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Oberman, the Footnote

The Snow White tale retold by Mike Walsh

Section 5: The King and His Request

A few weeks after that incident, I was hurriedly washed, dressed, and escorted to the King’s quarters. I found the aging monarch in bed. His personal physician stood across the room. The King’s skin was a pasty ashen color, and he had lost so much weight, I hardly recognized him. Nevertheless, he was sitting up in bed, and he seemed alert. He motioned me to his bedside.

"Ah, the architect of the Queen’s ruthless political machine," he said in a hoarse whisper. "You don’t look well, Oberman. In fact, you look very bad."

"As do you, Sire," I said.

"She is trying to kill us both, Oberman."

"Indeed, she is, Your Highness."

"She’s a pip, that one is. A nasty piece of work if there ever was one. She sneaks in while I’m asleep and hits me up with some godawful insulin she’s gotten her hands on. Now do you think I’m going to sit back and let her get away with that bullshit? So I bring in Gustav here, and he shoots me full of a serum to counteract the insulin. Then she sticks me with the insulin again, then Gustav does his thing again, then her. That’s how it goes. Insulin, serum, insulin, serum, back and forth. Ah, what a rat race! But she’ll get hers, Oberman, believe you me."

"I hope you are correct, My Lord," I said.

"Oberman, you seem like a nice enough fella. How did you manage to get hooked up with a deceitful witch like that in the first place?"

"She agreed to bring my ideas to the people," I answered, "and when she did, her approval ratings quadrupled. We convinced the masses that they, not the monied classes, held the power. As you know, we also promised to help them use those powers."

"Which was a bald-faced lie. This ruthless, power-hungry Queen you’ve created hasn’t given the masses any more power than they already had."

"One could argue that you created her, Sire, by marrying her."

"That marriage avoided a popular uprising."

"But it also brought her to power," I countered.

"It was a compromise I had to make. I’d hoped that Snow White would mature and take power before the Queen bitch could do much damage. But she was worse than I ever imagined. I never thought she’d go after Snow White. She fights dirty, Oberman."

"That she does, My Lord," I said.

"She’s got some balls, big as iron ingots."

"I swear to you, Your Excellency, I had no prior knowledge of her desire to harm either you or Snow White."

The King’s face was reddening. He punched at the air shouting, "A man has his limits, by God!"

Gustav gently pulled the King down to the bed and said, "Please, do not excite yourself, My Liege."

The King closed his eyes, took a couple deep breaths, and seemed to gather himself. "My sources tell me, Oberman, that if it hadn’t been for you, Snow White would be dead."

"My only regret is that I didn’t help her even more."

"If I was a betting man, I’d lay odds that the only reason my daughter is alive is because you fell in love with her."

I thought of Snow White’s face when she left me in the woods, and once again the image rendered me speechless.

"Is that why you didn’t kill her?" he asked. "Is that why you went through all the pain and suffering? Come clean with me, Oberman."

"I’ve always dreamed of a nation with a strong middle class," I said, "representative government, and regularly scheduled, peaceful transitions of power. With Snow White, I thought this dream was possible. With the Queen, it had become painfully obvious that it wasn’t."

"But self-determination is fraught with deficiencies," said the King. "First off, the public is a fickle, ignorant beast, Oberman. What’s to prevent them from electing nitwits to rule?"

"It may not be the perfect political structure, My Lord, but history has shown us that outmoded political institutions, such as royal families, must be replaced by newer, improved models or disaster is sure to follow."

"Bullshit! And, what about this open market of yours? It invites abuse and greed. The little guy will be squashed by the big boys."

My voice was rising. "Certain restrictions to the marketplace may be required."

"Ah ha, so you would give us an burgeoning, uncontrollable bureaucracy."

"I would not. My program calls for a system of checks and balances — "

"Mr. Oberman, the King cannot engage in such heated discussions," said Gustav.

"Unemployment will skyrocket," shouted the King. "Prices will double, maybe triple! The deficit will go through the roof!"

"My Lord, please," pleaded Gustav. "Your heart — "

"You’ll have mayhem! Complete chaos!" Then the King started coughing. And he kept coughing. And the coughing got worse before it got better. Gustav pounded him on the back, but despite his red face, the King swatted him away.

When the coughing fit finally subsided, I said, "Please, forgive me, Sire. I did not wish to agitate you."

The King finally managed a couple of deep breaths, but he suddenly seemed very tired. "Oberman," he said, "I’m about to die and my daughter is being held hostage by a group of depraved dwarves. I don’t give a damn about your political theories. We must save Snow White and stop the Queen."

"The only way to stop the Queen is to put Snow White on the throne," I said.

"And you’re just the man for the job, Oberman."

"My Lord, I am deeply flattered," I said, "but I don’t see how I could possibly — "

"It’s you or no one, Oberman. You’re in this thing up to your neck."

"But I never wanted to be in this thing," I cried out.

"Only you understand what hangs in the balance. Talk to the dwarves, Oberman. Get them to listen to reason. Besides, those rotten little demons are bribing the pants off us. Already we’ve had to take out loans from foreigners."

"Do I have any choice?" I asked.

"Not as I see it, although no one’s forcing you to accept this mission. But if you don’t, what’s left? More torture at the hands of the Queen in the dungeon?"

"But why not send the army, Sire?"

"We’ve considered it, but the midgets’ cottage is located in a disputed region, and any armed military convoy is sure to draw the attention of the neighboring warlords, who are looking for a reason to attack us. No matter how much I long for the return of my daughter, my first responsibility is to protect the people of this kingdom. So there it is."

"Yes," I responded, "there it is."

"Damn straight. You are to leave immediately. You’ll be provided a horse, supplies, weaponry, food, maps, and one hundred gold pieces, which should come in handy when dealing with those ruthless little bastards. Give him the serum, Gustav."

Gustav gasped. "But, Sire, as your physician, I must object. You need the serum to survive."

"You damn well better do as I say, or you’ll be headed back to Bulgaria in a coffin,’" the King shouted. "Snow White needs your concoction more than I do."

Gustav reluctantly handed me a cloth satchel containing a hypodermic needle and a small vial.

The King continued. "Our sources tell us that Snow White has been poisoned by your former employer with the same stuff she’s been using on me. She’s in a coma. Her only hope is with this serum, which is in short supply. Fact is, we don’t have any more, so guard this shit with your life. Gustav, tell him what he needs to know."

Gustav cleared his throat before speaking. "Snow White is suffering from hypoglycemia resulting from excessive insulin injection. Ten cc’s of this serum should revive her. If it doesn’t, give her an increased dosage every hour until she regains consciousness."

"And one more thing," said the king.

"Yes, Your Excellency."

"Watch out for those midgets. They’re mean little bastards, and they have no particular loyalty to this kingdom, so they may not be willing to give up their meal ticket so easily. Now get going, McDuff, and hurry up about it. I’m not long for this world."

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