God and My Other Responsibilities

Life journeys take many paths, and they cross often. All must answer the same life questions. So though our sojourns differ, those new to the path may benefit from familiar footprints at the intersections.

100_0303

I believe it is difficult to understand those whose skill sets and concerns differ significantly from our own. That is a major reason we see things differently. Depending on the tools we possess, an obstacle for one may be an opportunity for another. If all one has is a hammer, one may never think to use a screw—or a saw. Won’t a board split if we pound it hard enough?

It has become fashionable, even prideful for some, to claim or strive for complete independence in all things. Forcing oneself to struggle in areas of lesser talent, insisting that greater effort is all that is required, keeps one from nurturing their special talent and perhaps using it to benefit others. It also keeps us from recognizing and appreciating the special talents of others. I think that recognition is important for finding partners and building teams, and an important quality for leaders to cultivate.

Someone once asked me, “What would it be like to be God, to have God-like power?” My answer was, “I have been God. My dog Freya sees me as all-knowing and all-powerful, the deliverer of all good things, immortal, and invulnerable.” I don’t let that go to my head. When I make the mistake of roughhousing with her—a 110-pound Rottweiler-Shepherd with a lot of sharp edges—she teaches me otherwise.

100_0301

I walk away bloodied, but that doesn’t shake her faith in my perfection. Many have commented on how she follows and seems to worship me. I remember my children when small behaving in much the same way. The mantle of godhood should be taken seriously but worn lightly. As with many pretenses of godhood—PhDs, certified credentials, modern breakthroughs and discoveries—I find little that is new. Discarding ancient wisdom, we rediscover what was long known and, hearing it coming from our mouths, declare it brilliant and extraordinary.

Out of curiosity—a trait I have in abundance—I have tried many things. Except for all the added mysticism, I found Yoga little different from the stretching exercises I learned for wrestling and Tai Kwan Do. The fact that they bring peace and relaxation doesn’t require an advanced degree or expensive class to appreciate.

I met with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when he toured the country—the same person John Lennon visited in India. His teachings predate “Mindfulness” and were certainly not about voiding the mind. It was all about thinking clearly. Cleeer-leee was how he pronounced it. One clears the mind to filter out the nonsense repeated and shouted at high volume, often with the intent to manipulate and sell everything from happiness to politics and used cars. These claims of new and perfect knowledge cannot stand close examination.

I believe the early Genesis story was intended as a metaphor. Eve died in the perfection of the garden and was born into the life of struggle necessary to survive and grow in an imperfect world. Like mine, her sin was curiosity, wanting to know and understand what was outside the gate. She may have been willing to pay the price for the mistakes she made.

This post was inspired by M. Talmage Moorhead whose post set me to thinking.

Advertisements

P-47 Final Checkout – November 1944

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny.

My first flight in the P-47 Thunderbolt never got off the ground, and the second met with both mechanical and human failure—mine. I figured the change in flight schedule meant I was on the chopping block. The skipper wanted to check me out for himself. One of our top aces, Major Johnson had come back from the war to teach us a few things that would keep us from getting killed.

I sat for the mission brief, heart pounding, waiting as the other men got their instructions. The operations clerk chalked each name and aircraft assignment as they were called, and the pilot left for the flight line. For ten minutes, I sat alone in the quiet briefing room.

Maj. Johnson walked in in flying gear. He gave me a few functional directions: our flight call sign, start-engine time, and hand and aircraft signals. I’d fly formation with him; perfect for a flight check. We would take off individually. I was to join up on his wing after we became airborne.

With a hollow feeling that this was going to be my last P-47 flight, I hit the starter, felt the prop wash, and inhaled the metallic engine fumes. We taxied out together and lined up on the runway. Johnson gave the wind up signal to rev engines and started his takeoff roll. I followed after he was 100 feet down the runway then into the sky. He took a gentle turn to the left for me to join up on the outside. I moved into position, taking care to keep exactly 45 degrees off his nose with one wing clearance. Johnson rolled out and climbed to 20,000 feet. He made easy turns as he climbed, banking about 20 degrees. I stuck to him. We leveled out, adjusting the throttle and fuel mixture for the engine rpm and altitude. We hadn’t talked about the actual mission. I didn’t know what to expect.

Johnson took a sudden dive and turn right, then switched left and back to right. At 15,000 feet we leveled. Johnson’s sharp turns away and toward my plane gave me a feel for the Jug’s handling under pressure. I was determined to stick on his wing—he wasn’t going to shake me. I reacted to each tactic as quickly as my reflexes would respond.

