They sway’d about upon a rocking horse / And thought it Pegasus. John Keats, Sleep and Poetry.
The three wise Gods of Asgard, in the Kingdom of Norse decided to get together at Valhalla to discuss a matter of great pith and moment. They were all double-masked to keep away a strange and unknown pestilence, christened Covidicus, that was threatening to decimate the entire populace of Norse. Though all three of them had gulped down two silver goblets each, at the recommended twelve-week interval, of the Astracus Zenecus Covaxicus potions, which the medicine men of the Apothecary had promised would provide full protection against the dreaded Covidicus, including the wretched Deltalus variant. Had the magic nectar failed to do its stuff, heads would have rolled down Valhalla’s majestic, winding marble stairway. Not quite the Stairway to Heaven of legend and song, but almost half way there. Divinity’s winsome threesome was huddled together at an emergency meeting. At the head of the table sat the wisest of them all, he with the long, flowing white beard, Modicum the Mighty. He was joined by two of his most trusted lieutenants, Shahftus the Handyman and Naddalus the Everyman, their blank, polished, granite tablets and sharpened stone writing implements at the ready, to inscribe every precious commandment of their leader. Imagine, if you will, Moses (or Charlton Heston) on top of Mount Sinai hugging a tablet of commandments on each arm.
Having taken the Chair, Modicum the Mighty called the meeting to order. ‘Order, order,’ he cried, in the time-honoured fashion, which is the sole preserve and copyright of high court and supreme court judges across the land, and in particular, their honourable wig-wearing justices from the celluloid world.
‘First off, may I suggest we remove our masks right this minute. We have all been twice dosed. Shahftus and Naddalus, both of you are rotund and well-endowed in shape and size and of similar build and complexion. It is virtually impossible to tell you apart. Which makes it difficult for me to address you by your proper names if you insist on wearing the masks, in the absence of any recognition software. I am, of course, easily spotted owing to the fact that my long, flowing, white beard extends well below my mask, the luscious outcrop fully obscuring the determined jut of my chin. As a courtesy to both of you, however, I shall also take off my mask and you need have no qualms about dealing with an impostor. I am the head of Asgard, the venerable Odin, better known as Modicum to my friends. The Mighty is optional.’
Shahftus and Naddalus were both sitting at a precise 45-degree angle to the right and left of Modicum respectively. There was an attractive and precise symmetry to this disciplined triangulation. Modicum was extremely partial to symmetry in everything he did. Whichever hand he stuck out, the two heavyweights were at hand, in a manner of speaking. He liked to be even handed. The twosome nodded vigorously in assent after Modicum’s brief introductory remarks.
Shahftus, being the senior of the two lieutenants, was the first to respond. ‘We are waiting to hear from you with bated breath, Modicumji. To what do we owe the honour of this sudden meeting at the witching hour of midnight? Is our land under attack? Has Covidicus mutated out of control? Has Rahulus the Gandalf developed mumps? What is it? Do tell, Modicumji. I am bursting with anticipation.’
Modicum smiled benignly wagging his long forefinger avuncularly. ‘That is the last thing you want, Shahftus. Bursting, I mean. I’ve had occasion to chastise you about your weight before. Your brain is overly exercised, perhaps your body too should take inspiration from your grey cells. There is, however, a grain of truth in some of your well-founded questions. We are under attack, but not from Covidicus which we have, for now at any rate, brought under control in most parts of our kingdom, barring a few errant states. If we behave ourselves, and consume more potions, we can ward off any wave that tries to engulf us. Speaking for myself, I am more concerned about the ever-present threat of a wave from our western borders, rather than this bug that bugs us. As you know, they are led by a man, Imodium Khan, who once played a strange game called cricket, and this leader could swing a red cherry wickedly, much like a banana. As for Rahulus the Gandalf coming down with mumps; no such luck, I am afraid. As far as Rahulus is concerned, Mum’s the word, ha ha. Geddit? And you won’t get much change from his sister Priyantarantulus, either. No. no, it’s something else. What do either of you know about this Pegasus?’
After a hearty chuckle at the Imodium and Rahulus’ mumps crack, both Shahftus and Naddalus looked blank. ‘Sorry?’ they said in chorus.
‘Don’t apologize, just answer the question,’ retorted Modicum.
‘When we said sorry, we didn’t mean sorry, we meant sorry? As in, beg your pardon?’
‘You are pardoned for now, but if you carry on like this, you could be trying my patience.’ Modicum was not amused. ‘Now tell me about this Pegasus.’
‘Pegasus? Pegasus?’ they intoned in chorus. Naddalus added respectfully, ‘If you could elaborate, Modicumji.’
Modicum looked left and right symmetrically, at both of them. ‘You are beginning to sound like an Abbott and Costello double act. I expected better from my lieutenant. And my rightenant. I ask again. What do either of you know about Pegasus? Are you keeping something from me? And before you answer, look carefully under the table, your chairs and your tablets in case there are strange listening devices implanted.’
