The chronicles of Drooling Proper state that in the history of Upper Drooling, the village had never been without an idiot. This, of course, was before Dumb Willy went off and got himself trampled to death by an irate ram of large proportions. (We shall refrain, dear reader, from listing the more sordid details as to why this occurred and assume that all imaginations will come up with their own). Naturally, the folk of Upper Drooling were aghast to find themselves void one idiot. It left open far too many assumptions about the rest of the good citizens of that fair haven. Besides, how could a proper village function without a proper idiot?
To this end, the mayor of Upper Drooling, the most Honorable Joseph Dribbling (yes, indeed, he was related to the founders of Dribbling-By-The-Brook several leagues to the north, but there was a nasty falling out within the family, the culmination of which was that Joseph's ancestors left the rest of the Dribblings behind to find sanctuary in Upper Drooling) took it upon himself to declare a state of emergency, and most hastily wrote a letter to the Idiot's Guild in the city of Greater Drooling on the River Drowning.
The dispatch came first by mistake to the Fools' Guild, but fools and idiots are not quite the same (the former being those who knew better but stuck to their ways in spite of consequences to the contrary, while the latter never knew anything). So the letter was promptly forwarded, after much argument to this effect, to the Idiots' Guild by Lower Gate where it fell (quite literally, since the messenger tripped and dropped it) into the hands of the Supreme Head Idiot of the Guild, one Master Small Tom Collins. He took one look at it, turned it right side around, and knew immediately what was to be done.
"I say, here's an opening that might suit you, Clod Hopper," His Divine Idiocy said, glancing across the table. "It says here that the village of Drooling is looking for an idiot."
"Upper Drooling or Lower Drooling?" Clod asked as he glanced up from the chessboard between them where he was trying to remember how to castle.
"Does it matter?"
"Well, of course it matters, Your Idiocy," Clod said. "I can't very well show up in Lower Drooling and find out they already have a village idiot. And since Upper Drooling and Lower Drooling are quite a few leagues apart, not to mention in opposite direction...well, I just couldn't do it without making a fool of myself. Doesn't look good for an Idiot of the Guild to go to the wrong village. Gives folks the wrong idea. Idiocy is an art...."
Clod paused. After all, here he was lecturing the Supreme Head Idiot of the Guild. Small Tom, however, didn't seem to notice that he was being lectured, for he was far too busy picking at the lint on his sleeve.
"So which Drooling is it to be, Your Idiocy?" Clod asked.
Small Tom rousted himself momentarily to glance at the dispatch. "Upper," he said.
"Lovely village," Clod said.
"Quite pastoral. Lots of sheep."
"Good point. Very well, I shall accept the position. Uh, which way is Upper Drooling?"
"West, I think," Small Tom said and frowned in thought. "Or it might be to the east. Better you ask one of the guards at the gate as you go."
Clod agreed that this was likely a good idea and made haste to depart, as hastily as was within a proper Idiot's skill. Like all Idiots, he possessed little more than the clothes on his back, and those were in need of a washing. Then again, appearance was important to the Idiot's reputation. Clean Idiots were never half as well appreciated, for they looked too clever. One of the finer points of being a good Idiot was the ability to look positively stupid.
The guard at the gate directed Clod to follow the north road (which went neither east nor west, but followed the River Drowning), and soon enough, the outer farms disappeared, leaving Clod following the road through the woods. He'd gone perhaps a mile, a goodly way indeed, when he chose to stop for a sip of water and a bite of the onion he'd managed to tweak from a passing cartload heading for market.
Now one must understand that Idiots who stop quite often get distracted. Clod was no exception. No sooner had he seated himself on a convenient log that he noticed a great deal of moisture on the ground, and leaning over, he realized that this moisture bore a strong resemblance to spittle. Lots of it. And he was debating to himself just what manner of creature could expectorate to such a degree when a voice arrested his attention.
"Excuse me," someone blurbled. "You're sitting on my hat."
