A Very Neovian Election: Part One
Mayor Thumburt dipped the quill into the inkwell with reverential pride. The feather flew across the paper with ease, leaving the practiced and perfect signature behind.
Paperwork was the Mayor of Neovia’s favourite thing in the entire world. Under his expert supervision, the amount of the stuff floating around the town had doubled, and he was constantly looking for new ways to increase the load.
The green Bruce sat back happily and placed the stack of freshly signed papers in his out tray. There was a gentle knock on the door, and Reg poked his head around.
“It’s almost time, sir,” the young red Lupe announced quietly.
“I’ll be down shortly, Reginald,” he replied.
Reg disappeared back behind the door as Thumburt got to his feet and dressed himself in his old top hat and jacket. He chanced a glance down at the square outside the town hall. The crowds were gathered, waiting expectantly.
The Mayor examined himself one more time in his mirror before checking his pocket watch and leaving his office. Reg was waiting outside.
“It arrived as expected then?” the Mayor asked as they walked.
“Yes, late last night. Herman installed it just before dawn,” Reg told him.
The Lupe hadn’t officially been appointed to help Thumburt with his daily duties; he’d sort of just appeared at the town hall one day and worked his way in. He was nothing short of Thumburt’s personal assistant, and now the Mayor considered that perhaps there was the potential for more paperwork in officially appointing the boy.
“And the buffet?” the Mayor continued.
“The Crumpetmonger delivered it all early this morning, sir. Everything’s under control, sir; don’t worry,” Reg reassured him.
The Mayor glanced nervously at his assistant. Nothing ever went as planned in Neovia. There was always a curse or a zombie lurking around the corner, waiting to mess up the plans.
There’d been the whole mess with Mr. Krawley and the Spirit of Slumber soon after he’d been elected. Of course, the townspeople had made him a scapegoat for the thing, and the swamp witch had turned him into a Petpetpet.
Thankfully, he’d convinced her to reverse the spell, and the people had allowed him to return to his former post, largely because there was no one else willing to do it. The troubles hadn’t stopped, though. The Mayor had been constantly harassed by other members of the Haunted Woods since, and had narrowly avoided losing his position when he accidentally blew up a factory in the middle of the town a year and a half previously.
Thumburt needed friends, and that was what the day was all about. Dozens of foreign dignitaries were coming to sample the delights of the town. The tombstones had been polished, the weeds swept away, and a fixed grin plastered on the face of every single inhabitant.
But first, there was The Unveiling.
The town square had always been a bit plain as far as the Mayor was concerned. There was the well, but it was a boring grey affair that really didn’t impress anyone. Thumburt, in an effort to present the aura of someone who was improving and remodelling the town to the visitors, had commissioned a statue.
Crafted from bronze, it would depict the salvation of Neovia from the horrible curse of Mr. Krawley. Now, he would unveil it to the town, and hoped they would be suitably impressed. He’d prepared a speech, one he was very proud of.
Thumburt and Reg emerged into the mid-afternoon sun outside the town hall. It seemed the crowd contained almost everyone from the town; all decked out in their Sunday best.
The statue stood opposite the town hall, covered under a lavish gold sheet. As Thumburt took his place at the podium situated on the town hall’s steps, Reg rushed over to the statue. When it was time, he would remove the sheet and unveil the glorious metalwork to everyone.
Thumburt coughed and shuffled the papers on the podium. He chanced a glance to his left at the other people gathered on the steps. They were the ones that had saved Neovia.
There was Bruno, still horribly mutated by the Neovian curse, but dressed sharply, by his mother no doubt. Standing next to Bruno was the young girl, Gilly, who had been the adventurer that started it all. She’d gotten rid of her old red travelling cloak, and had invested in the finest dress Prigpants & Swolthy could make. Finally, standing on the end, looking very out of place, was the swamp witch, Sophie. She had refused to dress up for the occasion and still wore her torn and mouldy old dress and hat. Unlike Bruno and Gilly who were smiling broadly, Sophie still wore her permanent scowl.
She couldn’t fool Thumburt, though. He knew that secretly, she was smiling with pride inside.
“People of Neovia, welcome!” Thumburt began. “Today, we celebrate and acknowledge the peril undertaken by those who saved our town. Today, we will make sure that future generations never forget their courage. Today, we honour our heroes!”
There was mixed clapping, not the cheers Thumburt had imagined when he’d written the speech. They sounded almost unsure, as if they were not deeply inspired by the words. Thumburt glanced down at the pages of the speech, and then back to the faces in the crowd.
They looked disgruntled, and Thumburt could tell that a long speech would only make matters worse.
“Yes... well... Reginald, if you would,” he said, nodding to the Lupe.
Reg tugged at the sheet and it slid forwards, revealing the gleaming bronze statue beneath.
It depicted Sophie, Bruno, and Gilly surrounded by tombstones, holding a potion high in the air. Thumburt had been reliably informed by Reg that the title was ‘Against All Odds’.
Thumburt heard the quiet huff from Sophie; undoubtedly she considered that it did not capture her likeness at all. The Mayor had to agree; in the statue, she was smiling.
“You are all invited to a celebration at the town hall tonight!” Thumburt added.
