The discomforts are plentiful: it’s dark of course, crowded too.
And it smells, like a dozen unwashed bodies. Pavel is limiting his breathing to avoid as much of the stench of armpits, stale breath, and the day-old feet of others, as possible.
Yet on this summer evening, above all the other indignities, today it is the heat that is most bothersome. It drains the strength from Pavel’s legs and makes his hair drip with sweat. They are still in the kitchen; their lid is only just sealed.
The trumpets are sounding, jovially announcing their glad intentions: Time to Join the Revelry!
The construction raises suddenly, awkwardly, unevenly. Pavel falls slightly forward. His arm shooting upwards to steady himself. His poor hand, dumb instinct, accidentally grasps the bare breast of one of the girls. She cannot see his blushes. He retracts his touch shamefully and mutters apologies. The girl brushes him aside, barely caring as she gazes upwards through slits of light.
They move towards the Great Hall among the sounds of cheering and laughing. Maniacal drums, and raucous fiddles. The progression is made in stops and starts. Inhuman snorts and low growling breaks through song and laughter.
They are placed on the floor. They crouch instinctively as they feel themselves lowered. The kitchen staff sounds a proud declaration from a trumpet. It is their cue. They crouch as the blunted knife slices them free. With cheers and giggling they emerge; cavorting, dancing.
Pavel hoists himself over the short wooden pen, careful not to catch his scrotum as he had done one painful time before. He cartwheels forward; chuckling as he goes.
Those at the high table erupted into gales of laughter and applause. Almost all of it false. The dwarf-pie routine was enacted at every wedding, every birthday, and most monthly meetings of The All-Drinking Jester Club of Jolly-Drunken Fools. Repetition had long killed any possible element of surprise, as well as the entertainment value in for the routine for just about everyone. Everyone of course but the only person who matters.
The Emperor is guffawing so hard it gives him hiccups. He places his goblet down and stands, gulping a deep breath of air and holding it awhile. Pavel sometimes forgets how tall the Emperor is; up close, he is a giant – nearly seven feet tall.
The Emperor’s attempt to hold his laughter is futile. Tears of mirth burst from his face. He takes a goblet from the table and approaches Pavel, hiccuping, laughing, crying, snotting.
Crouching before Pavel, the Emperor dips his fingers in the goblet. Speaking in broken Latin, he flicks liquid onto Pavel’s face in pantomime mockery of a baptism. The liquid is vodka, Pavel can smell it.
Despite the insult to his faith, Pavel laughs and claps.
The Emperor roars with laughter and takes the opportunity to flick Pavel’s penis. Then, done, he stands again. Other merriment has caught his capricious eye. Everything is for Him, all others are seconds at a time.
Leave the hall, now! Laughs the terrified Banquet Director, clapping.
They do so, still dancing. Around the Great Hall, naked girls are pouring wine, being pulled onto laps, having their bodies slapped and grabbed. Many guests have passed out on the floor. Guards patrol, shifting unconscious guests off their backs, unbuttoning shirts and removing neckties of unconscious guests, lest they choke on their vomit.
Strapped to a camel, the Bride and Groom are still led around the hall, visiting every table. The guests attempt to pour more wine and brandy down their throats with feigned enjoyment. The bride has passed out completely. She leans to the side, held up only by her straps. The groom is grey-green in complexion, his lapel covered in vomit. He is a close friend of the Emperor, a founding member of the All-Drinking Jester Club of Jolly-Drunken Fools. Any liquid that touches his mouth dribbles instantly outwards. Still, even in this state, the Groom does not dare refuse more drink, not in the presence of the Emperor.
A trainer is clapping to the music, poking a bear, making it dance. Next to him, at second stands with a pole and whip. Their expressions are blank and joyless as they provoke the beast.
The Banquet Director raises his hand and gestures to the left. Pavel and his troupe stand to the side. Another pie is being brought forth from the kitchen. The dwarves inside are wearing military uniforms. Their act is to stand to attention, salute, and recreate a march. The Emperor sometimes loves this, though not quite as often as he laughs at the naked cartwheels.
Once this pie passes, their group can exit the hall.
Pavel notices seven fresh heads displayed above the doorway. Different ones from yesterday. These ones were rumoured to be the bride’s former lovers.
Whoever they were, the Emperor had beheaded them personally.
The executions had closed the wedding ceremony.
An unexpected gift to the newly-weds.
Jake Kendall is currently studying his MSc in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. He pollutes the digital atmosphere @jakendallox.