Events & Services of Avalon
The Snow Drifted
A sentimental autobiographic recollection, by Jack the Fool
The snow drifted down carelessly.
Cold and wet, the lumps of flakes refused to combine, instead disappearing into
one of the many dark puddles below.
He trudged into his childhood home of Minoc, having only reached the southern road as he reached the city's edge. It was late late enough for him to wonder if it was actually morning. He pulled his cloak tighter around his largish body, trying in vain to keep out the cold for the last few minutes of his journey. He glanced at the orange lights flickering in the increasingly less distant windows. The same windows from his youth, but now, in his returning, they seemed very alien to him.
He hugged the buildings as he walked, hoping to use them to block the frigid air knifing off the bay. A door, which he was very much next to (and so almost hit him in the face), swung open violently. The frozen traveller was startled, recoiling automatically, stumbling wildly on the slick ground as he backpedaled. A woman stepped out through the doorway, with a heavy bucket in her hands. Quickly noticing the stranger in the streets realizing what she had done and his reaction to the dilemma, she apologized.
"Oh, I'm sorry for that, good sir. I meant not to trouble you." She said this with a small curtsy. Not too deep, as she didn't want to spill her bucket prematurely.
"No trouble," replied the man, trying to smile for her. "No trouble at all."
The woman gave pause. Something clicked in her mind, remembering something from her past. A look of extreme disapproval destroyed the apologetic features of her once-pleasant face.
"I know you." She began almost yelling as she continued, "You're one of those idiots. From that "traitor" family!" With that, she angrily heaved the bucket up, spilling the wet, lumpy contents all over the weary wayfarer. She spit on him, punctuating her statement, then retreated back into her house, slamming the door.
The traveller sighed in staccato, trying to keep from crying, biting the lip that wanted to pout so much. But his eyes betrayed his feelings, and they became watery.
"Not idiot," he replied at last. "Fool. I'm a Fool."
Jack Squat stepped in puddle
after puddle; the hefty traveller was almost at the end of his journey. Here,
on the outskirts of Minoc, began the memories of his childhood. He stopped
as he came within sight of the city, a heavy sigh halting him in his tracks
as he recalled all that this place had been in his life--all that he had done
here, had seen, had missed since he left. It was smaller than he remembered
it, but then, so was the whole city. As he had grown, so had his world, and
his perspective. No longer did he think of his home as the be-all and end-all
of civilization, but merely one part of a larger community.
It was a fairly small home, but only considering that two families had lived there: Jack and his parents, and his cousin, Julian, and Julian's parents. But now...now there were only two: Julian's mother and Jack's father. The hefty Fool's cheeks were burning from the cold. His nose dripped, and he drew his sleeve across his face absently. Jack bundled himself up tighter against the chill, which would have not done much good even if what he was feeling was entirely from the surrounding low temperature.
A soft glow reached futilely out from the small, clear spots on the fogged & frosted windows. Jack remembered when he and his cousin, Julian, made little "footprints" with their hands in the windows when they were young. They would press the heel of their hands against the thin glass for the foot itself, and the tips of their fingers would finish off the image by making toe-ovals. Left hands made left feet, right hands made right....
He felt like a stranger. Was that right? Should that be so? Had he drifted so far away from where he had begun that he didn't even know himself? He took one, small step forward, building his courage, then another...then stopped. A silhouette had flashed by the window, but then was gone. Who could it have been? Did they see him? Should he go in, still? He could turn around right now. He could leave, run away, and they would never know...
No, he had to stop thinking that way. He had come so far, by daring to do even the things that made him afraid. Besides, inside was family. What do you have to fear from family?
Jack shuffled up to the steps of the cottage, shivering. The door would no doubt be locked, but he knew where the key to inside was. Or he did, at one point. He crouched, pretending as though to re-strap his shoe's buckles, and went for the loose stone on the edge of the small patio. He paused, alert, looking left and right and all around. Good, no one around. He pulled up the stone, and with his other hand reached into the hole it left behind.
He was in luck, as the key was still there. Still crouching, he picked up the house key and unlocked the door. He replaced the key, then the stone, and stood. Faced the door. Reached out, thumb on the latch, fingers around the handle. A clench of his thumb and he pushed the door open.
Jack stepped into the house,
expecting to see Aunt Jenny--perhaps standing by the hearth, or sitting next
to it, reading one of her many dog-eared books. But he didn't see anyone.
