Please Help Support CTTA By Checking Out Our Sponsers Products

The jester proves once again that who is the fool depends on your point of view...


The Queen is not Amused




Ken Goldman


Fizzbain,  favorite fool and jester to the Queen of Hempstead,  was not such an imbecile that he did not recognize trouble when he saw it.  Tiny Elisabetta  had missed her pirouette during the difficult third movement of her performance of Le Triomphe de l' Amour.  She had landed painfully upon her ankle, and Fizzbain heard the snap of the prima ballerina's delicate bone even from where he sat at Queen Drucilla's feet. The young dancer had displayed obvious fatigue after a strenuous Port de Bras, and the radiant smile she had worn throughout the first two movements disintegrated into a twisted grimace of pain during the third. 

Still the diminutive ballerina danced even as her ankle swelled and grew purple,  reconstructing her lost smile for the benefit of the Queen and her court through eyes that had welled with tears.

Fizzbain's heart wrenched at the sight. He wondered at the admixture of pain and horror through which the beautiful young girl had conceived  those salty tears. The Fool dared not steal a glance at his Queen beneath whose throne he sat cross-legged on the silken floor cushion like a parti-striped crab.  But he knew well the countenance royalty wore when displeased.  There was not a living soul in the English provinces who could not read displeasure on that withered face.

The Queen raised her arm, and the music abruptly ceased.  Alone in the center of the royal court the ballerina stood, dwarfed by the vast hall and seeming to shrink as she remained fixed in place, fearful that even slight movement might incur Her Majesty's further displeasure.  No courtier dared applaud,  no guest uttered a sound, and the stillness of the palace rivaled that of a graveyard. The young dancer risked a dutiful curtsy in the cold silence, but she could not hide the lightning bolts of pain coursing through her body.

For a fleeting moment Fizzbain considered leaping to his feet and frolicking through the crowd to make light of the moment, in the hope that this might diminish the Queen's  anger and tilt the scales back in the poor damsel's favor.  Such delusions of heroism were, after all,  permissible even for a fool, as was the delusion that the girl might love him in return. But the uneasy silence surrounding him convinced the jester that such bravado was not the wisest course of action for a man who intended to wear his head on his shoulders by dawn's light. He might have even cried, but tears that seemed so out of place in the ballerina's eyes  hardly befit a clown.

Neither did his love for the beautiful dancer befit the fool, and like his tears, this too the jester kept to himself.

"Rise, foolish girl!"  spoke Drucilla in a voice that betrayed little of   the anger written on her face, for the many years of her reign had taught her that in all matters public, decorum was the first rule of royalty. Although the redness of her brow belied that belief, she spoke in a manner that suggested ice more than fire. 

"Your curtsy is an embarrassment to our guests," she added, while leaning forward on her throne. " . . . and such inept dancing is an insult to your Queen!  Rise, and be gone from this court!"

The Queen gave three sharp claps.  As if materializing from the air, two sentries in polished armor appeared on either side of the ballerina so suddenly that Fizzbain heard several ladies in the crowd stifle their gasps.  Elisabetta did not look at either of the guards; instead she kept her head bowed low as she walked the long aisle with them from the great hall. The guards flanked her like two metal behemoths while their booted footsteps reverberated throughout the court. Although the girl's steps faltered, neither soldier attempted to assist her.  The great doors slammed shut behind them, echoing throughout the  palace court like the roar of angry dragons.

The Queen looked down at the jester still crouched at her feet, and whispered to him as if the incident with the girl had never happened.  Had she thought to look, she would have noticed the clown's two clenched fists, fists he would have gladly unclenched to wrap around the Queen's throat had doing so enabled him to rescue  Elisabetta.  But such intrepidity would have been foolish even for a man who wore the cap and bells.

"And now, Fizzbain, perhaps my little fool may help erase this atmosphere of gloom with a bit of merriment? Come, make us laugh!"  From the way  Drucilla spoke,  one might have believed the Queen of Hempstead had given her fool a choice.

