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Scarborough Fair: A Short Story - Part 1


A Short Background

The year was 1235. King Henry III granted a charter to Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England to hold an annual fair beginning on August 15 and ending on September 29 of each year. The fair was built around trade vendors selling their wares which also created the need for food vendors to serve the people. Entertainment was added to draw people to the fair. Musicians, juggling acts, storytellers and the like called people to the fair.

The song, Scarborough Fair, became popular during this time of history although Simon and Garfunkel gave the song its second birth in 1966. Later, it was added to the soundtrack of The Graduate in 1967. Since then it has been recorded by hundreds of musicians and singers.

The song, written 600 years before Paul Simon popularized it is still very popular today. As an English folk song, many verses have been added over time. There are at least 13 verses in print today. They tell the story of unrequited love. The jilted lover asks his past love to perform a number of impossible tasks to prove her love. She responds by asking him to perform a number of impossible tasks to prove his love. After all, this is the second time around.

In the Simon and Garfunkel version, three tasks are mentioned. "Tell her to make me a cambric shirt without no seam nor needlework." Cambric is a very thin and fragile material. Of course, it would be impossible to make the shirt without seams or sewing.

Our singer goes on to request, "Tell her to find me an acre of land between the salt water and sea strand." The song became popular before the sailing of Christopher Columbus, At that time, the Earth was considered flat and the horizon, the end of the world. Nothing existed beyond - and nothing existed between, except the ocean's cold waters. It would be impossible to find an acre of land in the middle of the ocean as no islands could be seen.

The third request was to "Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather, and gather it all in, a bunch of heather." Heather is a delicate and loose plant, not like wheat or corn. It would resist being bound together, not to mention, a sickle of leather would never properly cut the plant.

Interspersed within the song are the famous lines, "Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme." This is not just a filler but added meaning to the other lyrics. In medieval times, parsley represented a healing from bitterness. Sage embodied the virtues of strength and wisdom. Rosemary spoke of faithfulness and fidelity. Brides of the day would wear a ring of rosemary as a symbol of their undying love. Courage was seen in the thyme. In a vague sense, these four herbs tell the story. For her to have her true love back in her life would require all four of these virtues.

That is just a little background. Now, on to the story.

"Are you going to Scarborough Fair?" Reginald was quick to ask the passer-by.

"Indeed I am, my good fellow. I look forward to making this journey every year. And you, might you be heading the same way? Perhaps we could travel together. My name is Godfrey."

"And I, kind sir, am Reginald. No. I shan't be going. I must tend to the farm. 'Tis almost the harvest, and there is much to do."

Godfrey noticed the strain on Reginald's face. "My dear friend, surely you can spare a few days for fun and frolic. You need not stay for the entire schedule. Come with me for a few days. Then return to your farm. The creatures of the field and the beasts of the wood are dangerous. We shall look after each other."

"No. I must not. Many years ago I inherited this farm along with much wealth from a dear relative. I vowed I would make it productive, and I have. When I first came to the farm, it was nothing but trees and stubble. But now it thrives. I have the best cattle, goats, and sheep in the county. They bring me much in barter and trade. My grain and herbs are the finest in the land, No, I must remain here."

The look of a proud, wealthy man, Reginald did not have. His head hung low, and the furrows in his brow were far deeper than his age of 26 allowed. His skin was tight and dry from many hours spent in the sun - sweat-soaked and dusty. Godfrey began again.

"My good fellow, you simply must come. We will be companions. At least until we get to Scarborough. There I must meet a friend. I can tell you bear a heavy burden, and I must help you carry it. The fair will lighten your load. You will be refreshed when you return to your farm."

It sounded like a lovely idea, but Reginald could not go. At his answer, his sadness deepened. "You are so kind, Godfrey. I wish to go, but I must remain. But you sir, if you are going, do you happen to know Katherine of Leeds?"

"Indeed I do, my friend! I know her very well. And how has your path crossed with hers?"

