The Tale of King Henry's Birthday

[As spring wore on, an air of excitement was building in the Castle of the King. One of the oldest residents had mentioned to the Queen that on the summer solstice their storyteller would add another year to an already full life. No one was quite sure just how old their monk was, for he was the Castle's unofficial historian, and did not tell of himself what he cheerfully reported about others. So now having found out the day, the Queen and her ladies were determined to fete the old man with such a feast that had not been seen in the kingdom for many a year.

"I do not recall ever having a feast in Roger's honor," said the Queen to the King; "surely if not his birthday, then his patron Saint's day is remembered?"

"Roger does not like being fussed over," replied her husband; "He has been known to hide in the cellars to avoid having his Saint's day celebrated. He says his Saint is best remembered down there among the barrels of wine and ale. As none of the other monks and priests seem to have ever heard of Saint Bunstable*, who knows if that is true?"

"Well, he will be fussed over this time," the Queen said resolutely; "I can be just as stubborn as he is!"

The Queen set out to organize a birthday surprise for the Court Monk. She talked to the Chief Cook herself, and directed her to fix all of Roger's favorite foods for the Feast. Her Ladies and Maids she got busy sewing new vestments for the Monk, as he could not refuse gifts for the Chapel, even if he would be the one wearing them. The Royal Chamberlain was tasked with getting the Great Hall ready and properly decorated. All seemed to be moving quite well.

"But what do I do about Roger himself," said the Queen to the King; "He will see all the hustle and bustle, and know something was coming." Then the Queen had a devilish Idea. "We will tell Roger that the Feast is for someone else, and have him prepare a story as his gift. We just will not tell him the story he is to tell is for himself!"

"He will be quite annoyed," responded the King; "I shall have to post guards to make sure he does not escape the Great Hall!"

Strangely enough, their plan worked. Roger was told that they were going to celebrate the birthday of a visiting Earl, and would he please prepare a good "Birthday Story" as the Queen's Gift to the fortunate gentleman. When not in his study preparing for Sunday, Roger usually spent most of his time in the garden and in the kitchens, but even there the Queen helped keep him out of the way. She encouraged the Chief Cook to prepare snacks for the monk that were brought to his study, and the old monk seemed to think little of it. He seemed quite happy that he did not have to trudge all the way down to the kitchen for a cookie; they were carried up to him. In this path lay true bliss, at least for the old monk.

Things were going so well, it was quite a shock when one afternoon Roger casually mentioned to the King that the head of his order had called him to Canterbury for a fortnight, and would his Majesty please provide a carriage to take him there and back?

"You can't go!" pleaded the King; "You must be here to fete the Earl of Warwick!"

"The Earl of Warwick's birthday is in four months," pronounced the monk; "I checked. So what is really going on?"

The King had no choice but to tell the crafty old monk that the Queen was determined to fete him, and would he please just this once be kind and sit still while they surprised him?

"Well, if it is to be a birthday surprise . . . There is a new set of ecclesiastical works that has come on the market, it is only ten gold pieces. . ."

"Done!" Cried the King before listening to everything Roger said, a fact that he would regret later; "anything you want, just please be surprised, it will mean so much to her!"

The bargaining over, the monk waddled his way back to his study, and cleared off a shelf to place his new birthday present. He already knew what story he was going to tell, but he knew he had a duty to perform before everyone else could hear it. Carrying a small stool, he went out to the chapel yard, where there was a small cemetery for those who had lost their lives in service to the King. Finding the proper place, he greeted his audience, and let her know what was to come.

"They want a story about a birthday, do they? Well, it is time to start the Saga of Good King Henry's heir. I'll tell you the first part now, and you can pass it on."

Hours later, the monk finished the tale as he had promised, and got ready for the feast. He put on an old, worn habit, well patched and frayed along the bottom, just to make sure that the new vestments looked all the more spectacular. He avoided his usual rambles throughout the castle, and stayed confined to his study; with snacks brought to him, he had no real desire to walk that far, anyway.

The Feast was a true success. At the start, Roger sat as usual at the end of the King's table, and did not think anything was amiss until he noted the chair of honor next to the King and Queen was empty.

"Where is the Earl of Warwick?" asked the monk with quite a surprised voice; "is he delayed?"

