The King’s Jester
The young pup wandered beyond the fence, beyond the road, beyond the cattle lazing in the paddock and deep into the bush. It was his first time out and about without his mother or his master and he was eager to explore. He chased a wallaby, tracked a wombat and examined an ant hill.
The pup heard laughter and music from the trees above. There in the tree top a mother kookaburra sat singing to her son. It was a royal song, proclaiming her son to be the king of the bush, and their gumtree to be their castle. The young pup watched in awe as the king stood tall and proud, laughing loud, while his mother sang his praises. When the singing had stopped, the pup approached the king and bowed. “Merry King of the Bush, may I pass this way?”
The king smiled. “You may, young pup. Now be on your way.”
It happened this way nearly everyday, that the young pup would wander through the bush, seeing all there was to see, smelling all there was to smell, and listening for all that he could hear, but always stopping first to ask for the king’s permission.
Days turned to weeks and weeks to months. The young pup was no longer a pup when he came to the king with his head bowed low. “Merry King,” he said, “I come bearing bad news. I’ve just come from my master’s farm where I found your mother injured on the road. She sends for you to come quickly.”
The king flew as fast as his wings could carry him, above the trees, past the dam and beyond the cattle lazing in the paddock. Finally he reached the road where his mother lay injured. She reached out for him. “My son,” she said, “may you be happy all of the days of your life.” The mother kookaburra closed her eyes and the king cried.
The young dog caught up with the king and, seeing him crying, tried to comfort him. He took the king’s mother gently in his mouth, carried her off the road, past the cattle, through the bush and under the tree that was her home. He dug a hole in the dirt and placed her there. Together, with the king, they buried her and said a prayer.
The young dog left the king to mourn, and returned home to his mother and his master.
Everyday the young dog would visit the king, but the king was no longer merry. Days turned to weeks and weeks to months, and still the king had not smiled. The dog sat with the king in his silence, he licked away his tears, he told the king wonderful stories about life on the farm and wondered out loud what the future would bring. But the king was too sad to care, too sad to talk, and much, much too sad to believe that he could ever be happy again.
The dog had tried all that he knew how to to make the king happy, but nothing had worked. Then one day it occurred to him that a kookaburra needs to laugh. Perhaps if he could just make the king laugh, he would show him that life could be joyful again. ‘A merry king needs a court clown,’ the dog decided.
The young dog searched the bush far and wide for the funniest creatures and most entertaining animals he could find and arranged for them to audition in front of the king.
The king sat high in his tree as the beasts of the bush gathered around, ready to show off their talents.
The first to try out for the role was Anna, the echidna. She tucked her nose under her chin, rolled herself into a ball and began to spin. Rolling here, tumbling there, flipping into the air and ending with a cartwheel. ‘It was interesting,’ the king supposed, ‘and a little funny,’ he thought. The left corner of his mouth began to lift… just a little.
The next animal to display their skill was Sammy, the snake. He twisted this way and that, bending and winding himself into all sorts of shapes: A dog, a flower, a bird. The snake folded in and out, under and through, into all the shapes he could think to do, until eventually he ended up twisted in a knot. The crowd laughed and the king couldn’t help but smile.
When the snake was rolled away, Kenny Cockatoo took his place. He cleared his throat and spoke, as clearly as could be, in the jittery, nervous voice of the panicky possum, Prue. The kookaburra giggled as the cockatoo made jokes, funny but not cruel, about all of the most loved and best known characters of the bush. He impersonated Caleb, the cool and mellow koala, then Gabe, the gabby goanna, and he jumped around like crazy doing Kasey the Kangaroo. With each impersonation the merry king laughed, louder and longer.
After Kenny had finished, the king watched on with joy as all of the remaining acts were performed. By the time the last animal had performed their routine, the king could not stop laughing. He laughed until he couldn’t breathe and tears filled his eyes. He laughed until his cheeks hurt and his belly ached. He laughed uncontrollably until he fell off his perch.
Finally, when he had calmed down enough to speak, he addressed the audience. “Creatures of the bush, thank you for bringing me laughter again. I am blessed to have so many friends, particularly you, Dog. And at this time in my life it is friends that I need most, not a clown. So I won’t be choosing an entertainer today. But I would like to ask you, Dog, you who have shown me such kindness and compassion, to stay with me here and keep me company, always.”
“Thank you, King of the Bush, I am honoured by your offer, but I’m not a creature of the bush and I have a master who needs my company. I promise to keep visiting you everyday, though. And I will be your friend, always.”
Just as the dog finished speaking, a man’s voice came booming through the bush. “Jester! Here boy! Jester, where are you?” The man continued to yell and whistle.
“Sorry, King, that’s my master. I have to go now, but I’ll be back tomorrow.” And, with that, the dog ran off into the bush towards his master’s voice.
“Jester?” The King shouted after him. “Your name is Jester?”
“Yes!” The dog called back as he continued on his way.
The king laughed and laughed and laughed.
Jester returned the next day to talk and laugh and play with the King. Everyday he returned, just as he had promised. Days turned to weeks and weeks to months. The dog and the kookaburra became the best of friends and the King was happy all of the days of his life.