"She once was a true love of mine. I met her at the fair many years ago - years before I took my inheritance. Would you be so kind, sir, as to deliver this box to her?"


"My friend, you ought to deliver it to her yourself. You must come with me."

"Please, I simply cannot. I must stay. But you, you will give her this box? Please. I implore you."

I shall, but why is it so important?"

Reginald sighed, "Oh, my dear Godfrey, I traded love for wealth. Katherine for this farm. I made a terrible mistake, I fear, but it's too late, Lady Katherine would have been happy to remain in Scarborough with me by her side, but I saw things differently. I saw all the world had to offer through my newly inherited land."

An exasperated Godfrey interrupted. "And that's exactly why you must come with me - to see all the world has to offer. Bring your cattle. Bring your sheep and goats. They will go for a higher price at the fair."

With each word of Godfrey's encouragement, Reginald's head hung lower. Feelings of shame and remorse covered his being. He would like to present the box to Katherine himself, but guilt told him otherwise.

The day was fading fast. Both men were tired. Godfrey from his travels, and Reginald from his sadness. "You must stay the night, my good Godfrey. I will prepare your sleeping quarters in the barn. Get a good night of rest, and you'll be refreshed to continue your journey in the morning."

Godfrey was indeed in need of rest, but he was also behind in his travels. He stared at the setting sun. Choosing against Reginald's comfortable accommodations, he replied, "Your hospitality truly is appreciated, but I must be going. Scarborough is still a three-day journey at best,"

"Godfrey, you are a trusted man, are you not?

Godfrey nodded his head and added, "But, of course!"

"Then you will take the box to Lady Katherine?"

"My good fellow, I shall take it to Lady Katherine, but what am I to tell her upon presenting it?"

"Remeber me to her, lest she forgets me. Tell her 'tis from a true heart. And my good Godfrey, you shall not open the box. It belongs only to Lady Katherine, as does my heart."

Godfrey started out again, quickening his pace. He kept one eye on the road ahead of him and the other on the sun that was now beginning to sink behind the horizon. Reginald returned to the farm.


Days passed, and a weary Godfrey entered Scarborough. In the distance, he could hear the noise of dance and frolic. As he moved closer, his senses were overtaken by the smells of food and eye-catching sights on every hand. He moved quickly to find Katherine.

Godfrey was quick to see an old friend shopping at one of the many booths that lined the streets. "Ah, my good fellow, John! I'm so happy to see you. How has the year passed for you?"

Surprised by the salutation, a much shorter John looked up into the eyes of Godfrey. "Oh, my good Godfrey! The year has passed wonderfully. And you?"

"Likewise, my friend. Say, have you seen Lady Katherine? I met a farmer on my travels. He gave me a box to deliver to her. An old love, I believe he said."

John was curious. "His name - could it have been Reginald? It's been years, but Katherine still speaks of him. You'll find her at the booth of fabrics."

"Yes, yes. That was his name. Thank you, my friend. I will meet up with you later."

Godfrey was off to find Katherine. It wasn't long until he spied her a few shops down the street. He carefully put the box under his cloak and approached her. "Lady Katherine," he called as he quickened his step.

Katherine turned around as he spoke. "My good Godfrey! 'Tis so good to see you again. Has the year been good to you?"

"It most certainly has, my Lady, but first things first. I met a man along the way. He wished me to give this to you." Godfrey pulled the box from under his cloak. Tears glistened in Katherine's eyes as the morning sun beamed on her face.

Godfrey added, "His name is Reginald. Why the mist in your eyes, my Lady?"

"Yes. I know of Reginald. I believed him to be my true love, but he was not. The box - day by day we would fill it with writings of our devotion to each other. But alas, I was pushed aside."

"Promises of true love? Then you must open the box. Perhaps he has reconsidered his lot. Please, open it now!"

Katherine took the box from Godfrey's hands and began to tug at the lid.

© 2018 William Kovacic