By John Krissilas
Art By John Krissilas
Episode 1: The Contest
“Weeeeeelcome! Weeeeelcome, to another episode of your most faaaaaaaaaaavourite show on the planet: ‘The Monarchs’. It’s not just charity folks, it’s entertaaaaaainment! I’m your host, as always, Ryan Jaaaaameson!”
The short, balding, overbearing announcer filled the screen as the studio audience roared in applause.
“I’m here, as always, with the head of the Council of Benefactors, the Great Patroness herself, who I believe has a special announcement for us today.” He nodded to a long-faced, elegant woman sitting to his right. She was wrapped in a white silken sheet, the beauty of which was only matched by the long radiant curls of her golden hair, speckled with just a hint of grey. The only piece of jewelry that adorned her frame was a small jade pendant that hung around her thin, cream-coloured neck.
“Yes,” she replied softly, “an announcement.” The audience hushed in anticipation. She extended one hand towards them, a layer of silk falling to her side, “But first, please welcome three friends of mine, three members of the Council, three of our most generous benefactors.” Once again, the audience broke into a loud applause.
“Of coooourse!” Jameson crowed, “Everyone please welcome our Monarchs!!”
A spotlight fell on a red curtain near the back of the studio. Out from behind it walked an inseparable pair, arm-in-arm, seemingly joined together at the hip. The man smiled brightly, directly into the camera. He had slicked-back greasy hair, a long black mustache, and a golden necklace. Next to him was a glamorously-tanned, strikingly beautiful woman, with long black curls that draped down to her knees. Her arms were completely covered in shimmering gold bangles. Screams of joy shot out from the crowd.
“Pleeeeeeeeease welcome, your favorite Latin entertainers, Mrs. Dee and Mr. Angelo Rivera — better known as Hollywood’s famous power couple, D’Angelo!” The pair sauntered over to the Great Patroness, and one by one, they bent down and kissed her hand. They took a seat beside Jameson.
The spotlight returned to the red curtain. Next, a tall, refined gentleman pranced into the room. His long jet-black hair was tied into a short ponytail, and he gave the audience a curling smile as he crossed the stage. His single diamond earring sparkled in the bright lights of the studio. The crowd went wild.
“Aaaaaaaaand of course you know billionaire real-estate baron, and Paris’ most eligible bachelor, Sínault! What woman can reeeeesist his charm?”
Sínault arched his eyebrows towards several women in the front row. “Bonjour…” he mouthed. They fainted in pleasure, falling onto themselves.
Again, the room’s focus shifted back to the far end of the stage. A thin young woman with close-cropped brown hair and a flat stubby nose — mm almost pixie-like in her appearance — edged into the room. She wore a simple turquoise dress and nodded meekly to the audience as she joined the group. A polite applause.
“And lastly, America’s sweetheart herself, Meryl Alexander, star of some of the most popular romantic comedies from the last few years, including this summer’s sure-fire hit, Only You.”
The glamorous quartet settled in a semi-circle around the Great Patroness and the show’s host. “And now,” Jameson continued, “your announcement, Great Patroness?” The audience went silent.
“Of course,” she smiled at the celebrities, “D’Angelo, Sínault, and Meryl, you’ve each been most charitable, and from what we’ve seen, each of your islands and their inhabitants seem to be thriving. You’ve given back so much, so very, very much. And for that, we are all grateful.” She bowed her head ever-so-slightly, and the audience responded with a loud applause. When they died down a full-minute later, she continued.
“But today, I present to you a most-exciting opportunity.” The room became tense. D’Angelo and Sínault looked like they were on the edge of their seats, itching to hear more. Ryan Jameson’s wide-toothed grin never left his face as he stared at the Great Patroness. Meryl looked intrigued, but cautious. She continued, “I present to you a contest — a competition — to decide which among you is the ultimate celebrity benefactor, the most generous ruler of their island, the most charitable Monarch.” Sínault fidgeted in his seat, adjusting his ponytail. D’Angelo looked at each other, and immediately whispered into one another’s ear. Meryl squinted her eyes.
“Behold, a Golden Apple.” Out from the silken white folds of her dress, the Great Patroness pulled a glimmering golden object shaped like an apple. Dee’s eyes took in the sparkling prize and they blazed with unbridled excitement. She pulled on Angelo’s bare arm and giggled wildly. Sínault attempted to keep his cool. The audience was enraptured.
“Isn’t that just increeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedible?” Ryan Jameson asked as his smile grew even wider. A few hoots and hollers later, she continued.
