The story of The Fool.
Last night we slept on the second storey of an old barn outside the Forest of Fontainebleau, on a bed of dry grass. Despite the soft bed, I had trouble dropping off next to the Fool – he snored like a badger. This time his snoring saved our lives. The local gamekeeper poked his head inside the barn and came sniffing around and up the ladder. I first smelt his sour wine breath, then saw a huge rifle barrel swinging less than half an inch away from the Fool’s ear. “Fool,” I dug his ribs, “Fool – rifle! Wake up!” He woke with a grunt. Before I knew what he was doing, he leapt up –“come on, Silly!” – that’s what he calls me – “time to fly”. And he leapt from the barn window. “Fool! You will -”. But just then I felt the gun tickle my tail and closing my eyes, threw myself after the Fool. To my surprise I landed on my feet next him.
He does these things, the Fool. Not one to waste words when there are places to go, adventures to sniff out, guns to dodge. He gets up in the morning ready to trudge the lonely paths, stops for food and water under a fern and at night falls asleep wherever he is. I am softer than him, and complain about the rough places where I have to bed down – thistles, pebbles, dustbins. When we are lucky, in autumn, piles of dead leaves. “No-one asked you to come,” he comments. “What would you do without me to slow down your madness?” I say, but he shrugs: “I would go on as ever.”
I have not yet found out where he is going. I am not sure he knows. Sometimes we arrive at a wood, a house or a mountain we had visited some time before.
“Why have we come back here, Fool? What is it that you want to see again?”
“Nothing is ever the same again,” he answers. “We never come to the same place twice.” I’ve started to pay more attention and I see now that he is right: the hole in the oak I rested in last month is wider, full of leaves and the scent of a squirrel. A stream has changed its course, a house once full of humans and food is closed down, though the Fool always manages to find a cache of dried meat. The Fool doesn’t point these things out to me, so I suppose I must be getting a little like him.
I asked him once how he became a Fool. “I was a silly young thing like you, long before my mane grew. I met an old Fool who saved me from my own stupidity by pulling me off a stone ridge where I had dithered for so long a pair of eagles were attacking me. That old Fool cared for me and we set off together. He had
never asked me to come, just as I never asked you to follow me. After months of us travelling together, I was known as the Fool’s Apprentice. When he died, I became The Fool.”
“And what did your master teach you, Fool?”
The Fool snorted, “Ha! You tell me what I teach you.”
I thought hard. “You teach me that life is a journey and the road is its destination and that to start we have to take the first step. You teach me to trust leaping off the sides of cliffs and barns with all the energy of desire or necessity. You show me how to reach out to the world and notice its change and know that I am changing
with it. You travel light, with nothing more than a small rucksack, an empty map case, a few pieces of venison in a bag, a staff and an umbrella. And to discover all this” – I swept my paw along the line of the horizon – “you pulled me from the safety of my warm place in a well-stocked house – and not even a map to show me where we are going.” At that, the Fool grunted: “When I finish my journey I shall draw my map.”
Sometimes he sells his voice at a fair. The Fool has a fine voice and is prized for his ballads about the road and far-flung fields and woodlands. Afterwards, the local ladies make up to him. He will choose the prettiest and vanish, while I’m left to entertain the children with tricks and horror tales about cats and owls. After a
few days, the Fool reappears, trimmed, wearing a new coat and whistling a saucy tune, and we are off again, his gait a little lighter.