EU Horsemeat Scandal

With the revelation that much of the horsemeat that has come onto the EU market originated in Ireland, it only seems reasonable to again speculate about the fate of Shergar in 1983. It is rumoured that certain fast-food joints have collaborated to create a secret breeding program over the last few decades, the aim of which is to create the finest genetic material to ever have been inserted into a bun for human consumption.

The so-called “Shergar burger” is the real deal. You will be able to find it at participating restaurants, but not furlong since many EU ministers feel it behooves us to treat horses with more respect. The French representatives were however oddly silent on the matter.

If your digestive system is not accustomed to the particular nature of equine delicacies you may wish to proceed with caution and just try an appetizer sized portion first of all. Some newcomers report that eating it as a mane has given them the trots.

 

P.S. Please don’t eq-whine about this article. I love horses along with all other animals – whether in buns or in their natural habitats.

The Voyager’s Twins – Part IV

Read Part I First

Read Part II

Read Part III

 

It was a clear day, in complete contrast to the gloom in which Thomas had arrived at the castle a full ten days earlier. After awaking he had eaten the remainder of the bread and curds that had been delivered by the guard the previous evening. Now he sat at the table. A shaft of early morning sunlight angled through the open door and cast long shadows of the pieces across the chequered squares. Picking up the white queen Thomas spun it thoughtfully between his thumb and forefinger before replacing it on the board.

He faintly heard the sound of the elevator being wound up from ground level.

“Are you ready for the show Thomas?” he heard Lord Vitan call, and moments later his form appeared at the entrance.

“I am, sire” he replied.

Once Thomas had joined him Vitan barked an order to the operators below. The platform began to climb once more.

It took Thomas some time to adjust to the bright morning light and to appreciate just how far it was possible to see from this elevation. The town, the forest, the river that snaked away towards the horizon, the distant mountains that bordered the district – they all took on a sharp clarity that was almost unreal. A cold wind blew, and became more pronounced as they ascended.

“Your machine looks the part,” said Vitan. “I believe you might just convince our king that his quest is over. ”

“At the cost of one of my sons,” said Thomas continuing to stare toward the horizon.

“There was no alternative. I am personally glad you came to appreciate that. To conceive of a device that would impress the king and take the matter from your hands and leave it in the lap of fate though – you have done all you could.”

“He will be impressed only if you follow the instructions I gave to the letter. The fire must be seen to create essence, and the sheet will be subject to the laws beyond our control. The dark portion will point to one of my sons, but only at the whims of nature.”

“Some might say the laws of the divine,” said Vitan. “The king must indeed believe so.”

They were reaching the top of the wall. Stepping between the crenulations they walked onto the large flat tower summit. The machine that Thomas had designed on parchment had been accurately built by the king’s engineers, and stood on one side of the roof. A large padded seat had been placed a distance away but facing it.

“The King of course desires to witness the method of these proceedings first hand,” said Vitan “So for all our sakes I hope it looks convincing.”

As he was speaking a second elevator could be heard ascending, and shortly thereafter the guard appeared above the wall with his beloved boys. They were unrestrained and Thomas rushed to meet them at the centre of the roof. As the three of them embraced Thomas knew that his opportunity to pass on any instructions would be limited. He quickly pulled them close and simply whispered softly and clearly “Trust me.”

“That is all for now,” barked Vitan. “We need to be ready for the King. He will not want to wait. Guards.”

They moved in and separated Thomas from the boys.

“You will stand here with us,” Vitan said to Thomas. Then to the guards “Place the boys in our machine.”

The third elevator arrived at that point carrying the king dressed in royal hunting livery. He strode onto the roof followed by the chief lieutenant, armed with a sheathed long sword at his side.

“We have a fine morning for our trial,” observed the king as he seated himself. “I trust the arrangements will be bear the fruit we seek, and thus shall our kingdom be quickly secured that we may once more enjoy our sleep.”

There was an edge to his voice intimating that there would consequences if things turned out otherwise.

Vitan and the guards began the proceedings just as Thomas had outlined. The boys were placed facing each other in the machine on two enclosed seats woven from wicker. Slightly above head height a large copper furnace was suspended securely by a framework of iron rods connected to the seating. The craftsmen had done a fine job in following the instructions.

“My lord the King,” began Vitan. “As you know this man has made the confession that one of his offspring is undoubtedly the boy you seek. It was revealed to him in a vision after the death of their mother. Although he knows not which boy is the one, he was informed that the answer could be divined by fire and spirit. My machine will collect the true essence of the parties on trial, and reveal itself. Let us proceed.”

