Tears and Bone
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Once upon a time, a hierarchy was enforced.

In the time when the Fae cities were planted, all things were given rank. Even the House of Centipedes below and the Seelie Courts above found their places in this hierarchy, and all the Gods presided over their neatly-organized courts. Beneath their heels, his name oft forgotten, there was Khahrahk.

Khahrahk was not dignified in his station: in truth, he was pathetic. He had been sold to the Horned King of Alagadda with four other boys by the Queen Mab — but unlike his slave-mates, he was stunted and ugly. So, as the Horned King laid affection upon Bauta, Arlecchino, Pantalone, and Brighella, Khahrahk felt only his scorn and derision. Existence must have been suffering, but the Horned King would have his credit's worth. It would be better to not exist.

Under his yoke, Khahrahk absorbed the Horned King's abuses, and developed an acerbic wit. That wit, his first weapon, relieved the worst of his rage as he suffered through repeat humiliation. He grew crueler by his pain. So biting were his words and so cruel his affect that the Horned King appointed him the jester of the Alagaddan Court.

Red with rage, crimson with cut and bruise, wet with wine dumped upon him by the King's beloveds, Khahrahk was known — seemingly forevermore — as the Scarlet Fool.


Even before the hole had been opened in her guts — in truth, the difference was largely a matter of restraint — the Queen Mab was no stranger to decadence. The plundered wealth of our Earth flowed freely through the Fae Courts, and if her imperial urge could not be restrained, how could Mab have reined in her more basal urges? The scholars of today now calculate the excess of the Winter Queen's festivities, and marry it to the destitution of the peasantry; but what would Mab have known of boulevards never walked? To the Conquerer, the lands outside her palace were a flat and continuous expanse of personal achievement, its riches to be celebrated however she wished.

So it was to Mab: the Harvest Masquerade just another feast day, a party forty days out from the Fall Equinox. This year's Harvest Masquerade was to be a grand affair, as all Harvest Masquerades were.

From the Urals came the Xanthous Tsar, the Great Boar King. An eight-legged oracle had revealed his guts to be god-like, and so the Xanthous Tsar declared himself the Gourmand of Gourmands, and became wise in the culinary arts. To the Harvest Masquerade, he brought his disobedient son — it would be a banquet worthy of a prince.

From the Twin Rivers came Nahash, the Serpent of Knowledge. Nahash was regarded an icon of vice, a corrupter bar none; their serpent face did not allow them to scowl at those who fell for their tricks, and none were aware they reported to The Highest Power. To the Harvest Masquerade, they brought a beautiful boy for the Horned King, trained in the arts of Ambassadorship.

From the across the Sea came kind Sanna, Isarrataitsoq's delegate to the Fae Courts. Her beauty was matched only by her wisdom, and she would employ both in defense of her people. To the Harvest Masquerade, she brought baskets of furs and fine goods for the Queen Mab… and promises of more, if she was so inclined to an alliance.

Finally, from Alagadda came the Horned King, and to the Harvest Masquerade he brought the Scarlet Fool.


Allow me a moment of speculation.

Of that Masquerade's attendants, I'm unsure of the night's true architect. The Horned King, certainly, had a habit of humiliating the Scarlet Fool; however, it's doubtful he'd have kept himself from his beloved Ambassador for long enough to enact such a scheme. I have no trouble believing the Ambassador would do such a thing, but then, to bring him to the Masquerade was an unusually foolish mistake on Nahash's part. This is assuming, of course, that Nahash had not conspired with them — and while conspiracy might explain why their gift was not for their host, Nahash had never betrayed a confidant so openly as they would have the Fool. However, if the Queen Mab was involved, the laws of Fae Courtesy suggest she had the Horned King's explicit consent, or otherwise believed she did. Finally: though the Xanthous Tsar strikes me as too stupid, and Sanna too kind, the finer details of that night continue to pull at my memory.

