Thursday, September 12, 2013

Friday Fiction for September 13, 2013

Welcome to Friday Fiction, which I have the privilege of hosting this week! Look for the Linky widget below, and enter your submission for this week’s fiction reading.

It’s not often I write a story set in a non-sci-fi setting, but sometimes an idea pops into my head and just won’t go away. This scenario occurred to me this week, and kept circulating in my brain until I wrote it down. No mermaids or talking dogs or clockwork men or space aliens or other such this week – just a fool for your entertainment. I hope you enjoy.

A Fool’s End
By Rick Higginson

            He walked through the city streets, mostly ignored by the town’s people. The occasional child would notice him, and when they called to him he would perform a silly dance as he continued down the dirty road, but mostly he just walked.
            For a moment, the palace appeared ahead, just visible in the gap between two buildings, and he offered a silent prayer that the position had not already been filled. Performing in taverns and village squares, in the hope that the audience would be pleased enough to provide him with a meal, was not the most reliable livelihood.
            A soldier watched him approach as he climbed the steps to the palace, and the man’s hand went to the hilt of his sword. “State your business.”
            He bowed with a flourish. “My lord, I am Benito the Jester, and I have heard your most noble king is seeking a fool for his court. I have come to offer my services.”
            “Empty your bag.”
            “Yes, my lord.” He placed the threadbare bag on the stone and removed his props one by one, arranging them for the guard to see.
            The soldier grunted, and nudged several of the items with his foot. “Wait just inside.” He opened the door and stood to one side. “A servant will show you where to go.”
            Benito gathered his props and bowed again. “Thank you, my lord.” He passed through the door, and stopped just far enough inside that he would not be hit by the heavy wood and metal when it closed.
            After a few minutes, an old man approached and looked him over. “A fool are ye? Aye, ye must be, to have come to this place. Come this way, then.” He turned and headed back through the entry hall.
            Benito hurried to follow him. “So, the position is still unfilled?”
            The old man maintained a steady muttering to himself, and did not answer. Every few moments, he would cackle with amusement at something or other, but never shared whatever he had found funny. He finally stopped and opened a small door. “Ye wait in here, and be ye ready when his highness calls ye. His majesty don’t take kindly to bein’ kept waitin, ye know.”
            “Most certainly.” He gave the man a bow before entering the room. “Thank you, my good man.”
            The old man laughed as he closed the door. “Fools, the lot o’ them.”
            A single window high in the wall provided the only light in the room, which was just as well. The room had nothing to look at, and the only furnishing was a worn wooden bench in the far corner. Save for the lack of any lock on the door, it could have been a dungeon cell. I pray they have a better reception for visiting royalty.
            He sat on the bench and considered napping, save for the old man’s admonition. Instead, he mentally rehearsed his best material and routines, thinking over which ones to use depending on what his impressions might be of the king.
            The solitary beam of sunlight from the window marked the passage of several hours, as it moved from low on the opposite wall to well above his reach, and Benito began to wonder if he was to spend the night in the barren room. Finally, the door opened, and a man dressed in finer clothing stood outside. “The king summons you, fool. Come with me.” The man never looked directly at him.
            Benito flipped his prop bag over his shoulder, and followed with lively steps. He brought the smile to both his lips and his eyes, preparing both his mind and his body for the performance.
            The royal attendant stopped before a pair of ornate doors. “You are the third fool his majesty has seen this week. For your own sake, do not disappoint him.”
            “Thank you, my lord.”
            “Hold your thanks until after you have seen the king.” The man pulled the door, and gestured for Benito to enter.
            The king slumped in his throne at the far end of the room. A large expanse of open floor in front of the throne was lined on either side by guards, and covered in the middle by what had once been an exquisite carpet. Lighting in the room was provided by rows of torches along the walls, and the air was heavy with the accumulated smoke.
            Benito bowed low. “Your majesty.”
            The king waved impatiently. “Come forward, fool, and tell us your name.”
            He walked up the center, and stopped a respectful distance from the throne before bowing again. “I am Benito the Jester, your majesty.”
            The king leaned forward. “Well, Benito the Jester, we have seen two other fools in the past three days, and we will now tell you the same thing we told them. The one of you that pleases us most shall have the position in my court. Of the other two, one will be free to go, but the one who pleased us least will die.” He sat back in the throne. “Do not displease us.”
            He felt a twist in his gut, and his mouth went dry. “Forgive my impertinence, your majesty, but did you say that the penalty for not being as good as the other two, is death?”
            “Are you deaf, fool? Yes, that is what we said.”
            He kept his head lowered, and took a deep breath. “I am sorry, your majesty, but I cannot perform.”
            “To refuse us is to forfeit your life, fool. Do you not wish to live?”
            “Most dearly, your majesty, but for me to live is to bring laughter and merriment to the lives of people. I cannot imagine how I could ever do so again, if I knew that my performance condemned another to death.”
            “You would choose death, to spare the lives of two fools you have never met?”
            “Yes, my lord, because another chose death to spare the life of this fool. If I am to die today, then it will be so that I may go and perform in His court.”
            “Then so be it. Captain of the guard – our sword!”
            He remained bowed, even as the king’s feet came into his view. A polished blade dangled with the point just in front of the king’s ankles.
            “Is this still your choice, fool?”
            “Yes, your majesty.”
            The sword lifted from his view, and the king shifted his weight from his heels as he hefted the heavy weapon. Benito closed his eyes, and began a silent prayer as he waited for the stroke of the blade. Lord God Almighty, make it quick and merciful.
            A weight dropped to his shoulder, and then a hand to his other arm. “Arise, fool, and look at us.”
            Benito opened his eyes. The sword rested flat on his shoulder, and the king was on one knee. “Your majesty?”
            “We have many soldiers and knights who will go into battle at our command. They will fight and they will die at our word, and consider it honorable to do so. Many are noblemen, born and raised to the chivalrous arts, and yet, never have we seen such a man as we have seen today. Answer us truthfully, Benito the Jester – will you tell us when we are being fools?”
            “I do not understand, your majesty.”
            “We wish for you to serve in our court; to bring laughter and merriment to us, and to be bold enough to tell us when we are being foolish in our rulings.”
            “What of the other jesters?”
            “They are free to go, and to live with the knowledge that they would have traded another’s life for their own. They have proven that they are truly fools, and we will not have a fool in our court.”
            “But, I am a fool, your majesty.”

            “Nay, Benito. Your time as a fool is ended. By Royal Appointment, you are Benito, Noble Jester.”

1 comment:

Sara Harricharan said...

OHO! A Noble Jester. I like this Benito fellow. I would love to see how he turns this court around just by being who he really is. What a great example of integrity.

I was thinking of that old fairytale with the huntsman and the evil guard, and the princess who wanted a white bird. This had the same lovely tone and intriguing story. I was waiting to see how Benito would get his way out of something like this and really, really hoping that he wouldn't die, because I've read the most depressing stories this week.

Fantastic read--I'm glad you had time to write and share this! (and thanks for hosting Friday Fiction this week!)