Fool Chapter 16




The storm blew in during the night. I was eating my breakfast in the kitchen when a row erupted in the courtyard. I heard Lear bellow and left to attend him, leaving my porridge with Drool. Kent intercepted me in the corridor.

"So the old man lived through the night?" said I.

"I slept at his door," said Kent. "Where were you?"

"Trying to see two princesses ruthlessly shagged and starting a civil war, thank you, and with no proper supper, neither."

"Fine feast," said Kent. "Ate till I nearly burst just to see the king went unpoisoned. Who is bloody St. Stephen, anyway?"

Then I saw Oswald coming down the corridor.

"Good Kent, go see that the daughters don't kill the king, and that Cornwall doesn't kill Edmund, and that the sisters don't kill each other, and if you can help it, don't kill anyone. It's too early for killing."

Kent hurried off as Oswald reached me.

"So," said Oswald, "you lived through the night?"

"Of course, why wouldn't I?" I asked.

"Well, because I told Cornwall of your rendezvous with Regan and I expected him to slay you."

"Oh for fuck's sake, Oswald, show a little guile, would you? The state of villainy in this castle is rubbish, what with Edmund being pleasant and you being straightforward. What's next, Cornwall starts feeding orphans while bloody bluebirds fly out of his bum? Now, let's try it again, see if you can at least keep up a pretense of evil. Go."

"So, you lived through the night?" said Oswald.

"Of course, why wouldn't I?" I asked.

"Oh, no reason, I was worried about you."

I clouted Oswald on the ear with Jones. "No, you nitwit, I'd never believe you're concerned for my welfare - you're a right weasel, aren't you?"

He made to reach for his sword and I hit his wrist a vicious blow with Jones's stick end. The villain leapt back and rubbed his bruised wrist.

"Despite your incompetence, our agreement stands. I need you to consult with Edmund. Give him this letter from Regan." I handed him the letter I'd written at first light. Regan's hand was easy to duplicate. She dotted her i's with hearts. "Don't break the seal, it professes her devotion for him, but instructs him to show no outward affection for her. You must also caution him against showing any deference to your lady Goneril in front of Regan. And because I know the intrigue confuses you, let me map out your interest here. Edmund will dispatch your Lord Albany, thus releasing your lady to other affections, only then will we reveal to Cornwall that Edmund has cuckolded him with Regan, and the duke will dispatch the bastard, at which time, I will cast the love spell on Goneril, sending her into your own ferrety arms."

"You could be lying. I tried to have you killed. Why would you help me?"

"Excellent question. First, I, unlike you, am not a villain, therefore I can be expected to proceed with a modicum of integrity. And, second, I wish to visit revenge on Goneril for how she has treated me, her younger sister, Cordelia, and King Lear. I can think of no better punishment for her than pairing her with the man-shaped tower of excrement that is yourself."

"Oh, that's reasonable," said Oswald.

"Off you go, then. See that Edmund doesn't show deference."

"I might slay him myself, for violating my lady."

"No, you won't, you're a coward. Or had you forgotten?"

Oswald started to quiver then with anger, but he did not try to reach for his sword.

"Run along, mate, Pocket's got a bumload of foolin' yet to do."

A randy hand of wind groped the courtyard, sending the sisters' skirts tossing and snapping their hair in their faces. Kent crouched and clung to his great broad-brimmed hat to keep it from being carried away. The old king held his fur cape tight around him and squinted against the dust, while the Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Gloucester stood by the great gate for shelter - the duke content, it seemed, to let his duchess do the talking. I was relieved to see that Edmund was not in attendance, so I danced into the courtyard, bells a-jingle, song in heart.

"Hi ho!" said I. "Everyone get a proper bonking for the Saturnalia, did they?"

The two sisters looked at me blankly, as if I might have been speaking Chinese or dog, and they had not, overnight, each received rousing repeated bonkings from an enormous donkey-donged nitwit. Gloucester looked down, embarrassed, I suppose, over abandoning his own pantheon for St. Stephen, and a wholly bollocks holy holiday feast. Cornwall sneered.

"Ah," said I. "Then a crispy biscuit baby Jesus cornu-bloody-copia of Christmas cheer, was it? Silent night, camels and wise men - frankenstein, gold, and myrrh all around then?"

"Sodding Christian harpies want to take away my knights," said Lear. "I've already lost half my train to you, Goneril, I'll not lose the rest."

"Oh, yes, sire," said I. "Christianity is their fault. I forgot that the wind blew out of a pagan sky for you today."

