Fool Chapter 11




Goneril dumped me on the floor as if she'd suddenly found a bag of drowned kittens in her lap. She snapped open the letter and began reading without even bothering to tuck her bosoms back into her gown.

"Milady," said Oswald again. He'd learned from that first whipping. He acted as if he didn't even see me. "Your father is in the great hall, asking after his fool."

Goneril looked up, irritated. "Well, then, take him. Take him, take him, take him." She waved us away like flies.

"Very well, milady." Oswald turned on his heel and marched away. "Come, fool."

I stood and rubbed my bum as I followed Oswald out of the solar. Yes, my backside was bruised, but there was pain in my heart as well. What a bitter bitch to cast me out while my bum still burned with the blows of her passion. The bells on my coxcomb drooped in despair.

Kent fell in beside me in the hall. "So, is she smitten with you?"

"With Edmund of Gloucester," said I.

"Edmund? She's smitten with the bastard?"

"Aye, the fickle whore," said I.

Kent looked startled and folded back the brim of his hat to better see me. "But you bewitched her to do so, didn't you?"

"Oh, yes, I suppose I did," said I. So, she was only immune to my charms by means of dark and powerful magic. Ha! I felt better. "She reads the letter I forged in his hand even now."

"Your fool," Oswald announced as we entered the hall.

The old king was there, with Captain Curan and a dozen other knights who looked like they'd just returned from the hunt - for me, no doubt.

"My boy!" Lear called, throwing his arms wide.

I walked into his embrace, but did not return it. I found no tenderness in my heart at the sight of him, but my anger boiled still.

"Oh joy," said Oswald, his disdain dripping like venom in his voice. "The prodigal git returns."

"See here," said Lear. "My men have yet to be paid. Tell my daughter I will see her."

Oswald did not acknowledge the old man, but kept walking.

"You, sir!" roared the king. "Did you hear me?"

Oswald turned slowly, as if he'd heard his name carried in faintly on the wind. "Aye, I heard you."

"Do you know who I am?"

Oswald picked a front tooth with the nail of his small finger. "Aye, my lady's father."

He smirked. The rascal had cheek, that I will give him, that or a burning desire to be catapulted cod over cap into the afterlife.

"Your lady's father!" Lear pulled off his heavy leather hunting gauntlet and backhanded it across Oswald's face. "You knave! You whoreson dog! You slave! You cur!"

The metal studs on Lear's glove were beginning to draw blood where they struck Oswald. "I am none of these things. I will not be struck by you." Oswald was backing toward the great double doors as Lear worried at him with the glove, but when the steward turned to run Kent threw out a leg and swept him off his feet.

"Or tripped, neither, you tosser!" said Kent.

Oswald rolled into a heap at the foot of one of Goneril's guards, then scrambled to his feet and ran out. The guards pretended they'd seen nothing.

"Well done, friend," said Lear to Kent. "Are you the one who brought my fool home?"

"Aye, he is, nuncle," said I. "Rescued me from the darkest heart of the forest, fought off brigands, pygmies, and a brace of tigers to bring me here. But don't let him talk his Welsh at you, one tiger was vanquished in a sluice of phlegm and mortally beaten with consonants."

Lear looked closely now at his old friend, then shivered - guilt's chill claws scuttling across his spine, no doubt. "Welcome, then, sir. I thank thee." Lear handed Kent a small purse of coin. "Earnest payment for your service."

"My thanks and my sword," said Kent, bowing.

"What is your name?" asked Lear.

"Caius," said Kent.

"And whence do you hail?"

"From Bonking, sire."

"Well, yes, lad, as do we all," said Lear, "but from what town?"

"Bonking Ewe on Worms Head," I offered with a shrug. "Wales - "

"Fine, then, join my train," said Lear. "You're hired."

"Oh, and allow me to hire you as well," said I, removing my hat and handing it to Kent with a jingle.

"What's this?" asked Kent.

"Who but a fool would work for a fool?"

