||Jan 5, 2005
I like to describe this as a low-brow Camelot: a love triangle between a king, his queen, and his best friend - not a studly Sir Lancelot in this case, but a rascally, subversive court fool.
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Gwirion had been incensed when he learned the wedding was set for May Day, and the Spring Rites cancelled because of it. ("Usurped," he'd protested, "by a Mortimer, by a bitch of an English virgin.") When Maelgwyn warned him not to use this public gathering as a chance to make sport of anybody, Gwirion had rebutted that he would never condescend to dignify the occasion by immortalizing it with a prank of any sort. And so the entire castle population knew there would be trouble
It was May Day at last. Boughs of birch twigs hung over windows and everyone wore brilliant colors - even the usually bedraggled dwarf Corr wore green hose under his linen tunic. The one exception was Gwirion, who had donned sackcloth to mourn the end of the king's finest years as a bachelor. He insisted the day was too splendid to waste on a wedding, particularly one involving Mortimers, and would have avoided it altogether if Corr had not begged him otherwise.
"You know how ladies react when they see me for the first time," he lamented, his colorless lashes blinking almost spastically in the sunlight. "If you're beside me I can pretend to myself it's partly your hideous mug."
Gwirion grinned at this and then a thoughtful gleam warmed his eyes. It was a look Corr was all too familiar with.
"Whatever you are thinking of thinking," he said, "don't think."
"It seems to me," Gwirion mused, ignoring the request, "that we've never fully exploited that particular aspect of your appearance."
"I doubt she'll give us much satisfaction that way. I've heard she has a sensible head on her shoulders."
Gwirion considered this. "But what has she got on the rest of her?" he asked. Rhetorically.
Corr sighed in capitulation. "And how severe a whipping will this be bringing us?"
Gwirion lowered his voice although they were yards above the crowd. "This wedding is an invasion. She'll try to coerce us to join her Norman civilization." A loaded pause, and then he grinned. "If we're expected to become like her, why don't we just become her?"
The two of them stood atop the king's tower, watching people mill about in anticipatory disarray around the ashes of the Beltane bonfires in the courtyard below. They descended the wooden stairs that hugged the stone curtain wall, bickering over the details of their plot, and began to scout for the bride's brother. He was a younger brother, named Thomas, and he was hardly in whiskers. Gwirion discovered him near the stables. He was standing near a cluster of dangerous-looking youths not much his senior - the infamously rowdy teulu, the king's resident war-band. Their massive leader, Efan the penteulu, was showing off his horse's battle scars. Thomas, a doughy-faced boy with light brown hair, was looking very short and very young, and embarrassed about it. The teulu glanced toward Gwirion, realized who his target was, and returned to their boasting.
"Thomas Mortimer, isn't it? Your presence is required above," Gwirion whispered in his ear. The boy didn't recognize the oddly dressed man, but he was so grateful to be taken seriously by somebody that he went along unquestioning. He failed to notice the looks of the young men he walked away from.
Gwirion led him past the pipers trying quietly to tune, past the large stone well and up the wooden stairway to the top of the curtain wall. The garderobe up here, intended for the king's use, was not as foul as the one below - Gwirion was willing to incur only so much wrath for his prank. Thomas was too bewildered to understand what was happening; even after Gwirion had chained his makeshift gate fast across the open doorway, and the boy was penned into the toilet, he continued to ask innocently where his sister was.
"I'll just get her for you," Gwirion said cheerfully, and departed with no intention of returning for hours.
PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY: “"Screenwriter Galland debuts impressively with a steamy historical romance about a medieval Welsh queen's love affair with the king's best friend -- his profane, hyperactive royal fool. The year is 1198, and King Maelgwyn (mercifully nicknamed Noble) of Maelienydd has wed the young Englishwoman Isabel Mortimer in hopes of neutralizing her uncle Roger, a powerful baron with designs on Noble's small kingdom. But almost from their wedding night, the political marriage of Isabel and Noble is a disaster: she is headstrong and tomboyish, 'far from his ideal'; he is temperamental, tyrannical and unwilling to give up 'nonconjugal fornication.' Even worse for Isabel is his unfathomable relationship with the fool Gwirion, whose outrageous pranks and lewd public performances humiliate her. But when Noble goes off to fight Roger Mortimer, a siege on the castle by an opportunistic Welsh prince forces Isabel and Gwirion to confront each other, and to finally acknowledge their traitorous passion. Galland creates memorable characters -- particularly Gwirion -- who sound authentically regal yet earthy. She strikingly captures the murky Welsh setting and even murkier politics…Readers will relish the energetic emotional back-and-forth of the protagonists' ceaseless trysting.”
San Francisco Chronicle
Not being a medieval historical fiction buff, I came to "The Fool's Tale" with certain preconceived and not terribly sanguine notions -- there would probably, I thought, be lords, ladies and humor that, though intended to be "bawdy," instead would end up just being corny. This novel, by Bay Area writer Nicole Galland, however, challenged and mostly foiled my expectations, proving itself a wallop of a first novel that manages to remain entertaining and engaging…” For the rest of this review go to: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/01/02/RVG33AH0841.DTL
Book of hte Month Club
“Nicole Galland’s The Fool’s Tale creates a vivid twelfth-century world and three unforgettable characters whose lives entwine with war and politics, and climax in an ending as haunting as it is powerful.”
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