Fool Chapter 14




"I shagged a ghost," said Drool, wet, naked, and forlorn, sitting in the laundry cauldron under Castle Gloucester.

"There's always a bloody ghost," said the laundress, who was scrubbing the lout's clothes, which had been most befouled in the moat. It had taken four of Lear's men, along with me, to pull the great git from the stinking soup.

"No excuse for it, really," said I. "You've the lake on three sides of the castle, you could open the moat to the lake and the offal and stink would be carried away with the current. I'll wager that one day they find that stagnant water leads to disease. Breeds hostile water sprites, I'll wager."

"Blimey, you're long-winded for such a wee fellow," said the laundress.

"Gifted," I explained, gesturing grandly with Jones. I, too, was naked, but for my hat and puppet stick, my own apparel having taken a glazing of oozy moat mess during the rescue as well.

"Sound the alarm!" Kent came storming down the steps into the laundry, sword unsheathed and followed closely by the two young squires he'd trounced not an hour before. "Bolt the door! To arms, fool!"

"Hello," said I.

"You're naked," said Kent, once again feeling the need to voice the obvious.

"Aye," said I.

"Find the fool's kit, lads, and get him into it. Wolves are loosed on the fold and we must defend."

"Stop!" said I. The squires stopped thrashing wildly around the laundry and stood at attention. "Excellent. Now, Caius, what are you on about?"

"I shagged a ghost," said Drool to the young squires. They pretended they couldn't hear him.

Kent shuffled forward, held back some by the alabaster grandeur of my nakedness. "Edmund was found with a dagger through his ear, pinned to a high-backed chair."

"Bloody careless eater he is, then."

"'Twas you who put him there, Pocket. And you know it."

"Moi? Look at me? I am small, weak, and common, I could never - "

"He's called for your head. He hunts the castle for you even now," said Kent. "I swear I saw steam coming out his nostrils."

"Not going to spoil the Yule celebration, is he?"

"Yule! Yule! Yule!" chanted Drool. "Pocket, can we go see Phyllis? Can we?"

"Aye, lad, if there's a pawnbroker in Gloucester, I'll take you soon as your kit is dry."

Kent raised a startled porcupine of an eyebrow. "What is he on about?"

"Every Yule I take Drool down to Phyllis Stein's Pawnshop in London and let him sing 'Happy Birthday' to Jesus, then blow the candles out on the menorah."

"But the Yule's a pagan holiday," said one of the squires.

"Shut up, you twat. Do you want to ruin the twit's fun? Why are you here, anyway? Aren't you Edmund's men? Shouldn't you be trying to put my head on a pike or something?"

"They've changed allegiance to me," said Kent. "After the thrashing I gave them."

"Aye," said squire one. "We've more to learn from this good knight."

"Aye," said squire two. "And we were Edgar's men, anyway. Lord Edmund is a scoundrel, if you don't mind me saying, sir."

"And, dear Caius," said I. "Do they know that you are a penniless commoner and can't really maintain a fighting force as if you were, say - oh, I don't know - the Earl of Kent?"

"Excellent point, Pocket," said Kent. "Good sirs, I must release you from your service."

"So we won't be paid, then?"

"My regrets, no."

"Oh, then we'll take our leave."

"Fare thee well, keep your guard up, lads," said Kent. "Fighting's done with the whole body, not only the sword."

The two squires left the laundry with a bow.

"Will they tell Edmund where we're hiding?" I asked.

"I think not, but you better get your kit on just the same."

"Laundress, how progresses my motley?"

"Steamin' by the fire, sir. Dry enough to wear indoors, I reckon. Did I hear it right that you put a dagger through Lord Edmund's ear?"

"What, a mere fool? No, silly girl. I'm harmless. A jab from the wit, a poke to the pride are the only injuries a fool inflicts."

"Shame," said the laundress. "He deserves that and worse for how he treats your dim friend - " She looked away. " - and others."

"Why didn't you just kill the scoundrel outright, Pocket?" asked Kent, kicking subtlety senseless and rolling it up in a rug.

"Well, just shout it out, will you, you great lummox."

"Aye, like you'd never do such a thing, 'Top of the morning; grim weather we're having; I've started a bloody war!'"

"Edmund has his own war."

"See, you did it again."

