The Fool Said

A story from the Sareoso Library

          I found myself in a huge market full of customers. It stretched from east to west, south to north. People of all colours surrounded me all seeking different vegetables and fruits, nuts, grains and pulses, all sort of clothing and tools and artefacts. The crowds gathered in clumps, mixed up, separated and going again in groups, and I felt myself pushed and pulled and propelled into the midst and forced from one crowd to another until I came to a halt. There, on the pavement before me lay a heap of limbs clothed all in green with a green hat. A robin hood hat with a jaunty feather – at least; it was once a beauty, now it was bedraggled, its fronds squashed and muddied.

I helped the person to his feet. He was laughing uncontrollably. He picked up his hat and the feather off the ground and reached into the sack that he was carrying and took out a small comb with which he began to smooth out the plume. It began to perk up and appeared more like an ostrich feather and looked like an adornment again. He put it into his hat where it began to look like a flag as it waved in the breeze made by the crowds and his own movements. He grabbed and held me by the right forearm and said urgently, “Come on, we are going, now!”

For some reason I followed him and he dived through the throngs of people in the market place. The people parted as if they were snow and we were water, and then we reached the gates out of the market. Before us lay the road which stretched into the distance.

“Come on,” he said, “come on.” I followed, I did not know why, I just followed. He came to a sudden stop and from his side he produced a three-part stick which he spread out and, reaching into his bag, he drew out a circular frame and placed it on the top of the three-part stick. He then pulled from his bag three counters, black crowned on one side, white shell shapes on the other, and after shaking them in a small leather bag laid them out in a row. The three pointed the way: which ever colour predominated, one took a turn in that direction. If all black, one stopped, if all white, started again. He did this so seriously I was quite impressed. His performance was spoilt by the dance he performed in the end. He giggled, turned to the left, giggled and turned to his front, giggled again, turned again, did a backward flip and a forward somersault. Then he packed up his table-top and folded his stick and put it on his back, and without hesitation he followed the direction indicated by the counters along what was the coast road. It followed the path between the reed beds and the coast. We were surrounded by hordes of insects and as dusk fell, flock of birds which seemed to spend their sleeping time in the reed beds. We were met by a shore-dweller carrying a bag of claws and he offered them to us when he saw our preparations to spend the night under the starry moon. The green idiot had stopped and reached into his bag and took out a stone. He took dried leaves from the reeds and struck a rock with his knife. The spark lit the fire on his dried grass. From this he started a fire and he laid the shellfish on top of the fire and added a few drops. They were cooked and ready to eat. Then the fool asked to look into my shoulder pack and pulled out a red gossamer cloak which I did not own and said, “You will need this.” I put it around me and indeed I felt warm immediately and as I covered my head, all sights and sounds disappeared. I was blind and deaf and fell asleep straight away. Some time later I became aware of the birds in the reeds waking and found the cloak was not covering my head. I awoke with a start and found that I was establishing my world again. The shellfish gatherer was also awake and had gathered a heap of dried reeds and was making a fire with the fool’s help. He put more shellfish on the fire and they were soon cooked. We broke our fast and planted the shells on the edge of the path. They were soon surrounded by insects and the awakened birds who also broke their fast on the insects, then they flew off in groups until they formed huge cloud-masses in the sky so that the waking sun was darkened. The fool took out his three-part stick, his counters and the table top, and took the left fork in the trail which led up over sand hills clothed in samphire and spinach which the fool gathered and put in his pack. He passed birds nests on the ground which contained eggs and he put these in his pack, dancing along and chuckling as he went. He stopped still and held his arm out. A sudden silence fell. There before us were gathered about a group of fifteen people with a central figure who was painted blue all over. She was fat and seemed to be asleep and naked except for fur: a rabbit skin loincloth and rabbit skins draped over her shoulders. One of the group took her a leaf filled with snails-eggs, She rubbed them into her breasts and began to chant. As she chanted a great snail appeared and also a snake. The snail split into two and the snake danced with its double. The snake’s eggs split and small snakes made their appearance. Meantime the snakes shot each other with arrows and made eggs where the arrows had pierced the other. There was a roar, the sea rolled over the sand hills and we three were left standing on a tall sand hill alone, surrounded by sea, which drained away leaving us in the sand hill with … … to go forward. The shellfish gatherer was shaking with fright and ran off, leaving Fool to throw his counters again. This time the path led up to higher ground where a great tree lay buried, its branches in the earth. Its roots looked up to the sun and it was surrounded by little huts. In each hut were two people, male and female, who sat worshiping the upside down tree. The fool laughed again: “They will do it, and think it’s their choice. It is but it’s no choice, it is their nature and they will flock together”.

