Fool Chapter 21





"Pocket," said Cordelia, "have you ever heard of this warrior queen named Boudicca?" Cordelia was about fifteen at the time, and she had sent for me because she wished to discuss politics. She lay on her bed with a large leather volume open before her.

"No, lamb, who was she queen of?"

"Why, of the pagan Britons. Of us." Lear had recently shifted back to the pagan beliefs, thus opening a whole new world of learning for Cordelia.

"Ah, that explains it. Educated in a nunnery, love, I've a very shallow knowledge of pagan ways, although I have to say, their festivals are smashing. Rampant drunken shagging while wearing flower wreaths seems far superior to midnight mass and self-flagellation, but then, I'm a fool."

"Well, it says here that she kicked nine colors of shit out of the Roman legions when they invaded."

"Really, that's what it says, nine colors of shit?"

"I'm paraphrasing. Why do you think we've no warrior queens anymore?"

"Well, lamb, war requires swift and resolute action."

"And you're saying that a woman can't move with swift resolve?"

"I'm saying no such thing. She may move with swiftness and resolve, but only after choosing the correct outfit and shoes, and therein lies the undoing of any potential warrior queen, I suspect."

"Oh bollocks!"

"I'll wager your Boudicca lived before they invented clothing. Easy days then for a warrior queen. Just hitch up your tits and start taking heads, it was. Now, well, I daresay erosion would take down a country before most women could pick out their invading kit."

"Most women. But not me?"

"Of course not you, lamb. Them. I meant only weak-willed tarts like your sisters."

"Pocket, I think I shall be a warrior queen."

"Of what, the royal petting zoo at Boffingshire?"

"You'll see, Pocket. The whole of the sky will darken with the smoke from my army's fires, the ground will tremble under their horses' hooves, and kings will kneel outside their city walls, crowns in hand, begging to surrender rather than feel the wrath of Queen Cordelia fall upon their people. But I shall be merciful."

"Goes without saying, doesn't it?"

"And you, fool, will no longer be able to behave like the right shit that you are."

"Fear and trembling, love, that's all you'll get from me. Fear and bloody trembling."

"As long as we understand each other."

"So, it sounds as if you're thinking of conquering more than just the petting zoo?"

"Europe," said the princess, as if stating the unadorned truth.

"Europe?" said I.

"To start," said Cordelia.

"Well, then you had better get moving, hadn't you?"

"Yes, I suppose," said Cordelia, with a great silly grin. "Dear Pocket, would you help me pick an outfit?"

"She's already taken Normandy, Brittany, and the Aquitaine," said Edgar, "and Belgium soils itself at the mention of her name."

"Cordelia can be a bundle of rumpus when she sets her mind to something," said I. I smiled at the thought of her barking orders to the troops, all fury and fire from her lips, but those crystal-blue eyes hinting laughter at every turn. I missed her.

"Oh, I did betray her love and flay her sweet heart with stubborn pride," said Lear, looking madder and weaker than when I'd seen him last.

"Where is Kent?" I asked Edgar, ignoring the old king. Drool and I had found them above a cliff at Dover. They all sat with their backs to a great chalk boulder: Gloucester, Edgar, and Lear. Gloucester snored softly, his head on Edgar's shoulder. We could see smoke from the French camp not two miles away in the distance.

"He's gone to Cordelia, to ask her to accept her father into her camp."

"Why didn't you go yourself?" I asked Lear.

"I am afraid," said the old man. He hid his head under his arm, like a bird trying to escape the daylight beneath its wing.

It was wrong. I wanted him strong, I wanted him stubborn, I wanted him full of arrogance and cruelty. I wanted to see those parts of him I knew were thriving when he'd thrown my mother on the stones so many years ago. I wanted to scream at him, humiliate him, hurt him in eleven places and watch him crawl in his own shit, dragging his bloody pride and guts behind him in the dirt. There was no revenge to be satisfied on this trembling shell of Lear.

I wanted no part of it.

"I'm going to go nap behind those rocks," said I. "Drool, keep watch. Wake me when Kent returns."

"Aye, Pocket." The Natural went to the far side of Edgar's boulder, sat, and stared out over the sea. If we were attacked by a ship, he'd be Johnny-on-the-spot.

I lay down and slept perhaps an hour before there was shouting behind me and I looked over my boulders to see Edgar holding his father's head, steadying him as the old man stood on a rock, perhaps a foot above the ground.

"Are we at the edge?"

"Aye, there are fishermen on the beach below that look like mice. The dogs look like ants."

"What do the horses look like?" asked Gloucester.

"There aren't any horses. Just fishermen and dogs. Don't you hear the sea crashing below?"