Fizzbain swallowed his anguish and feverishly sorted through his repertoire of tricks appropriate for the occasion, knowing  that a poor performance meant that he also might leave the Queen's court this evening flanked by two sentries, later joining Elisabetta somewhere in the bowels of the castle's dungeon-keep.

 A song perhaps, some frivolous little melody meant to tickle the  spirits of the lords and ladies of the court and fill the halls with roars of laughter? But one discordant note might remind his Queen of the embarrassment of Elisabetta's poor dancing, and the selection of a proper tune was always a tricky business, for Drucilla was not a great lover of music.

 Then, perhaps some acrobatics, maybe a bit of expert juggling and spinning of dinnerware guaranteed to please the whole assembly? But suppose he dropped one of the spinning plates?  Suppose in the midst of a somersault the jester miscalculated and landed ridiculously on his posterior?  Ah, but that was precisely what a fool did!  Might Fizzbain not be allowed some inexpertness precisely because of the capacity of his service?

On any ordinary evening he might, but not following on the heels - or more precisely, the broken ankle - of the unfortunate Elisabetta.  The crowd of nobles waited in polite silence for the jester to begin, but the idea stubbornly would not come to him.

Think!  By all that is holy, let not the inspiration fail me!  Think! 

The idea hit the jester with the strength of a thunderbolt.  Days earlier Fizzbain had spent a cold and rain swept evening in the hut of Goffredo the wizard, renown throughout England for his potions and spells.  The old mystic had found the little man in motley amusing, and while not given to disclosing his more precious secrets of sorcery, Goffredo was not unreasonable when it came to sharing a parlor trick or two.

"Be ye familiar with the ancient art of transcendent sleep?"  the mystic had asked the little clown whose bells tinkled as he shook his head that he was not. "Then pay heed,  my little friend, for I shall teach a trick  guaranteed to capture the imagination of even the most cynical among the Queen's audience . . ."

The wizard induced a trance upon the jester, some mystical manner of waking sleep that enabled the Fool to bleat like a sheep and growl like a lion, although Fizzbain had never recalled having the ability to do either.  When he reawoke with the memory of this fully intact he had only two words for Goffredo.

"Show me!" he pleaded.

And show him the wizard did.

Now the time had arrived for Fizzbain to show his Queen.

"A subject! I require a subject from among the noble lords and fair ladies of the court!" the jester cried to the assembly.  "Now let me see . . ." The little clown wandered among the crowd, taunting and tantalizing  the gentry playfully,  stopping at a member of the assembly  and staring long and hard as if pondering the person's suitability.

"Perhaps---you? "  he suggested to Lord Alfred, a rotund and jolly hunting companion of the King, but whose ribald witticisms left something to be desired among the more demure ladies.  " . . . or maybe ---you? " he suggested to Lady Esmerelda, the Duchess of Falmouth, a particularly ugly and skinny woman with a large wart on the tip of her nose, who would have made a poor subject for the company of noblemen with still unimpaired vision. Spinning dramatically around to Lady Anne, the beautiful and amply endowed young daughter of the Duke of Salem, the jester cried out, "---You! "  Now here was a subject certain to catch the eyes of the gentlemen and the curiosity of the ladies.

The girl squealed with delight, just as Fizzbain had expected she would.  He held his fool's scepter before the girl's eyes.

"Do you see the  doll's head of the little fool that sits atop my wand?" he asked Lady Anne.  "I want you to watch him . . . I want you to watch that little fool . . . watch him . . . watch him . . . " 

As he spoke he waved the scepter slowly  until he saw the girl's lids grow heavy and drop.  Goffredo's lesson had taken an instant to carry out to perfection, and Fizzbain stole a glance over his shoulder at Queen Drucilla in the certainty of receiving her approving smile.

But the clown would have preferred a Frenchman's pox to what he saw.  His Queen was not amused. Instead, she wore an expression as blank as a stone's. Perhaps this transcendent sleep had not been such a good idea after all,  but the jester was in this up to his chops now. 