Clod looked up to find a man in wizard's robes standing just behind him. At least, Clod assumed it was a wizard. He was a tall chap with long white hair, a streaming beard and hoarfrost eyes. The wizard wore rather plain, loose robes, the front of which were quite damp. So was his beard, for that matter. Water trickled off the end, and as Clod looked up, he realized that the flood was coming from the wizard's mouth (currently set in a grumpy frown), producing a veritable waterfall.
"You're drooling," Clod said, pointing to the wizard's dilemma.
"I know I'm drooling!" the wizard spat, and Clod was treated to a bath of spittle. "Now kindly get up and let me have my hat!"
Clod rose, more so he could escape the next downpour, and stepped to one side. There on the log was a crumpled bit of brown felt whose broad brim draped over the edges. In the center, he could see the flattened remains of what might have once been a point. The wizard grumbled miserably, picked up the hat and giving it a half-hearted shake, he jammed it on his head. He then seized up a snaky staff of wood and started north, leaving a stream.
While Idiots were not considered bright, they did possess a great deal of curiosity about mundane things like navel lint and nose hairs. Clod, however, prided himself on being a little more curious about more exciting things, like the fact that the wizard was drooling. And since Clod's own destination lay northward as well, he saw no reason not to follow.
"Sir?" Clod said, lumbering along to catch up with the wizard. "Why are you drooling?"
The wizard stopped and turned, fixing Clod with a look of plotting grand annihilation, one fairly common to his kind. "Are you often in the habit of asking idiot questions?"
"Well, it is my job," Clod said. "I'm a certified member of the Idiots' Guild of Greater Drooling..."
The wizard's left eyebrow rose more than a hair. "Why am I not surprised?" he muttered, and a new wave of slobber rolled down the lengthy white hairs of his chin. He sighed. "I am Melthazar the Malicious, Scourge of Lower Drooling."
"So you're a village wizard, then?" Clod said.
Melthazar rolled his eyes. "I was until this curse was placed upon me by Gronda the Grievous of Upper Drooling. Now, every time I try to cast a fire spell, I drown it. Not to mention the embarrassment it is to make evil threats and slather your enemies in spittle. My reputation as a wizard has been ruined and now I am on my way to Upper Drooling to challenge Gronda and settle the score. Now, if you'll excuse me, Master Idiot."
"What did you call me?" The icy stare froze into a glare of malice.
"Nothing, sir," Clod said. "That's my name. Clod. Clod Hopper to be exact, and I am also on my way to Upper Drooling."
"Whatever for?" Melthazar sputtered, sending a veritable shower to bathe Clod who could do no more than dry himself with a slightly sodden corner of his cloak.
"Well, I am told the village is in need of an idiot," he said.
Melthazar looked briefly as though he could not believe anyone would apply for such a position. He took another deep breath. The pool of slobber at his feet had turned to dusty road into a mud patch. Clod felt impelled to swallow in sympathy.
"Is that truly your only ambition in life, to be a village idiot?" Melthazar asked.
"It's in my blood, sir. I am descended from a long line of idiots."
"I can believe that," Melthazar said. "And I supposed this means you are offering to accompany me to Upper Drooling?"
"Well, you are going my way," Clod said.
Melthazar nodded. "Very well, but you must give your word not to talk to me. I have a lot of serious thinking to do, mostly concerning how I am going to exact some terrible vengeance on Gronda that will be Grievous indeed."
"As you say, sir," Clod said.
Melthazar merely started on, and Clod followed as best he could. The wizard moved at a fair clip for one of such extensive years. Nor did that pace stop a stream from forming in his wake. Clod was forced to walk off to one side to keep from muddying his boots.
At length, they came to the outer gate that marked the entrance to Upper Drooling. It was little more than a low stone wall and a rickety wooden affair. Leaning over the wall was one of the locals with a spear and a helm, both of which had seen little work or cleaning in the last few years by Clod's reckoning. This guard looked like nothing more than a farmer taking his turn of duty, and indeed, when the pair approached, he ignored them at first. Then he saw the drooling wizard, and his head snapped up. Immediately, he drew to attention, brandishing his spear with less expertise than his station required. For one thing, he turned the blunt end towards them instead of the point.
