Chapter 5 – King for a Day
On the morning of the carnival procession, thousands of festival revellers started making their way to the main market square to see the The Burial of the Sardine. The city guild of carpenters had built two large spectator stands on either side of the square. One was for the Stadthouder and the consigniliari of the town, the other for the Lord Veritant and the Knights Excelsior. Manstien had send a herald to the barracks days ago with an official invitation to come and watch this unique event as the guests of honour. The Lord Veritant had yet to send a reply.
As Manstien, the consigniliari and their families arrived to take up their spaces on the stand, a loud murmur rose from the crowds at one end of the square. The Knights Excelsior were coming! The Knights marched up to their tribune stand, ascended the steps and took their places.
“Thanks for letting me know” Manstien thought wryly, but he understood by now that manners and protocol were not particular strengths of Germanus Graghus. What he did not like was that they had brought their warhammers and shields with them. A Stormcast warrior can never be seen without them he mused, but still it was unsettling. Below Sheriff Albertus gave instructions to the units of Halberdiers who were tasked with guarding spectator stands. More Halberdiers whose job it was to control the crowd also stood alongside the procession route. Once everyone knew what they had to do, Albertus joined Manstien on the stand.
Soon trumpets blared at one end of the square and the start of the procession came into view. First to be brought out were the bones of Holy Michael the Hermit, the legendary founder of the city. The relics were carried in a heavy altar which was held aloft at each of its four corners by representatives of the city's guilds. The group marched slowly whilst singing hymns to revered saint.
Holy Michael’s skeleton stood upright on the carriage, wrapped in his hermit habit, his skeletal arms clutching a large pole which was topped by a golden warhammer. Holy Michael could speak the tongue of the demigryphs so he bore the wings of a cup demigryph. As the carriage passed, festival goers dropped down on one knee and clasped their hands together above their lowered heads. Manstien and the dignitaries followed suit but not the Knights Excelsior. They gazed in amazement at the passing skeleton.
Then came the March of the Dead. A large column of procession participants all dressed in black robes onto which the bones and rib cages of the long dead were stitched on. Wearing skulls as face masks, many carried burial caskets with the skeletal remains of their long gone illustrious family members. Dancers representing the souls of the Montalbani people darted in and out of the column, resplendent in their long, green robes. They howled prayers to the gods of the dead to have mercy on the souls of their departed family members. As the column passed the stands, Manstien noticed how the Knights Excelsior opposite them appeared to become increasingly agitated. A few of the Stormcasts began to turn towards the Lord Veritant.
“Do you think they are enjoying the procession so far?” he asked Albertus next to him.
“Theirs may not be our idea of enjoyment, my Lord” was Albertus' reply.
Manstien started to feel decidedly sick. This invitation of his was a bad idea he now realised. But too late.
Next in the procession were the Guilds of the City; butchers, weavers, spinners and blacksmiths. All holding their guild banners high as they passed the cheering crowds.
Then came the March of the Diseased. This large column commemorated how the city of Montalban, which was situated in the realm of Ghyran, was once struck, hundreds of years ago, with a devastating plague. When all the citizens had perished, legend told how Holy Michael the Hermit cleansed the city and founded it anew. Semi naked procession participants with grotesque painted boils on their bodies, wobbled on crutches past the tribunes, while holding animal entrails high up to the sky. They howled to the sky beseeching the gods of disease and pestilence to have mercy on their souls and bodies. At the rear of this column were the mutilated and poorest citizens, their bodies broken and twisted, disfigured by malnutrition and leprosy. Manstien saw several Stormcasts arguing with the Lord Veritant who remained standing still.
Then came the March of The Blood Reavers, a column which commemorated how the city was almost slaughtered to a single soul by an army of blood thirsty marauders and blood demons. These men were the strongest and largest in the city. They were an awesome sight, dressed in animal pelts, spiked leather belts and bearing large spiked clubs. A rowdy lot, they threw buckets of foul smelling animal blood over themselves and the crowds shouting “We want blood! We need to see blood every day!” Unfortunately, in their enthiousiasm, some of them got carried away and started throwing blood into the Stormcast stand. Manstien's knees began to buckle. He gripped hold of Albertus who was standing next to him as he noticed the Lord Veritant's face turning as red as the blood that was splattered on his white battle plate.
