Some Pigs Are More Equal than Beth
by Anta Baku
Part 16 of The Cell Phone Towers of Elfland. (Read Part 1)
The Cell Phone Towers of Elfland is also available in paperback, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited from Amazon.com.
Things just weren’t working out in the World of Chaos. The people seemed nice enough, but their country was weird, and Beth wasn’t sure she could take it. The place deserved its name. Everything here was complicated, and everyone here had expectations, and she just didn’t know how to handle any of it. To say nothing of the booby-trapped hamburgers.
She might not be able to go back to her own kingdom. She might not like living in kingdoms at all. But compared to this, kingdoms felt almost comforting. Familiar, at least. She knew what she was fighting against. In this world everyone seemed to be fighting against everything. And a lot of the things they were fighting against were abstract concepts. At least a king could be deposed, even if it didn’t always work out well afterward. How did you depose poverty, homelessness, and racism? And those were just the beginning of a list long enough to be a sight gag in Fairyland, a scroll that, when unrolled, hit the floor and rolled all the way out of the palace while the chamberlain was still reading from the top.
She couldn’t go back. She had to go back.
In absence of a long-term answer to that conflict, she took comfort in knowing that she had to go back at least one more time. She owed a debt in Fairyland, and maybe in paying it off she would find somewhere there she could live in peace. Or at least limited and reasonable violence with clear positive outcomes.
The first step, though, was to find out where the fairy godmother’s wand was now. And her new friends from the World of Chaos had an idea about that. Around those miserable, grease-filled hamburgers, Angie had told her the story of how she and Ian saved a young girl from getting her heart cut out by an evil queen, and in the process stole the queen’s magic mirror. Apparently it was still hanging up in Angie’s house, and would answer any question posed to it, as long as the answer was in Fairyland. It was a little less reliable about the World of Chaos. Beth could identify.
So after only a few days of rest and recovery, or what passed for it in this world, she and Ian found themselves headed for Angie’s home to consult the mirror about the location of the fairy godmother’s missing wand. It had been taken from Beth by a big, mean pig, and she had no idea where he might have gone. But Angie thought the mirror would know, and Ian agreed.
Angie’s house was bigger than any normal Fairyland house, but not big enough to be a palace. It was a two-story brick building with ivy growing on the outside, with a cute little lawn in front and a lake across the street a block and a bit away. It was calmer here than it was in Ian’s downtown neighborhood of apartment buildings, and Beth felt a little bit less like the World of Chaos deserved its name here.
Angie was out, but Laura let them in and took them into the basement after making sure the kids were occupied. Most of the basement was a big storage space, with some of the machines they used here for washing clothes, but there were also two doors on one side, both of which were closed.
“Angie always keeps her office locked when she’s not here,” said Laura. “There’s confidential client information in there, and I’m not even allowed to see it. Fortunately for you she’s been keeping the mirror in her bathroom.” She opened the door on the left. “I’ll be upstairs if you need me.”
The room was big enough for both Ian and Beth, though without a lot of space left over. There was only one thing in there in a Fairyland style, an ornately-framed mirror that had been leaned up against another mirror that was built into the wall above the sink. It was an awkward combination, but she supposed Angie didn’t need two mirrors at the same time, and it saved space.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall,” said Ian. “I have a complicated question for you.”
A stylized, genderless face appeared in the mirror. “You’re supposed to make it rhyme,” it said.
“Sorry,” said Ian. “I’m not very good at that sort of thing.”
“All right, all right,” said the mirror. “What is it you want?”
Ian turned to Beth, so she asked the question. “A pig stole a fairy godmother’s wand from me last week. Where can I find it?”
“The wand or the pig?” said the mirror.
“OK, give me a minute,” said the mirror.
“It never took you a minute to show the fairest girl,” said Ian.
“Yeah, well, I’m watching the pretty girls all the time,” said the mirror. “I have to make a special search for wands.”
“Why do you watch the girls all the time?” said Beth.
“There’s not much else to do if you’re a mirror. Now let me go look for your wand, OK?” The head disappeared but the mirror didn’t start reflecting the room again. It was just an empty space.
While the mirror-face was there the bathroom had seemed small, physically. Now it also seemed small socially. She was aware that she was alone with Ian, and close to Ian, and he was doing that thing where he went straight from banter with someone else to uncomfortably silent with her. It was tense. She didn’t really know why it was tense, and she definitely didn’t know what to do about it. She thought she should be able to say something to get him to loosen up a bit, but she could never come up with anything that seemed right for the occasion. So they just stood there in uncomfortable silence waiting for the mirror-face to come back.
