A Fool's Story

	In all my days I had never been a man.  My father would beat me but I never could 
please him.  Other children would not play with me and when at 7 they became men they
scorned me - I never quite understood why.  Nor did I ever quite understand other people
much.  Whatever the cause of this, it must have been responsible for their rejection of me. 
Even the lowest villagers had no respect.

	By my opinion there was nothing wrong with me, even though I tried to find what 
was wrong.  Witches' curses perhaps, bad lineage or stupidity I pondered.  But I could be 
satisfied with no easy answer.  As far as I was concerned I was perfectly all right, and did 
not deserve my treatment.  This did not help me much, however.

	When I learned how people would not understand I tried to disguise my most 
cherished traits - my watchfulness of what was going on, my strange sense of humor, my 
honesty, optimism, and trust, my desire for knowledge, my opinions which were so 
different from everyone else's.  But I still could be found talking about things people did 
not understand, or laughing maniacally in the street at some ordinary human transaction.

	When I was about 17 my father, who had raised me alone, passed away.  I had no 
kin in the village, and was left to live on my own.  When he was alive I had tried to please 
him, in spite of his constant frustration with me, and had tried to live like a normal person.  
But now that he was gone my ways of life fell apart unhindered.  Having no skills and no 
job (my father had tried to teach me his cobbler's trade but I had no hand for it), I took to 
wandering around the village, getting food by whatever means came up - begging, 
stealing, short jobs for people.  I was more destitute than I had previously imagined 
possible, and sometimes felt the twinge of guilt for what my father would have wanted, 
but I felt no need to keep up a solid existence.  In light of the insanity of the world, it 
made no sense, and somehow just keeping myself amused and laughing was all I needed.

	Yet I wondered what I could do.  After a while I noticed the fools.  They were 
everywhere, yet I had barely noticed them before.  Nor, it seemed did anybody else 
although their presence was taken for granted.  There was always one to be found in the 
taverns, theater, in the courts of the king and the lords, or just in the street.  The crowds 
that gathered, ugly and brutish, shouted for their entertainment and roared at the hapless, 
tripping dunces that were always there, but didn't seem to think much about them 
otherwise.  I began to watch the fools more carefully, and I realized I admired their way of 
life; living freely, making fun of themselves and others, amusing people.  So I decided to 
become a fool.  I made a little costume, which I wore all the time.  I tried to play my part 
to the fullest, which was not hard considering my sense of humor and that most of the 
people in the village accepted my final manifestation without a second thought.  I had little 
contact with the others who had inspired me, perhaps because my still impoverished and 
dirty condition made me self conscious of attempting to associate with others, perhaps 
because they like me were antisocial by nature.  But no matter where I went in the village 
there was always "work" for me and I was very busy learning how to perform.

	One day several moons after I had taken on my part, a lord who was passing 
through the village happened to find me laughing in the street about something.  When he 
asked me what I thought was so funny I tried to explain, but I think I only bemused him.  
He liked me so much however, that he had me put in the back of one of the wagons in his 
procession and taken back to his castle to become part of his entourage.  I got a good 
costume and practiced my foolishness to a polished art.

	Everything of course lasts only a finite time, and soon I was on my own again.  But 
I continued my fool's tradition.  I would go around the local villages, to the streets, 
taverns, or festivals and entertain and confuse people.  This, I decided, was what I was 
meant to be.  I liked the costume, and I could display my knowledge and nonsense without 
being persecuted.  I could amuse people instead of being scorned by them.  I even made a 
few friends; sailors, thiefs, tavernkeepers, people who had somehow seen enough of the 
world that they had lost their ordinariness.  If ever I heard talk of wizards in a town I 
would seek them out, as humble as I could be, and study them, to try to understand the 
crumbs of learning that fell from their twisted staffs.  I would also see others of my 
profession, sometimes yielding a choice spot to one who had been there first.  We never 
talked, but we recognized each other as kin, and could look at each other in a way other 
people never looked at us.

	One day I was in an inn and there were a bunch of  local men having a great 
drinking party in the courtyard.  My show was over for the moment, and I was sitting in a 
dark corner eating bread and watching it all, marveling at how it got so big, like a living 
creature.  One barterer, who had a wagon and traveled around between villages, drained 
his pint amid the din and confusion and suddenly met my gaze with eyes filled with a cold 
leering different than I had seen before.  A glimmer of thought played across his drunken 
face, and he grabbed the two men nearest to him. 

"Hey!" he shouted, "Haven't you noticed there are a lot of fools around here 
lately?"  His two friends bobbed their weaving heads, and murmurs of assent began to rise 
around the table.
	"Yeah!  Seems like there's lotsa them"
	"Too many fools!"
	"Hundreds of them!"
	"Where'd they all come from?"

	"I don't know where they come from," the original shouter spit, attempting to 
gesture grandly, "but I've been down in the south and they said they had the same 
problem.  They said it's happening all over the Country, and they heard about this thing 
they did over in Chaerbourg."  He pulled a wrinkled piece of paper from the folds of his 
tunic and unfolded it.  It was a picture, some kind of wood block print.  He lay it down on 
the table and the rest of the party, starting to take notice, gathered around.  

"They called this A Ship Of Fools."  The smirk on the clever brute's face was not a 
pleasant sight, and I began to contemplate my escape.  "Hey, I've heard of this," another 
voice shouted out.  "Yeah, me too!"  "Ship of Fools!"  "They're doing this all up and down 
the coast I heard!"  "Too many fools everywhere it must be."  

"Hey, I have an idea!  Let's make one of our own!"

That was it; it all blew up and there was nothing I or anybody else could do about it.  It's 
true there were a lot of fools around, and the men rushed out and gathered us all up.  The 
village was on the coast, and they went down to the shore and got some fisherman to let 
them buy his worst boat.  They herded us all on board, clumsily tacking up a couple of 
sails onto the rotting masts, and threw a few cripples and morons on board for good 
measure.  Hooting and hollering, they pushed the ship away from the dock.

As the ship floated out of the harbor we all stood on the deck, just looking out at the 
shore.  I could not believe what had happened;  I just stood and looked out.  The silence 
of the passengers was broken by the loose flapping of the sails, and we slowly drifted out 
of view of the revelers who had put us on the ship.

When we finally were out of view of the village, some of the people around me began to 

"Alright, let's get started," said a tall bearded fool next to me.  "See if you can tie those 
sails down correctly.  We need someone at the tiller."  From the crowd several of the 
older-looking fools began to spread out, moving to various areas of the ship, exploring, 
climbing rigging, tightening lines, tending to the sick and disabled who, not even fools, had 
been put on the ship with us.  The bearded one turned to me.

"You're new, aren't you?  What's your name?  I'm Cendrik"


A small group was forming in the stern.  "Where shall we go now?"  "I don't know.  What 
places haven't been contaminated yet?"  "There's a place up north - Entskael..."

Cendrik watched my astounded looks with a smile.  "You'll soon get used to it, my friend. 
Come on, you look like a sailor!"

All of us fools who hadn't had this happen to us yet were introduced, and were give 
shipkeeping tasks to do.  By evening the older fools had figured out an area where the 
Ship of Fools hadn't been heard of yet, and we set course to that place, to take up our 
lives again in new villages.

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