Once upon a time there was a band of robbers, who lived in a strongly fortified castle, and preyed on the surrounding inhabitants. There were ninety two of them, and their names were Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, . . . but that’s enough to show what a desperate and atrocious set of people they were. Anyway, the local inhabitants hated having them, so they got up a petition and sent it to the King.
The King was called Laz, and he was a very lazy man. His motto was ‘Never do anything that anyone else will do for you’ and if you are a king, there is almost always someone to do it for you. So when the petition came, and King Laz had been woken up by his Awakener, he listened to half of it and then said “Tition granted – ask Biz.” Which was what he always said to petitioners. Now Biz was the name of the Prime Minister, and he was quite the opposite of Laz. His motto was ‘Never let anyone do anything you can do yourself’. He would have been the busiest man ever, if it hadn’t been for Muz, the Lord High Upholder of Custom. Muz had a great book called ‘Things Done and Not Done, and Who Mustn’t Do Them’.
When Biz heard of the petition he was cock-a-hoop with busyness. He started collecting guns and bombs and truncheons and a policeman’s whistle, and was just thinking about Transport when Muz said that never since the records began had robbers been arrested by the Prime Minister in person. “Never?” said Biz. “Not once” said Muz. “Bother,” said Biz, “Who’s got to go then?” “That” said Muz “is the office of the High Constable. And there are seven High Constables, and the Lord High Keeper of the Address Book knows who they are.”
So they went and asked the Keeper of the Address Book, and he looked them up and wrote them all a long letter explaining things. After nearly a year it turned out that all the High Constables were dead. Most of them had been for years. “There’s nothing for it,” said Muz “we must ask the King to appoint new ones. So they went to the Royal Siesta room and waited respectfully for His Majesty to wake up. When this happened they said to him “Please appoint seven High Constables.” “Appoint?” said the King. “Yes,” they said, “You must give us the names of seven new High Constables,” “Seven?” said Laz, “Oh, I could never think of seven names. I’ll think of one name, and you must find seven people to fit it.” So the King went thought and thought, and when he woke up again he said, “Zyz.” “What?” said Muz. “The name of the High Constables.” Said the King. And that was that.
Zyz was a very uncommon name. It took them a very long time to find anybody called that at all. But as luck would have it there was, in a remote province of the kingdom, an old widow woman called Zyz who had seven sons. So the Lord High Keeper of the address Book was sent to her, and presented the seven sons with their insignia; each had a green silk gag and small gold-plated truncheon. He also explained that each High Constable might enrol not more than thirteen Low Constables, and could claim unlimited Expenses from the Treasury. Then he left them to it.
The seven Zyz sons held a conference and decided that, as their mother would never let them go out except one at a time in case they were carried off by robbers, they would take the task one by one. The first to go was the youngest, called Gaz. Gaz was wonderfully brave but a bit soft. He decided not to use the unworthy expedient of appointing Low Constables, but to go in person to the robbers’ castle, and march them off to the capital. He did that, but he never came back. After a year had gone by, the Zyz sons called another family council, and decided that the next youngest should go. He was called Fiz, and was very keen of magic. He belonged to the Amalgamated Society of Wizards and Warlocks, and he got from them the address of a reliable wizard who lived in the town nearest the robbers’ castle. This obliging gentleman provided a very powerful Coming Spell, and Fiz provided thirteen Black Marias, and enrolled thirteen Low Constables to drive them, and lined them up in the town square. Then the wizard pronounced the spell, and sure enough the Robbers Came. All ninety two of them. They got into the black marias and drove off. Just as the last one was leaving Fiz looked in to see that it was all right, and it wasn’t. They had killed the Low Constables, and were driving the black marias themselves; and they drove back to their castle and took Fiz with them. The trouble was, the spell didn’t say anything but Come.
After another year it was obvious that Fiz had failed, so they sent the next brother, Ez. Ez decided to set them a trap. So he went to the mayor of the town by the castle, and borrowed all the gold plate, and organised an immense picnic. His idea was that a picnic with all that gold would tempt the robbers to come out, and then his Low Constables, all heavily armed with the latest and most complicated weapons, would jump out from a place of concealment and arrest them. But they never came. He had the picnics in all sorts of wild and desolate places, as well as in the town streets and once at the top of a tree, but it was no good. At the seventeenth picnic Ez noticed that the gold plates didn’t look quite as good as new, and truth dawned on him, that they weren’t gold at all. Also of course the robbers must have known that, and so they must have tried to steal them before. Eaten up with curiosity to know whether his reasoning was correct, Ez crept up one night to the castle, and was never seen again.
