(THE SCENE: The set of the children’s early Saturday morning TV show Storytime. It’s a sunny playroom with craft tables and various types of artsy-crafty paraphernalia. Children are drawing, playing with toys, laughing and generally having fun. A simple theme song starts up as storylady “Sasha” enters, book in hand, to screams of delight. She is in her early 40s and gives off a wholesome Donna Reed vibe. The children drop what they’re doing and rush up to hug her. As the crush of people enters the middle of the floor, Sasha sits down on large floor cushion, and the children each grab a small cushion and sit a semicircle in front. The music dies down.)
SASHA: “Ready for another story?”
SOPHIA (age 5): “We sure are, Sasha. What do you have for us today?”
SASHA: “Our story today comes from medieval times and is called The Vassal King and the Emperor.”
BRANDON (age 7): “What’s a vassal king?”
SASHA: “That’s a king who rules over a people but really serves another ruler. Instead of being a real king, a vassal king is like a ‘servant king’”
KATE (age 8): “What about the king’s loyalty to his own people?”
SASHA: “Excellent question, Kate! Listen, and you’ll find out what happens.
“Our story takes place a long time ago in a kingdom called Ovella. It was a land blessed with forests, fish, water and fertile soil for crops. The people of Ovella were happy, and their kingdom had a reputation for fairness and justice that was envied by people in other kingdoms. But the good times would not last because a darkness fell over the land, a darkness the Ovellans brought on themselves.
“You see, every four years, the people gathered together to elect a king…”
TRISTAN (age 6): “…but Sasha, kings aren’t elected. They’re borned.”
SASHA: “‘Born’, Tristan, and some kings can be elected, just like in the Middle Ages…
“…to rule justly and protect their wonderful life. Some kings were good, and some were not so good, but the country always survived and the people were generally happy. Over time, though, the Ovellans changed. More and more, they started to care less and less about each other or who ran the kingdom because they were more interested in making money, spending money and playing games. The Ovellans were so focused on their own lives that they stopped paying attention to elections. Then, one election day, the people paid the price for their selfishness and sloth.”
SOPHIA: “They had a sloth?”
TRISTAN: “What price did they pay for it?”
ELAINE (age 8): “What was its name?”
SASHA: “Goodness! So many questions! ‘Sloth’ in the story doesn’t mean an animal; it means not paying attention to things that are important.…
“A new candidate came forward and presented himself as a decisive leader who would give Ovellans more money to spend. The slothful voters liked what they heard and elected this candidate to be their new king. It was only afterwards that they realized their terrible mistake. They had not elected a king; they had elected a vassal king.
“No sooner had King Stephen started to rule than he began to destroy the very things about Ovella that make it such a great place to live. Fair wage laws were repealed; people were forced to work harder for less money; foreign business lords called ‘corporations’ were allowed to come and pollute the beautiful rivers and lakes; libraries were closed; and people lived in fear. The once-happy Ovellans were now virtual slaves in their own country as they were forced to serve the king, instead of the king serving them.
DAVID (age 10): “Why would King Stephen do that to his own people?”
SASHA: “That’s an excellent question, David. Can anyone guess the answer? (Lots of little arms shoot straight up.) Tristan?”
TRISTAN: “He made a lot of mistakes.”
ELAINE: “He was evil.”
DAVID: “His, uh, other king told him to.”
SASHA: “Elaine and David, you’re very close. King Stephen knew exactly what he was doing and who he was doing it for.”
“Stephen the Terrible, as he came to be called, belonged to a secret society of foreign corporate lords and religious bullies called zionists. They cared only about making as much money as possible, impoverishing the people of Ovella, and serving the emperor. As a vassal king, Stephen could not allow the welfare of his own people to get in the way of enriching the foreign lords and the emperor. That's why all the rights and benefits the Ovellans enjoyed had to be taken away.