It was Ian who spoke up first, but not to her. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, what’s taking you so long?” But he didn’t get a response.
“Maybe it would go faster if you rhymed,” said Beth.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, can’t you be more on the ball?” said Ian.
“See, that’s better,” said Beth.
“He probably got distracted looking at pretty girls again,” said Ian.
“Why do you think it’s a he?”
“He seems to like looking at pretty girls a lot.”
“Lots of girls like looking at pretty girls, too,” said Beth. “Maybe so do genderless magical mirrors. You can’t tell from that.”
“I think the one in the movie was a man,” said Ian.
“What’s a movie?”
At that point the head came back, and she didn’t get an answer to her question. Either one.
“I’m working as fast as I can,” said the mirror. “There’s lots of latency between here and Fairyland. It takes a minute.” It disappeared again.
“I swear he’s just looking at pretty girls,” said Ian.
Beth tried talking to the mirror. “You like women tall and blonde, won’t you help me find my wand?”
The face popped back in. “Don’t worry, I like short brunettes too. Especially ones polite enough to rhyme.” It glared at Ian. “You’ll find your wand in a kingdom where the king had three daughters and a pig wanted to marry the youngest one. When the king said no, the kingdom filled with pigs. One of them has the wand you’re looking for.”
“I think I know which pig that is,” said Beth. “Thank you, mirror.”
“You’re welcome anytime,” said the mirror. “I wish all of my visitors were as pleasant as you are.” It managed to give the impression, with just a facial expression, that it was disappointed it couldn’t kiss her hand. Ian practically shoved her out the bathroom door.
“I think I know the kingdom he’s talking about,” said Ian. “At least, I think I can get us there.”
“Oh, I don’t know it, but I’m sure I can get us there,” said Beth. “I can go anywhere I want in Fairyland, except my old kingdom, anyway. I know it exists, now, and can just think about it and we’ll end up there pretty soon.”
“Once we’re in Fairyland again?” said Ian.
“Yes,” said Beth. “I don’t know how to do that part.”
“I’m glad I can be useful for something,” said Ian. Beth wasn’t sure why he was so cranky but she tried not to provoke him any more, and they had a quiet drive back downtown to the Fairyland portal.
The kingdom with the pigs was easy enough to find, once she was in the right world. Moving was just so much easier here, even walking, than all of the big metal vehicles they used in the World of Chaos. It felt right to walk down a simple path and just get to the place you were thinking of. There was no getting lost in Fairyland, as long as you could remember where you were going. She had gotten lost in a park on her first day living with Ian, and it was terrifying.
But here, as long as you thought about a kingdom that was full of pigs who had taken over the town and were having a giant revel, you would get to it before you got tired of walking. Food and beer and wine were flowing freely through the town, even though the pigs had probably sold it to the pubs they later liberated it from. If the pubs ever recovered, they’d have to buy new stock from the same pigs all over again. There weren’t any other suppliers.
But for now everything was free and everything was allowed. Rich, brightly-colored fabrics were strewn all over the streets, some being worn loosely by pigs, but others trampled underfoot or being thrown around for the fun of it. Jeweled spheres and eggs were being used to play ball games in the squares. Coaches raced through narrow streets with no concern for pedestrians, horses, or the safety of the drivers. Beth and Ian marveled at the chaos with the small part of their attention they weren’t using to stay out of its way.
Hoping there would be some sort of organization at the center, Beth dodged coaches, drunkards, and ball players on her way to the center of the town, Ian following along in the presumed safety of her shadow. She expected that she would find whatever pig was in charge here holding court in the wreckage of the castle, but when they got there it was still being besieged. Not very seriously; the pigs standing around with weapons were no less drunk than the ones elsewhere in the city, and only marginally less rowdy. They seemed to be content with keeping anyone from leaving the castle, and were making no attempt to get inside.
Beth grabbed a pig that looked more sober than the rest, and pulled him into a space against the castle wall that looked just a little bit quieter than everywhere else.
“Can you tell us what’s happening here?” she said.
“We’ve taken the town,” said the pig, “and we’re waiting for the King to give in and let Squealer marry his daughter.”
“Do you expect him to do that soon?” said Ian.
“We expected him to do that two days ago,” said the pig. “This King is pretty stubborn. Usually all we have to do is show up and they give in right away.”
“Who’s in charge here?” said Beth. “Where can we find him?”
“No one’s in charge,” said the pig. “Haven’t you heard? When the King wouldn’t surrender we declared the Revolution. Everyone here is equal now.”
“Even the people you stole all this beer from?” said Ian.
