This was written for a St. Valentine's edition of a webzine a couple of years ago.
For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.
Chaucer's Parliament of Foules
Wat the Daft was a swineherd. His skin could boast actual layers of filth and his rustic garments had bragging rights to only being wet when it rained. His mind contained little but pigs and even in that body of knowledge he sometimes failed his masters. If told to stand and watch he could easily forget to watch. What he knew of his world was a tragically short list limited on his best days to twelve or thirteen items of fact. In spite of these shortcomings he believed what little he knew. He believed whatever anyone told him. His eyes and ears, (his nose had long ceased to function) were the immediate, unvarnished path to truth. Whatever he thought he saw or heard, he knew, in an instant, to be true. But today, perhaps from an evolving of Wat the Daft to Wat the Merely Dim, he could not believe his eyes. What lifted off the frosted muck was more than a miasma of porcine offal. A synapse had fired which had not fired before. His horizons, admittedly by best estimates only fifty yards away, opened like a scroll. He was its John of the Apocalypse and the fetid pen of unclean animals, his Patmos. Silly Wat, as his mother was fond of calling him, was as religious as swineherds could possibly be in the Year of Our Lord 1363 but his small religion took special note of holy days and today was the day of St. Valentine, one of this day’s twelve or thirteen available facts. As Wat gazed across the cold brown sludge and rounded pink bellies awash in what such swine call comfort, there was a blending of his vision and religion.
It was almost spring and the thaw was early, (along with plague in the town), but February had fulfilled its promise on time. On the rail of a tree limb fence, on the far side of his kingdom rested two sparrows. They rested close together as if to warm their small bodies by doubling. Wat felt a shiver, though the day had been warmer than the passing winter, and that shiver was from a thing unknown to him. “Hope” others would call it; an ambition, a future, desire. He wanted this doubling. He scaped his brown hands against his bit of fence and leaned forward resting. The sparrows, perhaps feeling the unclean eye that studied in their university of Love, took their lessons elsewhere. They took it elsewhere together, flitting in a weave and dip and lift that still taught the unknown things of two, now more or less apart but always, from now on, together.
Was it possible? Was it prophesy? Wat looked around to see if St. Valentines Day found him inevitably in the company of some other, a wench, who would weave and dip before him. His believing eyes took in his world. From hovel to pigs back to hovel he scanned. He had to believe that his world contained nothing of the kind. In its absence he was learning the new thing and it was one of two things. The doubling magic was not here. It was coming? Hope. It was not coming? Loss. Had Wat been given to melancholy such a powerful tide of Spring would have drowned him. He stood in sinking mire, lost his balance and fell face first into worse. His pigs merely smiled at his good fortune and Wat, with the perennial good cheer of the stupid, smiled back. His banner, though he named it not, his lady fair, though he saw her not, found Wat the Daft kneeling in knight service to Hope. As he struggled back to his clumsy feet the knowledge of ‘she is not here” asked more of him than staring dumbly at satisfied sparrows. He would away, away to town, to risk all on crusade, amid the pestilence, to seize the hope called “wife”. The swine, his hosts, must come along and see the great things that must anon, come to pass.
Edmund of York smelled the scented cloth on his wrist as he looked past parapet and wood and field. “Mistress,” he said, drawing on the hand that was resting on his arm and pointing to the distance,
“It is spring, the time when kings go out to war.”
She laughed and let her eyes speak doubly for her gratified heart.
“Perhaps, tis a just war, a crusade that leads such a noble van to siege the town.”
Edmund smiled back. She was a wit, this one. He insisted that Spring was just the time for such a war, such a siege of many citadels the world over. He looked back at the distant vison to spare her natural blush. Their conversation was at a place of unremitted double meanings.
“For,” he continued, “it is when every foul cometh there to choose his mate”.
Her bright laughter became the larger graces that had been felt this St. Valentines Day.
“If those pigs have wings they might be doubly foul.” said she. He laughed and led her back inside to the dance where they weaved and dipped and lifted in doubled step.