"Watch your tongue, boy," said Lear.

"You'll have to get your own hat, fool," said I to the king. "Mine is already promised."

Captain Curan turned to conceal a smile.

"You call me a fool?"

"Oh, should I not call you fool? All your other titles you have given away, along with your land."

"I'll have you whipped."

I rubbed my burning bottom. "That is the only legacy you have left, nuncle."

"You've become a bitter fool in your absence," said the king.

"And you the sweet one," said I. "The fool who makes a jest of his own fate."

"The boy is not altogether fool," said Kent.

Lear turned on the old knight, but not in anger. "Perhaps," said he, weakly, his eye drifting to the stones of the floor as if searching for an answer there. "Perhaps."

"The lady, Goneril, Duchess of Albany!" announced one of the guards.

"Craven hose-beast!" I added, relatively certain the guard would forget that part.

Goneril breezed into the room, no notice of me, she went right to her father. The old man opened his arms but she stopped short, a sword-length away.

"Did you strike my man for chiding your fool?" Now she scowled at me.

I rubbed my bum and blew her a kiss.

Oswald peeked through the doors to the hall, as if waiting for the answer.

"I struck the knave for being impudent. I but asked him to fetch you. My fool has only just returned from being lost. This is not a time for frowns, daughter."

"There're no smiles for you, sire," said I. "Not now that you've nothing to offer. The lady has only bile for fools and those with no title at all."

"Quiet, boy," said the king.

"You see," said Goneril. "Not just your all-licensed fool, but your whole train treats my palace like a tavern and a brothel. They fight and eat all day, drink and carouse all night, and you care for nothing but your precious fool."

"As it should be," said Jones, albeit softly - when royal ire is raging, even the spittle sprayed from their lips can rain down death on the common puppet or person.

"I care for much, and my men are the best in the land. And they have not been paid since we left London. Perhaps if you - "

"They will not be paid!" said Goneril, and suddenly all the knights in the hall came to attention.

"When I gave you all, 'twas on the condition of you maintaining my retinue, daughter."

"Aye, Father, and they shall be maintained, but not in your charge, and not in their full number."

Lear was growing red-faced now, and shaking with anger as with palsy. "Speak clearly, daughter, these old ears deceive."

Now Goneril went to her father and took his hand. "Yes, Father, you are old. Very old. Really, really, extraordinarily, mind-bogglingly - " She turned to me for a cue.

"Dog-fuckingly," I suggested.

" - dog-fuckingly old," said the duchess. "You are feebly, incontinently, desiccatedly, smelling-of-boiled-cabaggely old. You are brain-rottingly, balls-draggingly - "

"I'm fucking old!" said Lear.

"We'll stipulate that," said I.

"And," continued Goneril, "while you, in your dotage, should be revered for your wisdom and grace, you piss on your legacy and reputation by keeping this train of ruffians. They are too much for you."

"They are my loyal men and you have agreed to maintain them."

"And I shall. I shall pay your men, but half will stay here at Albany, under my charge, under my orders, in soldiers' quarters, not running about the bailey like marauders."

"Darkness and devils," cursed Lear. "It shall not be! Curan, saddle my horses, call my train together. I have another daughter."

"Go to her, then," said Goneril. "You strike my servants and your rabble makes servants of their betters. Be gone, then, but half your train shall remain."

"Prepare my horses!" said Lear. Curan hurried out of the hall, followed by the other knights, passing the Lord Albany as he entered, the duke looking more than somewhat confused.

"Why does the king's captain exit with such urgency?" asked the duke.

"Do you know of this harpy's intent to strip me of my train?" asked Lear.

"This is the first I've heard of it," said Albany. "Pray, be patient, sire. My lady?" Albany looked to Goneril.

"We do not strip him of his knights. I have offered to maintain them here, with our own force, while Father goes on to my sister's castle. We shall treat his men as our own, with discipline, as soldiers, not as guests and revelers. They are out of the old man's control."

