Thursday, 7 November 2013

The New Rabbit Emperor

Once upon a time, there was an Emperor who was also a rabbit. He was rich with life: a full belly, a faithful wife and lots of sons, but he was ageing. After a month spent on his death bed with a fluttering heart and dimming eyes, he muttered his last words and died with a huge sigh. His faithful wife wailed, his sons paled, and his principal servant called the priest to ensure his journey into the West was a safe one. His death was publicly announced and his people went into mourning: all wore black furs for forty days and nights after his passing, then the cry was heard for rabbit hunting.
In these parts, being an emperor was not governed by dynasty. The title was not handed down to sons. When an emperor passed, the family became custodians until a successor was found. Huntsmen searched throughout the land, they rested at temples and tea houses, and exchanged sacks of rice for stories of new births. But tracking a new successor down sometimes took years not months, even if the huntsmen were exceptionally skilled. A new rabbit emperor could only be proved by certain markings: unusual birthmarks, scars, deformities, or amputations, as rabbit people believe an emperor's character will always be tested. The predecessor was crippled and had a bald patch on his head, so it was said the next one must show pronounced signs of this.
For seven years, these huntsmen roamed the land, while the custodians grew fat from their fruitless wandering. The previous Emperor's wife no longer wailed and her sons were tanned, not pale. Most had married and now had wives plump with child; their courts were expanding. They overspent on hiring maids and buying furnishings, and did not care for common people. The huntsmen were weary, the people were desperate for a successor, and the custodians were happy the search had been prolonged.
Outside the Emperor's courts, a war had been raging. A few hutches inhabited by rabbits had been claimed by invading weasels, and those suddenly homeless were forced into labour camps. A mother and her young son were rehoused in such a one, in a coal mine outside town. Her son's name was Rabbit No Fur for he was exceedingly anxious and lame. He had once been trapped in a snare and his left foot had not healed when freed, so he now dragged his leg and tread nervously. In response to this latest stressful event, Rabbit No Fur shed all his fur from his ears to his white cotton tail. His tawny-brown coat fell away in one clump, which the camp doctor said was alopecia. Appalled by the taunting her son now received from officer weasels, she swapped his fur for a rich blue cloth with an old peddler, who too was a prisoner. At night, by the light of a concealed lantern, she sewed this into a fine coat studded with rhinestones, but the finished garment was so beautiful, it only made Rabbit No Fur even more noticeable. He was repeatedly punished with hard labour, until one winter's day, his jewelled coat was seized by a high ranking weasel, and so the mother, thinking only of her son, begged him to leave with the other escape diggers.
This he did, but he was recaptured, and along with the others was lined up outside the town hall to be beaten. Fortunately, some huntsmen were among the observing crowd, and upon seeing Rabbit No Fur's naked and maimed form knew this was the new Emperor. They immediately halted all proceedings, recovered his precious jewelled coat from the high ranking weasel, and rescued his mother. Rabbit No Fur was quickly declared the new Rabbit Emperor and the custodians were banished from his courts.
Peace reigned in this provincial town after Rabbit No Fur had been crowned, because unlike his predecessor, he put being a rabbit first before being an Emperor.

Sparked by Jeanette Winterson's 'Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?'