Once upon a time in a Kingdom by the wine-dark sea, there lived a very silly king. Like most kings of his day, his kingdom was very small, but he had better people than he deserved. The castle was famous for its intricate design and the care the servants took with it. The King was also blessed with a wise Lord High Chamberlain who managed most of the estates. This was a good thing, because the King took it all for granted and was always looking for something new to distract his very short royal attention span.

One day a jester came to the court. He was very bright and able to do many things. The king was entranced with his tricks and with the improvements he made all over the castle. Soon the King was spending most of his time with the Jester and his toys, but this did not bother his royal servants. They were there to serve and were happy for anything that jollified the King. The rest of the staff was fond of the amusing fool, but he was not so fond of them.

“They get credit for so much of what is done around here,” the clown said to himself. “What if I could replace them all? Then I would get all the credit for the wellbeing of the king and the kingdom! Why in the end, I might even be made the King’s heir!”

The Jester knew that he could never personally replace the Lord High Chamberlain or the servants. They knew their jobs, but he decided to create mechanical marvels that would do work in the castle they had never dreamed of attempting. One robot the Jester made could clean the moat in a single day!

They were remarkable devices and made life easier for everyone. The gleaming bronze machines were not very attractive and the smell of their oily joints could grow annoying, but on the whole they did more good than harm.

The castle entered a new golden age and the people rejoiced, but especially the King.

The King was fascinated with his new toys, but he continued to also praise the work of his faithful servants. “It is wonderful to have both the robots and the servants,” he said. “The robots are efficient and the maids are so beautiful!”

This frustrated the jester. He could not be content with being clever and improving life for everyone in the castle. He wanted all the praise. What do to?

Then he had a very clever plan. The Jester created schools all over the Kingdom to teach people how to make clever devices like his own. This was a good thing and brought increased prosperity to the Kingdom, but over time the Jester began to twist the curriculum of the schools.

At first he merely questioned whether the servants were really up to their job and had the students worry about the cost of supporting such a large establishment. Then he suggested that very few of the servants actually did any work and that the work they did, assuming they did it, was very inferior to what students might expect. Of course the robots could not replace them yet, but soon they would do so. After all, wasn’t past success a guarantee of infinite future possibilities? Finally, he began to teach that the servants did not really exist at all or if they did exist that they did nothing in the castle.

The Jester made doubting the servants an intellectual fashion and because he was witty and everyone likes a wit many people began to pretend that the servants were not real, even people who had interactions with them! They said they had outgrown belief in servants and ignored them buying more robots to do work, even work that did not need doing.

The foolish King hated to look foolish, since it confirmed an opinion many already had of him and so he adopted the new view. When the ruler began to ignore the servants, it became the established fashion amongst anyone who wanted to be anyone.

A few still spoke to the servants, but such folk were often mocked by the Jester and his sycophants and so they did it quietly. None of this bothered the servants. They knew their job and they enjoyed doing it. Since they made most of the food, they were not likely to starve and the High Chamberlain and his staff kept paying them. The High Chamberlain was a very old man and had seen Jesters come and go enough times not to run after the latest whims of his King.

The robots continued to perform well as did the servants. When the robots learned a new task, the servants simply moved on to other work. The castle functioned like a fine watch, but now the Jester and his robots got all the credit.

Things might have gone along like this forever if it had not been for a bit of bad luck for the Jester.

One day a Lady came to visit the King and she brought with her a small boy. This boy was very bright, but also very rebellious. He had been a good student, had made many clever devices in the Jester’s schools, but he also spoke to servants.

This shocked his teachers and finally the boy was forced to run off to the country home of the old fashioned Lady. The Lady was protected by the Lord High Chamberlain and together they plotted how to deliver the King from the Jester’s trick. Finally, they decided that the King would only be able to hear the truth if it came to him from a child and they decided to bring the boy to Court.

One day the Lady appeared dressed in the whitest samite before the King and asked if she could pay him a visit with her attendants. The King, who had grown a bit tired of talking to metal men, was delighted to invite her to stay. The Lady was as amusing as the Jester and much less demanding. She had brought the young boy with her and the King also enjoyed the sound of a young boy, realizing with a start that though the Jester was fond of making new machines, he had discouraged any children around the court.

The boy, his name was Peter, was inquisitive and more fond of questioning than he was of speech making. This too was a change of pace from the Jester’s ways.

Much to the King’s consternation, however, Peter kept talking to the servants the King was valiantly pretending he could not see. The King was worried. It was hard enough looking clever for the Jester without the boy reminding him of his actual experiences. The Jester could always explain his experiences with the servants away, but it was quite a strain on the King’s imagination.

