|Ship of Fools
Author: Erlkid PM
This being ouer Practis, of having Soluttion to those Afflicted with a waesting of the Soul & leff bereft of the lyght of the Lord. Their Lot is putting theym upon a Collexion of Wains, thence takn accros the Land to beg their way, they havng no fit use amongen Man. It is cruel Necessitty & may Him Lord one day releace them from theyir Torment.Rated: Fiction K - English - Words: 1,647 - Published: 10-14-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3065476
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Ship of Fools
'Welcome to the madcart, boy!'
The fellow was missing an eye, and his skin was withered old bark. Geoffrey knew of him as a local legend. They said he had been put on the cart for biting off a boy's nose.
'Were you put on the cart for biting off a boy's nose?' Geoffrey asked. It seemed to him to be an important question, for Geoffrey was boy. The one-eyed man smiled a crooked and toothless smile.
'No, no, not his nose.'
It was an artful answer, Geoffrey thought, of the sort usually given to diplomats and kings. The sort his father might give. The cart started off, rattling over the dry earth.
'How comes a boy of your standing to the ship o' fools?'
Geoffrey twisted his fingers into a painful knot as he recalled the night's events.
'They came for me as I was sleeping,' he said at length. 'They put a sack over my head, and a cloth in my mouth, and took me away. They made so much noise, but no one in the manor woke to stop them.' He was pleased to discover as he spoke that the thought no longer made him cry. He could only assume he'd cried his last in the cellar, the place he'd slept that past night.
'Now why would they do that?'
Geoffrey hesitated. He looked to his right, to where a sprite sat perched on the lip of the cart. It glittered with all the colours of the rainbow.
It said: 'Remember where you find yourself.'
Geoffrey said, 'They say I'm mad because I see all sorts of fantastical beasts. Sprites and elves and spirits. They tell me things, secrets and true things. The true things troubled people. They said I should not know.'
The one-eyed man chewed his nail. 'That sounds like a gift,' he said. 'But it's as mad as mad can be. You'll find your little self at home here.'
'I don't want to go among mad people,' Geoffrey said, looking around at the other occupants of the cart.
The one-eyed man flashed his toothless smile again, as if to say it was a thing that could not be helped.
Ship of Fools
This being ouer Practis, of having Soluttion to those Afflicted with a waesting of the Soul & leff bereft of the lyght of the Lord. Their Lot is putting theym upon a Collexion of Wains, thence takn accros the Land to beg their way, they havng no fit use amongen Man.
It is cruel Necessitty & may Him Lord one day releace them from theyir Torment.
The wagon was crowded, but Geoffrey soon discovered there was an odd sort of circulation within its confines. Its occupants would converse with a neighbour for a time, before standing to shuffle along to a different part of the benches that ringed the inside of the wagon. It was an excuse to stretch one's legs, and then to chat with a different madman for a while.
There was one exception. At the rear of the wagon an old woman sat, never changing seat. In two days of travel, Geoffrey had not heard her speak once, and the other fools seldom even acknowledged her. Geoffrey made his stumbling way over to her (he had not yet found his madlegs, they said) and sat down beside her. She stared at the base of the cart, not daring to lift her eyes. Her skin was as pale as her hair, as if all the colour had been drained from her.
'Hello,' Geoffrey said.
Her eyes remained downcast. She muttered: 'Please. Please don't hurt me.'
'Um. I won't hurt you. My name is Geoffrey.'
Silence. Geoffrey tried again.
'Are you mad, too?' he asked.
'So they say. So they say.' Her voice was a whisper on the edge of hearing.
The sprite, resting on Geoffrey's knee where it had not been a moment before, said: 'Hers is a fear of her fellows. Not of madmen, but of everyone, everywhere.'
Geoffrey understood her reticence, then, and abruptly felt sorry for disturbing her. Her hands, he noticed, were gripped around the lip of the seat so hard that they bled. He reached a hand out slowly, uncertainly, and clasped her shoulder. She flinched and started, and beneath his hand he felt her shivering. But she did not pull away.
