The Tale of King Henry and His Squires

[It was a pleasant day, and the old monk decided to spend his afternoon reading in the castle's gardens. Sitting on a bench under an old Oak tree, he let the breezes ruffle his few remaining strands of hair, and thought of the promises the delicious smells that wafted from the kitchen ovens had for a spectacular dessert after dinner.

He had gone so far as to think of a nice nap when the sounds of a child crying filled his ears. In looking around, Roger spied the source of all the noise, and calmly called to the young girl.

"Whatever might be the matter?" asked the corpulent monk; "Has anyone hurt you?"

"It's the other children," sobbed the little girl, "They say when I grow up I have to be a drudge!"

The monk, apprised of the reasons for the tears, sighed and held the child to his breast. "You know our King lets those who could not otherwise support themselves work in his kitchen, or in his fields. It is hard work, but there is no shame in that. But you are a bright child, and there are so many things you may do when you grow up!"

"But My Ma is but a cook, and my Da is dead!"

"Oh, so it's THAT which is troubling you? Don't you remember what happened to Robin the Page?"

"No."

"Well, sit here beside me, and you shall have a special story, all for yourself!"]

It was springtime in the Kingdom of Good King Henry, and there was much excitement in the castle. Tomorrow was testing day, and all the Pages were busy, cleaning their clothing, washing their faces, and brushing their hair. It would not do to let your appearance detract from your score.

"Score?" you ask? Yes, indeed. For testing day was when all the Pages presented all the fruits of their training, and vied for the honor of being advanced to a Squire. This year four Knights had indicated that they were seeking new squires, and so everyone worked hard to prepare for the tests.

The morning was clear and cool, both good signs that the weather, at least, was going to be favorable. Each Page tried their best in the four categories: Dancing, Fighting, Numbers, and Writing. The events were spread out through the day, with plenty of time for frolic and merriment, not that the Pages themselves seemed inclined to make merry.

Robin the Page was very excited, for she had just turned twelve years of age, and this was her first time in the competition. She wanted to do her best, for her father and brothers would be there, and she hoped to make them proud of her.

["Now remember," said the monk to the child, "that only the King, the Queen, and her family know Robin is a girl. Everyone else just thinks her a somewhat thin young boy, a bit small for his age."]

But things didn't go well for Robin that day. Her dancing was awkward; it seemed that her growing legs just would not cooperate in the bransle, and even the circle dances found her out of step as often as not. And the lovely scroll of her numbers and letters, prepared with painstaking care, was spilled on with ink when a Knight accidentally bumped her writing table. It was not deliberate, of course, but there was no time to do it over, and had to be submitted as it was. "At least the sums are correct." She said to herself, "If you could only read them!"

The last event was boffer-fighting, and here Robin knew she had a chance to redeem herself. As the smallest, she got to pick her first opponent. But as she was about to pick one she was reasonably sure she could defeat, she realized that even if she defeated everyone else, she would not score high enough to become a squire this day. So she picked her regular sparing partner, who but for her was the smallest one on the field. She fought to win, of course, but her opponent knew her fighting style, and as chance would have it, her partner's boffer got in a lucky blow to her head, and down she went. "At least," she thought, "he has one win to his credit, and maybe his overall score will be okay."

At the court held in the afternoon, the four winning squires were called forth and presented with a token to wear at the night's feast. As each came forward, Robin cheered for her brothers, for she thought of all the pages as family, and if truth be told, they felt the same about her. Her fighting partner was one of the four, as his writing skills were good, and Robin herself had worked with him on his addition and subtraction. All were congratulated on their excellent efforts, and court was ended, to give the pages (and future squires) a chance to bathe and change clothing.

That night, the great hall rang with the noises of the soon-to-be-squires, the other pages, along with their families, friends, and just about everyone else who lived in the castle. Robin's family was there, of course, and made it quite plain that they were impressed with her efforts, and surely she would do better next year. At the other tables, the other pages were being told pretty much the same thing, and all seemed to accept that the four who won were good and worthy boys, and had won fairly.

But as the feast grew quieter, the page who had won the numbers prize approached the King and Queen. "I don't deserve this" said the boy, "Robin was the one who taught me my numbers, and if it wasn't for him, I could not add two plus two correctly. This token should be his." And so saying, he bowed to the Crown, and went away.

The King looked at the Queen and was just about to ask for her opinion when a second boy approached the thrones. It was Robin's sparring partner, and he told the bemused Monarchs how Robin had selected him for his first fight, knowing that he knew Robin's fighting style best, helped him in his quest. The solemn boy begged the King to give his token to Robin. He walked away quietly, leaving his liege to wonder how Robin could be squire to two knights at one time.

