Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Fool Chapter 5

FIVE PITY THE FOOL Kent banished, Cordelia disinherited, the king having given away his property and power, but most important, my home, the White Tower; the two older sisters insulted by Kent, the dukes ready to cut my throat, well – getting a laugh might be a challenge. Royal succession, it seemed, would not be a prudent subject to broach, and I was lost for a transition to slapstick or pantomime after Lear's high drama, so Drool was but a millstone on comedy's neck. I juggled apples and sang a little song about monkeys while I pondered the problem. The king was, of late, leaning decidedly pagan, while the elder sisters favored the Church. Gloucester and Edgar were devout to the Roman pantheon, and Cordelia, well, she thought the whole lot was shit and England should have her own church with women in the clergy. Quaint. So the high-minded comedy of religious satire it would be†¦ I tossed my apples around the table and said, â€Å"Two popes are shagging a camel behind a mosque, when this Saracen comes up – â€Å" â€Å"There is only one, true pope!† shouted Cornwall, great tower of malignant smegma that he is. â€Å"It's a jest, you wanker,† said I. â€Å"Suspend fucking disbelief for a bit, would you?† He was right, in a way (although not for the purpose of the camel bit). For the last year there had only been one pope, in the holy city of Amsterdam. But for the prior fifty years there had been two popes, the Retail Pope and the Discount Pope. After the Thirteenth Holy Crusade, when it was decided that to avoid future strife, the birthplace of Jesus would be moved to a different city every four years, holy shrines lost their geographical importance. There arose a great price war in the Church, with shrines offering pilgrims dispensation at varying competitive rates. Now there didn't need to be a miracle declared on the spot; anywhere could basically be declared a holy site, and often was. Lourdes would still sell dispensation coupons with the healing waters – but also some bloke in Puddinghoe could plant some pansies and hawk, â€Å"Jesus had a wee right on this very spot when he was a lad – two pennies and a spliff of Cardiff chronic ‘ill get you out o' purgat ory for an eon, mate.† Soon a whole guild of low-priced shrine keepers around Europe named their own Pope – Boldface the Relatively Shameless, Discount Pope of Prague. The price war was on. If the Dutch pope would give you a hundred years out of purgatory for a shilling and a ferryman's ticket, the Discount Pope would let you out for two hundred years and send you home with the femur of a minor saint and a splinter of the True Cross. The Retail Pope would offer cheesy bacon toppings on the Host with communion and the Discount Pope would counter with topless-nun night for midnight mass. It came to a head, though, when St. Matthew appeared in a vision to the Retail Pope, telling him that the faithful were more interested in the quality of their religious experience, not just the quantity. Thus inspired, the Retail Pope moved Christmas to June when the weather wasn't so shit for shopping, and the Discount Pope, not realizing the game had changed, responded by forgiving hell altogether for anyone who gave a priest a hand job. Without hell, there was no fear, and without fear, there was no further need for the Church to supply redemption, and more important, no means for the Church to modify behavior. The Discount faithful defected in droves, either to the Retail branch of the Church, or to a dozen different pagan sects. Why not get pissed and dance naked around a pole all Sabbath if the worst of it was a rash on the naughty bits and the dropping of the odd bastard now and then? Pope Boldface was burned in a wicker man the next Beltane and cats shat in his ashes. So, yes, a two-pope joke was untimely, but fuck all, it was dire times, and I sallied forth, for a bit: â€Å"So the second pope says, ‘Your sister? I thought she was kosher?'† And no one laughed. Cordelia rolled her eyes and made a raspberry sound. The pathetic one-trumpet fanfare dribbled, the great doors were thrown open, and France and Burgundy ponced[20] into the hall followed by the bastard Edmund. â€Å"Silence, fool,† commanded Lear, with great superfluity. â€Å"Hail, Burgundy, hail, France.† â€Å"Hail, Edmund the bloody bastard!