Zinzasharlia of the Royal Egrets
A few days after that brief meeting with Queen Udi, I saw Ajinblambia and Udi both together in the royal study, whither I had gone to have a chat with Udi privately, not really quite exclusively about the Vice Queen’s eviction of myself from Udi’s bed, but rather also just to visit her informally. Immediately as Ajinblambia caught sight of me, while I was still upon the threshold of the door, she stepped in front of Udi, who’d been standing at her left a little, apparently deliberately to occlude her from my sight. Her movement was abrupt and I detected mild annoyance in the expression of her face, as if she, and not myself, had been the husband of the Queen, and she were justly jealous.
"Yes, Vocno?" Ajinblambia inquired, as if I’d come to Udi’s study to see her.
"I’ve come in order to converse with Udi, if I may."
"Disclose to me instead the nature of the conversation you would make and I’ll make sure Queen Udi is apprised of everything significant therein."
"I have no special matter to discuss, but am making my appearance merely to exchange with her our pleasantries and salutations."
"This is a kingdom, Vocno, and our Udi is the Queen. She’s ever busy with the matters and concerns her great responsibility entails upon her. Exchanging pleasantries and salutations must await another day, or be entirely forgotten."
"But Queen Ajinblambia…," I answered, meaning to sound bold and self-assertive, though polite. In some way, however, as the words proceeded from my mouth, they resembled more a whimper than anything like boldness or assertiveness. I certainly could not confront the Vice Queen with a whimper.
"Still," Ajinblambia continued, ignoring my attempted interruption, "I will convey to Udi your best wishes for her health, if you find this agreeable. I’m certain she hopes you as well remain in health. Let me cordially salute you and say ‘Good afternoon.’"
Thereupon, perceiving I was being bidden leave, I docilely withdrew from Udi’s study, too intimidated by the Vice Queen’s overbearing manner to pronounce another syllable, however sorely I would have liked to make reply.
I did see Udi the next day alone, and I was pouting very angrily. I told the Queen, "I plan to challenge Ajinblambia to duel me."
"Don’t, don’t, dear Vocno, she’ll kill you in a second. She stands wholly seven feet in height and her weight is double your weight. She’s fit and fleet and muscular, an expert gymnast, markswoman and wrestler. Though you’re a man, you’re soft and gentle as a woman, weak and timid as a maid—please don’t take offense—and absolutely disinclined to exercise and sport, though I admit you’ve made a brilliant showing in girls’ volleyball. Still this is not enough to make you fit to meet the Vice Queen in a duel. Why don’t you vent your anger and frustration by taking up ballet?"
This comment Udi made about my volleyball was not a jest itself, but the fact that I’d played in Mecnita’s Girls’ Volleyball Association was due to my poor showing in the game of volleyball the Geese and I had played against our Ajinblambia all by herself. Single-handedly, she had shut out our team of six, 25—0, and later quipped that I should get some training by joining that association. One joke led to another, and before I knew it, Ajinblambia had enrolled me. I objected very strenuously, but Udi had insisted I comply with Ajinblambia’s instructions to enter the association, so finally I acquiesced, putting on my leotard and miniskirt of shocking crimson. Much to everyone’s surprise, I’d become something of a star at volleyball and a pioneer for being in the ranks of several thousand girls, the only male in our athletic history to be admitted to the league, barely differing in my appearance from the other players.
Mecnita's Girls' Volleyball Association
So, when Udi started jesting about how I should go into ballet, if indeed this was a jest, I was just a little apprehensive, fearing lest this latest joke might also in its turn become the sober truth.
"In order to avenge myself on Ajinblambia for stealing my dear wife, you recommend, Queen Udi, that I should try to dance ballet?" I cried incredulously.
"Perhaps, with exercise at dancing, you’ll eventually possess the power and agility, the muscularity and courage that you need to challenge her to duel. The ability to jump and kick and pirouette with grace would stand you in good stead against a formidable opponent like the Vice Queen. I can arrange a place, even a career perhaps, for you among the Royal Egrets. They’re always looking for promising new ballerinas."
"Promising new ballerinas?" I exclaimed in disbelief, "You’re recommending that I join a troupe of ballerinas?"
"The Royal Egrets don’t require any male dancers at the present, but you’re shapely, slim and svelte enough that you can easily impersonate a ballerina, I’m sure, especially if the Queen of Ung ordains it that they take you."
