Author: JAMES COMINS
Genre: Young Adult, gay romance, historical
Publisher: Wayward Ink Publishing
In the year of our Lord 1040, fourteen-year-old aspiring jester Tom is en route to Bath to begin his studies in the art of being a Fool, following in the footsteps of his father, and his father before him.
Along the way he meets Malcolm, a fire-haired boy with eyes green as forest glass. A Scotsman who’s escaped from the ravages of the usurper Macbeth, Malcolm elects to join Tom at school. Though the journey to Bath is hazardous, it pales in comparison to what they face at the austere and vicious Fool School, where all is not as it seems. A court jester must aim to be the lowest rung on the ladder of life, and the headmaster will not abide pride.
As they journey through life’s hardships together, Tom and Malcolm find they only have each other to depend upon.
Cover Illustration: Danny Phillips
Cover Graphics: Jay’s Covers by Design
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Illustration of Malcolm by Danny Phillips
I am walking back after two hours of services. My belly is sunken and my ribs create a small tent inside my tunic. I’m a child. I feel childhood on my shoulders, but no naïveté.
The friar is sitting on the floor of the cell he gave me. His tonsure has speckled shoots like spring flowers. Wordlessly, I sit on his lap. He rests a florid hand on my thigh and kisses my face. Dead-drunk. I smell boiled wine on his breath and he begins talking to me.
“Ah, the soul of innocence,” he murmurs. “Red shoes…. You know, I remember my days as an actor, my son. I wore shoes not so different from these. Spreading morality through story to those who strive. It was brutal work—the holes in your soles, the peeling sunburns, the broken cartwheels, the rotten fruit, the sewing of the outfits—”
I flinch involuntarily, remembering the wharfmaster’s knife. The priest doesn’t notice.
“But for all that we might have intended to spread the Gospel, it was a Luciferean job, acting.”
He reaches down and pulls off one of my red curly shoes and rubs my feet. I try to relax, but I don’t like anything touching my feet.
“You know, Christ washed feet,” he says, and dips fat fingers into the water bowl. “To be of service,” he moans to himself, pinching my toes, hurting me. “Yes, tumbling, telling the Gospels,” he repeats. “Our company chief, Lord Caligula Petrovka Kingarthur Antiochus de Paree—his mother called him Jean Bureau of course—he’d whore his two wives out to the crew for half a month’s pay at a go. Everyone was broke all the time!”
The friar laughs, and doesn’t notice my second big flinch. My mother is a courtesan.
“Ah, but I saw in myself a higher calling,” he says, rubbing my leg, smacking his lips sleepily. “A life… without sin.” And at last he passes out drunk, clunk.
I extricate myself from the monk and consider taking my things to another cell, but this friar would clearly birth a world of rage if he woke up in my cell and found I’d gone to another. It would be an indignity. These shameless friars get possessive of their boys. His snoring will keep me awake, though, so I stand and tiptoe to the Chapel of St. Mary in the corner of the church and kneel to say my prayers while the monk works the worst of the snore boogers out of his nose.
A slim shadow grows monstrous in the candlelight, appearing along the wall across Mary’s face, swaying as the blood-haired boy kneels beside me.
“It’s Malcolm,” he says in French.
I don;t speak, because the friar has forbidden me to.
He looks down at my shoes. I’ve put both back on. I’ve still got my pride. “You’re a fool,” he says.
“You’ve studied, then?” he asks.
I shake my head. He gives me an amused look, as if he can’t believe I’m obeying the friar’s orders.
“I’m told fools are considered the highest among the Third Estate, the strivers.”
I don’t answer. I don’t know if this is true.
“Would you like to know a secret?” he asks me.
I look around and consider. This Malcolm seems very intense, full of braced fire. I find myself afraid of him, afraid of his fire. He’s not a normal child.
In the light of a dozen whale-oil candles—the Martinite friars are humble, but not cheap—I nod yes. I want to know Malcolm’s secret.
But a canon in dark hooded robes sweeps past and Malcolm is gone.
I don’t see the strange blood-boy at all during the night. I try to sleep in the cell with the friar, but his snoring doesn’t stop. I stay awake for maybe an hour, maybe two, before choosing to step out a second time. It takes no time to see everything in the church. I pace, troubled, heightened, awaiting my journey tomorrow morning. I lie across a wooden pew that feels like a coffin.
JAMES COMINS is incapable of writing about himself in the third person. His future autobiography will probably be titled, “The Man Who Groaned His Way Toward Death.” He writes stories for children and adults.
Born down the street from Stephen King, he now divides his time between Denver and Seattle.
JAMES COMINS can be found at: