(THE SCENE: WTFN’s award-winning Saturday morning children’s show, Storytime. The set is full of the sounds of children engaged in carefree play: building, drawing and running. When storylady Sasha enters, book in hand, a bouncy theme song starts up and the happy children run to the story area. Sasha sits down on large cushion in the middle and the children are seated on smaller cushions in an arc in front of her.front. The music dies down.)
SASHA: “Ready for another story, boys and girls?”
ALL CHILDREN: “Yeah!!!”
SASHA: “Do you all remember our last story?”
KATE (age 8): “We sure do! It was great!”
TRISTAN (age 6): “Vassal King Stephen sure got what he deserved!”
SASHA: “Yes, he did. That’s because he fell victim to hubris.”
ELAINE (age 8): “Who is Hugh Briss? I don’t remember him.”
SASHA: “Hubris isn’t a person, Elaine. It’s a word that means, well, thinking that you’re more important and powerful than you really are. Vassal King Stephen thought he could betray the people of Ovella and get away with it, but they showed him!”
TRISTAN: “What story do you have for us this time?”
SASHA: “As it turns out, it’s another story of hubris called The Emperor’s Speech.”
DINA (age 9): “Is that the same emperor as last time?”
SASHA: “Yes, and this takes place soon after Vassal King Stephen returned to Ovella.
In the land across the sea, in the homeland of the empire, the emperor was pacing back and forth in his chamber. Despite the recent visit of his favourite vassal, King Stephen of Ovella, he was not at all happy. Plans to attack the empire’s neighbours were not going as well as he had hoped. The emperor needed soldiers from Murrica, the empire‘s oldest and most important vassal state, but its king, Barack I, was refusing to co-operate.…”
DAVID (age 10): “Why does the emperor need the Murricans? Doesn't he have his own army?”
SASHA: “Indeed he does, David, and it’s a powerful army, but the emperor prefers to risk the lives of his vassal subjects. You see, the people of the imperial homeland, the Zyonis, believe the lives of other people are not worth as much as theirs. ‘The lives of 10,000 Filistans are not worth the finger of one Zyoni,’ they say. So, they force others to fight their battles because…”
ELAINE (age 8): “…they’re full of hubris?”
SASHA: “Yes, Elaine, and nobody is more full of hubris than the emperor.…
The emperor called in his war council and demanded an explanation. ‘Yinon, as the empire’s master strategist for perpetual war, what is going on in Murrica? Why is my vassal king not preparing for war against the Damascenes and the Tehranis as I instructed?’ the emperor asked angrily as he stared out the window of his chamber.
‘King Barack is facing great opposition, your Eminence,’ said Yinon. ‘The Murricans have sufferered greatly fighting wars for Zyon over the last 30 years and the country is bankrupt— morally, politically and financially. Barack has, I fear, become sympathetic to the people’s resistence to further bloodshed. Deaths from suicide among the vassal soldiery have even surpassed those from combat.’
‘And that means what to me!?’ exclaimed he emperor impatienrly. ‘They die for the empire if I wish it. This Murrican disobedience has got to stop! Barack threatened to shoot down imperial planes if I launched an attack on the Tehranis to stop their new power industry. What impudence!’ Who does he think he is: my equal?!’
The emperor, having turned red in the face, begins to calm down. ‘Why can’t all my vassal kings be like Stephen of Ovella. He knows how to deal with domestic critics and censor criticism of the empire, and he knows his place.’
Across the council chamber the emperor sees a messenger standing in the doorway holding a sealed envelope. ‘Well, what is it?’ asked the emperor.
‘A m-m-mmessage from Murrica for his Imperial Magnificence,’ the messenger stammered. Yinon takes the envelope and brings it to the emperor. He breaks the seal and reads it. As he does, a beaming smile comes over his face. He reads it aloud from the beginning:
To His Grand High Exalted Imperial Magnificence, Emperor of Murrica, Embodiment of Our Faith:
Greetings from your loyal subjects from across the Great Ocean.
We, who share your values, are in crisis and humbly request your assistance. As You are aware, King Barack, in willful disregard of imperial edict, is frustrating our plans to attack the Tehranis as you have commanded. Barack has fallen under the spell of the government’s domestic Murrican faction, which believes in negotiations and peace. If this peace offensive succeeds, the time for attack may be lost.
Therefore, on my authority as Lord High Chancellor of the Great Chamber, I formally invite Your Imperial Magnificence to come to Murrica to speak to the lords assembled on the necessity of war at any and all cost. Only in this way can we hope to stiffen the spines of certain members of the Domesticrat faction and put King Barack in his place.
We, who live to serve you, anxiously await your reply.
Your loyal servant,
(Gasps and uncontrolled tittering erupt.)
ELAINE (age 8): “You said boner!”
SASHA: “Oh dear, so I did!...Calm down children. It’s not the same word. His name is spelled differently: B-O-E-H-N-E-R.”
