A tale of three stones
A fall from heaven
Once upon a time in a land far away from here, three stones fell from the Heavens unto the Earth. The place of their landing was in the field of a peasant. Their arrival made a great noise, and when all was done, the peasant’s mule was dead, there was a great circular crater in the midst of his field, and resting at the bottom of the crater, half buried, were three stones.
The peasant was distraught for his field was ruined and his mule was dead, and yet he had hope, for this was a great wonder and great wonders are often a source of profit. He sent his son to the local lord’s place of dwelling to inform the lord of the wonder that had taken. The lord would not have taken the words of a ragged peasant boy very seriously, save that he too had heard the clamor of the arrival of the three stones.
The lord gathered himself together, an operation that took some time for it was but midmorning, told his men to bring a wagon in which to haul the three stones if that be desired, and set out on horse to visit the field where all had happened. In no short order he arrived at the scene where a mob of gabbling peasants had gathered. All fell away at his arrival, all save he whose field had been the scene of the arrival from heaven.
The lord questioned him sharply as to events, and the peasant told his tale. The fall from heaven, he lamented, had killed his two mules and destroyed his field; his livelihood was ruined. The reader must not condemn the peasant for his small prevarication for it is well known that catastrophes multiply when there is prospect of recompense.
The lord paid little attention to these lamentations – he was well acquainted with the ways of peasants – and instead climbed to the rim of the crater where he surveyed the three stones half buried in the center. He asked the peasant if they had been given names. The peasant replied that he had not, save that he had called one stone the greatest stone (for it was by far the largest), the larger of the remaining two, the greater stone, and the smallest the lesser stone. The lord laughed, saying “As you have said it, so shall it be.” He then offered the peasant two mules for the stones. As for the field, he said that the peasant should make of it a fish pond.
The peasant accepted this offer, pleased with himself for now having two mules where he once had one, and for having the makings of a fine new fish pond. The lord was also pleased with himself for having cheated the peasant shamelessly, albeit with less ecstasy for the cheating of peasants is but the daily practice of lords.
The lord directed his men to place the stones in his wagon and to transport them to his dwelling. There he had one of his artisans prepare a display case for the stones, for he had in mind to present them to the king as a great wonder. This he desired in hopes of winning the favor of the king, the king’s favor being more precious than gold. With gold one may bribe ministers, but too often those bribed take the money and produce not. The king’s favor is ever so much more reliable an inducement for ministers have the finest sense of where their self interest lies.
When all was ready he transported the stones to the capital where he craved audience with the king to present to him this wonder. In due course the king granted him audience, and at that time and place the lord displayed the three stones. He told their story, and all agreed that they were a great wonder, and that, since they had come from heaven, they must be a gift from the gods, having magical powers.
The king asked the lord if the stones had been given names. The lord replied that he had not, save that he had called one stone the greatest stone (for it was by far the largest), the larger of the remaining two, the greater stone, and the smallest the lesser stone. The king laughed, saying “As you have said it, so shall it be.” Thus it is that the thoughts of the weak redound to the credit of the mighty.
The king accepted the stones and gave in return a fine jewel, saying as he did that the lord had greatly pleased him with his gift. The jewel was as nothing to the lord for he many fine jewels, but the king’s sweet words were a treasure to him. Thus it is that they who tread on the necks of others bear a foot on their own neck.
The king called for his smith and directed him to make artifacts from the stones in such form and shape for which they might be suitable. The king’s smith was the greatest smith of the age and perhaps of all ages. Many tales have been told of him in other places. He was lame and had a rough visage, and he cared nothing for the ways of men, loving only his smithy and that which he crafted therein.
The smith took the stones into the smithy and examined them closely to see what merit might lie within them. He saw that they were nearly pure iron, albeit of an ore that he had never yet seen, so that they could be crafted as the finest metals are crafted. From the greatest stone he crafted a throne, from the greater stone, a helmet, and from the lesser stone, a bracelet.
As it happened the three stones did have a great power. Each, when grasped firmly, granted to he that held it a power to dominate the wills of men, with each stone granting a power unique to itself. The smith knew nothing of this for he had no interest in his fellow men and had no interest in dominating their wills. Thus it was that he presented the throne, helmet, and bracelet to the king, their powers unknown and untried.
The tale of the greatest stone
The king was pleased with his new throne and put it to immediate use in the hope that its magical powers (which he was certain it must have) would reveal themselves. In this he was not disappointed. The power of the throne was thuswise: Whomsoever sat upon it could impose his will upon all that lived in an area about the throne that spanned some dozens of leagues. This the king discovered quickly, for it is in the nature of kings to impose their will upon their subjects.
His power, he discovered, was absolute. If he desired that everyone stand on their head then, willy nilly, everyone would stand on their head. Everyone, that is, that dwelt within the range of the powers of the throne. Beyond those borders people looked askance at the behaviour of the people that dwelt within and at the oddity of their king.
It was not to be wondered that they did so, because the king became very odd. Philosophers sometimes hold that a philosopher king would be worthy of absolute power. Priests sometimes hold a priest king would be worthy of absolute power. Although they disagree among themselves as to who might be worthy, philosophers, priests, and the rest of humanity are agreed that no ordinary king can be trusted with absolute power. So it was here.