“The people turned to their local lords to do something but they were either too afraid or unimaginative to do what was necessary. Even though Stephen was committing crime after crime, the local lords refused to do anything meaningful to stop him. They just made fancy speeches and planned for the next election. Meanwhile the quality of life got worse and worse, the people’s rights disappeared one by one, and all seemed to be lost, until…”
ALL KIDS (excitedly): “Until what, Sasha?”
SASHA: “…until Stephen the Terrible became Stephen the Stupid! (peels of laughter) The vassal king thought that he could do anything and get away with it because he was a king and could terrorize his people, but he was wrong. The Ovellans found out that Stephen the Terrible was a cheat and a liar, and the king's council was caught bribing a senator. The people started to wake up. They started to pay attention. They demanded that Stephen resign.”
DAVID: “Did he?”
SASHA: “No, David. That would have been the honourable thing to do, and Stephen was not that kind of leader.”
“Stephen didn’t care what his people thought. They didn’t matter. He was the emperor’s vassal and believed that he ruled by divine right, like a god. Besides, he had the support not only of the emperor but also of the emperor’s many minions, who now controlled Ovella’s police and newspapers…”
(The children start to giggle.)
SASHA: “...what’s so funny?”
KATE: “You said ‘minions!’”
ELAINE: “Did the emperor’s minions look like the ones in Despicable Me?”
SASHA: (laughing at the unintended double-entendre) “No, These minions were not nearly as cute!
“But the more Stephen mistreated the people of Ovella, the worse things seemed to get. Not even the tribunes of the kingdom, who had become Stephen’s loyal parrots, could stop the spread of negative news. Stephen knew he had become extremely unpopular, and he also knew he would soon have to stand for election again. He couldn't turn to his own people for support—he was destroying their way of life—and the more he attacked them for speaking out the angrier they became. There was only one thing for him to do. He had to go see the emperor.
(The children become quiet and started paying closer attention.)
“The emperor was a big, beefy man with cold, beady eyes that betrayed no sign of human feeling. He ruled over a land across the sea stolen from a people called the Filistans, who lived in even greater misery than the Ovellans. The emperor’s vassal kingdoms did nothing to defend the Filistans because the emperor could not admit that they had a right to exist. Yet, despite the power of the emperor’s minions, the vassal kings in these lands faced growing resentment among their peoples over the treatment of the Filistans and refused to trade with imperial merchants.
“So, when the emperor learned of Stephen the Terrible’s planned pilgrimage, he was overjoyed. His most loyal vassal king was coming to pay homage, and the emperor could use the visit to remind his vassal kingdoms of his reputation and power. ”
DAVID: “What’s a homage and how much did he pay for it?”
SASHA: “Homage is not something you buy…exactly. ‘To pay homage’ means to show obedience to a higher person, like the kind a dog might show his master.”
DAVID: “Did Stephen have to wear a collar and do tricks?” (giggling)
SASHA: “In a manner of speaking, yes, and I’m just getting to that part.
“Upon his arrival, Stephen the Terrible and his entourage were received by an honour guard and taken to the emperor. Stephen was dressed in his finest royal garments both as a sign of respect and to show that, as he performed four acts of homage, his rule was less than that of the emperor.
“As they entered the throne room of the emperor’s palace, Stephen told his advisors to wait at the back as he alone made the long walk on the blue and white carpet up to the emperor, who was seated on a raised throne. As he did, a servant brought the emperor a wooden chest, The Chest of Vassalage.
“Before any vassal king could kneel to perform the act of subservience, he had to put on the Imperial Kneepads of Vassalage. They were coloured imperial blue and had a raised metallic imperial insignia. The insignia could clearly be felt through the pads as the vassal knelt before the emperor, and the longer the act of subservience continued, the more pain the vassal king felt, but he was not allowed to move. The pain was to remind the vassal king of his own inferiority and accept that the emperor could control him.
“After performing his duty, he removed the kneepads, and gave them to the servant, who replaced them in the Chest of Vassalage. Stephen then venerated the Empire’s Great Victim Shrine and the Imperial Wall of Legend. His fourth act of homage was to declare his obedience to the emperor in The Great Imperial Council by delivering a dishonest, sycophantic speech.”