“Property is theft,” said the pig, which even to Beth seemed like a strange position for someone who had been a merchant two days ago. But she was beginning to be intrigued.
“So all the goods of the kingdom have been collectivized?” she asked.
“Exactly!” said the pig. “Though right now it’s more ‘to each according to what he can get his hands on.’ Pretty soon it will all get organized, so make sure to drink as much as you can before then.” He wandered off in search of more wine.
“Somewhere in here is the big pig you met before,” said Ian. “And however much they say everyone is equal, I think he’s going to be in charge.”
“Oh, give them a chance,” said Beth. “Maybe they aren’t the ideal revolutionaries, but it could work. Soon they’ll get tired of partying and calm down.”
“They don’t look to me like people who will get tired of partying,” he said. “They look like people who will keep going until they run out of alcohol.”
“Everybody always looks like that,” said Beth. “And yet when they’re done, there’s always more alcohol to be had.”
“I think we should focus on finding the wand,” said Ian.
“And I think we should find out how the pigs are distributing power to the proletariat,” said Beth.
“I’m pretty sure they’re actually the bourgeoisie,” said Ian.
“But everyone’s the same, now. Everyone’s equal.”
“I’ll believe that when I see somebody who’s not a pig enjoying himself,” said Ian.
In that he had a point. If there were humans originally populating this town, they had fled or gone to ground in the face of the reveling pigs. “Give them more than two days,” she said. “I want to see what they can do.”
“I just want to get out of here,” said Ian.
“You can go home,” said Beth. “I can handle this myself.”
“I don’t think the fairy godmother would agree with you. We need to find that wand.”
“Well, go look for it, then,” said Beth. “I want to find whoever is trying to organize this place.”
“Those are probably the same thing,” said Ian. “You’re going to find that the big pig is in charge. And you can’t fight him again by yourself.”
“If he’s in charge here maybe I don’t want to fight him. Maybe I want to find out what he’s doing. Maybe I want to help him make this kingdom a people’s republic.”
Ian gave her a disturbed look. “We need to get that wand back.”
“Yes, that too,” said Beth. “For now we’re going to the same place, so come on.”
Nobody wanted to give them directions. Half the pigs insisted that there was no one in charge, that everyone in the city was equal now. The other half were too drunk, or too preoccupied, to talk to them at all. So Beth made her way through the streets, trying to figure out where the town’s largest marketplace would be. Ian tagged along behind her, complaining lightly. She’d begun to tune him out.
She figured out they were getting close to the market when the pigs around them started looking more responsible, or at least less intoxicated. However much this city was a celebration of communal property right now, most of these pigs were still merchants by habit, and some of them were doubtless concerned about the safety of their wares. Once Beth had identified one or two of those, she was able to follow them into a neighborhood where they got more common, and eventually into a large market square where commerce was proceeding almost as usual.
There was still a lot of drinking and shouting here, but it seemed more under control than in the rest of the town. Instead of taking things from the merchants’ stalls, customers were bargaining with them, trying to convince them to give up their goods at cheap prices before they were liberated for the benefit of the general population. Most of the merchants didn’t seem to accept that narrative, though there were a few who were briskly emptying their inventories.
There wasn’t an obvious place to look for a magic wand, or for anyone who looked to be in charge, so Beth just wandered through the market until Ian spotted someone he knew. It was the same young, dark-skinned man she had seen in Cinderella’s castle. He was haggling with merchant pigs then, and he was haggling with merchant pigs now. He didn’t seem too happy to see Ian, though he perked up when he was introduced to Beth.
“This is Booker,” said Ian. “He’s my coworker. Booker, this is Beth, who I’ve told you about before.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Booker. “Ian, what did you do with our boss?”
“I didn’t do anything,” said Ian.
“She went out with you and then disappeared,” said Booker.
“She found something more important than supervising us closely,” said Ian. “Proteus is teaching her to shapechange.”
“Wonderful,” said Booker. “I always wanted a boss who could be anyone or anything.”
“Oh, no, I hadn’t even thought about that,” said Ian. “I was too busy worrying about getting Dave out of the pot.”
“She got Dave trapped in a pot,” said Ian. “And then when I fought Proteus to get him out, she decided she’d rather have shapeshifting lessons. I had to take him home that way.”
“We got him out, though,” said Beth. “Your world is a weird place.”
“Are you spending a lot of time there?”
“Ian is letting me sleep on his couch for a little while. I’m trying to figure out where I belong.”
“On the couch, huh?” said Booker, giving Ian a fishy look.
“Yes,” said Ian. “On the couch.”
“I can’t just sit on the table all day like Harp,” said Beth.
