The Animal Tales! • The Twelfth of Several Fables

12. Better Nothing for Thanks 

A Fable that follows: In the Mouth

Luckily for the fox, he caught the topmost branch of the apple tree. There he hung, the branch between his teeth, his bushy tail whim to the breeze. The geese atop the chicken coop saw where the fox was. They were so overwrought that all they could do was gaggle senselessly and point at the apple tree. “What a racket!” said the farmer testily. “Hush up before I stew the lot of you!”

Humph!” said the geese indignantly. They would be subtler. They waddled through the barnyard. “Bad year!” they said. “Yes Sir! A bad year for apples!” “Very, very bad!” they said. “Such ugly apples!” they said. “Like a corncob with ears!—like potatoes with feet!—like a pumpkin with a nose!” the geese went on yammering.

By day’s end the geese were fed up. They hatched a plan. They took the farmer’s pitch fork, all of them carrying a length of it, then stood each on each others’ shoulders. They poked the fox’s behind with the end of the pitch fork. “Yip!” Down came the fox atop the geese. “Snarl! Snip!” snapped the fox! “Honk! Honk!” honked the geese. When the animals saw what the geese had done they muttered: “A foxed goose or a goosed fox, take your pick.” The geese, having narrowly escaped with their lives, humphed and clicked, grumbling sourly,

“Better nothing for thanks than nothing to be thankful for.”


Be it known that this fable is followed by: One Part Genius

The Animal Tales! • The Eleventh of Several Fables

11. In the Mouth

A fable that follows: The Higher the Horse

Fox & the FarmGirl“You shouldn’t have got out that cider,” said the farmer’s wife. “That horse shouldn’t have drunk it,” the farmer answered. “You’ll regret selling her,” she said. That evening, a neighbor stopped by having a very long snout. (The fox meant to get rid of that horse.) “Hello, Farmer,” he said, “I’ll take that horse off your hands for six chickens!”

“You will not!” interrupted the farmer’s wife. “Sold!” insisted the farmer, and he gave the fox six chickens and the horse. “A bargain if there ever was one!” said the farmer. The fox was no fool, though. He sniffed at the horse’s mouth just to be sure she hadn’t been drinking that cider! All the while, that horse knew perfectly well it was the fox.

As soon as the fox climbed atop her she reared and ran round and around the barn. The fox let go of the chickens one by one. Then she ran faster and faster until the fox’s hat blew off, followed by his petticoat, his breaches and his socks until his bushy tail all but gave him away. The horse kicked and the fox tumbled into the air. The farmer’s wife smiled archly.

“Never look a miffed horse in the mouth!”

Be it known that this fable is followed by: Better Nothing for Thanks

The Animal Tales! • The Tenth of Several Fables

10. The Higher the Horse

A fable that follows: No Death Worse

Fox & Hunter“Fox, fox fox!” said the farmer, disgusted.  “I’ll chase him down!”  Out he went one day and bought the fastest race horse he could find. The farmer’s wife doted on the horse, feeding her apples and cabbage. The very next day, and the day after that, the farmer almost caught the fox. “Ha!” said the farmer. “I have outwitted that fox! Me! Don’t talk to me about how to catch a fox!”

The farmer was so pleased with himself that he pulled out two barrels of old cider to celebrate. The fox was in no mood to celebrate. A week without chickens! He knocked over the two barrels when the farmer wasn’t looking and the horse drank every last drop.  Never did a horse have such a head-ache! And that night, when the farmer leapt atop her, bellowing for her to chase the fox, she gave such a kick that she sent the farmer straight through the barn roof.

As luck would have it, the seat of the farmer’s pants caught the topmost branch of the apple tree.  The animals came and went the next morning. “Such an ugly apple,” they said. “Like a pear with pants.” “It will be a bad year for apples,” said the farmer’s wife. “Don’t you think so, husband?” The animals saw the lesson a little more clearly.

“The higher your horse, the harder its kick.”

Be it known that this fable is followed by: In the Mouth

The Animal Tales! • The Ninth of Several Fables

9. No Death Worse

A fable that follows: What’s Sweetest

Fox & Cooked GooseThe wolf paced atop the hill. “Why should the fox eat well and not me?” After some thought he went to the magpie with a plan. The magpie would distract the farmer’s wife with talk while the wolf ate chickens. “What should I say?” the magpie wondered, trying one subject after another. The wolf answered: “That would do…” or “Yes, that will work…” or “That’s a very good subject…”; but ideas, for the magpie, were like fish out of water, impossible to hold.

