The Kingdom of Grum


Hal Manwaring

Once, a long time ago, there lived two and a half Grums. These Grums were covered with fur on top, scales underneath, and feathers on the sides. They were queer looking Grums, but as Grums go, they were not TOO unusual. Most Grums - the kind who live on craggy cliffs and the other kind who live in sea foam - were all the same color and It took another Grum just like them to tell where their feathers ended and the Fur and scales began.

But these two and a half Grums were different in that they were colored like the end of a rainbow, all blue and flaming red and pink and purple and orange. Some thought they were colored more like a southern sunset than a rainbow.

But that wasn't the only difference. All the other Grums were the same size, almost as tall as the Snudges who lived in holes on prairie lands, and about as thick around the middle as the Bursts who lived near flowers. But these two and a half Grums were more like Snugdugs - tall and slender and graceful.

That is, all except one. The half Grum was just half the size of the other two and it worried him. It worried the other two also. In fact it worried almost all of the other Grums, the ones who lived on craggy cliffs as well as the sea foam kind. Even the few Snudges who were left, and the Bursts, were very much concerned. All but a few - there are always some who couldn't care less.

One day the two Grums who were taking a walk along the south west side of the Place looked around to make sure that Half Grum could not hear them and one of them - the one with the whistle - said, "Whatever are we to do, Tom? In another five days the parade will be organized, the games all planned, the food all prepared, and - and - the Queen of all the Grums will be there. And poor little Half Grum ..." She broke off speaking as the tears rolled down her cheeks.

Tom shook his head slowly from side to side and then from top to bottom, as all Grums do when in doubt. "I don't know, Agatha, I just don’t know. The shame of it will create a psychological problem - it's one thing to KNOW you're different, but another thing entirely to SEE the difference. Just as soon as his eyes are opened and he sees how different he is from us - From all of us ... " He broke off talking just as Agatha had done and blew his nose.

They were silent for a bit, each thinking their own thoughts. How long ago had it been? Half Grum had delivered to them five months ago, a darling little Grum, perfectly square, like a toy building block. Happy days and weeks passed until the fourth month. At that time - four months from delivery day - all Grums become full grown suddenly - at once - in an instant. That is, all but Half Grum. On the morning of his Upsee, as the change from childhood to adulthood is called, nothing happened.

There all of them were, most of the Grums from the craggy cliffs and a few from the foam, as well as some Snudges to celebrate the occasion. And nothing happened. Oh, the Upsee took place with all the other young Grums. Oh yes. There they all were lined up along the beach with the sun blazing down and a cool breeze wafting the scent of hollyhock and jasmine about them.

Most of the Grums had dressed for the occasion, wearing brightly colored woven mantles, called pflegs, which were gifts to them from the silent Granies who worked for nothing and never raised their eyes.

The ceremony was simple. All the young Grums stood at attention on the beach. The oldest Grum raised his voice in a wailing wavering call, and after it quavered and died away there was silence for a few seconds and then all the other Grums with one accord, echoed the voice with laud crys, and as the echos of the last sound died away, all began to dance around the small Grums. The vibrations of the earth shook the small Grums, and the more they shook, the faster they grew. It did not take long. In less than five minutes the baby Grums who before were less than three inches tall were now full grown and stood almost twelve inches high. That is, all but Half Grum. He stopped growing at six inches.

Once again Agatha spoke to Tom. "What are we going to do? Eye opening day is Saturday and as soon as he sees how different he is, I'm afraid he will be broken hearted."

Tom shook his head again from side to side but before it reached the top to bottom stage he stopped shaking it and stood quite still, his ears twitching and the breath whistling through his nostrils as all Grums do when they are thinking or have an idea.

"I have been thinking and I have an idea, Agatha." He said. "Why should he be sad or sorry? Why shouldn't he be happy?"

"Don't talk like an idiot! How can..."

"Listen! Lets start a rumor that he is to be King of all the Grums. We can make up an old legend that predicts it. Most Grums are credulous and will believe it. In this way his size will work for him -- not against him. He will be king -- and why not? He is different from all the rest of us. And Kings, of course, are different too."

Agatha stood thoughtfully for a minute and then said, "But even if we do fool all the other Grums, what about the Snudges, and the Bursts, and the Snugdugs, eh? How about them -- they are not stupid."

"Oh, they'll go along with it. Things are pretty dull for them and chances are they'll welcome a change. Especially if I make it worth their while."

"Yes, but even if that is so - how about the Oueen? Answer me that! How about the Oueen? You cant fool the Queen. SHE will know a king Grum From another --especially Half Grum."

"Never mind about the Queen." Tom replied, "All Queens are alike. Just tell them how much they resemble the Cluggs and they will eat out of your hand." He frowned thoughtfully, "Lets go home and get Half Grum ready for the Eye Opening ceremony. He should look his best - what there is of him. Then we had better discover some buried legends to pass on to the Grums."

Far the next three days Tom and Agatha worked hard trimming Half Grums scale, preening his feathers and brushing his fur until he glistened and sparkled in the light and glowed like burning embers in the night. Also they had been telling all their neighbors about the long lost parchment they had discovered floating in the air which predicted that Half Grum was to be their King.

But not all the Grums accepted this. Especially Pike, the sentinel. "Young and old, for years and years, have I lived here on this Place, and have traveled to the north and south as well as to the east and west, and never has there been a King over this land. No, never! never! The Queen, aye, the Queen. Never a King. Just a Queen."

"But don't you see?" Tom cried. "Half Grum is the answer to the Queen's prayers. Never a king, you say. Right! And that's what has been the trouble. What Queen wants to rule alone? That's why the Queen is so cross all the time and puts such a heavy burden of taxation on us. She has no king to browbeat so she takes out her frustrations on us - we, the people.