"I was coming to tell you when I found the girl ghost having a go at Drool. Then the lout leapt out the window and the rescue was on. The ghost implied that the bastard might be rescued by France. Maybe he's allied with bloody King Jeff to invade."

"Ghosts are notoriously unreliable," said Kent. "Did you ever consider that you might be mad and hallucinating the whole thing? Drool, did you see this ghost?"

"Aye, I had a half a laugh wif her before I got frightened," said Drool, sadly, contemplating his tackle through the steamy water. "I fink I gots deaf on me willie."

"Laundress, help the lad wash the death off his willie, would you?"

"Not bloody likely," said she.

I held the tip of my coxcomb to stay any jingling and bowed my head to show my sincerity. "Really, love, ask yourself, What would Jesus do?"

"If he had smashing knockers," added Drool.

"Don't help."


"War? Murder? Treachery?" reminded Kent. "Our plan?"

"Aye, right," said I. "If Edmund has his own war it will completely bollocks up our plans for civil war between Albany and Cornwall."

"All well and good, but you didn't answer my question. Why didn't you just slay the bastard?"

"He moved."

"So you meant to kill him?"

"Well, I hadn't thought it through completely, but when I sent his dagger at his eye socket I believed that there might be a fatal outcome. And I must say, although I didn't stay to revel in the moment, it was very satisfying. Lear says that killing takes the place of bonking in the ancient. You've killed a multitude of chaps, Kent. Do you find that to be the case?"

"No, that's a disgusting thought."

"And yet, with Lear lies your loyalty."

"I'm beginning to wonder," said Kent, sitting down now on an overturned wooden tub. "Who do I serve? Why am I here?"

"You are here, because, in the expanding ethical ambiguity of our situation, you are steadfast in your righteousness. It is to you, my banished friend, that we all turn - a light amid the dark dealings of family and politics. You are the moral backbone on which the rest of us hang our bloody bits. Without you we are merely wiggly masses of desire writhing in our own devious bile."

"Really?" asked the old knight.

"Aye," said I.

"I'm not sure I want to keep company with you lot, then."

"Not like anyone else will have you, is it? I need to see Regan before my bastard ear piercing poisons our cause. Will you take her a message, Kent - er, Caius?"

"Will you put on your trousers, or at least your codpiece?"

"Oh, I suppose. That had always been part of the plan."

"Then I will bear your message to the duchess."

"Tell her - no, ask her - if she still holds the candle she promised for Pocket. Then ask her if I may meet her somewhere private."

"I'm off, then. But try to manage not to get murdered while I'm gone, fool."

"Kitten!" said I.

"You poxy little vermin," said Regan, in glorious red. "What do you want?"

Kent had led me to a chamber far in the bowels of the castle. I couldn't believe that Gloucester would house royal guests in an abandoned dungeon. Regan must have somehow found her own way here. She had an affinity for such places.

"You received the letter from Goneril, then?" I asked.

"Yes. What is it to you, fool?"

"The lady confided in me," said I, bouncing my eyebrows and displaying a charming grin. "What is your thought?"

"Why would I want to dismiss father's knights, let alone take them into my service? We have a small army at Cornwall."

"Well, you're not at Cornwall, are you, love?"

"What are you saying, fool?"

"I'm saying that your sister bade you come to Gloucester to intercept Lear and his retinue, and thus stop him from going to Cornwall."

"And my lord and I came with great haste."

"And with a very small force, correct?"

"Yes, the message said it was urgent. We needed to move quickly."

"So, when Goneril and Albany arrive, you will be away from your castle and nearly defenseless."

"She wouldn't dare."

"Let me ask you, lady, where do you think the Earl of Gloucester's allegiance lies?"

"He is our ally. He has opened his castle to us."

"Gloucester, who was nearly usurped by his eldest son - you think he sides with you?"

"Well, with Father, then, which is the same thing."

"Unless Lear is aligned with Goneril against you."

"But she relieved him of his knights. He ranted about it for an hour after his arrival, called Goneril every foul name under the sun, and praised me for my sweetness and loyalty, even overlooking my throwing his messenger into the stocks."

I said nothing. I removed my coxcomb, scratched my head, and sat on some dusty instrument of torture to observe the lady by torchlight and watch her eyes as the rust ground off the twisted gears of her mind. She was simply lovely. I thought about what the anchoress had said about a wise man only expecting so much perfection in something as its nature allows. I thought that I might, indeed, be witnessing the perfect machine. Her eyes went wide when the realization hit.

