The Jester

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Beth snickered to herself as she donned her brightly colored hat, pinning it securely to her wavy brown hair.  The usually jolly bells that hung from three pronged hat had been silenced with wads of cotton.  For once she needed stealth on her side, not attention.  She gave her head a vigorous nod, pleased at the silence that followed.  She glanced in the mirror, checking that her costume was in place, before stuffing three red juggling balls into the long side pocked of her baggy pants and grabbing her mandolin from its shelf.

She paused at her bedroom door and took a few deep breaths.  A voice in the back of her head screamed at her to stop now, turn around, enjoy having the night off.  A louder, more belligerent voice forced her to open the door and step into the hallway. “Unnecessary,” the voice grumbled. “Too serious.”  I’ll show her too serious.  And really, she thought, wasn’t that the point of a court jester? So that things didn’t get too serious?

Of course, the underlying reasons for Beth’s insistence had nothing to do with the dignity of her position.  She wanted to see the three visiting heads of state.  It was rare for so many monarchs to be together, and they would only be there for the evening.  While King George had arrived several days before and would be visiting for almost a fortnight, Queens Isobel and Marion were both en route to other places, stopping as a courtesy and a gesture of thanks to Queen Coraline for the recent defeat of an ogre horde that had been terrorizing them all.  Beth had seen the arrival of the Queens earlier that day, had witnessed with the rest of the crowd the formal greetings on the palace steps from George and Coraline, but she wanted to be up close to them, to perform for them!  How could Cory deny her this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?!

She couldn’t.  At least, that’s what Beth had convinced herself, even after being given a very firm “no” by the queen earlier.  Her bottom tingled a little as she thought about the outright defiance she was about to commit.  She shrugged it off.  She would deal with the consequences later. For now, she had a show to put on.

She slipped down the hall toward the kitchen, avoiding contact with anyone as long as she possibly could.  No doubt the cook or even the head of the waitstaff would send her straight back to her room, and then she’d still end up in trouble but with nothing to show for it.  She stood by the closest kitchen entrance, observing people walk through the short hallway leading to the smaller dining hall.  She watched a parade of well-dressed servers walk past carrying small plates of beautiful julienne peppers and other colorful vegetables.  Beth took a deep breath- it was now or never!  With grace that belied her silly costume, she twirled the last of the servers around, snatching his plate and turning him antipodal before taking his place in line as they marched into the dining hall.

Beth pranced her way to the table, a giant grinned spread across her face.  The queen– her queen– had her back to the servers from her place at the head of the table in the smaller of the formal dining halls. To her right sat King George, and beside him, his wife Katherine. To her left, Queen Isobel, then Queen Marion, then Marion’s wife June.  The three women to the left were the first to spot her, smiles slowly spreading across their faces at the surprise entertainment.  George and Katherine saw her a moment later, though she noted a hint of confusion on the King’s face.  If she wasn’t good at her job, Beth would have scowled; he must have heard Cory’s conversation with her earlier.  Coraline was starting to turn, curious about the changing expressions on the faces of her company, just as Beth reached around with all the cheer she could muster and placed the Queen’s plate in front of her before backing away slowly with long graceful bows, slickly pulling her mandolin strap so the instrument slid around her torso from her back.

Coraline leveled a glare at her with eyes so stormy and dark that she almost faltered, but she couldn’t stop now.  In for a penny, she thought as she strummed the small instrument.  “And now,” she announced grandly, “I welcome to our humble land with a lesson on recent history!

“There once was an ogre hoard
Whose losses we could not afford
And so the queen said
We’ll kill them all dead!
Even ogres will fall to the sword.”

Beth took another bow with plenty of flourish as the monarchs applauded politely.  She heard the scraping of a chair against stone and she cut the bow short, standing quickly to see the queen rising up from her chair.  “That is quite enough, Elizabeth.”

“Name’s Patches, my queen, Patches Pitches! I’ll leave you in stitches!” Beth said nervously, trying to stay in character as she reached into her pockets for the juggling balls.  It wasn’t a great plan, but it was the only one she had- keep the show going.  She glanced nervously at the guests, who were starting to look confused (except for King George, who looked torn between amusement and sternness).  As the red balls soared upward, time seemed to slow and Beth had time to think about how funny it was to see such powerful people looking confused, and then Coraline’s voice cut through her thoughts. “One.”

She was so startled that she fumbled, catching a ball in her left hand while the other two rolled lazily toward the table, both bouncing softly against King George’s chair.  He picked them up, setting them gently on the table, before turning back to the scene unfolding before them.  Coraline snapped her fingers authoritatively before opening her palm expectantly.  Finally abashed, Beth walked forward and dropped the last red ball silently into her waiting hand.  “Elizabeth Adair, you have made some very poor choices tonight in your quest to have an audience.  It looks like you will get exactly that, though.”  The queen turned her attention to her guests as she continued, “Beth was disappointed to hear that her services would not be required tonight, as I wanted to keep this dinner fairly brief.  Now I must beg your apologies, as she has decided to act the fool and in doing so, acted rather foolishly.”

Beth felt her knees begin to shake involuntarily as she glanced at the table.  The heads of state all had stern expressions on their faces now (save Katherine, who look almost as petrified as she felt) and she quavered under so much scrutiny.  She couldn’t look up for more than a second, preferring instead to keep her head bowed and her eyes on the floor as Coraline continued.  “In doing so, she has not only embarrassed herself, but she has embarrassed me.  If you will excuse me, my dear queens and king, my friends, my guests, I will have to take some time now to indulge this need of hers.  Please feel free to enjoy dinner as best you can; this won’t take too long.”