"Yes. Yes, I do. Farewell, Edgar, my son. I am sorry. Gods, do your will!" With that the old man leaped off the rock, expecting to plummet hundreds of feet to his death, I reckon, so he was somewhat surprised when he met the ground in an instant.

"Oh my lord! Oh my lord!" said Edgar, trying to use a different voice and failing completely. "Sir, you have duly fallen from the cliffs above."

"I have?" said Gloucester.

"Aye, sir, can you not see?"

"Well, no, you git, my eyes are bandaged and bloody. Can you not see?"

"Sorry. What I saw was you fall from a great height and land as softly as if you were a feather floating down."

"I am dead, then," said Gloucester. He sank to his knees and seemed to lose his breath. "I am dead, yet I still suffer, my grief is manifest, my eyes ache even though they are not there."

"That's because he's fucking with you," said I.

"What?" said Gloucester.

"Shhhh," said Edgar. "'Tis a mad beggar, pay him no heed, good sir."

"Fine, you're dead. Enjoy," said I. I lay back on the ground, out of the wind, and pulled my coxcomb over my eyes.

"Come, come sit with me," said Lear. I sat up and watched Lear lead the blind man to his nest beneath the great boulders. "Let the cruelties of the world slide off our bent backs, friend." Lear put his arm around Gloucester and held him while he spoke to the sky.

"My king," said Gloucester. "I am safe in your mercy. My king."

"Aye, king. But I have no soldiers, no lands, no subject quakes before me, no servants wait, and even your bastard son hath treated you better than my own daughters."

"Oh, for fuck's sake," said I. But I could see that the old blind man was smiling, and for all his suffering, he found comfort in his friend the king, no doubt having been blinded to his scoundrel nature long before Cornwall and Regan took his eyes. Blinded by loyalty. Blinded by title. Blinded by shoddy patriotism and false righteousness. He loved his mad, murdering king. I lay back down to listen.

"Let me kiss your hand," said Gloucester.

"Let me wipe it first," said Lear. "It smells of mortality."

"I smell nothing, and see nothing evermore. I am not worthy."

"Art thou mad? See with your ears, Gloucester. Have you never seen a farmer's dog bark at a beggar, and thus chase him off? Is that dog the voice of authority? Is he better than the many for denying the man's hunger? Is a sheriff righteous who whips the whore, when it is for his own lust he punishes her? See, Gloucester. See who is worthy? Now we are stripped of finery, see. Small vices show through tattered clothes, when all is hidden beneath fur and fine robes. Plate sin with gold and the strong lance of justice breaks on decoration. Blessed are you, that you cannot see - for you cannot see me for what I am: wretched."

"No," said Edgar. "Your impertinence comes from madness. Do not weep, good king."

"Do not weep? We weep when we first smell the air. When we are born, we cry, that we come to this great stage of fools."

"No, all shall be well again, and - "

And there was a thump, followed by another, and a yowl.

"Die, thou blind mole!" came a familiar voice.

I sat up in time to see Oswald standing over Gloucester, a bloodied stone in one hand, his sword driven down through the old earl's chest. "You'll not poison my lady's cause further." He twisted the blade, and blood bubbled up out of the old man, but no sound did he make. He was quite dead. Oswald yanked his blade free and kicked Gloucester's body across Lear's lap, as the king cowered against the boulder. Edgar lay unconscious at Oswald's feet. The vermin drew back as if to drive his sword into Edgar's spine.

"Oswald!" I shouted. I stood behind my boulders as I drew a throwing knife from the sheath at my back. The worm turned to me, and pulled his blade up. He dropped the bloody stone he'd used to brain Edgar. "We have an arrangement," said I. "And further slaughter of my cohorts will cause me to doubt your sincerity."

"Sod off, fool. We've no arrangement. You're a lying cur."

"Moi?" said I, in perfect fucking French. "I can give you your lady's heart, and not in the unpleasant, eviscerated, no-shagging-except-the-corpse way."

"You have no such power. You've not bewitched Regan's heart, neither. 'Tis she who sent me here to kill this blind traitor who turns minds against our forces. And to deliver this." He pulled a sealed letter from his jerkin.

"A letter of mark, giving you permission in the name of the Duchess of Cornwall to be a total twatgoblin?"

"Your wit is dull, fool. It is a love letter to Edmund of Gloucester. He set out for here with a scouting party to assess the French forces."

"My wit is dull? My wit is dull?"

"Yes. Dull," said Oswald. "Now, en garde," said he in barely passable fucking French.

"Yes," said I, with an exaggerated nod. "Yes."

