Here Writ for those Who’ve taken bad advice
For once upon a time within a very ancient world there lived a wise and handsome king, and in the morning of each day, this king with great discernment opened up his court to hear the problems of the world, that he, by wisdom e’er profound, might right the wrongs in his dominion.
As it was each day, his subjects traveled from remotest reaches of the earth, including those from cavernous dwellings of vast mountainous retreat, and then those having intercourse with fertile earth, and then those parasites that lived on furious seas would come before the king to hear his words that their disputes might then be settled with impartial’ty.
Well now, there came before the king one day three men whose lives had been undone upon the Earth, who each had case against a hideous and wrinkled-bellied and foul-breathing vulture of a man who had not tooth within his rotting gums nor eyes within his head.
He sat on left of king with horrid face bowed low to earth. And Woe is me! he said, and as he reached to squash an oily bug within his hand that made a sudden snack, the many spiders and insects and worms that rode there in and on his flesh did battle for those bodily-made crevices that offered best abode. Woe is the king! Woe is the World!
On right side of the king there sat the three offended fellows, though less wretched than the older man, becoming sure like him.
And anger reigned in their expressions where the first could not hold up his head, that for his broken neck he carried head and face below his trembling lazy shoulders. Next the second creature there, with perm’nently-crossed eyes, sat shivering in fear while next the third sat naked on the earth and plucked off fleas and lice much like a mangy dog.
On seeing four like these before the throne so early in the day, the prudent king grew curious to hear the matter through, so to th’offended three he spoke.
“What is this matter here before the king? Who of you now professing you were wronged will be the first to set his case into mine ears?”
“I will,” so spoke the first who could not see the king because he was broke-necked and thus could only see the lower reaches of the Earth.
“Speak!” so urged the king and then the first began:
“O great wise king! I was not always such a lazy broke-necked fellow as it seems I am, for I was once a happy man. And now I’ll tell to you the tale of trickery and treachery as played on me by that vile fellow on your left…
“A baker I once was! Why surely you remember me! For several holy festivals you hosted in this very place I baked your royal feasts and was commended for it twice! The sweetened cakes you ate at your auspicious coronation were mine own. Enough of that!
“Well then, it happened that one day, as I was wandering alone in my deep thoughts of baking royal feasts, I stumbled on that creature there. He was upon the ledge of your great battlements, was thinking then to leap down to his death. And I, because my heart was good, I thought to teach him otherwise.
For Woe is me! he said, and Woe is world! said he.
I thought to mettle further, so (then speaking) “What is wrong?” I said. “What can this weighty matter be?”
‘Tis wickedness, he said. For I am far more wicked than a man can ever know. The world is wicked and the wicked world must die! he spoke again as I scarce understood the speech. And you are wicked too! said he.
Now, knowing mine own self far better than he did, I answered him and said,
“I am no wicked man at all.”
He looked so strangely with no eyes to flavour his expression while he said, Who are you, man? to which I did pronounce I was a baker who at times had pleased the king. Then woe to you indeed for those poor trees! said he.
“Poor trees?” I said.
Yes trees! said he. How is it that you fire your great ovens used to bake your bread and sweetened spicy meats?
And for an only time I thought of it! “With wood from trees.” I fin’lly said.
Yes trees! he did proclaim with anger showing on his eyeless face. Young happy trees! Those full of life you butcher with your murderous axe. As you deserve a life, do not trees just as well deserve a life?
“Why yes?” with some uncertainty I said while I began regretting all I’d done in selfishness.
How many trees have you thus killed? quoth he.
In truth I did not know, but then I lied to seem less guilty. “Only twenty-three,” I said.
He thought a moment and pronounced a sentence there upon. For twenty-three such murders you deserve now twenty-three odd deaths.
And suddenly I realized how wicked I had been. With tears upon my face I sought to recompense my crimes.
“How can I right such twenty-three odd deaths with mine own life when I have only one to give? What should I do?” I said.
He thought again and spoke directly to me, saying thus, Now you must leap headfirst from this grand battlement down to the earth one hundred feet below. Your neck will break and you will surely die.
Somehow, his words seemed right to me, and so I leapt from that great battlement, and though I landed on my head, I broke my neck but did not die.
