So, how is it, you may ask, that a fellow like myself, who can read and write and even count past 100, comes to be the official village idiot of the fine hamlet of Throville? Well, there’s a tale, you see, and I’ll tell thee too, if you promises to keep it quiet.
It happened like this, see. I were around 11 years old and as smart a lad as could be found round the Fenlands. The village idiot then was Old Codger and he were a legend. No-one could match him for falling over his own two feet or forgetting an errand between the big barn and the well, a distance of only 12 yards, let me tell you. We young uns used to have a fine old time, following him around and shouting abuse at him. It weren’t with no ill will, for we loved him really, and he took it with a wide grin and a shrug of his shoulders.
He never wanted, did Old Codger, not for a roof over his head or a bite to eat and when the Barley Wars came and all the men had to march off to help Baron Ilsley, Old Codger wasn’t in the vanguard. No, nor in the rearguard neither. He was tucked up, happy as a horsefly, in the barn and eating buttered bannocks.
It was that what started me thinking, especially when so many of the menfolk came back with busted heads and broken legs, that it couldn’t be that bad being a village idiot. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t no coward, but I knew that winning the Barley Wars (which we did) would do the good people of Throville no good at all, so why did we fight for the Baron to raise his taxes that way. Give me a cause and I’ll fight, I thought to myself, but I’m dammt if I’m going to put my neck on the line so’s the Baron can sup rich wine in his castle.
And while the men were in the fields, the sweat glistening on their backs, and the women were aspinning or kneading dough and suchlike, Old Codger would be down by the pond, playing with the ducks. It seemed like a fine life to me and I decided I should like to be a village idiot and live a life of ease and luxury, that’s how smart I was.
Course, it weren’t easy. Up till then I’d been regarded by all as quite the scholar and now I had to find a way to convince my kinfolks I was a dimwit. I did it by accidentally falling down the well, or rather staging a fall down the well. I gave myself a few cuts, bruises and scrapes before I went down, especially on my poor old head, but when I came up, rescued by Arfie the Alchemist, my wits had totally deserted me. I was, I am proud to say, as daft as a brush.
After that it was only a case of remembering to act as foolishly as possible at any and every occasion. This, you might think, would be easy, but take it from me, tisn’t simple for a wise man to act the fool when every man’s inclination is to show his wisdom. But pretty soon every one in the village was regarding me with affection and chuckling ‘Aye, Old Codger’s got an apprentice.’ My parents weren’t too minded for I had two older brothers to help on the farm and if the whole village was feeding me it was one less mouth for them to feed.
The lads what I played with didn’t mind none neither, for our pastimes was rassling and suchlike and not quizzing each other on the capital of Mondovia or what princess was it ran off with Duke Ferdinand ere the Brown Plague struck. And an idiot can rassle just as good as a genius on any given day of the week.
Soon, it was generally accepted that when Old Codger went to meet his Mocker I would take over the position of village idiot of Throville. For the village elders this was a boon, for village idiots were scarce in them days and could command quite a price. It was said that the folks of Bullton had paid a tenth of their annual harvest to Tilford for their village idiot, Spittle, as a sort of transfer fee. It was, of course, common knowledge that a village idiot brought good luck to where’er he resided, but one tenth of a harvest? Course, Spittle could be an idiot in several different languages, him being foreign born, so the price was bound to be high.
So there, I’ve told you my secret and there’s only one other person knows it and that’s my wife, Doolally.
As you know all village idiot marriages is arranged as you couldn’t expect a village idiot to do much in the way of courting by himself. But, as I’ve said, there was a great demand for village idiots, and the general hilarity they could bring, in those days, and some folks reckoned they could be bred, just like cattle. Pair up two village idiots and the offspring was bound to be fools, was the thinking. And if there was a nice size brood they could be sold off for a profit to neighbouring villages when they reached their maturity, so village idiots was encouraged to take a bride.
I was lucky with Doolally, for though she was as stupid as a square wheel she was a fine looking lass and I had no disinclination to start a family with her.
Problem was my books. I had a passion for reading, though I knew that knowledge could be my downfall. I’d kept a secret stash ever since I’d decided to become an idiot and only read them when there was no-one else around. So, it came as a great surprise when I came home one day, fresh from falling in the pond, and found Doolally with her nose in The History of the Eleven Kingdoms.
“What be you doing?” I asked her.
She looked up at me and there was a look in her eye which made my poor foolish heart sink.
“I’m perusing your library,” she said and it took me a moment to realise that she shouldn’t know a word such as peruse.
“This History is full of basic errors,” she continued, “King Byron never banished the Pergians till after the Great Divide.”
“You’re no idiot,” I said to her, not sure whether I should be angry or not.
“And neither are you,” she replied, “Do you think you’re the only one with the wisdom to be a jester?”
And not realising that was possibly the most foolish thing I ever done.