A few years ago, in a far off land across the wide ocean where good rulers were counseled by wise sages, the aged and dying King Oleander, a truly fair and good king, was severely perplexed as to how to select and designate an heir; as he was both wife and childless.
He challenged his esteemed counselors and advisers; “What test shall I put forth to determine my successor? He must be brave and intelligent yet strong and merciful”.
His counselors proposed many methods, ranging from tests of combat skill and life threatening physical quests to riddle and elocution competitions.
None satisfied the king’s desire to simultaneously test intelligence and wisdom over strength while measuring the candidate’s confidence and determination. Until, that is, Tomasian, a famous traveling bard who had canvased nearly all of the known world, presented his very unusual proposal.
King Oleander was at first intrigued, then, upon a few days of deep contemplation, he smiled.
Immediately, he set his builders the task of construction 2 identical wooden platforms. Each was exactly ten feet square and set upon 9 – 1 foot high pillars – one per corner, one in the middle of each side and one exactly in the center. Each platform had a 4 foot, solid, wooden bench for sitting, built exactly in the center of each of its sides.
While his builders were busy building, he set his fossors to digging a huge, grave like pit 10 feet deep, 10 feet across and 20 feet long. Each of its sides was to be covered in very smooth, fine, unclimbable mortar. Inside, totally filling its base were erected iron tipped spears, 2 feet from the sides and every 2 feet throughout; forming a death trap for those unfortunate to fall into it.
A few weeks later, when all was ready, the king ordered the platforms to be placed and securely anchored facing each other at the edge of the pit, exactly centered on each of the 20 foot long sides of the pit.
The king then ordered a small cask of very fine wine, another of pure water, 1 loaf of good hard bread, 2 – 6 foot lengths of strong, thin cord, 1 – 10 foot length of mid weight strong rope and a single 6 foot long oak staff; all to be placed in the center of the first of the platforms.
The good, fair King Oleander proclaimed his challenge thusly: “The first person, man or woman, to step onto the first platform, wearing only a white cotton shift, and cross to the other side using whatever is needed, and bringing with them everything on the first platform except the benches shall pass the first part of my test for kingship”.
Guards were placed around the site and no one except the challengers was allowed to examine the constructions and even they were prohibited from witnessing each other’s trials.
The first to accept the challenge was the arrogant and brash Prince Todd from the rival kingdom across the river. He guzzled the wine, devoured the bread, and then tossed everything else across to the second platform. When he had accomplished throwing everything except himself across, he took a running start and jumped from the top of the closest bench to the top of the opposing bench on the other side. He landed hard. He teetered. He swayed. He nearly fell backwards onto the spears – finally, luckily for him, he fell face forward onto the second platform. Rising, he waved his arms in triumph. When he was brought before the king, he was informed that he had failed and would be enlightened as to why he failed upon the last contestant’s completion.
Next to accept the challenge was the beautiful and vain Princess Lila. Her beautiful hair was carefully braided into a single, long work of art and decorated with many bright, tiny flowers and precious gems. Her toe nails and fingernails were carefully trimmed and painted. Her wrists and fingers were encircled with shiny gold bracelets and rings. She stepped onto the platform, flashed her sweet smile at the guards – and then was not so gracefully eliminated from the competition. When she was brought before the king, she received the same non-explanation as her predecessor, Prince Todd.
Third to compete was the powerful warrior, Sir Waintoth. A mighty knight, he was strong, solidly built and full of confidence. He stepped onto the platform wearing only the prescribed cotton garment. His muscles were bulging and his skin glistened; and a few of the female guards took a not-so-professional interest. Sir Waintoth hefted the wine cask and drank nearly half of it. He ate all of the bread. While eating he was walking around and around the platform. Several times he stopped to scratch his head; thinking was not his greatest attribute. Finally, he brightened up at an idea. He tied each of the casks to the pole using the short lengths of cord. Then he tied the pole across his shoulders with the rope. When everything was attached to his body he hopped onto the bench – and froze. Something was not quite right. Even he knew that jumping from the bench, loaded as he was, would only impale him on the spears. Several minutes later, sadly, he stepped off of the bench and down from the platform; defeated. Like the others, he was brought before the king and received the same non-explanation.
The last to compete was the third son of Duke Amalthy, Sir Romul. Sir Romul was educated in reading and numbers, but not the most brilliant scholar. He was trained in the art of weaponry, but he was not anywhere near a master. He was neither thin nor fat; neither tall nor short. Basically, he was an average, well-rounded, well-educated, non-inheriting, third son of a very minor duke. But, he had a quick wit and a good heart.
He listened carefully to the king’s challenge and stepped onto the first platform attired as directed and with a totally open mind. He looked at everything. He laid on the ground and leaned over the side; examining the pit and its spear covered floor. He climbed over and crawled under the benches; noting how they were secured to the platform. He tested the ropes and hefted the casks. He ate a handful of bread, tucked the remained into his shirt. He drank lightly from the water cask. Then, he used one of the cords to secure the two casks together and the other he braided into shoulder straps to secure them to his back like a pack. He tied simple knots in the heavier rope every foot and secured one end to the center of the staff. When he was ready, wearing the casks and holding the rope and staff, he crawled to the edge of the pit, carefully rolled over the edge and courageously dropped himself to the spear covered floor. He was committed. If his next step failed he would be trapped in the pit until rescued. But he had confidence in himself and his plan.
Since the spears were 2 feet apart, there was ample room to walk between them. Standing near the center of the pit, holding the free end of the rope, he threw the staff under the legs of the closest bench on the second platform. After several unsuccessful attempts, he finally succeeded in trapping the staff behind the legs of the bench with the rope dangling down. It took a fair effort, but he succeeded in climbing up the rope onto the second platform. There he unknotted the rope, coiled it, and, staff in hand, stepped off the destination platform to face thee king.
Upon presentation to King Oleander, Sir Romul was congratulated on successfully completing the first half of the challenge.
The king then directed the observing guards to exactly recount all of his predecessor’s activities.
Sir Romul carefully listening to the guard’s recounting of his competitor’s attempts and, several times, asked for additional details..
King Oleander then quizzed Sir Romul as to why his predecessors had each failed and why he had succeeded.
He answered thus;
“Prince Todd threw the items across the chasm whereas the instructions were to bring them with him. He failed to listen to and follow the directions”
“Princess Lila’s vanity caused her to be eliminated prior to even starting because of the flowers and jewels in her hair and her rings and bracelets. Deliberate, totally unnecessary and vain violations of the rules. Rules, like laws, are meant to be followed”
“Sir Waintoth attempted to use his great strength prior to figuring out how best to perform the task. Careful thought should always precede physical action”.
“I passed because I listened carefully to the directions and followed the rules. I used only the resources I needed – the bread and water for nourishment. I did not waste anything not required for the task. Finally, I took appropriate advantage of the environment of the challenge – the platforms, benches, the spear layout as well as the cords, rope and staff.”
Sir Romul became King Romul soon after and his reign was filled with peace.
The moral of this tale is – “To win you do not need to be the strongest nor the prettiest nor even the brightest or most athletic. You need to listen and think before you act. You need to be yourself and thoughtfully, conservatively utilize the resources you have available.”
By RJ Borton 2015, updated 2017
Look for King Romul in the second book in theTales of Airth® – a work currently ‘in-progress’..
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