September 2021 My Mask/My Self

•             What I want you to think about me?

•             What I want to hide from?

•             Will I let you see me?

Selfish Pig

a tale by Eugene Marckx

Once upon a time there was a king and queen who loved each other so very openly. People were drawn into their affection, and affairs of the kingdom were blessed with peace. Yet the future lay clouded with doubt. The royal couple had no child, no little prince or princess. And any advice the wise gave was no help for this.

But the cook, who had been raised in the foothills, did something without telling a soul. The king was away, and she prepared a ham hock soup the queen, dropping in it a slip of hog’s hair. The queen coughed when she swallowed it, but she swallowed it. And thereafter she found herself with child! Marvelous.

Nine months later she went into labor, attended by three midwives, and what issued from her stunned them all to silence ‒ a tiny pink piglet. How could the queen not love her child? She cuddled her little piggle, and he squealed and wriggled and nestled in her motherlove. Terrible rumor swept the kingdom, but the king proclaimed that this was his son, true heir to the throne, to be named Prince Piggle. He loved him from the first and would love him to the last.

But prince or not, Piggle grew up to be just that, a pig. He rooted in mud and manure and tracked it through the royal household, rolling around on the carpets and pulling down the drapes just for the piggish fun of it. His parents humored him. They petted and played with him. They tried to train him in clean habits, but servants who had to clean up the messes knew he would never give up his selfish ways. And why should he even try?

As Prince Piggle gained in size he ran from the house, through villages and farms, and was gone for days at a time. The queen fell into grief and fear. The king wanted to send soldiers to find him, but Prince Piggle always returned, dirty, stinking, chattering about all he’d seen. This went on for years. But one day Prince Piggle came back and said, “I want to get married.”

The queen stared at him, as servants toweled him off. Finally she said, “My son, do you love someone?”

“Love? What is love?” He ran around her as servant girls carried away the smelly towels.

One of the girls lingered and made a broad smile. “Your Majesty, may I offer myself?”

So the queen dropped the word love for the moment. She gave the girl a piece of gold, and Prince Piggle had a private wedding. It did not go well. When he reached for the girl in bed, she muttered, “Selfish Pig,” and tried to stick him with a butcher knife. He was too fast and kicked her so many blows that she made off into the night with a good many broken ribs.

Prince Piggle didn’t learn from this. After chasing through the villages he called to his mother again, “I want to get married.” In spite of it all, another servant girl offered herself.

“Are you serious?” the queen asked, but the girl made such a broad smile. What some will do for a piece of gold. And Prince Piggle had another private wedding. It did not go well.

When he reached for the girl in bed, she muttered, “Selfish Pig,” and tried to strike his ear off with a cleaver. He was too fast and kicked her so many blows that she made off into the night with a good many broken ribs and quite a few broken teeth.

Prince Piggle was marked on the ear, and with rumors flying about no one wished to wed this pig. So he set out past the villages and farms, roaming into the foothills, calling in a forlorn squeal that faded off to silence. Was this the end? Moon turned into moon, season into season. The heir to the kingdom, the kingdom’s future, had gone.

One winter evening a hunter happened by the cook’s kitchen to get warm. At what he was muttering she almost dropped her ladle. “You must tell this to the king and queen.”

The hunter came and bowed to them. “I was at the border walking the riverbank when I saw them. I nearly shot with my crossbow as this girl turned to go with the largest boar I ever saw. They were so gentle with each other, he as well as she. Their affection seemed quite magical.”

The hunter led the king and his soldiers into the dark foothills, to the river that bordered the kingdom, and to the cottage of Prince Piggle and his bride. The two came back freely to the royal household. When he rooted over the platters on the table his bride whispered, “Those red beets, my dear, give a whole new color to your face.”

His parents laughed, recalling their old affections. But those two servant girls had traveled to the next kingdom beyond the river. They said that a monster was to inherit this kingdom. The king of that land sent his hordes across the river to burn the forest as a start to their conquest.

Prince Piggle’s wife took him aside. “Your kingdom is in danger, but you can defend it, my dear.”

He looked at her. “I’m big, but not that big.”

“Yes you are.” She pulled a mirror from her bag. “Here, look!”

He saw there an ugly snout with black bristles and two long tusks jutting out the lower jaw. “Uh! Is that me? I don’t like it.”

She turned the mirror to another mirror on the backside. In this he saw a clear-eyed man with a strong jaw and a red beard. “Who is this?”

“Your choice, my Prince. I have heard those tales of your careless disgraceful selfishness. Is that who you are? And is this only a mask of strength and clarity you wear toward me, your wife? These are your people. Will you defend them?”

Meanwhile the old king tried to buckle on his battle gear, but he faltered and fell from the weight. Who would lead the soldiers? In the courtyard he saw a man in breastplate leading the soldiers into battle against the enemy. Through the day reports came of those foreign hordes thrown back and burned in the fires they had started. Only a few escaped across the river.

Meanwhile, the queen saw a pigskin lying in the garden, with a mark on the ear. The  bride told her that the prince had become human after all. When he returned with his soldiers there were burn scars on his hands.

“Dear Bride, I wanted to save your cottage in the foothills, but it was lost in the blaze.”

“My Prince, we have this whole kingdom for a cottage.”

The people cheered for the victory and then for the true marriage of this young couple bringing love to them all. The scars on the prince’s hands were seen as marks of his love. Those he touched, young or old, felt a blessing. And the kingdom continued to thrive in peace for many years.

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