Was it all planned, or was the Scarlet Fool's misery a matter of serendipity? Could he have done anything to mitigate his fate? Were the Scarlet Fool's words so ugly as to warrant such revenge? Or was his torment simply an expression of the unspoken hierarchy?


Entranced by his new Ambassador, the Horned King of Alagadda had, at first, been unusually kind to the Scarlet Fool. He allowed the Fool to eat of the small plates, and allotted him a sizable portion of the wine. There were, of course, his usual abuses, but now they seemed restrained, light — almost playful.

Indeed, the Masquerade attendants acted far kinder to the Scarlet Fool than had anyone in Alagadda. The Queen Mab's court treated the Fool with a yet-unknown hospitality; the Tsar's men ensured his fill of Masquerade treats; even the Ambassador, now equally infamous in his cruelty, treated him as a fellow guest. But what must have stood out most to the Scarlet Fool was the manner in which he was received by kind Sanna.

Station does not breed benevolence — look to the nations, and say you disagree — but kind Sanna's soul seemed to have weathered her power. In all things she was patient, cordial, and as genuine as her position allowed. Even the Scarlet Fool, that wretched and ugly thing, was worthy of her inner kindness.

The Scarlet Fool did not know of love, but he was nevertheless certain that he loved Sanna.

A social blasphemy.

Some time into the evening, the Horned King called the Scarlet Fool before the attendants. In the spirit of their celebration, the Scarlet Fool would be allowed a cutting jape against all who volunteered, without fear of reprisal. I believe this was a trap, and one so complex that I struggle to think of who might have set it.

Think of it thus:

The Scarlet Fool's insults would not necessarily have offended his targets; he was, after all, invited to do so, and by his master—

'—oh, he's taken such good care of your gifts, my Queen. Has them carried all over Alagadda! Sometimes he's the reason they can't just walk, to be sure, but—'

—no less. If the Queen Mab—

'—oh no, I shan't besmirch the second-prettiest of the Seelie Sisters! That would be—'

—the Xanthous Tsar—

'—and your dishes were splendidly cooked, Your Majesty. Well, that's the impression I got from the palace hounds—'

—or Nahash—

'—and such lovely fangs, too! Tell me, how much piss did you have to wash them in for—'

were to be offended by the Scarlet Fool's insults, they had only themselves to blame… if the Fool had also insulted Sanna.

For when it came time to disparage kind Sanna, the Scarlet Fool could not find the words to be cruel, and his true feelings were at once revealed to the Masquerade's attendants.

If violating that unspoken hierarchy did not inspire what happened next, then it was now all the easier for its participants to accept.


The main courses of that night came courtesy of the disobedient Xanthous Prince. Before the Masquerade laid a delightful array of various fine meats. A honey-glazed ham glistening in the lamplight, garnished with fresh greens and apple slices; thick slices of bacon, spiced with paprika and brown sugar, wrapped around perfectly-cooked scallops; racks of spare ribs, smoked to perfection; pork loin stuffed with a savory breadcrumb and vegetable mixture; beautifully seasoned pork shoulder steaks; and for the Queen Mab herself, a deceptively delicious black truffle pork snout. The bones had been set aside.

No one noticed the Queen Mab's crown jewel disappear from her crown.


The Scarlet Fool was wise in the ways of cruelty and courtiership; in matters of love and mercy, he was a fool. But, this I swear on my true name: the Scarlet Fool was no thief. So wretched was his station that his sense of "ownership" had utterly degraded, and he could not conceive of anything as truly his.

When the last of the meat had been stripped from the bones, the Scarlet Fool approached kind Sanna at the nobles' table. Protean feelings of love and affection had driven him to her side, but his tongue, conditioned by years of odious abuse, would not cooperate. In lieu of words, then, he presented kind Sanna with a deep and beautiful sapphire — for she was more worthy of this gift than a wretched fool such as he.

Unfortunately for the Fool, kind Sanna had been seated next to the Queen Mab, and the sight of her crown jewel in the hands of a slave ignited a terrible fire within.

