I haven’t been writing much here because I am taking wild leap and writing a story that *might* turn into something more. So here is the first few pages. Opinions welcome, but don’t be too mean!
Arelia watched as her Fool morphed into a frog, then a snake, and finally a small rodent before he regained his normal form of a twelve year old boy. She was so used to his sudden morphing that she didn’t bother to pause in her rant about the lack of freedom she suffered. Jason, her Fool, was her constant companion, his purpose was to keep her entertained and out of trouble. She knew she vexed him beyond self control when she complained, bitterly, about her fate. Hence, the constant and rapid changes taking place before her eyes. But it simply was not fair that her fate was set in such a way that she could not take a short cut, evade, or refuse the road set before her. Up until her naming day last week, she could dismiss the fate as something in the far distance. However, she was now 16 summers old, and her naming day was the final day of freedom.
Arelia knew she was spoiled, and as far as spoiled princesses go, she wasn’t all that bad. Although, she did have a temper, and she had a wicked way of saying things that were cutting when she was angry. The entire country knew she could easily provoke a Holy One to lose its temper with her antics. It was not, as she often pointed out to the long suffering Fool, her fault people kept annoying her with nonsense and boring court functions. After all, a princess should have some control over her own choices.
She was still fuming and stomping back and forth across the stone floor of her bower when Fool got himself back under control. The creature he morphed into often reflected his thoughts. The frog was his inner fear that he would be stuck with Arelia forever, while the snake represented his disgust with the powers that made his fate twine with hers, and the rodent was the not so subtle refection of his feelings about the entire creepiness of the fawning members of the court. Nonetheless, Fool had heard the entire diatribe because when he morphed he didn’t the lose senses of his humanity.
As he watched Arelia work herself into a fine tizzy, he pulled his smock and trews back on, and began to search for his shoes. The most embarrassing thing about uncontrolled morphing was the sudden loss of clothing. Fortunately, his small clothes seemed to morph along with his body, but standing around in his under wear whilst searching for his clothes did leave him feeling rather at a loss for decorum. Being trapped in the body of a twelve year old boy, when he was really a man long grown also rankled. No one, not one single person in the Keep paid any attention to anything he said. As long as he was doing his job of Fool, they ignored him, or, in the case of a few of the young men, shoved him aside in contempt.
Arelia wound down from her snit eventually. Thankfully, for Fool, it was in time for him to prepare for the evening. There were more visitors and suiters than normal since the princess had just passed her naming day. The suitors were more underfoot than a starving hound. Every time he turned a corner, yet another swain was leaning against the wall in feigned lethargy with mooning eyes. When they saw it was only Fool, the pose would disappear until they thought they heard the light footsteps of the newly minted woman of the Keep. It was all Fool could do not to morph at their ridiculous behavior as it irked him beyond measure.
The Lord sat at the head table with his Queen and retinue laughing with the fathers of the young Lords. Although the atmosphere was jovial, the undercurrent clearly stated the seriousness of the courting at hand. Arelia was their only daughter, and the Lord and his Lady planned to make sure they got every bit of gold that she was worth. And she was worth a great deal since she would inherit the title of Queen and all the holdings as was the custom in Balewicks. The object of discussion spent the evening trying to escape the clutches of the suitors and their unwanted attention. She eventually settled between Fool and her childhood Nurse to maintain a measure of safety. Still seething about the news that she was supposed to choose one of the pimply faced, obnoxious twits as a husband, Arelia made no attempt to pay attention to any of them. She knew her father and mother would expect an announcement by week’s end, and her fertile mind went round and round, doing its best to find a way to stop the inevitable nightmare of being married to someone she barely knew and certainly did not love. Her mother told her that love would come after the marriage, or at least mutual respect, but a future Queen had no right to expect to actually marry for love. In her heart Arelia knew her mother had to be wrong. She had to be. Before she gave into her despair or temper, she prodded Fool and told him to do something to distract her.
Fool had just downed the last of the meat on his trencher, he took a deep drink of his ale, climbed on the table. Thinking furiously, he tuned his small harp and began to sing a drinking song that soon had the people in the hall bellowing the chorus at the top of their lungs. As ladies were present, it wasn’t all that bawdy, but the men appreciated the meaning. Fool wasn’t all that great a singer, but he knew a great number of tunes and twiddles with which to entertain the folks around him. And if that failed to do the job, he could always morph and mock, or mock and morph as the case may be. All the while the music and song was going on, Fool was watching those around him with a sharp eye. He felt, in his deepest bones, that something was not quite right. Shifting from the drinking song into a ballad, he exaggerated the love song with longing sighs and batting eyelids, mocking the very thing that the song spoke of. The longer evening went on, the more dissonance Fool felt, as if there was a string out of tune just enough to irritated the ears of the player. Still, he could not lay his eyes or his fingers on the dissonance.
The more the men drank, the louder they sang. Eventually, the ladies withdrew, and the men began to sing truly bawdy songs from days of marching armies when men had only a bottle of spirits to keep him warm late at night. Fool played until his fingers hurt, and then he played even longer until the men began to fall asleep in the great hall. Wrapping themselves in their cloaks, they simply rolled up against the wall and began to snore. A few of the lucky ones found a dog or a willing maid to curl up next to them, and even fewer found a place near the great fireplace to help them stay warm.
Fool quietly jumped down from the table and headed up to his usual spot outside Arelia’s chamber door. Placing his foot on the stair, he heard a muffled squeal and a loud thump followed by more muffled speech. There was the trouble he’d been waiting for all night. Off he went at a dead run, forgetting that he was supposed to be the clumsy Fool. On the landing he heard a slam against the door to Arelia’s chamber. As his hand touched the latch, the door flew open and a young princeling flew out and dashed up against the opposite wall. Giving Fool the most peculiar look, he slowly slid down in a heap on the floor. Dreading what he would see, Fool inwardly braced himself as he turned back to the door.
Arelia stood in the doorway, hair standing on end like a mad cat, hands clinched into fists, and a rage filled countenance that would frighten the most stalwart of men. “He . . . that little . . . he tried to kiss me!” She scrubbed her hand over her mouth then spit at the limp body. “Is he dead? I hope to the Holy Ones that he is dead!” Arelia suddenly realized she was standing in the corridor in her night dress as she grabbed Fool and hissed at him to get inside before anyone else came along. “Do you not think,” he ventured carefully, “that we should make sure he is not dead?” She gave him a withering look, shoved him inside and slammed the door.