…. I wrote this in a kind of frenzy. It just sort of happened. Its a Fairy Tale….. I could try and find somewhere for it, but sometimes you just can’t be bothered with all that. So here it is…..
The Story of the King and the Queen.
Hello I’m a storyteller. And I’ll spin you a tale, although every word is true. To be quite honest, I’d just wandered in this place for an ale. Yes, before So, Ho. Hello, hello, Soho. Oh yes I’ve travelled in your realm before. But that’s another story…. to business.
Once, (oh yes), there were a King and a Queen. Well no, that’s not quite right. Once, before that, there was a boy and a girl. They grew up on two sides of a river, a stone’s throw apart (if you were very strong), but there was never any stone throwing. They were a good match these two. No, a perfect match as is the way of things sometimes, if you’re very lucky. Which they were. But not always. No one’s lucky all the time.
So they met, these children, and played and fought and loved one other before they knew what that meant. Before they’d tasted how sweet and bitter a thing it could be: love. And each of us must learn this.
But the years floated idly by. Until later, on the cusp of adulthood they were at a dance together.
Like brother and sister they were then. Teasing and laughing and looking each other square in the eye, like they were always on the brink of remembering something. Oh to be young again.
The day was faltering into a long languid fading of high summers gift to us: that feeling that you’re amidst something magical and timeless. It was a night and day, really like there had never been. Oh, I was there myself. Yes, I saw it: the moment. When it was like they were meeting for the first time. I say a moment, but you could see it building.
They had watched each other all night, curious as to what exactly was amiss. He, this sinewy, glowing specimen fresh from the fields of harvested corn. She a flaxen curl of teenage beauty that had, it seemed, blossomed with the most consummate of timings. And the light conspired too. Ah, when it came, that moment low it went sweeping across the fields like a message of golden hope sent from the past and showing the way into the future. It caught her, held her in a new frame, ringlets falling on either side of bare shoulders, and he reflected back, his awe matching her beauty in the gloaming.
And then they just danced. Better than anyone had or ever would, ever after. Yes, I was there. Me and my beady eye you see.
And from then on it was always like that: a first rush of youth and vigour, their, what is it you say here, their relationship was just prefect.
But anyway, in the way of these things they became King and Queen. You’ll have to read about that elsewhere. Time is of the essence. I have an assignation. But they did.
And further and in pursuance of that fact (and in the general commitment to his commitments, the King went off to fight another King. And he beat him.)
But on his return weakened and distracted by the thought of seeing his love again after six months of siege and campaigning, he was tricked by a water sprite. The very worst kind. Some say the war, was all about that; when he had reached down into the stream for a cooling quench and this evil spirit took him. Bewitched him so that he fell into a walking sleep. Lost. Locked up within himself, and left to wander the deep dark forest with his face changed, his mind utterly clouded. He could you see only sometimes guess at who he really was.
The Kingdom fell. Or most of it. The Queen was besieged from without and within. A pack of curs at her door night and day looking for her love and the empty throne by her side. And armies to the North and the East mounting, waiting to strike with a full force when the time was ripe. Dark Days indeed travellers.
She fought back, of course. She was a country girl and used to feuds. She became a Warrior Queen and wily. She fought them on every front. Pushing back at the keening sadness that touched everything she did. She took her burden, her grief (a thing that had made her hollow) and used it. She fired it all in a kiln within…..until she had forged a rage that she fed off. It kept her going. And it made her ruthless…
What was the right answer today? The King wondered and damn quickly. She was a woman, a Queen, not to trifle with. The last man who had was in pieces. (of course friends he didn’t know he was the King. But he’d made his way to her Court, drawn irresistibly by a force greater than all of us.)
‘What’s your name Traveller man?’ She asked him this every day. And each day he told her a different name. Sometimes it amused her. ‘Or do you want to end up like him.’
She pointed towards the man’s head stuck up on the side of the wall in the courtyard. Opposite, on the other wall, his legs were dangling, kicking in the wind. Oh, he wasn’t dead. He was in two. She had magic you see. A limited supply, that was diminishing.
‘At least he can see the river.’ said the man.
She followed his eyes to the river glistering with a thousand twinkling sunpennies that dazzled the way the kingdom used to, in the old days.
‘I said, Raggedy man. Who are you?’
‘Not a spy your majesty.’
‘Well you would say that wouldn’t you?’
‘I would. But look into my eyes.’
‘I do Raggedy man. I do.’
‘And tell me what you see. Because I’d love to know.’
‘You would order a Queen?’
‘Not likely ma’am. Not this Queen.’
She stood closer, faced him squarely and peered. Her few loyal courtiers moved nervously.
‘I see that you are bedraggled. Mostly.’