† said I. Lear ignored me and motioned for France and Burgundy to come before him. They were both fit, taller than me but not tall, a few years south of thirty. Burgundy had dark hair and the sharp features of a Roman. France, sandy hair and softer features. Each wore sword and dagger that I doubted had been ever drawn but for ceremony. Fucking frogs. â€Å"Lord Burgundy,† said Lear, â€Å"you have rivaled for the hand of our youngest daughter. What dowry do you require for her?† â€Å"No less than your highness has offered,† said the dark poofter. â€Å"Alas, that is no more, good Burgundy. What we offered, was offered when she was dear to us. Now she has roused our anger and betrayed our love and her dowry is nothing. If you want her as she is there, take her, but there will be no dowry.† Burgundy was stunned. He backed away, nearly stepping on France's feet. â€Å"I'm sorry, then, sir, but I must tend to property and power in my choice of duchess.† â€Å"She shall have neither,† said Lear. â€Å"So be it,† said Burgundy. He nodded, bowed, and stepped back. â€Å"I am sorry, Cordelia.† â€Å"No worry, sir,† said the princess. â€Å"If Burgundy's heart is wed only to property and power, then it could never be to me truly. Peace be with you.† I breathed half a sigh of relief. We might be driven from our home, but if Cordelia was driven out with us – â€Å"I'll take her!† said Edgar. â€Å"You will not, you blubbering, beetle-browed, dog-buggering dolt!† I may have accidentally exclaimed. â€Å"You will not,† said Gloucester, pushing his son back into his seat. â€Å"Well, I will have her,† said the Prince of France. â€Å"For she is a dowry in herself.† â€Å"Oh for fuck's sake!† â€Å"Pocket, that's enough,† said the king. â€Å"Guard, take him outside and hold him until our will is done.† Two yeomen stepped up behind me and seized me under the armpits. I heard Drool moan and looked over to see him cowering behind a column. This had never happened before – nothing like it. I was the all-licensed fool! I of all people could speak truth to power – I am chief cheeky monkey to the King of Bloody Britain! â€Å"You don't know what you're getting into, France. Have you seen her feet? Or perhaps that is your game, put her to work in the vineyards crushing wine grapes. Majesty, the poofter means to force servitude on her, mark my words.† But no one heard the last of it, the yeomen had dragged me from the room and held me in the hall outside. I sought to brain one with Jones but he caught the puppet stick and tucked him in his belt at the small of his back. â€Å"Sorry, Pocket,† said Curan, the captain of the guard, a grizzled bear in chain mail who held me by my right arm. â€Å"‘Twas a direct order, and you were fast cutting your throat with your own tongue.† â€Å"Not me,† said I. â€Å"He wouldn't hurt me.† â€Å"I'd have said he'd not banish his best friend or disown his favorite daughter before this night. Hanging a fool's an easy leap, lad.† â€Å"Aye,† said I. â€Å"You're right. Let me go, then.† â€Å"Not until the king's business is done,† said the old yeoman. The doors came open, fanfare trickled anemic through the portal, and out came the Prince of France, on his arm, Cordelia, radiant and wearing a grim smile. I could see her jaw clenched, but she relaxed when she saw me and some of the fire of anger left her eyes. â€Å"So, you're off with the frog Prince?† said I. France laughed at that, bloody buggering French fuck that he is. Is there anything so irritating as a noble who actually behaves nobly? â€Å"Yes, I am leaving, Pocket, but there is one thing you must always remember and never forget – â€Å" â€Å"Both at once?† â€Å"Shut up!† â€Å"Aye, milady.† â€Å"You must always remember, and you must never forget, that while you are the Black Fool, the dark fool, the Royal Fool, the all-licensed fool, and the King's Fool, you were not brought here to be those things. You were brought here to please me. Me! So when you put your titles aside, a fool still shall there reside, and now and forever, you are my fool.† â€Å"Oh my, you are going to do well in France – they hold unpleasantness to be a virtue.† â€Å"Mine!† â€Å"Now and forever, milady.† â€Å"You may kiss my hand, fool.† The yeoman released me and I bent to take her hand. She pulled it away, and turned, her gown fanning out around her as she walked away. â€Å"Sorry, having you on.† I smiled into the floor. â€Å"You bitch.† â€Å"I'll miss you, Pocket,† she said over her shoulder, and she hurried down the corridor. â€Å"Take me with you. Take us both with you. France, you could use a brilliant fool and a great lumbering bag of flatulence like Drool, couldn't you?