"Who goes there?" he challenged.
Melthazar started to speak, but a great glob of drool suddenly had him choking and coughing. Clod took it upon himself to answer.
"I am Clod Hopper from Greater Drooling, and this is..."
"Yes, we've been expecting you," the guard said, his attention going straight to Melthazar. "Welcome to Upper Drooling."
The guard removed his blunt threat and pulled open the gate.
"Mayor's house if seventh on the left. The cottage with the geese out back. I dare say he will be thrilled to see you."
Melthazar said nothing, having hawked a few loogies into the nearby ditch and pretty well filled it to the rim. He merely marched through the gate.
"So you were expecting him?" Clod said, sounding astonished.
"Aye. From the looks of him, he'll make a perfect village idiot for Upper Drooling. Thanks for getting him here."
Clod blinked. "But..."
"Well, go on," the guard said. "I haven't all day to hold the gate for you."
Clod resisted the urge to inform the man that holding the gate would have made little difference, and Clod could have just as easily hopped over it. But he sighed and stepped through.
Obviously, this was a mistake. To think the wizard was an idiot was absurd. Why, he looked nothing like an idiot. Frowning, he made his way down the main street, which was not much more than a straight path with cottages straggling haphazardly on either side.
Melthazar had reached the mayor's cottage, and indeed geese could be heard honking from the back. The wizard took his staff and pounded firmly on the wood. In a moment, the door opened, revealing a face as red and round as an apple.
"Yes, what do you want?"
"I am..." Melthazar paused, clearing his throat.
Clod once more stepped forward. "This is Melthazar the—"
"Ah," the apple head said, bobbing up and down to show his understanding. "Forgive me. I am Mayor Dribbling." He slipped his rotund bulk out of the cottage rather than inviting them through the door, not that Clod blamed the man. Melthazar's drool was pooling on the stone step, and would likely have warped the mayor's wooden floor. "Welcome to Upper Drooling. We've been expecting you, of course. Didn't know you'd be traveling with a companion, though. Is that standard?"
"Standard?" Clod said.
"Well, yes," the mayor said. "Of course, under the circumstances, I assume it is for the better. Keeps them from getting lost of making for the wrong village, I imagine." Clod felt his eyebrows form a line. These people were sounding like bigger idiots than he could ever be.
"Where is Gronda the Grievous?" Melthazar asked.
"Our wizard?" Mayor Dribbling looked unsure. "Really, I don't think you should go bothering her so soon after your arrival, and she's such a disagreeable sort anyway."
"But of course, I wish to see her..." Melthazar said. "We have business, she and I..."
"Very amusing," Mayor Dribbling said. "You're very good. Here now. I'll show you to the hovel. You may want to freshen up a bit before you begin your duties."
The mayor waddled on down the road, forcing Clod and Melthazar to follow. He took them to the edge of the village where a ramshackle cottage of mismatched boards stood. "Here you go," the mayor said. "Well, welcome to Upper Drooling, Mel."
With that, he turned and thumped away.
"What is with these people?" the wizard growled. "I'm not here to freshen up in some hovel."
"They think you're the new village idiot," Clod said, not liking that idea in the least. After he had wasted time to come here.
"And just where would they get an idea like that?"
"Well, it's just a thought," Clod said, "but it may have to do with your drooling."
"That's absurd!" Melthazar sputtered, and a great glob splattered the side of the cottage. A few of its boards fell.
"The man at the gate said as much," Clod said petulantly. "And the mayor obviously thinks you're an idiot. Why else would he try to dissuade you from seeing Gronda? Everyone knows how wizards have no tolerance for idiots."
"You have a point there," Melthazar said and his expression turned into one of deep thought. "In fact, you've given me an idea."
"I have?" Clod's eyebrows rose. "What idea?"
"If they want to think I'm an idiot, let them. It will give me an excellent opportunity to get back at Gronda without her suspecting anything."
"But I'm the idiot here," Clod insisted.