The farmer’s wife heard the magpie halfway to the farmyard and well warned, she planned a little surprise. “I think I shall smoke ham today!” When the magpie arrived later, she found the farmer’s wife at laundry. She straightaway struck up a conversation with the woman as the wolf snuck into the coop.

Ham hung from the ceiling! The wolf jumped and jumped and jumped! The ham was strung too high and worse!—the coop was filling with smoke and worse!—the door had locked behind him! When the magpie finally returned to coop, she gabbed and gabbed about her gab with the farmer’s wife. How the wolf sweat! All night long he sweat and sweat as the magpie gabbed and gabbed! And the next morning, when the magpie finally thought to open the door, half the wolf had been smoked away! The animals shook their heads and said,

“No death worse than talked to death!”

Be it known that this fable is followed by: The Higher the Horse

The Animal Tales! • The Eighth of Several Fables

8. What’s Sweetest

A fable that follows: Cooked Goose

Juniper's Dog“I’m fed up!” said the goat. “Why should a horse get oat and barley? Clearly” he said to the dog, “the horse eats best.”

“Well… to every path its puddle,” answered the dog, speaking from experience. “Humph!” said the goat dismissively.

“Advice from a dog!” And so, that night, the goat snuck into the mare’s stall.  Before sunrise  (before there was enough light to know better) the farmer’s wife came out to feed and hitch the mare to the wagon.

“You feel thin, Bessy!” she said and she poured out a can of oat and barley. The goat ate several cans that way. But fortune frowned on the goat. The harness came next! “Why Bessy!” she said, tightening the harness, “you’re thin as a goat!” “Oof!” said the goat. Not until they were before the church did the first light of day reveal the poor goat!

The neighbors laughed themselves crooked. Church was canceled, the pastor saying: “There shall be no mirth before God!” The farmer and his wife dutifully frowned all the way home. The parched goat drank the farmyard dry and the barley in his belly plumped like a balloon. For two days that goat lay on his side. His rightward hooves pointed to heaven, the other hooves to the other place. His belly bloated for all the world between! “Ha!” said the other animals, “the lesson’s clear.

“What’s sweetest is soonest bitter!”

Be it known that this fable is followed by: What’s Sweetest

The blockprint is by my daughter Juniper, Age 8.

The Animal Tales! • The Second of Several Fables


2. Where Luck Goes

A fable that follows
: More to Birds!

fox-gets-the-goose2The wolf wanted chicken too and so that very next night the farmer and his wife heard another “Squak!” from the chicken coop. “Shall I go out, wife?” asked the farmer. “No,” she answered, “it’s that fox again. I’ll not be fooled twice.” When the wolf heard the wife, he quickly dressed himself in feathers to roost with the chickens.

The wife saw twelve chickens and one with a very long snout. “Well, well, well,” she said, “you all look like chickens but I see that one is a little grey. Are you ill?” The wife took the wolf by its snout. “I have just the thing for that,” she said and sprinkled a handful of pepper onto the wolf’s black nose. When she left the wolf let out a horrible sneeze. Out came the chicken! He flew into a rage, gulping down six more. “Squak!”  The wife hurried back.

“Bak!” said the wolf. “Still grey?” asked the wife. “Something you’ve eaten?” She took the wolf by its snout again and poured castor oil down its throat. “That will help!” she said. Once she left, up came the chickens! The wolf was not feeling so well, but enraged, he swallowed all twelve chickens in one great gulp! The wife returned (this time with an axe). “Burp,” said the wolf. “Better?” asked the wife. “And very plump! I think I shall have you for dinner!” She raised the axe and the wolf ran quick to the door but couldn’t fit! Round and round they went and the Wolf gasped and choked until one after the other he coughed the chickens up! At last he fit through the door. The fox, on hearing the story, said,

“Where luck goes, fools will follow!”

Be it known that this fable is  followed by: One Bad Apple: The Third of Several Fables!

The Animal Tales! • Or the Fox & the Farmer’s Wife

These tales are based on Aesop’s Fables. They are a series which, when read together, loosely tell a larger tale. Enjoy!

