind each chair, and at the center, raised slightly above the others, was a throne covered in crimson cloth. Directly behind, on the wall, was the royal coat of arms, flanked by the flags of Dictionopolis.

Milo noticed many of the people he had seen in the market place. The letter man was busy explaining to an interested group the history of the W, and off in a cornerthe Humbug and the Spelling Bee were arguing fiercely about nothing at all. Officer Shrift wandered through the crowd, suspiciously muttering, “Guilty, guilty, they’re all guilty,” and, on noticing Milo, brightened visibly and commented in passing, “Is it six million years already? My, how time flies.”

Everyone seemed quite grumpy about having to wait for lunch, and they were all relieved to see the tardy guests arrive.

“Certainly glad you finally made it, old man,” said the Humbug, cordially pumping Milo’s hand. “As guest of honor you must choose the menu of course.”

“Oh, my,” he thought, not knowing what to say.

“Be quick about it,” suggested the Spelling Bee. “I’m famished—f-a-m-i-s-h-e-d.”

As Milo tried to think, there was an ear-shattering blast of trumpets, entirely off key, and a page announced to the startled guests: “KING AZAZ THE UNABRIDGED.”

The king strode through the door and over to the table and settled his great bulk onto the throne, calling irritably, “Places, everyone. Take your places.”

He was the largest man Milo had ever seen, with a great stomach, large piercing eyes, a gray beard that reached to his waist, and a silver signet ring on the little finger of his left hand. He also wore a small crown and a robe with the letters of the alphabet beautifully embroidered all over it.

“What have we here?” he said, staring down at Tock and Milo as everyone else took his place.

“If you please,” said Milo, “my name is Milo and this is Tock. Thank you very much for inviting us to your banquet, and I think your palace is beautiful.”

“Exquisite,” corrected the duke.

“Lovely,” counseled the minister.

“Handsome,” recommended the count.

“Pretty,” hinted the Earl.

“Charming,” submitted the undersecretary.

“SILENCE,” suggested the king. “Now, young man, what can you do to entertain us? Sing songs? Tell stories? Compose sonnets? Juggle plates? Do tumbling tricks? Which is it?”

“I can’t do any of those things,” admitted Milo.

“What an ordinary little boy,” commented the king.

“Why, my cabinet members can do all sorts of things.

The duke here can make mountains out of molehills.

The minister splits hairs. The count makes hay while the sun shines. The earl leaves no stone unturned. And the undersecretary,” he finished ominously, “hangs by a thread. Can’t you do anything at all?”

“I can count to a thousand,” offered Milo.

“A-A-R-G-H, numbers! Never mention numbers here. Only use them when we absolutely have to,” growled Azaz disgustedly. “Now, why don’t you and Tock come up here and sit next to me, and we’ll have some dinner?”

“Are you ready with the menu?” reminded the Humbug.

“Well,” said Milo, remembering that his mother had always told him to eat lightly when he was a guest, “why don’t we have a light meal?”

“A light meal it shall be,” roared the bug, waving his arms.

The waiters rushed in carrying large serving platters and set them on the table in front of the king. When he lifted the covers, shafts of brilliant-colored light leaped from the plates and bounced around the ceiling, the walls, across the floor, and out the windows.

“Not a very substantial meal,” said the Humbug, rubbing his eyes, “but quite an attractive one. Perhaps you can suggest something a little more filling.”

The king clapped his hands, the platters were removed, and, without thinking, Milo quickly suggested, “Well, in that case, I think we ought to have a square meal of “

“A square meal it is,” shouted the Humbug again.

The king clapped his hands once more and the waiters reappeared carrying plates heaped high with steaming squares of all sizes and colors.

“Ugh,” said the Spelling Bee, tasting one, “these are awful.”

No one else seemed to like them very much either, and the Humbug got one caught in his throat and almost choked.

“Time for the speeches,” announced the king as the plates were again removed and everyone looked glum.

“You first,” he commanded, pointing to Milo.

“Your Majesty, ladies and gentlemen,” started Milo timidly, “I would like to take this opportunity to say that in all the “

“That’s quite enough,” snapped the king. “Mustn’t talk all day.”“But I’d just begun,” objected Milo.

