Fool Chapter 15




A warm wind blew in from the west, completely cocking up the Yule. Druids like snow round Stonehenge during the festival, and burning down the forest is all the more satisfying if there's a chill in the air. As it was, it looked like we'd have rain for the feast. The clouds rolling over the horizon looked like they'd been born of a summer storm.

"Them look like summer storm clouds," said Kent. We were hiding in the barbican above the gate, looking out over the walled village of Gloucester and the hills beyond. I'd been hiding since my encounter with Edmund. Evidently the bastard was somewhat put out with me.

We could see Goneril and her train entering the outer gates. She rode with a dozen soldiers and attendants, but noticeably, the Duke of Albany was not with her.

A sentry on the wall called out the approach of the Duchess of Albany. Gloucester and Edmund appeared in the courtyard, followed by Regan and Cornwall. Regan was working to keep her eyes off of Edmund's bandaged ear.

"This should be interesting," said I. "They swarm like vultures over a corpse."

"Britain's the corpse," said Kent. "And we baited her to be torn apart."

"Nonsense, Kent. Lear's the corpse. But ambitious scavengers do not wait for his death to begin their dining."

"You've a deeply wicked side, Pocket."

"Truth has a deeply wicked side, Kent."

"There's the king," said Kent. "No one attends him. I should go to him."

Lear shuffled into the courtyard wearing his heavy fur cape.

"Like looking down on a lubricious chess set, isn't it? The king moves in tiny steps, with no direction, like a drunkard trying to avoid the archer's bolt. The others work their strategies and wait for the old man to fall. He has no power, yet all power moves in his orbit and to his mad whim. Do you know that there's no fool piece on the chessboard, Kent?"

"Methinks the fool is the player, the mind above the moves."

"Well, that's a scratchy spot of cat wank." I turned to the old knight. "But bloody well said. Go to Lear, then. Edmund won't dare molest you, and Cornwall must pretend some contrition for throwing you into the stocks. The princesses will be burning bright for Edmund's eye, and Gloucester - well, Gloucester proffers hospitality before jackals, he is well occupied."

"What will you do?"

"I seem to have rendered myself undesirable, as impossible as that sounds. I need to find us a spy - someone more stealthy, devious, and underhanded than my own sweet nature allows."

"Good luck with that," said Kent.

"I loathe you, I despise you, I curse your existence and the foul demons that spawned you. You sicken me with anger and bilious hatred."

"Oswald," said I. "You're looking well." Drool and I had intercepted him in a corridor.

There is an unwritten edict, that when negotiating with an enemy, one does not reveal his knowledge of that enemy's agenda, even unto death. It's a point of honor, of sorts, but I see it as petty play-acting, and I had no intention of indulging in it with Oswald. Yet, I had need of his spidery talents, so some finesse was required.

"I would give an arm to see you hang, fool," said Oswald.

"Oh, an excellent starting point," said I. "Don't you think, Drool?"

"Aye, Pocket," said Drool, who loomed between Oswald and me, a thick table leg unsuccessfully concealed behind his back. Oswald might make as to draw his sword, but Drool would have beaten his brains into bloody marmalade before the blade cleared its scabbard. Unspoken, but understood. "Smashing good start," said the giant.

"So, Oswald, let us go from there. Say you get what you want. Say you lose an arm, and I am hanged, how then is life better for your fine self? Your quarters more comfortable? Wine taste better, will it?"

"It's unlikely, but let's explore the possibilities, shall we?"

"Very well," said I. "You first. Sever an arm and Drool here will hang me. You have my word."

"You have my word," said Drool, in my voice.

"Stop wasting my time, fool. My lady is arriving and I need to go to her."

"Ah, there's the rub, Oswald. What you want. What do you really want."

"You could never know."

"Your lady's approval?"

"I have that."

"Ah, that's right, your lady's love."

Oswald became still then, as if I had taken the breath from the corridor in which we stood. To prove such was not the case, I pressed on.

"You want your lady's love, her respect, her power, her submission, her bottom in the air before you, her begging for satisfaction and mercy - that about it?"

"I am not so base as you, fool."

"And yet the very reason you hate me is that I have been to that place."

"You have not. She has not loved you, nor respected you, nor given you power. You were an amusement at best."

"Yet I know the way there, my coal-hearted friend. I know the way a servant might find such favor."