† The prince shook his head, entirely too much pity in his eyes for my tastes. â€Å"You are Lear's fool, with Lear you shall stay.† â€Å"That's not what your wife just said.† â€Å"She will learn,† said the prince. He turned on his heel and followed Cordelia down the corridor. I started after them but the captain yanked me back by the arm. â€Å"Let her go, lad.† Next out of the hall came the sisters and their husbands. Before I could say anything the captain had clamped his hand over my mouth and was lifting me off my feet as I kicked. Cornwall made as to draw his dagger, but Regan pulled him away. â€Å"You've just won a kingdom, my duke, killing vermin is a servant's task. Leave the bitter fool stew in his own bile.† She wanted me. It was clear. Goneril would not look me in the eye, but hurried past, and her husband, Albany, just shook his head as he walked by. A hundred brilliant witticisms died suffocating on the captain's heavy glove. Thus muted, I pumped my codpiece at the duke and tried to force a fart, but my bum trumpet could find no note. As if the gods had sent down a dim and gaseous avatar to help me, Drool came next through the door, walking rather more straight than was his habit. Then I saw that someone had looped a rope around his neck, the noose fixed to a spear whose point was almost piercing Drool's throat. Edmund stepped into the corridor holding the other end of the spear, two men at arms flanking him. â€Å"The captain havin' a laugh with you, then, Pocket?† said Drool, innocent of his peril. The captain dropped me to my feet then, but held my shoulder to keep me from going at Edmund, whose father and brother passed behind him. â€Å"You were right, Pocket,† said Edmund, poking Drool a bit with the spear for emphasis. â€Å"Killing you would be enough to cement my unfavorable position forever, but a hostage – there's a mute I can use. I so enjoyed your performance in there that I prevailed upon the king to provide me with a fool of my own, and look at his gift. He'll be coming to Gloucester with us to assure that you don't forget your promise.† â€Å"You don't need the spear, bastard. He'll go if I ask him.† â€Å"Are we going on holiday, Pocket?† asked Drool, blood beginning to trickle down his neck then. I approached the giant. â€Å"No, lad,† said I. â€Å"You're going to go with the bastard here. Do as he says.† I turned to the captain. â€Å"Give me your knife.† The captain eyed Edmund and the men at arms beside him, who had hands on hilts. â€Å"I don't know, Pocket – â€Å" â€Å"Give me your bloody knife!† I whirled, pulled the knife from the captain's belt, and before the men at arms could draw I'd cut the rope around Drool's neck and pushed Edmund's spear aside. â€Å"You don't need the spear, bastard.† I handed the captain his knife and motioned for Drool to bend down so we were eye-to-eye. â€Å"I want you to go with Edmund and don't give him any trouble, you understand?† â€Å"Aye. You ain't comin'?† â€Å"I'll be along, I'll be along. I've business at the White Tower first.† â€Å"Shagging to be done?† Drool nodded so enthusiastically you could nearly hear his tiny brain rattling around his gourd. â€Å"I'll be helping, right?† â€Å"No, lad, but you'll have your own castle. You'll be the proper fool, won't you? There'll be all kinds of hiding and listening, Drool, do you understand what I'm saying, lad?† I winked, hoping against hope that the git would get my meaning. â€Å"Will there be heinous fuckery, Pocket?† â€Å"Aye, I think you can count on it.† â€Å"Smashing!† Drool clapped his hands and danced a little jig then, chanting, â€Å"Heinous fuckery most foul, heinous fuckery most foul – â€Å" I looked to Edmund. â€Å"You've my word, bastard. But you've also my word that if any harm comes to the Natural, I'll see to it that ghosts ride you into your grave.† A flash of fear showed in Edmund's eye then, but he fought it down and affected his usual swaggering smirk. â€Å"His life is on your word, little man.† The bastard turned and strutted down the corridor. Drool looked back, a big tear welling in his eye as he realized what was happening. I waved him on. â€Å"I'd have taken the other two if you'd dirked him,† said Curan. The other guard nodded in agreement. â€Å"Evil bastard was asking for it.† â€Å"Well, now you fucking tell me,† said I. Another guard hurried out of the hall then, and seeing it was only the fool with his captain, reported, â€Å"Captain, the king's food taster. He's dead, sir.† Three friends had I.

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