A jester’s cap says quite a lot in spite of being an inanimate object.
The two tails? They display his recent graduation yet relative inexperience. And the Four Bells, well, they symbolize the Four Clans. The colors are arguably the least important aspect, evidence of neither allegiance nor ability. But they can tell you a lot about the fool in question, which, these days, is worth quite a lot.
Jericho, a stout Jester just out of Clown Camp, has a simple jester’s cap, just tails and bells. It matches his patchwork suit, because he’s just that classy, sharp diamonds and squares sewn together on second-hand pieces of fabric. Lots of red, in honor of the Royals, and some splotches of purple and yellow simply because he thinks they make him look nice.
But that’s just the cap itself. The bells, on the other hand…
“Well, look at you, joker. They might just make something of you yet.”
He still doesn’t know how Harmony got her hands on the materials needed to make the bells. All he knows is she got assigned a semester of Reconditioning, and, not long after, he got his graduation papers. Jester Jericho, top of their class, shipping out for none other than Big Top Palace.
Honestly, it’s not nearly as glamorous as he was expecting it to be. The Royal Jokers have shipped out with their Automatons and the entirety of the Happy Face Brigade, leaving the upkeep and protection of the Palace in Jericho’s hands. Probably says a lot about their faith in his abilities, now that he thinks about it.
“Just another boring day in the Big Top,” Jericho grumbles, rolling about the grand halls of the Palace in his wheely chair until his banana phone starts ringing. Startled by the sudden noise, he comes to an abrupt halt and hastily fishes the enchanted fruit out of his cap. “Jester Jericho reporting for duty.”
A warm, familiar laugh greets him before a cloud of confetti surrounds Jericho to reveal the image of Ringmaster Chuy. With a polka-dotted cape and a tight smile, he folds his hands in front of himself and raises his eyebrows. “Always so formal,” Chuy admonishes. “You aren’t still riding around on that chair, are you?”
Jericho scratches at his stubble, lips pressed tightly together as he considers his response. “Of course not. How’s the siege going?”
“Ah. Well, Jericho. that’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about.”
It’s a strange thing. If you’d told him even a month ago that he would be on a first name basis with the Ringmaster of the Four Clans, he’d have told you to take a hike. New graduates are seldom ever allowed into the Big Top, much less as the Ringmaster’s right hand. But these are strange times they’re living in. Harlequin Harion, once the fastest pie-thrower in the West and among the Ringmaster’s most trusted companions, is currently serving a life sentence in the Sad Face Dungeons. It left an open spot amongst Chuy’s circle, and, as luck would have it, Jericho’s reputation as someone worth having on your side has done him wonders.
“I’d hardly call it a siege at all,” Chuy is saying as Jericho continues to roll himself down the hall. “The man in charge is a Clown by the name of Casper. Bottom of the barrel, admittedly, but I’m afraid we’ve underestimated him. Guy took out my whole platoon with a handful of bowling pins and a can of whipped cream.”
Impressed in spite of himself, Jericho gives a tilt of his head, his bells letting out several musical tones with the motion. “Sounds like a formidable opponent,” he answers as he comes upon the Bouncy House Suite. He rises from his chair, rolling up the sleeves of his suit as he stalks toward the Rubber Chicken Tower that overlooks the gates to the Palace.
“He would be if he had an ounce of common sense within his arsenal. His whole racket seems to be recruiting other Jokers to put on some sort of self-destructive, sadistic circus…and he’s allied with neither the Southeast nor the Northwest.”
With a grunt in understanding, Jericho brings his banana phone to rest against the stone railing before him and sighs. “So he’s a wild card, then? That could be a problem.”
“Yes, well, for now he’s your problem.” A shimmer passes through his image, and Jericho glares at his phone before the signal steadies. “Chroma made a bad call, and he slipped past our defenses. He should be making his way towards you in a Clown Car. My best guess is sooner rather than later.”
A smile splits across Jericho’s face before he can help himself. A Rogue Joker is no laughing matter, pun intended, but he’d be lying if he said he didn’t welcome the change of pace. “I’ll handle him,” Jericho says before he reaches into his pocket for the burlap pouch he always carries on him. “And while I have you, I was…wondering if you’d heard anything about Harmony.”
Realistically, he knows she’s probably fine. People lose contact with one another all the time after Clown Camp, it’s just the way of things.
Of course, he lost contact well before either of them left.
