The Tale of King Henry and the Countess

[There was great excitement among all the housekeeper's maids; tonight was story night! It had been a week since the story of how plague had hit the kingdom of Good King Henry, and while fighting it Eleanor had gotten sick, and how King Henry had cured her; soon it will be time for them both to be wed, and all the maids could not wait until dinner was over to hear the next tale. Some of the Nobles asked their room attendants why they were so excited, and when apprised of the news, asked if they could sit and listen. The Nobles then told their friends, who told the Ladies-in-waiting, who told their Pages, who told the Squires. Word had even reached the stables; almost everyone wanted to go.

When word kept on getting back to the Head Housekeeper that the entire castle wanted to hear the monk's tale, she began to worry that as the maid's day room was none too large, not everyone who wanted to come could fit therein. Therefore, she went to the Lord Chamberlain, who after hearing the Housekeeper's problem, went with her to see the King. They quickly told him their problem. Naturally, being the great leader he was, the King instantly had a solution:

"Why not hold it in the Great Hall, for I would like to hear the story again myself!" Said the King.

The excitement in the castle was palpable. All were getting ready for a good, long night of story telling, and the kitchen was besieged by requests for snacks suitable for listening to stories.

Now not everyone was happy about this news; for example in the maid's quarters little Teresa was saddened; the court physician had come to see her and said that her cough was worse, not better. As he did not want to have her spread her illness to everyone else in the castle, she was ordered to stay in bed that night. Her friends were busy getting all their chores done, and she was left all alone.

In all the wonder and excitement there was one thing everyone from the King to the cook had forgotten; they had forgotten to tell their storyteller of the change in plans. Roger was feeling a bit under the weather himself, and had stayed the day in his cell, even taking his meals there. So when he finally left his room and wandered to the maid's day room, he was surprised to see it empty.

"Is anyone here?" called the monk.

"I'm in here," was the weak reply, coming from one of the bedrooms.

Roger peeked in the bedroom and saw little Teresa lying in her bed, reading a storybook. "Why are you here?" queried the monk, "and where are all the other girls?"

I was too ill to go to the Great Hall, and so had to stay behind," coughed the little child.

"What is happening in the Great Hall tonight?" Roger asked his friend.

"You were supposed to tell everyone your story there. Everybody in the castle wanted to come and hear you, and the Housekeeper said the dayroom was too small, so the King said to have you tell it in the Great Hall."

"Well," the monk said primly, "They did not ask me to go, and they did not TELL me to go, and so I won't go!" Then he looked at his friend's sadness, and went on; "As I am no longer busy any more tonight, could I tell you my story? You see, stories are like Chinese rockets, if you hold them inside you for too long, they are liable to explode. You would not want to see me explode, would you? You are not too sick to listen, are you? Are your ears the part that is sick?"

Being assured that she was perfectly fine in the hearing department, and that the last thing she wanted to see was her friend pop from too much story, they agreed that a nice tale was just the thing to cure a cough. Roger fetched a glass of water for Teresa, propped up her head with pillows, sat at the foot of her bed, and started his tale. "The King and Eleanor were still riding back from their business in the north, and . . ."]

{In the Great Hall, the castle's inhabitants were assembling. Someone had wisely moved the tables to one end, Roger's chair was moved into the center of the room, and every available bench and chair was placed in a circle around it.

As people entered the Great Hall, they were greeted with an array of snacks and dainties that could fill the tummy without making a great amount of noise. Some remembered the horrible day when a celery-eater made such a din during story time that the monk left the hall and would not return for over 20 minutes while the Royal Chamberlain himself begged the monk to return. Roger was a good storyteller, but could be very grumpy at times!}

Abruptly Eleanor turned to her love, and exclaimed, "How shall we tell all the Barons, Earls, and other Nobles who have planned that one of their daughters would be your queen? How do we tell your Mother?"

"My mother has been waiting for me to get wise and beg you to be my bride," laughed the King. "She will be our ally in this, not our enemy. You do bring up a good point; I fear even some of my loyal councilors and ministers will not be too enthused with the news. We must find a way to show them your sterling worth!"

