THE LEGEND OF THE BEAUTIFUL MAURA
BY T.F. Mohan
Copyright © T.F. Mohan 2008
In the days of long ago, when kings
dwelt in castles, when peasants lived in little hovels and worked long,
drudging hours to support their king and his courtiers, when knights
wore armour and rode dancing, prancing horses and filled their days with
sword fights and jousts, when beautiful golden‑haired ladies in long
flowing gowns were a common sight among the rich and noble, there lived
a king whose name was Brian. He was a terribly rich man, a terribly
The king's castle stood on a knoll and was surrounded on three sides
by the rudimentary shelters of the peasants, scattered as if they were
built where exhaustion dictated rest rather than from a sense of beauty
and order. It was a time‑honoured privilege and custom that peasants
live near the castle, if they wished. In this way, they could hurry into
the enclosure of the castle in case of a raid or war by a foreign
country. The more self‑reliant citizens lived near their crops and away
from the horrible overcrowding and the inevitable stench of human waste
and garbage that collected in the village surrounding the castle. The
king's army camped in the area reserved for them near the front gates of
The king taxed the peasants unmercifully to support his many castles
and his huge army. If he disliked you, and he certainly disliked some of
the courtiers and most of the peasant people, you were either marked for
death or for a life of jail and beatings so miserable that death seemed
a release. It never did take much to provoke him to the heights of his
anger and his pledge of revenge. It could be your God‑given looks or the
way you stood or sat which provoked the king. It could be that you were
late paying your taxes because the crops were late or your children were
sick. Whatever vagary of nature, weakness of the flesh or bestial
oblivion, Brian brooked no excuses. If he disliked you, you were
disliked. He was not a fair man. He never had to be fair. He was king
and everyone under him was his subject and he treated them as he wished.
Many times his ferocious voice was heard throughout the country
shouting in anger at some servant or a peasant subject. Threats of: "I will hang and quarter you." "Take this man to the dungeon." "Turn
this man and his wife and family out of his house and farm." Such threats and warnings would ring out across the countryside
striking fear into the hearts of both the humble and the proud.
Brian was more than unpleasant. He was life‑threatening; he was
dangerous to man and beast.
It was said by some that Brian's mother died when he was an infant
and that he was reared by a wicked old hag who hated everyone, spoke no
good of anyone and never smiled or had a happy thought. It was said that
she used to pick the flowers in the spring before they bloomed for fear
that they would cause delight or pleasure with their colours or pleasant
Brian was never loved and hugged as a baby. He received the bare
necessities of life: food and water and no laughter. Whatever the reason
for his bad disposition, servants and citizens always remembered him as
the child, the boy and the man who had the bad temper. He had no
friends. No one dare approach him with love.
Don't ask for understanding from King Brian; don't apologize or beg
for his mercy. He hated everyone who would dare approach him thinking
they could change his mind or his decision by begging. Factually, many a
man who tried, lost not only his plea but also his life.
King Brian was the most hated man and the most feared man in the
kingdom. He had neither friend nor counselor. He was the king. His word
was law. He ate, slept and walked alone. Friendship or love never
entered his life. Success in life was counted in terms of the number of
frightened citizens under his control, and the number of jewels, castles
and the amount of gold he possessed. He was a hard and unrelenting man.
In Brian's kingdom, to be born peasant meant a life untouched by
privilege or mercy. Any amusement or laughter or celebration enjoyed by
the citizens took place in secret. Brian never understood the necessity
of such frivolity. If he discovered such non‑productive activity, it was
one more reason to judge the people too wealthy and another motive for
In the land of king Brian, taxes were high and the hours of work were
long and dreary. Every peasant man, woman and child laboured to meet the
king's demand for taxes.
If King Brian had any virtue it was that he always kept his word. If
he promised a beating, it was delivered. If he promised an increase in
taxes, the taxes were always increased. It was a common saying among the
peasants that if he ever promised anything good, he would not forget to
deliver. He was always true to his word, be it a beating or a new tax.
One day, while riding through the country, the king noticed a young
woman working in a field harvesting turnips. Brian couldn't help
himself. He stopped his horse and watched this beautiful maiden. He was
enraptured. For the first time in his life, he could not explain his
feelings or his actions. He had seen other girls thought to be
beautiful, this one was different. Her beauty captured his attention. He
felt an unusual inner turmoil which disturbed him and yet caused him to
sit quietly on his horse.