"And that is the beauty of it," Melthazar said. "While I am pretending to be you, you can pretend to be me."
Clod frowned. "Pretend to be you?"
"Aye, yes. In fact, you could go to Gronda and challenge her to a wizard's duel. She will be so intent on destroying you, I doubt she'll notice me at all."
Clod frowned even more now. "But I don't know the first thing about a wizard's duel," he said.
"Oh, there's really nothing to it. You just wave my staff and mutter some mumbo jumbo. All very idiot-like, when you think about it."
"But if magic is that simple, why can't just anyone be a wizard?" Clod asked.
"I don't rightly know," Melthazar wrinkled his brows. Then he shook his head. "Not that it matters," he continued. "Do you want your job back or not?"
"Well, yes," Clod said.
"Then work with me on this," Melthazar said. "Once I have had my revenge on Gronda and these people see that I am the real wizard and you are the real idiot, everything will be back to normal. You'll become the village idiot, and I will have two villages to terrorize."
Clod frowned. "But what if Gronda kills me with magic?"
"Trust me. She'll never have a chance."
Clod sighed. He really wasn't sure about all this. He could have just walked away, but there would be a lot of explaining to do when he went back to Greater Drooling. Probably best he stick around and give Melthazar's plan a go.
"All right," Clod said. "What must I do?"
Melthazar popped off his hat and planted it on top of Clod's head.
"Just do your best," the wizard said. "Now, lets go find Gronda."
That task proved simple enough. More than one local pointed warily towards the woods just beyond the last farm. A tower of stone jutted from the center of a copse of thick trees. The path wound itself among those trees in a pattern that reminded Clod of the time he had drunk too much beer.
At the center of the copse, the tower rose in the center of a clearing as black stones against the sky. Melthazar had decided to slip around the edge of the forest. He patted Clod on the shoulder, wished him good luck, and scuttled away. Clod held the staff in white-knuckled hands, leaning against it.
He waited long enough for Melthazar to get into place, then stepped out of the trees and approached the tower. The first thing he noticed was that the grass around the tower itself was trimmed, and that a footpath of small pebbles had been laid and bordered with some lovely patches of violets. Rose bushes sat to either side of the single door, and Clod swore he heard a woman's voice humming industriously.
Melthazar had instructed Clod not to go inside, but rather to lure Gronda out, so he stopped half way down the path and cleared his throat.
"Gronda the Grievous!" he called. "Are you at home?"
"Who calls?" a woman's voice replied through the upper window, and it seemed such a winsome voice too.
"I am..." Clod hesitated. Melthazar told Clod to pretend to be a wizard, but not which one.
"I am Clod the Hopper," he said. From the corner of his eye, he saw Melthazar clap a hand to his face in disbelief.
"Clod the Hopper?" the woman replied and suddenly appeared in the opening of one of the upper windows.
Now, there is love at first sight, and there is lust at first sight, and Clod had to admit that he was experiencing a bit of both as he laid eyes on Gronda. She was hardly the Grievous creature he would have expected. In fact, she was more woman than he had ever seen in his life. Mounds of flesh rolled ripe beneath her robes. Her face was quite lovely, and her hair was a cascade of gold that she had tied back under a dust cap. She carried a mop in one hand.
To Clod, she was beautiful.
"So what do you want, Master Clod?" she asked, leaning over the ledge just a bit more and smiling prettily.
"I want..." Clod shook himself. He wanted to see if he could actually get arms around her, and the effort would certainly have been a delightful challenge.
But then, Melthazar hissed from hiding, "Go on, challenge her, idiot!"
"I have come to challenge you to a duel of magic, Gronda the Grevious," Clod said, feeling somewhat crestfallen.
"Oh, have you now?" she said, sounding a little peeved and much disappointed. "What are you, an idiot?"
"Well, actually...ouch!" A well-tossed pebble zinged Clod in the neck. He staggered sideways. Gronda looked a little puzzled. "Old injury," he said, and she nodded.
"Well, hold up just a moment," she said. "I'll be right down."