P-47 Formation

He pumped his stick up and down, the signal for me to drop back in trail position. Then he accelerated into climbing turns, called chandelles, barrel rolls, and tight diving turns. Sweat beaded my face and poured down my neck. My flight suit wrung with sweat, and my breathing struggled.

Flying acrobatics in formation takes total concentration: left hand throttle adjustments, both feet working rudder pedals, right arm pulling and twisting the stick to match each maneuver precisely with instant measured pressure. Stay on your leader is the name of the game. It’s a combat simulation … keeping your foe … your leader … on target, in gun range, at all times.

We dropped to 10,000 feet, and Maj. Johnson rocked his wings for me to join back up on his wing. Once I was in position, he went into a long dive pulling up into a chandelle climb, followed by a barrel roll, and ending up five miles off the runway aligned with the entry leg to the landing pattern.

We approached the field normally, turning 360 degrees overhead and dropping into a gap in traffic on the downwind leg. Our final approach, landing, taxiing to the ramp, and parking ended the flight. I leaned into my seat. My drenched arms dropped to my side. On the way to flight ops, I grabbed a Form One maintenance sheet to log a possible magneto problem.

“Good flight, Kenny,” Maj. Johnson said as he pulled off his flying helmet. “You know, you don’t have to fly thatclose.” He winked and pointed his chin toward the Officer’s Club. “Let’s grab a cool one.”

 

The next Thunderbolt flights built our experience and skills. We did formation flying and high and low altitude navigation, sometimes called legal buzzing. Our low-level flights only got above fifty feet at takeoff and landing. This was tough because there were so few checkpoints. We flew by time and heading, scanning constantly for signs, water towers, or bridges—training I’d put to good use.

I had nearly one hunderd hours in the P-47 by the time we began working with air-to-air cameras. My instructor led our flight of two on takeoff. We were to climb to 20,000 feet and pair off to simulate combat maneuvers.

My engine hummed like a Rolex locomotive as I broke ground, pulled up the landing gear, and banked into a left turn out of traffic. The heavy rhythmic roar stopped without a cough, leaving only the sound of the wind whistling through my dead engine. It was the living nightmare of all single-engine pilots.

I reacted quickly, putting the nose down to hold air under my wings. A slip now was an immediate crash. I estimated I could probably turn up to 30 degrees left or right. My gauge read 150 mph. I had to trade that speed for a little distance.

A cornfield came up to my left, and my heart leaped—two ditches to cross and a road. I dropped my flaps and aimed for the road’s center. At the first ditch, my speed was 140, dropping quickly. I was twenty feet up as I sailed over the road and into the cornfield. I pulled the stick back to touch the tail down first. The nose came up suddenly as my plane settled in softer than I expected. The big Jug bent over cornrows as it skidded. Furiously, I shut down fuel and electrical switches as the plane came to rest, fifty feet short of a gravel road. I unbelted and dove out the cockpit in a single motion. Quick checking for broken bones and cuts, I couldn’t find even a bruise. My luck was holding.

The crash and fire truck crews raced up and circled my plane, checking and nodding as they quickly scanned the aircraft. I later heard that the drive-gear mechanism had broken, a freak accident causing sudden engine stop. My plane was back in the air in six weeks.

 

Our final training was Advanced Gunnery School at Dover Field. We learned about the focused killing power of eight, 50-caliber machine guns, which could chop a vehicle in two or leave a road lined with enemy soldiers looking like a freshly plowed field. We returned to Seymour Johnson for graduation and a final squadron fly-by and landing.

My spotty introduction to the P-47 Thunderbolt never clouded my feelings for the plane. Pilots fortunate enough to fly her brought back unbelievable tales of power and near indestructibility. The Jug dealt out and took punishment like no other fighter and had a proven facility for bringing pilots back alive. It was as loved by our pilots as it was feared by the Germans.

P-47 Training – August ‘44

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny.

After basic and advance flying instruction in Texas, we went to Seymour Johnson Airfield in North Carolina for combattraining and qualification in the P-47 Thunderbolt, affectionately known as the “Jug”. As soon as we arrived, I headed to the flight line. I found the Jugs parked in perfect alignment, silent, imposing, no-nonsense war machines. I circled the first one, slowly taking in the plane we’d heard so much about. The huge radial engine with two circular banks of nine cylinders and a four-bladed propeller dominated the airframe. I inhaled the scent of metal, rubber, and machine oil and set my jaw, fantasizing this fantastic machine pulling me up through the clouds. I lifted my gaze and shook my head in disbelief. Awe swept over me—this was my war chariot.