"That bitch!"

"Aye," said I.

"They'll have it all, she and Father?"

"Aye," said I. I could tell her anger didn't arise from the betrayal, but from not having thought of it first. "You need an ally, lady, and one with more influence than this humble fool can provide. Tell me, what do you think of Edmund the bastard?"

"He's fit enough, I suppose." She chewed a fingernail and concentrated. "I'd shag him if my lord wouldn't murder him - or come to think of it, maybe because he would."

"Perfect!" said I.

Oh Regan, patron saint of Priapus,[38] the most slippery of the sisters: in disposition preciously oily, in discourse, deliciously dry. My venomous virago, my sensuous charmer of serpents - thou art truly perfection.

Did I love her? Of course. For even though I have been accused of being an egregious horn-beast, my horns are tender, like the snail's - and never have I hoisted the horns of lust without I've taken a prod from Cupid's barb as well. I have loved them all, with all my heart, and have learned many of their names.

Regan. Perfect. Regan.

Oh yes, I loved her.

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She was a beauty to be sure - there was none in the kingdom more fair; a face that could inspire poetry and a body that inspired lust, longing, larceny, treachery, perhaps even war. (I am not without hope.) Men had murdered each other in competition for her favors - it was a hobby with her husband, Cornwall. And to her credit, while she could smile as a bloke bled to death with her name on his lips, she was not tight-fisted with her charms. It only added to the tension around her that someone was going to be shagged silly in the near future, and how much more thrilling if his life hung by a thread as he did the deed. In fact, the promise of violent death might be to the princess Regan like the nectar of Aphrodite herself, now that I think of it.

Why else would she have called for my death all those years ago, when I had so diligently served her, after Goneril had left the White Tower to wed Albany. It had begun, it seems, with a bit of jealousy.

"Pocket," said Regan. She was perhaps eighteen or nineteen at the time, but unlike Goneril, had been exploring her womanly powers for years on various lads about the castle. "I find it offensive that you gave personal counsel to my sister, yet when I call you to my chambers I get nothing but tumbling and singing."

"Aye, but a song and a tumble seem all that's needed to lift the lady's spirits, if I may say so."

"You may not. Am I not fair?"

"Extremely so, lady. Shall I compose a rhyme to your beauty? A ravishing tart from Nantucket - "

"Am I not as fair as Goneril?"

"Next to you, she is less than invisible, just a shimmering envious vacuum, is she."

"But do you, Pocket, find me attractive - in a carnal way - the way you did my sister? Do you want me?"

"Ah, of course, lady, from the morning I wake, I have but one thought, one vision: of your deliciousness, under this humble and unworthy fool, writhing naked and making monkey noises."

"Really, that's all you think about?"

"Aye, and occasionally breakfast, but it's only seconds before I'm back to Regan, writhing, and monkey noises. Wouldn't you like to have a monkey? We should have one around the castle, don't you think?"

"So all you think of is this?" And with that, she shrugged off her gown, red as always, and there she stood, raven-haired and violet-eyed, snowy fair and finely fit, as if carved by the gods from a solid block of desire. She stepped out of the pool of bloodred velvet and said, "Drop your puppet stick, fool, and come here."

And I, ever the obedient fool, did.

And oh it led to many months of clandestine monkey noises: howling, grunting, screeching, yipping, squishing, slapping, laughing, and no little bit of barking. (But there was no flinging of poo, as monkeys are wont to do. Only the most decent, forthright monkey sounds as are made from proper bonking.) I put my heart into it, too; but the romance was soon crushed beneath her cruel and delicate heel. I suppose I shall never learn. It seems a fool is not so often taken as a medicine for melancholy, as for ennui, incurable and recurring among the privileged.

"You've been spending a lot of time with Cordelia of late," said Regan, basking glorious in the gentle glow of the afterbonk (your narrator in a sweaty puddle on the bedside floor, having been summarily ejected after rendering noble service). "I am jealous."

"She's a little girl," said I.

"But when she has you, I cannot. She's my junior. It's not acceptable."

"But, lady, it's my duty to keep the little princess smiling, your father has commanded it. Besides, if I am otherwise engaged you can have that sturdy fellow you fancy from the stable, or that young yeoman with the pointy beard, or that Spanish duke or whatever he is that's been about the castle for a month. Does that bloke speak a word of English? I think he may be lost."