"She could never. I am of common blood."

"Oh, I'm not saying I could make you duke, only that you would be her lord in body, heart, and mind. You know her weakness for scoundrels, Oswald. Did you yourself not pimp your lady to Edmund?"

"I did not. I only delivered a message. And Edmund is heir to an earldom."

"Just this bloody week he is. And don't act as if you don't know what was in that message. I have the power, Oswald, given me by three witches in the Great Birnam Wood, to put a spell upon your lady so she will adore and desire you."

Oswald laughed, not something he did often. His face was not fit for it and he looked like he had something caught in his back teeth. "What kind of fool do you think me? Out of the way."

"And all you have to do is what your lady would have you do anyway, serve her desires," said I. I needed to make my case quickly. "She is bewitched already, you know? You were there."

Oswald had been backing away from Drool, off to find another route to the courtyard and Goneril, when he stopped.

"You were there, Oswald. At Albany. Goneril was having a grab at my tackle and you came in. You'd just come through the door, I heard it. I had this purse in my hand." I held up the silk pouch the witches had given me. "Remember?"

"I was there."

"And I handed your lady a letter and said it was from Edmund of Gloucester. Remember?"

"Aye. And she dumped you on your arse."

"Right you are. And sent you here, to deliver a message to Edmund. Had she ever made a note of the bastard before, Oswald? You are with her nearly every waking moment. Had she noted him before?"

"No. Not once. She gave some notice to Edgar, but not the bastard."

"Exactly. She is bewitched to love Edmund, and I can do the same for you. You'll die a frustrated toady any other way, Oswald. I've one more spell left."

Oswald took careful steps back to me, like he was walking a wire rather than the stone floor of a castle corridor. "Why wouldn't you use it for yourself?"

"Well, for one, you would know, and I presume you would not be slow to inform Lord Albany, who would quickly have me hanged. And second, I had three such spells, and I have used one for myself already."

"Not the Duchess of Cornwall?" I could tell Oswald was aghast at the idea, yet there was an excitement in his eye.

I showed him a sly grin and flicked the bells of my hat with Jones. "I've a rendezvous with her this very night after the Yule feast - midnight, in the abandoned North Tower."

"You dastardly little monster!"

"Oh sod off, Oswald. Would you have a princess of your own or not?"

"What do I have to do?"

"Almost nothing," said I. "But it will take some strength of character for you to see this through. First, you must counsel your lady to keep peace with her sister, and convince her to relieve Lear of the remainder of his force. Then, you must have your lady rendezvous with Edmund at the second bell of the watch."

"Two in the bloody morning?"

"Watch how she leaps at the chance. She's bewitched, remember. It is critical that she ally herself with the house of Gloucester, even if it is in secret. I know that will be difficult for you, but you must endure it. If you are going to have the lady and her power, someone will have to dispatch the Duke of Albany - someone who will be of no loss when hanged. The bastard Edmund is perfect for the part, is he not?"

Oswald nodded, his eyes getting larger with my every word. His whole life he had carried messages and run errands for Goneril, but at last he could see reward in sight for being intrigue's pawn. Fortunately, the possibility blinded him to reason. "When will the lady be mine?"

"When all is in place, catch-fart, when all is in place. What do you know of a military force coming from France?"

"Why, nothing."

"Then skulk and eavesdrop. Edmund knows of such a force, or he has constructed a rumor. Find out what you can. Find out, but do not speak to Edmund of his rendezvous with your lady, he thinks it a secret."

Oswald stood to his full height (he'd been bending over to talk face-to-face with me). "What do you gain from this, fool?"

I had hoped he wouldn't ask. "Like you, even with love, there are those who would stand in the way of my happiness. I need you and those affected by your deeds to help them out of my way."

"You would kill the Duke of Cornwall?"

"He is one, but no matter who loves me, I am bound to Lear - I am his slave."

"So you would kill the king, too? No worries, fool, I can do that. You have a deal."

"Fuckstockings!" said I.

"Jolly good show, Pocket," said Kent. "Go looking for a messenger and end up setting a bloody assassin loose on the king. A born diplomat, you are."

"Sarcasm is very unattractive in the elderly, Kent. I couldn't very well call him off, my sincerity would have been questioned."

"You weren't being sincere."

"Well, conviction then. Just stay by Lear during the Yule feast and don't let him eat anything unless you've eaten it first. If I know Oswald, he'll try to slay the king using the most cowardly means."