“Of course not,” said Booker. “Look, I have business to do here, did you two need anything?”
“We’re trying to figure out who’s in charge,” said Ian.
“Nobody’s in charge,” said Booker. “The King is trapped in his castle, and most everyone else is drunker than you can imagine.”
“So what are you doing?” asked Beth.
“I’m trying to buy flour and sugar,” said Booker.
“Oh, for your gingerbread towers?” said Ian.
“Yeah. All the bakery pigs are here right now, but the ones with authority to take a large delivery order are all out there getting smashed. Their minions keep telling me to wait but I think they’re just snowing me because they don’t know what’s happening either.”
“Could you help us find the fairy godmother’s wand?” asked Beth.
Booker thought about it, mostly looking at Ian. “No,” he said, “I think you two should do that by yourselves. I’d just be a third wheel.”
Beth thought any help they could get at this point would be welcome, but Ian looked relieved that his co-worker hadn’t wanted to come along, and Ian knew the guy. So they said goodbye to Booker, who was resigned to waiting a little longer for someone he could negotiate with before giving up. They moved on deeper into the market.
“Gingerbread towers?” she asked.
“Yeah, Booker came up with an idea to build our own towers in places where there isn’t one already. Here we’d have to build them out of gingerbread, we can’t do it with metal like we would in the real world.”
He meant the World of Chaos by that, of course. People there all wanted to believe that they were real and Fairyland wasn’t, somehow. Beth certainly felt real, and her problems were definitely real. Then again, if it weren’t for Ian and his friends from the other side of the portal, she’d have very different problems. Maybe they’d be less real, somehow. Maybe the problems caused by people from the “real world” were more real problems.
Either way she had to figure out how to solve them. Not only finding the missing wand she owed the fairy godmother, but figuring out where she could live now that her own kingdom was closed off to her. Was it possible that place could be here? The pigs’ political rhetoric was comforting, but she wanted to know more about how things actually worked in this kingdom, or people’s republic, or whatever it was.
At the center of the market was a big booth with a sign that said “Information” in big black block-printed letters. On top of it someone had painted “Ministry of” in a sloppy red script. That looked like the best place to seek answers for both of their questions: who was in charge, and how did they envision this society would work?
It was pretty clear who was in charge at the Ministry of Information booth. A matronly sow confronted them the moment they were within earshot. “Would you like to learn about the Party?” she said as loudly as she could. She looked a little surprised when they responded by coming closer.
“Yes, we would,” said Beth.
“Two days ago the Pig Merchant’s Guild took control of the city and declared the Revolution,” said the sow. “We are entering a new era of peace and prosperity, where everyone is equal.”
“How do you know?” said Ian.
“How do you know that it’s an era of peace and prosperity? You haven’t done it yet.”
“It’s inevitable!” said the sow. “We have freed the people from the yoke of nobility! Now they will work for themselves, and working for themselves they will be more productive than under any King.”
“They don’t seem very productive right now,” said Ian.
“Oh, give them a minute,” said the sow. “They’re young, you have to let them think about having fun for a while before you can get them to work.”
“Are there other older pigs here?” asked Ian. “You’re the only one we’ve met.”
“Oh, yes,” said the sow. “They’re around. Look where anyone’s getting anything done, today, and you’ll find some older pigs there. Some of them working, some of them just watching and telling the others how they would be doing it if they were in charge.”
“I think older people are like that everywhere,” said Ian.
“I’m sure they’ll be more willing to work when they’ve gotten used to equality,” said Beth. She was worried that Ian was getting on the sow’s bad side, which they couldn’t afford.
“We’ll never get any work out of some of those old boars,” said the sow. “Some problems no political system can solve.”
“Are you using work gangs?” asked Beth. All the literature mentioned work gangs, but she had never seen one in practice.
“We are,” said the sow. “Would you like to join one? We always need more responsible, enthusiastic people such as yourself.”
Beth knew she was being flattered, but if the sow was being optimistic she also wasn’t wrong. “Yes, I think I would like to try one,” said Beth.
“Are you sure you want to do that?” said Ian.
“What better way to find out how this system works than to participate in it?” she said.
He screwed up his face. “It sounds terrible to me,” he said. “I feel like this is where I’m supposed to tell you I won’t let you do that. But I don’t have any call to tell you not to do anything.”
“I’m glad you know that,” said Beth. “Because I wasn’t about to let you.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Ian. “You really want to do this?”
“I do. Everything I know about Fairyland says nobility doesn’t work, that Kings and Princes and Emperors shouldn’t be allowed to run everyone’s lives. I want to see if this is a better system.”
