Offal’s Lessons In Manners

Offal, the court fool, speaks:

“A lord marked a swineherd at his morn meal.
‘How came you by such uncouth manners, friend?’
The swineherd spoke while he ate to his fill.
‘Manners are not so hard to comprehend.
My hogs have manners, too, which oft contend
with the highest lord ruling in his land,
for though they lay in the filth they expend
it behooves them to not use a hoofed hand,
their snouts deep in what they don’t understand.”

“The lord, astride his horse, snorted disdain.
‘You would do better to learn from your lord.’
The swineherd swallowed and, without refrain,
laughed aloud, eyeing his lord’s long, sheathed, sword.
He said, ‘I have learned much from my swine horde.
Indeed, they are not afeared of the blade
for they are too happy among filth, lord,
to know the blade till its kiss has been made
across the throat and their life debts are paid.’

“The lord blinked, confused at such unconcern.
‘Had you sense you would not speak quite so free.’
The swineherd did not flinch, but took a turn
around his sty, watching his hogs till he
saw the sow roll in grime and gunk and glee.
He then said, ‘Had you sense you would know how
filth can come out of either end of me,
but I find truffles well as any sow,
which I gift to you, lord.’ He gave a bow.

“‘You bring me no truffles!’ the lord replied.
‘Indeed, I think you hoard them for yourself!’
The swineherd smirked from ear-to-ear, quite wide,
not unlike a mischievous bogle elf.
‘Go to my larder and look at each shelf.
I am deprived of truffles, and of care,
for I have not your manners or your wealth.’
The lord dismounted his horse, haughty his air,
and went to the cottage to look in there.

“Meanwhile the swineherd went to the lord’s horse
and fetched the lord’s blade from the bridle’s sheath.
He said, ‘Oft one must be careful, of course,
for swineherds among hogs may come to grief
wherefore fallen—however long or brief—
they may feed their lessers with the fumble
for hogs rush to claim what others bequeath,
even if unwitting be the stumble.’
The lord came out, then, with a gruff grumble.

“‘I found my truffles, knave!’ he growled aloud,
his arms cradling truffles like a farrow,
but afore he could say aught else, he bowed,
his neck split from a slash, clean and narrow.
Away fled his spirit, like a sparrow.
The swineherd fed the body to his swine
and buried the bones beneath a barrow.
‘Ill-mannered hogs may begrime when they dine,
but they may yet end a royal bloodline.'”

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