Fool Chapter 2




I found Drool in the laundry resolving a wank, spouting great gouts of git-seed across the laundry walls, floors, and ceiling, giggling, as young Shanker Mary wagged her tits at him over a steaming cauldron of the king's shirts.

"Put those away, tart, we've a show to do."

"I was just giving 'im a laugh."

"If you wanted to show charity you could have bonked him honest and there'd be a lot less cleaning to do."

"That'd be a sin. Besides, I'd as soon straddle a gateman's halberd as try to get a weapon that girth up me."

Drool pumped himself dry and sat down on the floor splay-legged, huffing like a great dribbling bellows. I tried to help the lout repack his tackle, but getting him into a codpiece against his firm enthusiasm was like trying to pound a bucket over a bull's head - a scenario I thought comical enough to perhaps work into the act tonight, should things get slow.

"Nothing stopping you from givin' the lad a proper cleavage toss, Mary. You had 'em out and all soaped up, a couple of jumps and a tickle and he'd have carried water for you for a fortnight."

"He already does. And I don't even want that thing near me. A Natural, he is. There's devils in his jizm."

"Devils? Devils? There's no devils in there, lass. Chock full o' nitwits, to be sure, but no devils." A Natural was either blessed or cursed, never just an accident of nature, as the name implied.

Sometime during the week, Shanker Mary had gone Christian on us, despite being a most egregious slut. You never knew anymore who you were dealing with. Half the kingdom was Christian, the other half paid tribute to the old gods of Nature, who were always showing promise on the moonrise. The Christian God with his "day of rest" was strong with the peasants come Sunday, but by Thursday when there was drinking and fucking to be done, Nature had her kit off, legs aloft, and a flagon of ale in each hand, taking converts for the Druids as fast as they could come. They were a solid majority when the holiday was about, dancing, drinking, shagging the virgins, and sharing the harvest, but on the human sacrifice or burn-down-the-King's-forest days, there was none but crickets cavorting 'round the Stonehenge - the singers having forsaken Mother Earth for Father Church.

"Pretty," said Drool, trying to wrestle back control of his tool. Mary had commenced to stirring the laundry but had neglected to pull her dress up. Had the git's attention hostage, she did.

"Right. She's a bloody vision of loveliness, lad, but you've buffed yourself to a gleam already and we've work to do. The castle's awash in intrigue, subterfuge, and villainy - they'll be wanting-comic relief between the flattery and the murders."

"Intrigue and villainy?" Drool displayed a gape-toothed grin. Imagine soldiers dumping hogsheads of spittle through the crenellations atop the castle wall - thus is Drool's grin, as earnest in expression as it is damp in execution - a slurry of good cheer. He loves intrigue and villainy, as they play to his most special ability.

"Will there be hiding?"

"There will most certainly be hiding," said I, as I shouldered an escaped testicle into his cod.

"And listening?"

"Listening of cavernous proportions - we shall hang on every word as God on Pope's prayers."

"And fuckery? Will there be fuckery, Pocket?"

"Heinous fuckery most foul, lad. Heinous fuckery most foul."

"Aye, that's the dog's bollocks,[12] then!" said Drool, slapping his thigh. "Did you hear, Mary? Heinous fuckery afoot. Ain't that the dog's bollocks?"

"Oh yeah, the dog's bloody B. it is, love. If the saints are smilin' on us, maybe one of them nobles will hang your wee mate there like they been threatening."

"Two fools well-hung we'd have then, wouldn't we?" said I, elbowing my apprentice in the ribs.

"Aye, two fools well-hung, we'd have, wouldn't we?" said Drool, in my voice, tone to note coming out his great maw as like he'd caught an echo on his tongue and coughed it right back. That's the oaf's gift - not only can he mimic perfectly, he can recall whole conversations, hours long, recite them back to you in the original speakers' voices, and not comprehend a single word. He'd first been gifted to Lear by a Spanish duke because of his torrential dribbling and the ability to break wind that could darken a room, but when I discovered the Natural's keener talent, I took him as my apprentice to teach him the manly art of mirth.

Drool laughed. "Two fools well-hung - "

"Stop that!" I said. "It's unsettling." Unsettling indeed, to hear your own voice sluicing pitch-perfect out of that mountain of lout, stripped of wit and washed of irony. Two years I'd had Drool under my wing and I was still not inured to it. He meant no harm, it was simply his nature.

The anchoress at the abbey had taught me of nature, making me recite Aristotle: "It is the mark of an educated man, and a tribute to his culture, that he look for precision in a thing only as its nature allows." I would not have Drool reading Cicero or crafting clever riddles, but under my tutelage he had become more than fair at tumbling and juggling, could belch a song, and was, at court, at least as entertaining as a trained bear, with slightly less proclivity for eating the guests. With guidance, he would make a proper fool.

"Pocket is sad," said Drool. He patted my head, which was wildly irritating, not only because we were face-to-face - me standing, him sitting bum-to-floor - but because it rang the bells of my coxcomb in a most melancholy manner.

"I'm not sad," said I. "I'm angry that you've been lost all morning."

