Picture this scenario…
Nighttime slowly descends on a small town in feudal Europe many centuries ago.
The Castle sits at the centre, a once grand and imposing edifice built in the lost Golden Age of Charlemagne the Great, now looking rather seedy and careworn. Some tiles are missing here and there, an occasional window lacks its glazing, the passageways and formal gardens are unkempt and show signs of windswept, lacklustre care. The great defensive walls are festooned with ivy clinging to the crumbling mortar.
Immediately surrounding the Castle, closest to its paternalistic protection and important trade links, are the large elegant houses and shops of the better-off merchants and business owners of the town. A little further out are the smaller, less attractive homes of the artisans and small business owners who provide the town with most of the many unglamorous daily goods and services that keep the town clean and supplied with the foodstuffs and the other minor necessities of everyday life.
Beyond these houses are the hovels of the serfs and peasants, the daily labourers who provide the muscle that powers everything from the Castle’s kitchens and counting house to the below stairs chambermaids of the socially-anxious small business owners. The hovels also house those that sweep the streets of drunks, rowdies and dead dogs, clear away the night-soil and turn the middens which gently steam beyond the town boundaries.
Out further still, well downstream and downwind of the town, are the crude shelters of tree bark, sticks of wood and the unwanted detritus from the town, providing the desperate last refuge of those too ill, too embarrassing or too weak to be accepted any closer to the delicate visual and olfactory sensitivities of the inhabitants of the Castle.
The Castle sits ablaze with light, booming with the noise of people having a fine old time. Music blares, women shriek, men bellow with laughter and bonhomie. The occasional crash of rending furniture combines with the crack and tinkle of breaking glass. The smoke from the kitchen fires deep under the Castle’s ramparts, bearing with it the mouth-aching smells of roasting beef, suckling pig and the choicest condiments, wafts over and through a town bereft of light and warmth, turning already growling stomachs in those outer areas into ravening beasts of blunt torture.
The Party at the Castle began some eighteen years previously on the ascent to the manor of the present Lord. The old despotic lord of the Castle had been deposed and the new Lord (who imagined himself a King) had vowed to improve the lot of his people far beyond anything that which they had enjoyed under the evil lords of past times. In the warm afterglow of victory the new Lord and his allies in the palace coup had decided to have a small celebration to reward themselves and so had been born the Party.
At first relatively restrained and quite genteel, the Party proved to be popular with the trusted loyalist friends of the Lord, as they regularly patted themselves on their collective backs for having ascended to power in the small realm. The regular celebrations gradually became a something of a fixture just as important as the daily routine of officials going on their rounds seeing to the needs of their new subjects who, as yet unaware of the after-hours congratulatory sessions of their new masters, unreservedly cheered the senior and junior officials apparently so diligent in their endeavours to better the common folk.
After a time the Party became such an entrenched part of the lives of the Lord and his closest friends that it became an every night affair and even saw its extension into daylight and working hours. The work of the Lord and his retinue began to suffer as the costs of the Party began to exact an increasing toll. The Party required the finest of foods; the very best that the vintners could supply; the finest raiments of silk; the most splendid and fastest of carriages in which to bear the elite as they journeyed to and from their select gatherings; and elaborate protection of the partygoers so that their deserved celebrations could not be interrupted by the unwashed and uninvited.
After a while longer more and more of the lesser functionaries of the Lord’s staff began to clamour for inclusion in the select circle of partygoers. The Party began to assume a permanent and ongoing nature as the number of participants grew. The outer rooms of the Castle became increasingly crowded as the original guests restricted access to themselves in the inner rooms. The noise coming from the Castle became such that even those in the hovels and bark shelters far from the centre of the festivities could not properly sleep and prepare themselves for the next day’s work. The promised benefits from the new Lord’s rule began to suffer delays and distractions as the formerly conscientious officials juggled their social calendars revolving around the Party and struggled to overcome the effects of constant partying.
The Party was now a round-the-clock affair and much time was spent by the Lord and his officials in being present at the Party and being seen with the right people.
Entertaining all of the Lord’s friends and family became a major exercise that required increasing amounts of time and money in order to maintain the high levels of frivolity and indulgence. Staff of the Lord could gain more by attending the Party than by spending time away from it doing their jobs. The cost of keeping all the ox-waggons, laden with the best in fine and exotic delicacies and mellow wines, began to mount beyond the ability of the Lord’s Treasurer to keep pace.
Increasingly, the Treasurer had to resort to find inventive ways of taxing the Lord’s subjects sufficiently to maintain the lavish Party. The Lord kept a discrete silence when the tax collectors demanded more and more from the struggling peasants and small businessmen. He said nothing when some of the more desperate or opportunistic partygoers began to send their own private agents out to steal further funds from the peasantry for their own private gratifications. When, occasionally, the peasants and other townsfolk began to get a little uncomfortable about the increasing difficulties to which they were being subjected, the Lord would re-utter some of the promises of the past about improving the condition of the common man, mutter a few platitudes, and then retire again from view. Sometimes he spoke the words himself; sometimes he allowed his Court Jester to make these weighty pronouncements; and sometimes the town crier would be assigned the task of passing on the great man’s words.
In the meantime the Party continued unabated. Many of the guests no longer confined their merrymaking to the grounds of the Castle. Ofttimes they caroused in and around the town itself, flaunting their jewels and other finery before the trades people and serfs. Many was the time when they would race their splendid carriages through the mean, rutted streets of the town, demanding instant right-of-way, sometimes running down innocent wayfarers in the process.
As the Party grew even further the townsfolk began to grumble and complain that this situation seemed little different from the Old Days under the wicked lord before the new Lord’s promises. When the mutterings increased unceasingly, especially after the Lord and his Treasurer had announced a road toll of one groat (a week’s wages for many of the people) on the main road that all the townsfolk had to use every day, the Lord sought to prevent his people gathering together and sharing their grievances and to outlaw discussion of his Privy Council and its workings.
Eventually the townsfolk gathered the courage to try to speak together in their Speaking Chamber (where such matters should normally be resolved) in order to politely express their disquiet over how their once-loved Lord now extended his rule over them. Despite the disdain with which the Lord greeted their efforts, the people persisted and…
Sadly it is here that the tale ends, for no more is known of the outcome of the people’s anger and fear, nor is the fate of the Lord known. The records of that small realm have disappeared and all traces of the Lord and his retinue have disappeared in time.
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