Fizzbain calculated his next move cautiously, for one walked on treacherous ground when he risked bringing even the slightest shame to any woman born of noble blood, and the Fool did not intend his Queen's affection for him to wane further. Leaning forward he whispered into Lady Anne's ear so that only she could hear.

"You are  asleep, are you not, my Lady?"

"Why, of course!" she whispered back without the hint of a smile to indicate that she might be telling him less than the truth. Fizzbain licked his lips hoping that the daughter of the Duke were still innocent enough to be unaware of the art of deceit.

"Lords and ladies!" he addressed the court. "I give you a beautiful young noblewoman who, for the next several minutes at least, will have fallen hopelessly in love with a simple Fool---That is myself, your humble servant." He turned to Lady Anne and spoke to her. "When you awaken and hear me say 'Alas, my love!' you shall throw your arms about me and declare your ever-lasting love for me!  And now, my Lady shall awaken when she hears me snap my fingers . . . like so!"

The young girl's eyes flickered open, and blushing she looked  'round   as if confused.

"I-I believe--I must have fallen asleep!" she stammered with modest embarrassment befitting her rank. "I--I--please forgive me, but   I--"

The assembly howled and the girl's face reddened even more.

Reaching for his lyre Fizzbain added, "I have a song to sing for you, Lady Anne. Your beauty has touched my heart and inspired the muse within me."  He paused, and winking at the assembly he began.

 "Alas my love you have done me wrong to cast me out     discourteously . . ."

Lady Anne's face reddened, but this time not with the blush of girlish embarrassment.  Hunger came into her eyes. Her bosom heaved. She licked her lips, removing a silk handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbing it against her brow as if suddenly overtaken with heat. The girl's expression changed to that of a woman on fire whose desires had overtaken her reason.  Unable to restrain herself, she threw her arms around the jester and covered his face with kisses, making the awkward puckering sounds of one completely unfamiliar with the art of adult lovemaking.

"Oh, Fizzbain! I shall love you forever!" she moaned.

"Alas, my love, and so you shall!" the jester repeated with a wide grin, and the girl's entire body suddenly heaved in a most peculiar fashion. She threw herself directly upon him.

When the jester snapped his fingers again the girl stopped her kisses cold.  Shaking herself as if from a deep sleep, Lady Anne turned to the assembly in confusion and, realizing her arms remained tangled around the little clown, she released him with a shove.

"It appears  a young maid's 'forever' arrives much sooner than a Fool might have wished," spoke the jester with a shrug.

Thunderous laughter filled the hall, followed by even more thunderous applause.  Fizzbain bowed to his audience, bowed to Lady Anne, then turned to  his Queen. Surely now the smile would be upon her face

 But with one look at her the Fool's eyes bulged like an insect's at what he saw, and the lyre fell from his hands.

There sat his Queen licking her lips in the same manner as the girl had, her complexion even more flushed, the hunger in her eyes bordering on ravenous. One look at her face explained it all to Fizzbain.  In watching him perform the wizard's trick, somehow Drucilla had herself fallen under the spell of the jester's transcendent sleep!

"Oh, Fizzbain," she began. "I too shall---"

Interrupting before anyone in the assembly might complete the Queen's sentence for her, the Fool snapped his fingers behind his back so that only his Queen might hear. Nothing happened. He snapped again, this time harder. Nothing still. If anything, the look of hunger in the Queen's eyes had grown even more intense. 

"Oh, my sweet Fizzbain---"

The Fool reacted with the swiftness of a hunted rabbit. He scampered down the center aisle to divert his audience from the throne, and clapping his hands three times, the jester cried out, "Servants! Food servers!  The Queen's banquet begins!" 

Drucilla said nothing to contradict him, and her silence served as corroboration of the jester's announcement.  The assembly of lords and ladies filed from the great hall still laughing at the evening's entertainment, mercifully oblivious to the  sight behind them of royalty melting in the hot juices of her passion.

When the great court had emptied Fizzbain approached the throne. He looked up at Drucilla. Again he snapped his fingers, this time right under her nose.

"My Queen?" he asked.

"My love," she responded.