More to Birds

woodcut-fox-chickens-wandOne day the fox decided to have chicken for dinner. He snuck into the chicken coop of the farmer and his wife.  They soon they heard a ‘Squak!’ come from the chicken coop. The farmer said to his wife, “Go out and see if that fox is in the coop.” “If he is,” she said, “I’ll give him a poke he won’t forget.” With that, she took a three pronged fork and was out the door.

The fox had already eaten one chicken. When he heard the farmer’s wife coming, he quickly clothed himself in the chicken’s feathers and sat in its nest. When the wife opened the door, she saw twelve chickens. One had an unusually long snout, but it had feathers. “Well,” she said, “you all look like chickens.” She shrugged and closed the door. No sooner was she walked half way back to her house than she heard two squaks! “Squak! Squak!” She hurried back to the chicken coop. This time there were only ten chickens, and one with a very long snout.

She poked each one and when she came to the fox, the fox said “Bak!” “Well,” she said, “you all sound like chickens!” She left and again she heard three more squaks! “Squak! Squak! Squak!” She rushed back and there were only six chickens but the long-snouted chicken looked plump and plumper. “Well, ” said the farmer’s wife, “we’ll see which one of you flies!” She took her three pronged fork and poked each chicken. Up they flew into the rafters! When she came to the fox and poked, up he jumped and down he fell. “Yowl!” he cried. He bit her on her bottom and ran away! “Ouch!” she howled. “I never! Well,

“There’s more to a bird than feathers!”

Be it known that this fable is  followed by: Where Luck Goes: The second of Several Fables!

The Sultan & Winter: The Fifth & Last of Several Parts

The Sultan & Winter: Continuing the Fourth of Several Parts

Morning came.  Haajj hurried to the top of the tower.  The painter was fast asleep.  Yet upon his canvass was the most beautiful woman imaginable.  Haajj stared at it wordlessly.  It bothered him.  He wanted to see summer himself.  Haajj nudged the painter with his foot.  The little man suddenly stirred to life.

King Winter“Forgive me!”  He shuffled to his hands and knees.  “My miserable talent offends you!”
“Tell me,” said Haajj, wishing to test the painter, “how do I know this is summer?”
“I have painted,” answered the little man, “she whom you have trapped in the room.”
“How is it,” asked Haajj, “that you can see her and I cannot?”

“You cannot see her, exalted Sultan, because you look for her.”
“Is this a riddle?” asked Haajj.  “I shall have you skewered!”
“I am the leg of a flea,” cried the poor painter.
“You will paint another picture,” said Haajj.  “Paint the blue rose.  Once you’ve painted it, cut it out.  And once you’ve cut it out, work with it.  Make it look real!  ”

Haajj left with the painting.  And he carried it with him through the palace, all the way to the throne room.  Winter was waiting.  Haajj seated himself.  He was careful to turn the painting away from sight.  He wanted to hear winter’s answers.

“Will you show me summer?” winter asked?
“What are your answers to my questions?” Haajj asked in return.
“My mother,” said winter, “is the shadow of the flying crow.”
“Your father?” asked Haajj.
“My father,” answered winter, “is the sound of the still wind.”
These were clever answers.  If the questions had been impossible to answer, winter had given answers impossible to question.  Haajj was intrigued.  He waited for winter to answer the third question.

“Will you show me summer?” asked winter.
“Where are you from?” Haajj asked.
‟I come from the leaf,” said winter, “floating in the blackened well.”
“What were you,” asked Haajj, “before there were wells?”
“I was the leaf,” winter replied, “and before the leaf I was the digger of the well.”

“So be it!” Haajj returned.  “You have answered my three  questions.  It is without doubt that you are winter. You shall have what you desire.”  Haajj turned the painting.  “You bid me show you summer.  Here is a painting for you to carry with you so you may gaze upon her to your heart’s content!”
“I will not cease,” said winter angrily, “until I have freed summer.”
“You have always done so,’ Haajj replied, ‘but I will not let you free her.”

Winter glowered.  He was not content to be outwitted by a Sultan.  He drew his long grew cloak tightly over his shoulders and left without a word.  Haajj gleefully stepped from his throne.  What would winter try next?  Almost in answer a bitter cold wind whistled through the palace and into the throne room!  The painting, which Haajj had offered winter, spun into the air, lifted in a great swirl, and was torn to shreds.  Haajj leapt aside.  Yet the wind as quickly circled him.  The remnants of the painting lashed at him as they spun.  Haajj covered his eyes.

