Tales of Yorr
(A Mediaeval Monk in need of a Chiropractor)
What if Richard III was not a hunchback…
What if one of his bastard sons was…
This is the tale of Yorrick, bastard son of Richard III, hunchback extraordinaire. Scholar, poet, lover, husband, adventurer and warrior. A dab hand at Latin, he has quite a way with words, usually in verse across a tawdry bar.
Not everyone agrees who wrote William’s work, perhaps he was inspired by a character such as this. Alas, for poor Yorrick, we may never really know.
Book I of the Renaissance Series
“Well that depends, Evangeline. Do you find me amusing?”
“I am not sure I know. Is there a wife in your story?”
“Indeed there is, but she is not essential to the tale.”
“Then I like your story not.”
“Perhaps if I added a dog and a pirate king?”
“Ooh, I do like those. Are they part of this core of which you speak?”
“Not ‘alf,” Yorrick, now in full jester mode, bent down low and swept the ring of daisies from Evangeline’s head, placing them atop his own before assuming a bolder pose; legs astride and hands on hips, “but this is what the hero of my story desired; this my friends is his crown.”
The patrons guffawed and slapped their thighs, yet the young barmaid was clearly not amused.
“Why do you strike a pose of such ridicule to our kings of yore? A king does not slouch so!”
“The king in my tale does.”
“Why, what happened to him, and what happened to your back?
“My back, my back, what’s wrong with my back? Is it not there? What the feck is holdin’ me up?” Yorrick toppled off the bar and crumbled to the floor. Evangeline squealed amidst howls of laughter. The jester in him feigned a faint before shaking out his head and smiling up at the young barmaid. “I have a hunch I know what you are alluding to, wench. I am what you might call, and it sorrows me to say this… deformed.”
“Yes, yes my friends, alas I am afraid it is true. I am deserving of a bell tower, watched over by the most garish of gargoyles. A pox be on my spine, yet I stand and I can dance.” Yorrick leapt to his feet and as nimble as a cat sprung back up onto the bar and performed a jig. “And I am renowned for my sword-play.” At which he drew his sword, despite the fable of his withered arm. With a deft parry and a daring thrust he lurched forward, sweeping his blade through a row of candles above the bar.
“You missed!” More laughter followed the barmaid’s exclamation.
“Did I now?” Yorrick squatted before the candles, his eyes rolling back in his boyish face, and let rip the most potent reveille he could muster. The candles toppled in a ball of flame. He stood majestically amidst the applause, head held high and arms outstretched, yet he did not bow. Noticing the smile Evangeline concealed behind the daintiest of hands, he held up his hand and the tavern became silent. “Do not laugh, my friends, I cannot but emulate the deeds of my dear old dad.”
“Who is your father, a good man no doubt, for he did not club you at birth? Pray tell us, kind sir.” The tavern rippled with muffled laughter from all those in the know.
“Nay, quell your chortles; she is a mere bud yet to bloom, while most of you have seen the passing of several kings. I, my dear Evangeline, am the offspring of a turd.”
“A turd?” Evangeline blushed again while a chorus resembling a song filled the tavern’s fusty depths.
“A TURD HE SAYS, OF COURSE HE IS, HE IS OF COURSE A TURD.”
“A turd, indeed, indeed I am. I am the son of Richard the Third!” The tavern erupted around him as he leant down and whispered in the barmaid’s willing ear. “See what I did?” He gave her a wink and paraded along the bar singing. “I am a bar steward, be careful of the word, did you say illegitimate, or the bastard son of Richard the Third.”
“TELL THE TALE. DO IT ALL IN RHYME, DO IT ALL IN SONG.”
Yorrick waved his hands at the heckler while staring down his angular nose at him. “You ask too much my good fellow. What say you wench that is called Evangeline, shall I attempt this thing, or do I risk the men dying of laughter? What say you?”
“Yes, good sir, tell your tale, let them die happy.”
With his most chivalrous bow he continued. “Then it shall be so,” yet Yorrick did not return to his former royal stance. He prowled along the bar with an exaggerated hunch, his arms flailing from side to side as if cow’s udders. “This is the winter of our discontent, as espoused by this son of York…
So it is the wise and young, never do live long
So it was the sons of my brother
One a bar steward, as was the other
Who was I to dabble in song?
Grim-visaged war had smoothed this wrinkled back
Yet am I despised and that’s a fact
I knew their ascension to God to be wrong
And amidst bunny ears and accusations of bacon rind
It was true that this crown of thorns be mine
Born of a look that could slay candles with a pong
I could but give a raspberry tart
Within my words I knew there was art
Stretched out with a butcher’s hook so strong
On a razor’s edge I set my cobbler’s awls
I required a distraction; a dish fit for these soils
To feed the masses, to side track the throng
I beseech thee trouble and strife along the Fosse
I have the pie, dead horse, dead horse,
My kingdom for some sauce
Bloody though art and bloody will be thy end
Dead horse, dead horse, my kingdom for some sauce…
…thus ends my good friends, another ‘orrible ‘istory from the Tales of Yorrick. Drink up, drink up, the day is almost done, have you done with this York of a son?”
