A toothless man at the banquet, I didn't even try. I could have sucked on a cob of corn but the spectacle would be so grim that I thought it more dignified to feign disinterest. How hungry I was though at all those banquets but retaining what small amount of dignity I had superseded my howling appetite. Dignity is important to a man who has little of it. I was a figure of fun you see. Not just toothless but of diminished proportions, with crooked spine and vacant sac. The court freak, eunuch and fool. Designed specially to be a debased thing. Something so stigmatised as to have nothing to lose. A man debarred from full participation in life so as to better reveal, through mocking revelry, some unspoken truths. A safe outlet for unsafe notions, it was my role to play the jester and I was both happy and sad to do it.
I didn't much enjoy the ways of the court. The puffed up arrogance of the king and those who sat at his table was anathema to me. I made them laugh but found their guffaws unrewarding. I made my jokes for the friends I had, the dancers, the odd guard, the handmaidens – some of the latter I futilely held feelings for but all of whom glad eyed the handsome young prince and his trusty knave.
I would sit each night and await my turn. Unimpressed by the proceedings but finding solace in the glimpses of cloud moving across the beautiful moon in the high window above me. That was enough. Well almost enough. There was that and there was the thought of my final joke. A joke that was of such searing satiric wit and cruel honesty that it would upset the state of the court and make the king look a bigger fool than even I. A joke that would reduce this swaggering, self-entitled tyrant to a status lower than my own. My words would reveal him for what he truly was, nothing. Nothing at all but a big, fat, ignorant, vicious fool.
The night came when I was to make my joke. I had skirted dangerously close to this kind of thing before and earned myself a night in the stocks but tonight, this night, I was going to risk the noose. If my joke worked, and I was sure it would, I would be safe as the king would be the one deposed and dragged to the chopping block. I had seen and heard a lot because my eyes and ears were considered to be of no matter but that was an unwise assumption. Tonight I would reveal all.
My turn came and I took my position in the centre of the court. I rattled my bells and bowed and my audience both applauded and jeered. I inhaled deeply. I opened my mouth and my words, the words of my joke, came out. My words came out, one after another, and combined into a form of syntactical sedition the likes of which had heretofore never been heard. My joke flowed from my head and hung manifest before all. There was a silence. It was obvious that it was sinking in. And then came the laughter I had expected but not of the flavour I desired. A jester is so expert at soliciting laughter that he can tell the flavour of that laughter and this was the wrong kind. The laughter that ensued was not a laughter derisive of authority but a barely comprehending laughter of disbelief. How could this fool make such fanciful claims about one so honourable? They found the very notion absurd and that is why they laughed. Everyone laughed but no one got the joke. They didn't see the truth in it. I took my bow, went back to my corner and nothing changed at all.
Later that night, as the performing bear demeaned itself, I snuck from the court. I went out into the night and left the grounds. A guard who was a friend lowered the drawbridge for me and I exited the castle. On the other side I told the guard to pull the drawbridge up again. He asked if I was sure and I insisted that I was. He did so and then I was alone. The cold stone structure stood behind me, silently, and before me was the forest. A row of trees and between them only darkness. Thick black darkness. I did not know what awaited me amongst the branches and the trunks but I had heard that a place lay beyond. I had heard there was a light and that it led somewhere. I wasn't sure I believed it but I had to see if it was true. I had grown so tired of being the wrong shape. I had grown so weary of communicating through cryptic jest. Some loved me for it but that was no longer compensation enough. I thought how I would miss my friends and how I might never again see the moon. I walked ahead nonetheless. Whether this dark forest lead me to somewhere or lead me to nowhere, it would lead me to freedom.
And lead me to freedom the forest did for the moment I stepped through its foliage I was set upon and beheaded by a large black bear – the furious mother of the one performing inside the castle. I knew this bear was the other's mother because, as I entered the world of spirits, I knew all. I rose up and looked down. I saw through the stone castle walls and saw the court without me. I saw through the flesh and into the souls of the men and women within and I saw that I was sorely missed, even by the king. Yes, the king was the one who missed me most. I was his only release from the pomposity he was forced to observe by lineage. The swagger and arrogance was all an act. Within the rolls of royal fat there resided a man who longed to be loved and not feared. He had to put a face on it because inside his heart wept and no one wants a weeping king. He so enjoyed my mockery of him as he considered it mockery of the false him, an outward self that he too despised. He even had disdain for the way he was forced to put me in the stocks the odd time lest I topple his crown. A king without a crown is a dead man. He was so fearful and lonely. He needed me as did all the others. The handmaidens whose heartbreaking unrequited glad eyeing of the prince and his knave would at best be rewarded by perfunctory and mechanistic copulation because the prince and his knave had, in fact, a great loneliness of their own to endure for they were glad eyeing each other. A forbidden desire that would bring disgrace and was punishable by death. The guards who were to stand all day and appear fierce had sorrow in their hearts too for all they wanted was to rest and drink and sing a while like those they protected. The dignitaries of the court who bit into the meat and drank heartily from the goblets were also miserable for they were something that would one day come to be called bulimic and they would end each evening discretely vomiting into the moat. Not only that but they were only pretending to revel for fear that to be seen to do otherwise would cause them to be suspected malcontents.
Oh, such a palace of melancholy.
And I perceived, as I faded from the physical plane, that I was regarded by those in the court not as something debased but as themselves distilled. They loved me because I was a manifestation of the honest parts of themselves. I could say what they truly thought for them and they could laugh at the world and at themselves. I was not some diminutive, hunched, emasculated figure of fun that served as a safe outlet for unsafe thoughts. Nay, I was a tonic. I was something to help see them through their days. Days that comprised of so much pity, fear and despair concealed so as to preserve some semblance of dignity. Oh dignity, it had meant so much to me once and how I realise now that it was chief contributor to my discontent. I should have rejoiced in my lack of dignity and encouraged others to do the same. They deserved as much, the wretches, but I had abandoned them. I had taken light from what small amount there was in that stone construction in the centre of the dark forest that goes on and on and on, all around, for as far as the eye can see. I had forsaken my calling and I was imbued with bitter regret as I ascended toward my beautiful friend the moon.
I took one last look down and I saw that there was some happiness in the court at least but just a sliver. This small happiness was found in the performing bear for the bear knew that soon his persecutors would collapse from inebriation and that, even though tethered by a chain, he could reach out with his claws and gut every last one of them before the guards got to him. This was the last thing I saw as I followed the light away from the world and it gladdened me some because I knew that soon I would be entertaining my friends again when we gathered together in the happier court of the hereafter.