The Wealthy Count

by Adam Acidophilus

In a room in a castle on an island in a bay there lived a wealthy count, who believed that he owned the whole world.

“See that?” he would remark to guests, pointing from his battlements and loopholes. “Mine! All of it.”

“Really?” they would answer – diplomatically.

And, as he owned the whole world, logically enough, he would plunder it as he wished: and the villages and farmsteads and harbours of the district grew used to his visits.

“I’ll have that and that – ” he would say to shopkeepers, stallholders, merchants and wholesalers. “I’ll have all of those, a horse, one of them, make that two … Is that your daughter? Good, I’ll have her as well.”

And, as those that took offence, refused to let him take stuff, tried to drive the price up – or charge him at all! – would be stabbed, decapitated, poleaxed, or ripped apart by slavering hounds they let him take the stuff; they didn’t want to die, did they?

“You know, somebody ought to do something about that wealthy count,” they would mutter at their quaysides and firesides. “They certainly should,” they would agree with each other. “But don’t look at me.”

Well, of course, he did not own the world. He didn’t even own the land! He only owned his island and his castle, and he’d stolen those! Even his swords and his armour and his poleaxe and his slavering hounds had been nicked. Own the land indeed! What a preposterous conceit!

The land was owned by an entirely different person altogether: the King! Obviously!

And of course the King was far from pleased once he got to hear about what this wealthy count had been up to. So he visited the villages and farmsteads and harbours. And he collected all the evidence he needed.

The King commanded the wealthy count to meet him on the beach; and the wealthy count, delightedly, rowed over to see him.

“Majesty! Your Highness! Your Esteemed and Be-Wondrous Muchness – ” he grovelled and he dribbled and he fawned.

“Never mind all that,” barked the King. “I hear you’ve been a very naughty count! Stealing people’s fish and meat and ale and local produce, and wives and daughters, and never paying for anything – I thought you were wealthy!”

The count cowered. “I shall this day, most ornamental of hallowed despots, commit to a vast page of palest vellum a solemn decree (drafted, transcribed and beautifully illuminated with tiny little pictures, by monks) in which I shall forsake my past behaviours and pledge to eternal saintliness.”

The King looked him over. “Good,” he replied. “That should do it. And make sure you stick to your word. Oh, and try to cut down on the killings. You’re over-reacting.”

And so the King rode off.

”Well, I don’t think much of that,” gasped those villagers and fisherman and labourers who had heard the conversation. “If you ask me, they’re all in it together!”

But, true to his word, the wealthy count had this vast illuminated pledge prepared, and nailed it to the wall of his bedchamber, so he could look at it every morning and feel good about himself. And, untrue to his word, he carried on in exactly the same way, only now burning down the houses of his victims, and flinging their weighted bodies into the sea, and making sure the slavering hounds buried all their bones.

The King returned. “Now what’s this I hear – ” he barked – “about you breaking your pledge? There are all kinds of stories being told! I could see that you have burned down a good number of villages on my way here. I notice the population has decreased, there are markedly fewer fishing boats – and the seawater appears distinctly pinkish. The ol’ weighted bodies, eh? Think I don’t know that trick?”

“Awesome and Titanic Imperialness,” began the count. “I have erred, I have sinned, I beg forgiveness! I shall never, ever, ever do such a thing again. And, by way of penance, I have commissioned the composition of a Chant of Atonement, in which my sins are listed and my absolution sought, over and over and over for about 12 hours or so. Every night.”

“Hmm, Chant of Atonement?” mused the King. “You going to sing this yourself?”

“Oh no, I’m engaging professionals,” said the count. ”It’s a big job.”

“Twelve hours, eh?” said the King. “How does it go?”

“Erm … ” answered the count, attempting to sing in a religious sort of a way:

“Really really sorry …

“Didn’t really mean it …

“Sorry about that …

“I’m quite nice actually …

“Once you get to know me – Only, it’s in Latin, obviously.”

“Ha! Well, that should do it!” laughed the King. “Good idea. Might get one of those for meself, now you suggest it.”

And he rode off, leaving the local residents far from satisfied.

So the wealthy count got the Chant written, and had it performed by monks every night. And if they got any of the words wrong or sung a bum note, he had them flayed or burned at the stake or broken on the wheel or crucified. And in the meantime he pillaged and razed the few untouched corners of the county, until the fields were bare of crops or livestock, the rivers were choked with bodies, the woods and the orchards were reduced to charcoal, the breeze was thick with smoke and the baying of distant hounds, and the once-blue waters of the bay were foul with putrefaction.

“I can explain everything!” the wealthy count yelled to the King, upon his next visit – from a boat, a safe distance from the beach. “Terrible misunderstanding: but we’re all friends now! I have, thus, ordered the construction of a Great Basilica here upon my island, to be dedicated to all the people I have killed. It shall be made from the whitest stone, hewn from the local cliffs, transported across the bay on pontoons, and hauled to the highest point of the island – where it shall be fashioned by skilled masons. It shall have a vaulted ceiling, with stonework as intricate as lace, and lovely mosaics, and windows depicting the story of my life – in colour!”

“Well that’s absolutely marvellous!” answered the King. “I am glad that you’ve turned over a new leaf. Who’s going to do the work?”

“Why, the survivors!” laughed the count.

“Good for them! Excellent idea! Jobs for everyone!” chuckled the King, riding away.

Moral: Mind you, that COP28 is really going to change things – isn’t it?

© Adam Acidophilus 2022