Modern Fairy Tales.


King John Smith and the Marshes.


To the east of here, where the land is flat and marshy, lived a king called King John Smith. He had no daughters; he had no sons. There was no glittering palace with pendant chandeliers that he could call his home. And most tragic of all, KJS (as he was known to the samphire gatherers thereabouts) had no wife. He had always been too preoccupied with his worries.

One day, as the story goes, KJS woke as the sun was waving good morning over the sea. He thought to himself, "This can't go on. I'm getting on in years and I must take myself a wife to bear me a skirt of daughters". Of course, it was easier said than done and KJS stalled his decision-making till 10.37 a.m. until he had eaten a hearty breakfast of freshly caught mackerel. His chin flowed with butter.

When he'd cleared the breakfast away, KJS made a list sitting in his favourite chair looking out over the marshes. "I will walk to the pebble beach and ask the first woman I see to marry me", he declared to the empty room. So he got togged up in warm clothes and sallied forth. The day was blossoming into a fine winter moment. KJS knew the marshes as well as his body and he knew that it would be a time of day when the odd rambler might be strolling through the curlew calls.

It was not long before he noticed a figure plying toward him with a hooded cape that flapped gently in time with her steps. "This will be her", he said, his heart thumping in anticipation. At that moment KJS dropped his eyes to the ground to check his footing. When he raised his eyes the figure had disappeared. He shivered with fear and disappointment. "I thought my moment had come", he told himself. Just then the figure loomed at his shoulder and was past him before he could cough his name or extend his greetings. But KJS had just heard the words "You can marry me, so long as you never see my face", delivered sotto voce from the hooded cape. He turned and the figure was gone again.

King John Smith was so overwhelmed by the need to marry, that he overcame his fear and shouted into the winter sun,"Wherever you are, darling lady, please let me marry you and I swear I will never look you in the eye". Immediately, a breath as of a balmy breeze sighing across the samphire whispered in his ear, "We will marry and I will bear you a ballroom of daughters". KJS sobbed with happiness but at the same time felt dreadfully frustrated and made his feelings clear by telling the enigma that there should be an easier way to form a relationship. But she had gone.

King John Smith felt downtrodden and didn't know how to proceed with his plans which had become so complicated. Just then, the cape and hood reappeared, this time right in front of him but facing away. "We will make love when night falls", said a voice to melt aluminium, "until then you must pick a bushel of samphire and meet me in your bedroom an hour after sunset." And so it happened. KJS lost himself in a dream and was not aware of time or the beginning and ending of the consummation.

Nine months later, eight baby girls appeared on his doorstep, wrapped in cashmere shawls and whimpering softly. No mother was in sight. "This is not how I planned it but I will bring them up myself", mused KJS. So he did, and when the girls were nineteen (for, if you remember, they were all born together), he sent them all on to the marshes to look for their mother. "But what does she look like", asked one of the daughters. "Look for a cape" he answered. Bemused, the daughters left the house and struck out across the muddy wastes. They spread out, so as to cover as much ground as possible.

King John Smith waited at home taking stock of his life since his decision to find a wife. He was not sure whether things had worked out as he wanted, but he had gained the eight daughters and would now be able to form a sweet singing a cappella group. He would be the chorus master and the girls would give concerts in local Norman churches.

Nobody ever found out what had happened to the woman in the cape, the mother of the girls and the lover of KJS, but as the girls searched the marshes, fragments of silk and lycra were found which, when picked up, instantly disappeared, leaving a barely audible sound - "You are me, I am you; KJS is me, you and himself".

20 th. Jan. 2004.

© Fabian Peake