Regan stepped forward then, and yes, she was walking a bit bow-legged. "Why do you need to keep fifty men, Father? We've plenty of servants to tend to you."

"And," said Goneril, "they will be under our charge, so there will be no discord within the walls of our homes."

"I'm of my sister's mind on this," said Regan.

"You're always of your sister's mind," said Lear. "An original thought would crack your feeble skull like a thunderbolt, you craven vulture."

"That's the spirit, sire," said I. "Treat them like bins of used nappies and watch them come around. A wonder they've turned out so delightful with fathering of that quality."

"Take them, then, you flesh-tearing harpies! Would that I could drag your mother from her tomb and accuse her of most grievous adultery, for you cannot be issue from my loins and treat me so."

I nodded and lay my head on Goneril's shoulder. "Evidently the adultery comes from Mum's side of the family, pumpkin - the bitterness and stunning bosoms are from Papa."

She pushed me aside, despite my wisdom.

Lear was losing all control now, trembling as he shouted impotently at his daughters, looking weaker and more slight with every word. "Hear me, gods! If it be you that stir these daughters' hearts against their father, then touch me with noble anger, and stain not my man's cheeks with women's weapons, the water drops."

"Those aren't tears on your cheeks, nuncle," said I. "It's raining."

Gloucester and Cornwall looked away, embarrassed for the old man. Kent had his hands on the king's shoulders and was trying to lead him gently out of the rain. Lear shrugged him off and stormed up to his daughters.

"You unnatural hags! I will have such revenges on you both that the world - er, I will do such things that I don't even know yet, but they will be horrible - the very terrors of the earth! But I'll not weep! I'll not. Even if my heart shall break into a hundred thousand shards, I shall not weep. O fool, I shall go mad!"

"Aye, nuncle, smashing good start you're off to." I tried to put an arm around Lear's shoulders, but he elbowed me away.

"Rescind your orders, harpies, or I shall leave this house." He made for the great gate.

"It is for your own good, Father," said Goneril. "Now, cease this ranting and come inside."

"I gave you all!" screeched Lear, waving a palsied claw at Regan.

"And you took your bloody time giving it, too, you senile old fuck," said Regan.

"She came up with that one all on her own, nuncle," said I, looking on the bright side.

"I will go," threatened Lear, another step toward the gate. "I'm not having you on. I'll head right out that door."

"Pity," said Goneril.

"Shame, really," said Regan.

"Here I go. Right out that gate. Never to return. All alone."

"Ta," said Goneril.

"Au revoir," said Regan, in nearly perfect fucking French.

"I mean it." The old man was actually through the gate now.

"Close it," said Regan.

"But, lady, it's not fit for man nor beast out there," said Gloucester.

"Fucking close it!" said Goneril. She ran forward and pushed the great iron lever by the gatehouse with all her might. The heavy, iron-clad portcullis slammed down, the points just missing the old king as they set in the ports a foot deep in the stone.

"I'll go," said Lear, through the grate. "Don't think I won't."

The sisters left the courtyard for the shelter of the castle. Cornwall followed them and called for Gloucester to come along.

"But this storm," said Gloucester, watching his old friend through the bars. "No one should be out in this storm."

"He brought it on himself," said Cornwall. "Now, come along, good Gloucester."

Gloucester pulled himself away from the grate and followed Cornwall into the castle, leaving just Kent and me standing in the rain in only our woolen cloaks. Kent looked tortured over the old man's fate.

"He's alone, Pocket. It's not even noon and the sky is as dark as midnight. Lear is outside and alone."

"Oh buggering bugger," said I. I looked at the chains leading up to the top of the gatehouse, the beams that protruded from the walls, the crenellations at the top to protect the archers. Damn the anchoress and Belette for my monkey-training as an acrobat. "I'll go with him. But you have to hide Drool from Edmund. Talk to the laundress with the smashing knockers, she'll help. She fancies the lad, no matter what she says."

"I'll go get help to crank up the gate," said Kent.

"Not to worry. You look after the Natural, and watch your back for Edmund and Oswald. I'll return with the old man when I can." And with that I shoved Jones down the back of my jerkin, ran and leapt onto the massive chain, spidered up it hand over hand, swung up onto one of the beams that protruded from the stone above, then hopped from beam to beam until I could find a handhold in the stone - and scurried up another story to the top of the wall. "Sorry sodding fortress," I shouted to Kent with a wave. In a wink I was over the wall and down the drawbridge chains on the other side to the ground below.

The old man was already at the gates of the walled village, nearly disappearing amid the rain, tottering out onto the heath in his fur cape, looking like an ancient sodden rat.

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