“Then drink up I say.” Yorrick scooped up his tankard and saluted the throng, who cheered and clapped as if he had paid them all in gold. “Best you go back to work, Evangeline. They have a mighty thirst and their tankards be toasted dry.”
The barmaid curtseyed to Yorrick’s bow and went about her serving. The innkeeper, John, returned a sly wink and Yorrick retired to the stairwell with his tankard as he did every night. Every man in the tavern knew him, yet he had no actual friends here. His deformed heritage and his hunched form had seen to that, and as was his wont, he twisted it further each night; mirth his only true friend, and loyal to the last drop.
* * *
“Why do you drink alone? That is not a state fit for a jester.”
“If but I were a jester, sweet Evangeline.”
“You are not a jester, yet John…”
“John the innkeeper would have me keep his patrons drinking and me in drink as recompense. This is the prison of my youthful face and my misshapen stance. It seems, because of these traits, my abilities have always been underplayed by those around me. But always remember, good wench, there is an advantage in the unusual, such as your name for instance. Where did you find such an angelic moniker, sweet, innocent Evangeline?”
“My ma was not English, yet she named me thus. My da had no teeth and could nary say the word, so he called me Little Eva instead.”
Yorrick ogled the wench sideways and lengthways, a look that seemed more angular to others. “If only he could see how you’ve blossomed.”
“You make me blush, jester.”
“That was my intention.”
“Aw, you… I am so much taller than I was back then. I would not fit into the dress I wore back then.”
“I would like to see you try, so would half the bar and the other half if their wits were drier.”
“You have a funny way about you, but what do you call yourself, seeing as you shudder each time I call you jester.”
Yorrick had been called many names and played many parts, yet there had only ever been one true name for him. “I am Yorrick, son of York.”
“Son of York? My, that is a title if I have ever heard one.” He could see the name burrowing a frown into Angeline’s tender face. It seemed to be the trouble with youth, attempting to hide one’s true feelings. “Are you really the King’s son?”
“Oh aye, but not the current one. My blood be of a different house, henceforth I jest with frivolity about my own; one must remain on the right side of the argument.”
“And your mother?”
“Was not his wife.” The confession cut his as it always had, bringing on a melancholy only a woman could appreciate. “She was a good mother until Death sweat the life out of her.”
“Oh dear, yet you survived and still find mirth in life.” Yorrick nodded and managed a grin for her sympathy. “Do you always speak in riddles, master jester?”
“If they know not what I say, they cannot hold my words against me. Although, there’s not much can be held against me without finding my wit and form too curvaceous.”
“Has it been so long since you’ve been comforted?”
“Oh aye, and there is nothing worse than when a wench understands my pain and feigns a sad restraint. It is a miserable life, it is true.”
“Have I made your eyes water, dear Yorrick? Oh my!”
Beyond the sheen of Yorrick’s sweep of black hair a tear reflected his boyish charms, despite having passed his fiftieth year.
“Do not let it trouble you, Eva. I am beyond regret and there is no one to care if I did.”
“I will care, Yorrick.”
“I cannot ask that of you. To waste your thoughts on such a creature as sits before you is a waste of your youth.”
“I have kindness enough to share.”
“No, I cannot allow you such excess. Nor can I allow it of any other kindly wench. I am a blight on humanity, a pox on manhood. Be done with it then, I shall climb these stairs and leap from the balcony beyond. Perhaps the fall will end my miserable existence and straighten my back for once and for all!”
Yorrick pulled himself up by the balustrade, placed a fatherly kiss on Eva’s forehead, turned with a sigh, and stormed up the stairs. Evangeline, wide-eyed and innocent, held her hands to her mouth, aghast at what she had caused, before tripping up the stairs behind the hunchback in hope of a miracle. She faltered at the landing, her words blurting out with accompanying tears…
“I thought you would…”
“I thought so too, but this seemed a much softer landing. Come, sit and share my feathered, crestfallen nest.”
Yorrick lay in the folds of a four posted bed; a luxury afforded the Brothers for the money they had brought into this establishment over many years. He tapped his hand on the sheets; an invitation the wench found tempting, to say the least.
“So, you will not jump?”
“Not amongst company.”
“Then I shall keep you company until you rid yourself of the melancholy.”
“What of your work, Eva?”
