Read The Lark's Lament: A Fools' Guild Mystery Online

Authors: Alan Gordon

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Fiction, #Historical, #Mystery & Detective

The Lark's Lament: A Fools' Guild Mystery

BOOK: The Lark's Lament: A Fools' Guild Mystery
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Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Epigraph

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Historical Note

Acknowledgments

Also by Alan Gordon

Copyright

 

To my own Fools’ Guild,

my fellow members of the Legal Aid Society of New York.

Friends, scholars, warriors.

 

I’m sure you know that picture well,

A monk, all else unheeding,

Within a bare and gloomy cell

A musty volume reading;

While through the window you can see

In sunny glade entrancing,

With cap and bells beneath a tree

A jester dancing, dancing.


ROBERT WILLIAM SERVICE
,

“ROOM 5: THE CONCERT SINGER”

ONE

Here come the jesters, one, two, three.

—BAD COMPANY, “ROCK AND ROLL FANTASY”

“Hag!” I screamed at my wife as she ran from me. “Foul harridan!”

“Bastard!” she screamed back, dashing to the far side of the fire. “Ill-smelling cur!”

“I will teach you manners, woman,” I growled, holding up an iron saucepan. “I will teach you to obey your husband.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” she snapped.

“Wouldn’t I?”

I whirled it around my head three times and whipped it across the fire at her head. At the last possible moment, she stepped to the side and caught it by the handle, the force of the throw spinning her around completely.

A second spin added just enough speed to the pan to send it flying back at my chest. I caught it clumsily with both hands, but the impact sent me reeling back. I tripped, fell backwards into a somersault that left me sitting, dazed, with the saucepan now perched on my head.

My wife laughed uproariously as I regained my feet.

“So, woman,” I began, pointing at her; then there was a loud clang as something hit the pan from behind me. I stumbled around, clutching my head, then turned to see Helga standing at the edge of the firelight, a broom raised in both hands. It was the stick end that had rung my pan so resoundingly.

“You leave my mother alone!” she barked, and I had to restrain myself from smiling because it was a perfect impression of my wife.

“So, little girl, you think you are too old for a spanking?” I sneered.

“If I’m a little girl, how could I be too old for anything?” she asked.

“Well, because…” Then I stopped, confused by the question. “Never mind. Put down that broom, or there will be hell to pay.”

“You want this broom? Then take it from me,” she cried. She ran toward me and suddenly planted the broom handle into the dirt, using it to vault into the air. She landed with both feet on my shoulders. I grabbed her ankles to steady them; then her skirts settled over my face, blocking my view of the world.

“Am I too old to do this?” she shouted, and she started pummeling me with the business end of the broom.

I staggered around as she kept hitting me, veering perilously close to the fire as the children in the audience screamed in terrified delight. Helga rode my shoulders like a Minoan acrobat, then leapt into the air, flipping over the broom and landing easily on her feet as the crowd applauded.

“Finally, I can see you, brat,” I said.

“But you can’t see behind you,” she retorted, and I turned just in time to take an oversized club on the noggin, courtesy of my good wife. I toppled like a tree, and the two females planted their right feet on my back.

“And that, ladies, is how you teach obedience to your husband,” concluded Claudia, and the men roared and the women cheered. Claudia and Helga hauled me to my feet, and we held hands and bowed together, the saucepan falling to the ground before me.

Helga grabbed a tambourine and darted around the crowd, begging for their hard-earned pennies while I dashed over to our wain to fetch our lutes. Portia looked at me nervously, sitting on the lap of the girl we had hired to watch her for the evening.

“Everything is fine, poppet,” I assured her. “Papa was just pretending. Papa’s not hurt at all.”

She seemed dubious. I leaned forward and kissed her on the tip of her nose, and she suddenly smiled, that six-toothed grin that stopped my heart every time.

“Kiss Papa on the nose,” I said, and she planted a wet smack on my nose that probably did nothing good for the whiteface coating it. “All better.”

I ran back to the fire and tossed Claudia her lute.

“And now, good people of Le Cannet,” I shouted. “We will close with a song written by one of the greatest troubadours I have ever come across, a man who was born in a great city south of here: Folquet of Marseille.”

I raised my hand and brought it down on the lutestrings, singing:

O give me leave, fair lady mine,

For I have worshipped at your shrine.

I saw your face, your lips divine,

And Cupid’s swift arrows are stinging.

Then Claudia sang:

Now, get you gone, O suitor mine,

I know full well that men are swine

Who only want their maids supine,

Sweet pillows on which to be springing.

Then I sang:

Return my love, fair lady mine,

A married life will suit me fine.

Just say you’ll let our loves combine,

Then Heavenward I will be winging.

Then she sang:

Let other lovers wait in line.

Just yesterday, I turned down nine.

But since our fates you’d intertwine,

Then at your side I will be clinging.