At the instant he did so the wind vanished.  Where had it gone?  Haajj hurried out of the throne room.  Winter was after his key!  When Haajj reached his own vast room its double doors had been swung wide open.  He could almost see the wind.  Drawers were sucked open and all the things in them were lifted out, as though a tiny hurricane had filled the room.  Haajj leapt into its midst.  Its cold nipped and bit at him.  He reached to close one of the drawers the winter’s wind had opened.  A sword, one of the many hanging from the walls of Haajj’s room, sprang to life.  As if held by an invisible warrior, it danced between Haajj and the drawers.  When Haajj moved one way, the sword moved also.

“You will not find the key!” Haajj shouted.

He drew his own sword and leapt at the other.  Paper, clothes, sheets, pillows, and all things alike began to swirl swiftly about the room.  Metal rang out as sword met sword.  Haajj slashed at the wind and the sword fell.  Yet as it struck the floor, two, three, then four more swords sprang from the wall.  Held by nothing, they spiraled round till they surrounded him.  Haajj picked up the sword just fallen.  With a sword in each hand he cut at the four that swirled around him.  They jabbed at him, poked at him, and stabbed at him. All else in the room was caught up in wind as winter searched for the key.  Yet try is it might winter  could not find it.  Haajj roared with delight as one by one he cut down the four swords surrounding and dancing around him.

At the next moment the wind rushed out the window.  All the things  caught circling the room crashed to the floor.  Bits of paper trailed out the window and fluttered to the ground.  It was as though the leaves of a tree had all been shaken off at once.  Haajj stood in the middle, both swords in hand, gloating at his victory.  What would winter try next?  He hurried out of the room.

Afternoon became evening.  Winter did not return, yet Haajj knew he would.  He ordered all his servants – his cooks, his waiters, his waitresses – to prepare a grand feast.  There would be seats for his generals, his admirals, the bravest of his soldiers, and one seat at the end of the table, left empty, for winter.  The feast began.  No one asked for whom the empty seat was.  One does not question a Sultan.  Yet as the feast turned to a loud revelry a cold wind suddenly caused  all the candles round the room to flicker.  Like smoke pouring into a bottle, the wind poured into the chair.  Winter appeared.  All the guests became silent.  Haajj lifted his glass to figure at the far end of the table.

“A toast to winter!” Haajj pronounced.

Everyone silently raised their glasses.  Some stared at the apparition.  Some quietly slipped a hand to their knives or swords.  Some shook so from fright they could hardly keep from spilling what they held.  Winter looked at them all.

“Without winter,” said Haajj, “I would never have my summer!”

All drank the toast.  Winter sat motionless.  His hood half covered his face.  His thin fingers encircled the arms of his chair.  His gray cloak dipped into a small bundle at the floor.  Only his eyes showed the depth of his anger.  None dared to look into his eyes but Haajj.

“Have you given up?” Haajj asked.
“I have,” said winter.  “I admit defeat.”
“You lie!” said Haajj.  “But what does it matter?  I know you do.”
“You have outwitted me,” winter returned.

“You are winter?” asked one of the generals.
“I am.” said winter.
“It was in winter you took my first born child,” said the general.
“Your child,” said winter, “begged a kiss from me.”
“She had been a beautiful woman!” said the general.
“”Her heart was small,” said winter, “and the fever which burned in her was great and caused her much pain.  She desired the cold of my lips.  She lives.  She laughs.  She visits you often.  She is the breeze when you have played too much in the sun.  She is the frost on the window and the light in your room.  Would you have had her become a cripple?  She loves you more.”

“You are a tyrant!” said a brave soldier.  “You take our food from us!.  You blast our regiments with a killing cold!  You bury us in ice!  You are a tyrant!”
“Do you think you alone suffer?” asked winter.  “You cut the earth.  Your hard boots trample her.  Your hunger ravishes her.  Your weapons puncture her.  Your anger steeps her in the tears of mothers.  Shall I not cover those wounds?  Shall I not soothe the broken field with snow?  Shall I not hide the tender grass and seedlings with snow?  Shall I not cover her aching brooks with ice and snow?  If you were kind, you would love the things that love you.”

