A smile graced the lips of all within the Court.
Countenance hidden beneath the decorative folds of vibrantly gay fabric, The Fool danced. The tinkling of tiny bells filled the room, echoing minutely through the halls extending off of the majestic hall; with each step, stamp, stride, the bells became a symphony – a cacophony of ringing. Through the thinly slit eye-holes, pools of ice watched the mocking, laughing crowd.
Discord rang from the keys of the well-tuned instrument in the corner. Fingers danced over the fortepiano – the travelling duo yet ill-equipped to afford the newer, longer Piano model – quickening their pace, and with them, the music. A small frown broke across the features of the pianist as his fingers jumped almost in time to the Jester a mere ten feet from him.
A fall, a leap, a twirl. The shuffle of feet on the sawdust covered floor was almost inaudible over the inharmonious, jarring notes of the instrument. Spinning, spinning spinning.
Spinning. Turning. Falling. Leaping. Jumping. Flying. Faster and faster, The Fool did dance. The music moved from discord to harmony, reaching a crescendo, before finally breaking back down with diminuendo. Slowly the music died, fading to almost nothing – then it was gone, and with it, the Jester’s vivacity, his sparkle, his dynamism.
The silence was absolute. The clown lay slumped on the floor, his light, dancing clothes spread about him like the petals of a multi-coloured flower. Over the previously deafening silence, a quiet sound could be heard. The sceptre formerly clutched tightly in the left hand of the performer began to vibrate. Tap – Tap – Tapping against the hard, flagstone floor.
Two notes – a walking base – crept upon the ears of the once laughing crowd. The pianist glanced up at the assembly, a small smile across his elderly face. Nimble, his fingers: some might go so far as to call them hypnotic, magical even. If pressed, he would say they were skilled, and that was all, of course.
The bated breath of the Court held fast as they observed the silent, still Jester. The collective exhaled as they saw him begin to move, enthralled by the performance, his hand reaching once more for his staff – the source of everything.
"Riddle me this..." he whispered. His voice was low in tone, quiet in volume. Crumpled down to his knees, his torso flat against the ground, he lay. Gradually he lifted his head, the tiny slits for his eyes betraying nothing behind them. He smiled; the leer was barely visible beneath the full-face mask, only a shadow of a grin could be made out.
“Mountains will crumble,” his head snapped upward, staring up at the Royal assembly, “Temples will fall,” his voice rose slightly in pitch, as he began to pull himself to his feet. The drone of the fortepiano rose in volume, the pianist heavily slamming his fingers into the keys, sharpening the notes – ignorant now of the pedals.
Onto his feet now, his sceptre, still quivering – whining, wanting - once more gripped firmly in his left, gloved hand.
“And no man... can survive its endless call,” he added, standing perfectly still now, in front of the audience. The Court Jester was he, perform he must. “What am I?” he asked of the Court, his head slowly tilting to the side.
A few smiles broke out amongst the crowd as they once again relaxed, and realised it was all part of the show. He was, after-all, here to entertain them. With a sudden pirouette, The Fool extended his hand towards the Royalty in the room. “Your Majesties… Can you tell me what I am?”
A few shaken heads – evidently they were too distracted by the gaiety of the occasion for rational thought – and a few murmurs of suggestions. When after a moment, no one had given an answer, the Jester smiled once more, and whipped off his mask. “Can you not see?” he exclaimed, an expression of mock shock upon his face.
“I am Time!” His voice was full of life, excited. “Time itself!”
He spun on the spot, tossing the mask he had worn to the pianist – the music now gone, the echoes diminishing in all but the minds of the audience. As he faced the Court again, his smile dropped. “Can you not see? I will crumble those mountains, fell those temples… It is I who will live on, while you remain here, frozen in me, decaying slowly…”
The Fool danced once more. Shuffling feet, flicking wrists. The sceptre waved as he spun, beginning to leave a trail of light. Wonderingly, the crowd watched. It seemed they disregarded the threat he had put to them, too amazed were they by the glowing, flickering light that was now filling the room.
Simultaneously the duo grinned. The pianist stood, to take a bow, before grabbing his hat and, with a twirl of the hand, placing it neatly upon his head. The Jester grew faster, and faster once more, then froze. Applause began to ring through the Court, speckled at first, then roaring. The Fool had frozen with the sceptre held high, his right leg extended upwards behind him. Staring at the assembled, he smiled.
With a final twitch, the congregation ceased their motion. Silence burst forth once more, assaulting the ears of The Pianist and The Fool. Silently, the Court Jester tucked his mock-sceptre into his belt, and reached down for his mask. Swiping it from the floor, he affixed it to his features again, hiding his expression. A glance at The Pianist told him all – it was time to leave.
With one final sweeping glance at the room, the duo left, their belongings vanishing in the blink of an eye. Their masks were back on, their disguises however, remained in place – in the room with the frozen. The costume of the Jester frozen in its final stance; the outfit of the Pianist replicated where the fortepiano had sat.
We all wear masks. No one is really as they seem. Have you not seen that yet? Have you not yet realised the true nature of everyone? Your friends, family, yourself? Are you exactly as you seem?
A smile graced the lips of all within the Court.