Friday, December 9, 2011

The Matchmaker

This story was either inspired by a TV show plot or a dream I had after watching said TV show. It’s kind of blurry, but either way I woke up and thought about a matchmaker holding a grand ball full of eligible women for her client to choose from. Then I hung the rest of the story on that like ornaments on a Chrsitmas tree and this is what I came up with. The names are all taken from the Danny Kaye movie The Court Jester which is wonderful.

A while back I came up with an idea for a TV show about professional matchmakers (though not in a fairy tale setting, of course) and the main dating tip given on that show is the same as the lesson of today’s story.

A very clever man once said repeatedly, “It’s good to be da king.” And, yes, in many ways it is. Roderick, for example, had just about everything a man could wish for. He had a beautiful castle to live in, hundreds of servants at his beck and call, a lush prosperous kingdom to rule over and more money than he could spend if he lived to be three hundred and four. He had horses and silks and gold and precious jewels and even a bust of himself made of solid platinum, which not many people have, don’tcha know.

Of course, no man has everything but there is one thing that every man (woman, child, animal, trees even) has: Problems. Yes, kids and people, even King Roderick ruler of the kingdom of Pimpernel (named for the beautiful and medicinal flower that grew there), had his allotment of problems. For one thing, he had to act like a king all the time, which meant being regal and important and speaking with a booming sort of voice and enacting laws and levying taxes and doing other kingly stuff which is all very well if you’re fifty or so with a big beard and a belly to match, but Roderick was twenty-four and had taken over the kingdom quite suddenly when his father had abdicated the throne the previous year in order to spend some quality time with his cows.

Yeah, he liked cows. So? What’s wrong with cows?

In other words, Roderick never really wanted to be king. At least not while he was so young. When you’re a young, handsomish prince, you can do what you like. Go off on adventures, rescue damsels, ride white chargers, or just hang out with the knights and do guy stuff like hunting or fishing or watching The Big Lebowski…or, ya know, whatever guys watched before the Cohen Brothers started making movies…murals, maybe? About rugs, bowling and missing toes?

I feel like I’m digressing a little bit. Let’s try again.

The other thing about being a king is getting married. See, the tricky thing about a monarchy is that it requires constant maintenance. There always has to be a prince or princess to take over the throne from the king and/or queen, depending on how patriarchal the kingdom in question is (kids, this is all complex political stuff that your parents can tell you more about. In the meantime: Kings have to get married and make babies). Now, Roderick had taken over from his father, but if Roderick died or became interested in cattle, there was no one to take over.

“You must get married, sire,” insisted Lord Ravenhurst, who had one of those pointy goatees that bad guys usually have.

“But who am I supposed to marry?” was the king’s answer. “I don’t know any girls. And it’s not like I can go to a bar and meet someone like common folk do. I’m a king. The rules say I have to marry a princess or a countess or a duchess or a waitress or…no, not that last one. But she has to be nobility. And I don’t like the nobility. How am I going to be happy with someone who just cares about fancy clothes and precious jewels?”

“I’m sorry, sire, I think we’re talking at cross purposes, here. I was discussing marriage. You seem to be talking about happiness. I’m afraid I can’t see the connection.”

As unromantic as that sounds, that’s kind of how marriage worked for royalty in them days. Love didn’t matter quite so much as breeding, fortunes and social standing. Left to his own devices, the king would’ve married for true love, which is better than any of those other things, but there were rules to follow and, as Ravenhurst had told him at his coronation: “You’re King Roderick, not Roderick King. That means you are a king first and yourself second."

So Roderick relutctantly agreed to let Ravenhurst call a meeting of the Royal Council. These were the king’s closest advisors who were known for advising him the closest. There was Lord Hubert, and Sir Griswold and Ravenhurst, of course, and many other important men with ridiculous names. They all came together to discuss possibilities for the king’s new wife:

“What about Lady Glynis?” said one. “She is said to be more beautiful than Aphrodite.”

“I knew her when we were kids,” said the king. “She used to kick me mercilessly.”

“Then what about Princess Angela?” said another. “Word is she is in want of a husband.”

“Ugh! No thank you. She’s the biggest bore in the world. Talks about nothing but herself.”

“Mildred of Natwick?”

“No, she won’t do?”

“Why not?” bellowed Ravenhurst. “With all possible respect, majesty, you are far too picky. You should just pick a bride and have done with it.”

“Not Mildred of Natwick.”