He motioned to the operator who took the burning torch and touched the flame to the top of the copper bulb. The furnace instantly came to life, burning with a blue flame that was bright enough to be seen even against the clear sky.

“Now you must capture the essence,” said Thomas softly to Vitan.

“Pull the ropes and capture the essence” called Vitan to the operator, who did as he was bid. As the ropes were pulled a sheet like structure quickly extended over the top of the machine. Just as quickly it began to change form as the heat from the furnace pushed underneath, and the securing cords pulled the edges tighter together. One portion of the sheet had been dyed with a dark design which seemed to move of its own accord as both the heat and wind began to interact.

The king excitedly rose to his feet. “I see the essence – it’s taking form …”

As the center of the sheet rose the dark and light shades momentarily billowed above the seated boys, then suddenly the whole cloth became taut, standing tall like a large egg and the entire machine began to rise. The operator made a desperate but vain grab for it. Thomas’s design had ensured that there would be nothing to hold onto once the machine was even a man’s height in the air. Lord Vitan quickly paled, and began to run toward the ascending machine, but by the time he got there the basket and its passengers were safely airborne.

The king stood speechless. As the whole party watched the balloon float quickly away on the morning winds his face gradually turned a deep and angry colour.

_________________________________________

The guards had been ordered to secure both Vitan and Thomas, and for want of any specific instructions had escorted the pair back to Thomas’s quarters.

Vitan had an air of defeat about him. “You outplayed us,” he admitted bitterly. “And now we are both destined for the gallows.”

He stared at the chess board. One piece had moved from it’s original position. When Thomas had replaced the queen that morning he had positioned it to make it a third target for the black knight.

“Ah,” said Vitan “It seems that your rooks are safe after all. The sacrifice of the queen is a rare strategic move indeed.”

Thomas breathed a long sigh. It was relief. There was nothing to say to Vitan. The king would stop killing innocent twins now that he believed he knew the identity of the sage’s prediction. He would try to track the boys, but they were resourceful, they had Thomas’s blood. With the enemy fully revealed, their own voyages could keep them safe now.

 

— END —

The Voyager’s Twins – Part III

Read Part I

Read Part II

 

The persistent drizzle of rain was like a fog the day they arrived at the capital. The gates of the city rose as a dark mass from the gloom.

There were few people in the streets to acknowledge this passing band, and the glances of those present held little interest. Perhaps this was another woodland thief or political troublemaker. The gallows would present a more interesting spectacle, and time if not justice would most likely place this stranger there.

The castle was set on the most elevated site in the city. The central keep and its prominent tower was at least twice the height of any man-made structure that Thomas had previously encountered. On this day it simply disappeared into the mist.

As they approached the entrance arch Thomas scanned the castle walls for information. It was likely too early to observe anything that could tell him about his sons, but if there was any chance of escape later he would need to remember the distance of fall from the few narrow windows further up the wall, the potential handholds in the stone work – anything that might make the difference between escape and death in a pursuit.

They rode inside and the lieutenant signalled for Thomas to dismount. They were in a large courtyard area, with sufficient space to hold a town market. However it was readily apparent that petty trading was not the regular business of this area. The beamed, weathered structure of a hangman’s gallows stood tall and prominent to the west side of the yard.

To the north rose the sheer face of the castle tower, and Thomas noted a fenced platform at the base, large enough for perhaps a half-dozen men.

After a brief wait a door opened at the base of the tower, and a smallish man emerged dressed in woollen tunic, belted at the waist and embroidered around the hem and sleeves. A man of some import it would appear. Striding forward he stopped before Thomas and spoke in a somewhat cold tone.

“I am Lord Vitan,” the man introduced himself. “Chief advisor to the king.”

Thomas gave a respectful bow, suppressing the urge to demand information about his sons. He sensed that he would find out just as quickly by remaining passive.

“Follow me,” said Vitan, walking over to the fenced platform.

As they approached Thomas saw that there was more to the arrangement than was at first apparent. The poor visibility today had obscured the rig of ascending struts, the vertical rails that were secured against the tower walls, and the rope that ran upwards from an interconnected series of toothed wheels, the largest of which had two handles extending beyond the perimeter.

“Please step on,” said Vitan with an air of civility that Thomas observed with deep mistrust. “I think you will appreciate our ingenuity. I am given to understand that you have some skills in designing machines yourself.”

It was true that Thomas was something of an inventor. He had been well taught as a craftsman by his father, and had a mind for new concepts.

Once the two of them were on the platform Vitan gestured to the guards at the large wheel. Stepping forward they each grasped one of the handles and leaning forward began to push in opposite directions around the wheel.