A lady like an amazon or goddess had purloined my wife from me, but she was so much bigger and more muscular than I that all that I could do was take up dancing as a ballerina to prepare myself to challenge her to duel in order to redeem my honor. Ung is a crazy place, and things are always topsy-turvy. Little could amaze me here in Ung. Still this latest notion of Queen Udi’s seemed ludicrous and scandalous in the extreme—at first. Thinking it over several days, in earnest inner disputation and deep thought, however, and realizing, finally, that it made sense for me to get as much athletic training as I could, I elected to petition Udi to enroll me in the Royal Egrets after all, as she had portentously and wisely recommended. The petition wasn’t necessary I found out, as Udi had already spoken to the Royal Egrets and they’d approved my membership, as, of course, they must, since the Queen herself had so instructed. In other words, my membership had been confirmed already, and so I must now report for dancing practise soon, according to a schedule.
I Become a Ballerina
I was just a little apprehensive as I talked to Zinzasharlia, directress of the Royal Egrets and my new overlady, who auditioned me a week or so thereafter. The audition was a mere formality, of course, since Udi had commanded Zinzasharlia to accept me in any circumstances. However, when Zinzasharlia, who perhaps had been expecting to be obligated to enlist an awkward novice, saw me dancing gracefully a few simple steps wherein she had given me most cursory instructions only, as if to do as little as she could do in order to humor and appease her royal mistress, she seemed, despite herself, to be delighted and enthusiastic, much to my amazement, and said I was a natural ballerina. Not only would she willingly accept me as a member of her troupe, she would also ask Queen Udi to commit me permanently. Later, this commitment would be abrogated, as things turned out, but at the time Queen Udi did agree to my perennial membership among the Royal Egrets. I’d dance before Mecnita’s millions. I found this titillating and exhilarating, but I blushed a scarlet blush. My apprehensiveness at the audition had nothing to do with how well or poorly I might dance, or how gladly or reluctantly I’d be accepted by the troupe and Zinzasharlia, their directress. My fear was that when Vice Queen Ajinblambia found out that I had taken up ballet, she’d understand immediately by intuition, which was one of her fine mental powers, that I was training for the duel her actions with respect to Udi she must have understood would make inevitable. She’d know at once that I was getting ready for a duel. She could countermand my entry into the Royal Egrets or even punish me, while I was still unready to confront her, for seeming to be contemplating to defy her rule. However, as it happened, she either didn’t understand my motives in resorting to ballet, or understood them thoroughly but looked with absolute condescension on anything that I could possibly accomplish in this wise, and so allowed me to continue with my ineffectualities and child’s play. “Let this poor sissy dance his heart’s desire. He never will stand up to me, not in a thousand years,” she may have reasoned with herself.
The first time Ajinblambia beheld me in my tutu and white tights, which I had sewn by hand myself of organdy, organza and tricot with accurately-pitched stitches, during a rehearsal at the Royal Egrets’ Theater, she requested that I leap as high as I could leap, so she could see how well I was progressing in my art, whereof Queen Udi naturally had made her well aware. Obedient to Ajinblambia’s instruction, I ran across the stage, while she was standing near, and leapt into the air with my right foot forward and my left foot back, my upper torso not perfectly erect but rather tilted forward slightly according to the choreographer’s notation, with my head above my knee, my arms outstretched before me, as if I’d been an egret flying to the heights. Playfully, Ajinblambia ran up as I was springing forth, positioning the palm of her right hand so it would come in contact with my midriff in mid-air, just below my solar plexus, in a fraction of a second. Once I had advanced in my trajectory enough to bear against her palm, her arm at first inclining upward only slightly from her shoulder, she raised her arm both quickly and adroitly, so that instead of finishing the parabolic arc my leap had been describing, by curving downward after rising to my apex, I soared even higher upward. Ajinblambia then raised her arm straight up, as high as she could reach, one component of the force that she exerted retarding my momentum just enough so that I came to rest balanced horizontally upon her palm, nine feet off the floor, my legs and arms displayed like wings. I was all aghast as she held me high above her head with her right arm for several minutes. To her this was a joke, because she knew that I could not get down before she chose to let me down. She merely chatted nonchalantly with Zinzasharlia while I remained aloft, frozen in my flight. I was going to have to do tremendous quantities of exercises before I could even dream of challenging Ajinblambia to fight, I mused while balanced frightfully upon her palm. Did I look as if I might be the victor in a future duel at that moment?, I was wondering. When at last she set me down, she looked me over as if appraising my appearance.
