One morning, Phineas Pigeon, a poor water carrier, was bent over the village well filling an order, when he overheard some housewives gossiping about the King’s latest proclamation. His ‘Royal Forgetfulness’ had offered an incredible reward to any astrologer who could reveal where the King had lost his marbles! Now the King’s Marbles were not ordinary glass baubles; rather they were a rare collection of perfectly cut precious gems--the tribute of emissaries from many lands. At that moment, Phineas began to dream of being an astrologer. Not because he was interested in the stars and planets, though. That was just an excuse. What he really craved was a hassle-free life of luxury. Though Phineas’ dream didn’t exactly fall from the sky, he soon would find his own world orbiting around the stars...

Quickly, the water carrier delivered his day’s orders and headed home to hatch his plans. On the way, he saw a travelling merchant whose cart was piled high with books and assorted furnishings. Counting out his last few coins, Phineas purchased a bolt of cheap velvet, a pair of gold-framed spectacles, and a leatherbound book on astrology. Noticing his customer’s choices, the merchant reached deep into his cart and extracted a tiny brass model of the heavens which he ceremoniously handed to Phineas. "No astrologer worth his stars should be without it!" he gushed. The water carrier just nodded vigorously to disguise his uncertainty. Although poor Phineas could neither read or write, he listened carefully as the merchant launched into some cosmic chit-chat about ecliptics, ephemerides and signs of the zodiac

."What on earth is all that stuff?" Portia Pigeon gaped as he arranged his purchases on their straw-filled pallet. While the water carrier sketched his dream of the good life for his starry-eyed wife, she helped sew the long velvet robe and matching tasseled beret which would be his costume. Next, she watched him practice impressive-looking gestures as he manipulated the knobs on his tiny brass heaven. As her husband thumbed through the astrology book trying on his best authoritative facial expressions, Portia tried hard to keep a straight face. At last, she gave him a kiss for luck, and the Astrologer in full regalia strode pompously through the village towards the castle. Curious heads turned to watch him, but no one recognized Phineas the water carrier.

At the castle gate, a trembling Phineas Pigeon nearly lost his nerve. But remembering his dream, he took a deep breath and pulled the satin bell-cord. A liveried page approached haughtily taking in the astrologer’s costume. He rolled his eyes and swung open the gate. With a bored yawn, the page beckoned Phineas towards the throne room.

In the Royal Presence, Phineas bowed humbly, sweeping the floor with his robe.

"Well, well, what have we here? Another astrologer sniffing after my marbles? You’re only the sixth one this week." the King leered in a foul humor.

"If it p-please Your M-Majesty," Phineas began, trying to still his chattering teeth, "I-I hope that I can be of h-help?" The King leaned over with a patronizing smirk. "And how shall I reward you if by some chance you are successful?" Phineas modestly deferred to the King’s judgement in this matter. Amused by this fellow’s apparent lack of arrogance, he ordered the astrologer led off to work in the tower library.

Alone at last, the former water carrier breathed a sigh of relief and arranged his stargazing props to impress whoever should observe him at ‘work’. When servants brought his meals, they always found him seated at the heavy oak table, fiddling intensely with the knobs of an odd little brass contraption or, scrawling mysterious symbols and flourishes into his astrology book.

The weeks passed, and Phineas maintained his flurry of faux astrological activities. Soon he noticed that the servants had begun skulking about; speaking only in hushed whispers around him. "Could they be hiding something?" the astrologer wondered. He began casting shrewd glances in their direction, hoping to confirm his suspicions. Around this time, the astrologer’s wife came for a visit. Quietly, he enlisted her help in solving the mystery.

Portia hid under Phineas’ bed until dinnertime. When a servant entered with the first course, she called, "That is the first!" When the next course was brought, she called, "That is the second!" This continued until the dinner was completely laid out. The servants grew nearly speechless with terror. They imagined that the astrologer had conjured up a spirit who spoke the truth, for indeed, they were the thieves who had stolen the King’s marbles!

Shivering in their sandals, the servants held a desperate conference in the kitchen. That evening, when they had delivered the astrologer’s dinner, the servants did not politely withdraw. Instead, they kneeled before Phineas and confessed their crime. They tearfully begged him not to reveal their guilt, as they offered him an enticingly fat purse of money. Pretending surprise, Phineas accepted the bribe, but could hardly conceal a triumphant grin. Suddenly he saw a way to make his dream come true.

After a moment, he said, "Gentlemen, I won’t leak your secret; but unless you would enjoy a little swing from the gallows, you must do as I say." He then instructed the servants to feed the King’s marbles to the immense hog whose succulent rump would grace the royal table the following evening. Mystified, they obeyed his order.

The next morning, Phineas requested an audience with the King. "Wel-l-ll...?"came the petulant whine from the tall throne. "Your Majesty," the Astrologer said, bowing low,

"as you know, I have labored these past weeks to find your treasure using every astrological means in my possession." Here, he paused to consult the scrawled pages in his astrology book and to twiddle the knobs on his tiny model of heaven. "And I am pleased to announce that I know where your marbles are!"

"Oh, do tell!" The King pursed his lips impatiently. Phineas permitted himself a tentative smile. "Why, your stud pig has eaten them!" Flabbergasted by this news, the King broke out in a momentary fit of giggles. "Dear me!" he panted, "I guess I’m not the only one who has lost my marbles!" Becoming serious again, the King commanded the astrologer to attend the royal banquet that evening.

Having introduced Phineas, the King ordered the banquet to begin. Sure enough, when the roasted pig was carved, precious, colorful gems rolled like billiards to the corners of the table. Gasps of amazement at the astrologer’s truthful prediction filled the great hall after which Phineas was introduced to the guests.

Suddenly, the King turned and whispered something to a page. "His Majesty wishes further proof of this stargazer’s talent," the page announced to a rapt audience. Squinting his porcine eyes at the vast array of foods on the table, the King pointed a stubby finger at an ornately covered platter. The stewed pigeon within was a rare dish known only to the King and a few courtiers. Phineas was commanded to name the hidden delicacy!

The astrologer panicked. "Oh, you poor Pigeon; you are stewed!" he muttered. At this, the room erupted in thunderous applause for no one knew the astrologer’s real name!

When the excitement abated, the King handed him the promised reward. As Phineas the Astrologer reverently fingered the velvet pouch of gold, he bowed and backed respectfully out of the great hall.

Outside the castle, Phineas, took a breath of fresh air, and set off for home . There, he kissed his joyful wife and handed her his treasure. He stripped off his astrologer’s oppressive costume as he related the antics of ‘His Royal Gullibleness.’ "Well, my sweet," Portia teased, "now that your reward will make us rich for life, when are you going to make your next prediction?" Grinning crookedly, Phineas flipped to a random page in his astrology book. Closing his eyes, he swirled his finger towards the top of the page, and landed on the strange little symbol of Aquarius, The Water Carrier!

1994 Ilene Winn-Lederer