She popped back inside with no small effort. Clod's heart thundered with a mixture of unease and anticipation.
At length, the main door of the tower swung inward, and Gronda's bulk emerged.
At close range, Gronda was even more beautiful in Clod's estimation. Breasts like giant honeydews strained beneath the embroidered linen vest and enticed him from behind a revealing ruffle of white. Her skirt of green velvet turned her lower half into a secretive forest in which he would love to have gotten lost, and matched the cloak that hung rakishly off her shoulders. In one hand, she clutched a staff of gnarled wood. She stood just slightly under his height.
Clod drank in her beauty like a man possessed before he met her stormy gaze. A twinge of regret raced all the way down to his toes, though it did nothing to stop his flesh from going all goosey with desire for her. Oh, that he had known such a wondrous creature dwelled in Upper Drooling. He would have been willing to come and make an idiot of himself here much sooner.
"Exactly where is the village of Hopper?" she demanded in a voice like thunder.
"What?" Clod said, unable to swallow.
"Are you deaf as well as an idiot?" she said. "I asked you, where the village of Hopper is. After all, once I defeat you, it's only fair I tell the villagers of Hopper that they have a new wizard to terrorize them."
She stepped closer as she spoke. The sweet scents of lavender and apple dumpling spices mesmerized Clod.
"You smell nice," he said and took a deep breath.
The remark took Gronda back for just a moment... "Er...thank you," she said, the maelstrom deserting her eye.
"I...uh...like the way you coil your hair too," Clod said. He felt his face turning bright pink. "In fact, you look quite ravishing and well...I've never said this to any woman before, but I think I love you."
Gronda blinked and looked confused. "What sort of tactic is this?" she asked warily. Her breasts heaved and she licked her lips. "What game are you playing?"
"I'm sorry," Clod said. "I just never knew a woman could be so alluring."
Granted, Clod had no examples to go by. Women tended to avoid idiots as much as possible, so about the only ones who would talk to him at all were old and grey. Yet here was beauty in abundance, speaking to him. Gronda met his gaze and hers began to soften. But the pout of her lips and the arch of her brows indicated she was still wary.
"If you're lying to me to escape destruction and cursing," she said. "If this is some sort of trick to throw me off guard—"
"Oh, no, it's no trick," Clod said. "I wouldn't be here at all, but he made me challenge you. But I don't want to challenge you at all."
"He, who?" Gronda asked, her brows joining themselves over her nose.
"He ME, Gronda the Grievous!" Melthazar suddenly shouted as he burst out of hiding, slinging slobber everywhere. "Gaxyous Falgos Splurfus!"
Melthazar waved his arms as he rushed at the pair of them. The last words of his spell send a stream of spittle flying at Clod and Gronda. That spittle turned into a lump of hard, jagged stone. By instinct more than anything, Clod and Gronda ducked, barely evading the attack. It flew past them and struck the far trees with enough force to leave a hole in a trunk of solid oak. Clod felt his toes curl in terror.
"Melthazar!" Gronda said. "How dare you! Just what is this all about?"
"Oh, don't play the innocent with me, you wretched draft horse of a woman!" Melthazar said. "You know perfectly well that this is my vengeance against you for casting this vile curse of drooling on me!"
"Drooling?" she said. "But it was supposed to be a curse of stooling!"
"Well, obviously you screwed up, you bovine whore!"
"My curse was mild compared to what you really deserved, you warty little prig!" Gronda retorted in anger. "Call me a whore!"
Gronda swung around with her staff, forcing Clod to duck under the flash of wood.
"Faltuse Spartus Worgnuts!" she shouted.
Fire sprang from her staff. Melthazar merely coughed a loogie of drool at the flying flames. A hiss filled the air, canceling Gronda's toasty spell.
"Now, that is the first good use of this curse that I've seen all week," Melthazar burbled as he laughed and sent a torrent of spit racing towards Gronda and Clod.
