The Tale of King Henry and his Mother

[The old monk entered the room and sat heavily into a nearby chair. He looked around for his mug, remembered he had left it in his cell, and went on without it.

"Teresa, I'm sorry you were not able to be at the storytelling the other night. I know you wanted to be there, and I wanted you to be there also, but your cough did not get better; that is just the way things happen. However, as I promised you, I will tell you the end of the tale of King Henry's wedding, and I'm going to tell you a special version, not the one that I told the other day to all the others. I can trust you to keep a secret, can't I? It will just be between you and me! I don't think having you on my lap is a good idea right now, so you just be still and listen well, remember I will expect you to someday pass this story on, you know."

The old monk caught his breath, realized what he had said, shook his head, thought quietly for a moment, and finally began . . .]

The castle had not seen so much activity since King Henry's Coronation. Half of the staff were busy cleaning the already immaculate Great Hall and the rest were preparing food and drink for the many expected guests. Over in the Cathedral the Priests were preparing for the wedding itself, and the Coronation of the new Queen that followed the ceremony. Throughout the realm, all were determined to make this the best day the Kingdom had ever seen, and if there was going to be any problem; it would not be due to any lack of effort on THEIR part!

The one who seemed to be busiest was the King. Everything was to be perfect for his bride. While Eleanor and his mother worked on her gown and all the clothing that brides seemed to need, he was peering over everyone's shoulder, making sure their work was being done. Finally, the Lord Chamberlain had to pull the King aside and have a little chat.

"Your Majesty, you are making everyone nervous!" spoke the poor Lord Chamberlain. "People who have been doing their jobs since you were a little boy now have you checking to see if they haven't forgotten something. It is making your staff crazy!"

"Have I really been that bad?" stammered the King.

"Your Grace, yesterday you spent a half hour with the cook on whether she remembers how to bake sweet rolls."

"But I didn't want her regular rolls, I wanted the ones she makes for birthdays and, er, I guess she already knows how, doesn't she?"

"Well, she knew how when I was a little boy, your Majesty, and I doubt me not that her memory is still excellent!"

"I just want everything to go well!"

"It will, Sire, it will. Why don't you go hunting, or fishing, something to get you out of the castle?"

"Well . . . I do need to find a wedding gift for my bride. Perhaps if I were to ride to Oxenford for a few days, I have been told that the craftsmen there do wondrous things."

"Very good, your Majesty, take a few days, and let everyone get their work done."

Within the hour, the King and a small group of Knights rode off to see what item was special enough to gift the King's bride. They sought out the unique and special, inquiring at each merchant's shop to see if there was something there so fine and rare as to be worthy of the fairest bride in the Kingdom.

It was in a silversmith's shop that the King found his gift; a pair of silver goblets, with polished stones mounted in a ring around the base. The goblets sat on a silver tray, and carved there on were intricate patterns of Celtic knots and fierce stylized animals. When the Master silversmith heard that they were for the King's new Queen, he tried to make the King a gift of them, but the King demurred, making it quite clear that he wanted this to be His Gift to the Queen, not the silversmiths.

The King also found a broach in the shop that was also to his liking, and thought it would look lovely on his mother's shoulder at the wedding. He paid for his purchases, and decided to stay the night at a local inn before riding back to his Castle. Henry thought ruefully that both he and his staff would benefit with him away for one more night.

The night was uneventful, and after breaking his fast on porridge and ale, he and his Knights rode back home. He was scarcely within the castle gates when his Lady came and met him in the courtyard.

"Is something wrong?" asked the King with a smile; "Have all my people forgotten their jobs with me away?"

"Your mother the Queen has fallen ill. You need to be at her side," Eleanor replied.

The King rushed to his mother's solarium, still in his riding clothes. He found his mother laying on a couch, wrapped as if cold, and being tended by the castle's physicians. "What has happened?" the King asked. The doctors all tried to speak at once, but fell silent when the Queen herself began to speak. "I am growing old, my son," said his mother; "I need no doctor to diagnose old age!"

The King looked at his mother closely for the first time in years, and saw how lined and wrinkled her face was. "You were fine when I left," he son said; "and I return to find you on your bed. What has done this to you?"