Albany turned back to Lear and shrugged.

"She lies!" said Lear, now wagging a finger under Goneril's nose. "Thou detested viper. Thou ungrateful fiend. Thou hideous - uh - "

"Slag!"[32] I offered. "Thou piteous prick-pull. Thou vainglorious virago. Thou skunk-breathed licker of dog scrotums. Do jump in, Albany, I can't go on forever, no matter how inspired. Surely you've years of suppressed resentment to vent. Thou leprous spunk-catch. Thou worm-eaten - "

"Shut up, fool," said Lear.

"Sorry, sirrah, I thought you were losing your momentum."

"How could I have given preference to this villainess over my sweet Cordelia?" asked Lear.

"Doubtless that question was lost worse in the wood than I, seeing as it has only caught up with you now, sire. Shall we take cover against the impact of the revelation that you've awarded your kingdom to the best liars of your loins?" Who would have thought it, but I'd felt more charity toward the old man before he realized his folly. Now -

He turned his eyes skyward and began to invoke the gods:

"Hear me, nature, dear goddess hear.

Convey sterility onto this creature,

Dry up her womb

And never let a babe spring from

Her body to honor her.

Instead create in her a child of spleen and bile.

Let it torment her, and stamp wrinkles in her youthful brow

Let it turn all of her mother's benefits

To laughter and contempt, that she may feel

How sharper than a serpent's tooth

It is to have a thankless child!"

With that the old man spat at Goneril's feet and stormed out of the hall.

"I think he took that as well as could reasonably be expected," said I. I was ignored, despite my positive tone and sunny smile.

"Oswald!" called Goneril. The smarmy steward slithered forth. "Quickly, take the letter to my sister and Cornwall. Take two of the fastest horses and alternate them. Do not rest until it is in her hand. And then take you to Gloucester and deliver that other message as well."

"You have given me no other message, lady," said the worm.

"Yes, right, come with me. We shall draft a letter." She led Oswald out of the great hall leaving the Duke of Albany looking to me for some sort of explanation.

I shrugged. "She can be a whirlwind of tits and terror when she puts her mind to a purpose, can't she, sir?"

Albany didn't seem to notice my comment, somewhat forlorn, he looked. His beard seemed to be greying with worry as he stood there. "I don't approve of her treatment of the king. The old man has earned more respect. And what of these messages, to Cornwall and Gloucester?"

I started to speak, thinking it a perfect opportunity to mention her newfound affection for Edmund of Gloucester, my recent session of bawdy discipline with the duchess, and a half-dozen metaphors for illicit shagging that had come to mind while the duke mused, when Jones said:

"Sex and cuckoldry

You've mastered those jokes

For a more challenging jape

A new seal should be broke."

"What?" said I. Whenever Jones has spoken before it has been in my own voice - smaller and muted sometimes, from the art of throwing it, but my voice alone, unless Drool is mimicking the puppet. And it is I who works the little ring and string that move Jones's mouth. But this was not my voice, and I had not moved the puppet. It was the voice of the girl ghost from the White Tower.

"Don't be tedious, Pocket," said Albany. "I've no patience for puppets and rhymes."

Jones said:

"A thousand rough nights

To call the lady a whore,

Only today may a fool,

Jest the land into war?"

And like a shooting star cutting brilliant across the ignorant night of my mind, I saw the ghost's meaning.

I said: "I know not what the lady sends to Cornwall, good Albany, but while I was this last month in Gloucester, I heard soldiers talk of Cornwall and Regan gathering forces by the sea."

"Gathering an army? Whatever for? With gentle Cordelia and Jeff now on the throne in France, it would be folly to cross the channel. We've a safe ally there."

"Oh, they aren't gathering forces against France, they are gathering forces against you, my lord. Regan would be queen of all of Britain. Or so I heard said."

"You heard this from soldiers? Under whose flag, these soldiers?"

"Mercenaries, lord. No flag but fortune for them, and the word was there is coin aplenty for a free lance fighter in Cornwall. I have to be off. The king will need someone to whip for your lady's rude announcements."