Muttering under their breath, the crowd dispersed.
“I got up for that?”
“Wasn’t even a velvet sheet... can’t do a proper unveiling without a velvet sheet...”
“Well, what do you expect with him in charge?”
Thumburt didn’t understand. He’d heard that when Princess Amira spoke to her people, they cheered so hard that rubble fell off the Gebmids. When the Emperor of Shenkuu made a speech, entire volumes were written about his wisdom. Yet here Thumburt was, writing what he thought to be incredibly inspirational speeches, and he got nothing.
Reg scuttled back towards the Mayor.
“What did I say wrong?” Thumburt asked.
“Nothing at all, sir, it was a very good speech,” Reg replied without missing a beat. “You are just unappreciated in your own time, sir.”
Thumburt brightened slightly.
“Is the grub ready yet?” Sophie asked impatiently from the steps.
“Yes... yes, the delegations will be arriving soon; we’d best get the town hall ready,” he replied.
“...and so you see, the stock broker had the fish in his briefcase the entire time!” the Sultan laughed.
He was joined by the laughter of the group of diplomats surrounding him.
“Oh, Volsan, you are just the living end!” a rich Meridell Ixi by the name of Lady Cambridge exclaimed.
“I can safely say, he never tried to open a window in the royal city again!” Volsan, the Yurble from the Lost Desert, added.
There was another round of laughter. Among diplomats, Volsan was known to tell some of the best anecdotes.
Nearby, Reg and Thumburt stood by the buffet talking to Mr. Jennings, a businessman from Neopia Central.
“The thing about a good buffet is the presence of mini sausage rolls. They are the heart of the meal... without them; all you really have is quiche and open topped sandwiches. And really... who likes them, at the end of the day?” Jennings considered, closely examining a sausage roll through his beady Krawk eyes.
Thumburt and Reg exchanged slightly nonplussed looks.
“My compliments to the chef,” Jennings said eventually as he tossed the sausage roll into his mouth. “I see Neovia going places.”
Thumburt positively beamed.
“Sausage roll exports?” Reg asked.
“No, no...” Jennings laughed. “Think of Neovia as a buffet, one which the entire world will sample. Everyone will try the frilly little things like being chased through the woods by zombies, or having their palm read by gypsies – your open topped sandwiches, as it were, but the presence of your sausage roll keeps those sampling the buffet happy.”
Neither Thumburt nor Reg were sure they followed.
“What is our sausage roll?” Thumburt asked eventually.
“A very good question, my dear Mayor...” Jennings said as he led Thumburt over to the window of the town hall’s function room. “What is the quintessential thing about Neovia? The answer is obvious; spooks without the spooking.”
“Pardon?” Thumburt asked.
“You can go and stay in any part of the Haunted Woods and be scared witless...” Jennings continued. “But here in Neovia, there is relative safety. Here, you can sample fine lodgings and exquisite cuisine at your own convenience, while venturing out into the woods if you feel braver. Neovia is a bastion of peace in an otherwise chaotic land. This is your sausage roll. Never lose it... or all you will be left with is quiche.”
“Yes...” Thumburt replied, aware he’d been told something both profound and confusing. “Have you seen our new statue?”
The Mayor pointed out of the window at the bronze statue gleaming in the moonlight outside.
“Yes, a work by Master Oldnose, if I’m not mistaken?” Jennings said, squinting at the statue.
“You are familiar with his work?” Thumburt asked eagerly.
“Oh yes,” Jennings said modestly. “Oldnose was once trained as the apprentice of Alvare Thornpipe, the late great sorcerer who designed the Qasalan Expellibox. For some reason, Oldnose went into sculpture, but he never lost his master’s artistic flare.”
Thumburt swallowed hard.
“Indeed, will you excuse us one moment?” he said, grabbing Reg by the arm and escorting him off to a secluded corner.
“What’s the matter?” Reg asked as he was deposited behind a rather large pot plant.
“Why did you choose Oldnose?” Thumburt asked urgently.
“He’s a respected artisan in the deep woods,” Reg answered truthfully.
“When I instructed you to commission a statue, did I not make it absolutely clear that nothing must go wrong with it?” Thumburt asked.
“Yes,” Reg replied.
“Then what possessed you to hire the former apprentice of Alvare Thornpipe, one of the looniest sorcerers there has ever been?” Thumburt questioned. “He designed the Expellibox with pipes that don’t actually exist, so I’m told! Just before he passed away, he was talking to his own eyebrows! Oldnose inherited his artistic flare! And he lives in the deep woods! The haunted, magically charged deep woods! How did you ever think this would be a good idea?”
“Just because he used to work for a madman doesn’t mean he produces bad statues, sir,” Reg explained. “Everyone seems very impressed with it.”
“He didn’t work for a madman... if he did, that’d be bearable. He worked for a wizard... and wizards are loony; everyone knows that! Wizards never do things properly! Things happen!” Thumburt hissed.
“What kinds of things?” Reg asked.
There was a crash from outside, and a shrill scream.
“I say,” Volsan the Lost Desert ambassador exclaimed. “That statue is moving!”
“These kinds of things,” Thumburt told the Lupe.
To be continued...