“You are winter?” asked a young servant.
“I am,” said winter.
The servant knelt at winter’s side and kissed his hand.
“Why do you love winter?” Haajj asked the young boy.
“Every winter,” said the boy, “the river between my village and the village of my lover is turned to ice.  The river has drowned many men in summer.  It is white with anger then.  Yet when winter comes he stills her anger.  He teaches it to be silent.  And I, when night comes, can walk across it into the arms of my lover.”

“I wish to know,” winter said to Haajj, “where you keep the key.”

Haajj laughed.  “I wear it always.”  He tugged at a chain around his neck so all could see where the key hung.  “And so it shall remain until the day I perish.”

“Then summer is lost,” said winter.
“No,” said Haajj, “she is mine.”
“I ask one thing from you,” said winter.  “Give me a painting of yourself.”
“I have many,” said Haajj.  “Choose whichever you desire.”

“No,” said winter, “as you are now.”
“And you will never return?” asked Haajj.
“Never,” answered winter.
“So be it!” said Haajj.  “Summon the painter!”

And so, while all watched, the painter painted Haajj.  Winter knew well what he was doing.  None rivaled the painter.  There was nothing his eye missed.  His genius captured all in its perfection.  And this, in this little man, is exactly what winter wanted.  So soon as the portrait was finished, winter took it, held it closely, studied it, gazed at it without pause.  Haajj was pleased with himself, even flattered.  Yet he could not help but feel it had been too easy.

“You are a master,” said winter to the painter, “I shall reward you little man.”

Haajj, again, was flattered.  Yet he wondered what it was that winter gazed at so intently.  The ghostly figure finally stood.  He stood to his full height.  Satisfaction burned in his eyes.  He set the painting aside.  Haajj suddenly realized his mistake!  There, in the painting, was the key!  The little man had painted it perfectly!  Haajj stood in a rage.  What could he say?  Winter reached into a glass of water.  When he pulled his hand out, he held the key, made of ice!

“Stop him!” Haajj shouted.

Yet in an instant winter melted into a mist.  Haajj rushed out the banquet hall.  He crashed though doors, through hallways, through the rooms of the palace until he reached the tower.  He leapt up the steps two at a time.  Haajj was many things, but he was not as quick as winter.  Just as he reached the top, winter turned the key and opened the door which imprisoned summer.  A terrible wind rushed out, nearly throwing Haajj back down the steps.  Summer was free!

“You lied!” Haajj shouted at winter.
“I promised you I would never return,” said winter, “and I will not.”

Haajj turned.  Summer appeared.  She was radiant.  Her beauty shone like a summer’s day.  Yet there was no kindness in her eyes.  Her hair floated in the air like tiny bolts of lightning.

“Why did you trap me?” she demanded of Haajj.
“I loved you,” said Haajj.  “I desired you.”
“You shall have what you desire,” said summer.  “Your garden shall be ever green.  Keep all your possessions.

Your wealth shall be unsurpassed forevermore.  Yet if you, or anyone should leave, you will never again find your way back to this city.  Nor  shall any, who seek to find your city, be able to find it.  To the land that surrounds you, your summer shall be its curse.  Never speak my name again.”

“Give me the blue rose!” said Haajj.

But neither summer nor winter answered him.  Instead, summer gestured at the rose and the flower vanished in a white flame.  Then winter, and summer following, swirled into winds which spiraled out the eyes of the tower.  But Haajj had outwitted them.  He had hidden the real flower.  The flower consumed by the flame had been the painter’s.

The clever sultan was given much to think on.  Was it better to have your heart’s desire, or was it worse having none to show it to.  The land surrounding his city, under the angry summer’s sun, became the vast Sahara.  The city, always at the horizon, fooled traveler after traveler.  Though they tried, some desperately weary, none could ever reach it.  And the city, as if made with air, became a curse to the desert.  ‘Beware!’ said travelers, ‘of the Myrrha Haajj! ‘None have reached it! Beware of the Mirage!’  Haajj might have left and, if he did, he might even have found a way back.  The blue rose, it is said, was once seen in Cairo!

