LONDON—Demonstrating in no uncertain terms that any peasant who sought to shirk his or her duty would be summarily dealt with, Queen Elizabeth looked on dispassionately Friday as a team of four oxen, yoked in pairs, were strapped to the outstretched limbs of a farmer who had failed to provide the Crown with his yearly tithe of grain, and gazed, unblinking, as the great beasts were lashed with bullwhips until the laggard had been drawn, screaming, limb from limb. Despite the years-long drought that has scourged the countryside and left its once-fruitful fields bereft of greenery, Her Majesty has decreed that she will not look mercifully upon any subject who cannot render annual tribute amounting to one-10th of his harvest, though their starveling children cry themselves to sleep and the ribs of their horses cast sawtoothed shadows on the withered heath. Queen Elizabeth, characteristically stony of countenance in the face of the regrettable but necessary punitive ceremony, was observed to betray the merest hint of expression only once, the ghost of a smile flitting across her divinely blessed face as the delinquent farmer’s joints ground free of their gristly moorings, separating from their groaning sockets with a sharp report not unlike that of a brass nine-pounder cannonade and nearly drowning out the peasant’s high, keening screams. In the final moments of the excruciation, Her Majesty was seen to evince a slight gesture to the Royal Oxherd, entreating that officiant to whip the oxen more stoutly, that the farmer be delivered without any more suffering than necessary to make the Crown’s displeasure known, and that the Royal Fusiliers might waste no time in relieving the miserable ploughman of his head, which was duly placed upon a spike above the gate to Buckingham Palace as fair warning to all who would dodge the tax. Before Her Majesty reportedly retired, satisfied, to the Palace, the Royal Chamberlain let it be known that the Queen, in her infinite wisdom and compassion, declared that families who have been visited by undue hardship may, in lieu of drawing and quartering, offer up their first-born son to be pressed into service with the Royal Navy.
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