And now, as is so clear to see, I cannot raise my head above my shoulders here. And since that time I landed on my head and broke my neck I’ve found it difficult to bake! I am before the king a broke-necked knave for wicked counsel spoke by him that I accuse. I ask that he be put to death for all the evil he has put on me!”
Well then, the king sat thinking silent on his throne so that an hour passed before he spoke, and finally he cleared his throat and then began,
“I’ll answer later that, but now what says this second fellow here? You there whose eyes are crossed—speak now or lose your turn!”
The second cross-eyed man rose to his feet and spoke to unseen other king beside the throne.
“Great king!” he said to empty space, “This is no ordinary man who’s seated on your left. For look you closer—you will see a vile magician and a sorcerer.
“By spells and charms he lured me to demise. Hear me, and at my speech’s end you have that villain torn apart from limb to limb. Thus I’ll begin: I was not always cross-eyed as I am, but I was once a farmer known in all the world. Why certainly you know me well! My friend the baker bought my grain to bake your bread. And eggs, he bought mine eggs and lard and fruit and meats to make your pies!
“Well now, one day while I was walking by the sea, I came upon that man high on a lofty precipice, and he was staring o’er the craggy cliff, was ready to fall off.
“What’s wrong?” I said. “If you do not draw back at once you’ll surely fall into the sea!”
Then stay away and let me fall! said he, since that is my desire.
Well now, because my heart was good, his magic caught me quick. E’er since I was a boy I’d tarried in the field and had grew strong. It was no task for me to lift him from that perilous place to save his life.
Curse you, said he.
“Curse who?” I asked.
Curse you to save my life! For woe is me!
“Woe who?” demanded I, and he began.
I am a wicked man, more wicked than you know. It’s time that I take leave of wicked world and you!
Now then, because my heart was vain, I wondered why he would take leave of me.
“Why me?” I asked, and then he smiled an evil toothless grin before he spoke.
Because you’re evil!
I “evil?” said.
Yes evil too! said he. What do you do?
Well then I, being of proud occupation boasted of my work.
“I am a farmer of the best on earth,” I said, “who grows his grain and fruit and raises tender meats for baking for the king!”
And evil too beyond compare! with bitterness he said. Vile murderer you are! Do you not care to sell those children?
“Children?’ wondered I.
Yes they! said he, The seeds are children of the grain and these you sell so they are crushed and ground for flour! Unmercifully!
“And do you not eat bread?” I asked.
I never do, he said.
“But you kill vermin for your meals?” I spoke.
I do indeed, said he, and that is why I’ll jump with you to death from this high place.
“Why should I jump?” I argued then.
For eggs and cherries too! said he. You pluck ripe cherries from the trees! But have you ever thought how that must hurt?
“Well no,” I thought for once in life, but he said more.
To have your children plucked from you? And crushed for cherry pie! To think how that must feel! The pain! What misery!
“How terrible!” I sighed, though he would start with more.
And all those eggs, the families that you’ve stolen from those barren hens, and cracked or beat or boiled! To think if they were your own children cracked!
“How wicked!” then I cried. “How wicked I have been! What should I do?”
For then that fellow thought a moment there, and thus he spoke:
Because you cracked the grain and eggs and cherries too, you must jump from this cliff so that your head be cracked on rocks below, so that you die. Because I smash the insects that I eat, I’ll also leap that I be smashed. Together we will fall. We’ll fly at three.
And counting three I jumped, but he stood where he was. I fell six hundred feet, but, missing rocks, I fell into the evil sea. Incensed and angry that I missed the jagged rocks, the sea’s cruel hand tossed me to them so that I cracked my skull but did not die.
And here I am cross-eyed; I now see two of everything. Thus all at once, I had two times as many weeds out in my fields, and all my problems have been doubled, and my fears! Mine enemies are twice as many as were wont! I’m far too sad and too perplexed to work and all because his magic injured me.
And so when I, head-broken on the rocks, looked up, I saw this wizard laugh aloud for witching my poor soul, and he was not alone! There then another fiend who looked like him was standing laughing too. And since that day I’ve been like this, wise king. Please tear him limb from limb for me, for you, for my dear friends, for all the world!
Then silent was the thoughtful king again. Another hour passed before he spoke.