“And why not? What’s wrong with her? Too vain? Too selfish? What petty little personality problem has sprung into your royal mind to cause you to take issue with Mildred of Natwick?!?”

“She’s eighty-two!”

“Oh…oh, yes…I see.” Ravenhurst didn’t say anything for the rest of the meeting.

“Look, I appreciate all the work you guys are doing,” said King Roderick. “But you’ve got to at least find me somebody I’ll like. I don’t think that’s asking too much, is it?”

“Too much? No. Not enough? Perhaps,” came a voice who was definitely not invited to this top secret meeting.

“Giacamo,” said Lord Hubert to the owner of the voice, “this meeting is for royal council only.”

“Scratch the surface of a fool and you will often find a wiseman,” said Giacamo the court jester. “That’s true the other way around, as well.”

“Giacamo,” began the king, as Lord Hubert took offense, “has been a loyal friend and servant since my father was my age and we shall hear what he has to say.” Turning to his fool, he asked, “What do you suggest be done about this marriage situation?”

“My advice in this matter, as in all matters, is that you should make like the hunter chasing a stag through the woods.”


“Follow your hart!” This fairly awful pun was met with groans from the council, but King Roderick chuckled in spite of himself. “However,” the jester continued, “if majesty is insistent on marrying regardless of love, I suggest you call upon my sister, Gwendolyn., the world’s greatest matchmaker!”

“You fool!” cried Sir Griswold. “How are matches going to help? The king doesn’t need to start a fire, he needs to—”

“That’s not the kind of matchmaker he meant!” interrupted the king and Griswold joined Ravenhurst in silence for the rest of the meeting. The king turned back to his trusty fool. “A matchmaker, you say. Is she any good?”

“Is she any good? Is she any good?” cried Giacamo. “My liege, she is known throughout the land. She is called Cupid’s Servant. She has made over one hundred perfect matches. There is no one for whom she has failed to find a bride or groom! There is no matchmaker in all the universe who can match her skill and talent.”

“So she’s good?”

“Yeah, she’s all right.”

Gwendolyn was sent for and appeared before King Roderick. “I am told,” said the king, “that you can find a perfect match for anybody.”

“That I can, sire,” said Gwendolyn.

“Mine is, of course, a special case.”

“Rule #2,” said Gwendolyn, “No matter how different they are, everyone in the world is exactly the same.”

“Well said,” replied the king. “So, what will you need?”

“First and foremost, sire, your complete cooperation or all my skills will be useless. You must trust me implicitly. Rule #3: There can be no true love without complete trust. You must answer any question I put to you entirely honestly. Rule #4: Honesty is the best policy. You must be willing to do things that do not come naturally to you. Rule #5: No one ever achieved greatness by doing what they do every day.”

“How many of these rules do you have?”

“Only six. Rule #1, however, is the last you will learn.”

“And what’s Rule #6?”

Gwendolyn smiled. “All rules are made to be broken…including this one, because by following Rules 1 through 5, you will be breaking Rule 6. Do you see?”

“No…no, not really.”

“That’s not important. Do you agree to my rules?”

“All that I am and all that I have is at your disposal if you can find me a bride.”

“Groovy! Let’s get started.”

The first part of the process was a questionaire, which had only just recently been invented (by Gwendolyn, coincidentally) so the king was a little confused by it. He got the idea soon enough, however. The following is an extract from the finished questionaire (questions relating to popular culture of Ancient Pimpernel have been removed for clarity’s sake):

25. How do you like to spend Sunday mornings?
I like to sort of take it easy. Stay in bed for a bit, read a book. Of course, I’d rather have someone to talk to.

29. What is your position on Dragon Rights?
Anyone who still believes that dragons are evil in this day and age is just plain ignorant.

31. If you had to choose, would you rather be blind or deaf?
Blind. I don’t really know why.

38. How important is honesty to you?
Very important. I don’t see how anyone can have any kind of relationship that isn’t based on mutual trust, and that can’t exist without honesty.

42. When you were five, what did you want to be when you grew up?
            I seem to remember wanting to be a horse.

43. What about when you were ten?
            All I knew is that I didn’t want my father’s job. We all know how that turned out.

And so on in that fashion. When he was finished filling in his answers, he handed the paper back to Gwendolyn who looked over it carefully.

“Hmmm,” was all she said at first. “Interesting.”

“Interesting? Is that good or bad?”

“Interesting is only bad when one is discussing odors.”

“Does that mean you can help me?”

“Sire, there was never any doubt that I would be of help to you. The question was only ever how long it would take.” As she said this, there was a faint knock on the door and a chambermaid called Jean entered.