In fact, it was hard to see anything. It was darker inside than he expected
it to be, and he had to take a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the light.
The main room of their cottage was essentially as he had left it. There was a fireplace on the west side, and Aunt Jenny's chair next to it--her small table, heavy with a stack of her books. A larger table near the center was surrounded by three cushioned chairs. A tapestry on the far wall, to one side of a doorway into the second room. (At one time the tapestry was a family portrait, but with the destruction of their family it had been replaced, the painting being the source of too many painful memories.)
There was a new bench and table in the northeastern recess, covered with a sheet. Jack approached the covered table, but even without removing the cover he knew what would be underneath. He recognized the items making up that telltale silhouette: alchemical equipment. The tools of his father's profession...well, former profession.
His father had been an alchemist of some reputation, his renown enhanced by having a brother who was a leading mage in Lord British's Court, and by his own marriage to a great warrior. But when his brother was killed under questionable circumstances, and his wife disappeared investigating the event, Jack's father began careless. In his studies, he began sloppily cutting corners, not using proper precautions. His mind quickly became addled from the inhalation of too many poisonous fumes.
The Fool's finger trailed over the surface of the covering sheet. Distracted by his memories, Jack decided he didn't want to pull off the dusty cover, didn't want to see the items that helped bring his father down so low.
Jack was caught unawares by a shuffling noise behind him, and spun around to see its source.
Coming out from the inner doorway was a man, about Jack's size, although slighter of build. The string on his fancy shirt was sloppily tied, and it was covered with a teal-colored, yet many-stained, tunic. His hair was mostly grey, almost white, actually, time having stole away all its original color. Once upon a time it had resembled Jack's: golden-orange, self-cut with the aid of a large bowl and blunt scissors. His skin was more wrinkled than Jack remembered, more weathered. He could see this even in the dim light that flickered radiantly from the fireplace.
The old man had a dirty beaker in his hand, and was rubbing his finger along the edge, as though the beaker held within it some important, distant memory.
"Jenny? You're back quickly," the old man suggested absently. He looked up when he received no response, and surveyed the room, turning at last to the hefty Fool. A puzzled look passed across his aged face.
"Do I know you?"
Jack's eyes became blurry with tears, but he tried to keep his composure. "I'm your son."
"My son? My son has been gone for many months." Jack the Senior began counting his fingers, on one hand, then the other, then back to the first. He quickly gave up counting and instead made a choice, shrugging.
"Three years. I haven't seen my son for over three years. He left for some frontier town and I never heard from him again. I heard of him, though. I think he is married now."
The younger Jack opened his mouth to say something, but couldn't find any words. The elder Jack finished walking across the room, stopping at the center table. He put the worn beaker onto it and paused, trying to think. The old man looked up at Jack.
"Son! There you are, have you finished your chores?"
Jack was taken aback. "My...my chores?"
"Aye, son. We'll not be going to Vesper without you and Julian having done all your chores, first."
Jack the Younger stared at his father, open mouthed, unprepared for this total turn around in the conversation. Jack the Senior smiled with a kind heart.
"Well, I can see by the panicky look on your face that the two of you must be very far behind. I'll tell you what: you and Julian can attend to your responsibilities when we return from the Festival. How does that sound?" Jack the Senior crossed his arms in a fatherly manner; his mind was made up, but with a sympathetic approach to his only son and only nephew. He waited for a response. Jack felt compelled to answer him, but, even in his father's condition, not in any pretend fashion.
"I know that...I haven't been...doing all that I should be, lately. I've tried to help, but...I worried that I wasn't helping in the right ways, or that I was wronging certain people just by being around. That whatever 'right' I was doing could never, ever, make up for the wrong that I did."
When Jack paused his father frowned with concern. While all this was true enough, the father of the Fool somehow knew that there were more to Jack's statement than not cleaning the meal plates or beating the rug. He took a step towards Jack and motioned to speak, but instead sneezed loudly. He pulled out a soothing healing bandage and used it to wipe his nose in a dramatic and blustery fashion.
Jack's father's response was far from what he expected: "Mayhaps tomorrow, Jasper, you and I will ask father to take us to the Mines again, and we can climb the mountains to the very top this time! Oh, what fun we shall have! Do you think that mysterious elfin woman will be watching us from a distance again?" The old man smiled broadly, and those who knew Jack would have seen a phenomenal resemblance to a reaction that Jack might have had when speaking of his late wife, Keowas, to his cousin, Julian, at a time when she was still alive.
