The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and today Court sits outside. The King lounges, only half-awake, on a magnificent golden throne. Courtiers and advisers gaze absently at one another, at their nails, at the array of house-plants scattered around the field at five minutes’ notice after the King decided this morning that the palace was too hot and it would be nice to bring the Court out instead.
Time passes. Nothing happens. The only noises are the crickets in the field and the gentle swish of bored, sullen servants fanning the King and some of the more senior courtiers. Until….
General Hubbub beyond. Everyone looks up:
King: Someone go and see what the noise is all about, won’t you?
Two or three servants make slight movements, hoping another will rise before they do. The rest don’t even bother. But it matters not, for the General Hubbub comes to them.
A voice, from beyond the palm trees artfully placed to shield the Court from prying eyes: Your majesty, I must see you.
King, sighing: Oh very well then. Guards, let him enter.
A man enters. The King does not look at all pleased to see him. With him are two guards, and between the guards, a confused-looking prisoner clad in the traditional garb of a flower merchant.
King: Ah. Duke. How lovely to see you. Trouble at the market, is it?
The Duke: Yes, your majesty. This man [gestures to his prisoner] has been selling Triffids.
King: Well, I shouldn’t think that’s a problem, Duke. Selling Triffids is hardly an offence, is it?
He laughs, and the Courtiers, obsequious as ever, join in. The Duke waits impatiently for the laughter to subside.
Duke: Yes, of course, your majesty. But he was selling them at three Triffids to the shilling.
King, shuffling, slightly embarrassed: And?
Duke, now looking confused himself: I thought there was a law. You know, some kind of proclamation. We discussed it, in the Palace, last week, didn’t we?
Courtiers all cough and look down as he scans the room. Duke continues.
Duke: You know, minimum pricing. Restrict the things. Five shillings a Triffid or no Triffids at all. You must remember?
King, still looking embarrassed: Really? Why would we do something like that?
Duke: Surely you remember it? The Lord Privy Seal was complaining about all the dead bodies. Terrible stench, he said, from Houndsditch.
Duke: The Earl of Northumberland said that he couldn’t even leave his own castle. Triffids everywhere, he said. Overrun the grounds. His own wife and children bitten the day before. Streets no longer safe.
The King just frowns.
Duke: You must remember that fellow from St Bartholomew’s, your majesty. He came in and started on about how he didn’t have room to treat all the victims any more. He wouldn’t stop, even when you asked him to.
King: Oh yes, I remember him. Stopped when we cut off his head, though, didn’t he?
Duke, looking cross: Yes, he did, but what about the report?
Duke: Yes, yes, the scientists. They had numbers, they said. They could prove it all. Increasing the price of Triffids would reduce cases of Triffid bites. Surely you remember that?
King: Oh, reports, numbers, I can’t keep track of all those things.
Duke, starting to sound quite angry: Well, in any event, your majesty, I was under the firm impression that you had agreed to issue a Minimum Pricing Proclamation. To keep the Triffids off the streets.
The King looks to his courtiers. The Lord Chancellor steps to his aid.
Lord Chancellor, smoothly: Yes, Duke, yes, that was discussed, it’s true, but there have been developments since then.
Duke, suspicious: Developments?
Lord Chancellor: Yes, Duke. Those reports, those numbers. Apparently the studies were questionable. The scientists couldn’t be trusted.
Duke: They couldn’t?
Lord Chancellor: No. One of them said he could thought maybe he could cure the Triffid bite with some herbs. Didn’t look right. Smelled horrible. So we burned them, just to be on the safe side.
Duke: The herbs?
Lord Chancellor: No, the scientists. And then, well, we were talking about it, the King and I [he smiles ingratiatingly at the King], and we thought, really, shouldn’t it be up to the people if they want to buy a Triffid or two? I mean, an Englishman’s garden is his castle, after all. Unless he’s the Earl of Northumberland.
Duke: I thought we’d been through this argument. The people need a guiding hand, all that, remember?
Lord Chancellor: Yes, yes, but what with the questionable study, and, you know, we’re in the middle of a hundred-year recession. Why shouldn’t your hardworking blacksmith or peasant be able to pretty things up at the end of the week with a Triffid or two?
Duke: But what about the danger? Those things are lethal.
Lord Chancellor: Horses are lethal, but we haven’t banned them, Duke. [General laughter]. I think his majesty’s subjects are responsible enough to look after their own Triffids, don’t you?
Duke, looking around for help and finding none, addressing the King again, and starting to sound desperate: I don’t understand. How could you have changed your mind so suddenly?
King: Well, Duke, it’s not just all that stuff old Chance just said, is it? I mean, think of the revenue we get from those Triffids.
The prisoner is smiling and nodding.
Lord Privy Seal, who has been keeping one ear on the conversation whilst carefully watering his bonsai: It’s true, Duke. I’ve changed my mind on the Triffids now the bodies have been cleared up. And the duty we get from Triffid sales pays for nearly half of the refugee camps in Cornwall.
Duke: But the refugee camps wouldn’t be needed at all if the Triffids hadn’t taken over the county!
King: I’m sorry, Duke. That’s what we’ve decided, and that’s that.
The Duke continues to look around, hoping someone in Court will come to his rescue. No one meets his gaze. The prisoner continues to smile and nod. The Lord Privy Seal smiles back, and this is noticed by the Duke, whose eyes narrow as he spots the bonsai and continues to scan the room. At last, his eyes light on something behind the King, and the look of suspicion is replaced by one of dawning comprehension.
Duke: Excuse me, your majesty, but I couldn’t help noticing the beautiful new plants there behind the throne.
King: Eh? What’s that? Nothing there. Nonsense.
Duke: Yes, yes, there they are, I see them. Do you mind?
And with surprising ease, he lifts the throne, King and all, and places them down again a few inches to the left. The throne is, of course, made of cardboard painted gold, the original having been sold by the previous Lord Chancellor at an embarrassingly low price. Now the throne has been moved, hundreds of pot plants can be seen and the prisoner is looking down at his own feet.
King: Those old things? No, no, had them for ages.
Duke: And what about these?
He steps nimbly behind the Lord Chancellor and re-emerges bearing yet more foliage.
Lord Chancellor: Those poinsettias aren’t mine. They’re my wife’s. She bought them. It was her. I’m just looking after them for her.
Duke: I can see what’s happening here. And to think I defended you when everyone said you were in the pocket of the global Triffid industry. It’s a disgrace!
The King has made a subtle signal to his guards and the outraged cries of the Duke fade to nothing as he is carried off to the tower. Calm returns to the Court.
Lord Chancellor: Now, hopefully, we can proceed with today’s business. Regulation of the Town Criers. There’s outrage at the liberties they’ve been taking with the truth and a lot of people would like something done about it, some laws passed, a message sent out.
King: Oh, I don’t think we need to bother with that, do we? I’ll just issue a Royal Charter. There it is. Town Criers have to be nice. If a Town Crier isn’t nice, some other Town Crier can decide what to do with him. That should solve the problem, shouldn’t it?
All: Yes, your majesty.
The court falls back into contemplative silence as the sun continues to beat down. In the distance, Town Criers can be heard, calling out in unison:
Town Criers: Divine Right of King Finally Proven! Don’t Try Anything Or God Will Get You! Long Live His Merciful Ineffable and Most Magnificent Majesty!