"Am I too old to start training to become a Knight? She asked playfully, "or shall you now admit me into 'The Royal Order of the Prospective Bride?' What will it take to appease them?"

"We needs must discuss this with my mother, she will find a way!"

And so they ended their talk on that subject.

["What they did now talk about is best left for older ears; suffice it to say they got all moony-eyed and lovey-dovey with each other, using words unfamiliar to a monk's ears," said the monk to his young audience. "I will not attempt to repeat them."

As the young one giggled, the monk went on "When they got to within the castle gates . . ."]

The King and Eleanor dismounted, and gave their horse's care to the ostlers. After bathing and a change of clothes, they agreed to meet in the Queen's Solarium. Within an hour they approached the King's mother, and Eleanor asked her, "Your Majesty, may I have permission to marry your son?"

The look of Pure Joy that covered the Queen's face was indescribable. "The last time you were here, you seemed to feel that marriage to my son was not what you wanted. What has changed since then?"

"Majesty, while we were working to save your people in the North, I was able to see his Majesty's stellar worth. It seems that in addition to being 'The Perfect Choice' for him to marry, he loves me. It will be difficult to deal with all the problems that we will face to get everyone in the Kingdom to agree to our wedding, but I now know that it will be worth it!"

"What do you see as their objections? Is it something in your past, have you been a naughty girl?" The Queen smiled.

"Well, I did box the ears of a young Page when he stole my berry tart many years ago, but it seems that he has forgotten this!"

"Not likely," returned the King; "I plan to steal your desserts for a month after we are wed!"

"Remember, I can STILL box your ears, my son," laughed his Mother; "King you may be, but I'll always be your Mother!" And with another laugh she made motions to box his ears, with Eleanor placing her own hands up to block the blow.

"Do not forget, Majesty, that when we are wed it will be My Job to box his ears!"

The King looked at them both with mock annoyance; "This is what I have to look forward to, to be scolded by my mother, and struck by my wife? I fear I shall spend much of my reign in the field fighting my foes, for fighting them shall surely be easier; at least with them I may hit back!"

After the three of them stopped laughing, they talked about the serious matters before them. They did not yet have a plan to deal with those who would protest the marriage, but they still had to get the wheels in motion to let all know what would be happening.

"I shall inform the Royal Chamberlain that word needs be sent to all the Nobles in the Kingdom, and to our Royal Cousins in the surrounding Kingdoms. I will also ask our Chaplain to post the banns. Er, I did not think to ask, and it suddenly occurred to me, you are unmarried I know, but have you ever been married before; are you a widow?"

"No marriage have I ever had," laughed his Fiancée; "And before you hem and haw and turn red in the face, I will tell you that I come to your bed a virgin."

"I knew that you would not be promiscuous, Dear Heart, but with you living alone, I feared you might have been raped or molested. This is pretty much a safe place to live, but there are still evil men and outlaws who harry my good, honest folk. I am glad you have never faced that."

Eleanor stayed silent, and did not tell of the time she *WAS* molested; for this was not the time or place for that conversation. "I had not been raped," she thought, "and that was all that mattered."

["What does 'harry' mean?" Teresa asked the monk.

"It means to annoy someone, and to try and make them do bad things. Do not worry about such evil men; you are well protected here in the castle! Where was I? . . ."]

{The time had come for the storytelling to start, but there was no storyteller! "Go to Roger's cell and remind him that we are all waiting!" Said the King to his Page; "When he promises to tell a story he must keep his word."}

The Royal Chamberlain, having been sent for, arrived and asked what the King would have of him. The King told the Chamberlain, "I am to be married."

"Wonderful news!" replied the Chamberlain, "Who shall be the most fortunate of women?"

"I will be, er, I mean, I am!" returned Eleanor.

The Royal Chamberlain's face dropped. "How, er, fortunate for you." He finally stammered; "I'm sorry, but I did not know you were of Noble Birth."

"She is not," replied the Queen, "but that makes no difference; the Queen becomes Noble during the wedding ceremony." The Queen did not say "During the wedding night," as that was neither here not there.