‘Aye mainly bedraggled and begraddled, but loyal and honest too.’
‘And a name?’
‘Just Jack. That’s all I remember.’
The Queen. Mad, bad and dangerous to cross pondered a while. Thought about this man who confounded her and wasn’t quite what he seemed. Why had she spared him? Why, when he looked as odd and quirsy and begraddled had she not just had him thrown off the battlements a long time ago. They were both equally confused about that.
‘I call him my yawning backside traveller man.’ And she motioned to the poor fool who’d tried to fool her.
‘Your backside, your majesty.’
‘You will push me too far Raggedy man.’ Airily and warily delivered.
But there was something behind that regal countenance. She turned to her courtiers. ‘From this angle he looks like he is smiling doesn’t he?’ pointing but not looking upwards, at the dangling legs, and the rest….
‘Yes ma’am.’ They said quickly.
And she laughed that mad, bad laugh of hers and swept out with her dwindling retinue in tow.
Yes a little magic was all she had left. And magic’s like ale. The stuff at the bottom of the pot is not as good as the stuff at the top. And everyone knew it.
Later that night when the feasting was over.
‘I’ll ask you again, fool. What is your name?’
‘Your Royal Highness, I don’t have the fullness of the knowing of that. But I can say my few friends from the forest call me Jack.’
‘Yes Jack. Jack.’ She said the word like she’d never heard it before. ‘Jack the traveller man.’ And she flashed him a look as a frisson of something went around the court that was milling as usual with the flotsam and jetsam of a kingdom at war with itself.
‘I have a challenge for you ma’am.’
‘Ah! You would test the monarch?!’
‘No Ma’am your highness and Majesty.’ He stood still. Let her settle.
‘Tell me Jack, what have you heard of me?’
‘Mostly? Scary stuff, your highness.’
She strode out a few paces, pointlessly. She looked magnificent when she moved, just like he’d imagined. Like a great ship cruising. Effortless, imposing. Rather glorious.
‘What is this challenge then?’
‘Just that you might dance as well as I had heard. I heard you danced well long ago, with someone.’
At this latest audacity what little of the courtiers who remained fell silent. And then he saw the thing that she could feel. A lightening. A thin slip of the past like the rays of a long gone dawn, rising out the corners of her mouth. A mouth he realised he’d seen before. Long, long ago. And he let slip a smile, balling it up quickly and dropping it behind him. But she noticed and he noticed her noticing. Oh yes.
It seemed very important to him then to get her to dance. It seemed that his own life, the safety of the Queen and even the kingdom depended on it.
The raggedly man went over to the Minstrels, kicked them to wake them and asked if they knew an old waltz. Something from way back.
‘Aye. A long time ago I danced well enough. Come then, and take what may be your last dance.’
But they looked into the other’s eye and it was something like spring then. ‘And you are quite sure you aren’t an assassin?’
‘Aye, sure enough.’
‘Then let’s dance wild, raggedy man.’
And they did. They floated round the floor. No one had ever seen anyone dance with such grace. Apart from me. Even to see it was like a gift from heaven itself.
She was smiling. Smiling! And he was changing before our eyes.
The scoundrels fled (they’d get their desserts later) as these two dipped, melted into their past and snatched it back. They were returned. Becoming as they had been, and all of elicited through the prefect steps of a country waltz. Oh my wasn’t it a thing!
‘My darling, can it be you?’ said the Queen. She had stopped and was holding his face that was shining, like hers.
‘Can it be true?’ he said. ‘That I am who I have dreamt of. I am the King?’
But he was not quite there yet and so the Queen followed her instincts and kissed him long and deep and hard.
‘You are my King.’ she said as the last of her icy tears fell down her cheek.
‘Yes. And you are my Queen.’
They embraced and then she said, ‘My darling, what do you say we go to our chamber and we do not come out until we are fully reacquainted.’
‘Oh you are a thoroughly modern monarch.’ He replied as he took her hand before they walked off to do just that.
We’ve time for a moral before Soho. Just this….
That love, along with a little bit of wit, can conquer most anything. Even a broken, frozen heart can be melted and a king deposed within himself can be saved, returned, brought home.
The past is truly another country. Where there are things unknown, mysterious and perhaps beyond us. But sometimes something sticks. And I feel privileged to have been there when they met on that thick summer’s evening – and when they met again, in the empty court of the Queen Louie and King John, when she melted in wonder at the sight of her long lost love returned at last.
And finally brothers and sisters they went on to rule with, benign wisdom. They raised two of each, and lived to a ripe old age, through what came to be known as a Golden Era. Or I suppose you could say, for the purposes of brevity… that they all lived happily, ever, after.