King March's Ears

The tale tells how there once lived in Wales a ruler called King March Ab Meirchion. He had a rich palace and court at Castellmarch, Lleyn. March was one of the great sea traders of Britain and his marine time trade was very lucrative. He was the ruler over a rich and prosperous land where the fields were well tilled and produced ample crops for the people. His subjects were happy and worked hard upon the land and were generally content with their lot. They loved their king for his kindness, generous spirit and the justice of his rule. In his palace in a strong room he kept a great treasure trove which was full of pearls, jewels, gold and silver. He had all the wealth and possessions he could possible need and by any reckoning should have been a very happy man, but the truth is he was not.

March’s terrible secret

Now it was not that he wanted more treasure, or riches, or fame, he did not. In fact the problem was he believed he had the most appalling secret and he was terribly ashamed of it, so much so, that he was terrified in case someone should ever discover it.You see the terrible secret that March was hiding was that he had been born with the ears of a horse!

Bifan the barber

The only people who had known this terrible secret were his parents and his barber whose name given in many versions of this tale was Bifan. His parents had died many years ago so his Bifan was the only one alive who was privy to the secret. March had covered up his secret by growing his hair long and always wearing a special crown which covered up this deformity.

Bifan had been made to swear a sacred oath that he would never, ever, reveal this secret to anyone, for if he did March told him he would have his head cut off. But as bad as March felt about his ears, Bifan was beginning to feel worse about keeping the secret.

For many years the secret had remained intact and March's kingdom had prospered and he was known as a just and kind king much loved by his people who had no idea about his ears. But over the years the barber became increasingly troubled by the great stress of keeping the secret to himself.

There came a time when he stopped eating and fell into a state of dreadful depression becoming very ill. He became so poorly that a physician was called who was very clever and very knowledgeable in his profession. The physician examined him and asked him questions which the barber answered. The physician then told the barber his diagnosis. He told Bifan that he was suffering because he was keeping a great secret to himself and that if he wanted to be cured he would have to share the secret. If he did not do this the burden would kill him.

Bifan became even more dismayed. He did not want to lose his head and he did not want to die of depression. He was caught between a rock and a hard place and the physician had expressly emphasized that if he did not share the secret then he would be soon dead anyway. He explained to the physician that he did indeed bear a great secret that was a great burden to him, but if he told anyone he would lose his life. He did not tell the physician what the secret was but stated that it seemed inevitable he would die and he preferred to die with his head on. The physician listened and thought for a while and then he told Bifan that he should share his secret with the earth and then left as there was nothing further he could do.

Bifan thought about this and decided to go out in the wilds of the land where there were few people and unburden himself to the earth. So off he went and found a wild and secluded place with no people. All that was there was a river bordered by beds of reeds. He found a dry place in the reeds where he thought this would be a safe place to tell his secret. Secluded in the reeds he lay face down and whispered his secret to the ground. Immediately he began to feel better and after a few days he regained his appetite and his health.

The feast

Now it so happened that one day King March decided he was going to hold a great feast in the Great Hall at Castellmarch. To provide the music he sent for the best piper in Wales. On his way to Castellmarch the piper passed the spot by the river where Bifan the barber had told his secret to the earth. The piper saw that there were some fine reeds growing nearby so he stopped and cut some and made a new pipe from the and proceeded to Castellmarch to perform for King March.

The piper plays

On the day of the feast after everyone had ate their fill King March commanded the piper to play for his guests. Standing before every one the piper put his new pipe to his lips and blew expecting to play a beautiful melody for King March and his guests. To his shock and horror all that came out of the pipe were words which sang out, “King March has horse’s ears! King March has horse’s ears!” over and over again. King March and his guests all jumped to their feet in shock at what they heard.

King March was ashamed and humiliated in front of all his guests and in a rage drew his sword to kill the piper who fell on his knees begging for mercy. He explained it was not his fault, but it was a new pipe and it was the only sound he could get out of it. March although humiliated and angry, was still a just king and took up the pipe and tried to play it himself, but the only sound that came from it was “King March has horse’s ears! King March has horse’s ears!” over and over again just as it did to the piper. The piper explained to March that on his way to the feast he had seen some fine reeds growing by a river and had stopped to make a new pipe thinking to play it for the king and his guests.

Bifan confesses

With that up stepped Bifan the barber and confessed to King March that he had told the earth the secret he had sworn to keep and explained about how ill he had been carrying the burden. March raised his sword preparing to strike the barber’s head off, but looking around the hall at all of his guests he suddenly burst into laughter and dropped his sword. He suddenly felt great relief himself that the secret was out and he would not have to keep hiding it. He forgave the piper and the barber and promised not to harm them. He took off his crown and showed his huge horse’s ears to all of his guests. Instead of laughing and poking fun at him they all cheered and applauded their king for his wisdom, courage and justice.

March realised it was not how a person looked that mattered but the quality of their deeds. Now that his secret was out he no longer felt ashamed and humiliated by his ears. He ordered Bifan the barber to cut his hair short and stopped wearing his crown. From then on all of his people and the world would see him as he really was and judge him by his actions and he would no longer feel bad about his looks. His people rejoiced at the wisdom of their great king and held him even more dearly in their hearts.

End of King March's Ears by Traditional