“Well, I don’t think it is,” said Ian.
“I know,” said Beth. “But I have to find out.”
“We have to find that wand.”
“This might be a way to find it. I can do this and look for the wand at the same time.”
“All the same,” said Ian, “I think I’m going to keep looking for the wand my way. Some of these older pigs are probably in charge.”
“Oh, no, we’re all equal,” said the sow.
“Sure,” said Ian. “I’ll just try to find the pig who’s so equal he’s giving all of his other equals orders.”
“You do that,” said Beth, putting a little more grumpiness into her voice than she actually felt. She didn’t mind Ian’s skepticism, at least not too much, but she had to stay on the good side of the Information Ministry sow. He looked more hurt than she had hoped, but he got the point and moved along. “Sorry about him,” said Beth.
“He’ll understand when he sees the system working,” said the sow. “Everyone will understand eventually.”
“That’s right,” said Beth. “But I want to understand sooner. So can you put me onto a work gang?”
“I’m sure I can,” said the sow. She looked behind her at a younger white boar. “Jolly, can you take this girl with you to work on the windmill?”
“Of course!” said the white pig, with enough enthusiasm to justify his name. “What’s she called?”
“Oh, I didn’t ask,” said the sow. “How rude of me. What’s your name, dear?”
“I’m Beth,” she said.
“All right, Beth,” said the sow. “I’ll put your name on the party rolls. And Jolly here will take you out to work on the windmill.”
It took Jolly a minute to finish up whatever he was doing in the back of the Information Ministry booth, and then he walked Beth toward the edge of the city, moving with great, physically-exaggerated enthusiasm.
“You seem to be a good fit for your name,” said Beth.
“I chose it myself when I joined the Party,” he said. “But why do you say that?”
“Well you’re just full of good humor,” said Beth.
“Oh,” he said. “I’m having a pretty good day, and making a new friend is always great! But that doesn’t really have anything to do with my name.”
“You’re not Jolly?” said Beth.
“Well, I am, or at least I am today,” he said. “But I named myself after the river. It’s spelled with a G.”
“Jolly with a G instead of the J?” she asked, confused.
“With a G as well as the J.” That didn’t help at all. “G-J-O-L-L-I.”
“But it’s pronounced ‘Jolly’?”
“My name is,” said Gjolli. “It’s easier for people than the name of the river.”
“All right,” said Beth.
“You probably don’t have that problem with ‘Beth’,” he said.
“No, everybody’s pretty clear on that.”
“So why are you joining the party, Beth? You aren’t a member of the Pig Merchant’s Guild.”
“I’m a member of the proletariat,” she said.
“Oh, so you know what we’re trying to do here,” he said. “At least you know the words.”
“I’ve read a bunch of books about it,” said Beth. “I got put in charge of a kingdom once, and I tried to put the people in charge of it, because I had gotten rid of the Prince, and I thought anything would be better than him. But they kicked me out after a week. After that I thought I should learn everything I could about how people can govern themselves.”
“What happened in the kingdom after they kicked you out?” said Gjolli.
“I don’t know,” said Beth. “I haven’t been able to go back there. When I tried I went somewhere else completely.”
“We may be able to help with that,” said Gjolli. “There are Pig Merchant’s Guild members everywhere. I’m sure someone can tell us what happened afterward.”
“That would be great,” said Beth. “Even if I can never go back, I’d like to know what they’ve done with their government. As long as they haven’t put that nasty Prince back in charge.”
When the sow said “work on the windmill” Beth had expected to find something recognizable as a windmill. She supposed now that was an unreasonable expectation for a government just a few days old. On the windmill site was half of a dilapidated barn, and the pigs there were engaged in taking it down. At least, it looked like they had been at one point. All she could actually see them doing was standing around talking to each other. A couple of them waved at Gjolli when they arrived, but when he led Beth into the barn, they were alone.
“Since you’re here, you can help me move some of this bigger stuff,” said Gjolli. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage to get these barrels out at all.”
“Couldn’t the other pigs help?” said Beth.
“I’m sure they could,” said Gjolli. “But none of them wants to work with me very much when I ask.”
“Are they on their own teams?” said Beth.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Gjolli. “They seem to like each other more than any of them like me.”
“So they’re working on their own part of the barn?”
Beth was beginning to get the picture. “Gjolli, how much of this barn have you taken apart? Personally?”
“Not all of it,” said Gjolli. “Some of them were working at getting the front doors off.”
“How much, Gjolli?”
“Everything since the first hour,” he said.
“They don’t do anything at all?” said Beth.
