But we're not talking about just any jester. The time has come for us to discuss the strange jester-slave in the house of Duke Shippening.
First, however, let me take a moment to remind my dear blog readers that this A-Z series contains many SPOILERS! So if you have not yet read Veiled Rose, you might want to steer clear of this particular series so that key plot points and surprises aren't given away!
Okay, moving on . . .
Early on in his exile, Lionheart finds himself in Shippening, the Duchy just north of the isthmus separating Southlands from the Continent. The Duke of Shippening (whom some of you might remember as one of Una's suitors in Heartless) is a despicable man, the last work in classic barbarous villain-types. But it is in his household that Lionheart, newly robbed of what money he brought with him from Southlands, finds work.
And there, Lionheart meets the duke's jester-slave.
This Fool was a strange person . . . He was abnormally thin, too thin, really, to continue living. His jester's garb of brilliant colors sagged on his frame; yet his wrists, though tiny and more delicate than a woman's, were not emaciated and bony. He was an albino, whiter than snow, and rather beautiful in a way. (p. 237)
Lionheart's earliest memories of this jester date back from his childhood when Duke Shippening sent the strange man to the Eldest's House. There Lionheart saw him perform, and thus was born his lifelong ambition to become a jester himself.
Seeing the same jester now, many years later, Lionheart is less thrilled. He finds the man strange, otherworldly, and not a little mad. He is deformed as well: Each of his fingers boasts an extra joint. One day, when the jester wanders out to the kennel grounds, Lionheart approaches him and hears him with his eyes closed, speaking in a strange language.
"Els jine aesda-o soran!"
When he opens his eyes and looks at Lionheart, he switches to a language Lionheart recognizes, saying, "I blessed your name, O you who sit enthroned beyond the Highlands."
This creature, Lionheart begins to suspect, is not human.
For those of you familiar with fairy tales, Lionheart's suspicion must be swiftly confirmed by the jester-slave's reaction to iron. "If you will break my chains, I will grant you a wish," he tells Lionheart. When Lionheart protests that the jester has no chains, the strange man indicates an iron collar around his neck. It is not locked; in fact, there as an easy, workable latch, and anyone could easily remove it. And yet the poor Fool touches it only with pain. "Iron," he says, "Iron chains."
Faeries, you see, have an aversion to iron. In most ancient folklore, fairies avoid iron and are harmed by even the smallest touch. And the jester-slave of Duke Shippening is no exception.
Lionheart is not so quickly convinced. Despite his recent experience with the Dragon, his mind is still fairly rooted in the realities he has always believed. But there is one who recognizes the truth of the jester-slave on sight: A merchant named Sunan.
This merchant, a guest of Duke Shippening, took one look at the jester and exclaimed, "Your lordship, who is this person?"
"My idiot, of course," says the duke.
Sunan is impressed. As he later on tells Lionheart, "He [Duke Shippening] is not the buffoon he projects to the world. And his alliances are powerful, though even I cannot guess at them."
Sunan knows that for Duke Shippening to command a Faerie slave, he must have very powerful connections indeed.
Even a slave, however, may rebel. And so does this jester when ordered to sing for the duke and his guests. He steps forward and sings a song of Fireword . . . the sword that can slay dragons.
Infuriated, the duke orders his men to beat the poor jester. But Lionheart, in a moment of pity, steps in to the rescue and, though he doesn't know what good it will do, snaps free the iron collar.
What happens next I cannot say, for I would hate to give away a good plot point, even with the spoiler warning at the top of the page!
I will say that I enjoyed very much inventing this character. He is the classic image of the weeping clown, a strange contrast to the idealized dream of a jester that Lionheart has in his head . . . and foreshadowing of the darkness to come when Lionheart at last achieves that dream. But the jester himself, while otherworldly, is not evil. He speaks warnings to Lionheart and, when his warnings prove useless, gives him hope of where he might find the answer to his great question.
"I need to know how to kill a dragon," Lionheart tells the jester.
"I must remain in your debt," the jester replies. "That knowledge I may not impart to you."
I believe a Faerie such as he will see to it that his debt is repaid. Maybe one day we will meet the liberated jester-slave again in the twisting paths of Goldstone Wood?