This is a tale of my master, Jocund Folderol. He’s an adventuring jester. It’s also a tale of his lord – or laird – and master, Lantisilio Gogogoch. He’s – well, there’s just not enough I can say about him. He’s amazing. A brilliant, wonderful fellow. Together, they investigate all manner of mysteries and crimes.
When they met, it wasn’t murder exactly. But it was a gruesome business nonetheless.
Weather was no respecter of occasions, but sometimes it displayed a perfect grasp of mood. The clouds wore black in their slow procession over the graveyard. Rain was surely on the way, although it was impossible to say whether that was a threat or a promise.
Even Jocund Folderol was disinclined to crack any jokes about it being a ‘good mourning’. The atmosphere was far too delicate for such crass punnery. Jokes of any kind would have felt like trespass. And since Mayor Vincenzo was included in the funereal gathering around the graveside, it was probably advisable to steer clear of any behaviour that might be interpreted as an offence.
Jocund cared less about the mayor, and more about his own neck. What he cared for most, however, was the frail flower that stood at the very edge of the open grave, shedding her dewdrop tears into the earthen emptiness. Or something equally poetic. Poetry wasn’t Jocund’s forte, unless it was limericks or amusing songs.
The important thing was that Lusilda Kandinsky could not be summed up in words. Sadness had paled her milky complexion to the point of illness and greyed her sea-blue eyes, but her cherubic face still shone with humble radiance from all that blackness in which she was robed. Her veil drawn back, her sorrow laid bare, she was as heart-slayingly beautiful as ever. A pale pistil amid midnight petals. But even Jocund knew that when you found yourself resorting to words like ‘pistil’, your metaphors were in trouble.
He stepped softly forward and extended a hand to his grieving beloved.
The gentle tinkle of the bells on his hat were an unfortunate side-effect of his motion, turning the heads of everyone present. All of them, apart from Lusilda, looked annoyed.
Jocund wondered, not for the first time that morning, whether he should have changed into something more sombre. But as a jester, his choices of outfit were limited. And his funds – for the purchase or hire of anything, let alone alternative clothing – were even more so.
Trying to hold his head perfectly still so as not to make an awkward situation worse, he took Lusilda’s tender hand in his own. “My dear Lusilda. I am so deeply sorry for your loss. Again.”
This was her second loss in the space of two days and the enormity of the tragedy was impossible to fathom. The fact that both losses involved her father made it doubly difficult to comprehend. At the very least.
“Oh, Jocund,” she sobbed. And her trembling voice spilled out like the sort of music that plucked at the heartstrings and reduced grown men to tears. Jocund wanted to take her in his arms, to comfort her with his embrace and hide the fact that he was starting to cry.
With an effort he got a hold of himself instead. “If there is anything I can do,” he said. “Anything…” He allowed the offer to trail off, trusting she could feel the full measure of its scope and sincerity in the caress of his thumb against the back of her hand.
“Oh, Jocund,” she said again, fighting through a case of the sniffles. “You are so very kind.” She dabbed at her pretty nose with a black handkerchief. She cast surreptitious sidelong glances at the rest of the gathering, and dipped her voice to a discreet little murmur. “But it is really too soon. You know how vigorously my father disapproved of you. I cannot think of accepting your proposal until he is found and laid to rest.”
“But I – no – that’s not what I – ” fumbled Jocund and he was acutely conscious of everyone else glaring at him again. Worse, his flummoxed state had resulted in some head motion and his hat-bells were jingling entirely inappropriately.
Something in their overly jolly sound proved too much for poor, distraught Lusilda and she broke free of his tender grip, to turn and flee through the cluster of people attending the graveside. Leaving Jocund facing a few exceedingly stern expressions.
One of which belonged to Habius Vincenzo, Mayor of Florenburg. “Folderol! This is completely unacceptable!”
He was a fierce-looking man as a matter of course, with intimidating height and bulk, excessively muscular for a man with an office job. There was a wildness in his eyes and his craggy good looks were accompanied by a dark straggly mane that seemed to have been dragged across the windswept moors of some romantic novel. When he added a flash of teeth like polished stones to the mix, he could have set most men cowering. And as unique as Jocund counted himself, in this respect he was most men.
“But I wasn’t – it’s not – I mean – ”
The mayor stepped up and grabbed Jocund by the lapels in a highly unofficial manner, lifting him onto his toes and very nearly tipping him back into the open grave. Bells chimed and chinged from all over his costume.
“Enough, man! If I wanted to hear your prattling, I’d have paid to see one of your street shows.” He thrust his face so close that Jocund was nearly overpowered by he whiff of bacon and eggs on the man’s breath. The smell was one of the finest, heartiest breakfasts Jocund had enjoyed for days. “Now, as I remember it, you came to me looking for work because your performance art was bombing badly. And I asked if you wouldn’t mind looking into this terrible spate of grave-robbing that’s plaguing this fair town of ours. And as far as I can tell in the time you have been delving into this mystery you have achieved precisely nothing. Mortimus Kandinsky was a venerated member of the community and he will be greatly missed, but his passing will be easier to bear if we at least know where the man’s body is to be found. I dare say I don’t need to remind you that we have in this cemetery a surfeit of empty graves and if you cannot locate their original residents, I will be forced to find other ways to see that these holes in the ground are occupied. Do I make myself clear?”
“A-” Jocund gulped, “-bundantly.”
Vincenzo relaxed his hold somewhat and Jocund felt in even greater danger of falling backwards into the recently vacated grave of his beloved’s deceased father. This, he was sure, would cause far greater offence to the gathered mourners and officials than his bells or the unfortunate misunderstanding with Lusilda.
“Good. Now, pray tell, what do you propose to do about this?”
“Your Honour,” said Jocund, laying on the reassurance like mortar, “I mean to enlist help. I have already placed an ad in the local paper.”
It was weak, but apparently enough. “Very well. Just bear in mind that any additional assistance you hire will have to be paid for out of your pocket.” The mayor set Jocund down on the ground. Then stabbed a finger at Jocund’s chest. “And that whoever you employ, I’ll be holding you responsible.”
Drawing himself up to his full municipal height, the mayor turned and together with the remainder of the gathering marched off through the cemetery, leaving Jocund on the brink of the empty grave.
Fa-la-lay, he thought, trying to cheer himself as he smoothed out his rumpled attire.
[To Be Continued…]