TRISTAN: “I bet Lord Boner makes a lot of mistakes?” (more laughter)
SASHA: “Well, that’s one way to look at it: ‘To pull a boner’ means to make a mistake.”
DAVID (age 10): “Especially in public because you can get arrested. My Uncle Frank….”
SASHA (getting a bit flustered herself): “Alright, that’s enough, David Let‘s all calm down...What do you think children? Did Lord Boehner (giggles and squeals)… make a mistake by inviting the emperor?’
KATE: “I think he’ll get in trouble with King Barack and other Murricans.”
DAVID (age 10): “Yes, I sense blowback.”
DINA: “Maybe he felt he had no choice.”
SAHSA: “Let’s see what happens…
The emperor went to his desk, wrote a short response, sealed it and handed it to the messenger. “Give this to Lord Boehner and convey to him a warm Imperial greeting. Tell him I am making plans to depart for Murrica immediately.”
Meanwhile, in Murrica, King Barack and his Domesticrat supporters were furious. The invitation to the emperor was done behind their backs, which was supremely disloyal.
‘Who does that upstart Boehner think he is—my equal!’ said King Barack to his chief advisor.
‘The invitation has caused a split among your supporters, your majesty. The emperor wields great power in the Great Chamber, and many are afraid to stand with you.’
‘Big surprise. The emperor owns it. It might as well be called “imperial occupied territory.” How am I supposed to govern when the Great Chamber is overwhelmingly disloyal to me?’
‘All is not lost, though, sire. Almost 60 lords say they will show support for you by boycotting the speech.’
‘Is that all?!…’”
DINA: “What’s boycotting?”
SASHA: “It means refusing to deal with another person because you feel it is morally wrong, and hoping others follow your example.”
DINA: “Can I boycott French class because I think it is morally wrong?”
SASHA: “No, Dina.…
‘Yes, but the numbers are not so important. This speech might end up helping you by making Lord Boehner look treasonous,’ said the advisor.
‘Yes, it would, and it might give me leverage against those who have dual loyalties and think they can undermine my rule. I think the emperor and his agents have blundered.’…”
ELAINE: “What does blunder mean?”
SASHA: “It means to do something very stupid because you weren’t paying attention.”
TRISTAN: “Pulling a Boehner—B-O-E-H-N-E-R!!”
SASHA: “Very clever, Tristan!…
On the morning of the emperor’s speech, tension filled the air in the Murrican capital of Washingtelaviv. The lords gathered around the opening to the Great Chamber to greet the emperor as if he were their king. Some were there enthusiastically, but many were afraid the emperor’s agents would punish them if they didn't come. Two of the emperor’s most loyal lords, McCain and Graham, were given the honour of holding the emperor’s robe as he entered the chamber to tumultuous applause. It was impossible to separate King Barack’s Domesticrats from the emperor’s Impericons. The loyalty of the Murrican lords was plain for all to see, except for the 60 that refused to betray King Barack. They were ashamed of the other lords’ obsequious groveling.
ELAINE: “What’s ‘squeakiest gravelling?’”
SASHA: “‘Obsequious groveling.’ It means, uh… ‘really obvious sucking up!’”
ELAINE: “Like trying to be teacher’s pet!”
SASHA: “Only much more humiliating… (laughter)
After the emperor ascended the podium, an aide brought the Chest of Vassalage so that Lord McConnell could slip on the kneepads to perform the ritual act of homage on behalf of all the lords present so that the speech could start. Once the ceremony was over, the emperor approached the podium and gave a subtle nod to Lord Boehner who was seated behind him. The excited lords took their seats and eagerly awaited the emperor’s speech. He began:
My loyal lords, I come to speak at the behest of Lord Boehner because he perceives a danger to Murrica, and a danger to Murrica is a danger to the empire. Your king, though he be a good man and has done much for the empire behind the scenes, has fallen under the spell of the evil Tehranis.
The Tehranis will always be enemies of Murrica. They are evil and have proven time and again that they cannot be trusted. They have proclaimed their desire to annihilate the imperial homeland and the Zyonis who live there. Now, these evil ones are developing a new weapon, one of such great destructive force, and anything that could rival the empire’s power cannot be allowed to exist.
I tell you that the Tehranis are well on their way to achieving their goal, and that King Barack’s support for negotiations over pre-emptive war shows a foolish preoccupation with reason over reaction. This is not the time to think; this is the time to act, and when the empire calls its people to action, it expects results. To fail to attack the Tehranis shows that we lack the will to stop their weapon and their scheme to establish a Tehrani religious state.
Refusal to come to the defence of the empire’s right to exist will not be tolerated. It is nothing less than anti-Zyonism. The people of the imperial homeland have suffered much, and we swore that after the Great Deathening that it would never happen again.
Loyal lords, your emperor needs you. The Zyonis need you. God needs you. You are the real strength of Murrica. You are the ones who will have to show King Barack the error of his foolish pride and narrow vision. You must build him up so that we can take the empire’s enemies down.
