Aleran loved to juggle. He juggled gold balls, silverware, furniture, chickens, and even small pigs. It was said that he could juggle eggs, skillets, and flaming torches so as to serve breakfast to his admirers as he finished!
In fact, Aleran spent so much time juggling that he neglected his duties as king. This left his Chief Adviser, Dorlin, to manage the kingdom alone.
“Your Majesty, this isn’t really my job,” Dorlin complained. But Aleran ignored him.
Years spun by. Dorlin did the best he could, but the king only juggled, and the kingdom fell into disrepair.
One day, however, a problem arose that Dorlin could do nothing about. He went to the king. “Your Majesty,” Dorlin said, clearing his throat. “The people grow concerned.”
“Why?” asked Aleran, taking a bite from each of the fruits he was juggling.
“They wish you to marry and provide an heir to the throne.”
Aleran nearly dropped a pomegranate. “Marry?” He knew that it was his duty to marry, but a wife might take time away from his juggling.
Slowly the king began to smile. “Very well,” he agreed, to Dorlin’s surprise. “But I will only marry a woman who can juggle as well as I can.”
Aleran felt quite sure that no woman could ever match him in juggling.
Dorlin, however, was not so easily turned aside from his purpose. He decided to hold a juggling banquet at the palace, to which only women would be invited.
Soon women from all over the kingdom set to work learning to juggle—all with the thought of marrying the king.
Merchants sold balls, fruit, torches, and cutlery. Physicians kept busy dealing with cuts, bruises, and burns.
Near the castle lived a young woman named Maria.
“Are you going to the banquet?” her mother asked. “You would make a fine queen.”
“And marry a man who has abandoned his kingdom for a hobby? I think not! Besides, I’d make a finer housekeeper. I wonder if the king has even thought about how he’s going to feed everyone coming to the castle to juggle.”
She presented herself at the castle kitchen the next day. The last housekeeper had left to practice juggling, so she was quickly hired. Without further ado, Maria began preparing meals for the king and planning for the banquet that was to come.
King Aleran soon noticed improvements at the castle. Meals were on time and wonderfully delicious. Sheets were mended and starched. Cobwebs disappeared. Even the hearthfires no longer smoked.
He smiled while passing Maria in the hallway, amazed at how easy she made the job look.
Maria frowned with disapproval as the king juggled while the kingdom went unattended.
When the day of the banquet came, hundreds of jugglers streamed into the great hall. The meal was served as the juggling began.
Maria and her helpers set the tables. They laid the silverware as knives filled the air. Maria’s calm figure was a point of peace in a frenzied crowd.
Someone juggled six live hens—with scarcely a squawk from the birds—while Maria served glazed chicken with plum sauce.
The salad was eaten while two women from a southern city tried to outdo one another juggling vegetables.
Balls, horseshoes, and all manner of strange objects flew through the air during the evening. At last, dessert—apple crisp—was served as the final juggler tossed flaming torches about.
The king was exhausted, yet relieved, for none of the juggling equaled his own skill.
“Your Majesty.” Maria placed his dessert before him.
He blinked, and his eyes followed her as she moved away.
“It’s a pity she’s not a juggler,” he murmured aloud. “But perhaps it’s just as well. I’d hate to see her skills wasted on something as unimportant as …” He did not finish, but a frown crossed his face.
The banquet ended. Reluctantly the crowd left, each juggler angry that she had not been chosen as queen. The king wandered the clean but empty halls for a time, then felt drawn to the kitchen. He poked his head around the door frame.
Plates, cups, and silverware flew by in the servants’ hands as Maria orchestrated the washing-up. The king had never seen anything like it. If juggling was keeping things in motion with a minimum of wasted movement, Maria was a master of the art.
“What brings you to the kitchen?” Maria asked calmly.
“You do,” Aleran declared. “You are the only worthy wife for me, for you can juggle an entire castle!”
“It is true that I can juggle the affairs of a castle,” Maria said, “but until you at least attempt to juggle the affairs of a kingdom, I must refuse your offer.”
She turned back to her work.
Late that night King Aleran paced his bedroom, troubled by Maria’s words.
In the morning he called for Dorlin. “Old friend,” he said, “could you teach me your skill in running the kingdom?”
Dorlin was relieved to answer yes.
If juggling had been a challenge, ruling wisely proved to be a greater one. It was fully two years before Aleran felt worthy to seek the hand of Maria again. By then he had the beginnings of a reputation as a wise ruler, and a just one.
Aleran sought Maria out in the kitchen garden, where she was peeling apples for pie. She gladly agreed to marry him, for much had changed in two years.
“I’ll never waste my time juggling again,” Aleran promised.
Maria looked shocked. She plucked an apple from her lap.
“Each apple is important,” she said. “Yet if I wasted all my time with the apples, the pie would never get made. However,” she added, smiling, “there’s no reason why I couldn’t have a little fun and make the pie.”
She tossed an apple into the air, then another and another.
Aleran watched, amazed, as she kept them all going smoothly.
“The trick with juggling,” Maria said gently, “is timing.”