Fool Chapter 24




All my years as an orphan, only to find that I had a mother, but she killed herself over cruelty from the king, the only father I had ever known...

To find I had a father, but he, too, was murdered by order of the king...

To find the best friend I'd ever known was the mother of the woman I adored, and she was murdered, horribly, by order of the king, because of what I had done...

To go from being an orphan clown to a bastard prince to a cutthroat avenger for ghosts and witches in less than a week, and from upstart crow to strategist general in a matter of months...

To go from telling bawdy stories for the pleasure of an imprisoned holy woman to planning the overthrow of a kingdom...

It was bloody disorienting, and not a little tiring. And I'd built quite an appetite. A snack was in order - perhaps even a full meal, with wine.

I watched from the arrow loops in my old apartment in the barbican as Cordelia entered the castle. She rode a great white warhorse, and both she and the horse were fitted with full plate armor, fashioned in black with gold trim. The golden lion of England was emblazoned on her shield, a golden fleur-de-lis of France on her breastplate. Two columns of knights rode behind her, carrying lances with the banners of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Normandy, France, Belgium, and Spain. Spain? She'd conquered bloody Spain in her spare time? She was rubbish at chess before she left. Real war must be easier.

She reined up her horse in the middle of the drawbridge, stood in the stirrups, pulled off her helmet and shook out her long golden hair. Then she smiled up at the gatehouse. I ducked out of sight - I'm not sure why.

"Mine!" she barked, then she laughed and led the column into the castle.

Yes, I know, love, but bad form, isn't it, to march about with your own bloody army laying claim to random property, innit? Unladylike.

She was bloody glorious.

Yes, a snack would do nicely. I laughed a bit myself and danced my way to the great hall, indulging in the odd somersault along the way.

Perhaps going to the great hall in search of food wasn't the best idea, and perhaps it wasn't my real intention, which was just as well, since instead of a repast, the bodies of Lear and his two daughters were laid out on three high tables, Lear on the dais where his throne sat, Regan and Goneril below, on either side, on the main floor.

Cordelia stood over her father, still in her armor, her helmet tucked under her arm. Her long hair hung in her face, so I couldn't tell if she was crying.

"He's a good deal more pleasant now," said I. "Quieter. Although he moves about the same speed."

She looked up and smiled, a great dazzling smile, then seemed to remember she was grieving and bowed her head again. "Thank you for your condolences, Pocket. I see you have managed to fend off pleasantness in my absence."

"Only by keeping you constantly in my thoughts, child."

"I've missed you, Pocket."

"And I you, lamb."

She stroked her father's hair. He wore the heavy crown that he'd thrown on the table before Cornwall and Albany what seemed so long ago.

"Did he suffer?" Cordelia asked.

I considered my answer, which I almost never do. I could have vented my ire, cursed the old man, made testament to his life of cruelty and wickedness, but that would serve Cordelia not a bit, and me very little. Still, I needed to temper my tale with some truth.

"Yes. At the end, he suffered greatly in his heart. At the hands of your sisters, and under the weight of regret for doing wrong to you. He suffered, but not in his body. The pain was in his soul, child."

She nodded and turned from the old man. "You shouldn't call me child, Pocket. I'm a queen now."

"I see that. Smashing armor, by the way, very St. George. Come with a dragon, did it?"

"No, an army, as it turns out."

"And an empire, evidently."

"No, I had to take that myself."

"I told you your disagreeable nature would serve you in France."

"That you did. Right after you told me that princesses were only good for - what was it - 'dragon food and ransom markers'?"

There it was, that smile again, sunshine on my frozen heart, it felt. And like a frostbitten limb, there were pins and needles as the feeling returned. Suddenly I felt the small purse with the witch's puffball heavy on my belt.

"Yes, well, one can't be right all the time, it would undermine one's credibility as a fool."

"Your credibility is already in question in that regard. Kent tells me that the kingdom fell before me so easily because of your doing."

"I didn't know it was you, I thought it was bloody Jeff. Where is Jeff, anyway?"

"In Burgundy with the duke - well, the Queen of Burgundy. They both insist on being referred to as the Queen of Burgundy. Turns out you were right about them, which again counts against your standing as a fool. I caught them together at the palace in Paris. They confessed that they'd fancied each other since they were boys. Jeff and I came to an arrangement."

"Aye, there's usually an arrangement in those situations - the arrangement of the queen's head and body at different addresses."

"Nothing like that, Pocket. Jeff is a decent chap. I didn't love him, but he was a good fellow. Saved me when Father threw me out, didn't he? And by the time this happened I'd won the guard and most of the court to my sympathies - if anyone was going to lose his head, it wasn't me. France took some territories, Toulouse, Provence, and some bits of the Pyrenees with him, but considering the territories I've taken, overall it's more than fair. The boys have a crashingly large palace in Burgundy that they perpetually redecorate. They're quite happy."