The Sultan & Winter: Fourth of Several Parts

The Sultan & Winter: Continuing the Third of Several Parts

Haajj didn’t know the boy had been autumn.  He also didn’t know the girl had been spring.  Yet when winter came to visit the Sultan felt very ill at ease.  Winter was disquieting.  His skin was white as paper.  He was thin.  His fingers curled out from his hands like gnarled little branches.  King WinterHe walked slowly.  And, as though to protect him, he always kept a gray cloak wrapped tightly around him.  He never smiled.  Yet of his features, the strangest were his eyes.  If you were to look at him, you might imagine a terribly cruel man.  Yet his eyes were kind, and fragile, and beautiful!  And once you saw them you could never forget them.  If his body seemed ruined, his eyes burned with perfection.

It was long into night when winter came to Haajj.  He had only just celebrated one of his many feasts.  His guests were gone and he, finding himself alone, sat musing at the end of the banquet hall’s giant table.  It seemed, indeed, that he possessed anything a Sultan could want.  He twirled his knife idly in his hand.  Haajj was about to leave when one of the great oaken doors quietly opened and the tall pale figure of winter crept into the room.  Haajj quietly watched as the ghostly figure sat at the opposite end of the table.  It was almost difficult to see him.  Gold and silver candelabras spilled candle light in every direction.  And all the plates, bowls, glasses and bottles collected it.  Haajj peered through all the glitter.

“I have come,” said winter, “to see your most prized possession.”

“Does everyone have a key to my palace?”  asked Haajj.  “The evening is ended.  There is no more food.  We have drunk the wine.  The embers are gray in their beds.  Come back tomorrow.  Then I will grant you audience.”

“I will not go,” said winter, “until I have seen your most prized possession.”
“You will do as I say,” said Haajj, “if you ever wish to see the garden.”
“I do not wish to see the garden,” said winter quietly.  “I have come to see  summer.”
“Summer?”  Haajj felt suddenly ill at ease.  “Who are you?”

“I am nothing,” said winter.  “I am nobody.”

“Surely you would rather see my garden,” said Haajj.  “It is magnificent.  All the world’s flowers are there.  I’ll show you my favorite! – the tiger lily.  Or what about the fringed gentian?  What about the blue columbine?  Or have you seen the small-bracted dayflower?  See the garden!  I’ll show you a place to sleep under the sparkle berry tree.  And you can rub the catkins of the pussy willow against your skin.  You will never find a more beautiful place!”

“I want to know,” said winter quietly, “what does summer look like?”

Haajj was quiet.  He fidgeted.  He didn’t know what summer looked like.  It was the one thing he didn’t possess.  What could he say?  The strange visitor awaited his answer.  Haajj had none.  He needed more time.  He needed to think.  He slumped in his chair, then he straightened.  He rested both his elbows on the table, then he straightened again and rubbed his forehead.

“Come back tomorrow,” Haajj finally said, “if you want to see summer.”

“Very well,” winter said, almost whispering.  The narrow figure stood and walked slowly back to the oaken door.  Without turning, he closed the door behind him.  And Haajj, being sure he was alone, hurriedly left the banquet hall.  Whoever he was, Haajj decided, he were someone to be reckoned with.  He went straight to the tower.  Perhaps he could find a way to trick summer.  If he could entrap her, he could surely find a way to see her.

He climbed the long spiral stairs of the tower.  He peered into her room.  He could see nothing.  Haajj began to pace.  There was an artist, it was said, who could paint all things in their minutest details – nothing escaped his eye.  Perhaps Haajj could not see summer, but surely a great painter could.  He would have summer painted.  Perhaps the strange visitor would be satisfied by a painting.  Haajj at once ordered his guards to summon the painter.  The painting, he knew, would have to be finished by tomorrow.  So all was prepared.  The painter, once he arrived, was told to discern summer wherever she was.  And he was not to sleep until he had done so.

When Haajj awoke the next morning, he at once went to learn of the painter’s progress.  Yet, far from having painted summer, the poor little painter was beside himself with excitement.  He had done nothing.  “I shall have you strung up!” said Haajj furiously.  “Where is my painting of summer?  Did you sleep all night? You are worthless!”

The painter at once fell to his hands and knees.  “O exalted Sultan,” begged the little painter.  “Forgive me!  Spare me!  I am a mere nothing!  I am the spit of a camel!  I am the belly of a lizard!  Spare me, O exalted Sultan!”

