An old tale rewritten by Mackie tongue-in-cheek
Long long ago there lived a King who made it a rule that whenever he sneezed everyone in the whole country had to say, ‘To your very good health!” He had all kinds of allergies and sneezed several times a day, so you can imagine what a problem that rule caused, especially with those who were out in the field taking care of their sheep! It was a bother to be saying that all day long! Finally a certain shepherd said, “Enough already!” And he stopped saying it.
Now how the king happened to hear of this is a mystery to me. Since it was miles and miles out there where he was minding his own business, which was tending to his sheep, Now–who went and blabbed it to the king? There is always a blabbermouth in the woodwork.
And how in the world was he supposed to know that the king had sneezed for the forty-ninth time that day? Why, the same way you and I know, of course, Someone Told it!
This is how it went. One day a horseman came riding, riding fast. “Whoa!” The rider blew three blasts on his horn TOOT TOOT TOOT, and then yelled at the Shepherd, “Hear ye, hear ye! The king has sneezed again, for the forty ninth time today and it’s time to stop what you’re doing– hold up your water jug, take a sip and say,’To your very good health, your Majesty!’
The Shepherd went on minding his business which was minding his sheep, as we said before and it bears repeating.
Then the tale-bearer went skedaddling as fast as his horse could carry him CLIPPETY CLOP to the palace and said to the guard, “Let me in at once! I have news of importance for the king!” And the guard said, “Make haste!” which in everyday parlance means, “Step on it!” Then he added. “The king wasteth away for lack of news!” Now we know that what he meant was– the king is dying to hear the latest.”
He went running pitypat-pitypat to the throne room and bowing low said, “Your Majesty!”
The king said, “Never mind the folderol—out with it! What’s the news?”
The king couldn’t believe his ears when he heard that the shepherd ignored his sneeze and the messenger reported he said, “I refuse!” and went right on minding his business which you and I know was sheepherding.
Such arrogance from a mere nincompoop! A sheep herder! a shepherd! We’ll see about that! Such royal thoughts went whirling around in his regal head!
At that he removed his crown, held it up high and roared, “By my crown, this insult to the throne will not go unpunished. Bring this insolent vassal before me forthwith!”
That’s the way kings speak when they want the universe to tremble and shake. After all a powerful monarch was defied by a mere shepherd—If it had been a potentate he could have declared war!
As soon as the tale-bearer was out of hearing of the palace he opened his mouth and whooped and laughed uproariously all the way back to the field where the shepherd was.
It was lunch time and at that moment the shepherd turned the jug up to his mouth and took a big swig to finish off his sandwich.
It was a simple repast, but he was as thankful for it as he would have been for a T-bone steak! He took another drag off the water jug and said to his assistant,
“Now it’s your turn. Take your time!” He was a kindly sort, you see.
The king’s messenger reined in his horse and snarled; “Now you’re in for it! You are ordered before the king immediately and he is going to hang you out to dry for sure!”
“What in the world have I done?” the shepherd wanted to know
“It’s what you have NOT done!” smirked the tale-bearer.
So the Shepherd turned his staff over to the boy who was helping him, and said, “Watch that one over there to your left, and if he strays you know what to do.”
Then he left with all deliberate speed which means he first dashed over to the brook, washed his face and brushed his hair. Then he sauntered into the throne room where the king sat stewing, biting his nails and then sneezing as hard as he could while he waited to hear the resounding “To your very good health” that rolled in from the far corners of the earth.
If you think the Shepherd’s heart failed from fear, think again! This Shepherd was of a different stripe!
“Say at once, “To my good health!’ cried the King.
“To my good health,” replied the Shepherd.
“To mine–to mine,” stormed the King.
“To mine, to mine, Your majesty,” was the answer.
The king lost his regal control and roared, “But to mine–to my own!”
He tore off his gold crown and threw it at the Shepherd, who saw it coming, caught it and tossed it to the king with, “Your crown, your Majesty!” and the king glared as he put it back on.
“Now I order you to say to my own health with no hesitation!
“Well, yes; of course, to my own health with no hesitation,” the Shepherd snapped and tapped his breast.
If that wouldn’t rattle a king, then what would? He was ready to have a fit of apoplexy and at that moment his beautiful daughter walked in. She nonchalantly took her seat in the small throne chair that was waiting for her.
