Friday, December 15, 2006

The Juggler

"Do you know the difference between a jester and a clown?"

A trickle of blood dripped into Zippy's eye. He winced at the stinging pain, shaking his head and blinking rapidly. "Um... the clown's tied to a chair, and the jester's pacing back and forth, holding a knife?"

Arvhad halted in his tracks and threw Zippy a hard look. His left hand tossed and caught one of Zippy's throwing knives, casually. A heavy truck rumbled past the warehouse, awkward in the silence.

"I was referring to a more general sense," Arvhad said at last.

Zippy shook his head, leaning his head down. The blood dribbled, slowly and steadily, from the gash on his forehead to the concrete floor. The red, ink-like streak stood out starkly against Zippy's paper white skin.

"A jester," Arvhad began, resuming his pacing, "is a trusted advisor in disguise. He can say things to a king that no one else can. He can hide truth in jest, and say it straight into the king's ear. He has influence, but he wears a foolish mask."

"Or hat," Zippy smirked.

The bells on Arvhad's jester's cap rattled as he turned to his captive. "Precisely." Then, he took two swift steps forward and kicked Zippy in the chest. Zippy's breath left him in a whoosh as he tilted backwards, teetering past the point of balance and crashing to the floor. He flexed just in time to land on his elbows rather than his wrists. Bone-deep pain shot into his shoulders, and he clenched his teeth, straining against the zip-ties on his wrists and ankles.

"Now stop interrupting."

"Sorry. Please go on," Zippy wheezed.

The ratty black scarf hiding Arvhad's mouth shifted as he grinned, his eyes narrowing. "Thank you. So, a jester has influence on kings. A clown, however, has influence only on the handful of peasants that buy a ticket to the circus."

“See, I don't sell tickets, though,” Zippy said from the floor. He shifted his weight to avoid aggravating his bruises. “So I can reach a wider audience.”

“Very true,” said Arvhad, turning his pacing around the back of the chair. He stood over Zippy, looking upside down at his captive, still tossing and catching the dagger. Then, he stopped. Slowly, Arvhad shifted the dagger in his gloved hand, pinching the grip between his thumb and forefinger. He stretched out his arm, dangling the knife above his head, over the bridge of Zippy's nose. Zippy's eyes locked on the point of the blade.

“Perhaps,” said Arvhad, “you're more of a daredevil with clown makeup.”

Zippy's eyes never left the dagger. “Uh... maybe.”

“There are two things I associate with a daredevil, Zippy. The need to impress people...” Arvhad's hand drifted back and forth, the knife swiveling in his loose grip. “...and a death wish.” And as he said the words, he looked up from his captive, spread his fingers wide, and let go.

Zippy darted his head to the right, scooting the chair inches to the side. The dagger landed point-first, digging a chip from the concrete and clattering onto the floor. Arvhad looked down, unsurprised, as the dagger landed. Twisting his neck, Zippy could see the knife laying a few inches from his eye. He found himself breathing hard.

“And yet,” Arvhad was saying, “your survival instincts preserve you.”

Zippy craned his neck up, and could only barely see the jester. “I get a lot of practice.” His voice was unsteady when he spoke.

“Exactly. Exactly my point.” Arvhad folded his hands neatly in front of him and stared back at the clown. “Your life is in near-constant danger, because of choices you yourself make.”

“I...” Zippy realized he was breathing even harder, through gritted teeth. Angry, and getting angrier at the sound of the jester's voice. Shut up, he thought.

Arvhad turned as though he was about to start pacing again, then paused. He looked back toward his captive, clearly grinning behind his scarf. “It makes me wonder....”

Zippy's pulse raced. He looked over at the knife, and a thought occurred to him. He flexed his arms.

“My question is this,” said Arvhad, leaning forward subtly. “Why, O Razorclown, do you want to die so badly?”

The surge in adrenaline served him well. With a hard shove of his hands and a kick of his bound legs, Zippy rolled himself backwards, thrusting with his neck and shoulders to propel him over. He landed hard on his knees, gritting his teeth with the pain. Arvhad only had time to take a single running step before Zippy popped his hips. He rolled, chair and all, over his left shoulder, in perfect position for one hand up snatch up knife as he bowled into Arvhad's shins.

The jester toppled over the chair and landed hard on the blood-slick floor. Zippy rolled to a stop on his side, but only long enough to spin the knife in his fingers and saw twice at his bonds, cutting free his hands. Arvhad regained his feet and looked up just as Zippy, snarling with animal rage, with his ankles still bound to the chair, crouched on the toes of his boots and leapt forward, arms outstretched. The Razorclown's tackle drove Arvhad to the cold slab, stealing his wind. A loud jangle hit the air as the jester's head smashed against the concrete.

It was the last sound Arvhad heard before the blackness.

* * *

“Sir!” Kenzo was kneeling next to him.

Arvhad sat up sharply, and immediately saw spots. He clutched his head, blood-encrusted and sore at the back. “Nnn. Where is he?”

“The Razorclown, sir? Escaped. Jumped across the roofs.”

Arvhad stood, scooping up his hat and replacing it carefully on his head, covering his short blond hair. “Right. Who tied him up?”

“Sir, he-”


“Oh, yes.” Kenzo thought for a moment, frowning. “Rocco.”

“Teach him how to restrain someone properly. Then have him train the rest of the men.” He looked over at the group of thugs just returning from their failed chase. Arvhad took a single, deep breath, then reached down and grabbed the chair, setting it upright. Calmly, he said to the men, “Get to your secondary assignments for the night. Training session later this week. Go.” And they went.

Kenzo sighed. “You want some guys after him?”

Gingerly, Arvhad touched the back of his head, wincing very slightly at the pain. “No. No, not tonight. May as well give him some time to stew.” The hidden smile came to his face again. “I touched a nerve.” He reached into the pocket of his leather jacket, and removed a small digital recorder. He pushed the button.

“Profile update. Zippy the Razorclown. Physically stronger and more capable even than expected. Aggressive response when probed about death wish. Given his background, likely candidate for childhood abuse... or... a-ha.

“Survivor's guilt.”


Lenny said...

Very good story. The use of the digital recorder at the end was a nice touch after convincing the reader of a sword and sorcery setting.

the Razorclown said...

Drat. I was trying to make it clear that it was a modern settng from the outset.

Not enough modern details? I threw in the passing truck, the concrete floor, and the zip-ties.