"They are not the same."

I felt my heart warm at her words. Could it be real affection?

"Well, yes, what we share is - "

"They rut like goats - there's no art to it, and I weary of shouting instructions to them, especially the Spaniard - I don't think he speaks a word of English."

"I'm sorry, milady," said I. "But that said, I must away." I stood and gathered my jerkin from under the wardrobe, my leggings from the hearth, my codpiece from the chandelier. "I've promised to teach Cordelia about griffins and elves over tea with her dolls."

"You'll not," said Regan.

"I must," said I.

"I want you to stay."

"Alas, parting is such sweet sorrow," said I. And I kissed the downy dimple at the small of her back.

"Guard!" called Regan.

"Pardon?" I inquired.

"Guard!" The door to her solar opened and an alarmed yeoman looked in. "Seize this scoundrel. He hath ravaged your princess." She had conjured tears, in that short span of time. A bit of a wonder, she was.

"Fuckstockings," said I, as two stout yeomen took me by the arms and dragged me down to the great hall in Regan's wake, her dressing gown open and flowing out behind her as she wailed.

It seemed a familiar motif, yet I did not feel the confidence that comes with rehearsal. Perhaps it was that Lear was actually holding court before the people when we entered the great hall. A line of peasants, merchants, and minor noblemen waited as the king heard their cases and made judgments. Still in his Christian phase, he had been reading about the wisdom of Solomon, and had been experimenting with the rule of law, thinking it quaint.

"Father, I insist you hang this fool immediately!"

Lear was taken aback, not only by the shrillness of his daughter's demand, but by the fact that she stood frontally bare to all the petitioners and made no effort to close her red gown. (Tales would be told of that day, of how many a plaintiff, having seen the snowy-skinned princess in all her glory, did hold his grievance pitiful, indeed, his life worthless, and went home to beat his wife or drown himself in the mill pond.)

"Father, your fool hath violated me."

"That's a fluttering bottle of bat wank, sire," said I. "Begging your pardon."

"You speak rashly, daughter, and you appear frothing-dog mad. Calm yourself and state your grievance. How hath my fool offended?"

"He hath shagged me roughly, against my will, and finished too soon."

"By force? Pocket? He isn't eight stone on a feast day - he couldn't shag a cat by force."

"That's not true, sire," said I. "If the cat is distracted with a trout, then - well, uh, nevermind - "

"He violated my virtue and spoiled my virginity," said Regan. "I insist you hang him - hang him twice, the second time before he's finished choking from the first - that'll be fitting justice."

I said: "What has put vengeance in your blood, princess? I was just going to tea with Cordelia." Since the little one wasn't present, I hoped invoking her name might awaken the king to my cause, but it only seemed to incense Regan.

"Forced me down and used me like a common tart," said Regan, adding rather more pantomime than the petitioners in the hall could bear. Several began to beat their fists to their heads, others grabbed at their groins and sank to their knees.

"No!" said I. "I've had many a wench by stealth, a few by guile, a number by charm, a brace by mistake, the odd harlot for coin, and, when all else has failed, I've made do by begging, but by God's blood, none by force!"

"Enough!" said Lear. "I'll hear no more. Regan, close your robe. As I have decreed, we are a kingdom of laws. There shall be a trial, and if the rascal is found guilty, then I'll see him hanged twice myself. Make way for a trial."

"Now?" asked the scribe.

"Yes, now," said Lear. "What do we need? A couple of chaps to do the prosecuting and defending, grab a few of those peasants for witnesses, and with due process, habeas corpus, fair weather and whatnot, we'll have the fool dangling black-tongued before tea. Will that suit you, daughter?"

Regan closed her robe and turned away coyly. "I suppose."

"And you, fool?" Lear winked at me, none too subtly.

"Aye, majesty. A jury, perhaps, chosen from that same group as the witnesses." Well, one has to make an effort. From their reaction I would be acquitted, on a "who could blame" him basis: justifiable shaggicide, they'd call it. But no.

"No," said the king. "Bailiff read the charges."

The bailiff obviously hadn't written up charges, so he unrolled a scroll on which was written something entirely unconnected to my case, and faked it: "The Crown states that on this day, October fourteenth, year of Our Lord, one thousand, two hundred, and eighty-eight, the fool known as Pocket, did with forethought and malice, shag the virgin princess Regan."