"He's not going to sit here," smiled the Queen; but YOU ARE!" With the cheers of all in the Great Hall, Roger was made to take the chair of honor; the Queen herself escorting the old monk.

"I can't remember when I have been more surprised!" Exclaimed the old monk; "All this for me? How did you ever find out it was my Birthday?"

"We have our ways!" proudly announced the Queen.

"And this lovely set of books! Your Majesty, they are Just what I wanted!"

"They had better be," the King muttered to himself; "They cost enough." Roger had been slightly off in his estimate of the books cost, they were ten gold coins EACH! "Five books were fifty gold pieces; the Queen's presents were never that costly. Then again; this is the first birthday gift I have ever given him;" thought the King; "so that is okay. He was a bit overdue for a gift."

When the feasting was over and the songs were all sung, the old monk stood and bowed to all his friends assembled there. "I ask your leave to go against custom, and to give you all a gift tonight; I want to tell you about another birthday that was even more of a surprise than this one was to me." The monk paused, as if the simple smile on the King's face said "that would not be hard," and after a moment started his tale; "It all started on the day Queen Eleanor got a wonderful idea . . ."]

It had to do with her husband, Good King Henry. The King and the Queen had been married less than a year, and fast time was approaching for the celebration of the King's Birthday. As this was his Majesties twenty-first birthday, the Queen wanted to have a special gift for her Lord Husband, one that he would not ever imagine, and yet would be the perfect present. She gathered her Ladies, Maids and Pages, and they all came up with ideas. They would all work together to sew the King a new set of clothes. Each would contribute, the expert seamstresses among them would do all the difficult work, while those not well gifted in the needle arts would sew hems and areas that would not be likely to be seen when the garment was worn.

However, with all diligently working on his Majesties' new clothes, there seemed to be one thing missing; what should the Queen herself give the King? She spent a week or so thinking about it, when by accident she discovered what would be the best gift she could make for her beloved Henry. Taking one of her younger maids into her confidence, they set out to make something for the Queen to give the King that would truly be unique.

As the special day grew nearer, work in the Queen's solarium grew frantic. In addition to all the work itself, trying to make a wardrobe of clothing that would fit the King perfectly without having the King there to try them on was quite vexing. However, someone got the idea of using a man as a dressmaker's dummy, and a quick search of the castle found the perfect person, one of the King's own Knights. He was duly sworn to secrecy, and thereafter the seamstresses could see just how things would look, when the King wore the garments.

The King had specifically asked that there be no big banquet in his honor, and so a quiet supper for the Royal couple and a few close friends was planned. However, the Queen's Ladies decided that they would give their gifts to the King in the afternoon of the day itself, in the Queen's Solarium.

When the King answered the summons of his wife to visit her in her Solarium, he truly did not suspect a thing, so he was quite surprised when instead of just his wife and a Lady or two, all of his Wife's Ladies and Maids were there. He was stunned as garment after garment was presented to him, and marveled at all the exquisite needlework. There were shirts with lace cuffs, tunics with fancifully woven borders, and all manner of wonderful things to wear. Each garment was presented by one of the women who worked on it, and the oldest to the youngest were honored by the King with effusive praises.

When it was time for the last Maid to present her gift, the King was quite startled to see it looked like a woman's apron; what's more, it was decidedly too small for him to wear, even if he had wanted to.

"Is this meant as a joke," the King asked with a smile; "this would surely be better as a gift for my Queen than me."

"It is a present for you, but it is meant for the Queen to wear!" giggled the little Maid; "The Queen and I made it special for you!" The Maid then turned and helped the Queen on with the apron, and the King saw that it had words upon it.

"Happy birthday to my Love!" was written on the front with fine hand stitched letters. The King thought it nice, but rather a strange gift.

"So my gift from you is an apron for my Lady?" asked the King, still not sure if it was a joke.

"Your Majesty, it is not an apron; you must guess what it is!" giggled the young woman.

All the Ladies were looking at the King with happy but puzzled looks; this part of the surprise was new to all of them. They wondered if there was a special name for an apron; smock, vest, something like that. However, the King guessed all of those, and with a giggle the Queen and her co-conspirator indicated that he had not yet found out the answer.