With a single shout, the banquet fell into a frantic chaos. The Queen's Guard encircled the nobles' entourages with spear and sword, and verdant chains erupted from the walls to ensnare all who remained. The Scarlet Fool was hoist into the air by the Queen Mab's magic; only a plea from kind Sanna kept the Fool from being rent asunder, and it was a long and painful hour before the Scarlet Fool was dropped back onto the ground.

As the Fool gasped for breath, the muscles of his neck raised into the Dread Captain Mykyta's spearpoint. Beside him, the Queen Mab, her expression marked by a hateful faux-neutrality.

"We who have hosted you," her voice as black as simmering pitch, "Who have treated this wretch as we would a distinguished guest. You would defile our crown? Despicable thing!" The Queen Mab struck the Fool with the back of her hand, and the chamber filled with a terrible cry, for her blow had dragged his neck over the Dread Captain's spear.

Blood gushed from the Scarlet Fool, for the masculine protrusion in his neck had been gouged out.

The Scarlet Fool jammed his thumb into the wound, and gurgled his excuses through blood and tears. He had meant to say that he was no thief, that he had been gifted the jewel for his performance; that it was with the Horned King's permission that the jewel had found its way into his possession; that he was unfamiliar with this crown jewel, for it had been an emerald during his bondage to the Queen Mab, and if he had known it to be the Queen Mab's he would have returned it posthaste; and even a wretch such as him deserved one bit of dignity, one tiny act of genuine kindness, the smallest modicum of decision in his miserable existence, and what right did the nobles have to take advantage of him like this, by what right could they exploit that vain hope for personhood, by what right?!

No one considered that the Scarlet Fool was too short to have reached the Queen Mab's crown, and the notion that a better might frame the Fool was dismissed. Who would defend the honor a deformed slave?

But even if the nobles might have considered his words, the Scarlet Fool was choked by tears and bone.

The Queen Mab wanted him quartered and flayed for desecrating her crown; it was the Ambassador who convinced her of a crueler mercy.

A chain was drawn from the chandelier, and the Scarlet Fool was fastened by the neck beneath. So taut was the chain that he could neither sit nor lie down, only stand and bend in agony. As dessert was served to the attendants, the bones left over from the main courses were brought before the Fool. If he could eat them all before the end of the Harvest Masquerade, he would be allowed to live.

(It was, admittedly, an easier task than it sounded. The Queen Mab was too enamored with his misery to call off festivities.)

The Scarlet Fool began with the finger bones, thin and breakable, oddly meaty and all too dry. Broken shards cut at his mouth, a pain rivaled (we thought then) only by the struggle of swallowing. It was to be the most bearable part of his punishment.

To break one's tooth is a special sort of agony: the nerves in one's jaw scream and scream and scream as blood gushes down into the mouth. The Scarlet Fool broke his first on a tibia. Three more would shatter before he was forced to break apart his meal by hand, and an ugly cadence was given to his cries.

What kept him going, I wonder? The Scarlet Fool pushed through his weakness with neither dignity nor resolve; if his wounds had not rendered him mute, he would have begged. He could not bear to look his torturer in the eye, nor his master. Only once did I see him cast his gaze towards another — and though Sanna looked back with clear horror, her people could not risk the Queen Mab's wrath, and so she did not intervene.

Every bone looked more painful for the Fool than the last. The teeth looked to bite back on their way down; the residual juices upon the rib bones stung every wound they fell upon; the very process of breaking down the scapula appeared a near-fatal endeavor. He vomited twice, his guts the color of ground coffee, and I shouldn't have to say what the Queen Mab made him do with it. By the time he finished the last sliver of skull, the Fool was scarlet with his own blood, and utterly out of tears.

The Queen Mab kept her word, at the very least, and the Scarlet Fool was escorted back to Alagadda.


The Horned King still visits the Queen Mab, and on occasion he'll bring the Scarlet Fool. That cruelty of his seems tempered; he does not speak so freely as he once did.

For now, there is little more to be said.


But one day, the Scarlet Fool will have his dues.

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