As they pushed Thomas felt a shudder underfoot as the platform lifted laboriously from the ground. At the height of three arms length or so the pace began to quicken as the men gained momentum.

“I must inform you that I presently have control over the lives of your sons,” said Vitan.

It was clear that this platform was going to keep rising and that Vitan was making a simple insurance against any wild attempt by Thomas to throw him overboard. Perhaps it was possible that a man limited in forward thinking would in rage make such an error. Once the platform had been raised ten times the height of a man it would have been a simple matter to send this slighter man to his doom.

Thomas looked down and saw that the ground was now disappearing into the mist. He could hold the question no longer. “Where are my sons?” he asked.

“Above us,” said Vitan. “But for now we will not be going quite that high. ”

They were drawing level with a pair of doors set into the wall. Vitan pushed them open.

“This will be your quarters for now. Please step inside.” said Vitan.

Thomas did as he was bid and found himself in a room of moderate size with a bed, a basin and a commode. What mostly drew his attention however was the chess table with two chairs. The design was quite simple, and the pieces appeared to be made from a type of stone. It seemed that a game was already in progress.

“Do you play?” asked Lord Vitan, following Thomas into the room.

“I understand the game my Lord.” Thomas replied.

“That most certainly is not an answer to the question. Understanding the game might mean that you simply know the rules. That does not make you a player. On the other hand to say you understand the game might make you much more than just a player. It might indicate that you are an excellent strategist. Which of these are you Thomas?” he gestured Thomas to take a seat, and the two of them sat down and faced each other over the table.

“In truth my Lord I am at neither extreme. I attempt to calculate a few moves ahead. However I do not count on much beyond two moves.”

Vitan leaned back. “I pride myself on a depth of three or four moves.” Then after a pause he said “Of course you will be aware that some men have been said to master this game to a depth of ten or more moves. Such an ability seems almost unnatural perhaps.”

Thomas nodded his agreement, aware that the conversation was being led in certain direction, but unclear as to what that might be.

“If a man predicts the final result of a chess game from the outset that would be a different matter, no?”

“There are only two players sire, and therefore two choices. It does not seem so great a feat.”

“But if such a man told you where the pieces would lie at the conclusion. What then?”

“It would not appear to be possible.”

Lord Vitan nodded. “Such a man would have to be more than just a deep thinker. He would require powers beyond that.” He looked intently at Thomas. “The king believes in the existence of such powers.”

This last statement was a sharp turn – an indication that light was perhaps about to be shed on this mystery.

Now Lord Vitan stood up and gazed thoughtfully out of the open door. “Let me tell you a story … ” he began.

“There was an old sage who used to attend the king’s court. It happens he was the finest chess player I had ever seen. The king was fascinated by the old mans mind. The sage thrived on the royal attention he received and began to assume, shall we say, certain airs. He evidently sensed his own ability to influence the king and began to exploit it. He had no apparent desire for the kings coin, and so his counsel came to be treated by the king as pure knowledge – as if from the gods themselves. When a man begins to desire nothing but to see his own name heralded by royalty, where does he stop? He knew his years were almost exhausted. There is no legacy in just having been a fine counsellor. We are only preserved in words and thoughts once the gods see fit to take us. A legendary man must leave legendary words if something extraordinary is to remain of him.”

“We are preserved by our kin,” countered Thomas. “They bear our name and carry our reputation when we are gone.” He could not but help think of how in this sense the twins were custodians of his Racael, and his longing to see them was becoming unbearable.

“The old sage had no kin,” said Vitan. “Words were all he could leave. He convinced the king that he saw a future as one might picture it on a chess board. He said it was not determined in an absolute sense since the king himself was one of the players. It intrigued the king and he thirsted to know more.

“‘Two will come forth from the same stock’ said the Sage. ‘One is dangerous. If it is not captured and cut down, it will devastate this kingdom and destroy the kingship.'”

Thomas absorbed this information. Two from the same stock – twins. His sons lives rested in the balance on account of the ambitions of a pretentious old soothsayer, and the gullibility of the most powerful man in the land. “But why mine?” said Thomas asking the most obvious and burning question.

Vitan offered a weary smile. “There is no particular reason to identify your children with this prediction of the sage. In the king’s mind every twinned offspring in the land is a potential assassin. We have been rigorous in our mission to gather them all for the king for many years now.”

“And what has happened to them?” Thomas asked hesitantly.

“In every case so far the king has made vague attempts to positively identify his would-be enemy. There is always some sort of trial held on the roof of our tower here – the securest area of our castle for obvious reasons. He believes that by making such attempts – all of which have failed up until now – he is justified in exercising his only alternative.”

