Owdoo: A Modern Folk Tale
In the land of Eebygum, in the valley of the river Ayup, lay the kingdom of Owdoo. The King of Owdoo was called Frederick the Fearless, but he was now an old man with a long white beard and his subjects secretly called him King Freddie the Fearful. The King had a daughter with eyes as blue as the sky and hair as yellow as the sun and a voice like the rippling of the river Ayup.
One day, King Frederick called Ethel to him and said: “Ethel dear, I am old and I have no son. You are merely a woman, so it is time that you married in order that your husband can become King after me.”
“Never!” replied Ethel. “I’m as good as any man. I shall rule as Queen,”
The King laughed. “It will never do,” he said.
Princess Ethel stamped her foot and left.
King Frederick called his Prime Minister.
“Owdoo, Sire,” said the Prime Minister.
“Owdoo!” replied the King. “I’ve a job for you. It’s time young Ethel was married, but she refuses everyone I suggest. I want you to find a way of choosing a husband that she can’t refuse.”
“Yes, Sire,” he said and went away a worried man. However, he was also a clever man and soon thought of a way. The next day he returned to the King.
“Owdoo, Sire!” he said.
“Owdoo!” said the King. “Have you thought of something?”
“I have,” the Minister replied. “We should hold a public competition for her hand. That way, even the Princess can see that the best man has won.”
“Good idea,” replied the King and awarded him the Order of Owdoo (First Class) on the spot.
The news of the competition spread far and wide in the land of Eebygum but many were afraid to try. The Princess was quite good looking, but she was also headstrong and frankly a bit of a feminist. Many were afraid of her. In the end only three men took up the challenge. The first was a courtier called Sir Cecil de Bombom. He liked the fine clothes and rich food at court, and he thought he would make a fine king.
The second was a knight whose name was Sigismund the Strong. He was cruel and wanted the power of kinghood. The third was Amtwerp the peasant. He had seen the Princess in the marketplace one day and thought her the most delightful person he had ever seen.
The day of the competition arrived, and the King sat on his golden throne with Princess Ethel rather unwillingly at his side. A fanfare of trumpets played, and the herald announced the competition: “The King has had made three identical golden balls. Whoever can discover what is inside a golden ball without damaging it shall marry the Princess.”
Sir Cecil de Bombom tried. He handled it with care. Usually, he had a servant to handle things for him. He sniffed it with his nose. He poked it with his toe. He prised at it with his fingernails. He could find no way to open it. Eventually, he got bored and gave up.
Sigismund the Strong tried next. He grabbed it off the herald and when it wouldn’t open hit it hard with his axe. He cut it with his sword. Finally, he smashed it to bits with his ball and chain.
“Was it a necklace?” he asked, picking up the broken pieces lying on the ground.
Amtwerp, the peasant, tried last.
“Owdoo, your majesty,” he said politely. “before I examine the golden ball, please may I ask you some questions? I know you will answer them because you are a good and wise king.”
“Owdoo, peasant,” replied the King and nodded his head gracefully.
“Sire, did you personally decide what to place in the golden ball?”
“I did,” came the royal reply.
“Sire, did you seal the golden ball yourself?”
“Then Sire, Are you the only person who knows what is in the ball?”
“Then,” said Amtwerp, “I know how to discover what is in the golden ball without damaging it.”
“Go on,” said the King.
“I SHALL ASK YOU, THE KING!” Amtwerp shouted. “You are obliged to answer me.”
The King was very angry. “You are too clever by half,” he shouted. “Sigismund the Strong shall marry my daughter, not you.”
“I shan’t marry him,” shouted Princess Ethel, felling Sigismund with a punch. “He’s horrible!”
“Well, you won’t marry the peasant.” the King told her and Amtwerp was forced to flee to his village and was very sad.
All the people held meetings in their villages.
“Unfair,” they cried.
Then the King called his soldiers and sent them out into the villages, so the people only whispered that it was unfair. When the whispering wouldn’t stop the King became worried and sent his soldiers to drive Amtwerp out of the kingdom.
“This really is very unfair,” said the villagers and the people rose up at the injustice and chased both the King and his soldiers right out of the kingdom.
Then the people turned to Amtwerp and said: “You are the cleverest in the kingdom and you won the competition so you should marry the Princess. You could be our new King.”
“Oh! Thank you!” said Amtwerp. “I do want to marry the Princess because I think she is beautiful and intelligent, but I do not want to be your new King. I am only a peasant.
The Princess had been thinking.
“What’s all this about beauty?” she asked. “What about the inner me?”
“I’d have to get to know you first,” Amtwerp said, “and peasants don’t get much opportunity to get to know royalty.”
The Princess thought some more. “Oh, all right!” she said, “if we still like each other in six months, I might marry you. But only if it works out.”
“Then you can rule as Queen,” the people shouted.
“But wait,” said Amtwerp. “You have all proved yourselves clever and fair and brave. You don’t need a queen or a king. You can rule yourselves.”
The people cheered.
“OK,” said Ethel, doubtfully, “but I get to keep the castle.”
They all cheered.
Six months later they did marry AND THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER, pretty much.