“My work is done. I was wont to recline for the night myself. Come, no more tears, good jester.” Evangeline slipped off her shoes and padded across the lumpy feather mattress, dropping herself down as if a parachute at the head of the bed. “Rest your head here a while and tell me of your ills. The soothing heartbeat of a good woman can cure all. This is something my mother taught me long ago.”
“I cannot believe it has been so long for you. How many summers have you seen?”
“I have seen sixteen!”
“Well then, I submit myself to a master of many years.”
Yorrick laid his head at the barmaid’s breast and sighed as if melancholy, while she ran her fingers thoughtfully through his hair.
“Tell me, Yorrick, how long is it since anyone comforted you?”
“Not since my own mother.”
“No, surely you jest.”
“I am known for it, I admit, but not in this moment. There is nothing quite like a mother’s love.”
“Are your… ills, so disturbing?”
“I cannot tell; I will not blight another’s eyes with the deformity. However, thanks to this gift I can see my own back with ease.”
“It is still God’s work, Yorrick. Come; show me this curvaceous form of yours, let me see what God has bestowed on you.”
“You can, I will not accept no for an answer.”
Fight as he may, the hunchback could not stop Evangeline from clawing at his shirt. She had it up and over his mutant form as she would a younger brother at his monthly bath time. At the end of the ordeal she dropped to her knees as he cowered before her; his right shoulder angling down a run to the point of his left. He turned in his shame and she witnessed the deformity of the hunchback. Eva knew few letters, yet she recognized this shape and her fingers snaked gently down the S as it slithered to his waistline.
“Am I so disfigured that you can no longer speak to me?”
“It is quite beautiful, Yorrick.”
“Is it not so unlike any other’s as to be devilish?”
“Has it been so long since you considered another’s curvature that you no longer know?”
“I only know what I feel on my own decrepit form.”
“Then we shall have to do something about this distortion.” Evangeline knelt, her back to the hunchback, and raised her skirts to her neck. “Come, I have studied yours, you should show me the same honour and review mine.”
“Have you no shame, wench?”
“It is only flesh. My shame remains concealed and you deserve the favour you afforded me returned.”
Yorrick crawled over the bed to where the barmaid knelt, her bare back a picture of perfection. He reached out to the subtle line of bumps that punctuated her flesh. Eva shuddered, ever so lightly, as their skin met, and as he traced her spine south, her flesh radiated a rash of pleasure.
“It is most beautiful, Eva.”
“No, it is I who am deformed; my S is shy, self centred, inward. Yours is bold.” Yorrick leant in closer to study her as she spoke, his lips taking over where his fingers trailed off. “What do you do back there, jester?”
“I am but appreciating the perfection of your spine. Is this not pleasing?”
“Then I will desist.”
“No, I will permit your lips to appreciate God’s work.”
“If it be God’s own work, then I shall appreciate each portion individually, beginning at the top.” Yorrick was true to his word, his tongue and lips tracing each vertebra from Eva’s neck down, until…
“Why do stop?”
“It is this damnation of a deformity. I cannot bend far enough to appreciate anymore.”
“What if I leant over like this and raised my hips to your lips?”
“Yes, that would do quite nicely.” The hunchback licked his lips and continued down the wench’s spine to her coccyx… and beyond.
“Shall I stop there?”
Yorrick found the barmaid ripe to be pleasured, yet a concern grew within him.
“I think all God’s creatures should be appreciated as he designed them to be, do you not agree?”
“Then let me show you.”
The next rock struck him in the back, the severity of his scoliosis preventing a fracture.
The path to his home was barred by the villagers, who waved fruit and rocks with menace. There was also a boy with a shovel and it had been re-loaded. This time the faeces caught Yorrick in the stomach. The jeers that accompanied the bulls-eye brought instant recognition. The hate seemed as palpable as the fear. Yorrick no longer fled the creature from the well.
He knew how he appeared to them.
Yorrick fled in the opposite direction.
The villagers did not follow, superstition providing respite, for the nearby wood was occupied only by woodsmen and hunters… and creatures like Yorrick.
Darkness would be his only friend now, as his mother laboured beneath the sweating sickness, alone in their home. Yorrick hid behind a great oak, imagining the faces of the villagers in its bark. He realized what he had to do and he understood his place here. His form echoed in the twisted branches reaching down to him on the breeze.
Dusk allowed him to escape his haven, his crippled body straightened in the shadows of failing light, the village square vacated to the demons of the night. Yorrick settled into the world where he belonged with little fear; for if he took the form of a demon, then such creatures must be friendly. He certainly was.
Yorrick discovered his mother’s bucket discarded by the well. It served its purpose well for a second time, without interruption, and he skulked down the street to his home. Each wood-framed house laid eyes on him, suspicious of his body, yet comfortable with his elongated shadow; an anomaly in the night. He feared the neighbours within would smell his putrid form, yet he walked on, finding the stones of the passers-by littered beneath the windows of his mother’s house.