"Vocno," she said, "you look so thin and frail, delicate and slim, that it’s hard to picture you as such a splendid dancer. Look at your slender back and narrow shoulders, your egret neck and arms devoid of muscle! Of course, you do have a tremendous pair of hips, as broad as broad can be, and a magnificently ample, round derriere, but it has the look of custard or of pudding." Of course, I took it she was merely teasing, however apposite her words might seem.
A full-page color photograph of myself in flight, with my midriff on the palm of Ajinblambia’s right hand, erected high above her head, appeared in Obscont, the oldest, most prestigious periodical in Ung, and everyone in metropolitan Mecnita, all 350,000,000, saw it. The caption read, "Vocno flies among the Egrets." In the photograph, the round derriere and wide, wide hips that Ajinblambia had teased me for were obvious as obvious can be, and I was scandalized to think 350,000,000 pairs of eyes would see me thus.
Later, though, I was so happy with my progress in ballet and all the raves that I was getting from the other ballerinas and the audiences that we danced for that the anger and resentment I had felt towards Ajinblambia were abated altogether. I decided I would overlook the Vice Queen’s usurpation of my marriage bed, devoting all my efforts to the dance, as my hips and thighs grew powerful and even broader, my waist decreasing to a waspy thinness. Ajinblambia had said that she should change my sex, making me a woman to rule out the possibility that I might hope again to be the royal spouse, and I had taken it that she was merely jesting, but as things were turning out, there was vaticination in her jest.
One day I confessed to Ajinblambia that I had taken up ballet in order to be able to confront her in a duel, but that my unforeseen successes on the stage had pointed new directions I would rather follow, forgetting bygones like our rivalry for Udi’s hand. She said we still could stage a mimic duel just for fun and sportsmanship. We would merely wrestle on the palace grounds. Immediately I realized that wrestling Ajinblambia would be like wrestling with an amazon or goddess. In nowise could I win. Ajinblambia read my mind and agreed to grant a handicap, to make the fight more equal. She would have Queen Udi tie her wrists behind her back, declaring me the winner, if after thirty seconds, I was still afoot. How could she wrestle me with both her hands behind her back?
The selection of the day we’d fight our mimic duel was made by Ajinblambia herself, who put it off about a year, ostensibly to give me time to train intensively.
Coincidentally, the next day after that discussion, Oji’s nanny, Anjardrandia, finishing her five-year tour of duty in the royal nursery, would return to Gautsma, where she ordinarily resided. She had agreed to work as governess five years, rather than the one year standard for assignments in Mecnita, being delighted to be able to live and work in
Anjardrandia Returns to Gautsma
When Ajinblambia heard that Anjardrandia was going home to Gautsma, she proposed to Udi that Udi move me to the nursery so I could function as our daughter Oji’s nanny for a year or so. Ajinblambia wanted to convert my personal ten-room apartment next to Udi’s opulent fifteen-room apartment into additional offices for her own many enterprises, its proximity to Udi’s being just the feature she said rendered the idea so attractive.
Udi agreed almost immediately, as she was wont to do whenever Ajinblambia offered a suggestion, and said, "Dear Vocno, will you please consider moving from your present quarters into Anjardrandia’s apartment and taking her position as the royal nanny, at least for the time being? The Vice Queen wants to utilize your suite for a variety of weighty functions in connection with her projects and her planning. After all, her projects are of paramount importance for the welfare of the realm, while your removal from your personal apartment won’t really pose a problem or a burden as you pursue your dancing. It has been a real joy to have you near at hand these many years, but now that Ajinblambia has forbidden you my bedroom anyway, it’ll constitute no great intrusion for her to occupy your old apartment, as it’s only a few hundred yards from the nursery to my apartment anyway, and you’ll be able to walk over any time that Ajinblambia allows it, so you and I can visit as the dear friends that we have been and still are, even if the romantic element in our relationship has been retired. I’m sure that looking after Oji won’t keep you from your dancing either, and after all, she is our daughter, but of course I understand you’ll be quite busy all day long and in the evenings, with the double role your new responsibilities will require that you play. I know, though, when you set your mind to doing things, you always manage to succeed. This dual routine and ritual will be a real challenge to you, don’t you think?" I couldn’t venture to conjecture exactly why the royal ladies didn’t simply make arrangements to engage another governess, professionally experienced. What could I do such a lady couldn’t do? Vocno Ganven had been chosen as the royal nanny, demoted from Prime Minister of Ung? I scarcely could believe that all of this was happening, but here the cards lay on the table, shuffled, cut and dealt. I knew better than to try to psychoanalyze those two stupendous minds.