Now the King and Queen were . . .

["Do the other two Pages give up their tokens, too?" asked the maid. "Yes, they did! Who's telling this story?" said the monk as he tickled the young one. "Now as I was saying."]

NOW the King and Queen were prepared when the other two pages, one after the other, came up and deposited their tokens in the astonished King's hand.

["I KNEW it!" "Very good, now hush"]

"He taught me to dance!" and "I could not spell until he helped me." were the comments that accompanied the no-longer-deserved tokens, and the King was left with 4 tokens, one soon-to-be very busy squire, and 4 Knights who were going to have to draw and quarter poor Robin if they each want her as a squire. But the Queen smiled at her beloved, and calmly told him what to do in the morning.

Court began with the King calling the four token-winners of the previous day. "I applaud your noble sentiments, but I and my Knights chose you as the best of the day, and our decisions stand."

And then the four Knights seeking squires came forward, and having spoken among themselves before the court, stood each by his new squire. The oaths were taken, and each new squire swore to study hard and learn, while each Knight promised to teach and care for their new student.

When all that was taken care of, the King held up the four token that the no-longer pages had given him. "Call Robin my Page to come and kneel before me!" commanded the King.

Wondering what she was doing there, the Page knelt obediently at her King's feet, and then saw what he held out in his hand. "These, evidently, are yours." Said the King; "But unfortunately we've run out of Knights who need squires today."

"May I re-take the tests next year?" inquired the Page.

"Mayhaps," said the King, "But I think instead my Queen has a position for you."

The Queen stood and looked down on her former Page. "Would you be willing to return to my service?" asked her Majesty.

"To serve as your Page again?" spoke the Page.

"I don't think I need a Page right now," responded the Queen, "but I have need of a Lady-in-Waiting!"

At this the entire court came to their feet. But the King's Herald called out "SILENCE!" and the people returned to their seats, their mouths shut for now.

The King then spoke, "It is our mind to advance you to the Nobility, for in all your efforts you have shown yourself to be a diamond of the first water. Your generosity to your brother Pages, your courtesy to every estate, your courage, your honor, all tell of your noble worth" Then the King proceeded to name Robin's deeds, from her saving the Queen's life, to her valor in the battle against the Ogre, to her efforts to aid her brother Pages; and at every stopping point the people gave up a cheer. Finally the King turned to Robin and asked; "Shall you then accept, and be forever known as Lady Robin?"

When the astonished Page nodded her acceptance, two of the Queen's maids took Robin by each arm, and led her quickly away. The two maids returned in but a moment, with, er, well, with a Lady! In place of her Page's tunic, Robin now wore a gown of silk, a gown the Queen had saved from her own youth, and had intended to pass on to a daughter, if God granted her one. But she did not begrudge her new Lady one bit, and everyone admitted it was if the gown had been made for Lady Robin.

And after that day, Lady Robin served her Queen, and grew in stature and grace, her beauty and modesty the admiration of the court. And all of the court learned the tales of her youth, and all believed it and marveled, but for a few Very young Pages, who knew in their hearts that the King could do ANYTHING, and lived model lives (mostly) from then on; assured that if they were naughty, the King might make them into a girl, to punish them.

["And thus ended the tale of Robin the Page. Do you see that in this kingdom, any who works hard and is good and kind shall advance, and the Lord only knows how high or far!"

With that, the old monk sent the child back to her playmates. "She'll make a good Lady-in-waiting also," he thought. He had just about composed his thoughts for that nap, when."

"Good Roger, may I have a moment of your time?"

It was the child's mother, and in her hand was a small but overflowing plate of . . . Cookies! As Roger munched his first, the good cook led him around to the back of the garden, where the children were sitting around the little girl.

"I don't HAVE to be a Drudge! "She exclaimed, "Don't you remember what happened to Robin the Page?"

"No." murmured the children.

"Well, sit here beside me, and you shall have a special story!

It was springtime in the Kingdom of Good King Henry, and there was much excitement in the castle. . ."

And as the monk went back to the garden bench, his nap forgotten, and his plate of cookies well in hand, he thought, "Maybe not a Lady-in-waiting, maybe a story-teller? Ah, the Good Lord would choose, but indeed, that is a higher calling!" And with that, this tale is ended, too.]


By
Roger of Belden Abbey

Copyright © 2004, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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