Once upon a time, everyone was really excited. I was really excited too!
The emperor is coming to town, you see, and he’s bringing with him all the great things that make him so powerful and fair. He is bringing a dozen horses and all of his dancers and the funny court jester… And once he rides through town, on his white horse Billy told me is eighteen whole hands tall, there will be a big feast! Pepper jellies, fresh crusty breads, and spiced meats… the list of food I saw in town went on and on… How could anyone be anything but excited? I never thought one day could feel so long.
Everyone is working especially hard to get ready for his arrival. Even us kids are being put to work! I’ve been tasked with carrying news from one person to another about certain progress. It’s a really big responsibility, you know. They didn’t trust Billy, or Mae, or even Salvador, to do it; they trusted me. I get to see all the projects as they work on them. The other kids mostly got stuck with street cleaning, so bully to them!
Acting as courier, I’m getting to see a lot. The big cake Mr. Valente is baking, Mrs.Sato’s elegantly painted banner welcoming him… People are laughing and chattering away while they work, and everything is looking really great!
Everyone is looking more and more worried though. Their eyes are strained while they get the may pole ready, I can see it. The bakers preparing the feast are practically pulling their hair out. Every now and then I hear people speaking in hushed tones, their glances furtive while they strangle their own hands… At first I thought it was that they were nervous about disappointing the emperor, but it’s not that. Everything looks so good! What’s going on?
I’ve always kind of wanted to be an investigator. Donning my special investigator hat and my best sneaking shoes, I begin the hunt for information.
It takes a few hours, but I finally manage to figure out what’s spooking everyone. Old Man Michaels and Miss Hayashi the Widower were talking about it in languid, gossipy tones. They didn’t seem particularly worried. Old people never do.
Anyways, turns out, the emperor has a new way of informing people if they don’t deserve their jobs. He doesn’t even have to do anything. People will just look at him, and they’ll just know, you know? I don’t really see why that’d be such a concern, I guess. I mean, then you can always just change jobs right? Nero’s dad does it all the time, in between trips to the bar!
It’s probably not that important. All these grown-ups are just too excited, they’re getting themselves in knots. Sometimes I wonder if they’re really the adults around us.
I can barely get to sleep. It’s only a few hours until we get to see the emperor in all his glory! Eventually though, morning does come. I leap out of bed, put on my best shoes and clothes. Mom seems really intent on washing my hair so I only put up a bit of a fuss, instead of the usual rigmarole. I want to see the emperor as soon as possible!
We get out, stand on the main street for a bit. In the distance, we can hear the horns. All too soon they’re on us!
Everything. Looks. Amazing. Stretching out on mom’s shoulders, I can see it all. The jester dances ahead of the cavalcade, followed by some weird animals I’ve never seen before! Some of them have lumps on their backs that wobble from side to side, another has huge long teeth and a big nose… they’re really funny.
Finally, after hours of waiting, we see the emperor’s carriage. I can kind of feel it before I can see it though. There’s a sudden silence in the crowd as he approaches. Probably reverence, you know, at seeing a descendent of such a powerful lineage.
The carriage draws closer. And so does the silence, which I can now see is a stony reflection of the emperor’s own nervous tenseness. I don’t know why! He looks great, younger than I’d have thought, and resplendent in flowing violet silk. His trim is gold and silver, goes from head to toe. His cape is puffy with fur, and probably awful hot in the morning sun. He has his crown on and it sparkles in the light with all the gems. So do his rings.
A few people… well they don’t look so much in awe as they look sick to their stomachs. Even mom’s face falls, her hand gripping mine awful tight. I wiggle free of her grasp, eyes fixed on the emperor. He might look young, but the lines around his eyes make him look old. Why is everyone so unhappy? This is a great day.
Stupid Billy has to go and break the silence in the crowd with another stupid joke of his.
“Why isn’t he wearing any clothes?”