Hours past midnight the Queen called out, "Fizzbain!  Fizzbain!" from her sleeping chamber, causing  the Fool to wish he had joined the King  battling the Infidels rather than listening to the woman's shrieks. Once certain that sleep had overtaken her, he took to his horse in the dead of night and rode to the very outskirts of Hempstead to the sorcerer's dwelling. If the Queen's spell had worn off by morning, instead of calling for him, Fizzbain feared Drucilla would be calling for his head.

And what if the spell did not wear off? What if Drucilla's love spread through her heart like a malignancy? That was a possibility too horrible to consider.

Fizzbain crouched inside Goffredo's hut, miserable and shivering despite the sorcerer's hearth fire. "Either way, I am a dead man!"  the Fool moaned to the old sorcerer.  "And it is you who have made me so!"

"And what of the poor ballerina Elisabetta?"  Goffredo asked simply, his face illuminated by the crackling flames.

"Elisabetta?" asked Fizzbain. Shame touched his heart like a hot poker. In his own torment he had forgotten hers. "Why--why, she will probably spend a few nights in the dungeon accompanied by the rats and then be banished from Hempstead. Oh, I deserve the full measure of my fate for having forgotten her!  My companions should be the worms when this has ended!"

"Perhaps that may be," mused Goffredo.  "But you will have learned much  before that occurs, my friend. Tell me, have you not asked yourself why  the Lady Anne did not remain under the same spell as your Queen?"

In fact, Fizzbain had not  asked himself. The jester looked at the sorcerer and frowned like a schoolboy at his books.  "Is it for the same reason I had forgotten about poor Elisabetta? Does affection's magic spell break so easily?"

The wizard smiled at the words of the fool, for some things are better explained through wisdom than through magic.

"You are learning, my little friend. One does not often place his own heart second. No wizard's magic could make the Lady Anne's love last longer than the duration of a few sighs, for frivolity is the province of young girls. The Queen is another matter. Her beauty is a vague memory to her, and her heart demands the passion denied it.  The mere snap of your fingers cannot break a spell that Drucilla's heart, for its own sake,  does not wish broken."

Fizzbain fell to his knees. "Then I am surely a dead man!  For bringing her such disgrace the Queen shall serve my cod piece to the wolves while I am still in it! Worse, she may eat it herself!"

"Perhaps,"  the wizard considered. "But like the Queen's passion,  your concern for the little ballerina has not vanished so quickly either, and your  affection required no sorcerer's trick. The Queen's remedy we can find. I am not so certain about yours."  He  removed a vial from among many on his shelf and sniffed the murky contents, making certain he had selected the correct potion he sought. He handed the vial to the jester.

"More of your wizardry?" Fizzbain sneered.

"An antidote," spoke Goffredo. "Every sickness has its cure, and the Queen's love is a fever feeding on itself.  Once the Queen drinks this she will remember nothing, save the excellent performance of her especial jester this past evening. Drucilla will be as you remember her."

Fizzbain considered this, weighing the Queen's former temperament against her present ardor. Neither choice was especially pleasant.

"She will not call out my name in the night?" the jester asked.

"Only when she wishes to laugh," Goffredo replied.

The Fool's brain went immediately to work.  He pictured the steaming pot of tea the Queen's chambermaid, Emma,  brought to Drucilla every morning at first daylight.  The deed would not be difficult to accomplish.  He grasped the vial and stuffed it into his shirt. Preparing to leave,  he turned to the wizard.

"Answer me this, Goffredo. Is there anything that might go amiss with this potion similar to your trick of transcendent sleep?  Will you make room for my head on that shelf with your various brews should the Queen drink this and  moments later transform into a giant newt?"

The wizard laughed heartily.  It had always been the sad fate of the  Fool that even a sorcerer could not recognize when he was perfectly serious.




Fizzbain returned to the castle with the speed of a man possessed by demons.  He had much to do  before dawn's light, but one task demanded precedence.  The jester visited the dungeon-keep, for he had determined to spare the ballerina one more minute in this dank rat-infested place. The Fool doubted little that his life would not be worth a ha'penny when this was over. Such heroics come easily to one with nothing to lose. 