"The boys? Bloody Burgundy buggering froggy France? By the dangling ovaries of Odin, there's a song in there somewhere!"

She grinned. "I've purchased a divorce from the Pope. Bloody dear[46] it was, too. If I'd known Jeff was going to insist on sanction of the Church I'd have pushed to reinstate the old Discount Pope."

The sound of the great doors opening echoed through the hall and Cordelia turned, fierce fire in her eyes. "I said I was to be left alone!"

But then Drool, who had lumbered through, pulled up as if he'd seen a ghost, and started to back away. "Sorry. Beggin' your pardons. Pocket, I got Jones and your hat." He held up the puppet stick and my coxcomb, forgot for a second that he'd been shouted at, then resumed backing out the doors.

"No, come, Drool," said Cordelia. She waved him in and the guards closed the door behind him. I wondered what the knights and other nobles might think that the warrior queen would admit no one to the hall except two fools. Probably that she was merely another in a long line of family nutters.

Drool paused as he passed Regan's body and lost his sense of purpose. He lay Jones and my hat on the table next to her, then pinched the hem of her gown and began to raise it for a peek.

"Drool!" I barked.

"Sorry," said the Natural. Then he spotted Goneril's body and moved to her side. He stood there, looking down. In a moment his shoulders began to shake and soon he broke into great, rib-wrenching sobs and proceeded to drip tears upon Goneril's bosom.

Cordelia looked at me with pleading in her eyes, and I, at her, with something that must have seemed similar. We were shits, together, we were, that we didn't grieve for these people, this family.

"They was fit," said Drool. Soon he was petting Goneril's cheek, then her shoulder, then both her shoulders, then her breasts, then he climbed on the table on top of her and commenced a rhythmic and unseemly sobbing that approximated in timbre and volume a bear being shaken in a wine cask.

I retrieved Jones from Regan's side and clouted the oaf about the head and shoulders until he climbed off the erstwhile Duchess of Albany and slipped through the drape and hid under the table.

"I loved them," Drool said.

Cordelia stayed my hand and bent down and lifted the drapery. "Drool, mate," she said. "Pocket doesn't mean to be cruel, he doesn't understand how you feel. Still, we have to keep it to ourselves. It's not proper to dry-hump the deceased, love."

"It ain't?"

"No. The duke will be here soon and he'd be offended."

"What 'bout the other one. Her duke is dead."

"Just the same, it's not proper."

"Sorry." He hid his head under the drape.

She stood and looked at me, turning away from Drool and rolling her eyes and smiling.

There was so much to tell her, that I'd shagged her mother, and we, technically, were cousins, and, well, things might get awkward. It was my instinct, as a performer, to keep the moment light, so I said, "I killed your sisters, more or less."

She stopped smiling. "Captain Curan said they poisoned each other."

"Aye. I gave them the poison."

"Did they know it was poison?"

"They did."

"Couldn't be helped, then, could it? They were right vicious bitches anyway. Tortured me through my childhood. You saved me the effort."

"They just wanted someone to love them," I said.

"Don't make the case with me, fool. You're the one that killed them. I was just going to take their lands and property. Maybe humiliate them in public."

"But you just said - "

"I loved them," said Drool.

"Shut up!" I chorused with Cordelia.

The doors cracked open then and Captain Curan peeked his head through. "Lady, the Duke of Albany has arrived," said he.

"Give me a moment, then send him in," said Cordelia.

"Very well." Curan closed the doors.

Cordelia stepped up to me then, she was only a little taller than me, but in armor, somewhat more intimidating than I'd remembered her - but no less beautiful.

"Pocket, I've taken quarters in my old solar. I'd like you to visit after supper tonight."

I bowed. "Does my lady require a story and a jest before bedtime to clear her head of the day's tribulations?"

"No, fool, Queen Cordelia of France, Britain, Belgium, and Spain is going to shag the bloody bells off you."

"Pardon?" said I, somewhat nonplussed. But then she kissed me. The second time. With great feeling, and she pushed me away.

"I invaded a country for you, you nitwit. I've loved you since I was a little girl. I came back for you, well, and for revenge on my sisters, but mostly for you. I knew you would be waiting for me."

"How? How did you know?"

"A ghost came to me at the palace in Paris months ago. Scared the b��arnaise out of Jeff. She's been advising the strategy since."

Enough talk of ghosts, I thought. Let her rest. I bowed again. "At your bloody beckoning service, love. A humble fool, at your service."


How I would make him fawn and beg and seek

And wait the season and observe the times

And spend his prodigal wits in bootless rhymes

And shape his service wholly to my hests

And make him proud to make me proud that jests!

So perttaunt-like would I o'ersway his state

That he should be my fool and I his fate.

-  Love's Labour's Lost, Act V, Scene 2, Rosaline

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