“Harmony,” Chuy echoes, his eyes far away as he focuses on something Jericho can’t see. “Harlequin, I assume?” When Jericho answers in the affirmative, Chuy hums and turns his stare back onto him. “I haven’t heard anything yet, but I wouldn’t stress too much over it. Harlequins are unpredictable, no doubt about it, but it’s the mimes you gotta look out for, stirring up trouble at the drop of a hat. By year’s end, we’ll have this all sorted out and everything…” He takes in a breath and closes his eyes for a long moment. “Everything will be as it was.”
Recognizing that these words are more for the Ringmaster’s benefit than his own, Jericho nods and straightens his shoulders. “Of course. I’d better get going. I can hear clown music coming down the Mountain.”
With a polite farewell, the call comes to an end, leaving Jericho alone once more in the vast openness of the Palace. He shakes his head at himself, tucks his banana back into clown space, and leaps from the railing until he’s stood just before the gates.
Sure enough, there’s an idiot streaming down the Mountain in a raggedy clown car. The driver pokes his head out the window, revealing a lanky man with a floppy cone-shaped cap and a ruffled collar draped around his neck. He’s driven just before the drawbridge when the car belches out a noxious cloud of rainbows and dies without fanfare. “Yes, hi, hello!” the man calls out, a wide-toothed grin splitting his face open. He gives a tug of the pom pom buttons running up and down his suit in the vein of straightening himself up. Of course, the blood splatters kind of ruin his efforts. “Is this Big Top Palace?”
Jericho brings his hands to rest on his waist, slyly attaching his spare bells to the belt that hangs from his hips. “I don’t know, pal, what do you think?”
Casper’s wearing pink and orange personals, about as colorful and warm as a person can be. But as he draws closer, Jericho notices the claws creeping from his fingers, the fangs jutting from his bloody gums. There’s a glint in his eyes as he pulls a bowling pin free of his hat and stalks closer. Scary Clown, then. How about that? “You must be the replacement. I was wondering how long he’d mope over that guy. For the record, you’ve got so much more charisma, I am just thrilled to have the opportunity to fight you.”
And he’s a talker. Good to know. Jericho swipes five bells from his belt, balancing them between his fingers as he offers his opponent a warning smile. “I’ve got ten spare bells on me,” he tells Casper, who simply nods his head in understanding. “You know what that means, don’t you?”
“Yesiree, means you’ve only ever fought Jesters.” Casper lets his tongue fall out of his mouth, the forked appendage dangling uneasily from his mouth as he stalks forward on all fours. “I wouldn’t brag about that. Your tails already tell me everything I need to know.”
Jericho grits his teeth, leaping in the air just in time to miss the snap of razor-sharp fangs reaching for his throat. When he lands just a few paces away, he has only half a moment to unleash three of his bells, one at the man’s head and the other two at his feet. One explodes in an electric cloud of silver, suspending Casper in mid-air whilst his feet grapple for purchase. “Well, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” Jericho taunts, a haughty grin teasing at his lips.
“And you shouldn’t talk in the middle of a fight.” Smiling himself, Casper lashes out his tongue and crushes one of the bells between his teeth. He then kicks the other back at Jericho’s head, tugging with some effort before he pulls himself free and leaps over the drawbridge.
Yeah, he probably should’ve taken Chuy’s advice more to heart. This guy packs a wallop.
Jericho trails after Casper, eyes narrowed as he grabs hold of three more bells. “Lucky Jack, Jason, and Josepha, don’t fail me now.” Without preamble, he reels back his arm before launching the bells above Casper’s head. Time seems to slow as a shimmery string of silver stretches between the bells, a bell ring freezing the Clown in place just before he can cross the threshold of the Palace. Jericho saunters up to him, arching an eyebrow as he stares up at him. “You didn’t really think this was gonna work, did you?”
Teeth split into a ferocious grin, Casper remains suspended in the air as he reaches for the flower sewn into the heart of his suit. A stream of water catches Jericho in the face, and Casper snickers. “You can’t blame a Clown for trying,” Casper says with a mere shrug.
Within the hour, Jericho’s safely escorted Casper to the Royal Dungeon, shoving him in between the traitor Harion and a no-name Jester convicted of vehicular homicide on a miniature bicycle.
Casper takes one look between Harion and Jericho before sucking in a sharp breath. “Awkward.”
The sun’s begun to lazily slip from the sky, and Jericho, upon shutting the door on Casper’s endless chatter, realizes once more just how quiet these halls can get when there’s no one to fill them.
