! The Goatherder
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The Goatherder

Once upon a time there was a goatherder who lived in a small village which lay in the foothills of some great mountains. Each morning he would drive his goats up the mountain path to the high pastures where they would graze. Each evening he drove them down the mountain path to the village where his wife and children waited for him.

One morning, as he was driving his goats up the mountain, he met a monk on the mountain path. "Good morning," he said to the monk, "and a fine morning it is, too."

The monk lifted his hand in greeting. "Greetings, my fine fellow. Would you by chance have a bit of water you might spare me. I have travelled many a weary mile and am like to faint with thirst."

The goatherder had barely enough water for himself. Still, he had a good nature and was willing to share with others less fortunate than himself so he passed his gourd of water over to the monk.

The monk thanked him, took the gourd, and before the goatherder could say a word, drank his fill until the gourd was empty. He wiped his mouth, handed back the empty gourd to the goatherder, blessed him, and made his down the mountain path with renewed vigor.

His mouth agape with surprise, the goatherder stared at the back of the monk as he vanished in the distance. He shook his head and said to himself, "This is going to be a long and thirsty day." Still, there was nothing to do and no point in getting angry; what was done was done. He hooked his empty gourd to his belt and made his way up the mountain path.

He hadn't gone much further when he met a beggar upon the path who beseeched him for a bite to eat. The goatherder had a bit of bread and cheese, barely enough for himself Still, he had a good nature and was willing to share with others less fortunate than himself so he passed over his lunch to the beggar.

The beggar thanked him, took his lunch, and before the goatherder could say a word, ate the whole thing. The beggar thanked mightily, blessed him, and made his way down the mountain path with renewed vigor.

His mouth agape with surprise, the goatherder stared at the back of the beggar as he vanished in the distance. He shook his head and said to himself, "This is going to be a long, hungry and thirsty day." Still, there was nothing to do and no point in getting angry; what was done was done. He thrust his empty lunch sack into his belt and made his way up the mountain path.

He had almost arrived at the high pastures when he met a well dressed stranger riding a spirited horse. "Hello my good man." the stranger called, "As you see, I have lost my hat and am suffering greatly with the heat of the sun. I fear that without it I will fall from sunstroke before I reach the village. May I borrow yours?"

"This is a fine thing." the goatherder thought to himself, "Not only am I to go thirsty and hungry this day but now someone wants my hat too. It is one thing to give water to a monk; that is a religious duty. It is another thing to give food to a beggar; a man should help those less fortunate than himself. But who ever heard of giving charity to the rich?"

Still, he could see that the stranger was fair skinned and likely to suffer in the sun whereas he was tanned and, if need be, he could do without a hat so he took it off and passed it over to the stranger without a word.

He fully expected the stranger to bless him and ride off; it had been that sort of day. Instead he was greatly surprised when the stranger dismounted and armed men sprang from the bushes all around him.

"Do not be alarmed," the stranger said. "Know you that I am the Crown Prince and heir to the throne. My father lies ill on his death bed and soon I will be King. Know this: Among all the courtiers and ministers in the Royal Court there is not one who is honest and just. All are corrupt and venial. I have searched this land round and about for one honest man who has charity in his heart for those less fortunate than himself.

Know this: I was the monk to whom you gave water. I was the beggar to whom you gave food. I abused your hospitality and you did not grow angry. It was all a test. Will you come with me to my palace and be my Chancellor?"

The goatherder shook his head. "Nay my Lord, I will not. I am a simple man. It is not enough for a Chancellor or even a King to be honest and just. It is not enough to have a good heart. A Chancellor, like his King, must be wise. He must know his people and his land and the needs of each and every part. He must know the art of statecraft. He must know what evil wants and yet not be evil. I know nothing of such things. It would be folly for me to be your Chancellor."

The Prince bowed his head. "I am rebuked. I have found my honest man and he will not have me. But come, my good man, I have greatly inconvenienced you. Let me gift you with a pound of gold to repay you."

The goatherder laughed and shook his head. "Now what, my Lord, would I do with that? No sooner than had I spent a bit of it but that robbers would hear of it, come rob me, and leave me with a lump on my poor head. But if it please you my Lord, I could greatly do with some water in my gourd, some food for my lunch, and a hat for my head."

The Prince said, "No sooner asked than done." He signalled his men to fill the goatherder's gourd with water and share with him some of their food. Lastly he passed the goatherder's hat back to him and rode off.

The goatherder said to himself, "Today has been a day of wonders but I mustn't stand here like a noddy. I have goats to get to the high pasture."

That evening, as he arrived home, he said nothing of this to his wife. It wasn't important. "Love," he called out as he entered the door, "I have seen the first robin of Spring."


This page was last updated February 5, 2001.
Copyright © 2001 by Richard Harter

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