I never did specifically, explicitly agree to move into the nursery, nor did I decline, for fear my declination would win rebuke from either of the royal women, both of whom I knew quite well to reverence and fear. Looking for expressions to conceal my silence on the proposal Ajinblambia had made, I went so far as to admit that definitely the new arrangement, that is, my dual role as governess and ballerina, would present a challenge, as Udi had remarked. I meant it would present a challenge if somehow it should come to pass. But I was being mootly academic in admitting this. The Queen at once seized on this hypothetical admission as tantamount to my acceptance of the new arrangement, thanking me profusely for cooperating with such exemplary docility. I’d now have felt quite guilty if I’d said I didn’t want to move to Anjardrandia’s apartment after all, thereby unsaying Udi’s praise of my exemplary docility, so I let her continue in her assumption that I was glad to acquiesce. Before I knew it, the matter had been settled, as if by mutual consent and written contract, countersigned and sealed. The royal ladies always could outwit me in a game of words, and this occasion wasn’t an exception to that rule. I would vacate my apartment so Ajinblambia could tenant it forthwith, just as she had usurped the royal bed, and I would act as nanny to our daughter Oji. I, who once had been a powerful Prime Minister, almost a colleague in the royal power, a great one of the mighty kingdom that is Ung, had been supplanted by a lady, and instead would now become a nanny and a ballerina. I was to regard this as a challenge, as if I were facing new frontiers and vistas that few were competent to face, according to the Queen and Ajinblambia, who had begun to act as if she were the King.
The thought occurred to me that Ajinblambia and Udi were conspiring to effeminate me after all, so I’d renounce all thoughts of getting Udi back, resigned to live the life that’s proper to a nancy or a molly, and letting Ajinblambia take over as the husband of the Queen. This of course was somewhat sinister and frightening, and I could hardly long persist in nourishing such paranoia, knowing Ajinblambia and Udi both to be benevolent and kind. Still the upshot was the same: I had become a nursemaid and a prancing ballerina.
I moved into Anjardrandia’s and started taking care of little Oji. I helped her dress and comb her hair. My hands were always full of ribbons, lollipops and jacks. I seemed always busy folding little camisoles and petticoats and pinafores. I’d teach Oji words and show her how to write her letters. I’d make up games we’d play with dolls and toys, ever mindful of her education. The games proved very fascinating, and eventually I was quite as eager as dear Oji to get out the dolls and toys. On days I had to dance, I’d take Oji with me and let her watch me executing pirouettes and arabesques. She too would be a ballerina she’d decided, and flattered she would emulate me in the dance, I started training her to leap and spring as well. I was busy every moment of the day, developing so keen an interest in both my new vocations that I was thankful that the royal women had led me to them. Perhaps they had had insight into the secrets of my heart and planted me in soil wherein I’d bloom and bear abundant fruit.
Udi had been right to say my dual role would constitute a challenge and just as right to say that I could meet the challenge if I would. I shed all reservations I had harbored that would discourage me from crossing the frontier between the sexes. It didn’t make a particle of difference that I was committed to perform the kind of duties that many would regard as the preserve of women. Ajinblambia and Udi were expecting me to do my utmost in my new endeavors, and I was far too loyal to their sway to be defiant by feigning masculinity. After all, I reasoned, what’s really wrong with wearing leotards and tights. They fit so well and look so sleek!
My labors proved quite efficacious. When several months had passed, I realized that Oji was an astoundingly intelligent young girl. Perhaps this fact had not been noticed by dear Anjardrandia, my predecessoress, and neither of the royal ladies seemed to understand it either. It was as if and I alone were cognizant of this, and I decided, perhaps a little slyly, that I would not immediately reveal the genius I had found in Oji, but rather I would let it ripen under my instruction, later taking credit for making Oji what she was. She became proficient in ballet quite soon, even before I had informed the royal couple I was teaching her to dance. She also learned to read and write admirably quickly, as I drilled and drilled her, tested her and tested her again. I taught her too to sew, embroider, knit and weave, and she was making lovely tapestries and frills of lace, with fingers swift and nimble, outdoing me a dozen times, as, after all, my forte was to teach, while Oji’s was to do.
