[One day last summer there came a noble Lady to the court of our King from the lands to the south, and as was the custom, our King feasted this Lady in a manner royal. As the feast was concluding, our King asked her if there were any questions that she had concerning what she had seen on her journeys in our fair land.
The Lady gave the question a moment’s thought and then slowly asked our King this question; "For the last two nights there has been the strongest ring around the moon that I can ever remember seeing. I know that in my youth I have heard legends and such about rings around the moon, but unfortunately I can't remember what I was taught. Do any of your stories tell of why this anomaly occurs?”
A brief silence, and then the King turned to the Lady and said: “Tales of the moon’s rings are indeed spoken of in our history, and we are fortunate in this kingdom to have a most excellent storyteller; his name is Roger, and he is our Court Chaplain. He is not present at the feast tonight, but I am sure that he can be persuaded to join us; Page, please give a message to Roger, and ask him if he would be so kind as to join us tonight."
The Page hurried off, and returned in but a moment; “Your Majesty, he sends word that he is on his way, but asked me to remind you that old bones move slower than young ones, and so he may be a moment or two in getting here.”
The assembled guests laughed at this, for all knew Roger, and knew that he only moved quickly when there was a plate of cookies waiting for him at the end of his journey. Soon the breathless monk appeared, and he was quickly apprised of the Lady’s question. The old monk stood awhile in thought, and then while seeking his chair near the center of the great hall, he replied to the King, "Your Majesty, I do know of a tale about why the moon has a ring, for it is a tale of your ancestor, Good King Henry. By your leave, I will tell it now."
With a polite nod from the King, the monk began his story: “The tale is told that in the days when Good King Henry was in his prime . . .]
A strange melancholy started to grow over the King. His heart grew heavy, and joy seemed to leave his royal court. All his Knights and all his Courtiers tried to restore his cheer, but none could find a way to bring happiness to their Sovereign. The Good King asked all his advisors if they knew of any plague or illness in his land, or any foe at the borders, but no sickness or external foe threatened his kingdom. No member of his Chivalry or any of his Courtiers could divine the reason for the King’s malaise, not even the Holy Priests of the Cathedral. So sorrow filled the court of King Henry.
Now one day a simple Friar visited the court of the King, and after being gifted with food and ale in the kitchen, the Friar approached the King to thank him. After looking at the King the old Friar could see the King was unhappy, and asked what troubled the King.
Slowly the King looked at the humble Friar, and told him of the malady that seemed to have stolen away all his joy. “None of my advisors have an idea what may be wrong; but it has lingered now for a fortnight, and none knows its reason, let alone its cure.”
Hearing that, the Friar told the King of a dream that had troubled his sleep for the last three nights; “I dreamed that a fierce Ogre was ravaging the lands to the north, and no one could be found to vanquish him. The people all tried to fight the Ogre, but even Knights fell to his wicked club, made from a huge oak tree!
"This is woeful news;" replied Good King Henry; "I must quickly send messengers to the north, to see if there is any truth to your dreams. But tell me, what is this foul malaise that has overtaken my heart?"
"Good King," the friar replied; "your heart but reflects the sorrow that afflicts your people; and as long as the country withers, so shall your soul."
"But what must I do?" asked the sorrowing King; "for I love my people and lands, and would see their happiness restored."
”The evil must be defeated,” said the Friar firmly. “I fear if your Majesty waits for a messenger to ride there and back, it will be too late!”
”I must do what I must do; if I go to the north, and the evil lies in the south, more of my people will suffer. The messenger must go.”
But before a Courtier could be sent on his way, a rider from the north entered the castle, and demanded to be brought before the King; “Your Majesty, I have evil news! A foul Ogre attacks your people in the north, and none may stand against him!”
The King spoke not to the messenger, but to the Friar who had spoken before, “Is there any more to your dream? Is there some secret on how this monster may be dispatched?”
"The Ogre raids your lands in the north, and his club has laid low many a Knight, farmer and crofter. He has looted the wealth of Noble, crofter, and Church. None may stand against him, for his life is protected; he has hidden his heart in a box of gold and silver, and he may not be defeated until it is destroyed."
”Where lies this box?” asked the King; “Do you know where it is hidden?”
”It is said that it is kept within his vast horde, and lies not hidden but in plain sight; for none seeking the horde have ever entered the Ogre’s cave and lived.”
”Then I must go to the north myself, and while I fight the Ogre, someone shall have to find the box of gold and silver within the Monster's cave.”
”I shall, your Majesty!” spoke up the King’s Page, called Robin by the court; “I am small and thin, and can wiggle through a crack that a Knight might get stuck in!”
The King smiled at his brave Page; “You must then surely go with me, your small size will be to our advantage!”
That night the perplexed King spoke to his special advisors, and asked why they had not told him of the Land's plight.
"The Ogre is of the Land also, Great King; and he has great powers of magic; with his spells he forbade us to reveal his evil works to you."