His interest in the farm maiden surprised Brian himself. The
sensation he experienced while looking at the girl was unusual. It was a
strange feeling. His first reaction was not to punish for lack of
productivity or some imagined slight. Rather, a warm gentle feeling went
through his whole body. He couldn't help but stare. He was captivated
with the sight of the maiden working. Finally, after watching her for
half an hour, he recovered sufficiently to turn his eyes away. He
directed his horse toward the castle and spurred the beast to a gallop.
For weeks after the experience, he was different. The old habits of
temper and hate gave way to gentleness and consideration. He noticed the
flowers growing wild in the fields, he noticed the sky and the birds.
Some people who saw him ride home the day he saw the maiden, thought he
wore a slight smile as if something had suddenly pleased him.
Of course, there were as many men and women to deny the unusual
bearing of the king as there were those who vowed that he had expressed
Bridget, a local farm girl herself, noted for plainness and virtue
said, "I saw him ride by me and I swear he had a smile on his face."
John Turnbull, a man of great experience in the political order said, "I know the man well. He is incapable of smiling or showing any
pleasure. I remember a similar report concerning the king was given
several years ago. Of course, I checked the rumour out thoroughly. As it
turned out, some young girls jumped to the conclusion that the king was
smiling. In fact, it was only a grimace on his face caused by
indigestion. I caution everyone, do not misinterpret a mere look. Let
us, the citizens of this realm, learn from the past actions of the king
and not attribute inappropriate virtues to the political order where
none are required."
But Bridget would not be put off, "I am a plain girl and no one, let alone the king, ever looks at me
and smiles. Well, this time he passed me and he noticed me. There was a
wonderful look on his face and his eyes sparkled with delight. I believe
the man is able to smile and laugh."
A great debate broke out among the people. Is the king capable of
laughter? Some even went so far as to ask the question: Do you think he
could love another human?"
Others were of the opinion, "Attributing love to him would be an
awful judgment to put on the man when the distortion on his face was not
pleasure but a visceral pain from some hot mustard or some morsel of
The king's looks were the debate of the countryside for many months.
A number of noble and morally good citizens who read the Bible regularly
and discussed Theology at all their parties saw him going about his work
in the castle and said, "The king ‑ he is a changed man. A man who has
experienced an unusual happening, a conversion, an insight into life
"Let us give thanks to God who has visited us in the form of the
"Whatever it is, let us pray that God chooses the best for all
"It is true that the king has always been dour. Still, there are some
writings by eminent theologians which say that suffering is definitely
the way to salvation and it is wicked for people to assume that smiling
and happiness is the proper lot of humans in this vale of tears. Give
thanks to God for such an ugly tempered king; thank God for salvific
suffering. Remember to thank God for an unhappy king."
Expectedly, this opinion, coming from those who claim a special
relationship with the creator, was held in great respect by the
majority. Loud cheers and declarations of assent based on ancient belief
in the essential corruption of man were exclaimed loudly by these good
Of course, there were a few dissenters in the crowd who did not show
any relish for the theory of corruption, suffering and sadness. They
expressed their displeasure in their looks of hostility directed towards
the good people and their theological theory.
However, the dissenters were not considered to be among the good
people of the kingdom. They were not intellectual. They laughed too much
to be taken seriously. The whole populous knew that they met regularly to laugh and sing and imbibe strong drink. As
a sign of disrespect, they were referred to as the people of joy.
The good people were more determined than ever to support their
theory of divine intervention in the sudden change in the king. As was
their wont, they dropped to their knees and offered a prayer that his
bad disposition would not change.
The sudden kneeling and the loud prayers of the good people caught
the people of joy by surprise. Slowly, their stares changed, as if they
had experienced conversion or some beatific joy. They looked at the good
people, so confident in their sad prayers, and without words, as if just
catching on to the joke, they, at first, smiled and then broke into loud
guffaws of derisive laughter.
There was another group standing nearby who cautioned patience
concerning the sudden change in the king's disposition. They held for
the digestion theory and strongly warned those "do gooders," visionaries
and those suspected of imbibing strong drink that all changes in the
king would pass when the well water took on a greater amount of sulfur,
as it did every now and then.
A roving scientist found himself by chance, in the crowd when the
king's new disposition was being discussed. Plucking up his courage and
with great humility, he spoke in a cadence and a tone usually associated
with lawyers and professors, "Let us not be lead to believe these people who base their opinions
on books, voices and prayers. I am as good as any man or woman here
present but appeals to goodness do not make me abandon my senses and
intellect. Rather, I always call on my intellect to lead me and only
involve my goodness when I must. Do not be lead astray. Goodness is
intended to be a practical experience to be summoned up for the proper
occasion. Believe me, what a confused world this would be if goodness
reigned our thoughts every moment of our life."
Follow the life of
Maura - next week - we continue the story - see you then. Fr. Tom