And with that, Oswald found himself seized by the throat and dashed several times against the boulders, which relieved him of his sword, his dagger, the love letter, and his coin purse. Drool then held the steward up and squeezed his throat, slowly but sternly, causing wet gurgling noises to bubble from his foul gullet.

I said,

"While unscathed by my rapier wit

You're choked to death by a giant git

By this gentle jester, is argument won

I'll leave you two to have your fun."

Oswald seemed somewhat surprised by the turn of events, so much so, that both his eyes and tongue protruded from his face in a wholly unhealthy way. He then began to surrender his various fluids and Drool had to hold him away to keep from being fouled by them.

"Drop him," said Lear, who still cowered by the boulders.

Drool looked to me and I shook my head, ever so slightly.

"Die, thou badger-shagging spunk monkey," said I.

When Oswald stopped kicking and simply hung limp and dripping, I nodded to my apprentice, who tossed the steward's body over the cliff as easily as if it were an apple core.

Drool went down on one knee over Gloucester's body. "I were going to teach him to be a fool."

"Aye, lad, I know you were." I stood by my boulders, resisting the urge to comfort the great murderous git with a pat on the shoulder. There was a rustling from over the top of the hill and I thought I heard the sound of metal on metal through the wind.

"Now he's blind and dead," said the Natural.

"Bugger," said I, under my breath. Then to Drool, "Hide, and don't fight, and don't call for me."

I fell flat to the ground as the first soldier topped the hill. Bugger! Bugger! Bugger! Bloody bollocksing buggering bugger! I reflected serenely.

Then I heard the voice of the bastard Edmund. "Look, my fool. And what's this? The king? What good fortune! You'll make a fine hostage to stay the hand of the Queen of France and her forces."

"Have you no heart?" said Lear, petting the head of his dead friend Gloucester.

I peeked out between my rocks. Edmund was looking at his dead father with the expression of someone who has just encountered rat scat in his toast for tea. "Yes, well, tragic I suppose, but with succession of his title determined and his sight gone, a timely exit was only polite. Who's this other deader?" Edmund kicked his unconscious half brother in the shoulder.

"A beggar," said Drool. "He were trying to protect the old man."

"This is not the sword of a beggar. Neither is this purse." Edmund picked up Oswald's purse. "These belong to Goneril's man, Oswald."

"Aye, milord," said Drool.

"Well, where is he?"

"On the beach."

"On the beach? He climbed down and left his purse and sword here?"

"He was a tosser," said Drool. "So I tossed him over. He kilt your old da."

"Oh, quite right. Well done, then." Edmund threw the purse to Drool. "Use it to bribe your jailer for a bread crust. Take them." The bastard motioned for his men to seize Drool and Lear. When the old man had trouble standing, Drool lifted him to his feet and steadied him.

"What about the bodies?" asked Edmund's captain.

"Let the French bury them. Quickly, to the White Tower. I've seen enough."

Lear coughed then, a dry, feeble cough like the creaking of Death's door hinges, until I thought he might collapse into a pile of blue. One of Edmund's men gave the old man a sip of water, which seemed to quell the coughing, but he couldn't stand or support his weight. Drool hoisted him up on one shoulder and carried him up the hill - the old man's bony bottom bouncing on the great git's shoulder as if it was the cushion of a sedan chair.

When they were gone I scrambled out of my hiding place and over to Edgar's prostrate body. The wound on his scalp wasn't deep, but it had bled copiously, as scalp wounds are wont to do. The resulting puddle of gore had probably saved Edgar's life. I got him propped against the boulder and brought him around with some gentle smacking and a stout splashing from his water skin.

"What?" Edgar looked around, and shook his head to clear his vision, a motion he clearly regretted immediately. Then he spotted his father's corpse and wailed.

"I'm sorry, Edgar," said I. "'Twas Goneril's steward, Oswald, knocked you out and killed him. Drool strangled the scurvy dog and tossed him over the cliff."

"Where is Drool? And the king?"

"Taken, by your bastard brother's men. Listen, Edgar, I need to follow them. You go to the French camp. Take them a message."

Edgar's eyes rolled and I thought he might pass out again, so I threw some more water in his face. "Look at me. Edgar, you must go to the French camp. Tell Cordelia that she should attack the White Tower directly. Tell her to send ships up the Thames and bring a force through London over land as well. Kent will know the plan. Have her sound the trumpet three times before they attack the keep. Do you understand?"

"Three times, the White Tower?"

I tore the back off of the dead earl's shirt, wadded it up, and gave it to Edgar. "Here, hold this on your noggin to staunch the blood."

"And tell Cordelia not to hold for fear for her father's life. I'll see to it that it's not an issue."

"Aye," said Edgar. "She'll not save the king by holding the attack."

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies