Bullish Doltus strode into Napierion’s council chamber, ignoring his councillors as he strode to his throne and sat down heavily. They bowed and took their seats.
“I move that the public be excluded from this meeting,” said one councillor.
Doltus glared at him.
“The meeting hasn’t started yet,” he said, “and anyway, it wasn’t advertised. But lock the doors, just in case.”
Everyone nodded. Then Doltus scratched his beard and cleared his throat.
“What is the most important issue facing Napierions at this moment, the thing keeping our citizens awake with worry?”
The councillors looked at each other uneasily. They were not used to asking or answering questions.
“The Mausoleum of Minimalism that nobody visits and is costing us a fortune to run?” asked a councillor.
Doltus shook his head.
“Forget the mausoleum muck-up.”
“Those Artus Decus chariots that we bought for a fortune and had to flog off cheap because they were useless?” asked another.
Doltus clenched his teeth, eyeing him coldly.
“Forget the chariots cock-up. I’m talking about amalgamation.”
There was silence. A councillor timidly raised a hand.
“We thought you told us not to talk about amalgamation. You said if we just ignored it the commissioners would go away.”
“They did go away,” snapped Doltus, “but now they’re back trying to shove democracy down our throats. I hoped that declaring Napierion an independent state would put them off but it obviously hasn’t.”
He leaned forward, steepling his fingers.
“The problem is, we’ve been fighting amalgamation the wrong way,” he said.
“We’ve been telling everyone that amalgamation won’t work because everyone knows Napierions are a more refined, sophisticated, cultured race of people than those Rusticarians on the Heretaungus Plains.
“We are unique. Our buildings are from the Artus Decus Era, the greatest architectural period in the history of mankind. There are no sheep in our streets We breathe sea air, not the foul stench of composting cattle dung.
“But unfortunately, these fabled qualities, so envied by Lawrencus and his Rusticarians, have now become Napierion’s Achilles Heel,” he said.
His councillors stared in silence at the table in front of them.
“I hurt my Achilles tendon jogging in a new pair of leather sandals once,” said one.
“I couldn’t walk for weeks.”
Doltus ignored him.
“As I say, we have been fighting amalgamation by extolling our superb lifestyle but now I see that was the wrong strategy.
“To put it bluntly, we have to be more positive about being negative. We need to convince Lawrencus Yulus and everyone else that Napierion would actually be a complete liability in any amalgamation, not an asset.”
His councillors gasped in disbelief. Were their ears deceiving them? Was their great leader, Bullish Doltus, saying their town was not a priceless asset, the envy of the civilised world?
They stared blankly at each other. Finally one stood up. He raised his arms wide and lifted his eyes until they came to rest on a crack in the plaster ceiling.
“But Doltus, surely Napierion is seen as the shimmering pearl in this province’s oyster? Surely no star shines more brightly in the heavens? Did the prophet Artus Decus not bless our people with great wisdom, clear vision and a sensible taste in clothing?
“And thanks to the prudent fiscal management of our predecessors, are we not the most debt-free people in this whole land?” he said.
“Depends who does the books,” Doltus murmured to himself.
“Of course all of these things are true,” he replied loudly, “but we Napierions must now downplay the fact we live in this Garden of Eden, shaped by the mighty hand of Mars himself.
“In a word, from now on we must pretend to outsiders that Napierion is rather ordinary.”
His councillors sat with frozen faces. They could not believe what they were hearing. One slumped to the floor in shock.
Napierion ordinary? Not to be seen as the pearl in the province’s oyster but just a stone in its sandal? Not the world’s brightest star but a black hole on the beachfront?
Doltus smiled grimly.
“Look, it’s not as hard as you may think. You and I know Napierion’s legendary beautiful beaches are, to be brutally frank, just rolling dunes of stones, driftwood and discarded sandals. And we also know that anyone who is foolish enough to try to swimin the sea is likely to be dragged under by the mighty Poseidon himself.”
The councillors nodded. He was right.
“Don’t you see? If we start admitting that Napierion is not really some mythical provincial paradise and has no real assets, Lawrencus might leave us alone,” said Doltus.
“We rely on tourists who come to stare at our shops, snigger at our clothes and then sail away the same day. Let’s be honest, if straw hats and fox furs ever go out of fashion, we’re finished.”
Most of the councillors were now sobbing inconsolably. How could they possibly pretend their beloved Napierion was . . . ordinary?
A councillor at the end of the table suddenly looked up.
“Wait, we’ve got assets. What about our world-famous statues of beautiful women?” he said.
“What about the Woman With Small Dog in our main street or the stunning Diana And Her Golden Apples on the foreshore? You wouldn’t want Lawrencus to get his hands on those.”
Doltus smiled indulgently.
“I don’t think you need to worry,” he said. “Lawrencus’ idea of statuesque beauty usually has four legs, a broad woolly chest and firm hindquarters.
“Therefore I recommend we tell the rest of the region that Napierion would be no great asset because its golden beaches are shingle deathtraps, you can’t sleep because of logging chariots and we only erect statues of human beings. That alone should put old Lawrencus off.
“So from now on, we will tell people that Napierion is nothing out of the ordinary.”
“But who’ll believe us?” groaned his councillors.