In the west a bank of heavy clouds formed up, the sky was heavy and overcast. The clouds began to turn in on themselves. “Quick, wrap your cloak around you.”

With the cloak wrapped around me, there came the first large splatter of rain, which was followed by hail falling by the bucketful, making the earth respond like a drum, then more rain fell. It was like being under a waterfall under the cloak. I was untouched by the rain and the following wind, which lifted the plants out of the ground, and even the earth moved; it lifted up from underneath and stood on end; it seemed to be like a dog shaking the rain off itself. Then the world stopped still and silent for a spell. Then out of the sky there fell a rain of fish and strawberries, then a rain of  crabs all pregnant with their clumps of eggs clinging to their legs. I took off my cloak. The wind and rain had stopped and left the sand hill bare of vegetation, but it left the sea as far as one could see, with only, where the hills had stood, just jagged rocks on end dividing the sand hills into a bay of pools. “Let’s go,” said Fool, splashing merrily thro’ the pools left by the storm. I protested to Fool “Where shall we go? It’s all sea and pools.”

“Don’t worry, the path will clear,” he said, and danced on, getting us both very wet. The bay seemed to be draining itself and where the water stretched out before us, land appeared; there now was a stretch of small hills, and between the hills, jagged rocks and odd creatures lay before us in each fold of the earth. They were a sort of animal like a seal whose flippers had become arms and legs, and they inhabited the folds of land between the rocks, and the caves that formed in the earth beneath. Then there was a very loud bark and all the creatures turned their heads toward it. They then raised their heads and barked in response. Then there followed a horrible mixed up caterwauling which gradually subsided into a long sustained sound and this faded into a sound of many voices breathing in and out together. Eventually there was a silence, in and out breath in unison and silence, the main barker gave a very loud bark and the individual creatures resumed their varying sounds as though they were talking and gossiping together in groups of families, even seeming to be quarrelling among themselves, singing and chorusing together in opposition to one another. The fool set up his table and threw his counters. He laid them out and we set off on the path that went up onto high ground. Small trees appeared along the path and we were soon walking in a forest with bigger trees appearing in the woods. We followed what looked like an animal track through the wood. It seemed to be going between glades or clearings under the trees, and the fool appeared to be following a strange copy of himself – but where he was clumsy and accidental, her figure was elegant and neat, her headdress was a shroud of dragonflies and butterflies but because the clouds of them were in motion one could not see her properly and she was too far away. She flitted though the trees between the clearings in the wood as a Will-o’-the-Wisp, giving me first a glimpse of her as the sun shone on her through the shadows. She seemed to be the epitome of natural, combining the elegance of a cat with the artful movements of a preening bird. His responses to her were not obvious. He became more serious, his movements more controlled. At her most elegant movements he became more sombrely, more self disciplined. She looked like a reverse mirror of him when he was at his most disciplined. Her movements became neater, more elegant but who was copying who I could not see. As we progressed through the forest, for such it had become, the clearings became more obvious, wider, and they looked more ominous, containing heaps of dried bodies: they started out as heaps of dead ants and dead grass-hoppers, then these became the bones of rats and mice and progressed to sheep and cattle, then on to foxes, cats and bigger predators. In each clearing there was a proper body of the creature made up in dried clay, very lifelike and having a very real presence in the air surrounding it, and as one progressed through the woods one found a person made up in its likeness, and as you went through to the predators each inhabitant became more menacing in his habits make up: the teeth became more terrifying, the horns more threatening and the scales more impressive and all the while the fool and his counterpart carried out their endless dance.

I was getting very tired. The idiot seemingly had endless energy and continued to make his way following the trail of the dancer. We reached what seemed to be the depth of forest and found ourselves in a cathedral of trees and we became aware that all the occupiers of the clearings, bones boles and all were in some sense accompanying us. There was a whole skeletal world following us, and it formed an edge to the clearing we found ourselves in. “Quick, cover your head with the cloak,” the fool said. For joy’s reason I obeyed him as through the tangle of low branches and low-lying plants a lion showed himself, followed by a mighty eagle and a magnificent bull, then a winged man, by which time I had covered my head completely and all external impressions faded into silence. In my mind’s eye, for I had no sight and no hearing, the eagle had become a man, the lion became a bull, and a voice thundered, “From great to small and back, the cycle continues and so shall it be to time’s end.”

I felt the tug of my cloak being removed and found the idiot had removed it. I came to and he was operating his table again. The clearing was empty, the female had gone and there was a hole in the vegetation big enough for us to walk through.