At the moment as this was said, the command was given. The trumpets announced the lad's approach before the king.
Vico bowed briefly according to the custom of a respected lord. "Let not these spears worry my king," he replied. "The dream of the flying sword lends itself to a more significant interpretation. I see the spear combined with a sword, but made much smaller and lighter, so that a slingshot, as young boys use, can propel it. The sword/spears which I will design for my king will then glide through the air with the grace of a bird and reach their target with a lethal velocity at a distance that is six times greater than the distance the strongest man in your kingdom could ever hope to throw a spear. Also, my sword/spears will be light enough so that each of your fighting men will be able to carry five dozen of them. Not just one."
As it happened, his royal majesty stepped down once again from his throne and put his hand upon the lad's shoulder. The lad was promoted on the spot to Arch Counselor of Weaponry of the Royal Realm. This title was given in recognition of his exceptional genius. And, as though it was with the same breath, the command went out that a full-scale production of the new super weapon should begin within a week. Also, under the Arch Counselor's advice, a rigorous training program was worked out to teach 'Archery' skills to every man in the kingdom.
Ah, but this development was once again duly noted by the spies of Gourdland. They arrived breathless from their long journey and hastened to the royal chambers to warn their master and king of the impending doom.
Naturally, Merdy had a ready answer: "A man is limited by the strength of his arm," Merdy replied. "But if a man were to be assisted by a greater power, the power of exploding magic powder that I've heard exists in far off lands, your fighting men could then propel the archer's spear as far as they can see. Your enemy would thereby be outdistanced by a margin they would never be able to overcome."
Like on previous occasions, Merdy was praised and rewarded, and the royal spies were sent out to the far lands that Merdy spoke off to secure the secrets of the magic powder.
Barely a moon had passed before a prototype of the new hyper weapon had been produced and the weapons system was ready for full-scale production and immediate deployment thereafter, in the field. The whole project had been given top priority. It was simultaneously pushed ahead on all stages, with lightning speed. The entire kingdom was scared to death until this weapons-gap had been overcome.
However, when the Gourdlander's weapons superiority became known throughout the realm, a great panic erupted at the royal court of Greenfield, which suddenly had become vulnerable again. Naturally, Lord Vico had a counter solution instantly worked out.
"The powder is no secret to me," he testified before the king. "It is used in far off kingdoms to shoot burning stars into the sky at celebrations. We could use the same process to transport quantities of a special oil I've been able to refine out of the black muck by the swamp. This oil could be contained in such a manner that it scatters far and wide on impact and be set on fire as it becomes dispersed. This will give you a weapon that can strike terror into your enemy's hearts. Once they realize that they face this kind of a threat, they'll think twice about attacking our land and will surrender to you my king."
Naturally Lord Vico's solution was accepted, and hastily a rocket construction program was initiated, with corresponding domestic austerity measures. The royal castle, itself, was turned into a refinery complex for the volatile products. The task was truly enormous. Every man in the kingdom was put to it, some to haul the black muck to the castle, others to dig into the earth for whatever was needed to make the powder.
Alas, the new development was duly noted in the kingdom of Gourdland. It worried the king. Merdy was summoned. He came immediately to the rescue. "Whatever they can do, we can do better," he said to his king and smiled. "Mi-royal-lord, your scientists have developed an explosive that is more potent than any powder you've ever dreamed off. We will use their rocket concept and improve the design, and arm it with my new explosive. We will aim the weapon directly at the castle of Greenfield. A single shot will be enough to transform the entire court into smoldering ruins. The Greens will never attack us against such a threat, and there will be peace forever under your rule."
Well, what could the king say? He rewarded his faithful adviser and handed out medals of honor to all his most dedicated workers in a much-publicized ceremony where the promise was made that an everlasting peace was just around the corner. The people cheered....
But the cheers sounded like war cries in the Greenfielder's ears. The news terrified the already troubled king, including his royal advisers. Even Lord Vico was worried by the news, and so was his entire team.
It was a dark rainy day when the news broke, right at the height of a thunderstorm. Without delay, armed guards escorted Lord Vico and his chief scientist from the weapons smithy near the forest, to the castle of the king. The guards were needed. The country had suffered heavily under the previous programs that he had initiated, so that everyone hated him for it. He even blamed himself. Precious little was left of the land of Greenfield, as it had once been. It had been a green, luscious place, a land of ease, abounding with happiness. Now, the fields lay neglected, bare and torn up in the search for materials, or burned over with fire from countless weapons tests.
Lord Vico knew it would be a dangerous journey, going to the castle. Swords of steel and other outdated weaponry had been sold to the peasants who had learned to use them well. As he entered the great hall of the castle that was filled with equipment to the top floor, and stank with poisoned air, being escorted past security agents, he met his royal lord who was in a mood of despair, angrily signing death warrants against the dissidents of the land.
Lord Vico bowed slightly in the presence of the king, as it was customary for a highly exalted lord. "Let this crisis not trouble my king," he said in an unemotional way. His words were mechanically uttered like worn out phrases of ancient prayers. "Whatever they can do, we can do better..." His voice carried thinly. "I have envisioned a bigger weapon than they have..."
The king raised his hand in a gesture of approval...
Ross put the manuscript aside and leaned back in his chair by the fire. He shook his head. "Have you noticed, how in the story the weapons are controlling everything. They have become gods, like the gods of ancient mythologies. Everything is sacrificed for them."
"Personally, I find the story disappointing," said Sylvia to Ross. "We all know that our world is in trouble, that the nations are drunk with the myth of superior weapons. Humanity behaves like irrational children standing waste deep in a pool of gasoline, quarreling over who has the most matches, or who has the longest ones. We've been through all that a thousand times before. We have explored the scene to the full, but nothing happened. The story doesn't add anything to what every school kid already knows. It doesn't add the wisdom that is needed to reverse the madness. It's pure entertainment, and bad entertainment at that, the kind that dulls the senses and blinds people's sensitivities."
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