P-47 Thunderbolt

Reality struck hard the next morning and filled every minute of the next six days. Our instructors repeated all the previous training for the new fighter: ground school, cockpit familiarization and blindfold checks, simulator engine starts and taxiing demonstrations. The program left little to chance. The written tests and oral questioning were the most thorough of our training—the technically advanced Thunderbolt was far more complicated than any plane we’d flown. Republic Aircraft Corporation built the Thunderbolt in Farmingdale, New York. The Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine with 2,000 horsepower made it the most powerful fighter aircraft ever built.

That radial engine presented one problem. When taxiing with the cowl cooling flaps open at low speeds, the big engine blocked visibility forward over the nose. This required taxiing pilots to make continuous “S” turns to see around the engine and keep the runway in view. The pre-flight briefing for our first solo flight stressed forward visibility, but with takeoff times staggered five minutes apart, I foresaw no problems.

I left the briefing determined, checked off and signed the maintenance form, and climbed into the pilot seat of my assigned aircraft. After one long breath, I strapped in, centered the seat parachute, and aligned the cushion above the pack.  I rechecked the switches, signaled my crew chief, and punched the starter.  Eighteen cylinders fired in rapid sequence and accelerated, bringing the Jug to life and driving the broad-bladed propeller to hurricane speed. In two seconds the engine rumble smoothed to a husky roar. I eased the control stick forward and felt the Jug pull off the line.

The prop wash swept a cool breeze through the cockpit. An open canopy was required for taxiing and taking off. I turned my plane into the line on the taxiway and waited for clearance. Students ahead of me ran up their engines and checked the left and right engine magnetos. At each green signal, one P-47 rolled off the head of the line and onto the runway and accelerated to take off. A couple planes shuddered, jerking left as the rpms kicked up to 2800 and the torque pulled them off center.

My heart pounded and breathing labored. Then my plane bumped forward, chattering and shaking. I heard a loud gnashing sound and swung my Jug about, pulling it off the propeller of another P-47 that had run up on my tail and shredded the control surfaces. My first P-47 solo flight never got off the ground.

 

The next day I felt guilty for the incident, although not my fault, and more so when I found I’d dropped to last in the checkout order. Again I started the engine smoothly and zigzagged to the line. This time, I performed the engine run up without a hitch. I waited to get the green light, lined up, locked my tail wheel, and nervously advanced the throttle to max rpm. Slowly the big warplane rolled ahead, accelerating faster then I expected. Leaning gently forward on the stick, I watched the airspeed indicator climb past 150 miles per hour then eased back.  My Jug lifted effortlessly.

Passing over the end of the runway, I pulled up the landing gear and reached back for the T-handle canopy latch. A hard pull on the T-handle slammed the canopy forward and locked it shut, which can be a tricky maneuver while keeping the plane straight and level. Swinging my arm behind my head, I snagged my elbow in the wires connecting my helmet and radio, sending them out the cockpit to be severed cleanly by the locking canopy. I was now out of communication with the tower and my instructor, but I wasn’t worried—I didn’t know it yet.

Our assignment called for six simulated landings while remaining 10,000 feet above an auxiliary field. This was to give us a feel for the Jug’s low flying and stall characteristics at an altitude high enough to recover if we screwed up. On my fourth simulated landing my landing gear wouldn’t retract. A glance to my instrument panel showed the hydraulic pressure hovering above zero. My usually cockiness drained when I realized, for the first time, that I had no communications or hydraulic pressure in an aircraft I had never landed. I reviewed emergency procedures for gear and radio. Not too bad, as long as the landing gear was down and locked, which it was, and I didn’t exceed 180 miles per hour. The radio was simpler: on approaching the field you rock your wings and watch for the green light to land. The normal approach, however, was a 360-degree turn to synchronize your landing path with other aircraft. This was tricky below 180 mph with landing gear down.

I circled the field about 1,500 feet above the traffic pattern and watched the other planes landing. When I saw a gap, I’d dive into an approach pattern rocking my wings and land. The traffic broke twenty minutes later, and I headed down. Pushing to beat the oncoming traffic, I put in too close to the runway and had to pull up and go around. I climbed back to 3,000 feet and felt good about my plane’s performance. It had the power and handled better then I expected at slow speeds.

