After A Long Pause, I Love To Laugh The King Laugh
After the silence belonging to everyone comes the laugh that comes only from the king’s mouth – but will I laugh it? Wait and wonder! Look to the king’s mouth for portents of the king laugh which spells riches and adventure, or else for the king frown which spells doom, death, and exile! I am the man-state whose laughter is necessary for life, and my merriment is a terror! Study the rude vitality of my savage court and await my pleasure! Have you pleased me? Wait and wonder!
Has your question intrigued me? Has your answer satisfied me? Does your bold jest convince me of your daring and earn my wine-soaked respect, or does your impertinence offend my great and raw dignity? Will it be the clenched fist that strikes the table in surprise and pleasure to announce your reward? Or will it be the clenched fist that strikes the table to announce your mortification? Gamble for my laughter, stranger, and pray you have not misjudged your mark!
There has been laughter aplenty this day, has there not, in my rough-hewn hall? But this was but the simple hilarity of manly warriors at their leisure, not the ceremonial joy of majesty, boy-lad! Have you mistaken good humor and ease of manner for formal approval, and have you done so at your own peril, little guest of the quest? What offends me? What disgusts me? Is quivering obedience an insult to my bold nature, or what that nature demands? Shall you flinch? Ho-ho! Wait and wonder! Pause your hoistings, all who would clang their flagons together in unison, whether your cup be made of simple wood, northern gold, terrible iron, bejeweled silver, or the bones of animals and men, and postpone sipping until my countenance settles into a recognizable and reproducible mood! Pattern yourself after the storm, and wait upon the storm’s outcome — but do not allow your own countenance to display how desperately you hope to influence me, lest I take that hope of influence as an insult in itself! Who dares to wish for changes to the king’s mood? Who dares to hope the king will change? Set down the gleaming haunch of feast, lest my terrible mirth turn to terrible wrath!
Ho-ho-ho! I am the pelted king who relishes unease! Your disquiet lends a piquant edge to my meat and mead, and the next course to be served me is dilemma! I dine upon reversals! From the top I set the topsy-turvy! How will you anticipate me? Do you dare to anticipate me? Choose your answer carefully, but remember I hate a cautious answer! Feed your truth to my power and let me chew it for gristle and treachery, with a king’s teeth, with a king’s appetite, with a king’s remit, into the great and terrible gnawings of sovereignty! How will you please the mouth of power and shape it from chewing into laughter? Ho-ho, I would not be in your shoes for all the world, little cobbler! I am in my own shoes, choosing my own laughter, careless of all authority and diplomacy, subject only to the dictates of whimsy! The marriage of whimsy and prerogative produces the king’s laugh, and only the king’s laugh can beget security. Only mirth will save you here! Only the king’s laugh offers shelter – but rush to crowd underneath its cover and find yourself rejected for effrontery and gall. Which shall it be, seeker? Relief at the passing of danger, or a trap? The riddle of the laughing king can be solved only by the king’s own laughter! Resolve it? Resolve me? At your own peril! At your own cost! There are three who laugh, wanderer — the innocently ignorant, the mad, and the overweening — which are you? Answer carefully, but answer immediately! Coincide with my good humor, or not at all! Is it to be the laughter of scorn or the laughter of unexpected gratification? How to please the king to whom all pleasure is already subject? How to offer me my own birthright? Wait and watch my mouth — your life and death will tumble out of it with a merry ho-ho-ho or the dreadful ha-ha-ha! In laughter lies death and escape, shame and eminence, infirmity and unanimity! Liable or labile! Here comes the king’s mood! Here comes the changing of the king’s mood, and only the king is qualified to say which mood shall predominate next! Prepare yourselves to conform with the disposition of the king, to laugh his laugh with him, but never dare to laugh the king’s laugh! The king’s laugh is primary! The king’s laugh is superpositioned! The king’s laugh is as uncertain as interpretation and as solid as the state! The king’s laugh is imminent or forbidden! The king’s laugh is coming or going, and to inquire after the king’s laugh is to chase it away – in another moment, presently, it will either arrive or depart, and all will be made clear, one way or another —