The Wasteland Kingdom

By NESCHER PYSCHER

Ever think you may be dwelling in Nowheresville?  It’s been seen elsewhere.

     The place was nameless, a tattered, bare scrub of earth for which no one had any use. Even the most fanatically xenophobic of local tribesmen avoided it, their thinking being “Who’d want to have anything to do with a patch of mange like that?”

     There is a certain amount of power in being nameless. It forms a protective bubble of sorts. A shield, if you will, that emits its own form of invisibility. So long as a place, a person, a thing hasn’t got a name, it can be quietly unnoticed for millennia. Once you name it, it has weight, gravity presence. It begins to pull people and things toward it like some collapsed bit of reality.

     Our story takes place at a bare-faced escarpment rising from the desert sand like a hangnail, nothing more than an erect, eroded basalt thumb that stuck out from the desert floor; a cliff, several hundred feet high, several dozen feet wide and around. It was the only landmark for several hundred miles that hadn’t been weathered into sand, a forgotten and largely ignored plateau in a far realm where forgetting is easy.

     There were some tough, grainy, gritty plants that could provide meager sustenance for a small flock of goats. There was a small pool of tepid water at the cliff’s base that tasted quite a bit like sand. A tiny family of horribly inbred and mutated scorpions—utterly unique in this one place in the universe—made the cliff their home. It was a fine place to be, if you were a mute scorpion, and you didn’t mind mating, eating and living with your own close relatives for the rest of your life.

     If one spent the better part of the day working frantically up the sheer sides of the cliff, climbing and struggling in the pottery kiln-like temperatures of the realm’s sun-blasted desert, why, when one reached the top, one would have an unparalleled view of several thousand miles of naked wasteland floating from dune to dune like an endless sea of nothing.

     After enjoying this breathless desolation, one would be faced with the daunting prospect of climbing back down—most likely in the dark—while being randomly feasted upon by irritated and retarded scorpions, only to reach the bottom in time to die of heat stroke.

     It was the sort of place which had no importance to anyone. It was on no map, and the vast majority of the people who lived in the area of it didn’t even know—or would possibly care if they did—that it existed.

     Men on thrones, however, have very different ideas about what is important and what is not. They are perfectly capable of sending a thousand men to die over a small island that wouldn’t have enough arable soil on it to grow dust. When men on thrones begin drawing lines on maps and looking covetously at the lines on their neighbors’ maps, even forgotten basalt cliffs growing out of remote deserts in the sub-baked far realms can be of tremendous strategic importance.

     The King had dreams of empire. He wanted to extend his lines all over his copy of the map and he burned with a lust to draw a line of his own over his neighbor’s hoity-toity boundary.

     The King was a very proud man, but due to the royal inbreeding that rivaled that practiced by those mutant scorpions, was about as bright as the rhinestones he habitually wore in his knickers.

     Doodling on his map, the King dreamed of glory and empire building. Why shouldn’t he have a huge empire? Why shouldn’t he conquer every realm between here and Far Moon? And asking himself these questions, the cliff in the desert was brought to his attention by a badly-informed and overly-enthusiastic advisor.

     The advisor knew a less-than-focused boss was a boss who didn’t look too closely at receipts, and would remember with enthusiastic affection the person who said, “is THAT part of your empire, toooo-oooo?  Wouldn’t THAT be a great place for a fort of tremendous strategic importance?”

     And if this pandering were followed by a gift of food? Well!

      By an uninteresting but related sequence of events, the cliff in the desert was brought to the advisor’s attention by a serving-girl who originated in a large city to the south of the desert in question. SHE’d heard about it from a grandmother who’d ONCE claimed to have known someone who MIGHT have seen it. They’d informed the grandmother, in passing, as it were, that the cliff, with its retarded, mutant scorpions and tepid, sand-tasting water, was the ONLY source of water for twenty-five leagues in any direction. No one ever asked why this remarkable tactical intelligence was given to a random serving girl’s grandmother, but Kings rarely ask questions when glory burns in their blood.

     As it turned out, the intelligence WAS incorrect, but only the retarded scorpions and the rabidly, fanatically xenophobic  tribesmen of the area—who  only passed the information on to people they weren’t actively butchering and skewering—knew that. No one asked the tribesmen. If they HAD been asked their opinion  about fort-building, lack of resources, and deserts in general, they’d have said something to the effect of the fires of their desert cleansing the hearts and minds of the invader shortly before skewering the questioner’s liver. No one bothered with the scorpions’ opinions one way or the other. No one ever did. This was just fine with them.

     The King, acting on the advice of his advisor, proclaimed the basalt cliff of dramatic strategic importance to his empire. In ringing royal tones, he declaimed that it would be the spot of a fort known to all the realms as Fort Legueone. Legueone was the name of His Royal Majesty’s very favorite pony. It was also the name of a toad, a pretty pink rock, fourteen of the King’s legitimate children, three of his illegitimate children, and several acres of trees surrounding the King’s bedroom. Most everything that caught the King’s wildly rolling fish eye was named Legueone, however fleetingly.

     The bit of land, which now had a name—and, as anyone can tell you, naming things gives them an identity, power and purpose—would be guarded year round by a full rifle company, one thousand men, of His Royal Majesty’s own.

     Now this is the sort of arrangement that professional soldiers avoid at all costs. Soldiers who spend enough time in His Majesty’s Army to earn the name “professional” soon come to recognize that any duty assignment that sent one to a place named “Legueone” was just asking for a great wad of work, followed by a bloody, gruesome death. “S’bloody karmic, is what it is,” they said to each other in morose voices. “The King’s pride’ll soon be bathed in a soldier-boy’s blood. S’right.”

     There were no volunteers.

     The King, being proud AND stupid, was soon forced to populate his spanking new fort with a less-than-desirable force of mercenaries, discipline-problem soldiers, and other dregs from around the empire.

     If a man was able to see lightning and thunder, the King was willing to pay him the princely sum of one crown a year—for a ten year commitment—burial expenses and all the sand he could eat. In no time at all, the fort roster was full, and one thousand men found themselves at the extreme edge  of the King’s empire, baking alive in a hell thousands of miles from home. The local tribesmen, previously indifferent to the desert strip. Became determined to take it back from the “barbarian invaders”, especially after said barbarians had the bare-faced audacity to build a fort in the only place for a thousand miles with any sort of shade.

     Such are the evils perpetuated by ill-informed men given unfettered access to badly-drawn maps.

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