The Emperor’s Bad News
Not so many years ago, there lived an Emperor who loved new plants. He spent all of his spare time walking his vast gardens, hands clasped behind his back, contemplating how to make improvements.
“Basil!” he would exclaim, and up would pop Basil, the Imperial Gardener.
“There’s a bald patch!”
“Not to worry, Sire. I have… Tergum copia!” And Basil would whip out a plant from the Imperial Garden Cart.
The Emperor never noticed that each Tergum copia was different from the next. He didn’t know Latin, and so didn’t realize that Basil was merely referring to his “backup supply”.
Basil, his wife Rosemary, and their two delightful children lived a rather fairy tale existence in a quaint stone cottage at the back of the Emperor's garden.
One day, as Basil was tidying up some borders, the Emperor came rushing up to him.
“Basil! Basil!” He brandished a colorful flyer. “Look!”
The flyer advertised a garden show in one of the neighboring countries.
“You need to go! Bring back whatever plants we don’t have. We must win the Imperial Garden of the Year competition.”
“But, Sire — who will care for the garden if I go away?”
“Aha!” The Emperor whipped out a folded letter and thrust it at Basil. “Read this!”
“Hmmm…” Basil was skeptical. The letter was promoting the services of one Claude Cholmondely, Master Gardener, along with his Vice Gardener Brutus Moschella.
“Perfect timing, eh?” The Emperor smiled triumphantly. “I’ll hire them to keep the gardens while you go away to the show. Pack up immediately! Take Rosemary and the children. Take an extra week and have a holiday while you’re at it, all expenses paid!”
He clapped Basil on the shoulder, then dusted his hands together with a satisfied grin. “Now, that’s settled!”
One thing you must know about the Emperor: he was gullible.
The very next afternoon, Basil and Rosemary were off on their holiday. Fennel and Melissa waved goodbye to the Emperor through the back window. The children were fond of him, and a bit protective of his naïveté.
Not half an hour later, the two stand-ins appeared at the palace gates. Looking around with a sneer, Claude shook his head in dismay while clicking his tongue.
“Tch-tch-tch! Would you look at that, Brutus? Worst case I’ve ever seen!”
“What?! What??” demanded the Emperor. “What’s the matter?” He scurried over and squatted down, in line of sight with Claude’s dramatic finger.
“There!” Claude replied. “Don’t you see?… Brutus! You see it, don’t you?”
“Huh?” Brutus was busy watching a ladybug. He scratched his head.
“Uh… yeah, yeah, sure. Right there.” He pointed vaguely, with a sausage finger.
The Emperor saw nothing amiss, but he was loath to admit it. He was, in addition to being gullible, a teensy bit proud.
“Oh, that! Of course, of course! Yes, Basil has been treating… that for some time now. It’s improved, you know, from what it was. Much improved. I’m fortunate indeed, to have Basil.”
“Ehhh…” Claude flapped his hand dismissively. “I don’t know about that. Sorry to say, Emp – ” (here he cupped a hand to the side of his mouth and whispered hoarsely), “I don’t think you’ve been getting your money’s worth out of Basil.”
The Emperor gasped. “What do you mean? Look at all of this!”
He stretched his arm out as if broadcasting seed. “The Imperial Gardens are the finest in… in…in the hemisphere! We’ve won the Imperial Garden of the Year trophy for seven years running!”
“Psshhh!” scoffed Claude. “Basil’s been bribing someone, I’m sure.”
The Emperor began to have doubts. What if Basil had been somehow deceiving him all along? He didn’t see how it could be possible — the Imperial Gardens being undeniably lush and beautiful and all.
However, he thought, there’s no harm in a fresh viewpoint. After all, Claude has already spotted a problem, and Brutus sees it too.
“All right,” he sighed. “What do you think is causing the problem, and what can be done?”
“Hmmm… Let me think a moment.”
Claude began to pace in tightening circles around the Emperor. It was discomfiting, and felt a bit like being stalked by a hyena.
He came to an abrupt stop and held up a finger.
“I know just the thing!”
The Emperor’s eyes brightened with hope. “What?! What??” he burst out.
Claude crossed his arms and tilted his head. He licked his lips, seeming reluctant. “I’m afraid,” he hedged, “that it will be costly. Quite costly. Excuse us a moment.”
Motioning to Brutus, Claude bustled out the gate. Brutus cast a lingering glance at the ladybug, and trailed his mentor.
The Emperor ensured that they were out of view, and then knelt down to examine the troublesome greenery. To his eye, it looked perfect. It was thriving… Or was it?
Basil wouldn’t bribe anyone… Or would he?
Claude had planted the seeds of doubt.
Engrossed in his cogitations, the Emperor didn’t notice the approach of the two gardeners. He nearly toppled backward when Claude spoke.
“Here we are, Emp!”
The Emperor didn’t quite like being addressed so chummily by Cholmondely, but — if these two could save his garden, he’d let it slide. For now.
Claude cradled a small glass jar between his palms.
“This… is your solution for that,” he announced, inclining his head toward the offending foliage.
“What is it?” demanded the Emperor.
Claude shook his head solemnly.
“Trade secret, I’m afraid. But I assure you, it’ll do the trick!” He winked. “Eh, Brutus? Tell him it’ll do the trick!”
Brutus set down the largish box he was holding. It made a heavy thud, accompanied by a glassy clink. Claude scowled at him.
“Uhh — yeah, yeah, it’ll do the trick, all right!” Brutus chuckled. “Nothing like it.”
“Well, come on then! Show me how to use it. What did you say it is, again? How much do we need?”
