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GAME OF CRONES: A medieval soap opera in the Kingdom of CoMo

And the links shall be thy guides

By Mike R. R. Martin

It was a lawless time in the Kingdom.  
 
Crony capitalism had run amuck, like a reverse Robin Hood stealing from everyone to give to wealthy insiders known as the Crones.

To keep the Crones from overthrowing him, King Michael the First -- a direct descendant of Blackbeard the Pirate -- had to wage war on his subjects' wages.  
 
Every year, His Highness would convince the Council of Commoners to squeeze a few more shillings out of their beleaguered citizens' firewood bills for new Crony projects

"It's just a wee bit more," he would grin. "No one will notice.  And the King's Treasury is in such a woeful state."

Tightening the thumbscrews even more, the King decreed, "If any Commoner shall pay a bill by means other than driving a carriage to the Treasury and paying in person, that Commoner shall pay an extra 'convenience' fee."

No wonder.  

The King needed to make up for lost tribute.   It was so expensive to park in the King's Lots that no one wanted to drive their carriages into town anymore.  The merchants were nearly in revolt! 
 
"We were promised parking for our customers," the Earl of Gotcha complained. "Instead, the King has thrown us a few crumbs and told us to mind our tongues.  All the while, His High-and-Mightiness builds the Crones giant stone stables, gilded with tax dollars and other ill-gotten gains."

To facilitate even more plunder, King Michael -- in cahoots with the Duke of Glascock --  quietly cut back on critical village services, like plowing snow. 

Prince Tony's red lantern picture-takers only made life more unbearable.  Once the Kingdom of CoMo installed them to collect additional tribute, the strange and mysterious image-capturing contraptions put everyone on edge. 
 
"Prince Tony calls himself a Saint.  But he's really a devil," declared the Lions of Liberty.  On hearing their complaints, the King declared the Lions rabble and banished them from Staff Hall, his magnificent $30 million castle one could only enter through the Key of Destiny.  
 
In his latest gambit on behalf of the Crones, King Michael decreed the TIF (Tribute in Fiefdoms), diverting tribute normally paid to the surrounding fiefdoms, counties, villages, and towns into the King's Treasury.

Hardly in a "woeful state," the King's Treasury was a vast horde of gold, spoils, and "unrestricted net fund balances" known only to His Highness, a few top lieutenants, and the Court Bankers.

The King's blatant power grab pitted House against House, brother against brother, police chief against Sheriff, the County Countess against the Council of Commoners and its leader, Mick David.

Even the Red Empress felt her empire threatened.  "How dare King Michael and Mick David try to steal my plunder!" she stormed, an attentive young squire at her side.

All the while, the Crones schemed and plotted 'round the fabled Round Table at Bleu.  "I'm getting up in years," Lord Waters grumbled, rubbing his grizzled white hands together.   "We need to get THIS THING done!"

"This Thing" was known only by a cryptic abbreviation.  It was the biggest, most massive thing of its kind.  The best anyone outside the House of Crones knew, the abbreviation went something like this:  TIFTDDCIDEEZ, Ph.D.
 
The Crones thought it breathtakingly clever to add "Ph.D." -- a title some have called "meaningless" -- to the Thing's name.  
 
"It'll get the Z.O.U. on board," they chuckled, as if a mere credential meant anything in that lofty realm, a sub-kingdom of warring fiefdoms that fed enemies to Tigers in a stadium fit for lions before instructing their youth on Chaucer -- when, of course, the books weren't moldy.
 
"If we don't get TIFTDDCIDEEZ, Ph.D. done, it will be DOA," Lord Waters exclaimed, as a butterfly settled on his shoulder.  
 
The Crones took the butterfly as a sign.

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