More procession floats passed by, some funded by the merchants of the city, others depicted the lives of famous city elders. Finally came the last act of the carnival. This was the float of the King for a Day. Since time immemorial, on the day of The Burial of the Sardine, the humblest citizen of Montalban was crowned Prince of the carnival and King for a Day. The stadthouder would hand over the chain of office to him and until daybreak the next morning the city was ruled by the King for a Day.
This year the guild of the carpenters had built a large float in the shape of a merchant ship. It was placed on top of a sturdy, long carriage with many large wheels. When it appeared on the square, the crowds began roaring in joy. Hundreds of people pulled and pushed the float forward with ropes and their bare hands. On the sides of the vessel the words Rex Diem, King for a Day were written in large red letters . On top of it sat Bert and next to him stood his court jester.
When Manstien saw Bert on top of the float, he whispered to Albertus “Holy Michael, he is even uglier than last year”. Bert was not an ordinary human. He was as large as a troll, three times the height of an ordinary citizen. Nobody could figure out if he was a giant or a troll. Many years ago Bert had arrived in the city and took up residence down town in the poorest quarter of the city. Bert couldn't tell where he came from but he liked Montalban and spent his days helping out where he could amongst the ordinary folk. People had grown to like him and considered him as one of their own. Each year they elected him as the humblest citizen for the festival. Bert was good natured, except when he was angry of course and in that event no building was safe from his enormous destructive strength.
Sheriff Albertus would only dare intervene when Bert's rage had subsided.
Bert sat on the float holding on to the sides as it rocked its way forward towards the stands. He wore a large wooden crown on his head, made from a barrel cut in half, and around his neck hung a large sign on which was written “Sigmar”. Manstien recognised the court jester as the city's resident poet, a man he thoroughly disliked. For official occasions he would write beautiful verses, but he was more famous for writing scandalous satires about Manstien and the other consigniliari. Manstien had heard several such songs in the taverns, disgusting tales about his person and his dubious ancestry.
When the Rex Diem came to a halt in front of the spectator stand of the consigniliari, the roar of the crowds grew louder and louder “Rex Diem ! Rex Diem !” Suddenly a ladder was put against the sides of the float. The crowd pulling the float parted and cleared a path from the stand to the ladder. As Manstien began to descend the stand steps and walked over to the ladder the noise grew even more in intensity. From somewhere in the crowd, a large piece of heavy chain, painted in gold., was handed to him. He took it and draped it over both arms as he began to climb the ladder. Once on top. he took the chain and offered it to Bert who stood up. The crowd suddenly fell silent. Wobbling precariously on top of the ladder, Manstien began “ I, stadthouder Manstien, hereby offer you the chain of command. I hereby crown you, Bert the First, Prince Laus Stultitiae and King for a Day”.
The crowd cheered as Bert took hold of the chain and put it around his neck. Bert then turned to the court jester who shouted something in Bert's ear. Bert raised his hand and the crowd fell silent again. “Me”, Bert began, “I hereby call myself Sigmar the Stupid the First. And now I will show how to greet me as your Lord Sigmar!” Bert turned around, lowered his pants and as he bent over, farted so loud both ends of the market square could hear it.
Manstien sunk to a place where only people staring death in the eye inhabit. He had no blood left, no feeling, no other emotion that the sheer horror of what had just happened and the knowledge that his life was over. He must have fallen off the ladder. Somebody must have caught him. He was no longer aware of what was happening. The crowds surrounding him in the square convulsed with laughter. They had never seen or heard such an audacious thing in their lives.
But amidst the laughter of thousands of voices, no one heard the enraged screams of the Knights Excelsior as Lord Veritant Germanus Graghus and his thirty Stormcasts leapt from their spectator stand, smashing their warhammers on the crowds below them.