"Remember, my son, that I was ten years older than your father, and he and I lived together for over thirty-five years. I am older than many grandmothers in your villages are. Do not be surprised that I am old; believe me, I have known that for some time that my days were short. I am just glad that I have lived to see you find your bride."

"We will put off the wedding until you're well again," said the King.

"NO!" the Queen tried to shout, but it came out in a whisper; "If I die before you wed, you will want to have a year of mourning, and the Kingdom can not wait that long! If anything, the wedding should be sooner, before I grow unable to attend."

"And so the Castle's staff redoubled their efforts, and what was going to be in two weeks time was now to be on the next Sunday. No one laughed or made jokes about the wedding being rushed, for word was out that the Queen was trying hard to stay alive to see her last living son wed. Announcements were rushed to the outlying Nobility, and on the next Sunday morning, it seemed the whole Kingdom was waiting outside the Cathedral, ready for the proceedings to begin. With the Priest's permission, a bed had been made for the Queen near the altar, and it was raised so that she could see everything.

It was a sight that was long remembered. The King and his Knight Champion were at the altar rail. Down the Aisle came first the young daughters of the Nobility, each carrying baskets with rose pedals. There was quite a bit of snickering from the assembled Nobles, for the little ones were unsure of what to do, some dumping their baskets, others clutching them to their dresses, and one trying to pick up the flowers others had dropped. When a mother or two finally gathered the girls near the front of the altar, the wedding proceeded.

Next came the Ladies-in-waiting. The Queen had asked her Ladies to serve Eleanor, and with Eleanor's glad acceptance, they marched down the aisle. With flower wreaths in their hair, each Lady looked as calm and as beautiful as if it was their own wedding, and the people marveled at such beauty. At the side of each Lady was a King's officer, and their shining uniforms complemented the Ladies gowns. They arrayed themselves on either side of the altar, and the room became silent, in anticipation of the next Lady.

They were not disappointed; Eleanor' friend Rachel walked the aisle as Matron of Honor. Her gown was a pale blue, and her silver hair seemed to glow in the lights of the cathedral. She walked alone by her own request; the last time she walked down an aisle was with her husband, so many years ago, and no one for her could take his place. She finally stood near the altar, across from the King's champion, and she turned and faced the rear of the Cathedral.

I wish I could tell you of Eleanor's wedding gown. Some surely made note of it, and it was most likely stored away for people to marvel at in the future. But few saw the gown, for the face of the King's Bride outshone the sun filtering through the stained glass windows. It was not that she was beautiful, although she certainly was. Nor was it the artful way her hair was prepared, or the efforts that her Ladies had taken to make it shine; The Queen glowed with a light that was almost saintly. She had lived her life that far in service to her God and King, now she was going to serve further the King and Kingdom as their Queen, and the true light of joy was within her.

When the village priest who escorted her down the aisle gave her hand to the King, the Cathedral was absolutely silent. The Bishop spoke from the altar the time honored words; "Who brings this woman to the Altar of God?"

Without hesitation the King gave answer; "I, King Henry of England do bring her!"

"Are you brought of your own free will, without hesitation or reserve?" the Bishop asked the Queen.

"I come of my own volition!" she spoke to all assembled; "I choose to give myself in marriage to this man!"

["I could tell you of their exchange of vows, and of their pledges to each other, and of how the Bishop spoke of the reasons for marriage, and what was expected of each to the other. But you know the ceremony, and I will not bore you with that which is the same for every man and woman."]

After the Bishop blessed the newly married couple, the King stood and faced his bride and his people. "As has been the custom from the times of my ancestors, it is now time that the Kingdom should have a new Queen. I bring before you Countess Eleanor, my wife. Shall she be your Queen, and rule over you?"

The Shout of "YES" filled the Cathedral, and when the crowds outside heard them that were inside call out, they filled the air outside with their own shouts of agreement. When the Bishop brought out the small silver box that held the Queen's Crown, the lights from the windows caught each and every jewel, and made them all shine. Picking up the Crown, the King lifted it, and placed it on his Wife's head, saying "Be Queen of my Kingdom, as you already are Queen of my heart!"