My next approach felt good until the mobile control officer waved me off. Was I too fast? I was at the correct landing speed, 150 miles per hour. On my third attempt, I took a wider approach, lowered full flaps a mile out, and touched down in the first five hundred feet. The control officer signaled “thumbs up” as I taxied by. Back at the hangar, I logged the problems for the maintenance crew chief and headed toward squadron operations. My instructor Lt. Jim Worthy looked upset. I reviewed my experience, and he shook his head. Without speaking a word, he touched my back and walked away.

Next morning, when I saw I wasn’t scheduled on the big board, I looked for my instructor. “Lt. Worthy, sir, what’s cooking? I don’t have an assignment listed for today’s training.”

Glancing up from his clipboard, he mumbled, “Oh, yah, Kenny, today you’ll be flying with Major Johnson.”

“Yes sir.” I responded, confused. “I thought the training syllabus said we needed three P-47 solos before we flew formation.”

“The boss wants to fly with you.” This time Worthy didn’t look up.

My first reaction was excitement. Major Johnson was not just the squadron commander. In this fast war, he already had over 100 missions in the European theater and became an ace in a single day when he intercepted Junker JU-52 transports evacuating Rommel’s Afrika Korps from North Africa.

Then it dawned on me—I was being tested. This could be my last flight.

Fighter Pilot Training – 1944

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny.

After officer candidate school at Kent State in Ohio, I went to San Antonio, Texas, for classification—the qualifying process that determined whether I would be trained as a pilot, navigator, or bombardier, and whether I’d be flying fighters, bombers, or transports. As hoped, I qualified to become a fighter pilot. Then came ground school and pre-flight training. I marched and countermarched, sabre in hand, learned Morse Code, hand-to-hand combat, and aircraft recognition.

My flight training was all in Texas: Bonham for primary training in the Fairchild PT-19; Greenville for basic training in the Vultee BT-13; and Victoria for advanced flying in the North American AT-6 Texan.

I received my wings in Victoria then began combat training in the venerable Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, the plane made famous by the “Flying Tigers.” The air gunnery range was at Matagorda Island off the Texas gulf coast.

332122859_f75e13516e_b

My new wife Phyllis had followed me for an entire year, post to post, renting rooms off base. We got together whenever I got a pass, and sometimes when I didn’t. When the post commander withheld passes, usually for minor infractions, a cigarette butt, can, or candy wrapper found around the barracks, I went AWOL (away without leave). For a bottle of hooch, a tech sergeant let me hide in the trunk of his Ford then picked me up on Monday in time to make the morning muster. For Phyl and me, every re-acquaintance became a celebration and an opportunity to share stories.

She had found a room in a boarding house just off the end of the runway. One morning when I took off, I saw her hanging wash on the clothesline in the yard behind her room. I wagged my wings as I flew over, a pilot’s wave, and she waved back. After that whenever she heard a fighter plane overhead, she’d run out and wave, always getting a return wing wag. It wasn’t long before I heard comments at the morning mission briefing. Who was the cute redhead who liked all the pilots? When I told them, everyone started looking for her to get a sendoff wave and always wagged their wings back. When I saw Phyl that weekend, her first comment was, “You flew quite a bit this week.”

At Matagorda I walked guard shifts several nights a week, rifle on shoulder, up and down the beach. U-boats had sunk merchant ships off the coast, often in sight of shore, and we’d heard reports that agents and saboteurs had landed in small inflatable dinghies. Our fighter planes made tempting targets. Passwords were changed daily and were made hard to guess.

One moonless night, I heard a sound. A dolphin jumping and striking the water? Then I heard a mechanical twist and click, followed by scraping in the sand. Maybe a Mauser rifle chambering a round and a small boat dragged on shore?

“Who goes there?” I demanded. “Give the password. Advance and be recognized.” I raised my rifle and chambered a round. The sound stopped, and it was several seconds before I got a response.

“I – I forgot the password,” said a slurred voice low on the sand.

I found the tech sergeant on his belly unable to stand, a crumpled beer can in his fist.

We each training phase took me to a new base: long-range, high-altitude bomber escort, low-altitude tactical escort—where fighters join medium bombers in bombing attacks—fighter-on-fighter combat (aka dogfighting), and tactical support for ground troops. The latter included dispensing smoke in front of advancing allied troops to cover their attack and make it harder for German machine gunners to spot them.