“I’ve heard you and the first. Now I will hear the last and then decide what shall be done for all. Speak now your piece! “
The third rose quickly, for he was so badly plagued by ticks and biting fleas, and scratching itchy bloodied arms, he bowed before the king.
“O great wise king!” he said. “For surely you know me unlike you know the two who came before. You know I am your son, a prince, a sharer of your royal blood. Thus with authority of sovereign blood I say that is no man there on your left, but rather he’s a wicked demon feeding on the weaknesses of man and causing pain or death or both.
“My story is not long, but true, and it began where I assisted my good friend the farmer from a blood-foamed sea, his head agape, hair parted out of place. How grieved I was! He was mine only friend! O father, king! He told me of that demon there, of how he’d been bewitched to fall from perilous ledge.
“Well, being proud, I asked myself: ‘what monstrous villain dares to devil friends of mine?’
So then I asked my friend in order to find out just where this wizard lived and found him three days later standing on the edge of Earth and sky and looking o’er the stars and other spheres out there.
And in his hand he held a bulging purse which he’d just filled. As far as I could see, that specter of a man was stealing all the brightest stars from there. And with each time he plucked a shining star from that vast sky, the world became a darker place.
“You’ll steal no more!” I said, and thinking him a man, I drew my blade to end his cursed life.
Bold prince, said he. Come tickle me with that bright blade, that I may fall from edge of Earth into the sky. For though you do not know, like you I am a prince, the brother of your father king, and as it is with those like us, in death we fall from Earth, becoming stars within the holy skies!
Amazed because I’d never heard of such a thing, I stumbled further in.
“You say that when we die we will become the stars and planets there?” I softly whispered, then he whispered soft to me.
‘Tis true. Do not you wish to be a star out there? With all the Earth residing at your feet?
Well I was haughty then and sought to know what I should do for such a lofty place within the universe.
“But how?” I begged, but he would speak no more till finally a spider crawled into his ear to wake his sudden sleep.
Stand on the edge of Earth. said he, and taking sharpened blade, plunge deeply for your heart, and as you fall from there, you’ll find a place for you with others of your kind.
A coward who feared death, I sat the night with blade prepared to plunge into my quickly-pacing and unwilling heart, but when the morning came, I saw I stood not on the edge of Earth at all, but on a steepened hell where, far as I could see were scattered bones of fifteen million princes who had fallen from that place.
I looked again to where the demon stood, but he was gone. I, humbled of my haughtiness, set out again to find the fiend, and two days after, found him by the sea, and with a feast spread out upon a table reaching to the ends of Earth.
Bold prince, said he, and blinking eyes that were not in his head, he made a place for me.
‘Tis known, because I am a prince, my judgment is above the thought of ordinary men. Where common men would strike away, I bound myself to know more of this fiend mine uncle.
Sit! said he and so I sat.
Food on this table represents the sins of man which you must eat for absolution of iniquity. There’s sin and cruelty in bread and all the flesh and blood you see before you here. Eat now and you will save the world from sin.
And so I loosened up my belt and then began to eat. For days I ate, then weeks, then months, and when I finally was done, that toothless man then said to me,
You are now full of sin and other sorts of wickedness. You now must die!
“Why die?’ I said, ‘What have I done?”
He scowled at me, his anger growing hot before he overturned the table.
Food! he sneered, You ate the food! You ate of bread, which is the pounded children of the grain and drank the wine which is the strangled blood of vines. You are a prince, and you well know the Law of God, that he forbidded drinking blood, and yet you drank the blood of vines!
I thought awhile, and he was right. I’d drunk the blood of vines, and yes, I knew the Law. I knew I should be put to death, but something troubled me about the Law he spoke.
And yet before I cleared my mind to think it out, the demon deviled me again. He made me cloudy in my thoughts, and when I was at last subdued, he told me what to do.
Bold prince! said he. Since you have eaten of the flesh of beasts and drank the crimson blood of vines, you’ll be a sharer in their sufferings. Here’s what you’ll do: There is a field not far from here. You’ll go at once and there you’ll sit until the birds and beasts and worms of wilderness in turn devour you.
I took his words as spoken law, and to that field I went to sit. So by and by beasts came to me, but did no harm, for in my sitting there, they thought I was their own. And eagles brought me figs from distant trees. I, then alone and finally at one with Nature’s Law, began to heal. The magic of the demon faded then.