"I weren't lost. I were right here, the whole time, having three laughs with Mary."

"Three?! You're lucky you two didn't burst into flames, you from friction and her from bloody thunderbolts of Jesus."

"Maybe four," said Drool.

"You do look the lost one, Pocket," said Mary. "Face like a mourning orphan what's been dumped in the gutter with the chamber pots."

"I'm preoccupied. The king has kept no company but Kent this last week, the castle is brimming with backstabbers, and there's a girl-ghost rhyming ominous on the battlements."

"Well, there's always a bloody ghost, ain't there?" Mary fished a shirt out of the cauldron and bobbed it across the room on her paddle like she was out for a stroll with her own sodden, steaming ghost. "You've got no cares but making everyone laugh, right?"

"Aye, carefree as a breeze. Leave that water when you're done, would you, Mary? Drool needs a dunking."


"Hush, you can't go before the court like that, you smell of shit. Did you sleep on the dung heap again last night?"

"It were warm."

I clouted him a good one on the crown with Jones. "Warm's not all, lad. If you want warm you can sleep in the great hall with everyone else."

"He ain't allowed," offered Mary. "Chamberlain[13] says his snoring frightens the dogs."

"Not allowed?" Every commoner who didn't have quarters slept on the floor in the great hall - strewn about willy-nilly on the straw and rushes - nearly dog-piled before the fireplace in winter. An enterprising fellow with night horns aloft and a predisposal to creep might find himself accidentally sharing a blanket or a tumble with a sleepy and possibly willing wench, and then be banished for a fortnight from the hall's friendly warmth (and indeed, I owe my own modest apartment above the barbican[14] to such nocturnal proclivity), but put out for snoring? Unheard of. When night's inky cape falls o'er the great hall, a gristmill it becomes, the machines of men's breath grind their dreams with a frightful roar, and even Drool's great gears fall undistinguished among the chorus. "For snoring? Not allowed in the hall? Balderdash!"

"And for having a wee on the steward's wife," Mary added.

"It were dark," explained Drool.

"Aye, and even in daylight she is easily mistaken for a privy, but have I not tutored you in the control of your fluids, lad?"

"Aye, and with great success," said Shanker Mary, rolling her eyes at the spunk-frosted wall.

"Ah, Mary, well said. Let's make a pact: If you do not make attempts at wit, I will refrain from becoming a soap-smelling prick-pull. What say ye?"

"You said you liked the smell of soap."

"Aye, well, speaking of smell. Drool, fetch some buckets of cold water from the well. We need to cool this kettle down and get you bathed."


"Jones will be very unhappy with you if you don't hurry," said I, brandishing Jones in a disapproving and somewhat threatening manner. A hard master is Jones, bitter, no doubt, from being raised as a puppet on a stick.

A half-hour later, a miserable Drool sat in the steaming cauldron, fully-clothed, his natural broth having turned the lye-white water to a rich, brown oaf-sauce. Shanker Mary stirred about him with her paddle, being careful not to stir him beyond suds to lust. I was quizzing my student on the coming night's entertainments.

"So, because Cornwall is on the sea, we shall portray the duke how, dear Drool?"

"As a sheep-shagger," said the despondent giant.

"No, lad, that's Albany. Cornwall shall be the fish-fucker."

"Aye, sorry, Pocket."

"Not a worry, not a worry. You'll still be sodden from your bath, I suspect, so we'll work that into the jest. Bit of sloshing and squishing will but add to the merriment, and if we can thus imply that Princess Regan is herself, a fishlike consort, well I can't think of anyone who won't be amused."

"'Cepting the princess," said Mary.

"Well, yes, but she is very literal-minded and often has to be explained the thrust of the jest a time or two before lending her appreciation."

"Aye, remedial thrusting's the remedy for Regan's stubborn wit," said the puppet Jones.

"Aye, remedial thrusting's the remedy for Regan's stubborn wit," said Drool in Jones's voice.

"You're dead men," sighed Shanker Mary.

"You're a dead man, knave!" said a man's voice from behind me.

And there stood Edmund, bastard son of Gloucester, blocking the only exit, sword in hand. Dressed all in black, was the bastard: a simple silver brooch secured his cape, the hilts of his sword and dagger were silver dragon heads with emerald eyes. His jet beard was trimmed to points. I do admire the bastard's sense of style - simple, elegant, and evil. He owns his darkness.

I, myself, am called the Black Fool. Not because I am a Moor, although I hold no grudge toward them (Moors are said to be talented wife-stranglers) and would take no offense at the moniker were that the case, but my skin is as snowy as any sun-starved son of England. No, I am called so because of my wardrobe, an argyle of black satin and velvet diamonds - not the rainbow motley of the run-a-day fool. Lear said: "After thy black wit shall be thy dress, fool. Perhaps a new outfit will stop you tweaking Death's nose. I'm short for the grave as it is, boy, no need to anger the worms before my arrival." When even a king fears irony's twisted blade, what fool is ever unarmed?

"Draw your weapon, fool!" said Edmund.

