The tale of King Henry's Knighting

[The younger ones were restless, and could not sit still. The Fireplaces in the Great Hall cast dramatic shadows on the tapestries and other wall hangings, and the flickering of the torches in their sconces added to the children's wiggling, by making a game of their elder's admonitions to "Sit still and hush.". How could they sit still when every movement was exaggerated in shadows ten feet tall? But then the door to the chapel opened, and the teller of tales waddled over to his chair by the assembled youth.

They all looked at the old monk as he sipped his cider, and quickly they all began the listener's litany; "We want a story!" "Tell us of Good King Henry!" "Why does King Henry always know everything?" "Tell us of his adventures." "Do people tell him tales?"

The monk quickly frowned at the idea that the Good King Henry would listen to base gossip, and the children grew still, as if afraid that the monk might get up and leave. But; "Okay, okay," smiled the monk; "A story of Good King Henry for a group of good little children. And a somewhat dark and unsettling tale it will be, to suit your desires for 'Adventure!'"

The youngest child's plea to the portly monk to "Don't make it TOO scary!" was quickly overcome by the other children, and as the group settled down and grew closer to the old man, he cleared his throat and began the telling.]

In the days when the Good King Henry had almost grown to be a man but had not yet become King, the lands of England were troubled. Invaders from the Western Seas attacked the coastal villages, and the frightened peasants petitioned their lords for aid, and likewise the worried lords begged succor from their King, Henry's father. The King being gravely ill, he sent Henry's older brother, the Kingdom's heir, to lead the King's Knights into battle, and Henry went also as his brother's squire. They fought up and down the western coastline, seeking out the raiders, giving hope to the villagers, and sending aid for the rebuilding of the devastated homes and hearths.

Young Squire Henry was a brave and honorable fighter and he quickly won the admiration of the King's Knights. But on the day when the battles had been particularly fierce, Squire Henry's response to the acclaim of the assembled Knights to "Knight the Noble Squire here and now!" was a humble request for permission to instead have a vigil in the King's Chapel after the fighting was done, and the land restored. Marveling at the Lad's humility and piety, the Knights granted the Squire's request, and returned to their task of freeing the King's land.

Now in the King's castle, the old King grew weaker. His illness was compounded by his many wounds of battles fought over the years, and his constant worries about his sons made his doctors fear for his life. It got so that the King's courtiers sent word to the heir, that his father was failing.

It was just as the noble heir was reading the courtier's message when Squire Henry watched his brother die. He saw the arrow hit his brother on the side, in an unarmored patch under the left arm, and saw the bright blood as it filled his brother's mouth. He ran to his brother's side, and eased him from his mount, and wept as he saw the light of his brother's eyes fade away.

Squire Henry wanted to then and there chase after the bowman, but the Senior Knight forbade it, and reminded Henry of the message his brother had been reading. The missive was fetched from where it had fallen, and the sorrowful news shared by all.

"You must take your brother's place by your father's side" advised the Senior Knight, "the other Knights and I shall finish the tasks your brother began." As the courageous young Squire protested, the Senior Knight said gently; "Remember, you are now the heir to the Kingdom, and yours is the Burden of the Land."

With his heart full of sorrow the Brave Young Squire agreed to the Knights decision, and with an escort of four Knights and men at arms, set out for the King's castle. As he rode along, he marveled that the sun was shining and the birds were singing. "What have they reason to sing so sweet, do they not know of the Land's sorrow?" Although there were four who rode with him, the ride home was lonely, for the Good Squire had no heart for conversation.

When his eyes finally saw the pennants flying from his Father's castle's battlements, he could not decide if he was happy or sad to be home. He had never planned on being the heir, and his youthful hope had been to settle down and serve his Father and brother as their most loyal vassal.

The gates of the castle were open, and the Squire rode quickly within. He passed on the reins of his horse to a hostler, and the Noble Squire rushed to his Father's side. "Tell Me!" commanded the King, and the saddened son began the tale of his brother's passing. The story visibly weakened the King, and when the tale was finally told he bade his son prepare to hold his vigil. The King would hear no protestations that his loyal son did not want to leave his father's bedside, the heir had a duty, and the duty now was to the Land.