One morning at a range outside Dover, Delaware, my smoke dispenser locked up, and I had to return to base. My landing pattern took me low over the city, and it seems all the bedding and underwear in Dover was out on the line that morning when my smoke dispenser misfired. Willy Pete (white phosphorous) is an excellent smoking agent at the correct altitude but an incendiary at low altitude. Fortunately, I was not low enough to start major fires. But my Willy Pete burned tiny holes in every sheet, pillowcase, and delicate in the city that day.

The training commandant got a call from the mayor before I pulled up to the maintenance hangar. He hauled me into his office. The bill ran to several thousands of dollars for damaged laundry, several years’ pay. He said the Army Air Force would pick it up, but I’d be walking extra tours and inspecting barracks and latrines until I completed training.

The mayor’s office compiled the bills to submit to my training commandant, and he sent a copy to me. It was in Phyl’s hand when I arrived home that weekend. I assured her it had been taken care of then explained weekend passes were going to be harder to come by.

The Wise First Became Fools

Sacred relics, hidden by ninth century Vikings, arrive at the Medieval Studies Department of Nimueh College. Ernest and Lisa, with the annoying presence of Dean Gilders’ nephew Bryton, begin restoring and interpreting six runic scrolls, and hope to discern the purpose of a leather object concealed behind a secret panel. (See “Fool’s Cap” and “Pity Not the Fool”)

When Earnest entered the lab next morning, Lisa was already hard at work. “Ahhh, Lisa. Anything interesting?”

“Good morning, Ernie. The scrolls are beginning to uncurl. I brushed the creases with gelatin to keep them from splitting.” She picked one up and read the runes along the top, “Til ao hindra veikindi hlatur er besta lyf.”

“Which means?” Lisa’s Nordic was better than his.

“Roughly, ‘To deter sickness, laughter is the best medicine’. It appears this has medicinal incantations. But in the next line I found a reference to heimskingjans hettu, the fool’s cap.”

“Oooh, I do hope so.” Ernest lifted his eyes to the ceiling, mouth wide.

Lisa brought the triangular panels from the back shelf. “I worked more Neatsfoot oil in this morning. The stitching is silk.” She unfolded the wedges gently into a cone, six-panels, alternating dark green and red, with leather appendages.

“Excellent.” He smiled at Lisa’s enthusiasm. “Take it slow, and keep working in the oil. I’ll get some leather cleaner.” He checked the drawer below the lab bench.

Lisa set the cap upright over a stand then returned to the scrolls on the table. “The header on this scroll reads, ‘Negotiating with Christians’. What’s that about?”

“Ahh … I had a feeling.” Ernest clutched his head with both hands and gave a silent thank you. “Old Testament scriptures speak of other gods, but European Christians could never abide them. The Jestercians were a Nordic-Druidic order, pre-Christian. The Jester was said to speak those godly tongues. I suspect she was the top diplomat dealing with the Christian Franks.

Lisa raised a finger then leaned over the flattening table. She tested the uncurling edges of the scrolls. “Each must serve a different function. But until we unroll them, I can only read a line or two. This one is beautifully illuminated.” She peered at the barely separated edge and shined her light magnifier. “Heimskinginn Fero, fool’s manual, map, no, guide … ‘A Guide for the Fool’s Journey.’ That must be the master scroll.”

She glanced at Ernest across the table and saw his eyes twinkling. She gave a soft handclap then dove back in. “Okay, six scrolls: the master guide, medical and negotiation scrolls, then three others.”

Lisa turned the steamer to mist the three scrolls then tried each of their edges again. “These have simple runes for short incantations.” She pulled all three toward her and lined them up. Ernest leaned in. She appreciated his patience.

Several hours later, she looked up from the table, stretched her arms and shoulders back, and took a cleansing breath. Ernest rolled a hand, beckoning her to reveal her discovery.

Lisa rested her hand on the last three scrolls in sequence. “One for good fortune, one for sexual potency, and one for anger—a pacifier.” She stepped back, held her arms up, and bowed to all sides as if to a gallery of appreciative viewers.

“Hurrah, excellently done,” Ernest said, applauding. “Your interpretation confirms what we believed about Jestercian theology. In the illuminated scroll, the fool’s journey is a metaphor for the journey each of us must take. We begin life as fools and return to that state at each transition: leaving home, entering a trade, selecting a mate, all major life decisions. Apprentice Jesters were called great fools because they made many transitions, and here we have scrolls for five of them. Special caps assisted their training and also warned others.”