The next brother to go was Dez. He was sure he knew why the other brothers had failed. They hadn’t trained their Low Constables properly. Dez therefore recruited fourteen Low Constables (so as to have one over in case of accidents) and started training them in all known methods of combat. They learned the art of fencing, and shooting, and Jiu Jitzu, and even took a course in Foul Language. Then they set an ambush round the castle gates and waited for the robbers to emerge. The plan went very well, and ninety one of the robbers had been arrested when, having lost count, (luckily for the prisoners in the castle, who would otherwise have starved) they marched them off in handcuffs, just as they had learnt in the book. They were brought before the Lord High Justice, and they hired a very learned lawyer to defend them. To Dez’s surprise, when they were asked whether they had committed their numerous and atrocious robberies they said yes, and more. And when the Lord High Justice said “Have you anything further to say in extenuation of your horrible crimes?” Their lawyer said “Yes, the prisoners were illegally arrested. Because there were fourteen Low Constables and the Law only allows thirteen, so at least one-fourteenth of the prisoners must have been arrested illegally, and as we can't tell which they were, you will have to let them all off.” “A nice point, a very nice point said the Lord High Justice, and forthwith discharged them. Moreover he ordered them to put Dez in prison for flouting the Law.
Next it was the turn of the third brother, Cez. He was a very clever young man and thought a great deal, and he had invented a clever plan. He intended to lay siege to the castle and starve them out. For this purpose he needed all the thirteen Low Constables, but remembering the sad fate of brother Dez he wouldn’t have so much as half of one over the ration. He argued that for maintaining a siege the great danger was Softness of Heart, so he took great care that only hard-hearted and villainous characters should be Low Constables, and before long he had assembled the thirteen most undesirable types you ever saw. Then he marched them up to the castle. But instead of making a cordon round it they marched boldly in, and all too late Cez discovered that his Low Constables were none other that the robbers themselves.
There were only two brothers now left, and Bez took the next turn. He was a simple soul and relied entirely on Strength. He had never yet been beaten in wrestling, so he thought that he would have no difficulty with a mere 92 robbers. Sure enough, he went up to the castle and challenged all comers; and one by one they had to acknowledge themselves beaten, all except the last who was also the fiercest and heaviest; by the time Bez reached him he was feeling tired, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that Bez was bound hand and foot and thrown into the dungeon.
Last of all there was the eldest, Az. He couldn’t think what to do, until one day he read in the papers that one of the robbers was ill. All the most skilful physicians of the land were called in, and eighteen brilliant surgeons; but though they gave him all medicines they knew the names of, and cut off every part of him that looked at all out of the ordinary, it was no use. He died. They buried him in a magnificent tomb outside the castle gates. Then Az acted. He dressed up in the most bloodthirsty clothes he could think of, and set off for the castle, having first engaged no less than 91 Low Constables, reckoning, correctly enough, that seven thirteens would come to just that. Concealing the Low Constables about the grounds, he went up to the castle gate and rang the bell.
A small robber opened it and Az said “I hear there is a vacancy for a desperate criminal here.”
“Ah, yes” replied the robber, snivelling slightly, “poor brother Nitrogen has received his Promotion. Come in.” So Az came in, and satisfied the robbers of his unexceptionable wickedness by telling them a whopping lie and recounting his life of crime simultaneously. So they took him on. They gave him the most menial task, because he was the junior robber, and that was guarding the prisoners. There were six prisoners, all called Zyz. It didn’t take them long between them to signal to the Low Constables to attack, and meanwhile raised the cry of ‘Fire’ within. In the confusion each Low Constable grabbed his man, and the seven brothers emerged from confinement and each formally commissioned thirteen Low Constables.
This time there was no legal trouble. The robbers were found Exceptionally Guilty and condemned to death. When the question of rewards was raised, Muz suggested that Laz, despite a perfectly good queen, had no children – I mentioned he was a very lazy man – the best thing would be to adopt Az as his heir. So he did. And they all lived happily ever afterwards, so far as this story goes.