Shahftus butted in quickly. ‘Modicumji, the room has been swept for any such device. You have nothing to worry about. So, what is this Pegasus?’
‘I am asking you, Shahftus,’ returned the Mighty One, archly.
Naddalus, who was up-to-date with the latest technological developments, had a ready explanation. ‘I did a quick Googlinctus search on my Itablet. It’s a horse, Modicumji. A white horse with wings. My friends tell me it has mystical powers. Like being able to listen and see things over very long distances.’
‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse, eh? I always thought White Horse was the name of a whisky brand, though I do not touch the stuff myself. It is banned where I come from,’ chimed Modicum, ‘but I am still confused. Why is everybody in the land chanting the name of Pegasus, as if it’s a crippling disease like Covidicus and giving all of us dirty looks? Shahftus, you usually have an ear to the ground. What are your men telling you, and what are you not telling me?’
Shahftus shifted uneasily in his chair. Took a few chips off his tablet with his stone writing implement. ‘Word on the street, Modicumji, is that someone from our ruling elite has been hiring some foreign body to plant listening and viewing devices onto our country’s people, the better to figure out what mischief they are up to.’
‘Is that not a desirable thing? Surely, that is standard practice?’ roared Modicum rhetorically. ‘Should we not be kept in the loop, as I have heard our media friends and enemies describe it? And anyway, why have I not been told about this? Our opposition parties are clamouring for some joint committee to probe this matter, and I am still clueless. Naddalus, what say you?’
After scratching something furiously on his tablet with his stone stylus, Naddalus responded. ‘Modicumji, you will still be clueless and so will Shahftusji and myself when you learn who will spearhead this joint committee. It is that puffed-up poltroon, Shashticus Thoroughbred, who speaks a form of English only he and the Bard of Avon can even remotely follow. He also uses words like Snoopgate, Spyware and Watergate. To say nothing of acronyms like NSO. And quite recently, ‘pogonotrophy,’ with a not-so-veiled reference, Modicumji, to your glorious beard.’
When Naddalus saw that Modicum had blanched deathly pale, he rushed furiously to clarify, ‘Pogonotrophy Modicumji, not pornography.’ The colour quickly rushed back to Modicum’s face as he took a long draught of coconut water and continued.
‘By all the Gods of Norse and all the ancestors of Odin, surely not Shashticus. I will need all the 5000 marble tablets of the God Roget and his Thesaurus by my side to refer to while this fellow is holding forth. And fifth. What was that again Naddalus? Puffed-up poltroon? Very good. Perhaps you can take this Thoroughbred head-on. I’ll give him a pogonotrophy he won’t forget.’ So saying, Modicum let out a bellow of raucous laughter.
The two underlings laughed in unison. When the Boss laughs, the world laughs with Him. At this point, Shahftus struck a conspiratorial note. ‘Modicumji, evidently a foreign power has financed this entire Pegasus project worldwide. It is feared that anyone with a talking device could be subjected to being heard and seen at all hours of the day or night. This has made many of our women folk extremely nervous, lest they should be sighted in a state of déshabillé if you get my meaning.’
‘You are not doing too badly yourself, Shahftus. Déshabillé eh? Meaning what, exactly? Naddalus, what does your Googlinctus say?’
Naddalus looked distinctly uneasy. He knew exactly what déshabillé meant but he was taken aback that his colleague Shahftus had heard of the word, though he murdered the pronunciation, what with the French and everything. He cleared his throat and attempted an explanation. ‘Modicumji, the word is French in origin, like many fancy English words, and it means when someone, particularly a woman, is in a state of, um, how I shall I put it, in the privacy of her boudoir, not modestly clothed.’ Naddalus let out a huge sigh of relief, mopping up the beads of perspiration on his forehead.
Modicum broke into a smile. ‘That was not so difficult, was it Naddalus? I am equally surprised that Shahftus knew this word, when I would have thought it was more in the vocabulary range of our erstwhile friend, Shashticus Thoroughbred. Déshabillé indeed! Utter nonsense. We have full respect for our women and men, and while I am at the helm, which will be till our holy cows come home, there will be no deshabilling. Go and tell that to the people.’
As it appeared that the meeting was winding down to a close, Shahftus wanted to know what exactly should be done about this Pegasus issue. Modicum replied firmly. ‘Look my friend, I still don’t know what Pegasus means other than that it is a white horse with wings, which might or might not be a brand of whisky. I suggest we just ride this one out, and the horse will just fly away. It has wings, has it not? We have survived far more tricky issues. So why worry about something no one seems to know the meaning of.’
‘Yes Modicumji, thank you Modicumji,’ the two strong men spoke in practiced unison. Far off, a winged white horse neighed, as it took flight.
It was just another day at the office.