“Well, they stand around and talk to each other a lot,” said Gjolli. “That must be worth something.”
“It’s not much of a work gang if you’re doing all the work,” she said.
“It’s even less if I don’t do any work,” he said. “I can’t force them.”
“Maybe I can talk them into helping,” said Beth.
“It would be better to just work on the barn,” said Gjolli.
But Beth had come out here to see a work gang in action, and she wasn’t going to stand for anything else. She dropped the barrel they were carrying, startling Gjolli, and stormed out of the barn wreckage to where the other pigs were lounging around in the shade of a nearby stand of trees.
“Are you going to come work on the barn?” she demanded.
“Soon enough, I’m sure,” said one of the pigs. “We were having a fascinating conversation about how everyone in this new society has as many rights and responsibilities as everyone else.”
“Which means as long as he’s not working,” said another pig, “then I don’t have to work either.”
“And vice versa,” said the first pig.
“It’s a fascinating theory,” said a third.
Beth wasn’t fascinated. Beth was frustrated. “Meanwhile you aren’t making any progress on the barn.”
“Oh, well, progress on the barn,” said the second pig. “Do we really want that?”
“There was an election,” said the third pig. “We voted to build a windmill.”
“Maybe you voted for it,” said the second. “I don’t remember voting for it, so I don’t see why I should have to do it.”
“You were passed out under a table,” said the first pig.
“See, they should have elections when everyone’s conscious,” said the second. “It’s only fair.”
“Look, are you going to help us or not?” said Beth.
“Maybe when it’s not so hot,” said the third pig. “Right now I just want to stay in the shade.”
“Good thing there’s enough shade for everyone,” said the first pig.
“Of course there is,” said the third. “Everyone is entitled to as much shade as everyone else.”
“But what if there were only one tree?” said the second.
Beth backed away while they were arguing with each other about whether there could be only one tree in a proper socialist society. Gjolli was right, they weren’t interested in doing any work.
While she was gone he had rolled the barrel they were carrying out to the scrap pile, and was having at it with an axe. She wished she’d taken one to use on the other pigs. But as the day crept closer to noon, and the other pigs negotiated equal shares of their ever-diminishing shade, Beth and Gjolli began to make real progress on clearing the barn.
By mid-afternoon they had nearly made it to the point where there was only a quarter of the barn left. The other pigs still hadn’t helped, but at least their philosophical discussion had moved, with their precious shade, to the far side of the stand of trees. It was mildly less annoying when she didn’t have to overhear it.
Just as the sun passed its hottest point a well-dressed middle-aged pig arrived from the direction of the marketplace, pulling a handcart with a full tea service on it. The pigs who weren’t working saw it first, of course, and were already eating and drinking by the time Beth and Gjolli knew it was there.
“That’s Mr. Jenner from the Central Committee,” Gjolli told her as they approached. “He’s directing the windmill construction.”
And despite the tea and sandwiches, Mr. Jenner wasn’t very happy. “The barn isn’t even down yet?” he said. “We have to have the frame of a windmill up today! The Great White Boar is coming tonight, and we have to show him how productive we can be.”
“We won’t get it done at this rate,” said Gjolli.
“Clearly not!” said Jenner. “You’ll have to work harder.”
“It would go faster if the others would work at all,” said Beth. “Gjolli and I have been doing all the work.”
“Is this true?” said Jenner. The other pigs prevaricated. “You all need to work,” he said to them, “or the Great White Boar will hear of it.”
“It might go better if you appointed a foreman,” said Beth.
“That’s a good idea,” said Jenner. “You say you and Gjolli have been doing most of the work?”
“All of it,” said Beth. “The others just stand around and talk.”
“All right,” said Jenner. “Gjolli, you’re the foreman. Get the rest of these pigs tearing down that barn.”
“What about me?” said Beth.
“Oh, you, girl, you can start working on the old manure piles behind the barn. Can’t have those stinking up the place when the Great White Pig gets here.”
“Hold on,” said Beth. “Gjolli gets to be foreman and I get the manure pile?”
“Well, of course,” said Jenner. “You’re not a pig, you know.” He started packing up the tea set. Beth was too furious to talk, and violence didn’t seem like a good idea at all just then. By the time she got control of her anger, Jenner was on his way back into the town. So she vented it at Gjolli.
“You and I were both doing all the work,” said Beth. “But you get promoted and I get the worst job on the site? What’s that?”
“He has a point, though,” said Gjolli. “You are definitely not a pig.”
“What does that have to do with it?” said Beth.
“Well, clearly you can’t be the foreman.”
“Why not?” she said.
“Because you’re not a pig,” he repeated.