KATE: “Did Stephen lie to the emperor?”
SASHA: “Not exactly. Stephen merely said what he was expected to say. That’s what ‘sycophantic’ means—he told the emperor what he wanted to hear so that he could gain the emperor’s approval and support. He swore undying loyalty to the empire, not Ovella, condemned the emperor’s critics, and praised the empire and the imperial people.
“The lies he uttered were the traditional ones that all vassal kings have to say to support the emperor and his empire, especially those lies that denied the rights of the Filistans to live in peace, and those that make the empire look like the victim of cruelty instead of the cause. Believe it or not, Stephen actually believed these lies, so it was easy for him to make this speech!”
TRISTAN: “Didn’t King Stephen…”
SASHA: “…Vassal King Stephen.”
TRISTAN: “Didn’t Vassal King Stephen think he’d get into trouble telling those lies?”
SASHA: “Vassal kings don’t think. (laughter) If they did, they wouldn’t be vassal kings. Besides, the only people the vassal king thinks he needs to please are the emperor and the foreign lords, and they loved what he said!
“After performing his rituals, the emperor gave Stephen what he came for. He blessed Stephen in a very public ceremony so that his minions in Ovella would try extra hard to help Stephen win re-election, for they are the ones that matter the most. So powerful was the emperor’s blessing that one of Stephen’s travelling advisors was overcome with emotion and tried to get blessed himself, but he was not allowed to get close to the emperor. This ceremony was for Stephen alone.
“Their mission accomplished, Stephen and his advisors returned to Ovella, confident that they had secured re-election, but they would be surprised. The people were madder than ever! They were ashamed of Stephen’s acts of homage, outraged at the lies he told to the Great Imperial Council and angrier at Stephen’s attempt to destroy their country. They were now more determined to remove him from power.”
ELAINE: “I thought the Ovellan people didn’t matter.”
SASHA: “In Stephen’s mind they don’t but in reality they do. That’s the tragedy of a vassal king—he is at war with his own people, and a king who is hated cannot long survive.
“The people demanded their local lords do more than give fancy speeches and promote their own political interests. They demanded immediate action. Some Ovellans got tired of waiting and so thousands of them marched on Stephen’s residence calling for him to step down. Some hurled bricks and eggs and fought with police. Others marched on the Council Chamber and shut it down so that Stephen and his minions couldn't do any more damage to the country. Still other Ovellans began to arm themselves for the pitched battle that was to come.
“All over the country the people grew bolder. Fights broke out between Ovellans and the kings’ zionist minions. Civil war threatened as Ovella fought for its very existence. Stephen called out the army to put down the rebellion, ordering it to kill any who resisted, for Stephen had declared opposition of any sort to be a crime and anti-imperial.
(The children are on the edges of their cushions!)
“But the general of the army refused to obey. He saw what was happening and could not bring himself to order the mass murder of innocent Ovellans. He ordered the army to stay in its barracks and did nothing to stop the citizen-led revolt from taking out their anger on Stephen and his minions. The vassal king feared for his life. He disguised himself as a common Ovellan and with his 10 most loyal advisors fled for the protection of the emperor. He would have made it if an alert Ovellan had not recognized Stephen and held them all until the army could escort them back to the capital for trial.
“All 11 were found guilty of treason and crimes against the Constitution. Stephen and his foreign and cultural minions were executed for their crimes amid much celebration; the other eight were sent to the dungeons for the rest of their lives. After the execution, the general council met to appoint one of themselves as regent to rule Ovella until the next king could be elected. (Sasha closes the book)
So, did you like that story, children?”
ALL TOGETHER: “YEAH!!!”
SASHA: “That’s all story time we have for today.”
ALL TOGETHER: “Awww!”
SASHA: “Don’t worry, children. I'll be back next week.” (Sasha gets up and walks off stage.)
ALL TOGETHER: “Bye Sasha!” (They wave as she leaves and then they go back to their playing.)
(Theme music starts up; credits roll; fade out)