"Or not at all."


"What makes you think Oswald was telling you the truth any more than you were telling it to him?"

"I'm counting on his lying to a degree."

"But to what degree?"

I paced in a circle around our little tower room. "What a wimpled wagon of nun wank this is. I'd rather juggle fire blindfolded. I'm not built for these dark dealings - I'm better suited for laughter, children's birthdays, baby animals, and friendly bonking. The sodding witches got it wrong."

"And yet, you've set a civil war in motion and sent an assassin after the king," said Kent. "Grand ambition for a children's birthday clown, don't you think?"

"You've become bitter in your dotage, you know?"

"Well, perhaps my duties as food taster will end my bitterness."

"Just keep the old man alive, Kent. Since the Yule feast is still on, I take it dear Regan didn't tell Lear that she was taking his knights yet."

"The lady tried to make peace between Goneril and her father. She only served to calm the old man enough that he agreed to come to the feast."

"Good. No doubt she'll make her move on the morrow." I grinned. "If she's well enough."

"Wicked," said Kent.

"Justice," said I.

Regan came up the spiral stairs alone. The single candle she carried in a storm lantern cast her shadow tall up the stone wall like the very specter of a shaggable death. I stood outside the solar door, candelabra in one hand, the door latch in the other.

"Happy Christmas, kitten," said I.

"Well, that feast was complete crap, wasn't it? Bloody Gloucester, pagan twat, calling it the feast of St. Stephen instead of Christmas. There's no presents on the feast of bloody Stephen. Without presents I'd rather celebrate Yule for the winter solstice; at least then you get to sacrifice a pig and build a cracking huge fire."

"Gloucester was being deferential to your Christian beliefs as it was, love. The holiday is Saturnalia[39] for him and Edmund, proper orgy it is. So perhaps there's a present for you yet to be unwrapped."

She smiled then. "Perhaps. Edmund was so coy at the feast - barely looking my way. Fear of Cornwall, I suppose. But you were right, his ear was bandaged."

"Aye, lady, and I'm to tell you that he's a bit modest about it. He may not wish to be fully seen."

"But I saw him at the feast."

"Aye, but he's hinted that there may have been other self-punishment performed in your honor and he's shy."

A joyous child at Christmas she suddenly was - visions of a bloke lashing himself dancing in her head.

"Oh, Pocket, do let me in."

And so I did. I opened the door, and slipped the storm lantern from her grasp as she passed. "Ah, ah, ah, love. No more light than that one candle. He's ever so shy."

I heard Edmund's voice say from behind the tapestry, "Oh, my sweet lady, Regan, thou art more fair than moonlight, more radiant than the sun, more glorious than all the stars. I must have you or I shall surely die."

I slowly closed and latched the door.

"No, my goddess, undress there," said Edmund's voice. "Let me watch you."

I'd been all evening coaching Drool on what to say and exactly how to say it. Next he would comment on her loveliness, then ask her to blow out the single candle on the table and join him behind the tapestry, at which point he was to unceremoniously snog her soggy and shag her silly.

It sounded rather like what I'd guess would be the auditory effect of a bull elk trying to balance a wildcat on a red-hot poker. There was no little bit of yowling, growling, squealing, and screeching going on by the time I saw the second light coming up the stairs. I could see by the shadow that the lantern bearer was leading with a drawn sword. Oswald had been true to his treacherous nature, just as I had calculated.

"Put down that blade, you git, you'll put someone's eye out."

The Duke of Cornwall rounded the stairs with blade lowered, a bewildered look on his face. "Fool?"

"What if a child was running down the stairs?" I said. "Awkward explaining to Gloucester why his beloved toddler grandson was wearing a yard of Sheffield steel through his gizzard."

"Gloucester doesn't have a grandson," said Cornwall, surprised, I think, that he was engaged in this discussion.

"That doesn't diminish the need for basic weapons safety."

"But I'm here to slay you."

"Moi?" said I, in perfect fucking French. "Whatever for?"

"Because you are shagging my lady."

There was a great bellow from the tower room, followed by a female feral screech. "Was that pain or pleasure, would you say?" I asked.

"Who is in there?" Cornwall raised his sword again.