“Oh, pardon me, your majesty. I thought you were alone,” said Jean, timidly.

“Quite all right, Jean,” said King Roderick. Gwendolyn reacted to this, because it was fairly uncommon for kings to be on first name terms with the cleaning staff. “This is Gwendolyn, the matchmaker.”

“Oh!” said Jean with an odd tone to her voice that Gwendolyn recognized but didn’t understand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.” Then she curtsied.

“No need of that, child,” said Gwendolyn. “I’m no better than you. We are both servants of the king.”

“I don’t really like that word,” said Roderick. “It makes me uncomfortable.”

“It’s accurate. The girl is employed by you to serve you, is she not?”

“She was employed by my late father to serve him. She’s only serving me because I—”

“Inherited her?”

“Something like that.”

“I only came to see if you had any washing,” said Jean. “But if this is a bad time…”

“No!” said the king much more forcefully than he meant to. “I mean…yes, I do have some things for you to wash. Wait here.” With that, the king drifted off into the next chamber. Gwendolyn kept her eyes on Jean as the king left and noticed that the maid’s eyes followed the king’s path even after he was out of sight.

“That answers that question!” said Gwendolyn with a grin.

“Excuse me?” asked Jean.

“Nothing, dear, nothing. Tell me, how long have you worked in the palace.”

“Practically all my life. My mother worked in the kitchens and I was born two years after the king. We used to play together when we were small.”

“How and when did you stop playing?”

“He would have been…ten years old,” said Jean, wondering why the matchmaker was so interested in her life story, but wanting to be polite. “I was eight. We were outside, playing at Gamby,” (a sport popular at this time in history, though it’s unclear how the two children played it when it is unique among sporting events for requiring three sides to play), “when Lord Ravenhurst yelled at him, ‘Prince Roderick! Come away from that filthy child and come inside for your lessons.’ We never played after that.”

“That must’ve hurt your feelings.”

“It did. I asked my mother about it when I was helping her prepare supper that night. She said it’s just the way things are.”

“Ugh! The way things are! How I hate that phrase. It’s thinking like that which forces our beloved king to marry for politics instead of love. Take a lesson from me, child, and don’t live based on the way things are, but rather on the way they should be.”

Jean didn’t understand, but it didn’t matter because the king returned with some hose and tunics at this point and handed them to Jean. “I mean, there’s no hurry,” he said, stupidly. “Just, whenever you get a chance to—”

“Of course, sire. Thank you, sire. Ma’am.” With another curtsie, the girl was gone.

“Now then,” said the king, after he was quite done looking at the spot where Jean was before she shut the door. “Where were we?”

“I was wondering how long it would take to help you, but now I am certain that it will take me no time to unite you with your perfect match.”

“Really? That’s sensational news!”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” said the sly old lady. Gwendolyn then asked the king for some gold for a journey she would have to go on. The king gave it to her, and Gwendolyn left, promising to return in a few days with results. After a week, Roderick was a nervous wreck. Where was she? When would she be back? His council, still miffed at him for brining in Gwendolyn at the advice of a jester, were not terribly helpful, so he found that the only person he could talk to was Jean. As the days wore on, their conversations got longer, so that by the time Gwendolyn had been gone a fortnight (that’s a fancy way of saying “two weeks.” Go ahead, use it in a conversation, you’ll love it) Jean was speaking very candidly to her king and old friend, much to the shock and outrage of the other servants.

“You are a servant, he is a king,” they would say. “You have no business speaking to him like that.”

“He’s okay with it,” said Jean, defiantly. “So what difference does it make to you?” Indeed, the two were becoming good friends, almost as good as they were when they were children. But their most common topic of discussion was, of course, the matchmaker.

“I’m sure she’ll be back soon, sire,” said Jean as she gathered up some of the king’s laundry.

“I don’t know,” said Roderick, slightly embarrassed at Jean’s picking up after him. “What if she comes back and couldn’t find anyone? I knew I should’ve picked deaf instead of blind!”

“In the first place, I would’ve said blind, too. Secondly, your majesty is being ridiculous. You’re worrying about nothing. My father used to say worry is just a waste of imagination. Besides, I’m sure there are hundreds of princesses and duchesses and countesses out there who would love to be your queen.”

“You really think there’s someone out there for me?”

“Of course, your majesty.” As she was leaving for the laundry room she added, softer than the king could hear, “And if not out there…maybe in here.”

