The smallish nation of Unbedeutend located on one side by the bend of the vast river Gewaltig and cossetted on the other by the Zackig mountain range was thus left alone. That was how it had been for three centuries.
However, King Lastig not one to leave well alone. After five years’ tenure of not doing much he decided Unbedeutend needed an image as well, something which would make the men of Unbedeutend stand apart. Lacking a constructive imagination, he pondered another two years then one day an ambassador dispatched from a neighbouring nation for annoying his own king hoping to do something with his miserable lot remarked on the fine impression Lastig’s full beard and moustaches made.
Lastig took this to heart and a spark was set aflame. Unbedeutend would be the home of that most socially acceptable display of masculinity, luxurious and well-maintained facial hair. He voiced this opinion several times and his court who had its fair share of facially hairy men were much pleased, those not so took the hint and within some seventy days not a chin or upper lip was perceived, on the males that is. Naturally this ceased to be a fashion and more of a friendly suggestion with elements of an edict.
And so many clean-shaven males of Unbedeutend commenced to cultivate facial hair. Those wishing to maintain or obtain status ensured their efforts were maintained to a high standard. ‘Straggly’ becoming a word certain to doom a fellow to mockery or ostracisation. Over the next three years barbers obtained sufficient importance to elevate their once humble Barber’s Guild to The Learned Advocacy of Master Coiffeurs and began to invent all sorts of rules and regulations, obtaining seats of local councils and so forths.
Lastig was very pleased he had set his nation on a path to Status. For did not much facial hair mean masculinity?
His folk along the Zackig mountains thought so, and consequently folk from other three kingdoms who resided along the mountain borders with Unbedeutend had to confront a frequency of by swaggering males displaying their beards, at close range. Concerns were raised by said border communities this could escalate. The kings and their lords thought reacting to Threat By Beard would be seen as excitable and thus did nothing, except look with some suspicion at some of their own fulsomely facially haired men about court. After a while other local matters took their attention and sense prevailed. Unbedeutend, who cared? Aside from peasants on the borders, so what.
In Unbedeutend males continued to emulate their king. Although some in various positions of authority or wishing to be thus looked upon others with facial jealousy and unable to keep pace suggested these others were trying to exceed the king in stature. The consequences were varied and because no one wanted to disturb the king’s joviality very restrained, merely muted as innocent officials on the rise, gently fell from grace, or lesser also innocent folk seeking to rise in court were modestly ostracised back to their estates. It was all very civilised.
Queen Fellyone and the ladies of her court, circle and salon could not, of course, become involved, so they concentrated on flower arranging, which was very socially astute as peasants would not have time or resources to do likewise. Not so with men.
Out amongst the common folk and those elevated, but not invited to Court. matters evolved as the cultivation continued. Those of meticulous and reflective mien grew narrower styles, thus enabling them to finger the hair thoughtfully while saying ‘So’ or ‘Ah’ or a long drawn out ‘Yesssss,’. Some tolerated as outgoing and outrageous indulged in slightly untidy appearances, while military folks’ efforts were by length and width measured according to rank. Religious fellows attended to the matter according to personal conscience. Books on how to conduct neat and respectable ways of eating proliferated, though those who had long cultivated facial hair felt somewhat insulted by the latter move. An indicator of social pressures which the king’s advisors’ advisors should have taken note of.
There were however other pressing issues, the one most close to Lastig’s heart being his only son and thus heir Prince Gravierend, unlike his father serious and reflective also not prone either socially or worse physically to displays of facial hair. He was capable at arms and took an interest in military matters, so no one was inclined to jest with him at not joining the era of beards, nonetheless an embarrassment to his father and as some courtiers suggested a possible focus of discontent. The solution was relatively simple. The neighbouring southern nation of Beunruhigt was now suffering from a few ill-disciplined barons. Gravierend, was only too glad to go with a volunteer retinue of sober and able fellows, who began to shave as soon as they crossed over the border.
For administrative purposes Lastig’s nephew Earl Schleichen was made nominal Prince of the Office, in order that someone be princely for all the required ceremonial duties of the said rank. Schleichen had for some time been maneuvering to get A Position. He was aided by others who thought they could control him and with him shared a dislike of Gravierend who they thought merely affected his serious disposition. Wars it had been agreed were serious things and who knew what might happen to a young prince. Lastig distracted by various issues relating to beards did not notice.
At least half of the court should have anticipated the first problem would come from The Church and within the Church. To begin with the issues were minor. The most boring and to be avoided priests and bishops got into tussles over the theological implications of long or short beards. In rural areas congregations found over enthusiastic priests indulged in hair to the extent their sermons were quite incoherent coming from behind what appeared to be small bushes. This led to neighbouring priests who had issues with the excessively hairy associate to suggest an excess of hair was all vanity, some even began, with congregational support, to shave. This allowed wives and mothers weary of shedding of hair, unpleasant sights at meals and discomfort at times once tender and intimate to lend support, and everything became schismatic.