“Here — hold this.” Claude gave the jar to the Emperor without answering his questions. “Brutus — the contract?”
The Vice Gardener took a clipboard from the box. “Sign here,” he instructed the Emperor, handing him a pen.
“But I haven’t read it!” the Emperor objected, handing Brutus the jar.
“No problem,” Claude assured him. “Not necessary. We just need your signature on file. Scrawl anywhere.”
The Emperor scribbled his name and handed the clipboard back to Brutus, who gave him back the jar.
“All right then! Let’s get started.” Claude stepped in front of the Emperor and led him up the garden path.
Following Claude’s instruction, the Emperor removed the lid of the small jar and scattered the contents around a flowering shrub.
“It looks just like regular soil!” he observed. He had been hoping for something a bit more dramatic.
“Yes,” agreed Claude, “Nematodes are too small to see with the naked eye— ”
“Oh!” the Emperor interrupted. Claude had introduced a sensitive topic; there was a well-known fable about an ancestor of the Emperor…
“I’ll just send for the Imperial Microscope and have a look.” Swiftly, he brought a silver whistle to his Imperial Lips.
“Wait!” Claude stopped him with a hand on his wrist. “No need to be a whistle-blower. Anyway, you won’t be able to see the difference, even with your Imperial Microscope. It takes a special — talent, if I may say? And anyway, we don’t have time! These plants need treatment immediately!”
Over the next weeks, the Emperor toiled away, dutifully dumping the little jars under Claude Cholmondely’s direction. The Master Gardener stood in the shade and pointed here and there, while Brutus trundled load after load of small jars in the Imperial Garden Cart.
The last jar was emptied in late afternoon of the day before Basil’s return. The Emperor, tired and sweaty, smiled in smug satisfaction at the results of his labors.
“Thank you, gentlemen, for saving my garden! Here’s your check.”
Claude grabbed the slip of paper and tucked it away.
“The pleasure is all ours, Empy! Come on, Brutus — we have an appointment in a far away country.”
They rode off into the sunset.
The next morning, Basil and family arrived home.
“How did they do, Sire?” the Imperial Gardener inquired, climbing out of the driver’s seat.
“Do you notice anything different?” the Emperor asked eagerly.
Basil shrugged. “The plants look fine — but the soil looks too dry. What did they do?”
The Emperor explained all about the mysterious jars, and the secret solution. Basil took a deep breath and counted to five before speaking.
“How much did you pay them?”
The Emperor told him. Basil closed his eyes.
“Sire, I’m afraid they’ve done you dirt.”
“That’s all right, Basil — I gave them a bad check.”
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Very clever, I liked Cholmondely and chummily. Great fun with a nod to The Emperor's New Clothes.
Wendy - sorry for the delay in responding… I haven’t been around much. Life. I’m glad you got the Cholmondely/chummily- it was fun to write this one! I just let myself play with words…
Every good garden needs Nematodes! I liked the ending!
I’m sure Basil already had that covered! And pretty sure those jars were just dirt… Thanks! Just scamming scammers! ; p
Couldn't stop smiling during this one. So clever!
Glad you enjoyed! Two favorite reactions from readers (depending on the story): enjoying the humor; learning something. : )
The emperor is a typical useless manager, telling people to go before he has the replacements on hand and trained for the job. I love the bit about the check at the end.
Yes, I purposefully gave him the trait of impulsiveness. He’s accustomed to giving commands, but doesn’t necessarily think them through. However, he’s maybe not entirely gullible!
What inspired this?
Oh, that’s a fun trail… A visit to a garden center last week. They had a sign up about a new shipment of beneficial nematodes. Train of thought was: Nematodes - Microscopic (How do you know they are really in that soil?) > Selling something invisible could be a scam > Story of The Emperor’s New Clothes was a scam. So I wrote about an Emperor, a garden, and a scam about something invisible.
Reminds me of the Invisible Book of Invisibility from Harry Potter, “they cost a fortune, and we never found ‘em.”
That’s funny! I’ve never read (or watched) Harry Potter, so no influence there, but it’s cool when one story reminds a reader of another!
I love how the first line told me exactly what kind of story I was in for. Very witty. Lots of little delights in there, and a great punchline, which I wasn't expecting. Delightful.
It was a giggle to write! I’m glad it’s enjoyable to read. Sometimes my brain gets so full of silly puns and word play, I have to release some of them! ; )
Perfect. Been reading fairy tales quite often this week just for fun. It was great timing to come by this. Excellent ending. Great choice of names and the introduction of a little lot. Just lovely.
Thanks for the appreciation! I’ve also enjoyed reading clever twists on old fairy/folk tales. I do love giving consideration to character names.
Haha Cindy, this is great!! Some really funny witty lines in it. And the ending was perfect! Loved it! Well done!
Thanks - it was entertaining to write! The ending seems to be a hit. Maybe it’s the idea of the sneaky retribution…
An amusing story :) A bit of an updated twist on the old classic. I love the ending here, and I appreciate when a story sets up a good punchline. I like a lot of the wordplay here: "“Basil!” he would exclaim, and up would pop Basil" "Claude stepped in front of the Emperor and led him up the garden path." "No need to be a whistle-blower." Lots of great lines :)
Kind of crazy to write 2 in a week! This one was inspired by a visit to a garden center. I just freewheeled it and let go with the word play. Glad you appreciated all the silliness! Endings can be difficult for me to write, but this one happened quite easily. I read through the HC Andersen classic, and thought it would be fun to let “my” Emperor inherit some of his ancestor’s faults. Great fun!