Thursday, February 3, 2011

Idylls of the Vagrant King


The city of San Tiburon gives deference to a peculiar character, a vagrant who claims to be king of the New World. No one knows for certain how long he has occupied his hilly and often fog-cloaked capital; for certain it has been thirty years, but old-timers have difficulty recalling a time when they were without his shabby, yet regal presence. Many recollect some small, strange miracle associated with a chance meeting, or an off-hand but profound bit of wisdom he offered in passing which they've carried with them since.

The King of the Union, Protector of Borea, and Suzerain of Zingaro (as he styles himself, formally) is Josiah Pellam, a man of uncertain background. His diction and erudition suggest a significant level of education, but his accent is slippery and can’t be placed exactly. He’s often given to archaic and flowery speech which perhaps makes this all the more difficult. He dresses in cast-off clothing, but somehow manages to find well-decorated, second-hand uniforms from past decades, and styles his beard like an Ealderdish aristocrat from the same era. When he talks about his past, it is only in oblique references to the weightiness of crowns upon heads, and the tiresomeness of destiny.

He walks with a pronounced limp, favoring his right leg.. “An old wound,” he will say. "A dolorous stroke."

Even King Pellam’s admirers must admit that he’s quite mad. He raves wild-eyed at times, like a man in delirium tremens, about a monster--a Beast Glatisant, he calls it--which sometimes he hunts, and sometimes is hunted by, but only he can see, though some have claimed to hear its weird, yelping cries in the distance. He knights folk at random, selecting them for perilous and important quests--visiting adventurers are favorites. Particularly important to him is the finding of a grail, which can heal his wound and by extension his kingdom.

Pellam is not without powers. Hardened killers have come for him, and in the end turned their guns on themselves instead. Magic cast directly against him seems to dissipate. The city itself seems to accomodate and protect him. Distances shorten at his royal whim, and those who irritate him or wish him harm, find themselves lost on unfamiliar streets.

The people of San Tiburon provide for their lord’s needs by allowing him and his honor guard (two mongrel dogs of unusual intelligence) to eat from any establishment in the city free, command passage on city cable cars, and to use his royal scrip to purchase small goods. They don’t burden him unduly with the problems of day to day governance, but each newly elected mayor and city council visits him to ask permission to take up their elected roles. 

The King sometimes disparages the old shark god, the city's ancient genius loci, still said to hunt the cold waters outside its harbor, but he seldom ventures out on the wharves, and never onto watercraft, perhaps out of grudging respect for his rivals powers.

9 comments:

Johnathan Bingham said...

Awesomely well done. Makes me want to go watch the movie the Fisher King with Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges again. Also heavily reminiscient of the Emperor of America in the 19th Century.

Risus Monkey said...

I was wondering when Emperor Norton would make an appearance. :)

ckutalik said...

Great write-up and addition to the project down to having Bummer and Lazarus stand-ins. Every fantasy city needs at least one kooky eccentric.

Matt said...

Inspired dude!

Chris said...

"All hail his Imperial Majesty!"

Tangential, but might be fun for WNW:
http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2011/02/edison-as-ghostbuster.html

James said...

Norton I is my hero!

Trey said...

Thanks guys!

Of course, Emperor Norton I was the primary inspiration here. I first discovered him as a child in the pages of my parents' copy of the Reader's Digest: Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. His appearance years later in Sandman got me to thinking about the fantasy possibilities.

@Johnathan, never having seen The Fisher King I can only plead to its influence via cultural osmosis. I am, however, very familiar with the Arthurian sources that inspired it, so their may also be a bit of parallel evolution.

@Chris - that is a cool link indeed. Thanks!

Herb said...

I was going to say "I see what you did there" but others beat me to it.

And it's good to see one of the five greatest Americans in the City.

NetherWerks said...

Definitely rent or get a copy of The Fisher King. It's one of Gilliam's best movies. But then we like Brazil a great deal...