The King then knew that this Ogre was no simple dumb brute, and he spent the night in his chapel, praying to our Lord for courage and strength, with wisdom above all to best this evil. The next morning Good King Henry gathered his Knights and retainers, and set out to his lands of the north. As they drew nearer, they all saw that the Friar had spoken true, and that the people and lands of the King suffered mightily. They searched far and wide, and finally found the cave of the Ogre, a dark and filthy place.
The King rode first to face this foe, for although among his Knights there was many a mighty warrior, none carried a lance or swung a sword as well as the King himself. The King bade his Knights to watch, and if he fell, to engage the Ogre themselves. There was a brief prayer, and the King rode over to the cave’s entrance. But before he called out to the Ogre to come forth to his doom, he beckoned his Page to approach, and gave Robin these Instructions: "When I have called out the Monster from his den, go ye into the cave of the Ogre, and search for the gold and silver box where abides his heart, and bring it to me."
And so it began. The King dismounted from his destrier, for although his was a fully-trained war-horse, he knew that only on foot could he escape the Ogre's mighty club. The King called forth the Monster, and was quickly set upon by the Ogre, who wielded his massive club as if it were a thin reed. The King leaped and spun, striking the Ogre repeatedly with his mighty broadsword, landing blows that would have killed a dozen men. Blow after blow he laid on his foe, but not one seemed to even stagger the creature.
But as the King fought for his life, the little Page entered the dark and reeking cavern. Towards the back Robin found a vast pile of gold, silver and gems, the booty the Ogre had raped from the people. Robin searched carefully the great mounds of wealth, but not even a single coin went into the Page’s purse. At the very top of one pile the gold and silver box was discovered, and with this firmly grasped in hand, the Page quickly carried it out of the cave.
Robin looked at the battle going on before him, and the Page’s heart quailed, but not in fear for himself; the Page could see that the King was starting to tire. Quickly Robin sped to where the King fought the Ogre, taking no heed for personal welfare. Seeing that the King dare not turn his head from the Monster, Robin came from behind the Ogre, running between the monster's legs where the King could easily see him. He ran right before the King, holding out the gold and silver chest between his two outstretched hands.
Good King Henry, seeing his brave Page, took a mighty swing, and in one blow struck the bejeweled chest in twain. The Ogre roared as if pierced through the heart, as indeed he was, and fell over, never to move again. The crowd of Knights and Courtiers cheered, not only for their victorious King, but for Robin, who was proved as brave as the King, nay braver, for Robin has no armor, and could not use even a knife, burdened as he was with the Ogre’s heart. The King’s retainers set up a camp, and both King and Page were given places to wash and rest from their labors.
It was then that the Kings Knights and retainers approached their King, and asked; "What shall be done with the vast hoard of the Ogre? Shall we take it back to your Castle?"
King Henry quickly replied; "No, it was taken from my people in the north, and it must be returned to them. Go ye among the towns and villages, and find all who have been robbed, or their heirs, and return what is rightfully theirs."
And so while the King and his retainers headed back to the King’s castle, the King's Knights took all of the gold and silver and precious gems from the cave, and went among the King's lands of the North, restoring the Ogre's hoard to all who had been robbed, or their widows and orphans. Finally, the Knights returned to the King's Court, bearing the only thing unclaimed from the hoard, a plain golden ring.
"We have sought for the rightful owner of this ring," cried the Knights; "but none in the kingdom would claim it as theirs. Shall we put it in Your Majesties' treasure room, to hold for yourself?"
"No" said the King, "I myself shall bring it to the Church, where it may be used to feed the poor."
And so the King did as he had said, and gave the ring to the Priests at his Cathedral.
That night, the Lord spoke to the King in a dream.
"Thank you, Good King, for returning my ring." said the Lord. "It was taken from my servant, and is now restored to me. Shall I send it back to you, that it may grace your hand with my power?"
"Nay, My Lord," Quote the King, "better it be used to feed the needy."
"Well said!" cried the Lord, "I shall fill your barns with grain, and your fields with game, and your people shall never starve while you continue to serve me. And as a sign of your favor in my eyes, I shall set the ring to circle the moon in the sky, so that all my servants can see that I will remember my promises, even unto the ends of time!"
[". . . And that is why," continued the monk; "as long as the Good King's descendants walk in the footsteps of our Lord, there may occasionally appear a ring around the moon, a sign that God has not forgotten the promise given to Good King Henry."
The Noble Lady then spoke to the King; “Your Majesty, I know what the monk said was true, for as I traveled in your lands, I saw that the fields were filled with grain, and the pastures were dotted with your sheep and cattle. Truly God has blessed his most excellent servant!”
The old monk then bowed towards his liege, and inquired, "May I be of any more service to my King tonight?"
The King laughed in reply; "No, go back to your books and your cider, my friend; thank you for filling our ears with another wondrous tale."
And all there assembled then said to each other that the question, "why is there sometimes a ring around the moon" was well and truly answered.]
Roger of Belden Abbey
Copyright © 2004, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.
Roger of Belden Abbey