The Tale of Squire Harold

"An after-dinner story? Yes, your Majesty" answered the old monk. Let me get to my story-telling chair, and you shall have a story of the brave and the bold Good King Henry, your ancestor." As the old monk shuffled over to his chair, the audience settled down, and wondered what tale they would hear tonight. They loved the Good King Henry stories,and knew that they were in for a treat. "This will not be a story of the good king himself," continued the monk; "Lets have a story of one of the king's humble squires; after all, not every story is about the King and his Knights! Now in the days . . .]

Now in the days when Good King Henry was on the throne of England, there was peace in the land, and the countryside flourished, and life for all was good. But all this happiness caused a problem for some, for how was a Squire to prove himself in battle, and thereby win his spurs?

The Good King and his Knights mulled over the problem, and soon was declared that in addition to Courage on the field, a Squire could show prowess in mock-battle, and so a Squire's Tourney was held during the 12 days of Christmas. On the feast of 12th Night any Senior Squire who had acquitted himself well might then be given his horse, armor and sword by his Knight's Lady and at the evening's feast stand by his Knight at the feast, and be knighted by the King himself.

Now among the Senior Squires there was one Harold of York, and his was a sad tale. For Harold had been a Squire for nigh on to 40 years, and would never rise to the Chivalry. When Harold was 12, he was squired to Sir William of York, and learned his skills from him and his manners from Jane, his Knight's lady. But when Harold was but 15 years a conflict between Sir William and his neighbor erupted, and in the battle that resulted Sir William was slain, and Harold himself wounded, losing his left leg despite the efforts of the doctors. As there was none to speak up for him, Harold's courage went unnoticed. Harold tried to care for his Mistress Jane, but one night, soon after the tragedy, Jane took to her bed, and never awoke. With no Knight, and no likelihood of finding a new one, Harold despaired of his life, when Good King Henry's father sent for him, and made him the teacher of History to the King's Pages. Harold soon settled himself into the King's service, and many of the Knights of Good King Henry, indeed, Henry himself, learned their knowledge of past Kings from the kind and patient Squire Harold. From his modest wages, Harold saved what he could, for someday he planned to purchase the lands of his former Knight, and settle down to a well-earned rest.

Now it happened one year that as the Yule tide approached, Squire James, Harold's friend and former student, was sad. Squire James was squire to a good and gentle Knight who taught him well, and whose Lady did her best, such that James was considered a good and kind squire, and surely would do well in the upcoming tourney. But Squire James's Knight, [who I will not mention here, as his descendants serve our good and noble King today] was taken ill of the coughing sickness, and with the cost of medicines and workers to care for the fields, and. well, you know what happened next, poor Squire James had no funds, and therefore no armor, no horse, and no sword. How was he to enter the Squire's Tourney?

Squire Harold, seeing the situation, went to a blacksmith called Tom, who was known to him from some dealings he had had with the King, and arranged for Tom to buy a horse, a sword, and to create a full kit of armor, and to bring it to Squire James's Knight, along with funds to support the good Knight and his family until the Knight was well again. He swore the good blacksmith to secrecy, and hobbled back to the King's castle, with naught but the birds of the sky watching. He knew his dream of settling down on his Knight's lands was over, but he still had a good job, and his time in the court of Good King Henry was a fine way to spend your life, after all.

As the days of Yuletide came closer, songs of the season filled the air, and much merrymaking was seen in the corridors and halls of the castle. Maids grew prettier, and lads became bolder, such that making merry seemed the order of the day. It all culminated in the 12th night feast, for not one, not two, not even three squires were to be knighted, but five men were to receive the accolade! The celebrations had started days before the feast, and the anticipation of the ceremony put a strange excitement in the air. As Harold missed a leg, and had not arms, armor, nor steed, he of course watched in the stands with the courtiers, but still cheered for all his friends, Squire James among them.

On the day before the feast, Good King Henry called Squire Harold to his side.

"Harold" said the King, "It is time for you to buy that property and rest from your labors. I will be knighting five tomorrow, and I would have one of my new knights take over the training of my Pages in History. Plan on settling down in the springtime for a well-earned rest."

Well what could Squire Harold say? He thanked the King for supporting him for all these years, told the King how serving him and his father had been an honor, and remarked how retirement would be a blessing on his old bones.