Jack the Fool's eyes began tearing again. He clenched his fists, fruitlessly trying to keep from becoming more emotional. His voice was louder than he planned it to be. "Is this all that can happen, now? Can you no longer hear me, or what I need to say to you?"
Jack the Senior squinted one eye, pondering, then turned slowly and sat in his sister Jenny's comfortable chair by the fire.
"Blue? Streuth, I say leave the house it's natural wood coloring!" he said, arching his back for a moment to stuff his handkerchief into the pocket-hole cut into the back of his stained tunic, plopping back into the chair immediately afterward.
Jack grew flustered and
emotionally confounded. He open his hands and raised his arms, not knowing
what else to do with them. He sputtered for a few moments, looking this
way and that, finally returning to his father in his aunt's chair. The
hefty Fool decided he had to say what he had to say, even if his father couldn't
hear or understand him.
"Once I was married and now my bride is dead; I wasn't there for her when she needed me. Once I had friends but now some are not. Once I was happy, and forgive me, even tried to forget about what was happening to you, father. Once I had hope and now I cannot find it, no matter how I try." That is how Jack the Fool began, and then he took a breath, kneeling next to his father as he sat.
"I tried to do the right thing, but I've learned that sometimes the right thing can at the same time be something wrong. That sometimes this Great Wrong sneaks up behind you, and you realize that it was you who was committing it, against those closest to you, and maybe even for a long time, obliviously. The part that hurts most is disappointing the people who are closest to me. The strongest part. Maybe the only really important part."
Jack was crying steadily now, but trying to keep his composure enough to tell his father all that he needed to, in the way that he needed to. The Senior Jack looked down, then arched his back and retrieved his healing bandage. He offered it to his son, and Jack the Younger took it to blow his nose (which he did with a small "honk"), and thanked his father. After a short recovery, the son continued.
"Without realizing it I have committed my greatest personal sin, and I know, in my heart, that there can be no atonement for such a level of Wrong. Even if such a thing can only come from myself. I pray in time my trespasses and everything will be forgotten and at least I will not be thought of in an ill light.
"I cannot allow myself to do anything even close to that again, ever. I shall remain in Minoc, here, with you. Streuth, I don't know of any other way to change things for the better, when they have gone so wrong. I try and I try but I don't know how else to stop it all."
Jack looked into his father's eyes, pleading with his very soul. "Would you, at least, forgive me? Could you ever forgive me?" Jack's own eyes were red from his teary half-confession, his lower lip quivering, his entire body, in fact, shaking with the outpouring of raw emotion.
Jack's father looked into the eyes of his son and breathed deep.
"I loved your mother, Jack. More than anything. Have you felt that way about anything? About anyone? I wish you could feel that way for even just a moment, son."
Jack the Senior's moment of unexpected lucidity took Jack the Younger by surprise, and he could not speak nor move, for fear of destroying this most precious moment, perhaps their last true moment together.
"I met Josephine your mother when I was but a lad, barely younger than you, yourself. She was slightly older than I, but she aged slower, and I figured it all sort of balanced out." The old man, smiled, comforted by his distant memories.
"Oh, Jack, she was beautiful, and I would have done anything for her. How could you not love her? Her hair was spun gold, her skin alabaster, her mind was envied by sages, her heart more precious than the largest diamond. She was loved because she loved, Jack, as you do, unconditionally. It hurts to think of her being gone, Jack. But, I want you to know, that, knowing that so much of her still exists in you and all you do, well...I..." Jack the Senior took the bandage-handkerchief back from his son and blew his nose with a honk not too dissimilar from his son's. The old man teared slightly now, and wiped his tears away on the sleeve of his tunic.
"We all do the wrong thing, Jack," his father continued. "It's too easy not to. Zounds, I know I'm one to talk, but we shouldn't measure our lives by the wrongs that are done. Think of what you have done right, and never stop trying to do the right thing. Never. Promise me, son, that you won't quit trying."
Had Jack ever felt closer to his father? He couldn't remember. Jack fell into his father's arms, crying heavily. They held each other for a long time, in the near-dark. Jack the Fool loved his father, and felt so many negative thoughts and emotions pouring out from his soul into his fathers comforting arms: self-pity, anger, guilt, confusion, despair...
"I promise," replied Jack, finally.
Jack the Senior looked down at the stranger that was hugging him and crying.
"Do I know you?
Avalon: City of Destiny is a player-city, located on Ultima Onlines Baja Shard.
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