Having gone to considerable lengths to get myself out of rags and into the Castle, the last thing I wanted to do, for any reason, was put the stinking things on again. As jester Shankshave’s apprentice I had three clean jerkins, two new tunics, a pair of Hunnish leggings, and even soft leather sandals for my feet. I slept on clean straw and three times a day I ate food not gifted with movement. I also had the security of a position within the Castle, a real position that was neither intruder nor outlaw. And this is precisely why I would have to do as Shankshave ordered. For my place here depended entirely on my being his assistant. God’s baubles and bollocks!
Thus far we’d always practiced our performances outside, I hadn’t actually seen the chamber in which we were to perform Shankshave’s satire. We came from behind a huge tapestry and entered the area that lay at the back of the stage. I’d never before seen such a huge piece of cloth, not even when dreaming of sailing ships, or as a boy peering up at the Lords war banners unfurled atop the battlements. Now I stood close enough to catch the musty smell of the thing as we pulled it aside. I craned my neck and stared upwards as we passed through the tapestry. It disappeared into the vault of the chamber’s ceiling far above my head. Everything about the lords and their Castle seemed to reach upwards, as if seeking to brush against the very belly of Heaven.
Still, I couldn’t help feeling depressed and not a little afraid to be wearing rags again, even these clean ones Shankshave called a costume. But this feeling was as nothing compared to the shock I got when, in the area behind the stage, I came across a full-length sheet of metal polished so perfectly that it reflected my image. I’d never seen anything like it, it almost seemed some device of demons. It was so wondrous that I worried I might be endangering my immortal soul just by looking into it. I just stood there with my mouth open and for the first time in my life looked at my full reflection. I’d seen my face, even my head and shoulders reflected in a mill pond, but nothing like this. A great sadness came over me. Even though the shambling, filthy wretch reflected was a good deal less dung-covered than a true hutter, still I looked like a big, walking clod of shit.
Shankshave spoke and I jumped.
“’Sblood Ulf, stand not there with your mouth agape catching flies. We have little time. Do you not hear the lords assembling on t’other side of yonder curtain.”
He pointed to a faded and patched crimson cloth that hung in drapes. Set on the floor before it were the props we’d used to rehearse our play.
“That curtain has a shoddy look to it.” I said, not sure why I had spoken thus. Perhaps nerves forced my tongue ahead of my brain. I make a mental note to guard against such dangerous tendencies. In other circumstances a hasty mouth could easily spell disaster.
“Oh to be sure, young Ulf, you have a keen eye. But a half filled mind. Yon curtain is that way on purpose. Do you think that it is so shoddy on the side viewed by the lords and bishops? No, ‘tis that way to remind us mummers of our true standing.”
“Our true standing?”
“Aye. For there have been certain actors in the past who did become somewhat lost in the parts they played. That curtain is there to remind us that we are but varlets compared to the lords. An actor is barely considered above an outlaw or a trickster.”
Yet still, far above a hutter, I thought.
“Have you your lines in your head, Ulf?”
For the most part my “lines” consisted of little more than shrieking and gibbering, with only the occasional short clump of crude words. I nodded assent.
“Of course master. For was not my teacher none other than your good self?”
He stared at me.
“You are developing a tendency towards a slippery tongue. Have a care it does not one day lead you to the scaffold. Now take your position.”
He moved onto the stage and fussed around the props, moving this one and then that an inch or two to one side or the other. Then he turned and took a final look around.
“Well. Good luck lad. Maketh it real.”
He stepped forward, parted the curtain, with a flourish, and stepped beyond it.
I stood there alone, quaking in my rags. What were my lines? I couldn’t remember a single one, not even where I was supposed to grunt. I could hear Shankshave’s muffled voice from the other side of the curtain, rising and dipping as he set the scene. What scene? What was the first scene? Was it where I’m being created in an inferior version of God’s image to that of the lords and Bishops? Or did we start with me personally being responsible for bringing into the world the various plagues that have cursed mankind since we were cast from the Garden? Or did we start at the end and work backwards?
I heard a sudden trumpet blast and a drum began to beat, slow and menacing. The curtain parted and the hall of the lords was before me. I stood in rags and gawped at the unimaginable splendor of that chamber. I became aware of a hissing sound. I tore my gaze away from torchlit tapestries so lush that the scenes woven into them almost seemed to move, away from the glint of gold and silver, of sapphire and ruby, dragged my eyes unwillingly away from the deep plush red of velvet seats, the backs of which soared up to perfectly frame the faces of the lords, ladies and bishops seated upon them. I stared at Shankshave’s enpurpled mask of rage and then, as if kicked from behind, I shambled out into the middle of the stage and the first lines came of their own volition to my lips.
Causes Luke James Supports
Doctors Without Borders