Omir the Storyteller

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

The King's Three Questions


Once upon a time there was a king. He was not a kind king. In fact he was kind of a cruel king, and he loved playing nasty and sometimes fatal tricks on those around him. For instance, one day he called his royal advisor in to him.

The royal advisor bowed low before the king. "Yes, your majesty?"

"I'm bored," said the king. "Let's play a game."

Uh oh, thought the royal advisor. "Yes, your highness," he said. "What kind of game?"

"I'll ask you three questions. If you answer all three of them correctly, I will give you three bags of gold. If you answer two correctly but one incorrectly, I will give you two bags of gold and cut your head off. If you answer only one correctly, I will give you a bag of gold, and cut your head off twice. And if you do not answer any of the questions correctly, I will cut your head off three times. Is that clear?"

"Uh, your majesty," said the advisor, "you cannot cut off my head three times. I only have one head."

"Shut up. I am the king. I can do whatever I want."

Again the royal advisor bowed, and bowed to the inevitable. "Yes, sire," he said with just a hint of a resigned sigh. "What are the questions?"

"They are very simple questions. The first is, how many stars are there in the sky? The second is, precisely how deep is the ocean? And the third is, what am I thinking? Move along now. Have a nice day. It'll be your last."

The royal advisor bowed, backed out of the throne room, and started thinking that maybe he should have become the king's aquarium cleaner or his accountant or something with a bit less responsibility. And as he was thinking, who should he ran into but the king's storyteller. Almost literally.

"Good morning, Royal Advisor," the storyteller said, "How's it going?"

"Not well, I'm afraid," the advisor said. "The king wants to play a game with me, and I am afraid I am going to lose."

"What kind of game is this?" the storyteller asked.

"He has asked me three questions, and I have to answer them all correctly or I lose."

"Oh, really. What are the questions?"

"The first is, how many stars are there in the sky? The second is, precisely how deep is the ocean? And the third is, what is the king thinking?"

The storyteller thought for a moment, and then said, "I can answer those questions."

The royal assistant started to feel the weight of the world lift from his shoulders. "Quick! Tell me the answers and I will give you the three bags of gold the king has promised me if I answer them correctly." He carefully didn't say anything about getting his head cut off, but the storyteller had been around for a while. He had a pretty good idea what was in store.

"No no no," said the storyteller. "I didn't say I could tell you the answer. I said I could /answer. the questions. I'll tell you what. Give me your cloak and I will go to the king tomorrow in your place." Now I should tell you here that in those days people wore hooded cloaks indoors as well as out, because castles were drafty cold places.

So the next day the storyteller went in to the king, wearing the royal advisor's cloak and with the hood pulled up over his head so the king couldn't see his face.

"Ah, Royal Advisor," the king said. "Just a moment. Guard? Come here and bring your dullest sword." Like I said, he was not a very nice king.

"Now. Do you have the answers to my questions?"

The storyteller nodded his head in answer.

"Very well. First, how many stars are there in the sky?"

"Your majesty," the storyteller said, using his best imitation of the royal advisor's voice. "There are four hundred fifty-five million, six hundred twenty-nine thousand, eight hundred and sixty one stars in the sky, and if you think I am wrong, you can count them yourself."

Hmmmmmm, the king thought. Well, I'll get the gold back with the next two questions. "Very well," he said, placing a bag of gold in the storyteller's hand. The storyteller put the bag of gold into the folds of his cloak. "Now, for the second question. Precisely how deep is the ocean?"

"Your majesty," the storyteller said, again using his best Royal Advisor voice, "the ocean is precisely a stones' throw deep."

"Aha!" said the king. "That is not correct. I can throw a stone much farther than that!"

"But your majesty," said the storyteller, "allow me to finish. If you take your royal boat out into the ocean, and then throw a stone over the side, you can measure how far the stone travels, and the distance the stone travels is the precise depth of the ocean."

Hmmmmmm, the king thought again. Well, I can let that one pass, because he can't possibly answer the third question and if he gives me an answer I can tell him I'm thinking something different. "Very well," he said, and placed another bag of gold in the storyteller's hand, and again the storyteller put the bag into the folds of his cloak. "Now for my third question. What am I thinking?"

The storyteller didn't hesitate. "Your majesty," the storyteller said in his Royal Advisor voice, "you think you are talking to your royal advisor, but in reality -- " and he pulled the hood back from his face to show the king -- "I am your royal storyteller!"

The king gasped. "What?" he cried. "I thought I was talking to my royal advisor!"

"Told you," said the storyteller, holding out his hand. "My third bag?"


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