One day the King sat playing chess with Peter and was losing as usual. This did not bother him as the King rarely won any games. Peter had fixed one of the robots in the room which had wound down and it was busy cleaning the floors. A petite maid entered the room with ice creams for both of them and Peter took his gladly.

“Thank you, Mrs.” the boy said.

“There is no Mrs.,” the King said softly.

“But she just brought me the ice I requested,” Peter said.

“Jester!” the King shouted.

The Jester came running into the room, looked around, realized in a flash what was happening (he really was very clever), blushed, and began to think quickly.

“What did you say?” the king said sharply, noticing the pretty maids again for the first time in a great while.

The Jester spoke quickly to distract his King from the beauty, “What an imagination these children have!” he said.

“Yes,” the King said thoughtfully.

“How golden the days of childhood were when we too could pretend there were servants.”

“Yes,” the King became dull again, “I remember.”

The Jester relaxed. “We mustn’t be childish your majesty. What would the teachers at my schools say of you?”

“Yes.” The King looked drowsy.

“But there is a Mrs. And she just served us ices!” Peter cried out.

“What a little liar this boy is . . . and a half-wit.” The Jester looked at the King. “Imagine what folks would say of you if you agreed with him!”

“Yes,” the King said.

“Run along now Peter,” the Jester cried. “His Majesty wants to sleep.”

Peter grew angry. The Lady always treated him with courtesy and never ignored his questions, but this Jester felt rudeness his right and cared only for his own self-serving assumptions.

“I was talking to Mrs. Jones and you are the one not seeing the way things are,” the boy said, but he was heated and so his words came in a rush. The Jester got a practiced look of condescension and patted the boy on the head in the just the way that every boy hates.

“You know there isn’t really a Mrs. Jones,” the King began . . .

“But she is there!” was all the boy would say.

“Jester!” the King was looking angry, “What is the meaning of this? Have you been tricking me?”

The Jester replied, “I don’t have to answer these questions, because everyone knows there is no such thing as servants in this court. Anyway, if the servants did exist, they are very bad servants.”

“But we have spoken to the servants and Mrs. is very beautiful and not at all bad,” Peter said.

“Silly child,” the Jester scoffed, “You don’t realize that my study has shown that your conversations with the servants are just wish fulfillment, because you are lonely. Your majesty, surely you will not trust your own experience and that of a boy over my learned research.”

“I don’t know about that,” the boy said puzzled, “but if there are no servants, then who cleans up the castle?”

The King looked thoughtful and listened for the first time in a great while. He was thinking again, open to new possibilities.

“The robots do it now,” was the Jester’s curt retort. “And before that the palace was not nearly as clean as you think. If there were servants would things be as messy as they are?”

“What do you mean?” the boy asked.

“Look at the dust in that corner where the robot cannot go and remember last year when the tapestry got stained with wine?”

“But the servants don’t do everything for us, they want us to do our own rooms  . . . and you stained the tapestry yourself when one of your Christmas magic tricks went wrong! Mrs. said so!”

“Well, “she” would wouldn’t she? Good servants, and you seem to think them good, would have cleaned it up by now. Wouldn’t they?”

The boy thought for a minute and knew he could not keep up with the Jester. “Have you tried talking to the Lord High Chamberlain?” the boy said at last, “He pays the servants every week and is expert on what they do. He has studied the castle for years and knows exactly how it works.”

The Jester had anticipated this and replied, “There are no experts in a delusion, The Lord High Chamberlain is either mad or is stealing the money he is using to “pay the servants.”

The King looked thoughtful, “I don’t know. The Lord High Chamberlain is very wise and has been with me a long time.”

The Jester began to fume. “Surely your majesty will not listen to this half-idiot He is obviously badly educated.”

“I went to your schools,” the boy said.

“But learned the wrong lessons,” the Jester replied.

“But the servants are really there, I see them and their works every day!” the boy responded and he waved at the butler that was peeking in through a service door. The butler winked at the boy.

The King looked around him and realized that the cleaning in the palace took place for exactly the reason he had first thought: the servants were doing it. He laughed at the Jester and said, “Your reply almost had me until I realized that you were just stubbornly refusing the simplest answer, because it limited your power.”

The Jester said, “But at least we had a laugh and the robots are interesting!”

The King agreed and both the servants and the robots stayed. The Jester knew that to be unemployed would be to be nobody’s fool, so he accepted the outcome. The boy grew up to be a very wise man and once was heard to say: “Being closed minded and accepting only one kind of answer is very foolish, better to be open to wonderful possibilities. And sometimes what seems true is.”

And they all lived happily ever after.

More on: Culture

Articles by John Mark Reynolds

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