Harmony would’ve had a ball here, Jericho idly thinks as he swims aimlessly throughout the ball pit. Or maybe she would’ve hated it.
His line of thought is interrupted by the sound of the door to the ball pit opening. Clearing his throat, he sits up and watches as lady-in-waiting Chroma holds out her universal remote and reveals the image of Chuy and his sister Juanita.
“Your majesties,” Jericho breathes, dropping to his knees with a musical flourish. “Clown Casper has been detained. Can I assume Polka Dot Beach has been retaken?”
Chuy offers him a warm smile before declaring, “You assume correctly. We won’t be returning any time soon, though. Our spies in the Northwest bring reports of a growing recruitment campaign. They’re looking for a permanent base.”
Well, that never bodes well. Jericho takes a moment to climb out of the ball pit, brows furrowed as he considers his extensive knowledge of Cardinal history. After all that time the Automatons spent drilling it into his head, it’s a relief to know it wasn’t entirely a waste of time. “Maybe we should keep more of our troops stationed there. The Mimes have never had the numbers needed for a successful rebellion, but they have the Harlequins now. And their numbers are greater than any of the Clans combined.”
If his words cause the Ringmaster any concern, he does a damn good job of hiding it. Preoccupied with the stack of papers Chroma has sent his way, Chuy merely shrugs his shoulders before offering a response. “The Southeastern Alliance is a thousand years in the making, forged by trust, competence, and dependability. Harlequins know no such loyalty, and without them, the Mimes don’t stand a chance.” Chuy gives a tight-lipped smile and says, “That being said, we have prepared for the worst case scenario and resumed production of the Automatons to strengthen our numbers.”
It’s at this moment that Chroma looks away, eyes forlorn as she looks up from the high-tech remote within her hands. “The last time they were deployed was at the Battle of Bowtie Mountain. I hear their people still haven’t recovered.”
“And they’re on babysitting detail anyway,” Juanita says with a scoff before she cuts her eyes to Jericho. “No offense.”
In any case, Chuy gives a wave of his hand, uncaring for any potential difficulties. “The Automatons are programmed to handle Rogues,” he says with zero room for argument. “I don’t care how they do it. I just care that it gets done.” When he looks around the table and sees everyone rendered silent, he hums to himself and nods. “Now, between the combined forces of the Clowns, Jesters, and Automatons, I like our chances. How about you?”
The Royals conclude their call, leaving Jericho with his thoughts and Chroma. But when he turns, he finds the lady-in-waiting has ventured off, the Sad Clown’s big shoes practically silent against the floors of the Palace.
Now, Jericho could leave this be, prepare himself for the next call or attempted siege. But there’s no telling when either of those will come along and…truth be told, he could use the company. “Where are you going?” he asks the elder Joker, curious as she pokes and prods with the wires and knobs protruding from her remote.
She looks up and gives him a thin smile, brushing a lock of polka dotted hair over her ear as she does so. “I’m outta batteries. Don’t tell anyone, but I raid the Royal Vault when they’re out on business.” She pauses for a moment then, that eternal sadness seeming to creep back into her eyes as she takes in his tails. She gives a twist of her remote, and a slip of paper materializes before gliding gracefully into Jericho’s hands.
“What do you want me to do with this, make a paper airplane?” he asks in a dry voice.
In response, Chroma rolls her eyes before turning her attention back to her remote. “You lost one of your bells. There might not always be a tailor around, times as they are. If you ever need a patch-up, just look for Ming. She’s staying out near the Heart.”
Jericho can only give a somber nod of the head. Truth be told, his magic relies almost entirely upon bells and, thus, would be vulnerable in the event of a shortage. “I’ll remember the name,” he says as he tucks the slip of paper away into his cap. “I’m gonna turn in for the night. Gotta get my eight hours, you know.”
With a nod in understanding, Chroma offers him a tired smile before saying, “I’ll probably stay up for a while. Ringmaster wants to go over the upgrades for the Automatons.”
She disappears down the hall. Come morning, Chroma’s set out on assignment to the Flowerbed, and Jericho’s left alone again. He contends himself to his extended stay, often thinking of his tortuous time at Clown Camp and how so very much he wanted to be exactly where he is now.
Continue to Part Two on May 10th
About the Author
With an interest in writing stretching back the years of fat pencils and spelling tests, Kierra Montgomery has experience in mostly unprofessional writing and is now stepping into professional waters. Her primary interest is speculative fiction, and it tends to lean towards the more whimsical vibe than not.