Then we both sang:

So let us welcome God’s design,

So long as sun and moon both shine,

And long as there are joy and wine,

Then we’ll have a reason for singing.

The crowd applauded madly, and a few more coins flickered into view like shooting stars out of the darkness.

“I am Tan Pierre,” I shouted, catching them. “This is my wife, Domna Gile, and our daughter, Helga. We are the Fool Family, and we thank you!”

We bowed again, then began to collect our gear and store it on the wain, chatting with those who came to see us up close and sweaty. The fire had been built in the center of the little square of the town, a small collection of stone buildings on top of a hill with a wall running around it. A church looked out at us from one end, and a square, fortified stone
maison
with three levels loomed over the other, the wall circling around it like the prow of a ship, ready to take on all comers.

Bertrand, the local seigneur, came up clapping his hands as the villagers drifted off to their houses or down the hill to their farms. “Marvelous, Fools, just marvelous,” he chortled. “I have not laughed like that in an age of ages.”

“Then we have fulfilled our purpose,” I said, bowing. “And we thank you for graciously permitting us to entertain your village.”

“Oh, that was the best part of it all,” he said. “To have something like this, and not even a feast day! Why, they will think me the very soul of benevolence.”

“And so you are,” said Claudia. “So many lords would not deign to waste their peasants’ time with the likes of us.”

“As their lord, I consider them my children,” he said grandly. “Does not every parent wish to keep their children happy?”

“We certainly do,” said Claudia, taking Portia and giving her evening’s guardian a penny, which the girl accepted with awe.

“Two daughters,” said Bertrand, looking from Portia to Helga with delight. “I myself have six boys.”

“I bow to your superior efforts,” I said as Claudia and Helga squealed in outrage.

“A daughter would have been a welcome change,” he said. “Someone to outsmart me and keep me on my toes.”

“They certainly do that,” agreed Claudia as I threw the last prop on the wain.

I helped Claudia and Helga up, then took Zeus’s reins quickly before he had a chance to bite me.

“Lead on, milord,” I said.

He fell into step by me and we walked around his
maison
down the slope to the stables. “The hay in the loft is fresh and dry,” he said. “It should be comfortable enough.”

“More than enough, milord.”

“You know, that troubadour friend of yours lives not far from here,” he remarked.

“Folquet? Here?” I exclaimed in surprise. “I didn’t know he still lived. I’ve heard nothing about him in ten years. Does he still sing as magnificently as he once did?”

“I have never heard him sing,” he replied. “He’s at the abbey at Le Thoronet.”

“He joined the Cistercians?”

“Not only joined,” he said. “He’s the abbot there.”

My jaw must have been hanging below my neck. He started laughing at my expression; then I joined him.

“Truly a marvelous world,” I said when I was able to catch breath. “The Folquet I knew was hardly a candidate for holy orders.”

“It strikes suddenly with some men,” he said. “I would not have guessed a family of fools to be so religious, yet here you are, returning from pilgrimage.”

“We wanted to have the baby blessed in Rome,” I said as I unhitched Zeus and carefully put him in an empty stall.

“Did the Pope bless her himself?” asked Bertrand with reverence.

“Hardly,” said Claudia. “All we could afford was a bishop. But well worth it.”

“We wanted her to start her life right, just like we did with Helga,” I said, mussing the girl’s hair affectionately. “You were too young to remember your first pilgrimage.”

“Yes,” she said, yawning, “but you tell the story so often, I think I do remember it.”

Claudia and I beamed at Helga, as proud of her as if she had been our own.

“Inspiring,” said Bertrand. “Perhaps I shall go there. I would like to see Rome once before I meet my maker. Fools, you have blessed my humble abode. I shall see you in the morning.”

We bowed low as he left, humming Folquet’s melody.

“We’ve only blessed his stables,” muttered Claudia. “It would have been nice to bless his
maison
. From the inside.”

“I’d like to bless a real bed sometime,” added Helga. “It’s been a while.”

“I guess we merit his praise, but not his full protection,” I said. “But once we get to Toulouse, I promise we will all have beds.”

“A mighty promise. Should we trust it?” Claudia asked Helga.

“He does lie an awful lot,” said Helga.

“That’s because he’s good at it,” said Claudia.

“Yes, he is,” agreed Helga. “Will you teach me? And why did you pretend you didn’t know Folquet was nearby?”

“Just trying to make our little visit to him seem natural,” I said. “In case anyone asks questions. Nothing unusual about a family returning from a pilgrimage, even if it’s a family of fools. Speaking of which: Apprentice, front and center!”

Helga scampered through the hay and stood at attention before us. She was a spry young girl of twelve, although small enough to pass for younger if the need arose. I had thought she was ten when we first met. When her hair was washed, it was blond. Or so we believed.

“You followed my story about Rome with an excellent bit of improvisation,” I began. “Full marks.”

“Thank you, Master,” she said.

BOOK: The Lark's Lament: A Fools' Guild Mystery
3.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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