Gronda looked uncertain at first. Then she began to wave her arms up and down. "Stop it, stop it!" she cried as the flood washed away portions of the flowerbeds and gouged rivulets in the pebbles on the path. She screwed her face with disgust as the spittle eddied around her feet and slopped over her shoes.
"Eeewww!" she shrieked.
Now it might do well to mention at this point that under normal circumstances idiots are not men of action. Inaction is difficult enough for them at times. But these were not ordinary circumstances. Clod began to lose his temper. Quite frankly, he was fed up with this whole mess. All he had wanted was a decent position as the Idiot of Upper Drooling, but here he was being washed down with spittle and watching the woman he loved — oh, yes, he knew he loved her — being soaked as well. That was more that any decent idiot should have been forced to bear.
"Stop that!" he shouted as he waded across the muddy ground. Clod raised Melthazar's staff with every intention of striking the wizard a stout blow. "Leave her alone!"
"Not so fast, Clod Hopper!" Melthazar spat — literally. A great quantity of spittle slammed into Clod, knocking him down so that he landed at Gronda's feet. Her hand flew to her mouth before she turned an angry glower on Melthazar.
"You beast!" she cried. "You great monster of a beast! I'll scramble your brains into mush for that!"
"Just try it," Melthazar said and stuck out his tongue. "I'll do as much to you, you overdressed sow!"
Simultaneously, Melthazar and Gronda shouted, "Gigglesmoo Nerdium Idiotis!"
White hammers of smoke manifested over each of their heads. Clod shouted "No!" and pushed Gronda aside as both hammers descended. Gronda's hammer smote Melthazar on the head at the same time the other hit Clod. It didn't actually hurt, though, since it was nothing but smoke, but Clod inhaled its fuzziness into his sinuses. He stopped and blinked, then looked across the clearing.
Melthazar was stumbling about and muttering as one gone mad. His tongue dangled over his chin, providing a platform for a waterfall of drool.
"Clod? Are you all right?" Gronda asked, timidly touching his shoulder.
"What happened?" Clod asked.
"Well, I hit him with an idiot spell," Gronda said. "And he tried to do the same to me, but you saved me, only...you're all right."
"An idiot spell?" Clod repeated and continued to watch Melthazar. The wizard no longer stumbled about. He was pulling great clots of boogers from his nose and studying them on his fingers.
"Yes," Gronda said. "It turns any it strikes into a total idiot. But it doesn't seem to have affected you at all."
"But I am an idiot," Clod said. "I've been an idiot all along."
"Really?" she said and smiled. "I supposed that's why it didn't work on you, then. You can't change something into what it already is."
"I dunno," Clod said. "I think I have changed. I still love you."
"You do?" Gronda said. "Then you really meant all those nice things you said?"
"Oh, every word," Clod said as he looked into her eyes. "You are the most beautiful woman I have ever met. And if it is not too presumptuous of me, being as I am an idiot..." Clod went to one knee in spite of the fact that he sank several inches into the soggy ground. "Would you, Gronda the Grievous, consent to be this lowly idiot's wife?"
Tears sprang into her eyes. "Oh, yes, I would," she cried and threw strong arms around him.
And Clod learned he actually could get his arms around her as well. For a moment, they stood like that, two people finding mutual comfort. Then Clod heard a giggle, a right and proper idiot's giggle. He released Gronda and glanced towards Melthazar.
The old wizard was following the erratic path of a butterfly as it flitted towards the woods.
"Hmmmmm," Clod said. "You realize this means there will be two idiots to wander about Upper Drooling now?"
"Ah, but one of them is my hero and husband to be," Gronda said and wriggled as close to Clod as she was able.
"So you really don't mind having an idiot for a husband?" he asked.
"Like I would be the only woman in the world who could make that claim," she teased. With a smile, she slipped arms around Clod and kissed him long and deep.
Clod became thoroughly distracted by that kiss, so he had no awareness of what was happening around him.
Except, of course, to notice the faint burble of a brook that now sounded from the woods.
Originally Published Online in the January 2008 issue of HELIX: A SPECULATIVE FICTION QUARTERLY