Short Story: Fool for Love

Marching on the stage with a tumble and bow, springing to his feet with a smile, Taddeo revels in their cheers. 

At least that’s the image he wants to sell to the gathered 
court. He sings for his supper and his hijinks keep him alive. No one in the crowd recognizes the previously wealthy business man Tonio behind the caked on make-up. 

A merchant of the town, selling fine fabrics and rich silks, that royalty from the world around came to see. Each one he addressed with respect and professional distance until he met her—Princess Nedda. 

Speechless, he bowed to her and kissed her hand even knowing it was forbidden. Even knowing the prince’s jealousy of his beautiful wife. 

By the way she blushed, he could tell she was as taken with him as much as he was with her. The temptation of her was more than he could resist as heard himself asking for a private audience—“Signora, meet me back here ventitré ore—the hour before sunset.”

With a giggle she nodded her assent, then disappeared into the crowd. 

Tonio’s day dragged on as he waited for the hour when he’d meet the princess again. 

At the chosen hour, as he closed up shop, he felt compelled to look up from his work. The crowd had parted for her, so that she was framed perfectly by the setting sun. Her entire form radiated light as she approached, her lips framed in a kiss intended for him. 

He pursed his lips in anticipation. Before they met, Tonio felt hands tighten on his arms pulling him backwards and turning him from his angel. 

“You seek to embarrass me, merchant?” the prince’s voice bellowed, as he looked down on Tonio who was forced to his knees before him. 

“Stop!” the princess shouted running to the prince’s side; her eyes were wide in surprise. 

The trap had been laid without her knowledge. 

“With a thing of beauty, you can’t let it wander, as others may seek to possess it,” the prince said. 

“He didn’t know who I was,” the princess said. The pleading in her voice was greeted by scornful laughter. 

“No my dear. He knew. And you knew. I could kill him, but that would not pay back the injury I suffered.”

“What will you do with him?”

“As a punishment,” he began holding Tonio’s eyes, “you shall be a clown in my court. You will make us laugh in exchange for your life. Your life shall be a circus of suffering always performing before the laughing audience who once held you in esteem, And every night, the object of your desire will sit next to me, holding my hand, watching you embarrass yourself for my amusement. This will be your punishment for your mistake of trying to usurp my place.”

Tonio as Taddeo danced. And they laughed. Her eyes locked with his was his only balm from their jeers.

Copyright © 2021 TJS Sherman All rights reserved.

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