How terribly like a fool I felt, but coming to my senses, I proclaimed, “Well, am I not a prince? And is my father not the king?”
So here I came to find a broke-necked baker and a cross-eyed farmer that we might together come to you to tell our tales, but even as I’m here the fleas and lice of that pathetic field have followed me to bite and make me scratch and wear no clothes so that I, though a prince, a beggar looks more like.
O king! My father there! If e’er a son, a prince, did make request of e’er a father king, I ask you put the demon there to death for causing ruin in my life.”
The king did look again to see it was his son, the Prince, and silent sat again. At last, and after many hours thinking there, the king’s wise eyes returned to that old man whose toothless gums and eyeless head still bowed before the throne.
“It seems to me,” so said the king, “that you have been accused of wrongs deserving punishment no less than death in bitter, angry eyes of these three men. How will you answer for yourself? Speak now in your behalf!”
And slowly did the so-called wicked man raise empty eyes to look upon the king.
O great, wise king! said he. The words these men have spoke of me are true to some extent, but leave the realm of truth when wicked I am called.
Why sure you know me well. I am your brother prince, a sharer of your royal blood. That man who scratches fleas a nephew is to me who shares my blood and weaknesses of flesh.
I’ve done no wrong to any of these three. That baker there, who one time baked your feasts—he came to me for mine advice, advice I freely gave, which he could heed or need not heed. It was advice, no more, for I did wish no evil on that man, but rather that he end the misery of life as I would like to do. And when he flew from that great battlement, I wished I had the heart to follow him.
As for that farmer there: when I advised him leap with me six hundred feet t’ward treach’rous rocks and boiling sea below, it was my full intent to fall as well, but when I counted two, I thought six hundred feet is much too far for me to fall at mine old age, and so I changed my mind.
He says I laughed and laughed I did—and just as you’d have laughed if you had seen how long and far he fell, and with that frenzied look upon his face and anger in his eyes.
Now finally, as for my nephew prince, he said he saw me plucking stars and planets from the sky to fill my purse. ‘Tis true, but represented by those stars are princely men of Earth and this so wicked world is pictured by the sky. I pluck these princes from the world so they will sin no more and might shine brightly in the purse of memory.
I would not see this prince, your son, e’er doomed to errant life like me, for me and him are more alike than you and he. Like him, for many nights I sat with sword prepared to plunge, but had no heart to pierce. When morning came, I’d hate life all the more.
The feast I spread for him and his unselfish willingness to eat the sins of man proved further that he was a foolish prince and thus deserved to die. The eating was the sin of disobedience when man began.
If I e’er deviled him, ‘twas not by magic spell, but by his own uncertainty of Laws of God, of what he was and what he would believe.
The wilderness in which he sat can represent the present world and state of man, for many men are beasts or birds which pick us princes to the bone… while fleas and ticks and lice are sins reducing us to seem not what we truly are. We’re better dead by our own hands than subject to these beasts and fleas.
I sat out in that wilderness when I was young, and with me came my fleas and worms and spiders too, which eat my flesh unto this very day. I am no truly evil man, but though a man who cannot do what he should do. This is mine answer to the king and all the world.
Well now, although the king did recognize his brother’s voice, he scarce believed his ears, but like a king, he thought a while before he spoke.
“What of the king?” he said and called his brother forth. “What good advice have you for me?”
His brother grinned a toothless grin and stroked the golden lion on the golden throne.
To die. he said.
“To die for what?” inquired the king.
For being king and making your good brother poor. You sit on gold and in that purple linen clothe yourself while in the world poor children starve. You are so cruel a king!
Then all at once the king laughed loud and long, and to the shiv’ring man before him spoke these words,
“Dear brother, tell me how I made thee poor?”
The frightened brother of the king was speechless while he thought to find a sin the king had sinned gainst him, and finally, without a heart he faintly spoke.
You’re older than I am, though look it not,
And to the older went the throne, to me my humble lot.
“What fault is that of mine?” said king, “To come into this world before you did? If Earth is full of evils as you say, you’re bettered that I came before your stay.”
But children starve! said brother of the king. There’re children in the world who starve, and yet you sit upon a golden throne!
Well now, the king was not dismayed, but spoke again.
“Would not same children starve if on a rock I sat in midst of mud and mire?”
