Travels From Burgundia
Broadwater, Western Australia
About 100 xua-gi south of Sydney Cove
1385 in the European Calends
To His Majesty Louis LXVII
Emperor of Burgundy.
From His Majesty’s Jester Alberto
Your Serene Majesty,
It has now been nearly 6 months since you have sent me among the natives of the Great South Land Burgundia and this is my first report to you of my journeys and travails.
We left Burgundy under a full moon and a fair wind blowing to the east. Our vessel, Your Majesty’s Land Yacht “Madeleine” made good speed across the deserts of Rumania and Turkia. We were able to float the “Madeleine” across the water-bridge into Asiatica and into Syria and Irania.
At Al-Jazeera we bade farewell to Your Majesty’s empirical lands and crossed the border. At this point your wisdom in appointing a jester as leader of the expedition became immediately apparent. At the moment the bow of the “Madeleine” crossed the border of Irania into Afgania a wild being, half-human, half aardvark came whooping toward our craft. From his huge front paws there extended claws as long as an Arabia scimitar and he stood on his hind feet and waved his front claws extravagantly around my person.
I swallowed down my fear and asked him the first of the riddles I had prepared. ‘Why did the eagle fly to his nest?’ The frightening aardvark-man stopped, clearly puzzled.
In rough Frankish he asked me to repeat the riddle. ‘Why did the eagle fly to his nest?’ His claws retracted into his huge fur covered paws, and I could feel the large brown eyes boring into mine.
‘To save his eaglets?’ he ventured.
‘No,’ I tried to smile, but could not.
‘To meet his lady eagle?’ he tried a second time.
‘If you cannot guess on the third try, you must let me pass.’
‘I know,’ he sighed. He was silent for a long time. ‘To escape the aardvark-man?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘Now, let me pass.’
The aardvark-man stood aside. ‘Will you tell me the answer?’
As the wind filled the sail of the “Madeleine” and we pulled into alien territory, I called back, ‘Because the nest could not fly to him.’ Thus Sire we made our way into Afgania and into the terrible heights of mountains. The “Madeleine” made slow time in the thin air, but we eventually came down onto a large plain teeming with people, dark-skinned, with feathers for hair and a beak like a duck’s bill for a mouth.
Many a time in this land, whose name we learned was Inda, the feather-people would crowd the “Madeleine” so that even on the flattest ground with the strongest breeze the yacht could make no forward progress. They would let us pass only after I had sung every song I had sung for you, Majesty, and many others that you will have to wait for my return to hear.
They particularly enjoyed “Vive le Sérene de Burgundia”, singing your praises again and again until their police with their sharp beaks came and arrested some for sedition!
Serene Majesty, the journey was long through these hot and steamy lands. The “Madeleine” made of the white pine of the north country developed splits in the hulls and we spent some months in repairs. A wondrous grass grows here 10 times higher than a man and as round as one. It is strong and supple and can be shaped for repairs. The Indans call it ban-boo. The “Madeleine” is now bound together with this grass.
And on we travelled into the Great South Land which we claimed for you and named “Burgundia”. The northern deserts of the South Land are particularly suited for a speedy crossing in the “Madeleine” and we made for the place known as Sydney Cove. It was there that we began negotiations with the local inhabitants to incorporate their land into the Empire of Burgundy.
You should know, Majesty, that the inhabitants are peaceful, and that it why it is difficult to explain how we come to be here, 100 xua-gi or about 80 Roman miles south of Sydney Cove with the “Madeleine” impounded and us imprisoned in an ingenious cage on the edge of an enormous cliff.
Riddles, songs, jokes – all the stock in trade of a jester – have failed to better our situation.
The locals are a bizarre race. They stand at 3–4 cubits in height, with a skin like leather with little hair, except on their heads, which they keep well-groomed. Their faces are kind. They have two eyes placed above a nose and a mouth. They have two arms and two legs. Their arms in particular give them great agility. They can reach objects and grasp them with the five fingers of the hand at the end of each arm.
They live in family groups made up of one or two adults, usually the parents of younger children in the family. They care deeply for each other; the adults providing for the younger ones.
While our six legs and carapace enable us to withstand many environments, the Great South Landians have a determination beyond anything we have previously encountered to retain their land. They are keeping us in a square glass box, which we know has a sliding top, because they have thrown crumbs of their food to us through that top.
Majesty if this letter reaches you, we beg you to alert the Geneva Arthropod Convention about the conditions under which we are kept and to have us released.
Your humble servant,
Bio: Ted Withams’ stories always lead him back to Australia. In Travels From Burgundia, he lands on the East Coast, and Kafka breathes life into his main character.