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art by Steven R. Stewart

The Jester

Mel Obedoza is a chocoholic who enjoys reading and writing fantasy, fairy tales, and good old-fashioned romance. She makes her home in the Philippines with her family, including a baby girl who shares her passion for reading.
Prince James winced as he watched the court jester stumble back into an open cabinet in a futile attempt to catch a wayward juggling ball. The jester fell amidst a shower of colorful props and knick-knacks ranging from odd to downright ludicrous.
James sighed. Pantolino was undoubtedly an awkward, bumbling fool. The only thing worse than his jokes was his bad sense of timing. For all his clumsy ways, though, he was beloved by the entire court--from the lowliest servant to the king himself. Pantolino had a heart of gold and a gentle nature to match. He had a warm smile and a ready ear for anyone in trouble. Simply put, he was everyone's friend.
That was, of course, until he had hit the king square on the face with a heavy juggling ball.
"Papa said it's your head on the line if you can't learn to juggle in time for tonight's gala," James reminded him.
"Well, then," Pantolino huffed as he struggled to stand. "Perhaps I ought to lop his head off, see how he feels."
The prince graced him with a withering look.
"What, you don't think I can do it?" Pantolino retorted. His expression sobered. "Maybe there's more to me than meets the eye, Your Highness. Maybe, just maybe, I am actually some great dark mage hiding in plain sight. Perhaps I am merely waiting for the opportune time to strike and take over the kingdom."
James stared back at Pantolino in all his foolish glory, donned in a patchwork costume of contrasting colors, the bells on his hat jingling merrily with each movement. The prince burst out laughing.
"Oh, Pantolino! Now that was funny!"
Pantolino's face broke into his usual easy grin. "So you think there's a chance for me yet?"
"Yes, but we have our work cut out for us. We should start by cleaning up this mess!" The boy said imperiously. "You will never be able to concentrate otherwise."
Pantolino dutifully scooped up an armful of junk and unceremoniously tossed it back in the cabinet.
An odd looking object caught James' eye. It was a simple, unpolished wooden box with intricate carvings.
"What's this?" James asked as he bent over to pick it up.
"Ah," Pantolino said regretfully as he plucked the box from the boy's hands. "I would ask that you be careful with this particular item, Your Highness, for there is a very sad, dark tale behind it."
"Tell me!" The prince commanded eagerly.
"Oh, very well. Beats juggling myself silly." The jester sat on a stool and gestured for his little guest to do the same. "Many moons ago, I was in the service of the lovely Princess Seraphina. She was so beautiful… with a kind, loving nature to match." Pantolino's eyes took on a faraway gaze. "She was dear to everyone, even to a lowly fool like me. She regarded me as a friend."
"Truly?" James said skeptically.
"Indeed!" Pantolino exclaimed stoutly. "One afternoon, I chanced upon her crying in the gardens, alone, with only her handmaiden for company. I asked what was troubling her." He clutched the box tightly, his knuckles turning white with the effort. "Apparently her father had married her off to a king in a neighboring kingdom without her knowledge or consent."
"That doesn't sound so bad."
"He was thrice her age and twice widowed."
"Oh."
"She was devastated; lost. She knew no other life than that of her father's court. She bade me goodbye for she was leaving the very next day. She kissed me on the cheek and said she would miss me." The jester touched his cheek as though reliving the memory. "So I offered to help her."
"How?"
"I told her that I could grant any wish she wanted. She laughed, of course. But then I looked into her eyes…" Pantolino fixed the prince with a solemn, serious gaze. "…and watched her face light up with hope. She finally believed me. She voiced her wish then…" His voice caught. "…to run away with her handmaiden."
"Her… handmaiden?" James repeated, taken aback.
"Yes!" Pantolino exploded. He stood and started to pace. "Can you imagine? I was offering her anything and everything she could ever ask for! Eternal youth and beauty! A kingdom of her own! And myself…" He stopped, his whole body trembling with suppressed rage. "But all she asked was to be with her true love… more fool, I, to think that she had meant to be with me."
"What did you do?" James asked quietly.
Pantolino bent his head and slowly opened the box. He reached inside with one hand. "I granted her wish, of course," He said with a hollow laugh as he pulled his hand out to reveal two puppets dangling from a long line of tangled string. "Now she and her lover will always be together… puppets entwined on a single string... joined together for all eternity."
The prince could only stare wordlessly, his eyes wide as saucers.
Pantolino's smile stretched into an eerie grin. "What is wrong Your Highness? Cat got your tongue? I'll have you know… every one of my juggling balls is a child who did not laugh at my jokes."
James did laugh then. He howled so much, he tumbled over his stool and rolled unto the floor, guffawing all the while. "That was priceless, Pantolino!!! Perhaps you would do better to win Papa over with one of these tall tales if you cannot master the art of juggling."
Pantolino laughed as well, his face resuming its friendly countenance. "Perhaps."
"Well, now, enough of this foolishness!" James ordered, clapping his hands. "Practice, practice, practice!"
"Yes, Your Highness," Pantolino said meekly. He shoved the box aside and picked up his juggling balls once more.
In a corner of the dusty cabinet lay the hastily discarded box, once again unseen and forgotten….
…and from its partially opened lid, one of the puppet heads hung out limply, a tear rolling down its cheek.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, July 27th, 2011


The Jester was supposed to be a minor character for a comic my brother and I were working on. I could not stop thinking about the dark mage playing the part of a fool. What would drive him to do so? Was he really a powerful creature or simply that--a fool? In the end, he weaved a story of his own. He was simply too powerful to be denied.

- Maria Melissa Obedoza

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