“You each own an island of inhabitants, you each provide for them as their benefactor, and rule over them as their Monarch. This contest is the opportunity to show us, to show the world, that you’re the best, that you’ve benefitted your subjects the most with your charity — your generosity. The winner of this contest will not only get this Golden Apple as a gift from me, but the priceless title of Most Charitable Monarch.” The Great Patroness looked each of them in the eyes for a brief moment, before asking, “Who will take on this challenge? Who will enter the contest?”
Sínault let out a loud, gregarious laugh, “I, of course, will accept your challenge, Great Patroness. As you know, under my rule, Sínaultia has become one of the most wealthy and luxurious islands in the Pacific. My Sínaultians live as lavishly as anyone on this earth.” He winked at the audience, causing the women to sigh with pleasure. “There is no doubt that I am the most charitable Monarch by far, and I will use this contest as a means of proving that —”
“Yeah, yeah… you finished —” “with your bragging yet?” Dee began and Angelo finished, cutting their fellow celebrity off mid-sentence. Together, they continued, “We, too, accept your challenge, Great Patroness.” Dee reached out and stroked Angelo’s oily hair, before letting out another round of giggles. They began and finished each other’s sentences with rehearsed precision.
“D’Angellia is of course —” “—the far better island.” “Our D’Angellians live a most-fruitful life of leisure —” “—this contest will show the world what great Monarchs we can be.”
Everyone in the studio — Ryan Jameson, the audience, the contestants — now looked at Meryl Alexander, as the Great Patroness asked the question they were all thinking, “And what about you, Meryl? Surely you will enter the contest?”
Seconds passed. Meryl hesitated, unsure of exactly how to react at this moment of intense pressure. She squirmed a bit in the bright spotlight. Finally, she relented, and gave the Great Patroness a cool nod. The studio audience cheered. The contest was on.
Episode 2: The Islands
‘What is the true meaning of charity, really?’ Meryl asked herself as she surveyed her island from the doorway of the wooden hut she called home. She stood in the center of the island’s main village, and watched its inhabitants — her subjects — begin their day’s work. The sun slowly rose on the horizon, casting bright orange rays across the dirt-covered village square and providing a welcome feeling of warmth. The question had been rattling around inside of her head since the Great Patroness put forth her challenge several days prior. She asked herself one more time: ‘What is the meaning of charity? And how can I become the most charitable?’
With a hint of sadness, she thought about the islands that the other contestants had described. Looking out at her own people, her Alexandrians, she shook her head. Alexandria was much different than Sínaultia and D’Angellia. Although able to provide for her subjects the island itself, as an actress just trying to make her way in the business, she couldn’t offer them the same lifestyles that the other Monarchs could. She watched intently as a sweat-soaked old man struggled to push a cartful of vegetables grown on a small farm a few miles from the village, and smiled. She knew he had been working his tract of land for months, and all for just a small cartload to trade at the market. He glanced up from his cart, noticing that he was being watched. When he recognized her, he gave her a slight nod and a toothy grin, before returning to his work.
‘How can I help them?’ she thought as she walked through the bustling square, nodding to each inhabitant as she passed. They greeted her as they hurried on their way, each busy with their tasks for the day ahead. ‘What do my Alexandrians need, and what could I give them? What could I do that would make the biggest difference in their lives?’ No matter how hard she tried, her mind kept going back to the other Monarchs, and the other islands, and her blood once again boiled. ‘I’m outmatched this time,’ she conceded to herself as the doubt crept in. ‘I’m just an actress. I’m no Monarch.’
“Weeeeeeeeeeeeelcomeeee back, folks! This is another riveting episode of everyone’s faaaaaaaaaavourite show: ‘The Monarchs’.” Ryan Jameson looked his usual enthralled self. The camera slowly panned to the right to reveal Sínault, D’Angelo, and Meryl sitting in a row beside the host. “Each of our contestants is here with us today, in the flesh, to give us a little bit of an update, to let us know how they’re doing so far. Give us all a sneak preview before the Great Patroness herself makes the call on who will win that fabulous Golden Apple of hers. What a beaut!” The audience clapped their approval. “Sooooooooo, with that, let’s start with Sínaultia. What have you got for us, Sínault my good man?”
The Parisian gentleman calmly pulled back on his ponytail as he crossed his legs and leaned back into his chair. “Well, mon ami, let me tell you, for the last week, my Sínaultians have been living in style. As you all must already know, I provide only the best luxuries for my people. None of my subjects will ever find themselves in need, especially when it comes to food.” The audience laughed as he gave them a quick wink. “Since the Great Patroness bestowed upon us this contest, however, I must admit that I have been encouraged to install a few more extravagances on my island, all in the name of charity, of course.”
