(Written by my brother, Matthew MacKenzie, and originally published in Tesseract Magazine in the early 1980s)
Kind Tidnup scowled, in that way which is only possible while looking down at the rabble from an elevated throne. He addressed one of the pages who waited at his side: “Is that all of them for the day? We are growing tired of arbitrating arbitrary wheat disputes between the chaff of society. We just want to get all this out of the way so we can enjoy our weekend.”
The page consulted a list of audiences. “There is just one more, Sire. A Sir d’Nalor, messenger from King Cong of the North. He only arrived but a few minutes ago.”
“At least he’s the last of them. Send him in.”
A knight in chain armor clanked heavily to the base of the throne from the far end of the chamber, and knelt before the King. The messenger had obviously been traveling very hard, for he looked weary, and his armor and cloak were splattered with mud; nevertheless, his manners, at least, were intact.
King Tidnup waited a moment, savoring the authentic courtesy of a fellow noble. At last he said, “Rise, Sir d’Nalor, and speak your message.”
The knight looked up, and slowly rose. He was a tall man; the top of his head reached the level of the King’s feet. He extracted from his cape–the King’s guards around the chamber froze in menacing poses as he did so–a small, feebly buzzing, box. “The message, your highness, is contained in this box.” He held the container up.
A page hastened to take the box and, stretching, raise it up into the easy reach of the King. King Tidnup carefully opened it. At the bottom of the box, held prone by a weight, was a housefly. “Sir d’Nalor, this had better not be as idiotic as it appears.”
“The message, your highness, is attached to the legs of the insect. Had I been captured on the road, I had instructions to feed the creature to a frog, with which I was also supplied.” He reached under his cloak again, then decided that the point was not worth demonstrating.
“Of…course,” replied the King, suddenly contemplating wheat disputes in a new, more favorable light. Certainly such disputes were nothing to chaff at. He uncoiled the narrow slip of paper wound around the fly’s hind legs. A message was written on it, and at the end of the message was imprinted a miniaturized but identifiable version of the Cong Royal Seal. This might, King Tidnup considered, be serious after all. The message was an earnest and articulate plea for reinforcements to force back a minor Orc invasion form lands to the north of the North.
The King thought for a moment. “Tell King Cong–and the message can, and may just as well be, a verbal one–that we will send his miserable little domain no aid whatsoever. Countering an invasion force of the sort described should require little effort, even without our aid. You may leave, Sir d’Nalor.”
“Your highness!” The knight pleaded. “Our situation is desperate! We may temporarily lose control of our swamplands, our only source of messenger-insects!” He was on his knees again, this time looking up. “I implore you to reconsider!”
The knight was obviously serious about this matter; in talking back, he was risking his neck. But King Tidnup was adamant. “We refuse to send aid of any sort, and our reasons are sound. We do not consider King Cong’s territory to constitute a kingdom at all. In fact, we would describe it as nothing more than a fly-by-knight operation.”