There are times when foolishness does not go unpunished.
Many centuries ago the courts of Europe were selfish and lunatic worlds. They glowed furtively like jewels trampled into the dirt. Crossed in silver and gold, diseased and pampered hearts amassed their culture, a purchase of eternity. Greed - ready with its dagger of embroidered steel – hid behind curtains writhing with velvet forests and brocaded gardens.
These worlds glittered with an ugly and magnificent light. Beauty grew unnaturally out of this darkness, like toadstools. Tragedy and celebration merged to create a ragged coat of arms, entwined and symbolic.
In 1393 the Valois court in France was an imperfect jewel. For all its finery, it nursed a single flaw: its king, Charles VI, known as The Mad. Doctors nowadays believe that he suffered from a bipolar disorder. But what then? Were demons cavorting behind his inofffensive face? Was his blood different from others' – did it flow thick and turgid like a sickly river? Was it the devil's trick to corrupt flesh that was so white and meek?
During this time, Charles' reasoning struggled like a trapped animal. He believed that he was made of glass. He did not recognize his children or his wife. He was lost in a brilliant, clouded land; and yet it was his duty to rule a country.
It was in this year that his doctors recommended a program of amusements for him. So when one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting married, a masquerade ball was given in her honor. Ladies and gentlemen clad themselves in costumes of myth and falsehood, and the court became a sea of fishes that shimmered with absurdity.
A particular group of men were dressed as 'wild men' – a cross between man and woodland beast. They wore "costumes of linen cloth sewn onto their bodies and soaked in resinous wax or pitch…so they appeared shaggy and hairy from head to foot". For safety's sake the lit torches were kept a distance away, but a stray, determined spark landed on one of the disguised satyrs. Fire burst from their dishonest skins and panic – the chameleon of man's fear – adopted the colors of scarlet and black. This grim incident became known as the Bal des Ardents ('Ball of the Burning Men').
One of these unfortunates had been following the Duchess of Berry in particular. Now, she threw the train of her gown over him, smothering the vindictive fire. And when she pulled back the melted tinsel and scorched jewels, she saw the blank, mad eyes of her king. He stared at her pale, plucked face – looking like a star that had descended from the revolving galaxies and was now hovering over him. He wondered who she was and what magic she possessed, that could douse the flames of Hell that had threatened him. He wondered why she saved him from a life of darkness and judgement.