Rojer’s Mummery

Introduction

This scene was excised from Chapter 17 of The Desert Spear, entitled “Keeping Up With the Dance”. It was designed as an entertaining infodump to describe the court of Duke Rhinebeck of Angiers to the readers. Those of you who have read The Painted/Warded Man will recall that I have used Jongleur performances for this purpose before, as it tends to be a smoother and more enjoyable way to convey information than a long and boring tell by the narrator. Rojer’s Mummery is a fun little scene that introduces a cast of characters (Araine, Rhinebeck, Mickael, Pether, Thamos, and Janson) that will have a large part to play in future stories.

Why It Was Cut

I wrote this scene as much to inform myself as the reader. I knew who the members of Rhinebeck’s court were and that they would be important, but their interpersonal dynamic eluded me. Keeping Up With the Dance was by far the hardest chapter in the book to write, taking well over a month where I agonized over the keyboard, cursing life. But after I wrote this little bit of mummery, everything clicked, and suddenly the characters came alive in my mind. By the time Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer actually met the duke’s court, I was writing them with full confidence, as if I was just a stenographer taking down what everyone said. It is now probably my favorite chapter in the entire book.

In some ways, the mummery did its job too well, because when I was done, those meetings were so smooth that Rojer’s infodump was totally redundant and unnecessary. My editor and test readers all agreed that it should be cut.

Scene

Rojer Avatar

The Painted Man was pacing like an animal when Leesha came into the patient ward. The patients, normally separated by age and gender, were all gathered together, those not prone sitting in clusters on empty cots as they watched the far end of the room, which had been cleared of furniture.

“You look ready to leap out of your skin,” Leesha said, coming to stand next to him.

“I don’t like being indoors at night,” the Painted Man said.

“The city gates are locked at dusk,” Leesha reminded. “There’s no getting out until morning. You’ll just have to go a night without killing a demon.”

The Painted Man shook his head. “I can climb the wall easily enough,” he said, “but there’s really no need. Angiers has always had gaps in its sky net that wind demons find their way through, preying on anyone bold enough to go out in the dark. I could see to it there’s a few less that return to the Core at dawn.”

Leesha swallowed, remembering the guardsmen that had come running to the hospit just over a year earlier, carrying a severely wounded Rojer and begging for succor. A wind demon had been chasing them, and killed one of the guards, prompting Leesha to run out herself to help the injured. It was only luck and the quick thinking of Mistress Jizell that had allowed the rest of them to make it safely inside.

“Then why are you inside?” she asked. “Take your bow and go.”

“Rojer,” the Painted Man growled the name. “He says I want to pay especial attention to his performance tonight.”

“Why?” Leesha asked.

“Search my pockets,” the Painted Man said, shrugging, “you’ll find no answers.”

Rojer appeared with a flourish a few moments later, drawing everyone’s attention. The children gave a shriek, and even the older patients cheered and applauded.

“Look at you lazeabouts, lounging in bed all day!” Rojer called, cartwheeling down the aisle. He threw a handful of Leesha’s snap bangs as he went, the tiny twists of paper exploding with loud cracks.

“I never should have made those for him,” Leesha said. “He promised not to use them inside.”

But whatever Leesha’s feeling, the patients loved the display, and applauded again. Rojer landed in front of a young woman, lying back with her leg in a cast supported from the ceiling.

“You know,” he said to her, “that was my bed not a year ago. Night, I think they used the same cast. Let me see.” He reached over, inspecting her cast closely.

“Ah! It is mine!” he cried. “I knew I left something in there!” He reached for her leg, and a long stemmed rose appeared in his hand. He bowed and handed it to her. “No wonder your foot hurts!” he cried. “Those thorns are sharp!”

The girl clapped and Rojer spun away, this time going to a young boy who had a small pile of painted wooden soldiers in his lap. “Going to be in the prince’s guard one day?” he asked. The boy nodded eagerly. Rojer took one of the toys in his good left hand closing his fingers and blowing on the fist. When his fingers uncoiled, the soldier was gone, only to reappear under the boy’s blanket.

Rojer looked at the figure closely. “This is a good likeness,” Rojer said. “I’ve met Prince Thamos, you know.”

“Really?” the boy asked, eyes wide.

“Sure as sunrise,” Rojer said, back-flipping into a handstand and hand-walking back up to the cleared front of the room, where he somersaulted back to his feet. “My master, the great Arrick Sweetsong, was Duke Rhinebeck’s most famous herald! I used to live in the duke’s keep, and know his entire court. Would you like to meet them?” he asked the crowd.

“Yes!” they all cried, and Rojer grinned. He turned to a large cloth bag he had left at the front of the room, hunching over as he sorted through its contents with his back to the audience, pulling on some clothes and doing something to his face. Without turning, he reached for an empty cot, stripping the blanket and pillow. He put the pillow on his upper back and whipped the blanket over it like an aged hump, snatching a dry mop from the corner and flopping the gray rag top over his head while using the wooden handle like a cane. He hunched over, squinting at the crowd as he limped about. He tucked his lips over his teeth, working his mouth in an illusion of toothless senility.

