Foreward: Here Come The Jesters, One, Two, Three
“And swap two asses for one who harasses? I think not, you slathering sot!”
From amid the gathered, an anonymous voice challenged, “That’s right, vilify with civili-tie, just know the bile from your simpering smiles best reveal those scenes you steal.” A confused dance accompanied the declaration, carrying the entire troop past the throngs of now-bewildered masses; that is, until one drunken centurion mistook a tiger for a street corner harlot and gave his life as bounty for an ill-conceived attempt at coitus interruptus. Throughout the marketplace, merchants, consumers and those inclined toward more creative (if injudicious) methods of removing goods from their rightful owners paid little attention to the bartering, accustomed as they were to life in the souk.
“A dollywomp for the Judean!” The intensity and clarity of the voice stopped all conversation save low murmurings from adjacent characters non-integral to the scene and best described as low-wage extras supplied by Herod’s seemingly-inexhaustible caches of individuals content to receive a few orts in return for their promise never to form a union. Of course, no written documentation signified their acquiescence given their First Century customary lack of writing skills, but dominion accepted is dominion warranted, so the point became moot in any case. No one except one born of noble blood would dare speak in such tones without worrying of society’s penalties for such effrontery.
“Who… him?” The fat trader reacted quickly, grabbing an underfed member of his entourage and thrusting him to a position of prominence at the front of the mob. “Is this the one you want? Personally, I thought him to more closely resemble a Tunisian, but if you say he’s a Judean, then so be it. Of course, such a capable earner could never be allowed to do service for anyone else without a much more generous bid than I thought I heard… what was it, four dollywomps you offered?” Light shone off the now-grinning pasha’s teeth as he waited for a response.
For his own part, the grotesque effendi seated atop the slave-drawn litter carefully fanned himself, concerned that he might over-react to the commoner’s insolence and order him beheaded. Plus, the hummus and baba ghanoush he’d eaten during the midday repast now sent gas pains coursing through his abdomen with the fury of some giant anachronistic jet turbine that would not be invented for another two thousand years, threatening to fill his pantaloons with flatulence and/or worse, forcing him to focus on his gastric infirmity rather than the task at hand. Still, he had a reputation to protect so he decided to press on. “What are his skills, this Tunisian Judean?”
The question seemed a fair one, judging from the number of turbans nodding within the crowd, and the trader noticed it, too. “Well,” he began, gathering his hands to his chest in the manner of a Christian preparing for prayer (which, of course, he was not), a position he often used when attempting to promote an air of worldly scholarship (which, of course, he also could not) designed to give the impression that he knew what the fuck he was doing and could not be cheated, “are you speaking of his performance art or his abilities as a tradesman?”
“Start anywhere you like,” the elder yawked, waving a fine red linen handkerchief dismissively, “but I warn you, for one dollywomp he’d better be pretty damn talented.” He then proceeded to blow his nose on the crimson square before tossing it to the crowd. Leaning to one side, he cupped his hand over the ear of the strapping eunuch standing next to him and whispered, “Fetch me some tincture of witch hazel, a little Devil’s Tongue and maybe just a pinch of Job’s Tears if you can get your hands on it… I think I feel a cold coming on. Have you ever had a summer cold? No, of course you haven’t, slaves don’t get colds… never mind, just do as I say.”
Grabbing the Tunisian Judean’s cassock in the area that would have been his lapels if it had been the twentieth-century and he’d been wearing a western-style suit jacket, the merchant gritted his teeth and whispered to his charge, “I don’t give two shits what you do, but it’d better damn well be spectacular!” before tossing him forward, where the man landed on his butt causing the audience to titter.
Not ten feet from him, Pusillanimous Pilot stared down. “Do you have a name?”
Looking up, but not yet bothering to rise, the man nodded. “Yes, I have a name.”
Pilot began to chortle loudly, causing the simpering hangers-on to erupt with their own brand of derisive laughter; then raised his hand, signaling them to be silent. “You’re a funny guy, pilgrim, so… if you’re in the mood, I mean… would you mind telling me what your name is? You know… just for old time’s sake?”
Without looking up, he offered, “I am known by many names, but I prefer Art… or Artie if you choose, that’s what my friends call me.”