Tuesday, January 31, 2012

J is for Jester

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?


Eszter said...

The Faerie jester confused me at first, because like Lionheart, I thought jesters were supposed to be funny and happy. I felt sorry for him. Made me want to give him a hug. :)I wondered at how he even became captured by that jerk of a Duke (which I never liked even in Heartless) .
I didn't know about Faeries had an aversion to iron. Does the folklore say why? Its really curious. And interesting. Maybe thats how he became captured? Like Superman, someone tied him with the one metal that it can't remove? Hmmm....:)
Will we see the sad jester in the future?

Rina said...

I hope we meet the liberated jester-faerie again! He seems like such an interesting character whose history and life would be a great story of it's own. Since he said his debt was unpaid I guess he'll have contact with Lionheart again, but somehow I don't expect it.
He seems like a spirit who goes where he pleases (unless captured by iron of course) and doesn't care about the trouble of mortals (though since he was among them for so long maybe he'll pay attention more).
I rather expect him to come into the story as a character moving behind the scenes (in that dreamish world) to aid Lionheart.

Christa said...

That's a good question, Eszter. Why is iron painful to Faerie folk? I don't know much about the folklore. I tried Wikipedia, but they don't have much information there.

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

There is no absolute reason that I know of to explain the Faerie aversion to iron (which is supposed to be like poison to them). The myth originated with Celtic fairy tales, and the Celts were the ones to introduce iron to Britain, so there might be a link there. I would have to explore it further, though! It's an old superstition . . . the reason horseshoes are considered lucky, because folks back in the day would nail them over their doors to ward off evil faeries. I should do a little more research and write a future article on this topic though, shouldn't I? :)

Clara said...

I felt so sorry for the poor Jester...I hope we see him again!

Barka said...

Any thought of producing a map of the world of the Tales of Goldstone Wood? Given Lionheart's travels, I would certainly find it helpful. Of course, some of the locations mentioned wouldn't be on the map...

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

@Barka: Probably not until the series is much closer to completion. I have maps of my own that I use for reference, but still so early in the series, I'd hate to publish a map and then be tied down to something hard and fast! But maybe someday down the road . . . :)