Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Knight, his Squire, and the Bottomless Pot of Gold

Once upon a time, there was a knight, bold and brave, who rode the lands, accompanied by his faithful squire, looking for monsters to slay. In truth, the knight had only ever slain one monster, many years before. But he was firm in his belief that, given the right set of circumstances, he could be the mightiest monster slayer of all time, and that if he was, people would truly understand just how valuable he was to the kingdom and its monster-plagued inhabitants. As  it was, the knight and his squire never quite had enough money to live off. This irritated the knight greatly, not only because he was hungry, but because he could not understand why the people did not appreciate how important he was.

To convince the populace of his skill and prowess, the knight sang songs of his past victory. They were songs of surpassing complexity and eloquence and people loved to hear them. He particularly liked to sing his songs outside the walls of the City, because he was convinced that within those walls lay a treasure – a pot of gold whose contents could never be exhausted. The knight was certain that, one day, he would write a song so perfect that the burghers of the City would have no option but to give him access to the bottomless pot.

So each year, the knight sang a new song, and each year the burghers nodded politely and told him, as clearly as possible and in worlds of one syllable, that there was no bottomless pot of gold. Sometimes they even threw him small bags of gold from the walls of the city, to make him go away. But the knight would just chuckle knowingly, wink, tap his nose, and ride away to compose a new song. “Mark my words, laddie,” he would say to his squire, as they shivered away the night under some hedgerow, trying to stay warm and dry. “When I find the right words for my song, that treasure shall be mine.”

“Don’t you mean, ‘ours’?” the squire would ask, and the knight would look shifty and tell him to get on with feeding the horse.

Within the walls, the burghers were toiling away developing inventions to deal with their monster problems. One year, they built a steam-powered tank that could kill dragons. In an effort to make the knight go away, they told him about this. The knight did look a little worried for a while, but he came back the next day with a whole new song, written overnight, about how a bold knight used his unparalleled knowledge of the ways of monsters to lead the tank to the places where the dragons were most likely to be found.

“But our tank travels much more quickly than your horse,” the burghers protested. “How will you keep up?”

The knight looked especially crafty. “If you give me the bottomless pot of gold, I shall build a motorcycle.”

That year, the knight got no gold at all.

As time went by, the knight’s horse got thinner and more bony, and his armor began to rust. But he remained confident that the bottomless pot of gold was just around the corner. Meanwhile his squire, who was getting tired of being hungry, and who badly wanted another squire to help him with his duties (there being far more repairs to the knight’s failing armor than before), took to visiting the local farms and villages, looking for ideas about what they might trade for food.

In one village, he found the people getting ready for their May festival. “We’re in a bind, you know” the village elder said sadly. “We cut down all the trees hereabouts, and now we don’t have any maypole.” The squire thought of the knight’s tall lance.

At a farm down the road, he spoke with a plowman who was sat disconsolately by his bent plowshare. “The ground on this farm is as hard as iron,” the plowman said. “What I wouldn’t give for a blade of hard steel to break through it.” The squire thought of the knight’s mighty axe, which had a ready supply of spare blades.

At harvest time, he came upon a farmer whose scythe had broken. “These crops will spoil if I can’t harvest them,” the farmer wailed. “If only I had a sharp blade to chop them down.” The squire thought of the knight’s great broadsword, which had not been drawn from its sheath in many years.

At each place he visited, the squire asked about their monster-killing needs. He had listened to the knight’s songs for so long that he had become quite adept at singing them himself. He was a good singer, but while the people appreciated what he sang, they had no gold for songs, or for slaying monsters. “What good does it do me to slay dragons,” the farmer said, “if my family starves for want of harvested crops?” “Ogres live far away,” the plowman said, “but if I cannot plow this field, there will be no food for my village.” “But what if the ogres come here?” the squire asked. “The city folk will kill them with that tank they built,” the plowman said, confidently.

The squire went back to the knight and told him what he had learnt. “True, they have no bottomless pot of gold,” the squire said. “But they each have gold enough that our horse will be fed, as will we, and perhaps we can buy that new helmet you were looking at the other day.” The knight looked at the squire pityingly. “My equipment is for monster-slaying,” he said, speaking slowly, so the squire would understand. “It is not for use in rural pastimes. Besides, such rustic activities are a distraction from our main business of slaying all of the monsters in the kingdom, for which only the bottomless pot of gold will be sufficient. You are a smart fellow, in your own way, but you know nothing of the complexities of funding a monster-slaying program, which is the business of knights. Now go and fix my vambraces.”

So the knight continued his annual pilgrimages to the city, sang his songs, and received the occasional, but never quite sufficient bag of gold from the burghers. As time went by, his horse died, his armor fell apart, and his tall lance developed an unfortunate kink. Eventually the squire, fed up with being hungry all the time, parted company with the knight. He set up in business making axe blade plowshares and converting swords into scythes. In time, he made enough money to buy a horse and armor of his own, and while he never did get to slay any dragons, he did so much good for the peasantry that they made him their king. And he lived happily ever after.

Happy Holidays, everyone. This blog will return, rejuvenated, in the New Year. 

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