Yorrick slipped inside, discovering his mother where he had abandoned her so hastily. The sweat now formed a pool about her turgid form. He ignored this and propped his mother up on his lap. Her eyes fluttered briefly to life.
“I have water.”
“Save it for yourself. You need your strength.”
“You are my strength and by your side I can be strong enough for both of us. I know the secret you have hidden from me. I think you tried to tell me many times.”
“No, you cannot.”
“It is quite alright, Mother. I used my wit as you have often taught me and I managed the water from the well. Here, drink.”
Yorrick convinced his mother to sip at first, before taking of larger gulps, which she eventually coughed up. He found her a pillow and mopped up the floor. He managed to wrap her tightly in a blanket, before swinging the soup she had prepared for his dinner over the hearth.
“I will not take it.”
“Then neither shall I and we will die here together tonight.”
The threat proved sufficient, as she was far too weak to argue, and by morning Yorrick managed to escort her to bed.
“You have done well, Yorrick. Perhaps we will make a physician of you.”
“Who would seek assistance from a man who cannot cure his own crooked back?”
“There is that, but you must not let superstition rule your world as it does many of the villagers here in Windsor. Yet you must always remember to blend in. Today is Sunday. You must prepare for church.”
“I will not be missed. I know why we are always late, why we sit at the back, in the dark, beneath the arches, the forest of the church where beasts cower before God.”
“The Lord does not judge you by your increasing curvature; He only sees the truth of the path you will tread.”
“What does the priest see?”
“He sees your potential, as I do. He does not bar your entry into his church; there is always a place for you there. He will note your absence.”
“Shall I be sent to Purgatory for it?”
“No, God sees the duty you perform.”
“Then I will stay and you will drink and eat more than I, for I have had my fill and you are ill.”
The morning knocks at the window shutters did not surprise Yorrick, yet his mother’s recovery did. He had heard of this sweating sickness. Like the Black Death, its whispers echoed along the streets and forest paths, in the stocky half-timbered dwellings of the village, as well as the great stone edifices of the Church and the mighty noble castles.
His mother remained weak, yet she had improved as the final peals of the local church bells vibrated into solemnity. Yorrick washed his mother’s arms, neck and face as she had so often for him. He fed her the last of the broth and ignored the return of the rapping on the window shutters. His mother had taught him to ignore the menial side of the villagers well. She smiled at his recognition. This was the sweetest her face had appeared for some time. Perhaps he had only ever actually dreamt of her in this state.
The thud on the front door disrupted the serenity.
“Ignore it, my son. They know not what they do.”
“Have they not just been to church?”
“It can take many years for the word of God to permeate a man’s prejudice.”
The door gave way beneath the persistence of the interloper, and Father Schorn fell upon them.
“What is the meaning of this? Why do you bar your door against the hand of God? Do I not provide you with protection where others would cast their stones?”
“Yes, you do… and the Church is paid handsomely in return.”
“Ten pound a year will not always be enough. What if our King were to discover you?”
“Then you would have less in your coffers.”
“You should mind your tongue, Lady Katherine; you are in no position… and why do you not stand when I enter the room… as your boy does, so poorly? Why are you still in bed? What ails you?” The priest did not wait for an answer. He grabbed Yorrick by the wrist and yanked him towards the door. “Come with me, boy. You cannot stay here with… with that in the house.”
“What is that but my mother?”
The priest clipped Yorrick behind the ear, knocking him to the floor.
“That, you foolish cripple, is the sweating sickness. None but have it a day survive to see the next.”
“She is better than she was yesterday.”
“You may think so, but you are just a boy. Now come with me.”
The priest grappled with Yorrick again, but this time the boy was aware, and with a nimbleness not considered the realm of a cripple, he leapt to his feet. The knife he snatched up cemented his warning and Father Schorn backed away, through the door and out onto the street.
“DEVIL, IT IS THE DEVIL THAT HAS THROWN THE FATHER OUT INTO THE STREET!”
Yorrick did not smile as might be expected; he shook, anticipating an attack. It did not come.
“You did well, my Yorrick, but there will be hell to pay.”
He did not understand the gravity of his mother’s statement. The realization stormed through the door minutes later in the form of a man dressed primarily in black. His robe reminded Yorrick of the crow that stalked the rear lane, any human scrap its territory. His eyes were fierce and beady, yet his lip did not curl in anger, concern dwelt there.
“You, Yorrick of the Plantagenet blood, the time has come to begin your education.”
“I have already begun my education.”
“Not under my tutelage.”
The crow swept Yorrick over his shoulder, his presence in the room no more than a breeze.
“No, you cannot take me… my Mother.”
The priest, who had delivered the crow to the house, clutched the latch and swung the door, the thud of its closure echoing along the village street with finality.