The Tale of King Henry and the Weaver

[If life in the castle was chaotic last week, it was sheer pandemonium now. The King had but an hour or two of sleep each night for the last week, and the Queen had less. The reason for their sleeplessness was their daughter Maria Teresa. Their only child seemed to be in agony judging from her cries, and no one knew what to do. The Queen had had difficulty nursing, and therefore had obtained the services of a wet nurse to aid her in feeding the child, but it seemed that the child did not want to eat very much at all. There was neither rash nor fever in the babe, but she cried and fussed for hours, eventually falling into an uneasy slumber, only to wake with a wailing cry a scant hour or so later.

Doctors were summoned, but none had a clue to the cause. Finally, the King called his Chaplain, asking the old monk to bless the child, and pray for her healing. Roger had put on his stole, and picked up Maria Teresa to bless her, when she suddenly stopped crying. With the King and the Nurse looking on with amazement, the babe settled in the monk's arms, and quickly fell silent, looking quite gravely at the old monk.

"You seemed to have captured the heart of my daughter," said the King, remembering suddenly how she had attached herself to the old monk at her first presentation to the castle residents; "I fear you may have to become her new Nurse!"

"There are rather glaring physiological reasons why your Queen and I would disapprove of that idea, even if I am frequently referred to as being, er, 'all wet!'" returned the monk, "let alone finding someone to handle my current duties. However, I do not think that is going to be needed. Let me carry her to her sleeping chamber, and have someone fetch my chair there; I shall sit with her this night, and perhaps once she has gotten some rest, we may heal her of this unhappiness."

The monk's chair was sent for, and soon Roger and the baby were alone in the nursery. After a moment or two, the old monk started to talk to the child on his lap, lifted her, and gently rocked her in his arms. "I think I know why you have been unhappy, and I'm sorry to be the cause. I did not think you would mind me telling the rest of the castle the ending tale of Good King Henry's Heir before I told you, but I see I was wrong. I will tell you the story now, and you do not have to stay awake to listen. However, you must promise me to not fuss anymore, your dear parents and nurses are quite frantic with worry over you. If you like, I will sit with you one night a week, and tell you the story that is planned for the next feast. Remember, however, I want to hear no more of this not eating nonsense, which is not proper behavior for a young child. In the morning you are to let your mother feed you, and you are not to fuss anymore."

The Infant did not move a muscle, but continued to look at the old monk's face.

"Now as to the story, the time of Queen Eleanor's labor was approaching and . . ."]

The Queen desperately wanted to get the King out of the castle until the actual birthing was over. "The poor man trembles if I so much as stub my toes, a sneeze or a cough panics him, and me during childbirth will put him in a hysterical fit," she thought, while sewing on one of her child's christening outfits. She wanted to be ready for anything, and so made one with a green collar, and one edged in yellow; the colors for boy babies and girl babies being a bit different than in later times. "I shall surely have more children in the future, and even if not, with all my Ladies in waiting being so fruitful, extra garments will never go wasted or unused."

As she sewed, she thought of how a nice blanket would go wonderfully with the Christening gowns. Furthermore, as she thought of matching a blanket to the trim, she got an idea. "This could keep my husband busy for a week!" she thought, "surely my time will be over by then." Therefore, she hatched a plan, taking into her confidence the Royal Chancellor and Mistress Rachel, her friend and former apprentice. They would all know where the King was, in case something went wrong, but in the meantime, the Queen would be free to make all the noise during the birth process as she wanted, with no husband around to panic over every sound. Queen Eleanor had been to many births, and restricting the mother's ability to make cries during delivery was really not a good idea.

Therefore, when one afternoon she felt a pain she had often heard described but never had actually endured, she knew what time it was and what she had to do; so she first sent for her husband.

"Darling, I have made these Christening outfits for our child, and would like to have blankets woven to match the trim color; one yellow, and the other green. I would be very grateful if you would see to this personally. Mistress Rachel has the wherewithal to dye the thread I will send with you. She can direct you to the Master Weaver of my old village; he will surely aid you; he is very quick, and does lovely work."

"But my Dear," said the King, "won't that take up a few days of time? I don't want to be gallivanting off somewhere when you might need me!"

"There is nothing to fear, my old village is but a few hour's walk, and less than that on horseback; if I need you, I shall surely be able to send for you. Now ask the Chief Housekeeper for some plain woolen thread, and take it to Mistress Rachel."