The prison guard was fast asleep, just as the jester had expected, and fortunately Fizzbain needed no explanations to search the darkness for the girl. There were few empty cells in the bowels of the palace, for the Queen took offense easily and punished frequently.

During a night filled with  bewilderment, there remained one more as Fizzbain held up his lantern to each stinking compartment.

Elisabetta was not in any of them.


He would ask Drucilla about the ballerina the moment the Queen had taken her tea, but now that same tea required the Fool's full attention. He hastened to the door of the royal bed chamber dreading the first words the woman within might utter when she awakened.  Hearing her cry "Fizzbain! Where is Fizzbain?" he ground his palms into his ears.

  The chambermaid arrived with the tea kettle.  As the Queen's wails for her jester persisted, Emma stared at the cringing clown as if expecting an explanation.

"All night long the Queen calls for you," the maidservant replied. "And now she rises with your name on her lips?  Fool,  logic seems to have deserted this place."

Fizzbain sneered back at her. "What does a Fool know of logic?"  Something over the girl's shoulder seemed to suddenly catch his attention, and a smile smeared across his face.  "Why, Emma. Is that Tom the cook I see at the staircase with his eye on you?"  As the chambermaid turned to look, Fizzbain poured the wizard's potion into the tea pot.

"Cook? I see no cook," replied Emma, but when she turned back to the jester he was gone.

Fizzbain lingered beneath the staircase waiting for the maidservant to leave, then carefully he entered the royal chamber. Drucilla sat upright in her bed about to sip her first cup of tea, but noticing him at the door she put down the cup and smiled in a way that threatened to crack the dried flesh of her face.

"You have come to me!" she cried, hardly able to contain her joy. "Come, Fizzbain, sit here beside your Queen. I have something to tell you that is so very sad."   This she said without the smile leaving her lips.

The jester sat alongside her, staring at the canopy above him so as not to look into her smiling face.  Hearing her sip the tea  Fizzbain grinned at the slurping sounds she made.

"Do you remember that silly girl last evening, that clumsy ballerina who made such a fool of herself during last night's gathering?"  she asked.          


Fizzbain scratched his head as if trying to remember,  pretending that a Fool's brain had little room for such detail. His heart raced with a stallion's fury, but his face revealed nothing.

  "Well, it is no matter," continued the Queen. "For, you see, unable to sleep last night and filled with love for you, I visited the dungeon-keep and ordered the guards to release her at once.  I told the girl it was my love for a Fool that had induced my  foolish heart to display mercy, for I saw how you enjoyed her dancing last night, incompetent as it was. The poor girl cried out your name that same moment.  Why, I would swear the dancer's love for you had equaled my own!"


And another sip.

"You--you released her?" the jester asked, disbelieving this stroke of fortune, but he was careful not to smile. "Your show of mercy is sad news indeed, my Queen. Perhaps if you remain in bed  it shall pass."

The Queen's next few sips were loud and hardly displayed royalty. She reached for the little clown, clutching him so tightly his bells played a symphony in her bed.

"No, no, poor Fool!" the Queen cried with a curious mixture of emotions impossible to define. "It is not the girl's story that is sad. It is yours!  My irrational behavior last night is the cost of love! I know not why I feel such love for a Fool, I know only that I do.  And as long as I feel this foolish love, such behavior will continue! I shall be laughed immediately out of my kingdom, if I am not first beheaded by the King.  Fizzbain,  this I can never permit."

The Queen pulled the jester even closer to her so that their faces nearly touched.  Fizzbain could not tell whether the fires of passion or rage burned in her eyes as she spoke.

 "Immediately following last night's fete I spoke to the headman. I ordered the garroter to remove your head the moment you leave my chamber. That is the reason I called out your name throughout the night.  I am afraid that the cost of reclaiming my dignity must be your head!"

"My head?"  he asked.  "It is a foolish head, filled with foolish thoughts!  Why would you want a fool's  head?"

"In exchange for a queen's heart." 

