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Monday, August 2, 2010

Ruminations of an Old Goat

You know, it's hard to think of something to write about week after week after week. I've been writing this column for close to a year and a half, if you include my columns on writing comic books, and sometimes it's just plain tough to come up with a good idea for a new column. See last week's column if you're not sure what I mean.

Another thing about writing the columns and doing judging is that I don't get to post as much fiction to this site as I used to do. I'm quite happy with the trade-off as I take great pleasure in judging and offering advice to those who enter challenges.

This week, though, I've decided to post some fiction. This is an original story of mine. I tell it when performing for audiences composed of teens and adults. All comments and criticisms welcome.

"The Cost of Shoes"

Once upon a time, a kingdom was ruled by a very foolish king. Unwilling to concentrate solely on running his kingdom, the king also tried to run the lives of his subjects. Whenever the king rode out among his subjects, he would come back determined to do something about some perceived problem.

The king was out on one such ride in the winter when he saw a peasant woman walking to market. The king was horrified to see the woman was walking barefoot in such cold weather. Upon returning to the castle, he summoned his ministers.

“Today I saw a peasant woman walking to market barefoot. And in such cold weather!” the king said. “Something must be done about this!”

The king issued a decree to the kingdom’s cobblers, requiring they make shoes for everyone in the kingdom. Soon, the master of the Cobblers Guild went to see the king.

“Your majesty, we do not have enough leather to make shoes for all of the kingdom’s subjects,” the guild master told the king.

“That is easily solved,” said the king. “Gather all of the cattle in the kingdom and slaughter them to make the leather.”

And so it was done. All of the cattle in the kingdom were rounded up and used to make shoe leather. The shoes were made and every subject in the kingdom received a pair.

Then the minister of agriculture went to see the king.

“Your majesty, without the cattle to pull their plows, the peasants are unable to plow the fields. If they cannot plow the fields, we face starvation!” the minister told the king.

“That is easily solved,” said the king. “Take our strong cavalry horses and give one to each farm. Then the peasants will be able to plow their fields.”

And so it was done. All of the strong cavalry horses were passed out among the peasants and soon the fields were being plowed.

Then the spy master went to see the king.

“Your majesty, the kingdom to the north is preparing to invade our kingdom. With our cavalry disbanded, they are confident they can conquer us,” the spy master told the king.

“That is easily solved,” said the king. “Draft every able-bodied man into the army. Our infantry will be huge and able to stop any attack from the kingdom to the north.”

And so it was done. Every able-bodied man in the kingdom was drafted into the army. Soon, the infantry was vast.

Then the armorer went to see the king.

“Your majesty, we do not have enough swords to arm our vast infantry nor is there enough steel to make more swords,” the armorer told the king.

“That is easily solved,” said the king. “Now that the fields are plowed, we no longer need the plows. Take all of the plowshares in the kingdom and make swords from them.”

And so it was done. The plowshares were beaten into swords. Soon the vast infantry was armed, and not a minute too soon.

The kingdom to the north invaded and the vast infantry marched forth to do battle. The battle was fierce and losses terrible, especially among the vast infantry who had no cavalry to aid them. In the end, the invasion from the north was turned back. But fewer than one in five of the infantrymen returned home.

Shortly after the war, the king rode out to view for himself how his subjects were fairing. After the great victory, he expected to see joy on their subjects. The king was quite puzzled when he saw no signs of joy. However, he did see the same peasant woman who had walked to the market barefoot during the winter. Pleased to see she was wearing shoes, the king stopped.

“Good woman,” the king said, “how do you like the shoes made for you on my orders?”

Head down, the woman said, “The shoes, your majesty? Oh, they’re quite good shoes. But to make the shoes, you took our cattle. To replace the cattle, you took our cavalry. To replace our cavalry, you took our husbands and sons. To arm our husbands and sons, you took our plowshares. To meet the invasion from the north, you sent our husbands and sons. To win your war took the lives of our husbands and sons. All so we could wear shoes.”

The woman turned somber eyes upon the king, “The next time you wish to help us, your majesty, please do nothing. The shoes cost far more than we could afford.”
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