He turned slightly in his seat and faced a nearby screen, everyone else followed his gaze. “Let me show you a brief clip of our nightly feasts at my palace.”
The screen flashed on and showcased the scene inside of a great dining hall. Two rows of tall white marble pillars reached upward towards an impossibly-high ceiling and ran across the sides of the hall, framing it perfectly. Down the center aisle, instead of tables, there lay great silken pillows, on which the Sínaultians began to sit, one by one, all throughout the hall. They each wore lavish blue robes and seemed to be draped in jewelry. As they took their seats, a row of trumpeters appeared around the perimeter of the room, with one between each of the pillars. They raised their instruments and let out a jovial anthem, announcing the arrival of their Monarch. Sínault strode down the center of the hall, between the rows of pillows, to the back end of the room. As he passed each of his subjects, they blew him kisses. Finally, he reached a tall golden throne, and carefully sunk in, looking overjoyed.
Then he snapped his fingers and the trumpeters disappeared. In their place stood short men in black tuxedos, each carrying a covered silver platter. Sínault provided some commentary, “We’ve brought in some of the finest butlers from America to serve at our nightly feasts, only the best for my Sínaultians, only the best…” The audience hollered in delight. After another snap of his fingers, the butlers descended into the hall, placing each platter on the marble floor in front of each Sínaultian, sitting comfortably on their pillows. Then the covers came off and they were feasting, filling their stomachs, enjoying the delicacies to their heart’s delight. As they ate, the line-up of butlers skillfully weaved from pillow to pillow, re-filling glasses of wine and offering seconds and thirds, and then dessert.
Then, just as the feast came to a close and the platters were cleared away, row upon row of beautiful women began to enter the dining hall, each wearing a brightly-coloured sari. A group of them crowded around the throne of Sínault himself, giggling as they got close to him, some of them shying away. He snapped his fingers authoritatively and the women drifted down towards his subjects, beckoning them to lay down on their pillows and relax their bodies after such a heavy meal. As the Sínaultians stretched their legs and craned their necks, the women eagerly began to massage their feet, working their way up their legs and ending with a full back and shoulder rubdown. And with that, the clip came to a close. A deafening applause filled the studio.
Sínault looked back from the screen and smiled. “And that, my friends, is only the beginning. Only the best for my subjects, only the —”
“Alright already, we heard you —” “— loud and clear.” D’Angelo interrupted.
“That’s riiiiiiiiiiiiight!” Ryan Jameson shouted excitedly. “Things have also been cooking on D’Angellia, haven’t they? Why don’t you two share your update with us.”
“Gladly,” they said together.
“Should you tell them… dear?”
“No, you should tell them, baby sweets!”
“Oh, but you’re much more dramatic, honeypie.”
“But only because of your inspiration, sexy cheeks!”
“Whyyyyyyyyyyyy don’t you BOTH, tell them?” Jameson interrupted.
“Ah —” “— right!” As before, Dee began their elaborate sentences, and Angelo took great pleasure in finishing them. “Since the introduction of the contest —” “— we’ve made a few improvements of our own.” In unison, they said, “Our D’Angellians not only eat well, but they have fun, too. They know how to party! Have a look…” They both turned to the screen.
On it flashed the scene of what looked like an outdoor nightclub. A long, wooden, semi-circular stage was lined along the back with tall, arching palm trees. Flaming lanterns hung down from each of the trees, causing the stage to glow a bright yellow. In front of the stage was a sea of round wooden tables, each packed with excited D’Angellians. The women all wore bright red salsa dresses and looked ready to jump onto the dance floor. The men all wore open, see-through silk shirts and long silver trousers. At each table, the D’Angellians took turns downing tall goblets of alcohol and then laughing heartily.
Just then, the floodlights came on and the D’Angellian stage was completely lit. All of the inhabitants put down their drinks, completely absorbed in what was about to happen on the stage. The drums started, a Latin beat. A long line-up of musicians and performers began to stream into the audience from both sides of the stage, banging on drums and strumming guitars. Several of them carried trampolines and set them down as they marched, before acrobats from the back of the line-up leapt out onto them, launching themselves into the air and performing triple somersaults. Fire-eaters began to file into the audience, swallowing long flaming rods as they went. The audience of D’Angellians sat completely in awe, before bursting into a spontaneous applause. The studio audience was riveted.