“NEXT!” bellowed the king.

“Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, vanilla ice cream,” recited the Humbug, bouncing up and down quickly.

“What a strange speech,” thought Milo, for he’d heard many in the past and knew that they were supposed to be long and dull.

“Hamburgers, corn on the cob, chocolate pudding— p-u-d-d-i-n-g,” said the Spelling Bee in his turn.

“Frankfurters, sour pickles, strawberry jam,” shouted Officer Shrift from his chair. Since he was taller sitting than standing, he didn’t bother to get up.

And so down the line it went, with each guest rising briefly, making a short speech, and then resuming his place. When everyone had finished, the king rose.

“Pate de foie gras, soupe a l’oignon, faisan sous cloche, salade endive, fromages et fruits et demi-tasse,” he said carefully and clapped his hands again.

The waiters reappeared immediately, carrying heavy, hot trays, which they set on the table. Each one contained the exact words spoken by the various guests, and they all began eating immediately with great gusto.

“Dig in,” said the king, poking Milo with his elbow and looking disapprovingly at his plate. “I can’t say that I think much of your choice.”

“I didn’t know that I was going to have to eat my words,” objected Milo.

“Of course, of course, everyone here does,” the king grunted. “You should have made a tastier speech.”

Milo looked around at everyone busily stuffing himself and then back at his own unappetizing plate. It certainly didn’t look worth eating, and he was so very hungry.

“Here, try some somersault,” suggested the duke. “It improves the flavor.”

“Have a rigmarole,” offered the count, passing the breadbasket.

“Or a ragamuffin,” seconded the minister.

“Perhaps you’d care for a synonym bun,” suggested the duke.

“Why not wait for your just desserts?” mumbled the earl indistinctly, his mouth full of food.

“How many times must I tell you not to bite off more than you can chew?” snapped the undersecretary, patting the distressed earl on the back.

“In one ear and out the other,” scolded the duke, attempting to stuff one of his words through the earl’s head.

“If it isn’t one thing, it’s another,” chided the minister.

“Out of the frying pan into the fire,” shouted the count, burning himself badly.

“Well, you don’t have to bite my head off,” screamed the terrified earl, and flew at the others in a rage.

The five of them scuffled wildly under the table.

“STOP THAT AT ONCE,” thundered Azaz, “or I’ll banish the lot of you!”


“Excuse me.”

“Forgive us.”


“Regrets,” they apologized in turn, and sat down glaring at each other.

The rest of the meal was finished in silence until the king, wiping the gravy stains from his vest, called for dessert. Milo, who had not eaten anything, looked up eagerly.

“We’re having a special treat today,” said the king as the delicious smells of homemade pastry filled the banquet hall. “By royal command the pastry chefs have worked all night in the half bakery to make sure that “

“The half bakery?” questioned Milo.

“Of course, the half bakery,” snapped the king.

“Where do you think half-baked ideas come from? Now, please don’t interrupt. By royal command the pastry chefs have worked all night to “

“What’s a half-baked idea?” asked Milo again.

“Will you be quiet?” growled Azaz angrily; but, before he could begin again, three large serving carts were wheeled into the hall and everyone jumped up to help himself.

“They’re very tasty,” explained the Humbug, “but they don’t always agree with you. Here’s one that’s very good.” He handed it to Milo and, through the icing and nuts, Milo saw that it said “THE EARTH IS FLAT.”

“People swallowed that one for years,” commented the Spelling Bee, “but it’s not very popular these days— d-a-y-s.” He picked up a long one that stated “THE MOON IS MADE OF GREEN CHEESE” and hungrily

bit off the part that said “CHEESE.” “Now there’s a half-baked idea,” he said, smiling.

Milo looked at the great assortment of cakes, which were being eaten almost as quickly as anyone could read them. The count was munching contentedly on “IT NEVER RAINS BUT IT POURS” and the king was

busy slicing one that stated “NIGHT AIR IS BAD AIR.”

“I wouldn’t eat too many of those if I were you,” advised Tock. “They may look good, but you can get terribly sick of them.”

“Don’t worry,” Milo replied; “I’ll just wrap one up for later,” and he folded his napkin around “EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR THE BEST.”

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