“Awesome hat, Ernie!” They turned to see Bryton pulling the fool’s cap over his unwashed hair and hopping about like a drunken marionette. He wore the same smiley-face tee shirt with some new ketchup stains. “I could wear this for the party tonight.”

“Bryton, please take that off,” Ernest said through clenched teeth.

“It’s part of our research,” Lisa said, “very fragile and very valuable.”

“Weeell aaall right. You know, you guys are real bummers.” He shuffled his feet, doffed the cap, and bowed, sweeping the cap low. “Milady Liz, Bryton Gilders at your service.” He handed it to Lisa then plopped into the stuffed armchair.

Lisa looked at Earnest, who could barely contain his anger, then back at Bryton. “I want to study the scrolls a little more tonight,” she said. “Maybe tomorrow you can help flatten and repair the creases with me. I’ll show you how that’s done.”

Bryton looked pleased. “Okay, tomorrow I work … but tonight I play.” He jumped up. “How about you two? Pot’o Gold? This is a special night, and you should celebrate your big discovery.”

“Special night? Did I miss something?” Lisa asked, shifting her gaze to Ernest.

Bryton rolled his eyes. “Just St. Patty’s Day. Hey dudes! Time for the green. Pot’o Gold’s having a big party … beer, song, dance, all the good stuff.” He threw his arms wide and rocked in his seat.

“For once, Bryton might have a good idea,” Ernest said. “It’s been a long while since we took a break, and we do have something to celebrate.” Lisa nodded tentatively.

Right we do. Of course, we do.” Bryton grinned at his win. “What time shall we go?”

“How about we meet you over there?” Lisa said. “Dr. Woerth, do you know the way? I’d need a lift.” She pointed a finger at Bryton. “And you, how about changing that shirt?”

“No prob, Liz, it’s Friday night … wash night … and I’m not wearing any green.” He pulled at his stained smiley shirt then jumped up from his chair and headed to the door. “Got to go rest up for tonight.

The Pot’o Gold was crowded and smelled of spilt beer, old wood, and fresh corned beef and cabbage. Laborers, students, and a few police officers and firemen filled most of the tables. A fiddler played an Irish tune to the vigorous accompaniment of a drum, flute, and tin whistle.

the-best-sports-bar-in

Lisa and Ernest each ordered a Guinness and agreed to share an order of fish and chips, which arrived quickly as the bartender had everything lined along the bar. Lisa leaned across the table so she wouldn’t have to shout over the music. “A fortuitous day, would you say?”

“Fortuitous, indeed. A good word all considering.” Ernest lifted his tall mug, and Lisa did likewise. “To the Jestercians.”

“To the Jestercians,” she repeated then added, “and to the anonymous donor for our wondrous gifts.”

Ernest nodded, took another pull on his Guinness, and noted patches of red and green peeking from Lisa’s purse. “You brought the fool’s cap?”

“After Bryton’s episode, I didn’t want to chance him appropriating it for his costume tonight. It also inspires my studies. I took a few notes before I left the lab this evening to get ready for our date.”

Ernest smiled, and Lisa was pleased to see he also considered this a date. They looked like a couple—unconsciously, both had chosen to wear cream-colored, Irish turtlenecks and ornamental shamrocks.

The lights darkened before Earnest could speak and the room quieted. A costumed woman stood in the spotlight and sang an Irish ballad.

Steal away, let’s steal away
No reason left to stay
For me and you, let’s start anew
And Darlin’ let’s steal away

Ernest slid his chair beside Lisa’s so they could watch together. The lilting soprano transfixed them, but not everyone in the pub.

Asshole,” came a shout from across the room. A chair slammed to the floor, followed by a young man, a student no doubt, flying backwards to rebound off a wall. The felled student twisted to pull himself onto his elbows.

Lisa recognized the slightly less-stained, smiley-face tee shirt and the mop of matted, black hair. Three Nimueh jocks in matching sports jerseys pushed tables aside to go after him.

Without thinking, Lisa slid the cap from her purse and onto her head. “An farandverkefni Viking hættir a hus bonda …” she said and two other lines. The toughs continued coming but began to smile and laugh, along with the rest of the pub. Reaching Bryton, they lifted him to his feet, dusted him off, and ordered a fresh beer to be brought to their table. Bryton looked confused but rejoined their group.

“What was that?” Ernest asked, checking the room. No one else seemed to notice Lisa’s intervention.

