The Tale of Queen Eleanor and the Goose Girl

[The King and Queen had visitors; Royal Cousins from a distant land, and all the people of the King's Castle were on their best behavior. From the Royal Chamberlain to the ostlers in the stables all did their best to make the visitors feel at home.

Unfortunately, one of the visitors did not make it easy. Mind you, it was not one of the Guest Royals themselves, they were of the true Nobility; gracious and kind to all. It was one of their senior councilors, a ferret-faced little man by the name of Count Summerview. The Count had an opinion of all things served to him, and the opinion was definitely not favorable. Nothing was to the man's liking; the food was served cold, the wine was too tart, the rooms were too warm, and the sky was not blue enough. To make matters worse, to everyone who served him he let know what an honor it was for them to be in the presence as such a man as himself. It was said by some that he treated everyone his social inferior as he would a dog, but that was not true, a dog he would have treated better. Few in the castle were his social equal, but to those, he oozed charm and was obsequious, but everyone saw though his false charm; he was universally loathed.

The situation came to a critical point when Count Summerview was being given a tour of the gardens. Not one plant met with his approval; indeed, not one flower or tree was half as nice as the ones grown in his own gardens. As Samuel, the courtier tasked with giving the Count the tour of the grounds looked on in horror; the Count reached for the first rose of the season, took out a pocketknife, and cut off the flower. When Old Fred, the nearby gardener muttered a protest, the Count actually hit him with his walking stick, which caused the old man to stumble and fall into the flowerbed.

"Did you see that peasant attack me? He tried to lay hands on ME! How dare he try lecture his betters?" The Count was apoplectic with rage. "I have a good mind to inform my Prince, and terminate the visit to this dirt-water Kingdom right this instant."

"Don't worry, Count, I will see that the man is attended to." The voice came from behind them. The Count whirled around, ready to lash out at the servant who had the audacity to speak before being spoken to, but stopped short; it was the King's Chaplain. The Count knew that this man had the ear to the King; he sat at the King's high table, and was well respected by all, even his own Prince and Princess. The Count was suddenly afraid; had his act of cruelty been seen by someone important?

"Samuel, I suggest you show the Count the cherry blossoms, they are quite lovely right about now. I shall make sure Old Fred is dealt with properly." Relived, the courtier took the Count to see the fruit trees, which were along the rear wall of the garden, and far away from the flowers. Naturally, the Count found fault with every tree.

"He can do little damage there," thought the monk, as he rushed to Fred's side. The old monk went and helped his friend to stand, and escorted Fred to a nearby bench. Sending one of the other gardeners to his Herbarium, he had them fetch his medical kit, and bandaged the cuts Old Fred had gotten from falling in the roses.

"I did not try to hit him, Roger; I was just surprised that he cut the Queen's rose!"

I know you did nothing wrong, my friend, and that is what I shall tell the Master Gardener." Roger had no doubt that the Count would make a loud and detailed complaint, probably wanting the old man hanged for his "offence." "You will be okay now, just coat your cuts with this ointment, and have my Page change the bandages each morning for the next few days. I shall deal with the Count myself."

With that, the monk turned and walked back to the castle, with such a look on his face that the few that saw him coming stepped back and let him pass. Old Fred sat on the bench and grinned; the Count had angered Roger, and that was a very dangerous thing to do in this kingdom. "Better he had stepped on a snake!" thought the old man; "the snake would only bite him; Roger can do much worse!"

That night, the dinner was in the Great Hall. The King wanted to give his Royal Cousins a happy leave-taking; they were to depart for home the next morning. As usual, the food was superb, but you would never know it from listening to the Count. He had not heard anything from his Prince and Princess; evidently, the old Chaplain was afraid to put his word against the Count's. This emboldened Count Summerview, and he gave everyone within earshot his view of everything that was wrong in the kingdom. It got to the point that his Lord and Lady showed signs of acute embarrassment, but they said nothing; they had promised the monk a free hand.

As the desserts were being cleared away, and wine and ale poured into any empty mug, the King rose and spoke to the assembled guests; "It is our custom after dinner to have a time for songs, and the telling of tales. Tonight I have asked our Esteemed Chaplain to give us a tale of our Kingdom's history. He told me that this tale is special for our Noble Guests, and I ask everyone to be silent and listen well!"

The Count, who was bored with the thought of listening to this ecclesiastical bumpkin, started to rise to his feet, but one look from his Prince had him resettle into his chair. He did not understand the scowl that his Lady gave him, either, it was as if he had done something horribly wrong. Roger got up and went to his seat in the middle of the room; his voice could fill the room if need be, but it was easier for him to be surrounded by his audience.

"Your Majesties, Your Highnesses, Honored Guests, I will tell you a tale of the days of Good King Henry; our King's ancestor, and one of the noblest men ever to sit the throne of this or any other Kingdom. In King Henry's court . . ."]