“I also hate being patronized,” she said.
“You’re the one who got me promoted. If I’m your boss now it’s your own fault.”
“I have just as much right to be foreman as you!” she almost shouted.
“But you’re not a pig,” said Gjolli. The other pigs all chimed in in agreement.
“What happened to everyone being equal?” said Beth. “What happened to everyone having a fair chance?”
“Everyone is equal,” said Gjolli. “But some of the equals just don’t happen to be pigs. We know it’s not your fault.”
“Not my fault?” Now she was shouting.
“Look, you have a job to do,” said Gjolli. “I don’t want to have to report you to the Great White Boar.”
“I’m not going anywhere near that manure pile.”
“You joined the Party,” said Gjolli.
“So that means you have to do what you’re told,” he said.
“You can tell the Party to take its equality and its freedom and go jump in the manure pile,” said Beth. “It will still be there, because I’m certainly not going to clean it up. The Great White Pig can burrow in it, for all I care.”
Gjolli looked stunned as she stormed off.
She should probably go looking for Ian, but right now anything like an “I told you so” was going to set her off again. So instead of going back toward the marketplace she skirted the edge of town, looking for anything unusual. At one end of the main road there were pigs setting up decorations, which must be to welcome the Great White Pig, whoever he was. Somebody important, or at least somebody they thought was important, even though they were supposed to think nobody was more important than anyone else.
She wasn’t going to be good for anything if she couldn’t find a way to calm down. This society was a disaster. How could she have ever thought this might be a place for her to live? Whatever they might say, it was clear that the pigs were for the pigs, just like the nobles were for the nobles. The words might have changed but nothing meaningful had.
She stopped walking and tried taking deep breaths and counting them. She was going to count to fifty, but kept losing track before she got there. That was definitely a sign that she was too angry to do anything important. Finally she managed to get all the way to fifty, and thought she might be ready to go find Ian again. Maybe his day had gone better than hers, and they could take the wand and get out of here. His couch was looking more attractive than it ever had before.
They should have set up a place to meet. If Ian was looking for her, he would probably end up at the windmill, and that wouldn’t help anything. And she didn’t have any idea where to look for him. In the end she decided to make her way back to the Ministry of Information booth, where the sow was still holding up her end of the social contract.
“Is your shift over, dear?” she said as Beth approached. “I thought you’d be working into the evening.”
“I decided I don’t want to be in your party after all,” said Beth.
“We’re getting that a lot, today,” said the sow. “Of course you won’t be able to stay here, but we don’t have any hard feelings. Is there something else I can do for you before you leave town?”
“Have you seen the young man I came in with?” said Beth. “I thought if he was looking for me he might have come here.”
“No,” said the sow. “Oh, wait, yes I have.”
“Do you know where he is?” asked Beth.
“He’s right behind you.”
And so he was. Unfortunately there was no sign of the fairy godmother’s wand, but he had come looking for her to tell her he had found the big pig, and got to the information booth just after she had. He told her that the big pig was supervising the decoration at the edge of town.
“They said it was for some big shot who is coming in tonight,” he said. “The head of the Pig Merchant’s Guild.”
“The people I was working with called him the Great White Boar.”
“That sounds familiar,” said Ian.
“Someone you’ve met before?” said Beth.
“I’m not sure,” said Ian. “I’ve met a lot of pigs. I have a hard time keeping them straight.”
“Well, maybe we can get the wand back from the pig who took it before he arrives,” said Beth.
But it was not to be. They found the big pig, but before they could figure out how to approach him, bugles sounded from the road and a caravan of splendor arrived in the town. However much socialist rhetoric there was here, this was how Beth expected a merchant prince to travel. The horses were stately, and clearly had started their day well-groomed, even if they were lightly messy from the road. They couldn’t have come from too far away.
There were a dozen wagons, decorated richly with gold and cloth. Even those obviously carrying cargo were dressed up to impress anyone they passed by. The three passenger coaches would have stood out anywhere, and the central one had more jewels and silks adorning it than the carriage of any Prince. The whole thing shouted wealth, a strange priority for the leader of a society that claimed to renounce the entire concept.
When the Great White Boar stepped out of his carriage, Beth was surprised to find he wasn’t a pig at all. But there was no mistaking him. No one but the master of this caravan would be wearing such extravagant robes. And surely no servant assigned to this gaudy caravan would be so imperfect. The Great White Boar was a human man, and his back was distinctly hunched.
Ian was swearing under his breath. He grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her out of sight of the caravan.
“That’s Richard the Third,” he said.
“Am I supposed to know who that is?” said Beth.
