Tomorrow is the day I start out on my journey to King Richard’s court. I will not be bringing much in my wagon, as I only have one horse and it cannot carry a significant amount of weight over that far of a distance. Perhaps I will bring some old wine bottles or blunt daggers for my performance in front of the King, as well as a few scrolls of my most favored jokes and poems. Since this will be my first time appearing before the King, I am quite nervous and wish to make him laugh as much as possible.
Not only are the King and his court going to be witness to my act, but a large audience as well. When I was summoned, I was told that this was going to be an ornate fayre. Even though I have always received applause by the Dukes and other Lords I have performed for thus far, I hear that King Richard have proven himself to be quite fierce and ferocious, especially in battle; and I only hope that this does not carry over to his sternness in court next week. I am planning on returning home right after the King’s festivities, as I have greatly missed this humble house by the river.
Canterbury is always so pleasant this time of year, and traveling around the country for the entire summer and winter of 1196 was extremely exhausting. To be honest, the thought of a long trek ahead leaves me a bit weary; but since this is the first time the King of England has personally requested the services of me, Henry Walter the Jester, I absolutely could not refuse. 4 April 1197 It is noontime right now, and I am resting after a few hours of travel. I did not feel the need to set out too early, as I have given myself enough travel time so that my horse and I may travel at a moderate pace.
This morning was a great treat, as I was visited by Rowan the baker, who gave me half a dozen of his freshest loaves of bread, two large sacks of grain for my horse, a sack of oats, and two of his famous meat pies. He had gotten word that I will be appearing before the King and offered me all of this food as a congratulatory gift. Together, with the wheels of cheese, salted pork slabs, and jugs of ale I have already packed, this will surely be enough rations to last me to the King’s fayre and back; and of course, there are several villages I may stop at along the way.
I probably loaded up one too many jugs of ale, but it is the surest thing that will keep me in high spirits during my journey. 5 April 1197 Today, I came across a minstrel named Ulric while resting my horse. He is also headed towards King Richard’s fayre, so we have decided to travel together. I suppose one could say it is safer to travel with a companion, but he is quite an interesting character and makes the trip not so monotonous.
He comes from York and travels around the same way as I do, earning wages and receiving ample food and shelter from the nobles for which we perform. We both have similar lives and we are both lucky enough to be experienced enough in our professions as wandering performers to make a sizeable income. He, too, was summoned by the King. After we set up camp for the night, Ulric showed me some of the songs he could play on his lute, along with some of the poems he would recite with his music. I must say, he is a very talented musician.
I offered to lend him some of the poetry I have brought; but after I showed him my poetry scrolls, he pointed out that they are much too comical to be paired with the performance he had planned for the King. He prefers more artistic pieces of literature based upon love. Perhaps I have spent too much time as a single man to particularly care about love, but I would rather make jokes about the subject and exercise my unique right of having the complete freedom to say anything I wish, mocking anything I choose. 6 April 1197 Ulric and I had to make a quick stop at a village today.
During our lunch break, I was searching in my wagon for a jug of ale when I accidentally knocked my jester hat into a muddy puddle; so we had to make haste and find a well. Luckily while I was laundering my hat, Ulric somehow managed to find a box holding a worn chess board with its pieces intact. We spent nearly two hours tonight playing chess, trying to see who had the superior mind. To anyone who mistakes jesters for being uneducated and foolish, I ask them to come and witness a show of my intellect as it is displayed during this game!
It does get tiring when ladies and lords all over England assume that I am nothing more than a dunce, simply because of the way I make a living. Could a fool make up witty jokes and stories? I think not. People are so quick to forget that humor is one of the greatest signs of intelligence. 7 April 1197 As I write tonight, I am huddled by the fire. The night air has been so frigid, that I have developed a sore throat. If my voice is too hoarse, then I will not be able to speak will proper volume or unleash my signature robust laugh in the King’s court.
I plan to speak very quietly and sparingly until my performance, and eat lots of hot pottage. Ulric may become bored with the lack of conversation, but at least now we have chess. There is no need for conversation when there is chess. During these hours of quiet, I have come to realize how much I truly love my humble home in Canterbury by the river. It is no grand castle, but my village is welcoming and nurturing, and makes me feel as if I have a great extended family.
All of their faces greet me whenever I come back from a long journey of being a jester in courts all over England, and it is comforting to know that they will all greet me again after I return from this fayre. 8 April 1197 I am so tired, I can hardly write in this diary even though it is only noon. I did promise myself I would document every step of my first performance before a King, however, so I cannot go without writing for the day. Ulric and I are hoping to arrive at the palace by nightfall and be able to sleep in comfortable quarters rather than the backs of our cramped wagons.
As much as I would like to celebrate the end of our journey by finishing off the last two jugs of ale, I plan on retiring early tonight. My throat is feeling much better and my normal voice has returned, so I refuse to do anything to sabotage my recovery. Our horses are nearly done feeding, so I must get ready to travel the last bit of our trek if we are to arrive tonight. 9 April 1197 After a good night’s rest in a comfortable bed, I feel refreshed and ready to be seen by King Richard the Lionheart.
I have decided to perform an exaggerated victory of a battle between two lions as a pun on his nickname. As a jester, after all, nobody is off-limits in terms of mockery—not even the King himself. If I am to gain his favor and make him laugh, I might as well use all of my tricks and wit to do so. I must say, this is the grandest of all fayres I have witnessed. Ulric has been charming the court all afternoon with his lute playing and poetry, there are lines of trumpeters, archery tournaments, and hoards of people enjoying the festivities.
I cannot wait until after the King’s royal feast, when it will be my turn to be granted an audience. Although my nerves are a bit on edge, I feel confident. My new red outfit is freshly pressed, the bells on my hat are extra shiny, my marotte is in hand, and I am positive that I have enough energy to evoke laughter from all people of the court. I am certain that today’s performance will be the greatest I have given, and that I will return to Canterbury with only positive stories to tell.