With his Lady by his side, the King went forth to greet his people. "Behold your Queen!" he cried to the assembled masses, and if they had acclaimed her Queen but ten minutes before, it was nothing to the noises of joy that filled the courtyard now. Arm in arm they walked to the Great Hall of the Castle, and their people were still shouting when they finally passed out of sight.

The feast that night was wonderful, the merriments gay, and every one there wanted to show their love for their Royal couple by having the best possible time they could have. The Queen Mother's pallet was placed on a special bed off one side of the dais. As she was quite weary, she soon begged leave from her son for permission to return to her room, which he of course granted.

As was the custom of the Kingdom, the King and Queen stayed and feasted with their people, but when the dancing started, the loving couple left the party, and sought the privacy of their chambers. As their attendants were preparing the room for rest, the Queen asked her husband; "Why do you always keep an open window? I noted that your father did this also, and your Queen Mother has a window ajar, even in winter."

"Come with me, my Darling, and we will see why."

As they sat on a bench near the window, the Queen heard voices chatting away, as if it were some village street, and not the King's chamber. "Who are they that talk, and why are they here?" asked her Majesty.

"They are the birds of the air, and you can now understand their speech." Replied the King; "You are now of the Land, and the Land has recognized you as the true Queen. From now on, you will hear the speech of the animals of the field, and the birds of the sky. They are our secret councilors, and it is always wise to listen to their advice."

As their attendants retired, the King and Queen prepared themselves for bed. After they said their prayers, each entered the bed, and held each other in a firm embrace.

["That is all I shall say of the wedding night," the old monk said; "it is the same for a King as it is for a peasant, and need not take up my time to tell what everyone knows. Nevertheless, the next thing I'm going to tell you I did not tell the others, and you will understand why by the end.]

The next day the King and his Bride called for their attendants, and each was dressed and prepared for their first full day as man and wife. However, scarcely had they broken their fast when a courtier ran into the room and begged the King to attend his Queen Mother's side; she was deathly ill. When the King and his bride had reached the Queen's bed, they were aghast to see her; she looked as white as the sheets.

"I am sorry, my dear ones, to leave you so soon, but it has been very hard these last few weeks, holding on to life so I might see you two wed. I have been in and out of the doorway to death a thousand times, and am eager finally to cross over to meet again your father, my Lord Husband. As much as I love you both, my time here is over, and my new life is ready to begin. I have seen what is through the doorway, and it is beautiful beyond belief. There is no pain there, and no suffering. I stay here only by force of will, and I am so very weary. Please give me leave to depart."

With tears in their eyes the King and the Queen kissed the Queen Mother, and held her hands as she slipped from this world to the next. The Kingdom mourned the loss of their Dowager Queen, and she was buried beside her husband in the family vaults. In everyone's mind the joy of the King's wedding was mixed with the sadness of the old Queen's passing, and it took the news of an impending heir to the throne to finally shake the sadness from the Land.

[The old monk was crying now. "So now you know why I could not tell your friends the true end of the tale. They only heard '... and they lived happily ever after;' which is of course is not true. Only the old Queen was happily ever after, for she was reunited with her true love. You know that, and therefore I could tell you."

"Roger, it's time to go now," spoke a voice from behind him. When the monk turned, he saw it was the King. "They need to start the ceremony, and you are not vested yet."

"I had to keep my promise to tell her the story!" the monk replied; "There is plenty of time!"

"Come with me now, old friend, I will help you robe."

The old monk got up from his chair, leaned over to kiss the coffin, and turned to walk with the King. However, before he left the chapel, he went back to the casket of his friend who was now ageless forevermore, and reminded her, "I will remember to tell you of the new Heir of Good King Henry!" Roger promised; "and every other tale of his that I know. It is up to you to tell them to all the little children in heaven. Just remember, if you get a chance, remember an old friend in your prayers, would you now?"

It was time; the two old friends went to prepare for the funeral.]


By
Roger of Belden Abbey
Copyright © 2004, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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