Then the drums stopped, and everyone on the island turned their attention to the empty, lit-up stage. A thin, curvaceous silhouette appeared in the spotlight–the long, sensual leg of Dee Rivera. Then her loud, crooning voice sounded over the speaker system, “If I could looooooooooove someoneeeeeeeee, it would be you.” She gracefully drifted onto the stage to wild applause. She wore a skimpy pink dress, and over her shoulder hung the stuffed head of a flamingo — it appeared as if it was wrapping itself around her. Massive silver hoop earrings hung from her ears. She looked longingly towards the other end of the stage.
Another silhouette entered the spotlight, this one long and muscular — the toned leg of Angelo Rivera. His deep, booming voice now sounded over the speakers, “If I could neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed someoneeeeeeeeeeeeee, it would be you.” He leapt onto the stage and the crowd of D’Angellians once again went wild. He was wearing a black leather Speedo along with a tiny black tank top that featured two paws hanging down from his shoulders. On his head he wore the scalp of a black panther.
They strode to each other on stage, reaching out and holding hands, before turning back towards the audience and belting out in unison: “If we could ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuule someoneeeeeeee, it would be youuuu!” The clip ended as the couple burst into song and dance. Back in the studio, D’Angelo looked elated.
“Weeeeeeeeeeell, that waaaaaaaaaas interesting!” Ryan Jameson chimed in. “And what about you, Meryl, what have you got for us today?”
Once again, everyone in the studio— the host, the other Monarchs, the audience— was looking right at Meryl Alexander. She froze.
“Well, Ryan,” she stuttered, “I’m not quite ready to share what I’ve been doing in Alexandria just yet.” The audience looked stunned. Silence filled the room.
Ryan Jameson, however, held his smile. “Weeeeeeeeell that’s just fantastic, isn’t it? I’m sure you’ll have something amazingly-generous to share come the results show. Let’s give a hand for our Monarchs, people!” Once again, the studio audience exploded in applause. “Aaaaaaaaaaaand remember: it’s not just charity, it’s entertaaaaaaainment!”
Meryl surveyed her island of Alexandrians once more. The sun had begun its slow descent into the horizon, bathing the village marketplace in vibrant purple. Row upon row of wooden stands and carts packed the square, filled with fruits, vegetables, tools, trinkets, and even a collection of rare Alexandrian seashells. She sighed.
‘Great feasts in marble palaces… imported American butlers… foot massages?!’ She slammed a nearby farming hoe into the ground furiously, scaring a few young children who were skipping by. ‘Salsa dresses, fire-eating acrobats, nightly musical performances?!’ She threw a half-filled bucket of water, slamming it against one of the island’s stone wells and startling an old woman balancing a pot of her own water.
Meryl sat on the lip of the well and stared out at her subjects, who were packing up their stalls for the end of the day. The local chieftain — a large, dark-skinned man with a moppy head of hair and an infectious smile — was directing them, making sure that the village square would be clear for the night’s storytelling festival. ‘How could a girl like me, just a simple American actress tryin’ to do my part, ever compete with them?’ She repeated to herself once again, ‘I’m no Monarch.’
Then, as she watched her people work, it struck her.
Episode 3: The Results
“Goooooooooooooood eveningggggggggg everyone! Weeeeeeeeeelcome to this season’s final episode of ‘The Monarchs’!” The camera closed in on the host’s sparkling white teeth. “I’m Ryan Jameson, and I’m joined tonight with the head of the Council of Benefactors and the main judge of our special contest, the Great Patroness.” He waited for the audience to settle, before asking, “How are you this evening, my love?”
The camera zoomed back to reveal the elegant lines of the radiant woman, who sat in a clamshell-like chair beside the host. “Excellent.”
“Now tell us, Great Patroness, I, like our studio audience and our billions of fans across the globe, have been waiting with baited breath, just itching to hear what these fine celebrity benefactors, these Monarchs, have done with their islands since the challenge began. But as the keeper of the Golden Apple and the judge of this contest, what will youuuuuuuuuu be keeping an eye out for?”
She smiled slightly as she curled her long fingers around the jade pendant around her neck, “As you know, Mr. Jameson, this contest is about finding the most charitable Monarch — the one who has made the biggest difference in the lives of their subjects. That is the only parameter with which I will be judging our most-generous contestants.”
“Alrighttttttttttttttttty then! Let’s get started, shall we? First off, Great Patroness, we’ve got the Frenchman all the ladies love, real-estate billionaire, Sínault.”
The audience’s reaction was immediate. The camera panned to the right. Sínault strolled onto the stage and began to make his pitch to the Great Patroness. He showed her the feasts, the butlers, the palace. She looked visibly impressed.