“Well,” he said, his voice turned shrill and scratchy, “we begin with the Araine, the Duchess Mum.” He hobbled around, squinting this way and that. He cackled, sounding to all the world like a crone. Leesha was thankful he had never met Hag Bruna.

“Araine gave up power to her son twenty years ago when Rhinebeck the second died,” Rojer said, “but she still holds on, dealing with matters of great import, such as making sure the duke and his brothers wear clean stockings.”

There was general laughter as Rojer pulled the mop off his head and dropped the blanket, turning his back to the audience again. When he turned, he had taken the pillow out of the Duchess Mum’s hunchback and slipped it into the front of the fine robe he wore, giving the impression of a prodigious belly. Ropes painted gold hung like medallions around his neck, and a wooden circlet was atop his head, a skin-colored bit of cloth covering his red hair to give the impression of a bald pate. He had put on a thick salt and pepper beard.

“After that,” Rojer said, his voice becoming a deep, imperious rumble as he waddled in front of the audience, “we have the duke himself, Rhinebeck the third, guardian of the forest fortress, wearer of the wooden crown, and Lord of all Angiers.”

Rojer spun about frantically, running over to a hard-backed chair he had covered in ivy. He blew out a long breath of relief and wiped his brow.

“Rhinebeck’s always checking to make sure his throne’s where he left it,” Rojer said, “since it might vanish if he can’t produce an heir.” Rojer waved a bright cloth in front of the chair, and when he pulled it away, the chair was gone. Jizell herself barked a laugh at that.

“If Rhinebeck should die without an heir,” Rojer said, “the throne will go to the eldest of his three brothers, Crown Prince Mickael.” He quickly pulled the pillow from under his fine robe and removed the crown, arching his back. He put a salt and pepper wig atop his head and strode around the room with arrogant confidence, his thumbs tucked into his armpits.

“Mickael has two sons of his own, and so his posterity is assured,” Rojer said. He lifted the bright cloth again, and the ivy throne reappeared. He glanced around as if to see if he was observed, then quickly pulled a string out of his sleeve and used it to measure the throne’s dimensions. He compared the measurements to his own backside, and broke into a wide grin. There were giggles from the apprentices and children.

“But of course,” Rojer went on, “there are others who favor Rhinebeck’s middle brother, Shepherd Pether.” He removed the wig, still wearing the bald skullcap, and again he took the blanket, this time throwing it around his shoulders like a Tender’s hood and over his arms as if they were crossed and lost in voluminous sleeves. “As head of the church,” Rojer said, his voice taking on the serene air of a scholarly Tender, “Pether can minister to the souls of the citizenry as well as their bodies.”

Rojer leaned to the audience, putting a hand to his far cheek in a stage whisper. “He never married, but they say the Tenders’ academy is full of his young heirs nonetheless,” he noted, putting a finger to his lips for secrecy.

Rojer went back to his bag of props, dropping the blanket as he pulled on a green and yellow coat and slipped the black wig back on his head. He stood and turned, revealing a thin, waxed moustache and pointed goatee. He wore a trim coat of green, and flipped the mop down to look like a spear as he marched in front of his audience with military precision.

“Prince Thamos, youngest of the duke’s brothers by a dozen years, is still a bachelor, and has no heirs,” Rojer said, his voice clipped and precise. He looked out over the audience and winked. “None he acknowledges, anyway.”

He marched around the room, smiling and winking at the women, tickling the prettiest under their chins. “You know my dear,” he said to Leesha, leaning on his mock spear, “they say I have the longest spear in Angiers, and none in any city can use it better.” Leesha snorted, and pushed him back towards the center of the room.

“Prince Thamos is captain of the elite royal guard, the Wooden Soldiers,” Rojer said, picking up one of the boy’s painted figures again and holding it up to the crowd before tossing it back to the boy and striding back to the front of the room.

“Of course,” Rojer said, “the lot of them couldn’t find the bowls in front of them with a spoon if not for the first minister, Janson.” He did another quick change, seeming to shrink as he reverted to the bald skullcap and threw a plain green and brown robe over the prince’s garb. He had on a thin beard and spectacles, and wrung his hands, eyes darting from side to side like a cornered animal.

“Janson keeps the royal books, but there’s far more stored in his mind than in ledgers,” Rojer said. “It’s for the best, since the court always seems ready to chop off his head every time they feel a draft in the palace, and the difficulty replacing him might be the only incentive to leave it on his shoulders.”

Rojer walked back to his pile of props. “Now that we have the cast, we can begin,” he said, snatching up the blanket and going into a spin. In an instant, he was the Duchess Mum once more. She hobbled over to one bedridden patient.

“I’m the duke’s mother, and you’ll get well this instant or I’ll have you chopping wood!” she shrieked, rapping his cot leg with the mop. The man jumped in surprise, looking ready to leap out of bed, and the others laughed.

“Janson! Where’s my tea?” the Duchess Mum shrieked, looking around in irritation. Rojer lifted the blanket with a flourish, and when they could see him clearly a moment later, he was again clad as the diminutive first minister. He faced the place where the Duchess Mum had stood, cowering as he wrung his hands.

“Your Grace drank her tea just a moment ago,” Janson said, his voice a frightened tenor.