"That doesn't seem fair," said Albany. He had a spark of decency in him, really, and somehow Goneril had not yet been able to smother it. Plus, he seemed to have forgotten about accidentally hanging me.

"Don't worry for me, good duke. You have worries of your own. Someone must take a hit for your lady, let it be this humble fool. Pray, tell her I said that someone must always hit it. Fare thee well, duke."

And merrily I was off, bottom stinging, to let slip the dogs of war. Hi ho!

Lear sat on his horse outside Castle Albany, howling at the sky like a complete lunatic.

"May Nature's nymphs bring great lobster-sized vermin to infest the rotted nest of her woman bits, and may serpents fix their fangs in her nipples and wave there until her poisoned dugs[33] go black and drop to the ground like overripe figs!"

I looked at Kent. "Built up a spot of steam, hasn't he?" said I.

"May Thor hammer at her bowels and produce flaming flatulence that wilts the forest and launches her off the battlements into a reeking dung heap!"

"Not really adhering to any particular pantheon, is he?" said Kent.

"Oh, Poseidon, send your one-eyed son to stare into her bituminous heart and ignite it with flames of most hideous suffering."

"You know," said I, "the king seems to be leaning rather heavily on curses, for someone with his unsavory history with witches."

"Aye," said Kent. "Seems to have steered his wrath toward the eldest daughter, if I'm not mistaken."

"Oh, you don't say?" said I. "Sure, sure, that could be it, I suppose."

We heard horses galloping and I pulled Kent back from the drawbridge as two riders, leading a train of six horses, thundered across.

"Oswald," said Kent.

"With extra horses," said I. "He's gone to Cornwall."

Lear broke with his cursing and watched the riders take out across the moor. "What business has that rascal in Cornwall?"

"He carries a message, nuncle," said I. "I heard Goneril order him to report her mind to her sister, and for Regan and her lord to go to Gloucester and not to be in Cornwall when you arrive."

"Goneril, thou foul monstress!" said the king, clouting himself on the forehead.

"Indeed," said I.

"Oh, evil monstress!"

"To be sure," said Kent.

"Oh, pernicious monstress, perfect in her perfidy!"

Kent and I looked at each other, knowing not what to say.

"I said," said Lear, "most pernicious monstress, perfect in her perfidy!"

Kent mimed a set of generous bosoms on himself and raised an eyebrow as if to ask, "Boobs?"

I shrugged as if to say, "Aye, boobs sounds right."

"Aye, most pernicious perfidy indeed, sire," said I.

"Aye, most bouncy and jiggling perfidy,"[34] said Kent.

Then, as if coming out of a trance, Lear snapped to attention in his saddle. "You, Caius, have Curan saddle a fast horse for you. You must go to Gloucester, tell my friend the earl that we are coming."

"Aye, my lord," said Kent.

"And Caius, see that my apprentice Drool comes to no harm," said I.

Kent nodded and went back across the drawbridge. The old king looked down to me.

"Oh, my pretty Black Fool, where from fatherly duty did I stray that such ingratitude should rise in Goneril like mad fever?"

"I am only a fool, my lord, but making a guess, I'd say the lady may have in her delicate youth required more discipline to shape her character."

"Speak plain, Pocket, I'll not hold harm against you."

"You needed to smack the bitch up when she was tender, my lord. Instead, now you hand your daughters the rod and pull down your own breeches."

"I'll have you flogged, fool."

"His word is like the dew," said the puppet Jones, "good only until put under light of day."

I laughed, simple fool that I am, no thought at all that Lear was becoming as inconstant as a butterfly. "I need to speak to Curan and find a horse for the journey, sirrah," said I. "I'll bring your cloak."

Lear sagged in the saddle now, spent now from his ranting. "Go, good Pocket. Have my knights prepare."

"So I shall," said I. "So I shall." I left the old man there alone outside the castle.

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