Pike stroked his fur and shaped his scales with frail trembling fingers. "Aye, the Queen needs a King. Young and old, for years and years I have had to put up with that old bag, with her insults and whims. She sure needs something and it might as well be a king."

Then you believe that the legend is true? That Half Grum was destined from the beginning to be King?" Tom asked hopefully.

"Aye. Let it go at that." One eye closed slowly in Tom's direction as he struggled shakily to his feet. "Well, lots to do. Tomorrow is Eye Opening day." He started to walk away and then turned and called," I'11 talk to the other skeptical ones - most of them owe me. There'll be no trouble." He turned then and ambled painfully toward the Rimcut under which the sentinels all lived.

Eye Opening day dawned bright and clear with just a hint of frost to come. The surf along the north shore surged boisterously in and then retreated with whispered regrets. A few Grums rode the surf happily into shore, and then spreading their feathers wide, rose gracefully from the water to circle and wheel and finally dive again into the water to swim and play around with their cousins the foam Grums.

For the most part, however, the Grums were gathering together earnestly talking among themselves as they lined up in the traditional manner for Eye Opening day. In addition to the solemn ceremony connected to this event there was now an intense excitement in the air - am undercurrent of expectation. How would the Queen react to the new King?

Most of them, at one time or another, had experienced the Royal wrath of the Queen. Most of them had smarted under the lash of her tongue, or from the burden of servitude in some manner placed upon them. Ah yes, the Queen! Long live the Queen. Her most Royal Highness - a vixen prone to moods. A King would be a welcome event. If nothing else he might act as a buffer.

It was getting along about ten o'clock and most of the Grums were in their places along the Top, near the High Circle. Just below, across from the Tower, stood the Oldun. Next to them stood all the youngun. Below them, in a kneeling position, were all the Snudges. Next, row upon row, the Bursts shimmered and quivered like multi colored beads of quicksilver. There were no Snugdugs present, however, because years before they had been banned from this event by Royal decree. No one knew why. Not even the Queen.

All the candidates for Eye Opening were now sitting in front of the Queen's canopy. There were seventy three Grums about to receive Eye Opening rites at which time they would be able to see, for the first time, their surroundings.

Suddenly, a great half-hearted cheer arose. The Queen was approaching. All the Grums bowed low as she swept past, a sullen frown on her face. One slender foot kicked viciously at a small iridescent Burst who had lost his way.

"Let's get on with it." She cried shrilly, "This is a bore. Why I ever put up with it I don't know." She sat down and waved her hand petulantly. "Commence!"

For such a momentous event Eye Opening day ceremonies were brief and simple. As each candidate stood in front of the Queen one of the Olduns rapped him smartly behind the ears with a thruby and muttered a short incantation. Immediately thereafter the Grum's eyes were opened and in that instant his future life was determined. If he bowed and cried "Long live the Queen, most gracious, most beautious!" he was assured a place with the elect. On the other hand, however, if he fainted dead away - and many did at time - as the Queen was really hard to take, he was doomed to hard labor every third Wednesday and Friday.

Finally it was Half Grums turn to stand before the Queen. All the others had cried, "long live the Queen, most gracious, most beautious" and were standing proudly on either side of her. As the Oldun finished his incantation over Half Grum, his eyes popped open and he stared at the Queen in horror. Then his glance roved over the vast assemblage and he bowed his head a moment in indecision. Then, facing the Queen he said, "Forget it! I'd rather be a Half Grum, which is bad enough - but to be a Half Grum saddled with a Queen like you would be more than fur, feathers and scales could stand. Do your worst!"

The Queen sat gazing at him curiously. Never had such a one been before her. Never had anyone spoken to her like this. She looked out over the crowd. They were waiting with hushed breath - waiting – waiting.... The Queen, of course, had heard the rumors of an ancient legend stating that she should marry this Grum - that he was to be King, and as she looked down at him standing before her, she felt kindly toward him. But he was small. Only half size. And any queen should have a king size king.

As she continued to gaze at him she began to love him. Finally she spoke. "Half Grum, I have looked upon you with favor, but we shall not marry. I want a King to rule not only over my people but me as well. And how can that be with you - a half Grum?"

Half Grum spoke boldly. "Oh Queen, as you speak kindly I see your features soften and become beautiful. Now, I would wish with all my soul to wed thee, but it can never be. The legend is false! It was made up for my benefit by friends. Under the circumstances even though you look upon me with favor it would be nay."

Tears were in the Queen's eyes as she stood up. "You would make a good King. I must go now." She hesitated a moment and then sat down again. "Dance, my people, dance before I leave you."

Cheering, the people danced. The Younguns and the Olduns and some of the Snudges, and all of the Bursts. All the previous candidates for the Eye Opening day, stood in the center of the circle of dancers. The ground trembled and shook from the stamping of feet and there was shouts and laughter from all. Suddenly all was quiet. The dancing stopped and the laughter ceased. All eyes were on Half Grum.

But he wasn't Half Grum anymore. He was taller now than any of the others. The shaking of the ground as the people danced had finished the job of growing up which somehow had failed on his Upsee day. Possibly a case of delayed reaction.

The Queen, now beautiful, looked up at him as he looked down at her. "I believe that legend," she said smiling.

Half Grum smiled also, "I believe it too. But it is not Half Grum who marries you. No, it is I, Grumplus who will be King over this land, and you, my Queen, most gracious, most beautious."

And all the Grums who lived on craggy cliffs, and those who lived in sea foam, and the Snudges who lived in holes on prairie land, and the Bursts who lived near flowers - well, all lived in peace and happiness forever after because the Queen had found someone to love at last.