“Well, my frightened little puppets. Stand up and be counted.” Chaos ordered, grinning manically toward the young cadets.
The cadets did their best not to contradict him with their body language, by standing woodenly; allowing their faces to be wreathed in painted on smiles which failed to reach either their eyes or his heart; and sagging, somewhat in the posture department.
Since they already were standing, and it was not up to them who counted what or when, they knew not what else to do. So, they stood some more, which may not sound like so much, to some; but, if those some ever tried to stand before Chaos when he was in this particular mood, it would suddenly seem like much, indeed.
It wasn’t so much his grin which made the cadets want to skedaddle, though it was a particularly unpleasant grin, which seemed to say “Ah lunch!” whenever it turned in our direction.
Nor was it even the rumored odd tempers and humors of the demi-god which the men feared so. Though, some of the rumors were knee-quakingly frightful, if even half true.
What really got the cadets, what really made them want to run screaming from the room despite what they feared would be the consequences of them having done so, was the disturbing way his cloak had of swirling with the cosmos, as if he contained the entire realm of all being within its fabric.
Though, the jabs with the knitting needles didn’t help! The middle cadet got jabbed less often, and in less spots, than the two on either side of him, and this left the two feeling less than charitable toward the one. However, he got poked almost entirely in exactly the same spot, every time, and that spot was always in that dimple which forms at the top, between one’s buttocks; so, he did not see the other two as having anything much to complain about.
Allowing his swirlsome capery to bedazzle them for a moment, Chaos stood and surveyed the young cadets. They were tall, lean men with good muscle tone and healthy, robust coloring. This worried him!
All the other cadets were pasty pale and ill-fed looking, as they should have been. Having come from the land of Ordine, where dirt was outlawed, these men should have been surviving on the heavily processed garbage that passed for food, now’a’days. Yet, here they were, obviously having had some sort of natural produce or perhaps even a good bite of actual freshly dead protein. If he dared think it, he might even believe them capable of having had ..
He dared think it. On daring that much, he went further and spit out an actual accusation. “You’ve been drinking milk!”
The cadets said nothing with their mouths, but, the involuntary shaking of their knees spoke volumes. They had been drinking milk, indeed.
“All right, you spineless, self-inflicted dirt grubbers!” he shouted. “Stand up straight and prepare to defend yourselves.”
It was then, just when Chaos was prepared to run the cadets through with his knitting needles -wielding one in each hand, like they were swords and he was someone who actually knew how to fight with them -that Servant V decided to try his luck at intervening.
“Master,” he began, sharply enough at the start to get Chaos’ attention, but, softer and a little more wheedling throughout, so as not to capture Chaos’ wrath, as well. “Perhaps, if you did not run them through, quite yet, they might tell you from whence the milk came.”
Chaos turned toward his most faithful servant, a dour scowl upon his face. “Do you interrupt me, good V?” he whispered, in a slicing, venomous tone.
“I do, Master.” V replied, calmly, looking his current owner straight in the eye.
“Do you know that I could utterly destroy you, at any moment of my choosing, good Servant V?” queried Chaos, in a manner that made the blood run cold, of the guard, who was three levels above it all and not within hearing of any of it.
The cadets flopped to the floor with consternation. One of them passed out, and the other two only managed not to because of their deep, abiding fear of what might happen to them while they were unconscious and unable to defend themselves.
“Absolutely, I do, Master.” replied V, bowing his head in a mild show of respect.
This gave Chaos pause,as was Servant V’s hope, and during the pause, while Chaos considered his servant’s answers and how he felt about them, the good man pulled the cadets from the room and ran, for all he was worth, toward the academy.
When Chaos came to, the room was entirely bereft of other life forms, if one discounted the mouse that lived under his chair. Which, most times, Chaos did, though remembered bits of writing he had read during his travels niggled at him and demanded entrance into his conscious proper, whenever he thought about it.
“Little mousy, little mousy, do you see the Queen?” he said, tasting the words on his tongue for accuracy. “No, they are not right.” he announced, and pushed the matter aside until another, more convenient, time.
“Now,” he asked himself, “where has that saucy servant gotten off to? And, where are the cadets?”
Just then, in walked Servant V, with three cadets trailing behind him. Not the same three cadets, Chaos felt pretty sure, as these three seemed to be far smaller, less well muscled, paler and they smelled faintly of chemicals.
“What are these, Servant V?” he inquired, “And, where are the three scandalous milk-drinking reprobates?”
“These are they.” replied Servant V.
“Excuse me?” asked Chaos, his eyebrows raised in disbelief.
“These are they, Sire. As you requested.”
“And, what, dear good Servant V, did I actually request? And, why would it be a request and not a bloody order?”, growled Chaos, moving menacingly closer.
“You requested, because of your magnanimous nature, rather than ordered, that the three cadets be taken to the dungeon and left locked up there until they lost their disturbingly shiny glow of health.” replied V, smiling at Chaos but mentally cursing himself for his bad choice of words.
“Requested, indeed!” jeered his mind. “What butt did you pull that word out of?”