"Sadly, sir, I have none," said I. Jones shook his head in unarmed woe.

We both were lying, of course. Across the small of my back I wore three wickedly-pointed throwing daggers - fashioned for me by the armorer to be used in our entertainments - and while I had never used them as weapons, truly flung they had spitted apples off the head of Drool, nipped plums from his outstretched fingers, and yea, even speared grapes out of the air. I had little doubt that one might find its way into Edmund's eye and thus vent his bitter mind like a lanced boil. If he needed to know he would know soon enough. If not, well, why trouble him?

"If not a fight, then a murder it is," said Edmund. He lunged, his blade aimed for my heart. I sidestepped and knocked his blade away with Jones, who lost a bell from his coxcomb for his trouble.

I hopped up onto the lip of the cauldron.

"But, sir, why spend your wrath on a poor, helpless fool?"

Edmund slashed. I leapt. He missed. I landed on the far side of the cauldron. Drool moaned. Mary hid in the corner.

"You shouted bastard at me from the battlements."

"Aye, they announced you as bastard. You, sir, are a bastard. And a bastard most unjust to make me die with the foul taste of truth still on my tongue. Allow me a lie before you strike: You have such kind eyes."

"But you spoke badly of my mother as well." He put himself between me and the door. Bloody bad planning, building a laundry with only one exit.

"I may have implied that she was a poxy whore, but from what your father says, that, too, is not breaking the bonds of verity."

"What?" asked Edmund.

"What?" asked Drool, a perfect parrot of Edmund.

"What?" inquired Mary.

"It's true, you git! Your mother was a poxy whore!"

"Beggin' your pardon, sir, poxiness ain't so bad," said Shanker Mary, shining a ray of optimism on these dark ages. "Unfairly maligned, the poxy are. Methinks a spot o' the pox implies experience. Worldliness, if you will."

"The tart makes an excellent point, Edmund. But for the slow descent into madness and death with your bits dropping off along the way, the pox is a veritable blessing," said I, as I skipped just out of blade's reach from the bastard, who stalked me around the great cauldron. "Take Mary here. In fact, there's an idea. Take Mary. Why spend your energy after a long journey murdering a speck of a fool when you can enjoy the pleasures of a lusty wench who is not only ready, but willing, and smells pleasantly of soap?"

"Aye," said Drool, expelling froth as he spoke. "She's a bloody vision of loveliness."

Edmund let his sword point drop and looked at Drool for the first time. "Are you eating soap?"

"Just a wee sliver," bubbled Drool. "They weren't saving it."

Edmund turned back to me. "Why are you boiling this fellow?"

"Couldn't be helped," said I. (How dramatic, the bastard, the water was barely steaming. What appeared to be boiling was Drool venting vapors.)

"Common fuckin' courtesy, ain't it?" said Mary.

"Speak straight, both of you." The bastard wheeled on one heel and before I knew what was happening, he had the point of his blade at Mary's throat. "I've been nine years in the Holy Land killing Saracens, killing one or two more makes no difference to me."

"Wait!" I leapt back to the lip of the cauldron, reaching to the small of my back with my free hand. "Wait. He's being punished. By the king. For attacking me."

"Punished? For attacking a fool?"

"'Boil him alive,' the king said." I jumped down to Edmund's side of the cauldron - moved toward the doorway. I'd needed a clear line of sight, and should he move, I didn't want the blade to hit Mary.

"Everyone knows how fond the king is of his dark little fool," said Mary, nodding enthusiastically.

"Bollocks!" shouted Edmund, as he pulled the sword back to slash.

Mary screamed. I flipped a dagger in the air, caught it by the blade, and was readying to send it to Edmund's heart when something hit him in the back of the head with a thud and he went bum over eyebrows into the wall, his blade clanging across the floor to my feet.

Drool had stood up in the cauldron and was holding Mary's laundry paddle - a bit of dark hair and bloody scalp clung to the bleached wood.

"Did you see that, Pocket? Smashing fall he did." All of it a pantomime to Drool.

Edmund was not moving. As far as I could see, he was not breathing either.

"God's bloody balls, Drool, you've kilt the earl's son. We'll all be hung, now."

"But he were going to hurt Mary."

Mary sat on the floor by Edmund's prostrate body and began stroking his hair on a spot where there was no blood. "I was going to shag him docile, too."

"He would have killed you without a thought."

"Ah, blokes have their tempers, don't they? Look at him, he's a fair form of a fellow, innit he? And rich, too." She took something from his pocket. "What's this?"

"Well done, lass, not so much as a comma between grief and robbery, and much the better when he's still so fresh his fleas have not sailed to livelier ports. The Church wears well on you."

"No, I'm not robbing. Look, it's a letter."

"Give it here."

"You can read?" The tart's eyes widened as if I had confessed the ability to turn lead into gold.

"I was raised in a nunnery, wench. I am a walking library of learning - bound in comely leather and suitable for stroking - at your service, should you fancy a bit of culture to go with your lack of breeding, or vice versa, of course."

Then Edmund gasped and stirred.

"Oh fuckstockings. The bastard's alive."

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