Not wanting to disappoint his wife, the King did as requested, but stopped to chat with the Royal Chancellor before he departed the castle. "If I am needed, I will be in the Queen's old village, you may send for me at Mistress Rachel's cottage, or the home of the Master Weaver. I shall sleep in the local inn; I would rather not waste time riding back and forth each night and morning. Remember now; be sure to send for me if the Queen needs me."

"Do not worry, your Majesty, I will have a messenger standing ready to fetch you if the Queen tells me you are needed. Nothing should go wrong; remember she has the best midwives in the kingdom assisting her, and is well trained herself in matters of childbirth."

"These things are true, but even so, if anything unexpected happens, fetch me forthwith!" With a wave of his hand in farewell to both his chamberlain and his castle, Good King Henry went to the stables, where his favorite horse stood saddled and ready. The King took but two guards with him, as there was little danger for him while visiting the village, and only brought the guards to act as messengers if so needed.

As the King and his men rode along, they chatted among themselves. Both men-at-arms were married, and with much glee they told the King some of the things that he was about to face. Although there was a castle nursery, the child would be sleeping in an adjoining bedroom to the Royal bedchamber, to aid in early morning feedings. They warned him that new mothers got very little rest, and that his Queen would appreciate his efforts to reduce her workload. A set of nurses around the clock would make sure that no one person grew too tired while the child was under her care. The King thanked his men, and resolved to make sure his much-anticipated babe was well supplied with properly trained nursemaids.

When the party reached the home of Mistress Rachel, they were all aware of a rather strong odor coming from the cottage before them. King was greeted at the door by the Herb woman, and was quickly brought into the cottage, where the odor was much stronger. The smells were emanating from two small pots that hung over the fireplace. The liquids inside each pot bubbled merrily, and the bright colors of each made the King sure that the Herb Woman was well prepared to handle her portion of the blanket-making process. She took the wool the King had brought, divided it into two coils, and put each into a large tub of boiling water, that were set up behind her cottage. Then taking each pot off the fire, she poured the contents of each into one of the tubs of wool thread.

"This will soak over the fire for an hour, and then I will transfer the wool to these other tubs of cool water, to make the colors fast. The thread will then be spread out on hooks in my cottage, to dry. I will have your thread ready for the weaver by tomorrow morning; you and your men best go to the inn, where you will be fed and your horses taken care of." Looking at the bemused face of her King, she added; "There is nothing you can do here to help me, too many bodies moving around in my small cottage will slow things down, not speed them up." When she saw the look the King gave her, she guessed that the smell was worrying him. She paused awhile, and then spoke again. "Do not be concerned about the odor of the dye, it smells strong now, but by the time it is finished drying, you will not notice anything but the lovely color!" With the King's visage showing relief, she added, "Perhaps you might want to drop in on the Master Weaver tonight. I have already briefed him on what is needed, and he has much of his loom already warped with the major part of the thread that is needed for the blankets."

This information surprised the King. "How could he have set his loom up, without me bringing him the colored thread?"

"Oh, the small amount of thread you have brought is not for the main part of the blankets, but only for the trim around the edges. Most of each blanket will be white, with one having a green border, and the other bordered in yellow."

After being reassured that there was nothing that he could do to help the Herb Mistress, the King and his men sought out the local inn. After arranging for two rooms and the care of their horses, the King sat down to a light but refreshing meal of meat, bread, and cheese, washed down by some very fine home-brewed ale. After eating, the King asked the Innkeeper how to find the Master Weaver's cottage.

As the distance to the cottage was only a hundred yards or so, the King told his men to wait for him at the inn. "I'll not be in any danger in this village, and there is no need for you to dog my steps. I will see you this evening in the main room of the inn. I will yell if there is any need for you."

The King found the cottage of the Master Weaver to be a lot bigger than most he had seen; and he soon learned the reason why. In the front part of the cottage in its own separate room was the Weaver's loom; it was huge, and took up most of the space. He found the Master Weaver busy warping the loom, using long coils of bundled thread. The weaver started to get up to greet the King, but the King told him to keep on what he was doing, and if he would be so kind, to tell him what was going on.