“I .. when?” asked Chaos, clearly prepared to argue but, as clearly unsure if there was a point to it.
“When you ordered it, Sire. I’m sorry that I cannot be more precise. You know how I lose track of the days, here.”
“I thought I requested it?”, Chaos queried, petulantly.
“As you did, indeed, Sire.”
“Oh, but, now my tricksome servant, you tell me I ordered it. How can a request be an order or an order be a request?”
“You requested it of me and ordered it of them, Sire.”
“Days?” Chaos asked.
“Days .. day..oh days!” said V, almost having lost track of his own liesome truth.
“Yes, Sire. I lose track of the days.”
“Mm Uhm .. Wait.” Chaos ordered, stepping back apace and turning away. “I must think.”
“There is no way,” he told himself, “that those are the same cadets. No way! They aren’t even the same height!”
“Yes, but, humans need nutrients to grow and to maintain their height as they age.” he replied.
“True, but, he is speaking of a matter of days. And, I’m not sure I believe that, either.”
“It was him. I saw his lips move!” he replied.
“No!” he shouted at himself.
“Yes, I was right there. It was his voice and everything!”
“No! No! I mean ..”
“Why are you always arguing with me?” he demanded. As he demanded, he reached behind his back and poked himself in the dimple of his buttocks.
Assumably, that is what he poked. There are very few who have reason to know if demi-gods have dimples between their buttocks,and, of those few, less disposed to talk about the means by which they attained such knowledge, much less to discuss the actual dimples or lack thereof.
“Sire?” V called. “Forgive the intrusion, but, I need to know: will you be stabbing yourself in the posterior region for long? If so, I must beg leave to go, soonish, as there is a pot roast which is expected to be done within the next few minutes.”
“A pot roast?” squealed Chaos, in delight. “OH, yummy! Go and fetch it, V. I shall deal with these ne’er do wells.”
An hour later found Servant V and the favored stowaway lounging upon soft cushioned divans, eating pot roast with their mouth but holding it with their fingers, and watching Chaos dress-down the unlucky substitute cadets. Both men tried not to laugh and both failed, miserably.
It wasn’t their intention to be cruel and they would have stopped it, if they could; but, all the same, both men fully understood what it was like to be where the three others stood in the graces of Chaos.
They knew it was terrifying, sometimes heart-breaking, and often divested one of some formerly unsuspected innocence. Yet, they also knew they had survived it and the boys would survive it, so, they laughed in recognition of themselves as reflected in the eyes of the less knowledgeable.
The favored stowaway was called so because that is precisely what he was. He had stowed away upon the ship and for reasons no one quite understood, instead of having him shot out of an airlock, Chaos chose to feed him well and listen to his tales.
“Now, then, me hearties. You want to be a pirate do ye?” Chaos bawled at the cadets. “Want to sail the seven seas of rhye, steal some penzance, discover Florida, do you?”
None of the cadets replied.
“Hey, hey now!” squeaked the favored stowaway. “Snap to, young gents and speak when spoken to!”
“Ayup, boyo!” snapped V. “Just answer the bloody question!”
“N-no we do not, Sire. At least I do not.” finally came a stuttered reply, from the man in the middle. “I don’t know what all that means, but, I-I I am sure I do not want to do any of it.”
“Don’t say no to me!” roared Chaos. “Don’t you ever say no to me!”
“Good! Let’s practice! Would you like to have fuzzy green yogurt for dinner? Eh?”
“N-n – n ..” said the man. “I mean .. n-n ..err..”, he continued, obviously flailing about for an answer that did not start with “Y-y..” Then, inspiration struck. “I would hate to deprive anyone else of so yummy a treat, Sire. May I give it, instead, to my two bunkmates who giggle so hardily beside me?”
Giggling they were, too, at the thought of their bunkmate forced to lie about wanting such a gruesome dinner and then being forced to eat it, to prove he was not a liar. They had so looked forward to that next meal! Suddenly, their mirth stopped.
“By all means, you unselfish lout. Give them your dinner and you take mine. That’ll teach you!” snapped Chaos, as he reached forward to pull the man, by his hair, over to where the pot roast was laid by.
“Give him double portions of everything, V.” ordered Chaos. “Don’t leave even a scrap for me. That’s how stuffed I want this foisty banyan to be.”
Which is why, later, when Chaos saw the robust cadets again, and queried V on it, the good Servant V could reply that the yogurt and roast beef dinner seemed to have done them some good; which was as truthful as it was misleading.
It is also why and how a certain young cadet got the name of Foisty Banyon and had to write home to disappoint his mother, who had rather liked the name of Gerard Nixon, which she had bestowed upon him at birth. Foisty Banyon was never more happy to have disappointed his mother, in his life.
In truth, this was the only time he was happy to have disappointed his mother. He had done many times in his life, in varied ways, most of which were pleasurable up to that unfortunate consequence of having to look her in the eye, later. Then, it all fell to shame and ruin.
His mother was a force of nature, as many mothers are, and to disappoint her, to have her gaze leveled upon him, made him want to shrink into non-existence. Always, having endured such a terrible trial, he was ready to behave for days after.