Thank you, and may the empire smile upon you always.
“The Great Chamber erupted in vigorous, sustained applause. In fact, the lords applauded the emperor 26 times. No Murrican king had ever received so many ovations.”
DAVID: “Did the Murricans attack the Tehranis as the emperor commanded?”
KATE: “Did King Barack have to run away?”
SASHA: “We’re almost at the end….
Across from the Great Chamber, King Barack was alone in the study of his royal palace when Lord Sanders entered. ‘Your majesty, the emperor’s speech is over, and he is leaving for the imperial home world. I cannot tell you how disgusted I am at the gross disloyalty of people I thought were proud Murricans!’
King Barack walks over to the sideboard and pours himself a glass of wine. A smile comes over his face. Lord Sanders notices.
‘Why are you smiling, majesty? The Great Chamber has committed treason!’
‘Yes it has, and how do you think the Murrican people will react to their lords betraying their king?’ said the king as he slowly swirled the red wine he poured into his glass and walked over to the window overlooking the Royal Rose Garden. ‘Who do you think is the real winner here, Lord Sanders? The emperor? The emperor had nothing to gain by repeating the same bloodthirsty hysteria the world has already rejected as propaganda.’
Lord Sanders starts to see the cause for optimism. He goes over to the sideboard to pour himself a glass of wine and join the king at the window. ‘Indeed,’ your majesty. ‘So who do you think this speech was supposed to benefit?’
‘Hard to say,’ Lord Sanders. ‘Not the Impericons, certainly. Regardless of how treasonous the Great Chamber may be, I decide if and when we attack, so on that score, the speech was a failure waiting to happen. All it did was expose the Impericons as traitors.’
‘Perhaps it was a way for the Impericons to help the emperor maintain his hold on power,’ said Lord Sanders.
‘Unlikely,’ said the king. ‘More than 10,000 Zyonis protested in the imperial capital against the emperor’s warmongering. In addition, rival factions of Zyoni overlords, fearing the end of the empire, are scheming to bring him down. The emperor’s own spy agency, The Decepticon, has even shown that the Tehranis pose no threat to the empire and cannot create a new weapon as the emperor claims. From that point of view, the speech was political suicide.’
‘So nobody benefited?’
“I did,’ said the king as he took a long drink of wine. ‘I have supported the empire with Murrican lives and money. I dutifully venerate the Cult of the Great Deathening even though anybody with half a brain knows it's an utter fraud. In short I am a loyal imperial subject, but I will not commit mass murder on the orders of a bloated, bombastic, bellicose buffoon. The arrogance of empire and the servile state of our Great Chamber were put on display as never before. The empire’s days in Murrica are numbered. Today was a good day.’…”
KATE: “That was a great story, Sasha!”
TRISTAN: “Yeah! It was good to see the vassal king win this time.”
SASHA: “But I'm not finished!”
DAVID: “It sounded like you were.”
SASHA: “There’s a epilogue.”
DINA: “What’s an epilogue?”
SASHA: “It’s a kind of conclusion, a way to finish up a story.”
ELAINE: “Is it long?.”
SASHA: “No it’s very short.…
Within days of the emperor’s speech, King Barack was proven right: the Impericons and the emperor had committed a great blunder, but they were so intoxicated with their own hubris that they could not perceive their own stupidity. The most slavishly loyal of them wrote an open letter to the Tehranis telling them that the Great Chamber would not respect any deal with the king because they said the Great Chamber was more powerful and that the king’s word was not authoritative.
The Tehranis laughed at the letter authors’ ridiculous claim that it could overrule the king, who speaks for all citizens. ‘This kind of letter is unprecedented and undiplomatic,’ said he Tehrani foreign minister. ‘In truth, it told us that we cannot trust Murrica.’ The Impericons had done more damage to themselves than they thought they had done to the king.
King Barack knew he had to act. He would never have a better opportunity to reassert his rule over the disloyal imperial lords. He drew up arrest warrants for all 47 of the lords who signed the letter. Over the next week, they were all caught or killed trying to escape. Some were dragged from their homes begging for forgiveness. Lord Boehner tried to flee to the imperial homeland disguised as a woman, but an alert Murrican recognized him and held him until the king’s marshalls could take him away.
The Impericon lords who did not sign were given a choice between swearing a loyalty oath to the king or being exiled and losing all their property. They all signed. The threat to Murrica from the emperor’s speech was over. Never again did the lords of the Great Chamber think they were more powerful than the king.”
SASHA: “Well, that’s all the time we have today, children.”
DAVID: “That was a great story, Sasha.”
KATE: “The emperor should have kept his mouth shut.”
SASHA: “Yes, he should have, but that’s what hubris does to you. It defeats you in the end. ”
(Theme music starts; Sasha stands up and the kids wave to her as she leaves the set. Credits roll; fade out)