They might at that! proclaimed his brother prince.
“And so it does not matter where I sit,” so said the king. “I cannot solve the problems of this world. I look to the Almighty God for that just as you should.”
That being said, then silent was the king again. He thought awhile and then he called the broke-necked baker forth.
“Now baker,” said the king. “For what good reason are you broken-necked so long when it is possible to heal or fix a broken neck?”
“I do not know my king.” replied the man.
“With effort you can fix your neck, can right what’s wrong so you can hold your head up high again. If you have fallen down at any cause, you need not yield to misery, but rise again. Go fix your neck.”
And next he called the cross-eyed man who looked for all the while beside the throne.
“Now farmer,” said the king. “It’s true to say that what you see you see again besides, and yet your eyes are fixed on bad, on all your ills. It troubles you to see more pains, more woes, more weeds within your fields, but these are what you look to see. You’ll be relieved if you can gain the sight of seeing good. Instead of seeing twice as many weeds, you’ll see two times as many heads of grain. Instead of seeing twice as many enemies, you’ll see two times as many friends, and seeing these, you’ll want to work again. Go till your fields!”
And then he called the youth who scratched with fleas and lice.
“My son and prince,” so said the king. “Will merely scratching rid you of those fleas and parasites which suck your blood and bring about disease?”
“O nothing will wise king, my father!” said the prince.
“I disagree,” so said the king. “Immerse yourself in waters pure. Those fleas and parasites you’ll wash away. Your scratching is a temporary cure, immersion is the only way. Salvation’s not from man but comes from God. Go wash away your pains!”
And when the king had finished speaking to the prince, he saw the other two offended fellows had not gone. And then, with one strong voice the three offended spoke again.
“O king! What of that fellow there who deviled us and led us three to misery?! You must pronounce that he be killed for pain and injury he put on us!”
“This man did you no wrong,” thus spoke the king, “You are yourselves to blame for taking bad advice. You must not dwell on your mistakes by seeking one to blame, for you well know there is no one to blame but you because you flew to action yet you did not think. Now go your ways into the world and learn by what has passed.”
So then accordingly they went their ways out from the king so that not one was left but that old fellow brother to the king.
“My brother,” said the king, “Methinks what you want most in life is death, but being weak of heart, you cannot end your so-called cursed life. I’ll solve that for you now.’
The king then called a guard and said, “My loyal servant and my trusted friend, since but a boy you’ve not refused a word I’ve spoke. And now please, if you will, take out your golden sword and strike of clean my brother’s head. If after he seems still alive, do strike again till he no longer moves.”
And then the valiant guard who knew no thing but service to the king, without a moment’s hesitation drew the golden blade and meant to cleave the head from body of the brother prince for king. But all at once, the brother prince fell to his knees before the king and begged for intervention then.
“ My brother please, O king! ” thus begged the aged prince, “If he strikes off my head, then I will surely die! ”
The king thus raised a hand and guard stood still with blade e’er posed to strike.
“I do not understand. Is that not what you want?” to brother said the king. “You’ve told the court today how much you want to die. I’m granting your request and you are still unsatisfied? What is it that you want?”
Well now, the trembling prince sat thinking for a while before he spoke.
O good wise king, I do not know, but do know this: for many years I’ve wished to die, but when it seems I see the face of death, my heart is changed and life is valued more.
The king considered what his brother said and thought again and finally proclaimed,
“My brother prince, I hope you’ve learned that in this life the heart of man is treacherous: when all is done, mere wanting is a far, far better thing than having, yes, the journey much more pleasurable a place than our desired destinations where they lie. Yet since your wicked thinking brought you to this state, Go pray to God to be forgiven of your sins, and then and with my first-born son, the prince, immerse yourself in waters pure to wash away your fleas and your disease. And when you’ve done as I have said, the beauty of your youth and once fine health will be restored. You’ll find you will gain eyes that see, so use them well. I wish you well and hope you’ll act on what I’ve said, though that is left to you.
“Is there no end to foolishness on earth?
Those three who quickly took your bad advice
May never follow mine, however good.
And now my brother, you must leave my court and go your way. Go pray that God forgive you for your sins.”
The matter being done, his brother gone, the king sat sadly on his throne again. And after thinking more with pen began,
How vain are all the varied works of man!