Some of his demands were simply picaresque; thus he demanded that all wear a yellow sash across their chest when promenading in the central square. Some of his demands were for the good of the kingdom; thus he forbade all thievery. Some were perverse; these we shall not describe out of respect for the sensibility of the reader. Some were clever; thus he demanded that all within his power should remain within his power. In consequence none of his subjects could escape his rule.
Chiefly, however, he desired glorification. He set his subjects to building him a palace, one far grander and greater than that of any other king. He deemed himself a god and became his own high priest. He demanded that all should worship him and worship him they did.
The reign of the Mad King (for so he was known by his neighbours and by all after him) was brief. The king could not sit on the throne at all times; he needs must eat and sleep. His great fear was that someone should sit on the throne and usurp his power whilst he lay sleeping. He strictly forbade anyone else to sit upon the throne. That command did not allay his fears so he posted a guard, five men strong, to guard the throne whilst he slept, and he charged them to slay any person that might approach the throne while he was not seated upon it.
The king did not think to forbid animals to sit on the throne nor did he think to mention them to his guards. Thus it happened one night that a mouse crept into the throne room and climbed upon the throne. It chanced that the mouse had just escaped the claws of a cat and that the mouse was in great fear for its life. It desired that all cats should go far, far away. Such was the power of the throne that all of the cats in the realm left immediately and never returned.
At first the absence of the cats was little noticed save by certain restaurants. The rats noticed, though, and they thrived and multiplied. As the rats multiplied so did their fleas until all, rats and fleas both, became a plague. More than that the fleas carried the plague and death stalked the streets of the city. The king himself was bit and, bitten, died of the plague whilst sitting on his throne, raving like a lunatic.
When the king died the folk of the realm came alive again, as though they had woken from some great nightmare. The great ones of the realm, such as were left, seized the throne and held a council as to what do with it. Some held that the throne should be hid away that its great power might be available upon need. Most thought, though, that the throne was utterly cursed and too wicked to use no matter what the need. Then a clever man suggested that they destroy the throne but put about the story that they had saved it away. His thought was that the threat of its use would in its own right be a weapon in the armory of the new king. This suggestion was heartily received and so well endorsed that the council elected its author as their new king.
The throne was then taken aboard a ship, taken to sea, and thrown overboard into the depths. Its tale was not yet done. When the throne was well settled on the bottom of the sea a giant squid chanced to settle upon it. The giant squid is an intelligent creature and it quickly discovered that if it called for fish to come whilst it embraced the throne then fish would come. Years went by and King Squid became giant indeed, a vast blob on the ocean floor sucking fish into its maw.
Alas for King Squid, it became so large and its needs became so great that it ate all of the fish within leagues. Too gross to move, it died of starvation whilst calling fish from the empty sea.
When the flesh of King Squid had rotted away and been picked apart it chanced that barnacles set down upon the throne. The barnacle is not a clever beast; it is not clever enough to think of calling for food. However even the dullest of beasts is smart enough to think the thought, “Leave Me Alone.” The barnacles prospered; they had food enough and no enemies. In time the entire throne was covered with barnacles. There it remains at the bottom of the sea, barnacle encrusted, and shall, as far as I know, remain there until the end of time.
The tale of the greater stone
The greater stone had become a warrior’s helmet. This was its power: All who were in the company of he who wore it would share the wearer’s emotions, his bravery and valor if he be brave and valorous, his cowardice if he be a poltroon, his hope if he hopes, his fear if he fears, and all such that he feels.
The Mad King, before he grew mad, bestowed the helmet on the captain of his guard. In truth his guard had little to do, for the Mad King was his own best protection; he need only tell everyone to love him and love him they did. Matters were quite different when the new king ascended the throne. Times were troubled; there was much confusion. Attempts were made on the new king’s life; there was a civil war and foreign invasions. The king’s guard had many hard battles to fight.
Fortunately the captain of the king’s guard was a brave and valorous man, and because he was brave and valorous, all of his company were brave and valorous. The king’s guard became known as the finest and most martial of all troops in the realm.
With time all men age and slow, and so it was with the captain. As he slowed, so slowed the company. He could see this happening although he did not know why, so he went to the new king, saying, “Sire my youth is spent. It is time that a new hand wield my sword and a new head wear my helmet.” The king saw that it was so, and he chose from the guard another to be captain and wear the captain’s helmet.
This man too was brave and valorous. ‘Twas not surprising that he be so for the bravest and most valorous of heroes competed to be members of the guard. So it went for many years, one brave captain after another, and always the king’s guard being the finest troop in the realm.
And then one day a coward joined the guard. You may well ask, how is it that a coward could find a place in such a company of heroes. It was thuswise. He was never tested. He was strong and hardy, quick and able, skilled with his weapons, and intelligent. He was all these things and yet he was a coward. But he did not know that he was a coward. All his victories were easy ones. He had never felt the clutch of fear in his belly as he faced a foe who might beat him, nay might slay him.