The disruption spread to more urban areas and in the tide those men who had long nurtured facial hair and were expert in its management were wont to voice distain at less expert fellows and the disrepute they were bringing upon the art.
Vocal disputes became more frenetic and louder, thus hair was tugged, which accelerated and riotous behaviour became common, bordering of Unrest. Lastig, like most folk of genial dispositions when thwarted and deprived of uncomplicated options lost his temper and became dyspeptic.
To begin with he commanded his lords to stop the violence, without telling them how, and demanded his government to issue edicts and laws. As each official had been told personally each went away with different ideas. The results were rather obvious, the lords had opted for the simplest solution; Hit People, as the lords were the ones with the soldiers, so things simmered down; except that the lords now thought themselves rulers in their own realms claiming they ‘understood’ the local situation; which most of them didn’t. The Church weighed in with a bewildering number of contradictory opinions thus even the schisms had schisms. The most extreme example being ‘The Sisterhood of The Equal Hair’, a group of women who partook of secret potions which encouraged facial hair growth; whether this started out as a religious, political or satirically ironic movement was lost in the confusion of the times, needless to say the results were unsettling.
Lastig now started to make very uncomplimentary and ungenerous remarks to folk in his court, mostly to do with their competency, although peppered with barded observations on their own beards. He said he would sort it all out and locked himself away in a room wherein he worked for five days and nights drafting The Royal Decree of Stability. When it was produced no one understood anything of its nature, while Lastig seemed to be unable to offer any coherent clarifications. In later years in Universities Professors of Politics, Philosophies and Rhetoric would offer up this work up as the prime example of why drafting without ideas was a bad approach, some radical and naturally covert institutions used it as a reason why kings should never be involved in formulation of law.
Even so Lastig insisted upon its application, the first, to profit were lawyers, the second being Schleichen. It was noted that whereas Lastig began to display evidence of Straggliness, Schleichen’s beard was more luxurious and maintained, thus even though he was growing more obnoxious he felt confident enough to drop the ‘of the Office’ part of his title and experiment with passing his own edicts, all to do with the accumulation of his own authority and wealth. Such was the chaos very folk noticed.
Elsewhere, actually in Beunruhigt, King Travach was grateful for Gravierend’s efforts, the surviving ill-disciplined barons were wishing they had not listened to their deceased associates. Surviving assassins sent curt letters of resignations to those in Unbedeutend who had sent them. Also daughter of Travach, Princess Leilanna (The Studious) and Gravierend had formed an attachment. As there was no more ill-discipline in the realm he escorted her to visit her favourite widowed aunt whose border lands were in the shadow of the Zackig Mountains. It was there the pair and their loyal retinues encountered a large but furtive band of ruffians and men of the Zackig mountains on the Unbedeutend side, seemingly engaged in transporting large sacks. The encounter from the viewpoint of the disreputable groups was not a profitable one and the survivors were ordered to hand over the contents of the sacks.
On severe and persistent questioning there were general confessions the hair was for the manufacture of false beards, of which there was a flourishing market in Unbedeutend. Gravierend with Leilanna at his side and retinues following was swift to ride back home and demand explanations. The first folk of rank he encountered, were found with large amounts of unexplainable gold, they tried to protest and bluster, in doing so raised other suspicions and were found with false beards.
Gravierend raised the matter at court, as he had a battle hardened retinue no one tried to stop him, in fact several arranged to be elsewhere. Naturally a scandal broke involving nobles, bishops, some merchants and The Learned Advocacy of Master Coiffeurs, more unexplainable gold and false beards were revealed. Prince Schleichen was involved, was forced to flee the kingdom, those of his family who could, disowned him. Lustig suffered a collapse, pulled his hair out and retired to an undisclosed remote tower, Queen Fellyone repaired unto a spa town five hundred miles south west and stayed there, for her health, Gravierend, with some fatalistic reluctance took the throne, married Leilanna, spent a year knocking heads together, putting down inept rebellions, placing unexplainable and confiscated wealth into civil and civic projects for the good of the ordinary folk and drafting the following edict.
‘Beards. I could not care less,’
Most folk got the message, there was much rejoicing and men who had had beards most of their adult life felt dignity and sanity was being cultivated again. ‘The Sisterhood of The Equal Hair’ under the stern examination of Queen Leilanna, confessed that the whole thing had indeed been an ironic jest and were glad it was all over.
And those who wished to, shaved happily ever after.