As Harold walked away, the King smiled, and thought to himself that there are ways of testing that have nothing to do with the fighting arts.

The big day finally arrived. The feast was magnificent, the wines were superb, and the entertainers lived up to their promises; all were having a great time. Even Squire Harold had managed to enjoy himself, and thoughts of where he was to go in the spring were pushed aside.

At the end of the feasting, a silence filled the great hall, and the King called forth his Knights. They all came and surrounded the King, and in the words spoken of old, the Senior Knight called out; "Sire, our number is not complete!" And one by one, the most chivalrous of the Squires' Tourney were called to kneel before the King, and the Blessed Queen Eleanor went and buckled on their belt of white, and their Knight took off one of his spurs, and fastened it on his no-longer-squire, and with the Great Sword of State the King entered the new Knight into the King's service.

But what was this? Five squires had come forth, and five times had a boy been made a Knight of the Realm, and still the Knights gathered. The King stepped forward, and with a loud voice that filled the Great Hall, spoke: "In these days of peace throughout the land, we may forget that there are two ways to win a Knighthood; by victory in the Squires' Tourney, and by courage shown on the field of battle. Although the Kingdom has not been attacked in over 10 years, there still is a battle that is fought here every day. For every day each of us has to face the trials of life, and put our honor on the line. Doing what is right is expected of each of us, and I am happy to say that my kingdom is filled with people who know their duty, and fulfill it."

"But there are those among us who, unknown to any, put forth an extra effort, and risk their lives for the sake of others. 'Risk your life?' you wonder? Yes, for there are more ways to risk your life than just in warfare. If your unselfish act means you don't know where your next meal is coming from and you don't know where you will sleep tonight and if the holes in your shoes will ever be mended, You Have Risked Your Life. And so to do it for the sake of another is truly a worthy act of courage, and it needs be rewarded. So now" finished the Good King in a loud and commanding voice; "Let Squire Harold come forth and kneel before his King!"

Harold was stunned. He picked up his crutch from where it lay beside him, and hobbled to the King. Beside Harold stood the Senior Knight, standing in place of Sir William as sponsor. Kneeling before his Majesty, the King spoke to Harold, and asked, "As Sir William of York is not here, and his spurs were buried with him, I wonder if one of mine might be adequate? You should know, though, that every Knight here present offered one of his own." Harold could only nod; no words came to his lips, and tears filled his eyes.

The Queen then came forward, and buckled upon Harold a shining white belt, inlaid with precious gems. Then she had finished, the Queen said; "I am not any kin of Lady Jane of York of Blessed memory, but I think that she will not mind me fulfilling her duty this evening. Good Harold, in the courtyard is a fine horse, with saddle and bridle, and in your quarters are both sword and armor. I think that Sir William of York would not be ashamed of his former squire!"

The Good King then called for the Great Sword of State, and after the dubbing, when it came time for the buffet, the King's Champion himself stood behind Harold, braced him up, and whispered in his ear; "Remember, you have many brothers now, and you need but call on us; we will come."

The Knights surrounded their new brother Knight, and there were hugs, and pats on the back, and much merriment, for all but a few had been Squire Harold's students long ago, and ALL loved him for his virtue and honor.

Harold was ready to turn and seek again his seat, when the King's voice rang out again. "Good folk, it has become obvious that we need a Knight to fill the position as teacher of Pages. Can any recommend someone to take on the tiresome task?"

"Harold!" said the Senior Knight.

"Sir Harold!" said the King's Champion.

"Harold!" "Sir Harold!" "It Must Be Sir Harold!" the air was filled with the voices of all the Knights, and let it be said, the voices of the court and the assembled populace, also, for Harold had touched the lives of all who met him.

"Well, Sir Harold" smiled the King. "It seems your Brother Knights think highly of you. Would you take the job? It pays well. And it comes with an estate, once owned by a Sir William of York."

It was hard to determine who in the room had the greatest smile, but for some reason, tears seemed to be the order of the night.

[". . . And so ended the tale of Squire Harold, a Squire no more, who gave up his hope of future life for the welfare of another, in service to his King." And as the old monk wandered back to his cell, his eyes were strangely moist, as he remembered the Knight and his courage in battle.]

Roger of Belden Abbey

Copyright © 2004, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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