The Court Jester

By
Gaeta awoke. Sunlight pored into his small room, awakening him as it struck his face with unrelenting clout. He opened his eyes slowly, fighting against it, to see his room in the mourning light. It was a small room, with only three pieces of furniture, his flattened straw mattress, a corner table and a washing cupboard (missing the back mirror). But what his room lacked in width, it made up in height. Above him were the thick splintering wood rafters that supported the roof that with minimal effort he could launch himself up to. His room was clean in the sense that there was no unnecessary rubbish, but messy in that the few items that he owned were scattered around in no organized method. Gaeta threw back his hand-woven blanket and made his way past his silver washing basin and water pitcher to the terrace. The small vine-covered balcony had an entrance but no door. Only the more important inhabitants in the Vatican had glass doors. He was just a court jester; he had no importance but to amaze and entertain people. He gazed downward at the courtyard below him and found everything to be set in its usual routine. Except for his jester hat. His customary spot for it was over the brass gargoyle, but it was not there. He spotted his hat down a level to the right, caught on a drain pipe. The wind must have blown it off, he thought. Being a jester, he was completely void of the fear of heights, or so he was told. His entire life he practiced physical agility and did stunts that no other man could do, feats of strength and cat-like agility and balance. He had even once balanced on one foot atop the main bell tower’s tip amongst the normal winds, a feat that none but Gaeta had ever thought of doing. That act had gained him much popularity.
Gaeta welcomed more practice, one of the reasons he had become the best of the best. He stood on the railing and leaped to the roof top above. He pulled himself up, backed up and leaped downwards two stories, where he caught the edge of another balcony. He then dropped silently on top of the balcony cover below and plucked up his hat, putting it on and completing his brightly colored outfit.
“Is he in place?” a voice below him said, coolly and without alarm. Gaeta crouched down and listened. Normally, he would never eavesdrop, but the voice was new and had a French accent.
“Yes, he is on the north roof” a second voice answered “the Pope’s tyranny, my friend, will end today.” A rush of adrenalin washed coldly over Gaeta. He looked over to the north roof. He could see the tip of a rifle from the side of a Terrence, facing the door in which the pope exits every morning to take a walk through the courtyard. What was about to happen hit Gaeta, and he moved impulsively, without thought.
He leaped and climbed back up onto the roof. From there, he glanced back down and saw only part of the man’s face through the balcony vines, but it was enough to recognize him; he had a long scar across his face, straight along his jaw. He then ran as fast as he ever had before, for never before had he ran to save a pope’s life. An assassination had always been feared. Pope Pius the XVII was hated by many for not embracing and endorsing the changing society, and was especially hated by the French, hated enough to be assassinated. Gaeta knew this was the time of day that the pope took his walk- a predictable routine easily exploited by an assassin who knew his habits. Gaeta approached from behind the assassin as easily as he could, but he heard his soft shoes on the warm roof as he approached. Gaeta attacked as best he knew, jumping down at the assassin, just trying to save the Pope, not thinking of himself. The man simply side-stepped Gaeta’s rage and brought the back of his Winchester down on his back in one simple, clean motion. Now the assassin had the high ground. He simply glared at Gaeta, and then tossed his rifle past him. Gaeta instinctively reached out and tried to catch it. This slight distraction was all the assassin needed. He lunged forward and kicked Gaeta in the ribs, sending him off the roof with a grunt. Gaeta’s cat-like reflexes was the only thing that saved him. He caught hold of some railing moments before the rifle clattered into the square below. Everyone now was staring up at him. Including the pope’s guards. Gaeta pulled himself back up onto the roof quickly, but the assassin had utterly vanished. The servants and workers were now all clustered fearfully, talking with gestures and pointing at him, and then the gun. The guards were pointing to; only they were pointing with their weapons and shouting up at him, threatening to fire if he moved.
Gaeta was arrested, or course, and charged with attempting to assassinate the pope. He was then quickly taken too and questioned by the archbishop to whom he told and retold his story countless times, repeating what had happened. The archbishop did not believe him, believing he had been paid by the French, and that he had just lost his balance, otherwise he would have assassinated the pope. Gaeta still denied everything, arguing with anyone who would listen, although few would. All his friends turned against him, some because they witnessed him on the roof and they interpreted it as an assassination attempt and others because the fear of being accused of loyalty to the French strongly inclined them to agree with the majority.
The archbishop could find no reason to not imprison Gaeta. Thus he was marched by guards down to the cells where they keep the long-term prisoners, and handed him over to the jailer. The jailer threw Gaeta in his cell, turned to leave, and for the first time Gaeta saw the scar on his face, unique and startling, running straight along his jaw.





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