“You mustn't ever light a fire here,” says Sergeant Quinn. “In fact,” he clarifies, “You musn't ever light a fire within a league of here. And pick up your feet when you walk. Don't drag them along the carpet, now.”
Sound advice, when the imperial palace is perched on top of a powder keg. Ingo, son of Monterick, picks up his feet and carefully crosses over the shag carpeting of the gatehouse. Most people from other nations, upon hearing that the Krossinger Palace is sitting atop a powder keg, assume that the political situation is an extremely tense one, and that the slightest misstep could result in a massive war of some kind. They find it rather odd when they are informed that actually, the political climate is rather warm, it's not a metaphor, and that the palace is literally built upon a massive barrel of black powder.
All Krossingese castles and palaces have been built on explosive foundations since King Ulim-Hankor six hundred years ago. Some of the more modern castles have been built on sticks of TNT or nitroglycerin tubs instead of black powder, and the law requires that one in every five new castles use a propane tank as the base. And the infamous renegade King Pommosam build his country villa on a stink bomb. Most castles, however, are still built on black powder.
Ingo is glad this is the case. All the statistical analyses say that black powder foundations result in fewer explosions than the other bases. His friend Jingo had gone to perform for some troops at Hopstead Fort. Hopstead had been built on propane, and it exploded when Jingo came in wearing a new sweater made of pashmina goat hair. Pashmina goat hair sweaters had since been outlawed in all of Krossinger due to their static-electric properties, but it was too late for Hopstead and for Jingo.
Another one of Ingo's friends, or distant relatives, rather, a messenger boy, had been sent to the northern border, where most of the TNT and nitroglycerin foundations exist. Had he arrived any earlier, he would have died, but he had been lucky. The castle to which he had been headed exploded without any apparent reason when he was but a stone's throw away. Some scientists attributed it to the natural instability of nitroglycerin, and though the government has issued several statements assuring everyone that nitroglycerin is just as safe as black powder, Ingo has his doubts.
“Well, Sergeant Quinn, sir,” Ingo says, glancing quickly about the guardhouse. For today, the flint rock doorstops hold the steel doors open wide, a safety precaution. He's heard stories about how sometimes when the doors are closed, people fling them open too fast, thereby striking the doors against the flint rock doorstops that are haphazardly left lying around behind them. Ingo feels a little more secure knowing that pains have been taken to make sure the doors stay open to preclude this possibility. “I'm a professional dancer, sir, and I'm looking for Prince Rangulf. I've got these summons, see?”
“So you do,” says the sergeant. “I wonder what all this is about. I'd be careful if I were you. Everywhere he goes seems to crackle with tension lately.”
“Yes sir, thank you,” says Ingo. He walks in the direction Sergeant Quinn has pointed. It's a beautifully illuminated corridor, decorated with thin tissue-paper like drapery and numerous strings of incandescent lights. A few doors down, he comes to a giant ballroom, tiled entirely with more flint rock.
“Ah!” says Prince Rangulf, looking up from where he is seated on the ground. “Are you Ingo, son of Monterick?”
“I am, sire. How can I be of assistance to you?”
“Have you ever learned to tap dance, Ingo?”
Ingo has, in fact, learned to tap dance, but he prefers the artistic quality of ballet. Nevertheless, he responds to the prince that yes, he has learned to tap dance.
“Wonderful!” says the prince. “My betrothed wishes me to learn for her, but I have had poor luck in locating a teacher. A captain of a friend of a patron of a merchant that goes through your town said that you might be able to help me.”
“You wish me to give you tap dancing lessons, sire?”
“I do,” says Rangulf. “I fear that she may break the engagement if I cannot tap an impressive jig in short order. I've had this dance floor specially made, but it's of little use if I can't use it.”
Choosing not to comment on the prince's tautology, Ingo puts on the best smile his gritted teeth will allow and agrees to teach the prince to tap dance. As they put on their steel-toed tap shoes, Ingo smells bleach and notices that the ballroom is indeed newly constructed, and being adjacent to the main wing of the palace, is not sitting on top of the powder keg, after all. It's made in the new style, sitting atop of TATP, instead.
He sighs. This is either going to be the longest day of his life, or the shortest.
“The problem with having a cat is that if you die and no one checks on you for four days, your cat will eat you.” Miranda Lamoreux