“I guess not,” said Ian. “He was one of the most ruthless kings ever. Except we prevented him from killing his nephews and seizing the throne of his kingdom. How did he end up here?”
“Well, I certainly don’t know,” said Beth.
“Of course not,” said Ian. “I just, I don’t know what to do now.”
“The same as we were doing before,” said Beth. “We get the wand back. And we leave.”
“But Richard the Third!” said Ian.
“And then we give the wand back to the fairy godmother,” said Beth. “And then we do whatever comes next. This kingdom doesn’t matter.”
“Aren’t you the one who thought it might be the best place ever?” said Ian.
“Well, it’s not,” said Beth. “I didn’t say it was. I said I wanted to find out.”
“All right,” said Ian. “That makes sense. I think. We can get the wand back and whatever Richard is doing here, he can do, and we don’t have to worry about it.”
“Exactly,” said Beth.
“So how do we get the wand back?”
They crept back to where they could see the caravan, trying to stay where Richard couldn’t see them. Beth thought he couldn’t possibly care who was in the crowd, and they were making themselves conspicuous by trying to look inconspicuous. But Ian had a personal history, so she let him do what he wanted.
The big pig she had fought in Cinderella’s kingdom was making a formal welcome to the merchant prince. They managed to get close enough to overhear, just as he was finishing it and it was time for Richard’s formal response. But Richard didn’t give a formal response.
“This welcome that you bring is hollow words,” said Richard. “To cover all the sins you made afore.”
Beth expected the big pig to be upset. He was much larger and stronger than this Richard, after all. But instead he bowed to the man.
“Your word is just, sir,” said the pig. “I admit that I failed, and I will submit to any punishment you see fit. But I did not come away from the mission with nothing for you.” He pulled the fairy godmother’s wand out of a pocket and offered it to Richard.
“This wand belongs to someone of great power,” said the man. “A gift to suit a King and save a pig, you’ve taken from the fairy godmother.” He reached out for the wand.
Beth nudged Ian. “Come on!”
“What’s the plan?” he said.
“We don’t need a plan,” said Beth. “Stay here if you want.”
And then she was running through the crowd. If this Richard was as bad as Ian said, they couldn’t let him have the wand. And even if he wasn’t, it would be much harder to get once he had put it somewhere of his own. It was right in front of her, now, and she wasn’t going to let it go.
Richard saw her coming, but the big pig didn’t register the look on his face before Beth’s boot was on his back, sending the wand flying. She followed it, and the pig recovered quickly and followed her. She got to the wand just before he caught her, spun around just out of his grip, and turned him into a hedgehog. He scuttled under one of the carriages, and she brandished the wand, daring anyone else to try to take it from her.
No one made a move toward her for a moment. Then Richard, with a disgusted look, decided to do it himself.
“I am the lord of all these pigs survey,” he said. “You would not dare to make a hedgehog king.”
“Don’t count on it,” said Beth. He stopped advancing. “I’m going to take the wand, and I’m going to leave. Anyone who stops me is going to be a hedgehog. I don’t care how rich he is.”
“You will not enter in my kingdom hence,” said Richard. “Without my pigs avenging all your words.”
“This kingdom’s not all that great,” said Beth. “I tried it. There’s all the rest of Fairyland to visit. I don’t see why I should ever come back here.”
“My realm is everywhere there works a pig,” said Richard. “And all the places where they sell their wares.”
That was everywhere in Fairyland. At least everywhere Beth had ever been. Pig Merchants were key to the economy of every Fairyland kingdom, every town, every village. If he meant that threat, there was nowhere in Fairyland for her to go.
Ian had joined her while this conversation was going on. Now he pulled at her elbow. “Let’s go.”
“I should turn him into a hedgehog,” said Beth. “It would be better for all these people.”
“You can’t make that choice for them,” said Ian. “Look around you.”
He was right. None of the pigs here looked like they wanted Richard turned into a hedgehog. They looked like they were just waiting for Beth to be distracted long enough to jump her and take the wand away.
She could turn them all into hedgehogs. But what good would that do?
So they backed out of the town, carefully, making sure they weren’t followed. She supposed it was Ian’s couch or nothing, now. She’d have to learn to live in the World of Chaos. And maybe even to like bubble tea.
When she told Ian that, he was happy, for an unexpected reason. “I might need you to use that wand,” he said. “Last time I saw that guy, Angie had him stuffed in a bag. I want to know how she managed to lose track of him and let him become the King of Fairyland.”
That would surely be an interesting conversation.
Part 17 of The Cell Phone Towers of Elfland is Ian and the Archery Contest.
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