The saddened Squire went and gathered his sword and armor, and knelt in the chapel of the King.

["I need not tell you; "the monk mentioned, "That vigils in that day were not like the grand parties that they are today. No groups of friends and relatives to idle the time away, no flagons of wine or elaborate feasts to keep up the spirits. Vigils then were in the chapel, on your knees, with only the Kings Knights to come in and give advice, if they felt you worthy of hearing it. Most of the time was spent in prayer, asking the Good Lord to make you worthy of the tasks ahead. In Good King Henry's day, vigils were not easy!" Having properly chastened his audience, not one who was over the age of 15 nor had ever been at a vigil, the monk continued.]

As most of the King's Knights were still in the field, few there were to council him. Still, those that were there did their best, and many a wise word did the Young Squire absorb. Finally, the priest of the chapel came in, heard the Good Squire's Confession, and gave him Holy Communion. As the priest was putting away the Patten, he looked for a moment over at the kneeling youth, and said; "Do not be surprised if you receive more council tonight; for you are now the heir, and when you become King, you will become One with the Land."

Although Henry was a bit confused by these words, he knew that the priest meant them well, and so the Noble Squire thanked the priest for his prayers, and for his services, and resumed his own prayers and meditation. Over and over one thought came to his mind, and he prayed fervently "Oh Mighty God, make me a Worthy Knight!"

Time went on, and just after the singing of Lauds in the nearby Abbey, the Squire heard a sound. "I have sorrowful news, your Majesty" said the voice.

The Squire looked around, and saw no one.

"Up here." Continued the voice, and the Squire looked, and saw an Owl sitting on the window ledge of the chapel.

"Did you just talk to me?" inquired the startled Squire.

"Do not be alarmed" the bird said, "your father is gone to his reward. He is now One with Heaven as he was once One with the Land. You are now the King, and the King is of the Land, and the Land is of the King. There are no secrets between you and your kingdom, and there never will be, as long as you never forsake your kingship."

"Not;" the Owl continued, "that that is likely to happen; your line has been one with the Land for seven generations."

The squire heard a sound behind him, and saw that in the open doorway a number of animals had wandered in. Before he could think to frighten them away, the Stag leading them said, "It is our task to instruct you in what being a King means. Listen, and listen well!"

And for the rest of the night, as the long hours passed, the Good Squire was tutored by the birds of the air, and the animals of the land. He listened and was silent. He learned why the birds sang even when the land was sad, and why grain should be spread near the forests when there was hunger among the wild animals. He learned things known only to the King, that you should leave a window open in the royal bedroom, so that a bird could let the King know of evil far away. The hours passed, and the animals spoke on.

Finally all had left him but the Great Owl. "We will never abandon you," finished the Owl, "As long as you shall have life. Now go forth, and be worthy!" And with a rush of feathers, the Owl was gone.

It was but a moment or two; at least it seemed that way, when the King heard a soft knock at the door. In walked the good priest, and as he began to speak the words, "Your Majesty," the King interrupted with his own comment, "I know."

"How did you find out?" questioned the priest.

"A little bird told Me." replied the King.

The priest smiled, and told the King "Good. We always pray that the King's son is the true heir, but there have been times..."

"Not for seven generations" spoke the King, "and hopefully not for many more."

Soon the Knights and courtiers entered, spoke to the King of their sorrow for his loss, and made plans for the coronation. But that very morning the Senior Knight present asked his King to kneel before him, and as his mother fastened on his belt of white, and the Senior Knight tied one of his father's spurs to his well-worn boot, the King could only repeat in his mind his prayer of the previous evening; That the Lord God make him a Worthy Knight.

And that is how Good King Henry came to be Knighted, and how the Land received its old King, and greeted its new one.

[And as the monk finished his tale, he noted that, like many other times, most of his audience had fallen asleep. "Just like their parents at chapel!" Thought the monk, and as he slowly walked back to his cell, he heard an Owl hoot softly in the window. "The King is asleep!" softly spoke the monk, and he was not really sure if he heard an answering "I know" from the Owl.]

But you know, don't you?

Roger of Belden Abbey

Copyright © 2004, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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