In a literary sense, this is not my best piece, but it was extremely fun to (try to) research and write. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
The Grand Convention–Origin of Politics
Napoleon Bonaparte had picked an extremely inopportune date for the Grand Convention of World Leaders. Rain poured down in waterfalls from every elevated point in the small medieval city and washed over my shoes in great brown rivers. I clutched the sketchbook hidden under my shirt and glared at the back of person’s head who stood in front of me. The line didn’t seem to be moving at all.
I’d been looking forward to this convention since I was a little boy. It was a hush-hush sort of thing, and only people with potential were invited. That was too pleasant of an adjective to describe those unqualified people who were invited to the convention. The convention was to take place in medieval England this year, and I’d thought that the organizers of the event would invite me. Surely they could see past that fact that I wasn’t much more than an artist looking for a little action.
They couldn’t, apparently. Shallow of them. I know.
I had to come, though, even if I was forced to beg for a spot in the convention. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one with that idea. The line to the door of the castle stretched nearly a mile.
The person behind me tapped my shoulder. “Excuse me.”
I ignored him. Probably another miscreant wanting to take my place in line so he could get a chance to see what the convention was all about. They’d been bothering me all morning.
“Excuse me,” he said, louder. His voice still had a couple prepubescent cracks hidden in it. “Are you deaf?”
I turned to face a short boy in his late teens, wearing a cap that hid only half the smallpox scars on his forehead. A large book peeked out from underneath his worn jacket. “What do you want?” I snapped.
He sniffed and scratched his nose. “This is the Grand Convention, isn’t it? Am I at the right place?”
“It’s the convention,” I said. “I take it you’re not a major world leader?”
He cast a glance at the long line ahead of us, and his lips turned down in a tight frown. “Well… no. But I am at the top of my class. Headed to theology school on scholarship. My mother thought it would be a great opportunity for me to attend this convention on the premise that I—”
“Good for you.” I wrapped my arms more tightly around my sketchbook. “But unless you’re a major world leader, you’re not getting in any time soon. The guards are checking everyone for the plague.”
His eyes grew wide. He had odd eyes—irises like black pits with the whites tapering into yellow spider webs. “Guards?”
“Yes. There should be hundreds at this event. Rumor has it that someone’s planning an assassination of Julius Caesar.”
He turned pale. Sniffed. “Really?”
“And Guy Fawkes may be in the city.”
“Derr’mo.” The boy cast a glance toward the medieval castle looming far in front of us, and he knitted his eyebrows together. “The castle doesn’t have a basement, does it? Please tell me there’s no basement.”
“There’s no basement.”
“Ah! Praise be to God.”
“There is a dungeon, though,” I said. “Along with murder holes and all those nice things that come along with fourteenth-century Europe. Not to scare you.”
He opened his mouth to speak, but a knight dressed in chain mail and a feathered helmet whacked him hard on the back. “Move along! We haven’t got room for the lot of you.”
There were a few shuffles, but no one left. The boy folded his arms across his chest and sniffed defiantly.
“I said we haven’t got room, you plague-sores!” The knight moved along the line, trying to disperse the crowd. He stopped when he saw the boy behind me. “Hold a moment. Do I know you?”
The boy’s face lit up. “Joseph. From the Young Dictators’ Workshop.”
“Ah, yes! Joseph from the Young Dictators’ Workshop. You worked in the cafeteria. Right good service that was.”
Joseph looked at me and gave a nervous laugh, his fingers tightening around his book.
“You want a place?” The knight clapped Joseph on the back again, and Joseph winced. “You’ve got a place. Come along with me. The rest of you get out of here!”
No. I had to get into the convention.
I motioned to Joseph, who looked confused for a few moments before he shook his head and started after the knight.
“It’s not going to hurt you to help me out,” I shouted after him. “Do you even know how long I’ve been waiting for this?”
Joseph sighed and motioned for me to follow him.
On the way in, I introduced myself. Joseph proceeded to relate his long family history. I stopped listening after the part about his father being a shoemaker and focused my attention on trying not to breathe the foul air that seemed to soak the entire city.
Shouts drifted into the castle’s hallway long before I saw the room in which the Convention was to take place. When the double doors opened for us to reveal the room, I took a step back. Amazement washed over me.
Huge torches lined the entirety of the dark, musty-smelling space, casting flickers of light on all the strange faces. People of all nationalities, wearing everything from suits to furs to loincloths, stood around the room as well as on top of the chairs and tables. Most of them were screaming at the top of their lungs. I pointed out the closest man to Joseph. “Who’s that?”
“You mean the man with the wig? That’s Maximilien Robespierre. I remember him from the workshop.” He waved and shouted, “Bonjour, Max!”
Robespierre spun on his heels, nearly losing his balance on the table. He pointed a bony finger straight at Joseph. “You’re next, you enemy of the Rebellion! The guillotine is wet with… red… body fluids of death!”
“He’s too squeamish to say the word ‘blood,’” Joseph said, laughing as he waved goodbye to Robespierre and started walking. “You want to take a bench in the back?”
I took off my hat and mopped my face with it as we walked. The room had a musty feeling that created a surreal, albeit uncomfortable, atmosphere. “The side will do. I like to get a look at faces so I can draw them.”
Joseph raised an eyebrow. “You’re an artist?”
I withdrew my sketchbook from under my shirt and waved it at him. “I am. Sending out my résumé next week to an art college, actually.”
He smiled—a nice smile that surprised me. “Congratulations. I hope you get in.”