Whenever Ajinblambia and Udi came by to visit, I had Oji on her very best behavior, elegant and ladylike, but I had told her not to tell the ruling ladies about all the studies and activities engrossing her. This was our little secret, which we would later let be known, astonishing the world.
As for the duel, one year passed and Ajinblambia postponed it yet another, saying there would always be a later opportunity for tournaments and games. Still I mentioned it quite often, and when two years had passed, she finally agreed to have the contest on the palace grounds, right beside the volleyball and tennis courts, with several hundred courtiers and attendants present for the fun. The rules of the contest were promulgated by the queen, who bade that Ajinblambia and I both wear leotards and tights, without other clothing or accoutrements, except that Ajinblambia would have her wrists tied tight together at her back, while mine would be completely free, according to the handicap vouchsafed me by the Vice Queen. Even with her hads secured behind her back, Ajinblambia was still an awesome sight, magnificent, majestic, sleek and graceful. A feeling of great dread or holy terror overtook me and filled up my soul. I wondered if the Vice Queen was strong enough to break asunder the leather straps Queen Udi tied her wrists withal.
Just before the match, at the last moment, Ajinblambia instructed that, to make the match more meaningful, we’d stake our futures on the outcome. If I should last for 30 seconds without being thrown upon the grass and pinned by Ajinblambia, I’d be declared the winner of the contest, even if the Vice Queen should remain afoot, as no one doubted that she would, and I’d regain permission to reside with Udi, with Ajinblambia retiring from the queenly bed. If I should be thrown down and pinioned by the Vice Queen within 30 seconds, I’d have to own that Ajinblambia possessed exclusive rights with Udi, accepting for myself the role of nanny as my just deserts, with every liberty to carry on my new profession as a dancer for the Egrets also. I agreed to these conditions with alacrity, assuming I’d be able to dance around, if nothing else, for 30 seconds, and thus emerge victorious, by the rules imposed by Ajinblambia herself. In such a case, my training in ballet would prove to have been adequate and beneficial, as Udi had foresaid it would be.
When the fight was getting started, I came out boldly kicking at the vice queen, as if the match had been savate, but, much to my surprise, Ajinblambia could kick quite high as well, and parried every kick I made, always with the sole of her right foot fending by colliding with the knob of my right ankle. Finally though, she kicked so high the shin of her right leg collided with the underside of my upraised right calf and continued in its upward course with grace and power, superelevating my right leg as her right shin slipped past my heel and my sole, upending me and tossing me quite easily upon my buttocks on the grass, where I was seated hard and fast, planted firmly so to speak. I was stunned so greatly that I fell backwards with momentum and lay flat, my arms and legs spread out upon the grass as if inert and lacking in all voluntary strength. At once Ajinblambia pounced over me, landing with her knees upon the turf, one leg on either side my torso. Immediately she brought her legs together tight, so I was caught between her thighs like a muffin of puff pastry in a pair of tongs, but my shoulders were completely free to wiggle just a little and wriggle just a bit, and I could raise them two or three full inches off the grass defiantly, as if to say the Vice Queen was not yet the victress of our duel. Seeing this and apparently contemptuous of my trimphant smirk, Ajinblambia carefully moved forward her right knee, raised it just a little, and placed it on my shoulder. Then she moved her left knee forward too, careful to exert some inward pressure on my ribcage lest I slip out from in between her legs, and she raised up her knee, bringing it to bear on my right shoulder, as the referee began to count. He reached fifteen, the number that I had accepted, just when the massive clock we used to time the contest read 27 seconds. I had lost the match in other words, no doubt about it, and Ajinblambia would be the only ruler of the queenly bedroom, while I would be appointed royal nanny.
Ajinblambia, now that her victory had been proclaimed and witnessed, in order to stand up, her hands still tied behind her back, sprang smartly from the kneel that she was in, but doing so, she inadvertently struck my left temple with her knee, knocking me unconscious. Later I was told that the entire audience had thought that Ajinblambia had killed me accidentally or otherwise. So there was some relief when it was learned that I was still alive. I lay unconscious for a week, but finally awoke, my head still sore from the concussion.
Ajinblambia was all apologetic, and kept telling everyone how well I’d done, lasting 27 seconds when she’d supposed she’d have me down in 10.
Zinzasharlia of the Royal Egrets:
Mecnita's Girls' Volleyball Association:
I Become a Ballerina:
Anjardrandia Returns to Gautsma: