The Jester's Quest in the City of Glass

by Lyrian

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    Three hideously ugly children captured by witches and boiled in a pot until they were rendered into a flat, silvery disk and buried in a transparent plastic coffin.

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1.
Fit the First: A Million Stars Narrator: On a misty morning in September the Jester rises from the sea, a child of light and mirth, clothed in cloth of blue as deep as the ocean he is born of. He rises from the sea Born of the ghosts of mariners singing Of currents flowing free Out of the bells of drowned churches ringing He feels a million stars behind him A nation at his back He flies before their light can blind him And takes the only track He hears a distant choir Singing a hymn of half-witted pity He sees a distant spire Fashioned of glass, portending the city
2.
Fit the Second: Ancient Spirals Narrator: The Jester walks, slowly along the path that rises from the shore. Ahead lies the beautiful City of Glass, but he must pass many strange symbols before he can reach it, and endure the wisdom of the first of many prophets he will meet on his long journey. From the city ahead he can hear the music of an ancient hymn. Choir: Oh the world is a white city Sleeping in the shadow of the Cross Oh the world is a brass penny Rusting in the vapours of the grave Oh the world is a pink petal Rotting on the earth beneath the rose Oh the world is a grey mushroom Growing on the bosom of a corpse Oh the world is a black beetle Drowning in the downpour of the hours Oh the world is a green apple Spinning in the hollow of Death’s hand Narrator: As he treads the path inland he notes there Many snail-shells show their empty throats there Ancient spirals like the horns of goats there With many-coloured coats there Soon he comes upon a milk-white flower With a sweet face, but its odour’s sour Rising up it sings with mystic power With words the winds devour Flower: Seek the prize you must Soon you will be dust Seek where bones are thrust Seek where the wild winds gust Jester: Speak again, your words have all the flavour Of the riddles crooks and lovers favour What’s this quest from which I may not waver? No question could be graver ‘What is my name? What do I seek? What is my name? What do I seek? Flower: It is only the earth, only the earth, only the earth ...
3.
Fit the Third: The Scented Chamber Narrator: The Jester arrives at the City of Glass and enters. It is full of beautiful people and buildings, but the air is heavy with foul odours. The streets are paved with silver and laid out in straight lines, and the houses are raised on stilts with many doors and windows. Outside one building a glass sign bears the symbol of a green tree. The Jester goes inside. Although the sky is bright and the walls are of glass, the interior is dark and lit by red and yellow lanterns. There is a smell of incense, and the Jester wonders if this might be a church. Jester: I see a green light in the gloom And suddenly an angel stands Beside me, singing in that scented room A lantern and a bottle in his hands I take the bottle and I drink Its nectar fills my breast with bliss My mind clears, now I am standing on the brink Of understanding all of this Narrator: Six times in all the angel brings Bliss-filled bottles, fit to burst Full of dreams and wondrous things Answering his thirst Now his mind is at its best There is nothing wine can’t teach Save the purpose of his quest Still just beyond his reach He stands before a door of lead Brightly lit, but can’t proceed A word is written there in red A word he cannot read He almost understands the rune Like ‘wonderful’ or ‘wrong’ it seems A seventh angel brings him soon A seventh vial of dreams Jester: I know that one more sip will shine A light upon this final ‘why?’ The angel offers me his wine I drink and know the answers lie beyond that leaden door, I try to open it, and open it, and thus pass out
4.
5.
Fit the Fifth: The Fall of the Cards (A Quip for a Jester’s Ear) Narrator: The Jester wakes to find himself back in the City of Glass. He can no longer see the building with the green tree symbol, and finds that his jester’s costume has changed colour from dark blue to pale blue. He wonders if it was bleached by the sea during his dream, but realises this makes no sense. He rises and walks on, none the wiser. Jester: The people of the city hurry by Tall and fair, rushing past with disdain They do not seem to see me, but I try To be heard and to jest, but in vain I join the throng and swept along I soon see before me One figure rather taller than the crowd In robes of brown – the skies grow stormy Glowing, turning, eddying with cloud I chase the brown-clad figure as it flies Through the storm, growing wild, growing foul And catch it up at last and seek its eyes Hidden deep in the folds of its cowl The face I find is eyeless, ancient, female and fly-blown She cocks her head to hear the thing I ask Her skin is grey and crumbling like dry stone Expressionless as if it were a mask Her lips are black and glistening and wet with mirth They ask me what I am seeking. I say ‘The Earth’ A hand of bone and parchment crawls out from her sleeve And grasps my shoulder with a strength I can’t believe ‘Come with me’ she whispers as she leads me to a door Draws me through into a room with scarlet walls and floor And to a throne beset with shards Of bone, the skulls of beasts and fish Beside a table with a pack of cards She bids me sit and ask her what I wish Narrator: He asks, ‘What is your name?’ She turns a card, it is The Moon He asks the woman, ‘Who am I?’ She turns a card, it is The Star He asks ‘What does that last card mean?’ The Tower Struck-Down is the next card He asks ‘Does that mean I shall die?’ And she turns The Wheel of Fortune Once more he asks her ‘Who am I?’ She turns up Temperance, inverted ‘Riddles, riddles!’ cries the Jester. She tells him ‘That is not a question.’ The Jester asks ‘What do I seek?’ She shows The World turned upside-down He asks ‘Where will I find it?’ The next card is The Hermit. Then asks ‘How shall I know it?’ The next card is The Devil. He asks her ‘What shall I do with it?’ She shows him The Magician. He asks ‘What will become of me?’ The last card is The Lovers. The old woman takes this last card and raises it to her face. When she withdraws it again she is young and beautiful. She offers the Jester the card and he takes it. He asks her if it means they will be lovers, but she runs to the door and flings it open. The Jester passes through, and the young woman closes the door behind him. He looks down at the card in his hand and notices two things. It is no longer The Lovers, but The Fool. And the sleeve of his garment, indeed all his attire, has changed from blue to green.
6.
Fit the Sixth: Flight from the Enchanter Jester: I journey on through the crowds of the city Past crystal buildings with stars dancing in Until I come to a black marble plaza The people won’t venture onto its skin But I step out on the sleek marble paving I skate alone on this lake of black ice The stone is warm not like ice but like velvet And every slab bears a sculpted device This is a graveyard I’m strolling over Beneath my feet lie a million bones The bones of kings and the bones of jesters I hear their ghosts singing under the stones I reach the centre and find a sundial I seek the sun, but there is no trace The bowl of heaven is bright above me But casts no shadows to fall on this face Narrator: Suddenly a figure is there beside the Jester. It is a tall old man in a dark cloak, holding a wooden staff and a bright lantern. The Jester is reminded of the image of The Hermit he saw in the tarot cards. The old man speaks. Hermit: What do you seek here among the tombstones? Jester: I seek the earth, where the wild winds blow. Hermit: Look there behind you, above the tombstones Two snow-white birds flying fast and low. To find the earth you must fly above it Joining flight with those four bright wings Jester: How can I fly when my limbs are leaden? How can I fly with those brilliant things? Narrator: As the Jester asks this question he realises he is enchanted and has been transformed into a bird. His green clothes are now green feathers. The white birds fly past him, and he tries to join them, but cannot leave the ground. The hermit points with his staff to the Jester’s feet. He looks down and sees that he is still holding, in his right claw, the tarot card, The Fool. He drops it, flexes his wings and takes flight ... Doves: Fly, fly with me, fly with me, in the silver sky Fly, fly with me, fly with me, where the spirits fly Fly, fly with me, fly with me, where the soft winds stream Fly, fly with me, fly with me, where the seagulls dream Fly, fly with me, fly with me, on the breath of earth Fly, fly with me, fly with me, in the realms of mirth Fly, fly with me, fly with me, where the clouds ascend Fly, fly with me, fly with me, where the sorrows end Narrator: The Jester and the white birds fly for what seems many hours above the buildings of glass, rising up on the thermals of the great city, the ecstasy of flight filling the Jester’s heart. Suddenly, he feels a sharp pain in his breast and looks down to see that he has been pierced by an arrow. He falls toward the earth, his eyes closing. The last thing he sees is the approaching figure of the hunter with his bow beneath him, a huge man with a beard, clothed, like himself, all in green.
7.
Fit the Seventh: The Humours of the Grave Narrator: The Jester wonders if he is dead. He seems to be alive, and lying on the pavement of the City of Glass. At his side is The Hermit, and he asks the old man what has become of him. ‘You were killed by the arrow of Pamphilus,’ he says. ‘It pierced your heart. But I saved you by turning you quickly into a creature without a heart.’ The Jester looks at his right hand and finds it, and his whole body, encased in green armour. He tells the Hermit that he is man. ‘No,’ says the Hermit, ‘You are a Knight and henceforth must be called Sir Jester. Observe your breastplate.’ Jester: I was slain, slain, slain by an arrow to the breast And I fell to earth thinking no more of the quest As a bird I would fly and had never thought to die But I tumbled down, tumbled down out of the sky I was saved, saved, saved from the humours of the grave By a strange enchantment that changed my flesh and gave Back the breath I had lost, but my heart was tossed away Now I am a knight, am a knight, grave, never gay Narrator: Sir Jester looks at his green breastplate to find a small hinged door there, with a brass handle. He opens it. Inside is a dark space where his heart should be. Jester: Will a heart, heart, heart ever fill my breast again? Hermit: If your quest’s absurd and your jest is not in vain ... Jester: Shall I seek in fire, seek in water or in air? Hermit: Only in the earth, in the earth – seek your heart there
8.
Fit the Eighth: Mister Silver Narrator: Sir Jester walks on alone until he comes to a great white archway. He passes though and finds himself in a new part of the city. Here tall buildings tower to the sky, made of gleaming metal, with wings and flanges at every corner. The silver streets are thronged with shiny metal people who sing a welcome to the Jester. Mr Silver: Welcome, welcome, to our happy world Welcome, stranger, you are just like us Jester: Once men were blind, once they ignored me Mr Silver: You’re welcome to our world Jester: One of their kind, still they abhorred me Mr Silver: Most welcome to our world Jester: But now these men of steel, bright with electric light Embrace me as a brother might Mr Silver: You’re just like us Jester: Driven by gears, driven by amperes Mr Silver: Please worship at our church Jester: Feigning their tears, tender with sham cares Mr Silver: Our God waits in the church Jester: They dance before me through the streets of gleaming chrome Towards a flanged and polished dome Mr Silver: Our God is there Jester: They all sing, they all dance, they all bow and wink and nod Mr Silver: We all sing allelujia, we all sing allelujia, we all sing to praise our God Narrator: Inside the dome a million metal men are gathered in silence. Then a mechanical pianist steps forward. He begins to play upon a shining keyboard. Narrator: Upon an altar in the centre of that great dome A small black object lies It is the God the metal people have come to worship The Jester rubs his eyes Their God is nothing but a child’s doll of black wool with one eye and ludicrous of face The jester reaches out and touches the black doll, a million harsh voices fill the place Mr Silver: He is touching God! He is touching God! Narrator: Their god is lolling in his hand now, it’s silky, its downy, with something hard inside The Jester tears the doll asunder and draws out its black heart and casts the threads aside Mr Silver: He is killing God! He is killing God! Narrator: The doll is stuffed with cotton wool, and at its heart is a flat black plastic box with brightly coloured buttons on its face. Sir Jester touches one of the buttons. With one accord, the metal people throw themselves down on their faces. He touches another button and they all rise up vertically again, but standing on their heads. He presses another button and they all spin round, in the same direction, singing madly of their happiness. He presses another button and all movement and sound ceases. The metal people are frozen, all standing on their heads. Slowly, one by one, they fall over, and lie where they have fallen, with happy grins upon their metal faces. Sir Jester walks out of the great dome. Once outside, he presses another button on the black box. From inside there is a great hubbub and the sound of metal worshippers lamenting the destruction of their God.
9.
Fit the Ninth: I Trespass in the Kingdom of the Black Doll Jester: I walk on through the shining streets Where smiling tinmen stand Not knowing I have slain their god And have his heart in hand And I wonder could I use this heart To fill my hollow skin? So I open up my empty breast And push the black box in But no, it will not fit The void is much too wide Or is the box too small? I cast its useless shell aside Soon I come to the end Of this suburb of smiling machines It is marked by a great wall of white And an arch carved with curious scenes For a moment I pause Then proceed through the arch in the wall And am outside the City of Glass In a landscape of trees, green and tall Narrator: Between the trees Sir Jester catches a glimpse of the sea, and begins to walk towards it down a gently sloping path. Soon he emerges from the wood and can see a wide bay before him. He concludes that the City of Glass must be upon an island, or at least a promontory, with sea on both sides. Soon he comes to a marble slab beside the path and stops to look at it. It bears the word CESCESUIT. Mystified, he walks on and passes further slabs each bearing a single word in an unknown tongue, the words ECTAPVOE, MOFE, COVOUTE, QUEMAPIT and HUCCIT. A little further on he finds two of the fair, tall women of the City of Glass digging a grave beside the path. He wonders if this is the earth he is seeking. But the white-clad women shake their heads and one of them says ‘This is not your earth. Keep searching.’ Jester: Before me lies the sparkling bay And out to sea a ship With many sails and many masts Where pennants nod and dip Upon the shore a skiff is beached I see as I descend A man in red waits in the prow He waves and calls me as a friend I recognise him soon enough His bells, his horns, his laughing eye `Hail Scarlet Jester’ are my words `Hail Green Knight’ is his reply `I am the captain of that ship’ The Scarlet Jester cries `Come join me on my ship of mirth I sail the seas and skies Though you are clad in iron robes You will not drown at sea For with no heart you cannot die Come sail the seas with me’ Narrator: They climb into the small boat and the Scarlet Jester rows them out towards the ship. As they pass under the stern, Sir Jester notices the name of the vessel. It is SOLUM SOLUM.
10.
Fit the Last: The Ship of Jesters Narrator: Once the Scarlet Jester and the Green Knight are aboard the ship, sail is set and the vessel begins to move away from the City of Glass. Soon it becomes clear that the City stands indeed upon an island, one of many, scattered about in a great archipelago. The ship is crewed entirely by jesters, each wearing velvet of a different hue. Jester: Surrounded by jesters I am the only knight Though dressed as a questor they jest for my delight And here I feel among true friends My joy is real, my sorrow ends A feast lies before me, the Scarlet Jester carves A priest – they assure me no jester ever starves With roast and wine we quip and joke We boast and dine and sip and smoke Then I tell them all of my adventures, each battle The jesters all lay down their spoons With shreds of priest caught in my dentures I prattle Of mermaids and wizards and moons I tell of the flower which bade me seek the earth The arrow whose power devoured my heart and mirth And now I crave the heart I lack To make me brave and bring joy back ‘Perhaps I can help you,’ the Scarlet Jester cries As he reaches into his red trews And gropes around a bit then to everyone’s surprise Draws out a pair of old running-shoes ‘Try one of these – it has odours to impart Like a rat that’s three weeks dead!’ ‘That is not a heart,’ I tell him with a start ‘I quite disagree,’ says the man in red ‘For, surely, the heart is nothing but a pump ...’ Narrator: There is a moment of silence. Jester: ‘I do not understand,’ I tell him. Narrator: Sir Jester opens the hatch in his breastplate and pushes the foul-smelling plimsoll inside. It fits perfectly. The armour of the knight falls away and the Jester stands again in his green velvet which quickly turns a deep yellow. He laughs. The Scarlet Jester laughs. All the jesters laugh. And as they laugh the ship sinks. Crew of jesters: In the sea are mermaids Mermen and merchildren Serpents of the sea-depths Shoals of shining dragons Creatures named and nameless Divers, jesters, monsters All dissolve in water Fall to earth as fragments Jester: And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

about

As the title suggests, the ten songs that make up "The Jester’s Quest in the City of Glass" tell the story of a comical knave and his journey in search of a mysterious prize. Along the way he meets wise flowers, alcoholic angels, mermaids, shape-shifting fortune-tellers, aged magicians, shining metal men and a whole shipful of fools. His journey represents a particular human life, but also the quest and fate of Everyman, and has echoes of some of the great legends of pursuit, from Moby Dick to Scooby Doo, from Robinson Crusoe to The Pilgrim’s Progress, from The Wizard of Oz to The Hunting of the Snark. Some of the songs are also musical tributes to bands beloved of Lyrian and of the dedicatee of the album. The music is progressive through and through, with Mellotrons in evidence, flutes and pipes, acoustic guitars and synthesizers, and a great variety of voices, playing the parts of the various protagonists. Narration is provided by superannuated thespian Brian Nash (Paul Nash’s father). The album is full of jests, but in deadly earnest,
and of sober philosophy, but in pure jest.

credits

released April 1, 2016

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