I hoped I did, too, but I didn’t say so. I sat down and directed my attention to the woman mounting the makeshift stage at the far side of the room. She set a bowl of grapes on the lectern and tapped the microphone twice before lifting it to her lips. “Hello, hello,” she said, tucking her raven-black hair behind her ear and smiling. “May I graciously ask for everyone’s attention?”
The shouting continued.
The woman’s smile faded. She drew in a breath and let out a bloody scream into the microphone.
The noise decreased, and then stopped altogether. Robespierre pinched his chin and shot the woman a look before climbing down from the table.
“I just wanted to thank everybody for attending,” said the woman. “My name is Cleopatra. Many, if not all of you, already know me, but just in case, I’m going to list all of my accomplishments.”
“You mean affairs,” shouted a man from the back.
Cleopatra’s face flushed. “Shut up, Henry. You’re the one with six wives.”
“One at a time,” he yelled back. “Did you want to arrange something?”
The room erupted with accusations and insults. I leaned over to Joseph. “Do you think things could get violent?”
He looked up from his encyclopedia and shrugged. “Donald Trump is here. If things get too bad, he’ll build a wall.”
I looked around for someone interesting to sketch. From where I sat, the only people I recognized were Richard the Lionheart and Prince Jon. The latter had borrowed a match from Winston Churchill and was lighting the Magna Carta on fire.
“Anyway,” Cleopatra shouted over the uproar. “Does anyone want to remind me of the purpose of this convention? I attended a wonderful dinner party hosted by Marc Antony last night, and my mind seems to be going in and out today.”
“To discover our purpose,” said a man. “World leaders seem to have no real reason for being alive.”
“Thank you.” Cleopatra clapped, her long nails clicking against the head of the microphone. “There’s a reason why you’re called Alexander the Great. Any comments on that brilliant thesis?”
A woman wearing a huge dress with hair piled half her height raised her hand.
“Yes? Marie Antoinette, isn’t it? I’ve read about your execution.”
Marie’s voice was small and sweet. “Ah—execution, Madame?”
“Reign, execution, whatever. Continue, please.”
Marie smiled and lowered her hand. “I believe everyone has a purpose, whether they be good or evil.”
“Bad grammar!” shouted Robespierre. “Guillotine her!”
I hoped he stayed in that position—waistcoat flayed open, index finger extended. It was a nice position to draw. I made a few marks on my paper.
Joseph inspected my work for a long moment. “You ever thought about drawing political cartoons?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“Don’t.” He sniffed and tightened his tie. “It’s dangerous unless you’re doing propaganda for the government.”
The conversation of the world leaders didn’t vary much from the original topic after that. Attila the Hun spoke, and then George the first and second and third and fourth and most of the Henrys and Charleses and Williams. Some poet from Japan said something, but none of the leaders were very poetic, so they just sat in silence until he finished and then started arguing again.
Cleopatra popped a grape into her mouth, chewed, and swallowed. “Is everyone done?” she asked.
The room went silent.
“Great,” she said. “So we’ve concluded that the only purpose of world leaders is to wreak havoc. Am I correct?”
Most people in the crowd nodded or murmured their assent.
“And what should we call this? Somebody throw out something ridiculous.”
“Poly-ticks,” said Erik the Red in his deep, throaty voice. “Means ‘many bloodsucking creatures.’ Just thinking about it makes me want to kill a couple monks.”
Cleopatra pinched her chin and shrugged. “Don’t you think we ought to have something less obvious? I wouldn’t want our species to die off too quickly. How about ‘politics,’ after the Latin word ‘polis?’”
“What does that mean?” Erik asked.
“Bah! Nothing exciting about that.”
Cleopatra laughed. She started pacing the stage. “Exactly! We disguise it as the dullest subject possible. So boring that when adults discuss it, children start picking their nose. So devoid of life that high school students will repeat junior year just so they don’t have to take Government. So seemingly pointless that uninformed college students will weep over history books.” Reaching the lectern again, she leaned onto it and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Weep.”
The room went silent. A feeling of utter awe swept over me, and I was sure that the world leaders felt it too. This was genius. Beautiful, even.
Cleopatra straightened. “All in favor?”
The room exploded with cheers. Robespierre stood on the table and did an awkward little dance, unheeded by the rest of the celebrating world leaders. Marcus Brutus throwing Olympic wreaths everywhere, Genghis Khan spouting some rubbish about invading Russia in the winter, Winston Churchill smoking so happily that he almost wasn’t frowning.
“At this time, I’d like to invite our host to give closing remarks,” Cleopatra said, rapping on the lectern to gather the crowd’s attention. “Napoleon Bonaparte?”
No one moved. Finally, Andrew Jackson spoke up. “I think he was banished to the Isle of Elba.”
She sighed. “I didn’t want to listen to a speech, anyway. Go forth and wreak havoc, everybody! Be sure to thank any non-plague-infested medieval citizens for allowing us use of their castle.”
After about half the world leaders had filed out, I closed my sketchbook and stood. “Good to meet you,” I told Joseph, extending my hand.
He transferred the encyclopedia to his other arm and shook my hand, his yellowish eyes meeting mine. His grip was surprisingly strong for such a short person. “What did you say your name was again?” he asked.
“Adolf,” I said. “Adolf Hitler.”
He grinned. “Joseph Stalin. Maybe we’ll meet again.”
“Sure.” I held open the door for him as we walked out. “Good luck in the priesthood, by the way.”
“Many thanks! And you in your art.”
“No worries.” I held up the sketchbook. “I’m going to conquer the world. You watch.”
Joseph laughed. “Oh. I’ll be watching.”