Well, it turned out that the king’s fears about Gwendolyn not being able to find someone were not well-founded as she returned with close on to fifty beautiful damsels. It was decided that a great ball would be held so that the king could get to know them all. It was the grandest ball in all the land. The guests all looked gorgeous, the foremost musicians (and even one or two of the fivemost) were on hand to entertain and the finest food and wine from all over the world was served. It was, in short, THE social event of this or any other season. In fact, the name given to the ball was derived from an old word meaning “great gathering of people with food, drink and music” which was pronounced “Party.”

Yeah. That’s where that comes from. Yeah. Really. Not really.

Basically, it was the best celebration ever and there was only one thing missing: The king. The king was hiding in the kitchen where he surprised Jean, who had come in to get more punch to serve to the guests. “Sire, what are you doing in here? Shouldn’t you be out enjoying your Bride-Finding Ball?”

“I know, but I can’t stand it out there. All those strange women throwing themselves at me.”

“Yeah, I can see where that might get annoying.” Sarcasm, like the questionaire, was a recent invention, so the king didn’t quite understand. “Sire, the whole point of this ball was for you to find the woman you want to marry.”

“I know, I know. It’s just…All these women are wearing these fancy gowns and shiny jewels and acting regal and they expect me to do the same. They’re all here to dance with the king, not me. They care more about my crown than I do. I’m sure these are all perfectly nice and interesting women,” (he was wrong, by the way, only about four of them were nice and/or interesting, the other forty-two being just as vapid and shallow as they seemed), “but I can’t imagine spending a Sunday morning with any one of them. I can’t even have a conversation with them because all they want to talk about is how many acres their fathers own or how many knights have died in their name.”

“They brag about that?”

“Yeah, it’s messed up. They’re all beautiful and rich elegant but none of them are…well, real. Maybe this whole thing was a mistake.”

“Sire, can I tell you what my father told my brother on the day he left home to find his own bride?”

“What’s that?”

“He said, ‘the best advice I can give you regarding love is the only advice anyone really needs: Be yourself.’ That’s true of peasants as well as kings, sire. It doesn’t matter if you don’t marry a single one of those vapid, dolled-up, overstuffed, overdressed peanhens out there who wouldn’t look a serving girl in the eye if her hair was on fire.”

“That sounded a little personal toward the end there.”

“Regardless! What matters is that you’re honest with yourself and others. What matters is that you just be yourself.”

Eventually, Roderick did return to the party, put on a brave face and even danced with a few of the girls, but the whole time he didn’t act like “King Roderick” he just acted like…Roderick. He talked about things that made him happy and didn’t even mention his wealth and power. This made the guests a little unhappy because his wealth and power were the things about him they were most interested in. To make a long, awkward story short, the party ended with all of the glamorous guests leaving unengaged.

“Well, Gwendolyn,” said the king the following morning. “It seems you’ve finally failed.”

“No, I didn’t, sire,” said Gwendolyn. “I’m just here to collect the remainder of my fee and then I’ll move on.”

“What? But none of the women you invited were right for me.”

“I know. That’s why I invited them.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Sire, I looked at your questionaire and despaired of ever finding you a princess who would be right for you. Then, your maid, Jean came in the room, and I realized what I had to do. I went out and invited all those princesses and duchesses and countesses to force you to confront how phoney and pointless all this is and get you to be yourself for once. As I knew you would, you went straight where your heart led you: to your best friend and closest confidant, Jean the maid.”


“Haven’t you figured it out, sire? I gave you almost fifty gorgeous, wealthy, powerful young women to choose from, and the only one you wanted to talk to was your chambermaid. Doesn’t that tell you anything? Haven’t you figured out Rule #1 yet?”

It did and he had. Roderick paid Gwendolyn the remainder of her fee and she departed to find matches for the forty-six women who came to the party. She made a mint off of them and retired early to live out the rest of her days in luxury and comfort.

That very same day, Roderick summoned up every last ounce of his courage and asked Jean if she would have dinner with him. She accepted, of course, and thus began a wonderful romance which led, as we all knew it would, to marriage and family. Of course, it was a terrific scandal, a king marrying an (ugh!) commoner and a servant at that. Lord Ravenhurst and the council were shocked and tried desperately to talk him out of it, but failed. The servants despised Jean (thought that was probably more jealousy than anything else) but she let them. Neither Roderick nor Jean cared what anyone else said. They were done living to please others. And they lived very happily ever after, as we are all sure to if we only remember Rule #1: Be yourself!


NEXT WEEK: "The Three Sillies"

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