Finally, the King ran out of guesses. "Could you give me a hint?" the Monarch asked; "I don't seem to be doing very well on my own."

The Maid only giggled the harder; "Yes, your Majesty, the hint is that this has something to do with the Queen's gift for you!"

"That is interesting; but it doesn't help. Can you explain a little more?"

"Yes, Sire. All of your other presents were wrapped in white cloth, with ribbons tying the cloth closed. This is cloth, and there are ribbons to tie it on the Queen!"

"So this is not a present, it is wrapping my present?" inquired King Henry; "But then that would mean that the present was my Queen, and she already gave herself to me, as I did to her; we are married, remember?"

"Yes, your Majesty, but this gift is something new!" The young maid was beside herself with joy.

The Queen was ready to step in and help her husband, the joke had run long enough. "My Love, I was frantic trying to figure out what I could give you as a birthday gift, when suddenly I knew that the best thing I could give you is to give back what you gave me!"

"You are returning one of my gifts; Why? Does it no longer suit you, or is it defective?" The King was very confused.

"My love; you gave me this gift two months ago; I shall return it to you in seven more months." The Queens Ladies all made noises of pleased surprise; evidently, the only one still confused was the King.

"Well, let's see . . . in seven months, that will be 12th night; will you wear the apron to the 12th night feast?"

"No my husband, I fear it will not fit then!"

The King stood silent for a moment, and suddenly he understood what all of this was about; "You're going to have a baby? That's marvelous!" The King at first did not know what he should do, but the right thing to do quickly became blindingly obvious. He gathered his wife up in his arms, and lifted her up to kiss her. He did not want to put her down, but when he saw a slight grimace on her face, he almost dropped her in his speed to set her down.

"Are you okay? I did not hurt you, did I? Do you need a glass of water? You, go and fetch the Queen a glass of water; no, two, er, three glasses! Moreover, fetch some cakes from the cook. Are you hungry? Would you like to take a nap? What do you need?"

The Queen silenced her enthusiastic husband with a finger to his lips. "I'm fine, and I don't need anything. I have consulted with the healers of the castle, and their midwives are quite expert in helping a mother-to-be in preparing for the birth of her child. I have assisted at the birth of countless babies myself; and I know what I need to do. There is nothing to worry about, so calm down!"

As the King and Queen were discoursing, the Ladies and Maids slowly and quietly left the solarium, until unnoticed by the Royal Couple they had all left the room. This was all to the good, for when the King finally realized that he had spent the last fifteen minutes babbling into his wife's ear, he looked up and saw that they had the solarium to themselves.

"I think they realized that we needed some time alone," murmured the Queen to her spouse; "and I think it would be a good idea for you to bolt the door, to make sure we stay private! There are oh so many things we still have to talk about"

"Surely we can talk later," responded Henry; "I think it is time for other types of communication."

[". . . and so Good King Henry and Queen Eleanor started on their way to becoming parents." The monk took a large sip of his cider, and looked over his audience. He knew that he had committed himself now into telling the whole saga of the King's heir, and knew that he would have no peace whatsoever in the coming days until the whole thing was told.

"I will tell the next part of the story come Sunday; so there is no use bothering me for hints until then! And those of you who know the saga, remember that if I find out you have been telling my tales, well; you will have me to reckon with!"

And with a bow to their Majesties, the one-year-older monk begged their Majesties permission to retreat to his room, as it was quite late, and sunrise mass still had to be said on time tomorrow.

Watching their friend leaving, the King chuckled, "I misdoubt that many people would find it amiss if Roger were to delay sunrise mass until Tierce, or even later. Although the honored guest has retired, I doubt it not that many here will leave soon; all will want to discuss what they think happens next."

"You DO know what comes next, don't you?" the Queen asked the King; "You have heard this tale before. You can tell me what comes next, surely?"

"I dare not," responded the King; "if I don't, you might kill me, but if Roger found out that I told; I might never enter heaven's gates!" Ducking a bread roll tossed at him by the Queen, the King stood, and escorted the Queen to their chambers, where doubtless the Queen would obtain what she wanted, one way or another.]

To Be Continued . . .

Roger of Belden Abbey
Copyright © 2005, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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