"Well, it is your lady, and she is most certainly being shagged, by the bastard Edmund of Gloucester, but prudence would have you stay your blade." I laid Jones across the duke's wrist and pushed his sword hand down. "Unless you care nothing for being King of Britain."

"What are you on about, fool?" The duke very much wanted to do some killing, but his ambition was trumping his bloodlust.

"Oh ride me, you great, tree-cocked rhinoceros!" screamed Regan from the next room.

"She still says that?" I asked.

"Well, usually it's 'tree-cocked stallion,'" said Cornwall.

"She does get good wear out of a metaphor." I put my hand on his shoulder for comfort. "Aye, a sad surprise, for you, I'll wager. At least when a man, after looking into his soul, finally stoops to fuck a snake, he hopes at least not to see pairs of boots already lined up outside her burrow."

He shook me off. "I'll kill him!"

"Cornwall, you are about to be attacked. Even now Albany prepares to take all of Britain for his own. You'll need Edmund and the forces of Gloucester to prevail against him, and when you do, you'll be king. If you go in that room now, you will kill a horn-beast, but you will lose a kingdom."

"God's blood," said Cornwall. "Is this true?"

"Win the war, good sirrah. Then kill the bastard at your leisure, when you can take your time and do it right. Regan's honor is, well, malleable, is it not?"

"You're sure about this war?"

"Aye. It's why you need to take Lear's remaining knights and squires, just as Goneril and Albany took the others. And you mustn't let Goneril know you know. Even now your lady is assuring Gloucester's allegiance to your side."

"Really? That's why she's shagging Edmund?"

It hadn't occurred to me until I'd said it, but it really did work quite nicely. "Oh yes, my lord, her enthusiasm is inspired by her fierce loyalty to you."

"Of course," said Cornwall, sheathing his sword. "I should have seen it."

"That doesn't mean you can't kill Edmund when it's over," said I.

"Absolutely," said the duke.

When Cornwall was gone and some time after the first bell had rung for the watch, I knocked on the door and peeked my head in.

"Lord Edmund," said I. "There's a stirring in the duke's tower. Perhaps you should say your farewells."

I held Regan's storm lantern at the crack of the door so she could find her way out, and a few moments later she stumbled out of the solar with her gown on backward, her hair in knots, and a slick of drool running in a river between and over her breasts. Overall, in fact, she looked quite slippery.

She was dazed and limping in a way that seemed she couldn't quite figure which side to favor, and she was dragging one shoe by its strap around her ankle.

"Lady, shall I get your other shoe?"

"Sod it," she said, waving drunkenly, or what seemed like drunkenly, almost falling down the stairs. I steadied her, helped her get her gown turned around, swabbed her down a bit with her skirt, then took her arm and helped her down the stairs.

"He's quite a bit larger close up than he appears across the room."

"That so?"

"I shan't sit down for a fortnight."

"Ah, sweet romance. Can you make it to your quarters, kitten?"

"I think so. You're clever, Pocket - start thinking of excuses for Edmund if I'm not able to get out of bed tomorrow."

"My pleasure, kitten. Sleep well."

I made my way back upstairs where Drool was standing trouserless by the candle, still sporting enough of an erection to bludgeon a calf senseless.

"Sorry, I came out, Pocket, it were dark."

"No worries, lad. Good show."

"She were fit."

"Aye. Quite."

"What's a rhinoceros?"

"It's like a unicorn with armored bollocks. It's a good thing. Chew these mint leaves and let's get you wiped down. Practice your Edmund lines while I look for a towel."

When the watch rang the second bell, the scene was set. Another storm lantern illuminated the stairs and cast a buxom shadow up the wall.


"What are you doing here, worm?"

"Just keeping watch. Go in, but leave your lantern with me. Edmund is shy about the injury he has inflicted on himself in your honor."

Goneril grinned at the prospect of the bastard's pain and went in.

A few minutes passed before Oswald crept up the stairs.

"Fool? You're still alive?"

"Aye." I held my hand up to my ear. "But listen to the children of the night - what music they make."

"Sounds like a moose trying to shit a family of hedgehogs," said the scoundrel.

"Oh, that's good. I was thinking more of moo cow being beaten with a flaming goose, but you may have it. Ah, who's to say? We should leave, good Oswald, and give the lovers their privacy."

"Did you not meet with Princess Regan?"

"Oh, we changed the rendezvous to the fourth bell of the watch, why?"

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