Content notes: violence, sexism
The fool, wrapped in a sheet styled as a nun’s habit, clasped his hands and bowed low as Olivia entered with her steward, Malvolio. “God bless thee, lady!” he called in a high-pitched twangy voice.
Olivia rolled her eyes and waved dismissal. “Take the fool away.”
Jumping up, the fool rounded on Malvolio. Speaking in his own voice now, he declared, “Do you not hear, fellows? Take away the lady.”
“Go to, you’re a dry fool; I’ll no more of you. Besides, you grow dishonest.” Olivia turned her back on him, and the fool hurried out of the linen closet to place himself before her. “As- As there is no true cuckold but calamity, so beauty’s a flower.” It made no sense, but it didn’t need to: it brought him round to where he started, and that was enough. “The lady bade take away the fool; therefore, I say again, take her away.”
“Sir,” Olivia pushed his hand away, no longer amused. I bade them take away you.”
The fool stepped back and spread his arms. “Misprision in the highest degree! Lady, cucullus non facit monachum; that’s as much to say as I wear not motley in my brain.” He bowed again, this time in supplication. “Good madonna, give me leave to prove you a fool.”
“Can you do it?”
“Dexterously, good madonna.”
“Make your proof.”
He stood and took up the pose of a man at a lectern. “I must catechize you for it, madonna: good my mouse of virtue, answer me.”
“Well… for want of other idleness, I’ll bide your proof.”
“Good madonna, why mournest thou?”
“Good fool, for my brother’s death.”
Bowing his head mournfully, the fool said, “I think his soul is in hell, madonna.”
Olivia hissed. “I know his soul is in heaven, fool.” She pushed past him and stormed down the hallway, Malvolio trailing after her.
The fool called after her. “The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven.
“Take away the fool, gentlemen.”
The countess stopped, turned, and blinked at the fool, a wan smile slowly winning out over teary eyes. “What think you of this fool, Malvolio?” She asked softly, “doth he not mend?”
Rolling his eyes, Malvolio replied. “Yes, and shall do till the pangs of death shake him: infirmity, that decays the wise, doth ever make the better fool.”
“God send you, sir,” the fool bowed again, but with a mocking air, “a speedy infirmity, for the better increasing your folly!
“Sir Toby will be sworn that I am no fox, but he will not pass his word for two pence that you are no fool.”
Her hand now raised to cover an incipient grin, the countess asked, “How say you to that, Malvolio?”
“I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal!” the steward exclaimed. “I saw him put down the other day with an ordinary fool that has no more brain than a stone.”
The fool frowned, and Malvolio gestured at him, “Look you now, he’s out of his guard already; unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gagged.” Not gagged at all, the fool began to speak, and Malvolio rolled right over him. “I protest, I take these wise men, that crow so at these set kind of fools, no better than the fools’ zanies.”
“Oh, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite. To be generous, guiltless, and of free disposition, is to take those things for bird-bolts that you deem cannon-bullets.” The countess stepped past Malvolio to take the fool’s hand. “There is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing but rail; nor no railing in a known discreet man, though he do nothing but reprove.”
The fool squeezed her hand and opened his arms to her. She stepped into his hug and laid her head on his shoulder, apologizing without words for her harsh greeting. “Now…” the fool stopped and cleared his throat, “Now Mercury endue thee with leasing, for thou speakest well of fools!”
What else might have been said, none will know, for Maria came bustling back into the hall. “Madam, there is at the gate a young gentleman much desires to speak with you.”
The countess stepped back from her fool. “From the Count Orsino, is it?”
“I know not, madam,” Maria said but gave the slightest nod. She didn’t know, but she surely suspected. “’tis a fair young man.”
“Who of my people hold him in delay?”
“Sir Toby, madam, your kinsman.”
“Fetch him off, I pray you; he speaks nothing but madman: fie on him!” Maria hurried off, and Olivia turned to the steward. “Go you, Malvolio: if it be a suit from the count, I am sick, or not at home; what you will, to dismiss it.”
With a sigh, she turned back to the fool and poked him. “Now you see, sir, how your fooling grows old, and people dislike it.”
The fool only grinned. “Thou hast spoke for us, madonna, as if thy eldest son should be a fool; whose skull Jove cram with brains! for–here he comes–one of thy kin has a most weak pia mater.”
As he spoke, Sir Toby came staggering into the hall. He reeked of whiskey and clutched a half-empty bottle.
“By mine honor,” Olivia cringed away. “Half drunk. What is he at the gate, cousin?”
Sir Toby blinked, belched, and looked around. “What?”
“What is he at the gate?” Olivia repeated.
He shrugged. “A gentleman.”
“A gentleman! what gentleman?”
Another swig from the bottle seemed to wake Sir Toby up a bit. “‘Tis a gentleman here–” he announced, followed by another belch. “A plague o’ these pickle-herring!” Another blinking look around, and he finally noticed the fool standing beside his niece. With a grin, he exclaimed, “How now, sot!”
“Good Sir Toby!” The fool managed to choke out around the great bear hug that squeezed half the air from his lungs.
“Cousin,” Olivia said, then louder when he didn’t notice, “Cousin! how have you come so early by this lethargy?”
Suddenly offended, Sir Toby whirled on her. “Lechery!” he sneered, “I defy lechery.” A wide gesture toward the front of the estate that managed to spill some of the almost empty bottle. “There’s one at the gate.”
“Ay, marry, what is he?” Olivia tried to coax.
“Let him be the devil, and he will. I care not.” With a mighty sniff, Sir Toby turned and began a stately exit — right into a wall. The fool caught him and turned him in the direction of his quarters. “Give me faith, say I,” he continued solemnly, “Well, it’s all one.”
Olivia and the fool waited until he had turned out of sight and started giggling. “What’s a drunken man like, fool?” Olivia eventually asked.
“Like a drowned man, a fool and a mad man: one draught above heat makes him a fool, the second mads him, and a third drowns him.”
With a shake of her head, the countess got herself under control. “Go thou and seek the coroner, and let him sit o’ my coz; for he’s in the third degree of drink, he’s drowned: go, look after him.”
The fool squeezed her shoulder and turned to follow Sir Toby. “He is but mad yet, madonna; and the fool shall look to the madman.”
As the title implies, I’ve decided that I do need to split this into seasons. In fact, once I did some mathing, I realized that this is going to be well over my ideal length for a two season story. It’s heading right for the grey area between two and three seasons long. Not sure which I’m going for yet, we’ll see how far along we are when we hit a good breaking point, I guess.
If you have a preference, drop it in the comment section.