The Tale Of Jon Handshaker, Chapter Two
The Tale Of Jon Handshaker
Nearing the gates, Jon heard the chimes and bells signaling the rise of the Dog Star, and the gates closing. He ran the last few yards, the fish flopping in his creel throwing him off balance, and made it in just as the gates began grinding shut on heavy iron rollers. As he passed the outer gatehouse the night guard, in his ornamental parade armor, leaned out.
Resting his bulging stomach on the lower half of the two-piece door, he shouted, "Good night to you, Jon Handshaker". He bent over, whuffing great laughs, almost in tears with amusement. His light helmet and yellow cap fell to the ground as the man leaned a bit too far over. He only laughed the harder, and Jon began to realize what he had let himself in for. One of the sewage haulers had beaten him to the gates.
It preceded him all the way back to the imposing six-story stone and wood building he shared with all his many half-brothers. "Good night Jon Handshaker," was the cry on the passers-bys' lips. People ran out into the street to see and shake hands with the King's Lamb, who had touched a honeycart man as an equal. One young man shook his hand three times. The skinny blue-eyed youth in a floury white baker's apron was hard to mistake, even in the press of the crowded street. He must be cutting through alleys to be getting ahead of me, Jon thought frantically as he tried, mostly fruitlessly, to push his way faster through the laughing, good-natured crowd. After a hot and dirty day spent cleaning, everyone was happy for this small, amusing distraction.
He ran as well as he could, all the way dreading, knowing, what he would find upon arrival. And sure enough, there they were, all his brothers, teachers, proctors, prompters, minders and even the cook’s helpers lined up in front of the building. Waiting. At the sight of him the boys all broke into cheers, and shouts of "Hand Shaker, Hand Shaker, Hand Shaker," began to the rhythm of stamping feet and clapping hands.
The Head Master, unfortunately, was there, most definitely more there than Jon had ever seen anyone before, including his mother in one of her rages, or even Old Uncle at his worst. This man, outwardly calm, radiated a cold, magnetic fury, his blue eyes black in the dim light. Jon could not look away. The Master raised his right hand, and the boys' shouts chopped short.
"So. The prodigal son returns." Jon tossed his head, at the unexpected religious allusion. Why would the Head Master, in bonded service to the King, use prohibited religious imagery?
That unprofitable line of thought was also cut short. The Head Master's hand, the only hand permitted to touch a King's Lamb in pain or punishment, fisted in Jon's hair and began hauling him into the building, to the back stairs, and down. "We saved you a spot," was all he said. Jon Handshaker saw the poorly-lit coal cellar waiting for him.