Monday, 15 March 2010

All Yer Loyal Lads

I'm still polishing a political posting right now - buffing the excess spittle off it until it shines, basically - so here's a political song from the taverns of Charlbury, about a decade after The Deed of Katy Elflocks and two before Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland.

The song is somebody's attempt to solve a problem. The young King, the darling of the commons, has recently died of slipping on a suspicious banana-skin. His heavily pregnant Queen, the merchant-born and notoriously dull 'Cabbage-Caro', has skipped town under highly mysterious circumstances. She is also very popular with the lower sorts, towards whom her rich father is regularly accused of truckling and leniency. (His grandad started as a market-sweeper.) The next heir, who has declared himself Regent to the unborn King for lack of any other candidate, belongs to the aristocratic ultra faction, and is thought to hate and despise her.

Persons close to the Regency would really prefer the plebeian districts not to rise up in riot and rebellion at this point. One of them, who knows dodgy taverns better than most, is responsible for all kinds of rumours, and presently this. It is not so much sung as chanted and hooted, to the stamping of hobnail boots and the slamming of tankards on tables.

All Yer Loyal Lads

Big-Plumb Bob, where have you been?
Plugged a leak for a plump young queen.
"Big-Plumb Bob, my leak's still wet!
Hammer away, 'cos you ain't done yet!"
Grocer's daughter, one-two-three -
Big-Plumb Bob's done well by thee!

Ho there, Stephen Blackamoor!
Served my queen by her warehouse door.
"Lift those cloths and swing that wood!"
Humped her loads till I no more could.
Grocer's daughter, two-three-four -
Count on Stephen Blackamoor!

Lacy Lucy, why so flushed?
Dressed my queen, and she won't be rushed.
"Lacy Lucy, what to wear?
Strip me here and clip me there!"
Grocer's daughter, three-four-hand -
Maid will work when the man can't stand!

I'm as loyal as any man!
Give my queen the most I can!
I would serve her oh so proud!
She would praise my name aloud!
Grocer's daughter, one-two-three -
Handsome Hank's the man for thee!

The culprit is female, bi-tedious*, and passing as an exotic dusky foreigner. Unfortunately, she also thinks that 'solidarity' means 'not melting when Dorothy throws a bucket of water over me'.

* Seduced a girl because it was Wrong and she'll taste any drink once; found it kind of boring, and now only flirts with women occasionally to mess with their heads.

The vicious central implication - that Caro daren't give birth in the Palace, or while her husband was alive, since a black baby would too clearly not be his - does indeed switch minds off quite well. This tactic, appearing in one of the many abortive drafts to date of Crown of Foxfires, was the first thing to get me thinking about race in my previously all-white milieu.

It made perfect sense, in a place like Charlbury, that the docks quarter would turn out multi-racial. 'Southrons', in the world I might as well call Cassandria, are Mediterranean types: alt-Spaniards, alt-Greeks, alt-Arabs (the latter two nearly merged in most places). Beyond the wide, rich, worldly-wise, and supposedly decadent Southron civilization lies Melandra, where black people come from. This is uninformative desperation geography - it's like calling Morgander and all its neighbours Whitemansland, and noting this learnedly as the country of the white folks - but it passes for scholarship in the North, and I don't yet know any more myself. Nor do many of the small black and mixed-race minority in Charlbury, being native-born Morganders themselves with only sailors' tales of their ancestral homelands.

'Stephen Blackamoor' is a stock name but not a wholly opprobrious one - sort of like calling a Scot 'Jock', or an Irishman 'Paddy': fighting talk only in some contexts. The other stock name for a black man, 'Sebastian', has a diminutive 'Basti' which is as consciously offensive as 'Sambo'. Morgander has never known, and isn't really set up to understand, racial chattel slavery or anything like it, nor has it ever had overseas empires: its race relations are poisoned by little more than baseline xenophobia and rancid class dynamics. By the time we got into the Northdales boonies, where most of my tales are set, we might however have certain other issues, like, "Eek! Argh! Take that, foul troll!"

One of the things I discovered while turning these things over in my head is that to Prince Lucas, the arch-conservative, race really is pretty much transparent except as a marker for class. He honestly thinks he is of one race - namely, the Royal one with Gods' blood in its veins - with the Amir of Kazandry or a princess of Melandra; but he looks down with equal scorn on Stephen Blackamoor and Hodge Johnson alike. Actually, Stephen might have a better shot at persuading Lucas that he was really a king's son abducted by pirates, because in Lucas's world that sort of thing happens all the time, and he knows it hasn't happened to a Hodge. The man is actually so bigoted, he sometimes nearly comes out the other side.

With people who aren't Lucas, it's a bit uglier.

So far I only know of two notable black characters in this world: Black Mchachi, a female hero alongside or against whom Luke has mentioned fighting in his long exile (not necessarily a real Melandrian name; possibly somebody's Melandrizing blunder for Southron muchacha); and the redoubtable 'Black Berry' of the Red Vines Inn in Charlbury - Berenice Carver to officialdom, and Nicky to her actual friends. I don't know yet whether Nicky is somebody in one of the stories, or only one of those framing characters who help define the shape of them; but I have a strong idea of her, so I must need her for one thing or another. Often in these cases, it turns out not to be anything like what I think.

Experience suggests that I make no nosy inquiries until my need comes. I don't think people sing that song in her taproom, though.

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