["What's the difference between the wedding night and the wedding ceremony?" the child inquired with true innocence.

"The wedding ceremony is what they do in the church, and the wedding night is when they go to bed that night, and the next morning they are truly married. Now stop interrupting! The next thing the Royal Chamberlain said was . . ."]

{"He's not in his cell!" said the poor Page, running to give his report to the King and gathered crowd.

"Did you check the library, or the kitchen, or the garden?" inquired the King.

Upon getting a "No." for an answer from the Page, the King sent three more pages out to those places, for usually Roger could be found reading, or eating, or enjoying the cool of the shade trees.

"I will have to be stern with the silly old monk, "said the King to himself, "I love him dearly, but sometimes he forgets just who is King here and who is subject!"

As the King sat, his people grew more and more uneasy; had something happened to their monk?}

"Your Majesty, is a marriage between a Royal and a commoner legal? I mean no offence, milady, I am just worried that this may violate Kingdom law." Turning to Eleanor, the Chamberlain made a slight bow in her direction.

"As the King's Grandfather and Great-grandfather both married commoners, I do not see this as a problem." Stated the Queen, "I myself was from a Royal family, but I am the exception, not the rule."

"Perhaps we can show the Nobles that Lad . . . I mean Eleanor has done some great or noble deed. The people always appreciate a heroine."

"Well, I can say I caught the Plague, and that My Lady cured me." Spoke the King; "by the way, Eleanor, you may not be 'A' Lady, but as of now you are 'MY' Lady, and shall be so addressed; I will here no more words about it!"

"This is not a matter to lie about. We must investigate the births of her parents; perhaps one had a Noble ancestor," commented the Royal Chamberlain, "You never really know what shows up in a family tree!"

The Royal Chamberlain was sent to document the facts of Eleanor's birth, and to set in motion all the details that involve a Royal Wedding. The others agreed that no more could be decided that day, and went off to their own duties. The King to the paperwork that had built up while he was away, Eleanor went to her herbarium to catch up with the news of her village from Rachel, and the Queen Mother needed to plan with her Ladies and maids of honor what was needed for Lady Eleanor's Trousseau. The upcoming nuptials did not suddenly make her a rich woman; so her friends would help her fill her closets and shelves with clothing suitable for a Queen.

{The Pages had all returned, and not one had seen the good monk.

"Did he say that he might be late?" inquired the King to the Royal Housekeeper; "When did he say he would arrive?"

"I did not speak to him myself, your Majesty; I just assumed that he would show up as he has the last three weeks."

"You DID send him word that the location was changed, did you not?"

"No, your Majesty, I thought he would hear about it in the kitchen, or over dinner. Everyone in the Castle knew about the storytelling!"

"I did not see him at meat," the King mused; "Does anyone remember seeing the monk this afternoon?"

Silence filled the Great Hall.

"I wonder if he even knew that the location was changed?" the King answered himself; "Page, go check the Maid's day room, and see if Roger is there!"

And the room became filled with people asking each other when was the last time they saw the monk, and no one seemed to have seen him at all.

Suddenly one of the Hosekeeper's maids spoke up. "I saw him!" she said; "I took him his dinner, I brought it to his room! He said he was not feeling well. I did not think to tell him about the change, I thought he knew. Did I do wrong?"

The Housekeeper assured the child that she had done fine.

"Well, we looked in his room," said the King, "so at least we know he was okay then. Could he have gone to the Herbarium or to Chapel? He does like to pray for us all!" added the King, to the laughter of all. The fear in the room was lessening, as likely places of the monk were found. With a terse command, the King sent his Pages to check and see if the monk was with his potions or at prayer.}

When the four met again on the next day, the Royal Chamberlain had a smile on his face a yard wide. "I may have the solution, your Majesties!"

"Have you found out that my grandfather was the bastard child of an Earl?" quipped Eleanor.

"No, your Excellency, not that!"

"Then just what HAVE you found? How have I become an 'Excellency' all of a sudden?"

The Royal Chamberlain began a sad story. He told of how Eleanor's father was a courtier in the King's father's service. Ten years ago, he was sent on a mission to a far Kingdom, where he and his wife were slain while getting an enemy's plans back to the Kingdom. Though the two paid with their lives, by their actions the Kingdom was saved.