“That’s from the Reioi. I told those guys that Bryton was a fine fellow who said stupid things, like they sometimes did.” She shrugged and flashed a sheepish grin.

“Hey Liz, Ernie,” Bryton shouted and waved then rose to join them. Lisa tucked the cap back into her purse. “Did you two see that?” Bryton pointed back. “I thought those guys were really mad at me.” Lisa suppressed a smirk. Bryton glanced between her and Ernest. “You look pretty cozy over here. Don’t want to break things up.  Sooo …” He scanned the room. “I think the girls over there need my attention.” Bryton lifted his chin to a pair of young women at the bar and trotted over. They averted their eyes, put their heads together, and laughed.

Conversations picked up and the fiddler returned to the stage. Ernest leaned over and whispered, “Reioi?”

Lisa waited for a waiter to pass their table. “Hindra reioi, the scroll for deterring anger. It’s the last thing I remember from my notes this afternoon. I was going to ask you to look them over just before this happened.”

“Those men couldn’t have understood what you said.” Ernest gave Lisa an admiring, open-mouthed smile. “The fool’s cap, it works for you. You are the new Jester. The cap selected you.”

He looked at the check on the edge of the table. “Since we’re calling this a date, may I pick up the tab?”

Lisa half smiled and lifted an eyebrow.

 

After twelve centuries, the Fool’s Cap of the Druidic order of Jestercians—entrusted to the Vikings in the ninth century and buried at Dorestad castle— found a new home at Nimueh College west of St. Louis, and a worthy apprentice in Lisa Svanetti.

Pity Not the Fool

The story begins twelve hundred years earlier with Vikings concealing a mystical trunk to keep it out of the hands of Frankish heretics. (See “Fool’s Cap”)

By the time Ernest Woerth reached the lab, the trunk had arrived, and Lisa Svanetti was signing the paperwork. She was a graduate student in medieval history and an expert in Nordic runes. She had read his paper on the Jestercians and come to Nimueh College to work with him.

“Excellent,” Ernest said, checking the trunk’s seal and general condition. The oak trunk was twenty inches long by twelve high and wide, and bound with brass hinges and fittings. The boards were caulked and seams sealed with pitch and pine tar, like ship hulls in the ninth century.

“Is this the Dorestad cache?” Lisa asked, pointing to the tar-stained seal. When Ernest nodded, she squealed and danced around in a circle.

“They should make for an excellent thesis,” Ernest said. “I want you to take the lead.” She jumped to embrace him. “But before we celebrate, let’s make sure there is something inside.” He went to the tool cabinet for a chisel.

the-court-jester-tyler-robbins

While they talked, a young man came in, plopped himself in a side chair, and swung his legs over the arm. “Hi, Ernie. I see my project arrived. Uncle Scott said you needed some help.”

“Indeed, I do, Bryton,” Ernest said, drawing a thin smile and regretting his promise to Dean Gilders to keep his nephew Bryton busy.

Bryton scratched his patchy beard then pulled the smiley-face emblem on his tee shirt to free it from sticking to his body. The smell of fried potatoes and stale sweat wafted into the room. Ernest glanced at the unopened trunk then at Lisa, who covered her mouth with her hand.

“Hi, Bryton.” Lisa nodded in the young man’s direction. I’m Lisa Svanetti, Dr. Woerth’s graduate intern.”

“Nice to meet you, Liz,” he raised his hand as if to wave then ran fingers through his matted hair. “Yer kinda like the formal type, huh? And real booky.”

“Yup. And you’re a quick one.”

“My mother always told me that.”

“Enough chat,” Ernest said. “Time to get to work.”

“Sure ‘nuff, Ernie.” Bryton slid one leg off the chair arm and shifted his body to watch. While Lisa softened the pine tar with linseed oil, Ernest worked the seals. The last one parted a half-hour later.

“You superstitious?” Ernest asked Lisa.

“About the curse? I’ll risk it to be the first to lift the trunk lid,” she said, and Ernest nodded for her to go ahead.

The stale odor of desiccation overwhelmed the smell of French fries coming off Bryton. Lisa inhaled deeply, and Ernest motioned her to continue. Inside she found six scrolls, each individually bound with a leather strap and sequestered in its own pigeonhole.

“Those the doorstops?” Bryton asked, leaning forward without shifting a leg. “They look like rolls of old newspaper.”