. . . There were many advisors to the King, some from every estate; for the King searched for advisors with wisdom, not just name or title. Still there were those of noble blood who thought that their father's name made them more important than those who worked with their hands. One such man was the Earl of Wintersight; a loud and boorish oaf with few brains, but a long pedigree.

["I say, you can't insult me like that!" shouted Count Summerview; "I will not stand for it!"

"You will not stand at all!" replied his Prince severely; "One more word out of you and you will leave here in chains!" The Count, visibly frightened, sat and shut his mouth; he had never seen his Lord so angry.

"Good Monk, I apologize for my servant's rudeness; pray continue your tale." The Count visibly cringed when his Lord said "servant;" this was not like the Prince at all.

"As I was saying, the Earl was not well liked . . . "]

. . . Moreover, it was only for the sake of his late father that he was given a place on the King's Privy Council. When his father had died, the King out of respect released the Earl from having to live in the Castle; surely, his lands would need him to supervise them during this time of transition.

"My lands are in good hands, your Majesty," claimed the Earl; "My father had an excellent Chamberlain, and he now serves me. He knows what will happen to him if anything goes wrong in my County. I shall stay here and give your Council the benefit of my advice!"

The Earl managed to get on the wrong side of just about everyone on the Privy Council; he had a talent of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. He was rude to those he thought his inferior, and he thought most were his inferior. The few he flattered were soon sick of him. Nevertheless, if every man and woman on the council were soon tired of his boasts and critiques, the one he offended most was the Queen.

Queen Eleanor had no place on the Privy Council in his mind, and he made no bones about it. When she agreed with him, he smiled and told her she was wise and generous, but when she had the misfortune to disagree, she was smiled at, and treated like a child who had spoken out of turn. He was not brave enough to do this openly in front of her, but word got back to the Queen of how he derided her opinions to others.

"I despise that man!" the Queen stormed one day to the King; "he actually had the nerve to tell me that I should 'go and rest' before this afternoon's council, as I 'seemed to be a bit flushed!' I'll show him how 'flushed' I can get! Do we still have a Royal headsman in this kingdom?"

"Not for the last one hundred years, my dear," consoled her husband; "the position was retired by my great-grandfather from lack of need. I daresay we could always hire a new one."

"Can we? I would pay the man myself."

"Remember, my love, we need seven ministers on the Privy Council; and he filled the spot that his father vacated by his death. We would need to have another to take his place."

"That can be arranged!" With that, the Queen left her husband and within the hour rode out to her old village. She went to the cottage of an old friend, and arranged for her friend's daughter to attend Eleanor in court the next day.

On the morrow, as the King and Queen held open court for all their subjects, the Privy Council sat off to one side, and listened to the way their Crown dispensed justice. Earl Wintersight looked bored, but the other councilors paid close attention to all that was said and done. So it was only the Earl who was surprised when the Queen introduced Dorothy as her selection as the new member of the Privy Council.

Earl Wintersight quickly got to his feet. "There are no open spots on your Privy Council; why is the Queen doing this?"

"The Queen desires you to resign for the good of the Kingdom," replied his Monarch; "She feels this young woman can do a better job."

"Do a better job then I, a man? Who is she, and what does she do?"

The King winced when the Earl made the point about being a man; in the King's mind, Wintersight's claim to being a man was a fact of age and gender, and was not from any amount of manliness or maturity that he had ever shown. "An over-age child!" thought the King. Before the King could speak, however, the Queen answered the Earl herself: "Her name is Dorothy, and she is a goose girl!"

"Your majesty, this is preposterous; the Queen is being hysterical; surely you can't be serious?"

"I would caution you strongly about who you call 'hysterical,' you may find that I can be a lot angrier than the Queen. I will let the Queen answer you herself; she needs no help from me."

"Thank you, my Love," said the Queen; "I shall do so. It was the custom from days gone by that any minister's position could be challenged by one who would have their place. I have asked Dorothy to challenge you; I find her eminently more suitable for the job!"

Before the Minister could say another word, the King's Royal Chamberlain spoke up; "The Crown is correct, Earl Wintersight; you have been challenged, it is up to the rest of the Privy Council to judge your relative merits. Shall we proceed, your Majesties?"

The King and Queen both nodded, and the Chamberlain continued; "You shall be asked three questions, one on economics, one on warfare, and one on leadership. You, Earl Wintersight, as the challenged party will answer first. The challenger shall have to try to beat your answer. As her sponsor, the Queen may not vote, but the King shall take her place. Do you both understand the rules?" (The Royal Chamberlain had only slightly fibbed; the challenged had the choice of answering first or second, but the Chamberlain knew that the Earl did not know the law. The Royal Chamberlain also knew that the second spot was better, in this type of test.)

The Earl and Dorothy both indicated their understanding of the rules, and the Royal Chamberlain asked the Earl the first Question. "As a member of the Privy Council, you suspect the Royal Exchequer of petty thievery; what do you do?"

"That is simple," said the Earl; "You go to the King and let him know; he can call his guards to go and arrest the thief!" The Earl smiled; the girl could never come up with so good an answer.

"May I ask a question?" asked Dorothy.