“Which is?” said Thomas, already fearing the worst.

“Removing both pieces from the board of play,” said Vitan, shifting his gaze to the chess board before Thomas.

Thomas noted the layout of the pieces for the first time. The black knight was positioned so that both white rooks were in its sights – a classic fork. It appeared that at least one of the two could not avoid capture on the next move.

“There is another option,” said Vitan. “If the king could be convinced that he has found his nemesis, this could all be over. Not only would the second child be spared, but twin children throughout the kingdom would once again be safe. The king could be convinced by a parent that he has knowledge of this matter. If we give the king what he wants great good could be accomplished and the nonsense will end.”

Thomas looked up wearily “You are asking me to sacrifice one of my children sire.”

“No Thomas, I am asking you to save one of your children, and many more.”

He rose and stepped out through the doorway onto the platform outside. “I will permit you to sleep on the matter,” he said, his form slowly descending.

 

Continue to Part IV … 

The Voyager’s Twins – Part II

Read Part I

 

To bear twins at this time was a curse. The disappearance of children in general was not unheard of, but usually such cases were eventually explained – for better or worse. But twins vanished as if snatched by an unknown entity, never to be seen again.

While the dangerous gift changed everything for Thomas, a graver turn of events was to follow as if an apocalyptic horseman. Seven days after the twins were born, Racael developed a fever during the night, and was gone by morning. The speed with which she died hit Thomas as a palpable blow. Every ounce of physical and mental strength was instantly snatched from his being. After he realized what had occurred it would be several hours before the needy cries of his children would penetrate the paralysis of his senses.

From that moment a consuming void was created inside Thomas. Every attempt to rationalize, to reconcile, to recover, was instantly devoured. He knew that the beast lay within, but had no means to expel it. He sensed its anger and allowed it to feed. But when it salivated at the door of his own sons he began to sharpen his sword. The battle was decisive. A new creature emerged from within – also strong, angry and wilful – but unlike the first beast, this one had purpose. It had detected the maternal void, and was bent on filling it. The purpose gave it strength and agility. Instead of feeding on emotion and burning energy until it was spent, the new force inside Thomas focused on what needed to be accomplished. Now that he was without her it would be very difficult for him to conceal the presence of the infants. Had they been a little older perhaps things would have been different, but he could not work, feed and defend them all at the same time. His father had been a voyager for trade, and that was his childhood memory – a life at sea. Now he would become one again out of love for his children – a self-imposed fugitive. He sold the few possessions that might be worth something and found a an old trader at a nearby port who was ready to retire his sea legs, especially when offered a decent piece of land and comfortable home in exchange for his small cargo vessel.

Thomas hired periodic help for the first few years to care for the boys during their travels, but once they were past their eighth year they began to become helpers to him, proving themselves capable deck hands. When they were twelve they had the experience of travel and trade that most men would not gain until they had many more years. Their independence grew as well, and in one moment perhaps it was this independence that was their undoing.

Thomas had arranged a healthy trade at his home port after a long voyage. He was always reluctant to return here, but his knowledge of the area and people generally enabled him to find a somewhat better profit here than in most other ports. Besides, he could keep the twins below decks for the brief stopover and the danger would be negligible.

Did the twins leave the boat? Did they simply come up on deck for a while out of curiosity to see this homeland of which their father had long spoken? All Thomas knew is that when he returned after completing his transaction that day, the boys were gone and a small troop of soldiers was waiting for him in his cabin. Initially they bound and gagged him until his rage subsided. Then the chief lieutenant explained that he was to be escorted to the capital at first light the next day. He was told not to ask questions as none would be answered. He was told that any attempt to escape would endanger the lives of his sons. That was all he needed to know.

Continue to Part III …

The Voyager’s Twins – Part I

The journey had been hard. The band of travellers expected to reach the capital the following day, but it would be necessary to spend one more night in the cold and the rain.

Officially Thomas was a prisoner, but there was little need for him to be under guard. He willingly accompanied his escort because they would lead him to his sons. This was understood among the soldiers and he had been left to roam freely each of the six nights that they had set up camp on this journey. The chief lieutenant and leader of this mission had especially appreciated the compliance of his charge. It was enough to have the miserable winter weather to fight, without the additional challenge of a dangerous or recalcitrant man among his troop.

On this night Thomas would do as he had done each preceding night over the past week. He would try to anticipate what challenges might lie ahead and how to deal with them. Why had his sons been abducted? Their disappearance itself had not been a complete surprise. The moment that the midwife had looked up at him before cutting the cord between Racael and his firstborn he knew that there was another child, and with that there would be danger.

 

Continue to Part II …