In a flash, Rojer was back in the blanket and mop wig. “I think I would remember if I had just drank a cup of tea!” Araine shrieked, swinging the mop handle where Janson had stood. He fell out of the blanket, and Janson lay on the floor, rubbing his bald head.

“Of course, Your Grace,” Janson said, managing a bow even from his prone position. “It was my error. I will have your tea brought immediately.”

“See that you do!” Rojer shrieked, back in the mop, as he headed back to the front of the room. In a flash, he had become the duke.

“Come mother, leave poor Janson be,” he said, his voice a deep rumble as he waddled around the room. “He’s my first minister, not your nursemaid.”

“Don’t you tell me what to do!” Araine shrieked, Rojer back in the mop and blanket in an instant. “Just because you sit your father’s throne,” she gestured towards the vine-covered chair, “doesn’t take away that I pulled you from twixt my legs, and can put you back, if needed!”

The patients howled with laughter as the Duchess Mum shook her cane where the duke had stood.

“Do us all a favor, and put him back,” Rojer said in Prince Mickael’s voice, throwing his voice to the doorway even as he slipped into the crown prince’s guise and pretended to enter the room. “Angiers needs a duke with heirs.”

“I suppose you think my job is easy?” Rhinebeck asked.

Mickael snorted, Rojer dancing nimbly from side to side as he played each role of the conversation, his voice changing completely each time. “All you do is sign whatever Janson puts in front of you,” he said. “A wood demon could do the job better.”

“His Grace does far more than that,” Rojer squeaked in Janson’s voice.

“Shut up, Janson,” Mickael snapped. “Fetch me an ale.”

“Immediately, your highness,” the fake Janson said, bowing and scurrying away.

Rojer snatched up the blanket again, and became Shepherd Pether. “I wouldn’t go fluffing the throne’s cushions just yet, brother,” he said in a serene voice. “I have prayed for our dear elder brother to conceive an heir.”

The blanket came back off, and Rojer’s Mickael snorted. “Ah, brother, if only it were so simple. You’ve been saying your prayers for twenty years now, and I am still crown prince. Who else will take the throne when our brother passes? You? You’ll make no royal heirs buggering acolytes in the back rooms of the Holy House.”

Pether scowled. “I’ve no designs on your precious succession, brother,” he said, “though the throne would be well served by a man of the Creator.” Despite his words, the prince looked longingly at the throne.

“Fighting again, dear brothers?” Prince Thamos asked. Again Rojer had changed, and as always, the clothes and props were only a small part of the performance as his carriage and face rippled into a new persona, changing as vastly as his voice now turned smooth as he strode over to the throne and put a foot on it, carving an apple with a knife and chewing the slices with casual indifference, looking every inch the foppish noble.

“And I suppose you think YOU should be duke?” Rojer asked, throwing Mickael’s voice so well that many audience members turned as if to see the prince standing in the corner.

“Certainly not,” Thamos said, looking disgusted. “Why would I? All that paperwork and time wasted ruling on petty peasant squabbles. You three can bicker about heirs if it pleases you, but I’m more concerned with finding the right woman to bear mine.” He turned to the audience with a sly wink. “Even if I need to spear every woman in the Free Cities to find her.” The older patients laughed, and the children joined them, though they did not seem to get the joke.

Thamos looked around. “Who am I seeing tonight, Janson?” he asked.

“Lady Alloway,” Rojer said, becoming the first minister. “You were due at her manse an hour ago. I’ve had the coachman waiting in the courtyard at your highness’ pleasure.”

“Alloway, Alloway… which one was that?” the prince asked.

“Ahem…” Janson said, clearing his throat and looking mortified. “Your highness described her as having… ah…” his face turned bright red.

“Paps like cow udders?” Thamos asked.

“Er, no,” Janson coughed. “That was Lady Amelon. You’re to see her tomorrow. You appreciated Lady Alloway from… another angle.”

Thamos snapped his fingers in sudden recognition, and his face brightened. “You’ll have to excuse me, brothers,” he said, hurrying for the doorway.

Rojer turned just before he reached the door, spinning into the Duchess Mum. “Make sure you’re wearing clean stockings!” she shrieked after her youngest son.

“I was sure to lay them out on his bed this morning, Your Grace,” Janson said reassuringly.

* * * * *

“And that,” Rojer said, when his performance was finally over and Mistress Jizell and her apprentices were shooing all the patients back to their beds, “is all you ever need know about the duke’s court.”

“They can’t possibly be so petty and inept,” Leesha said. “Your gift for exaggeration has run away with you.”

“I don’t know,” the Painted Man said. “It seemed to be about what I remember, and in truth, Rhinebeck’s court is one of the more… ept in the Free Cities.”

“Don’t let the bickering fool you,” Rojer agreed. “With the exception of Thamos, who’s more concerned with women and weapons than politics, the royal brothers are a canny and dangerous lot, and not to be trusted further than they can be thrown. And not one of them is going to take well to having a woman in their throne room who’s not serving or sitting in one of their laps.”

Leesha sighed, and looked to the Painted Man.

“Are the Krasians really so terrible?” she asked.