With that, his pitch was finished, and he took a seat next to the Great Patroness. Next, D’Angelo strode onto the stage, hand-in-hand, smiling for the cameras. They showed her the clips of the nightly entertainment: drums, somersaults, and stage shows galore. The montage ended with a photo of D’Angelo – Dee’s long black curls and pouty red lips, Angelo’s greasy, slicked-back hair and bushy eyebrows — smiling back at the camera. Then they made their final pitch to the Great Patroness.
“In conclusion, D’Angellia is all about —” “— living it up and enjoying life.” Together, they chimed: “Surely we are the most charitable of all!” Cheers spread throughout the crowd.
Finally, Meryl Alexander walked into the spotlight. Once again, all the eyes in the studio were on her— Ryan Jameson, the Great Patroness, the other Monarchs, the entire audience— and waiting for her to make her pitch. They held their breath. She calmly strode up to the center of the stage, looked straight into the eyes of the Great Patroness, and after a long, deep breath, she began.
“What is the true meaning of charity, really? Honourable head of the Council of Benefactors, Great Patroness, when you first presented this contest to us, that was the first question that I asked myself. And I thought about it, for a very long time. I’m not afraid to admit, that my island, Alexandria, is not like the others.” A growing silence.
She continued, now facing the audience, talking directly to them. “In Alexandria, nothing extra is provided to my subjects from the outside world, no food, nor entertainment. Every family must learn the island for themselves as best they can, learn where to find the best sources of food, learn the seasons and the wildlife, learn how to till the land and manage their own farm fields.” She turned to face the screen. Scenes of Alexandrians, wearing simple clothes and working the fields, flashed across it. Their eyes looked focused and their hands worn from labour. The audience was aghast. “Our free time on Alexandria isn’t spent receiving massages or lounging at stage shows, we make our own entertainment by gathering at the village square. There we hold festivals and tell stories by a great bonfire.” Another scene flashed on the screen, this one showing a large circle of villagers, their faces glowing from the tall, warm flames, listening to Meryl act out a story. “Sometimes I’ll even share with them my adventures while filming movies in America, like the time my horse ran away from the set — with me on it!” The studio audience seemed to loosen up, and gave her a muted laugh.
“In the end, Great Patroness, I really must admit: I’m not exactly a Monarch at all. The Alexandrians are my subjects in name only: I’ve chosen the most influential men and women from each village to lead them as their chieftains, and to set up a village council — just like our Council of Benefactors — to help them govern and make decisions.” As she finished her pitch, Meryl slowly backed up towards her seat, looking unapologetically at the Great Patroness. “The truth, you see, is that they really don’t need me at all.”
The studio audience was dead silent. Sínault and D’Angelo sat there, frozen, staring at Meryl, their jaws wide-open in shock. Even Ryan Jameson’s perpetual smile had transformed into a crooked smirk — the confusion on his face was evident. Only the Great Patroness looked unperturbed, as she stood up from her clam-shell chair and strode to the center of the stage to face the Monarchs. She stroked her chin as she surveyed them, one by one.
“Yesssssssssssssssss, well, there you have it!” Ryan Jameson stuttered uncomfortably. A few claps followed. “Great Patroness, judge of the contest, tell us, do you have a verdict?”
She reached into the folds of her dress and held out the Golden Apple. The audience immediately erupted in applause. Then she began, “Sínault, you have been most generous to your subjects, providing for them the best luxuries that the world can offer, giving them a god-king to adore and worship. But let me ask you this: where would they be, what would they do, if they were to face that island without their feasts, without their massages, without you?” His face remained frozen in confusion.
“D’Angelo, you too have been most generous to your D’Angellians, but how charitable will you continue to be when they’ve passed out from the free-flowing liquor, when they’ve tired of the shows, the acrobatics, and, to be blunt, you?” Dee clung to Angelo’s muscular arm. Their faces were horrified.
“But Meryl, you, on the other hand, have approached your island, approached generosity, very differently. By standing back, by withholding extravagances, by teaching your subjects, your Alexandrians, how to fend for themselves, how to be self-sufficient, how to rule the island on their own, you, Meryl, have given them the ultimate form of charity.” The spotlight now shone brightly on them both.
The Great Patroness bent down to Meryl Alexander, who beamed with tears of happiness streaking down her cheeks, and placed the Golden Apple in her open palms. “The contest goes to you, my dear benefactor. For you, Meryl, truly are generous. You truly are the Most Charitable Monarch.”
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