"Certainly, your Majesty," said the Weaver. "I am taking these bundles of thread that I have previously tied on the warping board over on the shelf there, and am getting them ready to start the weaving. You see these sides of the loom have no thread yet; those are for the yarn the Herb Mistress is preparing for you. There will be a wide white/colored stripe on the edge of each blanket. The corners will be solid blocks of the trim color. As you need these rather quickly, there will be no fancy weaving patterns embedded in the cloth, but even so the blankets should look fine, and they will certainly keep the baby warm and safe, which is the most important thing!"

As the man talked, the King started to look around him. Partially hidden in a back corner of the cottage was a thin young woman, wrapped in a white cloak. Seeing the King's glance, the Master Weaver spoke in a soft voice; "The woman is my wife. She has had some medical problems recently, and she sits and watches me as I work, so I can keep an eye on her, and help her if there is a problem. Please do not worry, she will not be any trouble, and will sit in the back. You won't even know that she is there."

"I have no problem with your wife joining us, but there is no need to have her hiding in a corner. Can we perhaps bring her chair next to mine, and we can the three of us converse together as you work?"

After the King had reassured him that his wife would be no trouble, the Master Weaver brought over a chair from their kitchen, and set it next to the King's own chair. The Weaver went into the back of the cottage, and with much gentle coaxing, brought his wife out to the front room. She smiled weakly at the King, and begged his pardon for not greeting him with proper drink and food.

"I had eaten a fine luncheon at the Inn before I came here, and I so enjoyed it that I insist you two join me for dinner there tonight!" Seeing the look of alarm that crossed the woman's face, the King added, "Do not think this is any slight on your guesting skills, Milady, I want you to sit here with me as I watch your husband work, and how could you fix a dinner with me taking up your time? I insist you come as my guests, both this night, and the nights to come. While I'm here, think of it as a holiday from the drudgery of the kitchen!"

The King saw the look of relief that passed over the woman's face when he said he would be treating them; Henry suspected money for dining out was scarce in this home. He made a mental note to make sure the payment for the blankets was lavish. "A rush job is always more expensive," he mused to himself; "and clearly I have inconvenienced them both. That inconvenience must be compensated for!"

As he watched the weaver separating each bundle, and thread each piece of yarn through the heddle and the reed, the King began to talk gently to the Weaver's wife. Megan was her name, and she was 19 years old, which was 15 years younger than her husband was; but it clearly was a marriage built on love. As the King spoke to her, Megan started to relax, and soon she was quietly responding to the soft questions of her King. Things were going very well, when suddenly Megan stared at the King with horror on her face, and ran from the room.

"What did I do?" asked Henry. "All I asked her was if you had plans for a family."

"Oh, Lord, no!" cried the Master Weaver, "I'll be right back!" And so saying, he ran out of the room after his wife, leaving the King sitting alone and bewildered.

After twenty minutes or so, the Weaver returned with a calm demeanor. "I have calmed her down, and she is going to take a nap for awhile. You did nothing wrong," he added, seeing the worry in his King's face. "You did not know. I told you before of my wife's illness. She is recovering from the stillbirth of our first child, who was delivered but 9 days ago. Yesterday was her first day out and about, and I hoped that she had passed the worst part of her grieving when she left her bed. Mistress Rachel has prepared some teas for Megan to drink, that have helped calm her down. She will be all right after a brief rest."

The Weaver went back to his warping, and the King got a very pleasant lesson in how a weaver works. The King was impressed in the intricacy of the weaver's toil; having worn cloth all his life, he had never given thought to all the labor that was needed before any weaving took place, let alone the monotony of the actual weaving process. As the weaver's fingers flew, the two men began to talk about things other than weaving; what was life like in a small village versus in a grand castle, what their hopes and dreams were, and what made them happy and sad. It turned out that they had been married within a week of each other, and both had married women who had lost their parents.

When he felt the conversation was no longer between a King and his subject, but just two men chatting about life, the King brought up the subject of the Weaver's wife. "Do you think that there is anything I can do to help? Have you talked with Mistress Rachel?"

"The Herb Woman has told us that she saw no reason why we could not try to have another child, the baby was not born deformed, its cord got wrapped around its throat at childbirth,, and the poor wee thing choked to death. But poor Megan has been so depressed; she was so looking forward to caring for a child."

"Do you think she might want to care for the royal baby?" asked the King; "We will have need of a wet nurse, and it might be good for both of our wives for them to work together."

"I do not know, I will ask her when she wakes," replied the Weaver. "I think it is a good idea, but it is better I talk to her about it first."