"Yes."

"Petty means minor, doesn't it?"

"Yes."

"Than I would go to the Exchequer, and ask him about it. If it's petty, then it might be just a misunderstanding, and even if it is found to be true, it might be that it could be settled quietly, without a big fuss."

The Earl smiled at the foolishness of the goose girl.

The members of the Privy Council discussed the answers among themselves, and then the Chamberlain continued; "Milord Earl, if an aggressor challenges your borders, is it best to fight on his lands, or on your own?"

Another easy question; "On your own, your men will know the lay of the land, and your supply lines will be shorter."

Young Dorothy had another question. "Are you fighting on empty fields, or on plowed land?"

"It might be either."

"Then it is best to fight on your opponent's land. For warfare almost always destroys the land it is fought upon, and if your farmers lose all their crops, even if you win a battle you might end up losing the war."

After a brief discussion, the next question was asked of the Earl; "Milord, what is the best way to lead your people?"

This answer he had known since he was a little boy; "people are like geese; they do not want to go where you tell them. You must make them fear your power; then you shall have their loyalty!"

Again Dorothy had a question, "do they have a choice to follow you or not?"

"Yes."

"Then you must love them, and lead them by example. If they fear you, then when they get the chance, they will leave you. Our King leads us by loving us all and never asking someone to do something he would not do for another; surely that is the best way."

Earl Wintersight was happy; he had given the best answers to every question, his position on the Council was assured. He was quite amazed when the Royal Chamberlain announced, "The Privy council has unanimously selected the child Dorothy as the winner of the Minister's position. Her questions showed that she knew to find out as much as you can about a situation before coming to a decision, and . . ."

"I could have asked questions, but I had no need to!" shouted the Earl.

"Your answers showed you were wrong in that. The first question you answered you used brute force where good council might have repaired the problem. The second answer you showed you did not think about the whole war, merely one battle. Your third answer shows why your lands do so poorly; your people all fear you, and would leave you if they could."

The Earl turned purple with rage; "this has all been a trick! The child was given the answers, and I was duped into believing that this was going to be fair!"

"What did you say?" thundered the King; "Are you accusing your King of playing false? Dorothy," Henry said in a gentler tone; "did anyone give you the questions before now? Did anyone aid you in giving an answer?"

"Well, your Majesty, the Royal Chancellor did answer the questions I asked after I was given the test questions, but otherwise no, I did not even know why you wanted me here this morning, honest!"

"Earl Wintersight, your presence here in our Court displeases us. You have our leave to depart. Please note that we shall be assigning Royal Judges to enter your County, and decide if you are fit to continue as Earl." After a brief moment, when the Earl has not moved, the King repeated, "Now you have our leave to depart. Go!"

The King provided an escort for the poor Earl, and within the hour he was riding back to his home, which when the King's Judges entered he soon lost. The former Earls' Chamberlain was found to be a good, honest, and well-liked man; he was put in charge of the escheated lands.

As for the new Privy Councilor, it soon became evident that she brought a good practical judgment to the Council. Slow to speak, she often asked questions; the answers to which made a solution to the problem under discussion clear. As for herself, she was a joy to be with; her kindness and willingness to try to see things from another's point of view became legendary. When she was twenty-one, she met an officer of the King's guard, and fell in love. Their marriage was held in the Great Cathedral. As they both served the Crown, they took up residence in the castle, and were quite popular with everyone in the Court.

[". . . and so, Your Majesties, it was shown that in the Kingdom of Good King Henry, 'twas better to be a goose girl who was wise than an Earl who was ill-bred."

Roger turned to the Count and told him straight to his face; "I saw you deliberately injure my King's subject. If I had not intervened, your Prince would have had to answer to my King for your behavior. But I assured my King that your Prince was innocent of your deed, and that the Prince himself will deal with you when you have returned to your home."

The monk rose from his chair, as if to leave, but turned again to the Count and added; "I would not want to be in your shoes then."

The next day, after the guests had departed, the King asked Roger to join him and the Queen in their private chambers.

"Wintersight?" asked the King with a smile.

"I'm sorry, Your Majesty, I was rushed. Be glad I did not tell everyone my first idea; I might have ended up with a riot on my hands; Old Fred is well-liked by everyone."

"Thank you for sparing us all that," replied his Majesty

"As Dorothy might have said, better to show a man a fool than to send him to his grave; the suffering is longer. I fear the Count will not enjoy his trip home."

The King thought Roger meant that the Count would fear his getting home, but the Queen saw the twinkle in the old monk's eyes, and spoke but one word, "Tell!"

"Well, it appears that the Count suffers from Mal de Mer, and so I offered their chamberlain some of my stomach tonic." The monk paused dramatically; "or was that the emetic? I don't remember now." Giving their Majesties a most respectful bow, the old monk left the room, heading for the Kitchen. He planned to surprise old Fred with a cookie or two, and have a pleasant afternoon, reading in the garden. He was sure that the Chief Cook would be generous, she also loved old Fred.]

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

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