“The Dorestad Scrolls,” Ernest corrected, turning one in his hand. “Sheepskin vellum, ninth century. Paper didn’t reach northern Europe until the 13th century. The Franks never found them when they overran Dorestad—probably the last Viking stronghold in Germany.”

Lisa transferred the scrolls to plastic sleeves then prepared the lab table to re-hydrate, unroll, flatten, and repair them: spatulas, surgical knives, magnifiers, ink, brushes, fountain pens, oil, leather preservative, sprayer, steamer, document spreader, all tucked in bins along the lab table.

Bryton stretched his body across the arms of the chair and yawned. “You know, dudes, I’m not big into crafts. Think I’ll get a bite in the cafeteria. No rules against lunch, right?”

“None at all, Bryton,” Ernest said without looking up. “Go ahead. We’ll be along.”

Lisa lifted the rough-hewn trunk to clear space then set it back to complete her examination. “They wanted this watertight. It’s makeshift but solid. Look at the hinges.” She lifted the lid wide, and Ernest brought headlamp magnifiers for the two of them. Feeling inside, Lisa detected another seal and tapped the lid. Hollow.

Ernest reached for the chisel. “Looks like there’s something the Jester didn’t want found—a treasure perhaps,” he said. Lisa’s eyebrows arched. The panel came free in one minute, and with it, a stack of wedges, alternating red and green and sown along the edges.

“Leather?” Lisa wondered aloud as she turned the stack under the light. “

“Give it a little Neatsfoot oil and let it soak.” Ernest checked his watch. “We missed the cafeteria.”

“I’m too excited to eat. All I can think about is reading the scrolls.”

“Very well,” Ernest said. “I’ll help you unroll them. Tomorrow we can work on the leather stack.”

“What do you think it is?”

“What I hope it is.” His eyes shifted wistfully upward. “According to legend, the Jester gave her apprentice mage a device to help him master the scrolls, a fool’s cap. It designated his training status and bestowed immunity from punishment should he screw something up in his training.”

“Like Mickey Mouse’s cap in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ in Fantasia?” Ernest nodded.

Lisa cocked her head and asked, “So why do we only think of fool’s caps being worn by court comedians?”

“When the Franks and later medieval kingdoms couldn’t get any of the Jestercian incantations to work, they made fun of them. The fool’s cap became a sign of derision, the same as the Jester. They wore replicas to mock Vikings and Druids. We might have found the original fool’s cap or one of the replicas—or it might just be a leather purse.”

Will the Fool’s Cap be a blessing or a curse? Next week’s blog post.

Fool’s Cap

Rolf shouted as he dashed into the vaulted hall of Dorestad castle, “Ragnar, the Franks overran our camp at Nijmegen, now they’re headed here. Has the Jester sailed?” Rolf steadied himself and set his helmet on the oak trestle table. Blood streamed from his leather sleeve and pooled beneath his arm.

porto_estela_050

“The Jester sailed yesterday,” Ragnar called, leaning heavily on his cane as he entered the hall. “She took the skalds with her. She said they’d go to Kirkwall for supplies then meet us at Dun Aengus.”

“Dun Aengus.” Rolf winced and dropped his head to his chest. “They’ll trap her there. Thorvald’s joined the Franks. He knows our plans—they’ll send ships straight away. Did the scrolls go with her?”

“Only the meister scroll. She left the proselyte scrolls and the fool’s cap for Áedán to bring in the Karvi longship.”

Rolf looked confused. “The Karvi’s at the bottom of the inlet. As I rode in, I saw the mast and crosstree sloping from the water off the end of the pier.”

“Áedán took an ax to the hull then cut her loose before he ran off.” Ragnar pulled a gnarled hand down over his gray beard. “Áedán left his training materials. Said the fool’s cap never worked for him anyway. He didn’t want anything that would link him to the Jester.” Unsteady, Ragnar sought a chair alongside the table and sat. “All the materials are safe, packed for shipping before Áedán went on his rampage, the trunk sealed inside and out.”

Rolf pressed burning sweat from his eyes, reclaimed his helmet, and lifted a long-shafted, battle-ax from a crossed display on the stone wall. “I’ll try to hold them at the Dorestad gate. You have the servants bury thetrunk somewhere on the grounds. Don’t tell me where. The Franks will keep me alive and try to make me talk. When you’re done, arm yourself and the others and join me at the gate.” He cut the air with a wide sweep of the ax.

“We’ll meet the Jester in Valhalla.”

 

Twelve hundred years later, next week’s blog post,

read how the trunk is discovered and opened.