He did well in the guard. The helmet gave him another man’s courage. With borrowed courage and his native gifts he was the doughtiest warrior alive. And so, naturally, he was made captain of the guard when his time came.
There was no sign of trouble at first for there was no true test. Then one fell fall day the king and his guard were travelling about the frontier when they were beset by a band of horse barbarians.
At first all went well; the coward knew that this was an easy battle. Then a horseman charged him, sword raised on high. When he saw that horse and that sword panic gripped him, and he froze. As he froze, so froze all of the guard, and all were slain, even unto the king. The horseman struck down and cleaved the coward and his helmet in twain.
The horsemen looted the dead, taking such wealth as they carried, and the weapons they bore. They left behind the split helmet for they placed no value on such things. When the horsemen were done and had gone their way peasants crept out to search for such things left behind that might be valuable to them. So it was that one peasant took the two halves of the helmet.
He had no use for a helmet, broken or no, but he recognized fine metal when he saw it. With much hammering and beating, and with the aid of a primitive smithy he managed to shape the part of the helmet into a plow.
The peasant was an intelligent man. He saw that when he worked hard with his plow, everyone else worked hard with their plows. He did not know why this was so – doubtless there was magic involved – but he saw that he could profit from it. He became a foreman and then a landlord and then very rich indeed. Always, though, he led the plowing himself.
In time he grew old and passed the plowing on to his son. Alas, his son was the son of a rich man and was lazy and idle. He was not fit for plowing. In exasperation the former peasant took up the plow again and strained to match himself as a young man. He was unwise to do so, for he took a heart attack and died. As he died so died all of the other workers in the field.
There was a great consternation at this untoward event, so many deaths in such an unexpected way. It was feared that all had succumbed to some new plague. Hence a large pit was dug; all of the dead and all of their tools were placed therein; and all was burned. When the fire was quite dead the pit was filled with earth and a memorial stone was placed upon the earth.
The magic plow still lies underneath that stone, there for anyone who might choose to retrieve it. So far, no one ever has.
The tale of the leeser stone
The lesser stone had been shaped into a bracelet. Its manner of power was thuswise: He who wore it could look another person in the eye and command that person to tell the truth.
While he was still sane the Mad King wore the bracelet and quickly discerned its power. It was one that he did not need, for the throne served that function for him as well as many others. Instead he bestowed the bracelet upon his Great Judge, reasoning that a judge ought to hear the truth now and then.
His choice was sound. His Great Judge had an abiding desire for justice and he knew that there can be no justice where there is no truth. Alas, his new power did him little good; as the king went mad, royal caprice replaced truth and justice was but an unwanted beggar.
In time the Mad King died; with his death the old order was restored, and the Great Judge could once again dispense justice. Dispense justice he did, with a will. He was particularly adept at ferreting out the givers and takers of bribes. No fraud could survive his questioning eye. The great judge made many enemies. Chief among them were the ministers for they could not enjoy the profits of office whilst he so vigorously punished the takers of bribes.
However these gentry were not his doom. In the city there dwelt a Master Criminal. During the years of the Mad King he had not stolen for the Mad King had forbade the populace to steal. Nonetheless in the confusions of the time he had found many and divers ways to divert the properties of others to himself.
The Master Criminal had remarked to himself about the Great Judge’s peculiar ability to extract truth, and he had recalled the curious tales about the advent of the three stones. He suspected that the Great Judge had a talisman of power, one that might be useful to himself.
Forthwith he had his bully boys strike down the Great Judge one evening as he was abroad taking a walk. They stripped him of his possessions and left him dead on the street. The Great Judge had been immune from attack by the highly placed because he had the favor of the king. He had forgotten that immunity from the depredations of the high born need not extend to immunity from the depredations of the low born.
The Master Criminal quickly determined that the bracelet was the talisman he sought. He used it thuswise: He used it to ferret out the discreditable secrets of the wealthy and the high placed. Thus he gained power and wealth, so much so, that he became a great power in the land, second only to the king, all of this despite affecting a modest appearance.
In so doing he over-reached. Kings keep their heads by ensuring that no subject becomes too powerful; kings have delicate antennae for detecting the combination of too great ambition and too great resources amongst their subjects.
The Master Criminal was seized and his affairs were investigated. It was quickly discovered that he was a blackmailer. This being an affair of power rather than justice, the king had him hung immediately.
The Master Criminal wore the bracelet to his death for all of the good that it did him. When his neck was well broken his dead body was cut down. The Conveyors of the Dead placed his body in the dead cart and carried it to the unmarked grave where his remains would wrestle with eternity. As was their custom and their right, they stripped his body of all they thought might be valuable. They left the bracelet on him, deeming it worthless.
In time the worms dined well and his body rotted away as bodies are wont to do. Likewise the bracelet rusted away. Still it is said that if one stands upon that spot one must tell the truth. Men so love truth that no map of that place have ever been found.
A tale as edifying as this has many morals. The choosing of which to include, however, is a task too great for your humble author who is content to be but a smith.
This page was last updated January 1, 2003.