There was cheering from the gallery, a little scoffing from the court.

"There was no malice," said I.

"Without malice, then," said the bailiff.

At this point, the magistrate, who normally functioned as a castle steward, whispered to the bailiff, who normally was the chamberlain. "The magistrate wishes to know how was that?"

"'Twas sweet, yet nasty, your honor."

"Note that the accused hath stated that it was [sweet and nasty], thereby admitting his guilt."

More cheering.

"Wait, I wasn't ready."

"Smell him," said Regan. "He reeks of sex, like fish and mushroom and sweat, doesn't he?"

One of the peasant witnesses ran forth and sniffed my bits mercilessly, then looked to the king, nodding.

"Aye, your honor," said I. "I'm sure I have an odor about me. I must confess, I was sans trou today in the kitchen, while awaiting my laundry, and Bubble had left a casserole out on the floor to cool, and it did trip me and I fell prick-deep in gravy and goo - but I was on my way to chapel at the time."

"You put your dick in my lunch?" said Lear. Then to the bailiff, "The fool put his dick in my lunch?"

"No, in your beloved daughter," said Regan.

"Quiet, girl!" barked the king. "Captain Curan, send a guard to watch the bread and cheese before the fool has his way with it."

It went on like that, with things looking rather grim for me as the evidence mounted against me, peasants taking the opportunity to describe the most lecherous acts they could imagine a wicked fool might perpetrate on an unsuspecting princess. I thought testimony of the sturdy stable boy particularly damning at first, but eventually it led to my acquittal.

"Read that back, so the king may hear the true heinous nature of the crime," said my prosecutor, who I believe butchered cattle for the castle as his normal vocation.

The scribe read the stable boy's words: "Yes, yes, yes, ride me, you crashing tree-cocked stallion."

"That's not what she said," said I.

"Yes, it is. It's what she always says," said the scribe.

"Aye," said the steward.

"Aye, it is," said the priest.

"S��," said the Spaniard.

"Well, she never says that to me," said I.

"Oh," said the stable boy. "Then it's 'Prance, you twig-dicked little pony,' is it?"

"Possibly," said I.

"She never says that to me," said the yeoman with the pointy beard.

Then there was a moment of silence, while all who had spoken looked around at one another, then furiously avoided eye contact and found spots on the floor of great interest.

"Well," said Regan, chewing a fingernail as she spoke, "there is a chance that, uh, I was having a dream."

"Then the fool did not take your virtue?" asked Lear.

"Sorry," said Regan sheepishly. "It was but a dream. No more wine at lunch for me."

"Release the fool!" said Lear.

The crowd booed.

I walked out of the hall side by side with Regan.

"He might have hung me," I whispered.

"I'd have shed a tear," said she with a smile. "Really."

"Woe to you, lady, should you leave that rosebud asterisk of a bum-hole unguarded on our next meeting. When a fool's surprise comes unbuttered, a Pocket's pleasure will a princess punish."

"Oooo, do tease, fool, shall I put a candle in it so you can find your way."



"Pocket, where have you been?" said Cordelia, who was coming down the corridor. "Your tea has gone cold."

"Defending big sister's honor, sweetness," said I.

"Oh bollocks," said Regan.

"Pocket dresses the fool, but he is ever our hero, isn't he, Regan?" said Cordelia.

"I think I'm going to be ill," said the elder princess.

"So, love," said I, rising from my perch on the torture machine and reaching into my jerkin. "I'm pleased you feel that way about Lord Edmund, for he has sent me with this letter."

I handed her the letter. The seal was dodgy, but she wasn't looking at the stationery.

"He's smitten with you, Regan. In fact, so smitten he tried to cut off his own ear to deliver with this missive, to show you the depth of his affection."

"Really? His ear."

"Say nothing at the Yule feast, tonight, lady, but you'll see the bandage. Mark it as a tribute of his love."

"You saw him cut his ear?"

"Yes, and stopped him before the deed was done."

"Was it painful, do you think?"

"Oh yes, lady. He has already suffered more than have others in months of knowing you."

"That's so sweet. Do you know what the letter says?"

"I was sworn not to look upon pain of death, but come close - "

She leaned close to me and I squeezed the witch's puffball under her nose. "I believe it speaks of a midnight rendezvous with Edmund of Gloucester."

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