Fizzbain pulled himself free. Unable to speak,  he tried to think. But the Queen's words were a hall of mirrors.  By loving a fool she had become a fool herself. She had shown mercy and she despised the weakness in herself for having shown it.

She loved him, and she hated herself for loving him!

Like cheap pottery these thoughts rattled inside the jester's head, a head that soon would lie inside the executioner's straw basket.  But there was something he had momentarily forgotten.  Something important that Fizzbain had overlooked . . .

 . . . Her love for him had also set Elisabetta free!

 And something else, something else . . .

. . . the tea!

Suddenly the Queen's eyes rolled inside her head, her body shook, and the tea cup spilled from her hand.  The wizard's brew had finally taken its hold!  Perhaps there was hope that the headman's basket might remain empty this morning.  He watched Drucilla convulse for many moments until, beaded with sweat, she turned to him as if awakening from a deep sleep.

"My Queen?" he asked.

"My fool!" she responded, and swung her head about as if shaking off cobwebs. "What a fever I have had. And such dreams! I could swear I had spoken to the headman about the matter of removing your head this very morning!"

"And why might a queen desire a fool's head?" asked Fizzbain, repeating his former question, but the queen's flushed face and averted eyes suggested this part of her dream she did not wish to share.

Fortune had again smiled upon Fizzbain. But Fortune still required a little help from him.

The jester uttered a convincing moan.  "Well, this may have been a dream to you, perhaps, but not to the garroter who sharpens his axe even as we speak!  He knows not that the words you uttered were not the words of his waking Queen who, while in her sleep, spoke to the man last night!"

The Queen struggled to remember the strange dream, but already her memory had clouded, just as Goffredo had said. She spoke almost apologetically.

 "I will see to it, Fizzbain.  Call for the garroter at once, and I will tell him there shall be no fools beheaded this morning."

Before the woman had completed her sentence the jester had already catapulted himself halfway to the door. Miraculously, the world had managed to set itself right.

Reaching for her stately robes and the jeweled crown Drucilla kept alongside her bed, she stood before the mirror to ascertain the image of a queen appeared reflected in the glass. While she reconstructed a semblance of royalty to her face, the reflected mirror image seemed to stir another memory of  her dream.

"Fizzbain, wait!" she cried, spinning around to face him. "You must also call for the prison guards. I must undo another imprudent act at once!"

The jester stopped himself cold at the half-open door, and turned to hear more of his Queen's command.

"Such a world we inhabit when we sleep!" she snapped at him, displaying the familiar irritability the jester had known so well. "In my sleep-walk to the dungeon I foolishly released the ballerina last night! It is ill-befitting for a Queen to show mercy when insulted. I must inform my guards to comb Hempstead for that girl, and when they bring her here I shall have her broken ankle cut off!  Her graceless dancing shall never again offend this kingdom!"

The jester closed the door of the bed chamber and watched  the Queen busying herself at her mirror.  She was again his Queen, he was again her fool, and Elisabetta . . .

He pictured Elisabetta's eyes wet with tears, her face contorted in pain. And he pictured her crying out his name in her dark cell.

Why, I would swear the dancer's love for you had equaled my own, Drucilla had said. But that was incorrect.  Elisabetta's love had required no sorcerer's trick.

 Nor had his.

"You were right, Goffredo," Fizzbain muttered to himself, clenching his fists. "I have learned much . . ."

Without a word he approached Drucilla, noticing her bejeweled scepter as it lay in its golden case upon the Queen's dressing table.  Removing it he caressed the wand in his hands.  He touched the Queen's shoulder with it, and she turned to him.

"Why, Fizzbain what is that you're doing with  my ---?"

Fizzbain smiled at his Queen like a dutiful servant.

"Your majesty, I request only a moment of your time for a little trick I have learned.  Now, if you will just watch this red stone that rests atop your royal scepter . . . just watch  . . . watch  . . .  for only a moment longer, because  I  would like to sing you this little   song . . . "


Fizzbain sang quickly. He did not want to keep the Queen's executioner waiting.