And with that, she pulled her chair back, just a few feet away from a table full of the most powerful people in several kingdoms, and took a seat.  She looked expectantly at Beth, who stared back, wide-eyed, and whispered “please,” having just enough sense to keep from pleading “Cory” in front of the other royalty.  Her eyes were two brown marbles, large and pitiful as she realized that she was about to be dealt with right there in the dining hall.  She had known there would be consequences, even severe ones, but she’d been unable to keep herself from this destructive plan once she’d gotten it in her head.  She never dreamed that she’d be spanked in front of everyone, though.  It was her nightmare.

Coraline looked at her expectantly.  Beth swallowed hard, willing herself to take the few steps necessary to be right by the queen’s side.  It was no longer defiance that caused her to hesitate, but outright dread.  Still, she knew what was expected of her.  Slowly she made her way to the queen’s side, taking off her mandolin as she did so and holding it out.  Queen Coraline took it with a nod, handing it to Queen Isobel to put on the table, before reaching up to grab Beth’s wrist and tip her unceremoniously across her royal lap.  Beth was actually grateful to be in the position, at least for a moment as the queen adjusted her.  Anything was better than staring into all those disapproving eyes.  Then she felt her baggy jester’s pants being tugged open, right down the split that was supposed to come apart at very specific times in her act.  Her underwear were tugged down immediately afterward, and suddenly her bottom was as cool as her face was hot, and things were so much worse.

And then Cory’s hand started falling on her bottom, loud clear smacks that stung and made Beth wiggle immediately.  Usually the queen lectured when she doled out discipline, but she must have assumed Beth knew exactly why this was happening because she let her hand do all the talking.  Beth was starting to let out little squeaks when she noticed the feet of a server walking passed her head.  She reached up and grabbed the metal bells of her hat, tugging them, mortified– the kitchen staff was seeing her get a bare bottom spanking while they served dinner to a table full of monarchs!  Big tears started to form in her eyes, slowly rolling down her cheeks and dripping onto the stone floor, and her cries became more frantic.  Coraline paused, and Elizabeth felt a shift below her as the queen reached for something.  The next second, Beth felt the hard snap of thick leather across her sore backside, a feeling she wished wasn’t so easy to identify.  She frantically wondered where the queen might have gotten the implement.  With a gasp, she saw Isobel lay the mandolin down gently on the floor by her chair– she had undone the strap! Beth barely had time to be indignant about being spanked with her own mandolin strap, she was so busy concentrating on the grip on her hat and trying not to kick too much.  Kicking only made it worse with Queen Coraline, particularly if there was an audience.  She liked to show off how obedient her subjects were to her, how willingly obedient, and so Beth was making every effort possible to be still and quiet.  She was managing not to outright yell, at least.

And she knew she had broken this cardinal rule, that she had embarrassed Cory, which would make this punishment worse than any she’d had in the recent past.  Because of this, Beth didn’t beg her to stop, though soon her tears were intermingled with “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry ma’am” and “I’ll never be so disrespectful again, not ever.”  Eventually, the queen did stop, through abruptly, without any of the slowing down or gentle touches that usually signified the end of a spanking.

Beth did so quickly, bringing her hands to her head without being told, though she wanted to rub her throbbing bottom and knew her face was streaked with tears.  Coraline stood, grabbing a napkin from the table and using it to wipe Beth’s face.  Next she grabbed the small red ball she’d set down earlier in her right hand, then took Elizabeth’s arm with her right, marching her to the corner of the room.  She placed the ball in the corner, holding it in place with two fingers and looking expectantly at the girl before her, no trace of sympathy in her expression.  With a shuddering breath, Beth moved forward and pressed her forehead against the ball, securing her place in the corner.  She felt the queen grab the sides of her split pants again, jerking them apart, and then Beth’s hands were being placed by her sides and wads of cloth shoved in her hands.  “Keep them just like this,” came a clipped order, and then the queen was gone.

Beth cried silently as she sat in the corner, her bottom feeling twice its usual size, feeling the cool breeze of the occasional wait staff passing her by and listening to the chatter at the table.  Maybe it was awkward for them, but it didn’t seem to be.  Beth could hardly pay attention, though.  Her bottom hurt from the spanking and her face hurt from crying, and she sat in the corner feeling deeply embarrassed and ashamed of her actions that night.  She wasn’t sure how long she stood there, but she was as still as she could manage.  She was there through the entire dinner, and just barely stopped herself from letting out an audible sigh of relief when she heard chairs scraping the floor, signifying the end of the meal.

She listened as the queen bid the others goodnight, sounding as gracious and delightful as she always did, as if she hadn’t taken her naughty fool across her lap an hour ago and spanked her bare bottomed at the supper table.  Finally, Beth felt a hand on her back and she turned, practically flinging herself into the queen’s arms.  Tears that had dried up long ago suddenly appeared again as the girl began to sob harder than she had even during her spanking. “I’m so sorry, Cory.  I didn’t mean to.  I shouldn’t have.  I’m sorry.”  She heard gentle shushing noises as Coraline guided her up the stairs to the royal bedchamber.  Cory hushed her with a kiss on the forehead, and a gentle “It’s okay, Beth.  You’re forgiven.  It’s over now.”  Beth nodded her acknowledgement as her queen, her mentor, and her friend gently undid the buttons and snaps on the jester’s costume, guiding the girl as she undressed her, then pulled one of her own soft night gowns over the girl’s head.  She took another cloth, a cool one that must have been laid out for Cory’s own night time ritual, and dabbed Beth’s face until it was dry and her eyes felt less puffy.  Then she put the girl to bed, lying beside her and rubbing gentle circles on Elizabeth’s back.  Despite her aching bottom, Beth felt very content, and the rebellious feeling she had been battling for days was completely put to rest.

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