The following is an edifying tale wherein a king learns a valuable lesson from his queen and the whole nation is better off as a consequence. The court jester plays a pivotal role as well, although he probably came to wish he’d stayed out of it.
There once lived a king who was always mad. Not mad like crazy, but mad like angry. He was angry about everything. As a result, all of his chief ministers were angry. So were his peasants and so were his dogs. And on and on it went in a downwardly cascading catastrophe of annoyance. The land was always in turmoil.
It wasn’t as if the king didn’t have a sense of humor. The queen once asked him why he was so angry at neighboring realms, since they lived in relativeley peaceful times, for the thirteenth century that is. The king’s answer was revealing.
“It’s because they have more wealth than I do. They have richer fields and more abundant natural resources. They can finance better armies. If they want to, they can overrun my kingdom. I agonize about my vulnerability all the time.”
“Come to think of it, though, there is another side to this predicament. Should the day ever come when my shiftless peasants fail to meet their crop quotas and I have to sell a castle or two to meet my regal payroll, it will be good to have some other royal dupe out there with enough coinage or cattle to buy my assets.”
It was this kind of sardonic humor that endeared the king to the queen, despite his numerous flaws. But it didn’t take away from the fact almost everyone in the court and within the broader surrounding land’s borders was always angry.
It seemed the queen and the court jester were the only ones able to maintain some sense of equanimity. The fact they had similar dispositions drew them together to share each other’s company more than might have been healthy.
In the pauses between their laughter, they spent time exploring what was the root cause of their nation’s problems. The king was always in high dudgeon and the nobles, peasantry, dogs, cats, ponies and livestock took their lead from him.
What was the cause of the unchecked anger? The jester was as near to being a psychologist as the Middle Ages was likely to produce. It was his conclusion that anger is a side effect. It is almost always a symptom of fear. And there is no limit to the number of things men and women can be afraid of if they choose.
The king was afraid of being de-throned. He was afraid of usurpers and back stabbers. He was also fearful of a host of horrific diseases that plagued the land. His other anxieties centered on growing older, loneliness and his wife’s fidelity.
The nobles were afraid of many of the same things as the king. Plus they were scared of each other. They clung to their power and perks. The infighting to achieve and maintain status was fierce. There was rarely a relaxing moment.
The peasants were fearful of everything including the king, the nobles, the weather, tax collectors and where their next meal was coming from. And so it went.
Some of these fears were legitimate, but many were irrational. This was hardly a surprise for the era. There were only so many hurdles over which anyone had control. The queen and jester pondered how to get this message across.
On one lovely first-of-April morning, just as spring was about to play its winning hand, the jester was in a more than usual high-spirited mood. That’s when the king, while holding public court in his fortress keep, singled the jester out for special attention.
The king was annoyed, once again, because the jester was spending too much time with his wife, the queen. He was growing suspicious. When the king asked the jester how he planned to entertain him that day, the jester acted coy. He hinted he had a secret he wanted to share with the king. The queen looked alarmed.
“What is it? Speak up man,” said the king.
“But it concerns the queen, your highness, and it is a matter of some delicacy.”
“I have neither time nor patience for secrets. Tell me what you know.”
“You wonder about my relationship with the queen, but it’s not me she’s interested in. There is another gentleman she has a great and loving regard for.”
“You’d better be careful with your accusations. Who is this man?”
“He is an individual of exceptional bearing. A prince in his community, one might say.”
“Do I know this man? Are we equals? Does he have my same high standing?”
“Yes. Every bit of it. He has many underlings at his beck and call.”
The king was becoming visibly upset. “Tell me more,” he demanded.
“He has a fine black stallion that he likes to ride while hunting in his vast estates. He’s handsome and brave and his followers talk of his judgment and wisdom. ”
The king was now in a frothing state. He turned to his queen and said, “I won’t stand for this. This is intolerable. I’ll find your paramour and defeat him in battle.”
His jealousy was a green standard under which he was eager to hop onto his magnificent ebony-colored destrier and ride off at the head of his more than scrappy troops.
The lord high chamberlain of the land, who was no dummy, finally put an end to the king’s excitation. “I believe the mystery man the jester is referring to is you, my lord. I think he has been putting you on and having some sport with all of us.”
The king’s royal purple veins nearly popped. Gradually, and with the help of several swigs from a goblet of wine, he calmed down. It sank in that he had jumped to a conclusion and nearly waged war on himself. It was almost comical.
He faced his queen again. “Is this true?”
“Yes, of course, my dear. I love you very much. You’re a big bad bear of a man on the outside, but I know there’s a warm and cuddly spot near your heart.”
The king was slightly mollified. He was pleased with his wife’s affectionate endorsement but he had just been made to look foolish in front of his entire court. Such a weakening of his prestige might prove to be dangerous.
“Did the two of you cook this up?” he asked his wife.
“Not exactly. But I am pleased if the jester’s practical joke teaches you a lesson. Anger comes from fear. If you can learn to control fear, the anger will go away.”
“I do see your point and it was especially silly of me to be afraid of myself. Nevertheless, this mockery of the king does not set a good example. For the sake of appearances, I’m going to have to punish the two of you.”
“That’s ridiculous. I’ve just professed my love for you as clear as can be and I’m the mother of your children and future heirs.” The queen was distraught.
“You, my queen, will be confined to your quarters until further notice. Your friend the jester will be beheaded. That’s the kind of joke I am likely to find amusing.”
Further pleading and carrying on before the king by all and sundry was to no avail.
Three days later, the jester was led to the top of a wooden platform and made to kneel before a blood-soaked block. With the decisive chop imminent, he was asked for any last words to pass on to the assembled nobility and common folk.
“I’m feeling vindicated,” he said in a firm loud voice. “I told you life was funny.”
The king roared with laughter.
Down came the broadsword, THWACK, and from that day forward the king stopped taking himself so seriously.