Soon, the two men heard stirring in the back of the cottage, and when the Weaver softly called out, his wife shyly came into the front room again. "Why don't I go and get the innkeeper to prepare our dinners; you two come in about one-half hour, okay?" With their assurances filling his ears, the King quickly left, giving the Weaver a chance to talk with his wife, without the King's presence to add to the gravity of the situation.

The King was wondering if the two were going to join him and his men for dinner when in walked the Weaver and Megan. From the look of joy on Megan's face, the King surmised that his request was looked upon with favor by the bereaved mother. The Weaver's first words confirmed this.

"Your Majesty, my wife wanted me to thank you for your kind offer, and she promises to work very hard in the castle. She can cook and sew, and you saw how clean and neat she keeps our cottage, and . . ."

"Wait!" cried the King, "We do not need another servant; your wife will be part of the team of women who will help my wife care for our child. She will not need to cook or clean, and she can sew with my wife and her ladies, but only to pass away the idle moments. I understand that with a baby, there are very few idle moments," the King added dryly. "Does that suit you, Milady?"

Megan's smile lit up the room. "If it pleases your majesty, I would like that very much!"

"It is settled then; when the time comes, you shall be sent for. Er, um, are you still, uh . . ."

"Yes, your Majesty, my milk has not dried up," the woman answered the unspoken question. "If your child is born within the week, there should be no problems."

"Splendid! Let us eat this fine dinner the innkeeper has prepared for us, and we'll meet again tomorrow to start on the weaving."

However, that was not to be. In the early morning, the King was woken by a Page sent from his castle, with news that his presence was needed, right away. Quickly throwing his clothes on, the King was ready in five minutes, and had to be gently reminded that safe roads or no, he must wait for his two men-at-arms, lest he be attacked on the road, and they incur the wrath of the Queen. When his men were dressed, they mounted their horses, but grumbled about starting the day without a drop to drink or a morsel to eat. However, when they were about to leave the inn, the innkeeper met them in the courtyard with food the King had ordered prepared; there was fresh bread, drinking bags of ale, and wedges of cheese to eat while they rode. The King sent word to the weaver by way of the innkeeper to advise him of the change of plans, and to request he prepare his wife for her long stay in the Queen's service.

The King was in too much of a hurry to drink, but he ate some of the bread, and chewed on a wedge of cheese while he rode. When they finally reached the gates of the castle, the King was greeted by his chamberlain, who greeted the King with the news: "Your Majesty, you have an heir! This morning your wife was delivered of . . ."

The King interrupted; "My Queen, is she all right?"

"Yes, your majesty, and . . ."

"And the baby, it is well? Tell me, did she have a boy?"

"Yes, your Majesty, you DO have a boy, but . . ."

"She Had A Boy! My heir is a beautiful baby boy!"

"No, your Majesty, you see . . ."

"Is he ill? Was there a problem with his birth?"

"If your Majesty would let me finish a sentence. . . Your son was born healthy and whole. However, he is not your heir, at least not your first one. That honor goes to your daughter, who is twenty minutes older than her brother!"

And it was very good that the Royal Chamberlain was a fine, strong man, as for the first time in his life, Good King Henry, Lord of the Realm, champion of the right, and leader of his troops in battle, fainted dead away.

By the way, after a week apart, the Queen told Good King Henry that it was not right to have the husband and wife so separated, and so the King made arrangements to have the Weaver and his loom moved to a spare chamber in the castle, where he was able to work nearby his wife. The blankets were finished quickly, and the babies looked adorable in them, as all babies do.

["Now I know you can hear me, even though you are sleeping, so please pay attention! I will sit with you one night a week and tell you tales, but only if you are a good baby. Your poor parents do not understand these things, and to tell you the truth, I am not sure I do, either. Please, just no more fussing about eating and sleeping, okay? You have a proud name to live up to, you know. I will do my part, you can still hear the Good King Henry stories, but sometimes I will tell about others, like the Blessed Queen Eleanor, and Lady Robin, and Sir Harold. They have tales too, you know, and need to have them told. Now I am going to lay you down in your bed, please be so kind as to wake up about Prime, and let your mother feed you?"

As dawn was beginning to creep through the upper windows, the weary old monk put the little girl in her crib. He thought of all the stories that were yet to be told to her, and he prayed for the time on this earth to tell them all, lest they die with him.]

To Be Continued. . .

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

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