"Your father would have been made an Earl for his labors, and his wife a Countess. However, as they were both dead, no one ever thought to do something for the couple's child. Your Grandmother," the Chamberlain told Eleanor, "Wanted nothing more to do with the Crown, and the then King respected her wishes. As there is no reason not to grant what was hers by right ten years ago, your Majesties may quite properly enfeoff her with one of your vacant titles."

"And endow her with ten years back rents; after all, she will need money for her trousseau!" Added the Queen; "Of course, as her parents are not with us, she will also get the Bride Price!"

"Your Majesty, we have not paid a bride price in over two hundred years," said the Royal Chamberlain. Seeing the King's face he quickly added, "And this is a fine time to resurrect the custom! Shall we set a date for you and I to discuss your monetary worth, your Excellency?"

And so the news was spread throughout the Land that in ten weeks time the Good King Henry was to marry the Countess Eleanor, and all the people cheered and were happy!

["And so everything was set for the King and the Countess to Wed." said the monk. Seeing that his audience had gone to sleep, he tiptoed out of the bedroom, and went directly to his cell. His tummy was still a bit uneasy, and the discomfort made him decide to skip begging the cook for a cookie. He took off his robe, said his prayers, and took a draught of a sleeping potion to aid him to sleep soundly.]

{The audience began to get visibly alarmed. The Pages had all returned with word that there was no sign of the Monk. By now quite worried, the King organized search parties. "You men gather torches, and check the stables and the nearby fields. Also check the gardens again, the Page might have missed him if he had fallen. You Ladies begin a room to room search of the castle. If he is alive, he will be found!"

Hearing the King say "if he was alive" started the tears of the maids. They thought it was all their fault that Roger had died just to give them a story. Every person in the room feared that if only they had not insisted that they had to be at the storytelling, Roger might still be with them.

No one thought to check Roger's room, for it was small, and was the first place searched by the King's Page. So when Roger awoke the next morning, he found a castle full of people besides themselves with grief, and all were planning a most wonderful funeral for their beloved monk.

"Could I ask you all to postpone my funeral until I'm dead?" inquired the monk; "I admit I'm a bit old fashioned, but I have always thought that one of the best parts of being deceased is you don't have to sit through all the eulogies."

Word came quickly to the King that Roger was found, and the King immediately sent for him. "Do you know what you put this whole castle through last night? Thundered the King; "No one got a wink of sleep for all the searching and heartbreak that you caused by being missing,"

"I was in my cell all evening, except for my obligation to tell a story to the maids. As all but one of them were not there, and the one who WAS there was ill, I told it in her bedroom. When she fell asleep, I went back to my cell. I didn't hide from anyone!" the monk said, getting a little annoyed, it was as if he was some incurable trickster.

The King knew that Roger was an incurable trickster, but in all his trickery Roger never lied about what he had done, and so it seemed that in this instance he was innocent of any tomfoolery. "I see. And you didn't know that the location of your storytelling was changed?" asked the King.

"No one asked me to change it," replied the monk, a fine technical point, for Teresa had told him of the change, but had not asked him to change it.

"Well, I see that you are indeed blameless in this matter. Would it trouble you to tell the tale again tonight?"

"Well, as you may remember I usually never tell the same tale twice in one year, lest the audience gets bored with the repetition," said the monk, who as he saw the King's face start to cloud hurried, "But in this case I feel an exception is in order! Nevertheless, I must insist that Teresa be brought to the Great Hall, for she did not hear the whole tale. I only hope she does not get too bored with it, and want to go to sleep again. I usually prefer sleepers in my sermons, not my stories!"

And so the whole castle was invited to that night's telling of the story of King Henry and the Countess, and all thought it a wonderful tale. Everyone had a good time, although Roger was a bit put out; for the King had assigned one of his men-at-arms to follow the poor monk all day, just to be sure he got to the Great Hall safely.}



To Be Continued. . .




By
Roger of Belden Abbey

Copyright © 2004, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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