Sunday, 25 February 2018

The Emperor’s dilemma

And it came to pass that the Emperor had lost his way; he was now naked to the world, a fraud for all to see. True, all who were his subjects lived happily for he was a benevolent ruler; still, his judgement had been called into repute and he was sure that, just as no one could take him seriously anymore, so he could not trust those that advised him in the past; for had they not been taken in as well?
So he sought to find someone who could give him counsel; someone who could advise him; he sent out a summons for all the wise men, soothsayers, high priests and seers to apply for the position.
Seven hundred and seventy seven of the wisest, canniest, most erudite men and women applied and paid visit to the Emperor and were subject to a barrage of questions, problems and conundrums by the Overseers and Officials, all who were determined not to make the same mistake again. They had been hoodwinked once and this time more than their jobs and reputations were on the line.

For weeks they whittled down the wise people to but three: one woman with raven black hair and sorrowful eyes; one wizard who had astounded all who had tested him with magic and witticisms; and a tramp –beshevelled, bemused and bereft. He had barely spoken throughout the interviews and, had it not been for the look of serenity and intense knowing in his eyes, he would have been thrown out. He had also been asked to prove his position by one simple deed and, where all had provided trickery and tomfoolery he had drawn a single, perfect circle.

Before it came to his final decision the Emperor wanted to spend one month with each of the wannabe’s to see if they really had his best interests at heart, and would advise him properly. His officials bade him take the tramp last in the hopes that he would either lose interest or be replaced by one of the others.

For the first month the Emperor employed the services of the woman and initially it seemed as if he had chosen correctly. She seemed in tune with the people, understood their pain and empathised with their suffering. She seemed to care and want to help them in their plight, and so the Emperor felt compelled to emulate this.
He became known as sympathetic and gracious; a caring ruler. But soon he became aware that there was nothing more to this woman; her pain was so deep that the only thing she could do was try to help others. This, however, did not seem to be the answer. In her time with him he had adopted an open door policy where anyone could call on their counsel and he would reward them, but this did nothing to quell their problem and in many cases the Emperor saw their problems worsen. Her wisdom was but referred pain and soon even he began to suffer from melancholia so he called a stop to her term two weeks ahead of time.

The Wizard, who had been called miraculous by the Emperor’s officials, also seemed to be right for the position at first. He had charisma oozing out of every syllable and proverbs and miracles for every occasion that wowed the crowds and made him the talking point for miles around. The Emperor was still spoken about in hushed tones, his reputation suspect. Why was he relying on these people? What was going on? Had he not learned his lesson?
As he spent more time with this man, the Emperor realised that the Wizard lacked consistency; the answers that he gave varied and sometimes even contradicted each other. He began to observe this man more closely and soon realised that these miracles were nothing more than cheap parlour tricks.
In desperation the Emperor set him the impossible “Riddle of the three liars” to test his character. Rather than admit that he could not solve it, the Wizard became moody, disingenuous and then downright nasty. The Emperor banished him in the third week.

Despite his Viziers warning and his own trepidation, the Emperor agreed to see the tramp.

But before the tramp had even sat, the Emperor launched into a soul searching tirade:
“I am at a loss! It seems that no matter what I do or who I choose to trust I’m doomed to failure!  Even from the seven hundred and seventy six wisest all I get is more doubt and uncertainty; and from the three that are left –that show the most promise- one is governed by pain and a bleeding heart; the other trickery and fakery… and then there’s you. You who have nothing, say nothing but can draw something of the most sublime beauty. What am I supposed to do?”
The tramp looked at the Emperor a short while and then spoke serenely;
“It seems that you are in an unenviable situation, my liege. In much the same predicament as the three liars, it would seem unsolvable.” The Emperor was shocked by this as so few people knew of this riddle… “But perhaps you are asking the wrong question…” The Emperor started to smile. “And perhaps you already know the answer.”
The Emperor was so taken aback by this; he knew this to be the truth. He wanted to present the tramp with wealth, glory and happiness but the tramp shook his head.
“What need I of wealth?” He said. “I have all I need and want for nothing more. Glory will certainly not sustain me; it is a shallow cup and once empty will drain those that try to refill it. Happiness, I have in abundance.”
“But what can I do to repay you?” The Emperor asked.
“I have a stone in my pocket; all I need is some boiling water to make the finest soup from it.” Now it was his turn to smile as the Emperor laughed at this preposterous idea.

Time passed and the Emperor learned to rule wisely. He still asked for advice but listened to only one voice now –his own self. In all the commotion and kerfuffle he had too long allowed others to think for him and had lost his way. In the end he learned to keep his own counsel, and encouraged everyone to do the same.

And, for a time, the kingdom was at peace.

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