She murmured in lowered voice, “What’s the problem here?”
The king whispered, “He won’t say ‘to my good health,’ and I can’t get him to understand my command.”
She whispered back, “Calm yourself, and leave this upstart to me.”
The king heaved a sigh of relief.
She turned her eyes to the Shepherd who had been twiddling his thumbs and waiting patiently but when she faced him with the words, “Stop twiddling and look at me!”
That was when he saw her full face and her eyes were flashing. I said flashing but I did not say what that flash conveyed to the unbelievably handsome Shepherd who had defied the king.
He was so startled by her expression that he fell flat as a flounder—no, not on the carpet—I mean IN LOVE—His heart played Yankee Doodle. What could he say?
At the same time, when he stood erect, her lovely violet eyes saw in a split second that he was well over six feet tall, and had broad shoulders that tapered down at the waist, which was swathed in a red sash.
What was that she spied tucked under the cloak? It was a dagger with a handle carved in a cunning way! His shepherd’s cloak was a hand-woven pattern that she would give her eye teeth for.
They exchanged glances and she said to herself, “Hmmmm, where has he been all my life?”
While the shepherd was thinking! Wow! She is a knockout!
Quick as a wink she turned to the king and whispered, “As long as you are present he is too much in awe of you for my words to have full effect. You need to excuse yourself for a few minutes and leave the room.”
‘The king sneezed a couple of times and made an excuse that he needed a breath of air.
As soon as they were alone she trilled, “If you will just say these words, “To your very good health!” I can save your life.”
She gave him her twenty-four karat smile; then coyly looked down. Her lashes curled and she fluttered them two or three times in rapid succession. Then she allowed her eyes to grow limpid and give him a “come-hither” look that burned like fire.
At that the last vestige of the Shepherd’s will power melted, his heart pumped a bumpity-bump and he was completely addled.
No, not quite. He did not take leave of his senses entirely. He returned her flutters with a couple of his own. Then in a voice betraying his longing, with every word a caress, he reached for her hand. Lifting it to his lips he kissed her fingertips.
“I will only say those words if I can have you for my wife!”
Her laughter rippled as her peachy complexion turned apple red!
Only the Shepherd could tell you what he heard in her voice as she said, “Shall we summons the king to hear you say the words that he commands?”
“Only on those conditions!” he insisted.
So the king came in and the princess whispered to him,
“Father, this man has agreed to say the words that you command, but only if he can have me for his wife.”
The king was touched. “Would you make such a sacrifice for me?”
She said, “It is not a sacrifice. I only live to please you, Sire.”
The king then said to the Shepherd,
“Well, you have learned how it feels to be near ten deaths. Now say ‘To my good health!”
But the Shepherd broke in with,
“I do not fear a hundred deaths and I will only say it if I may have the Princess for my wife.”
Then the king sighed contentedly and said,
“Well, well, it is all the same to me–I will give you my daughter to wife; but then you really and truly must say to me, “to your good health.’”
“Of course I’ll say it; why should I not say it? It stands to reason that I shall say it then.”
At this, the king was delighted and he announced that everyone was to celebrate the marriage of the Princess and to whom was such honor bestowed? The One and Only Grand Prince of the Kingdom of Fleece!
Everyone was impressed!
Such a wedding! In the King’s palace there was great celebration. There was fun and merrymaking. And when the groomsman according to custom brought in the boar’s head on a big dish and placed it before the king so that he might carve it, the savory smell was so strong that the king began to sneeze with all his might.
The Shepherd jumped to his feet and shouted, “To your very good health!” and the King was filled with joy!
The princess hid a smile behind her napkin.
The Shepherd gave several huzzahs for good measure before seating himself amidst rousing cheers and repeated shouts of “to the health of the king, and to the prince and princess!” The king decided at once to favor them with an extended honeymoon, and as soon as that was over, he knew of several countries where he needed to send an emissary of no less importance than the king’s own son-in-law!
In time, when the old King died, the Shepherd Prince became king.
Everyone liked him. He rarely ever sneezed and when he did he placed a large handkerchief over his mouth and said, “Bless my soul, Miss Agnes!”
One fine day when the tale-bearer was well out of hearing distance, the head honcho said to his assistant,
“To the new King’s VERY GOOD health!”
And they all lived happily forever after!