'Please don't be afraid,' Geoffrey said. She finally looked at him, in her own fashion, moving only her eyes, her head still bowed.
'Good boy,' she whispered. 'You're a good boy. Folks…folks fear the fearful. Fear they have something to fear. Something deep, something evil. They think…perhaps we fear retribution. Revenge. They think we've something to hide.'
Geoffrey remembered the fears of days long past, when at night he would be gripped with the belief that a wolf might crawl into his room from the forest, or that a boggart under his bed might reach for him in the night with clasping fingers. Its likeness to his kidnapping made him shiver. He knew what it meant to be afraid.
'If you spoke, told them why you fear, they would know you are not evil.'
It seemed a simple enough solution, and Geoffrey said it earnestly, but he saw the pain in her eyes in the moment before she turned her face away.
The sprite said: 'A fear once full-grown is not easily left behind.'
Geoffrey felt he had betrayed the old woman's honesty in not having understood sooner. He could find nothing more to say and thought perhaps silence was the best he could do for her. He released her shoulder and moved to another place on the cart.
He next sat near to a man of a father's age. The man was not sat on the benches, but on the floor in the corner of the cart, propped against their edges. His head lolled with the motion of the road, but he was otherwise lifeless, staring into far places that were his alone.
'I shouldn't bother,' another man said to Geoffrey, without lifting his head from where it lay buried in his hands. 'The fellow does not speak. His shape is catatonia.'
All the same, Geoffrey sat next to him on the floor of the cart.
'My name is Geoffrey,' he said.
Geoffrey began to speak of things, then, to tell this silent one of all the things he had ever seen, had ever been, the words tumbling from his lips. He spoke of playing as a young child in the grounds of the manor, of tumbling in the fountains with friends on a summer's afternoon, of lessons in fencing and politics, in human and natural history. He spoke of the fantastic beasts that had always visited him, of kobolds and centaurs and fey and spirits of the departed, and they were as ordinary to him as anything else he recounted. He spoke of his father, and once he started he found he could not stop. He told him of the coldness of his father's words, of his distance, of the rumours in the fief that his father was at heart a corrupted man, his soul tainted with a black evil he dared not reveal. Geoffrey found himself far more uncomfortable with these words than anything he had said hitherto.
Into the silences between his thoughts, Geoffrey began to build his own image of the catatonic man. He thought perhaps he might have been a travelling doctor once, long ago, of strong morals and faith in God. By the lines of his face Geoffrey thought of him as a good man, one who cared deeply for his charges and who saw to it that they might one day contact him again, should they need him. He began to picture the man as having once been an upstanding father, of having cared deeply for his children and having being bitten with a deep sorrow upon the necessity of leaving them.
As for his catatonia, Geoffrey supposed it might be for those selfsame reasons; that his family had been lost to him, and being such a good man, this was more than his soul could bear. So good was he, Geoffrey imagined, that all his faith in God and the world could not save this man when his family was lost to him.
Geoffrey looked then to the sprite, which sat on the other side of the wagon, looking deep into the man's far away eyes. The sprite met Geoffrey's eyes, shook its head slowly, and said nothing.
Geoffrey looked away, and when he met the sprite's eyes again, they seemed to dance with a question.
'Do you think I might be mad after all, sprite? It seems I cannot tell. But then how might one tell who is not in my head already? In my head I am not mad, and the one-eyed man in his head is not mad, and the old lady is not mad, and the catatonic man is not mad. Do you see?'
The sprite stared.
'I do not think I could be mad. I'm much too clever.'
Geoffrey smiled in his security, and the sprite smiled back. He knotted his fingers again, stared at them, and thought once more of the manor and of the men in the night.
'I wonder if my father is mad,' he said.
He looked around, then, at the occupants of the wagon.
'They call them madmen, so they call them fools, so they put them on the cart,' he said. 'But I think if this is so, then perhaps there are more fools in the world than would fit on this little ship.'