“Get up.”  Haajj stared at the empty canvass.  “Why have you done nothing.”
“Last night,” said the painter, still on his knees, “as I was readying myself to paint summer, a strange visitor came.  As I thought you had given explicit orders for no one to disturb me, I at once assumed you  had sent him.  How else should anyone come to the tower but by your permission?  I am miserable.”
“Go on,” said Haajj.
“He asked if I possessed a key to the door.”

“You do not,” said Haajj.
“I did not,” said the painter breathlessly.  “I told the visitor you kept the key hidden.  And that it was forbidden for anyone to inquire as to its hiding place.  Then, I witnessed it with my own eyes, he put his lips to the glass and summer came to him!  I am miserable!”
“Then what happened?” asked Haajj, very worried.

“O exalted Sultan!” cried the little painter, “I could do nothing to stop him!  I am miserable!”

“Yes, yes… miserable.”  Haajj gestured impatiently.  “Get on with it!  What happened?”
“Summer appeared,” said the painter, “and they kissed with the glass between them.  It was a beautiful kiss!  I have never seen anything like it!  When there lips parted, as if from both their mouths, a rose appeared! – a blue rose!  It was like a wisp of smoke at first, then summer touched it and it softened into a blue rose.  It is still in the room!”

Haajj looked.  In the center of the room lay the blue rose.  It lay as if it had just been picked.  It was the most beautiful flower he had ever seen.  Haajj rubbed his chin.
“What did he look like?” Haajj asked.
“He was a tall man,” said the painter.  “I could not see him well.  He wore a gray cloak.  I could only see his face.  I was afraid of him.  I am a painter.  I am miserable.  I am sure he could have crushed me like the snail beneath the Sultan’s exalted foot.”

“It is winter!” said Haajj, who was too clever not to know.  “So this is what happens when winter kisses summer!  We have flowers!  When summer kisses winter?” Haajj mused, “- perhaps snowflakes!”
“What is your will?” asked the painter, back to his hands and knees.  “I am your pathetic servant.”

“You will not leave here until you have painted summer,” said Haajj.  “You are miserable.  You are pathetic.  You are, of course, a genius.  It is said you are the greatest painter in any land.  The eyes of genius miss nothing.  Therefore summer cannot hide from you.  Do not allow yourself to be distracted again.”

Haajj walked slowly down the winding stairs of the great tower deep in thought.  He would need to be very careful.  He would, of course, have to be cleverer than winter.  And what of the blue rose?  Yet something more to torment him.  He wanted it.  Yet if he opened any window summer would be quick as lightning.  As he neared the throne room the Sultan put on his fabulous crown.  And as he walked into the throne room winter was waiting.

“I grant you audience,” said Haajj.  “What do you desire?”
“Will you show me summer?” winter asked.
“I will.”  Haajj seated himself upon his throne.  “Yet first you must tell me where you are from.  And you must also tell me who your parents are.”

Winter had never been asked these questions before.  The Sultan was a clever man.  One does not ask the river where it was  born nor who its parents are.  Winter mused.  The answer could not be careless.  It would not do to be outwitted by a Sultan.
“Will you show me summer when I have answered,” winter asked.
“I will,” said the emperor, “when you tell me where you are from and who your parents are.  If you cannot answer I you will not see summer.”
“I shall return in morning,” said winter, “with my answer.”

The Sultan & Winter: Third of Several Parts

The Sultan & Winter: Continuing the Second of Several Parts

A red carpet stretched the length of Haajj’s throne room.  It ran beneath towering marble arches, between long rows of glistening soldiers, until it ended at the feet of Haajj’s throne.  As always, he sat above any visitor, giving them only the briefest time.  King WinterHe was a Sultan with much on his mind.  And they, as always, came to see the garden.  It pleased Haajj.  It was his garden.  And his guests liked him for his garden.  Then, not long after the boy had come, a young girl came.  She was hardly what she seemed.  Her beauty astounded.  Her perfection enraptured.  She was love in the heart.  She robbed everyone of their selfishness.

She walked where she wished.  None questioned her.  The doors opened whichever way she chose.  She wore no shoes.  Her hair was white.  Her clothes were mixed with green and gold.  The sun danced through her legs and arms.  She was as a little princess. In her every movement she somehow summoned beauty.  Yet she glanced at all with a wary cleverness.  When she entered the throne room Haajj leaned forward to see better who it might be.  “Who are you?” he asked.  “You seem a child and yet I think you are older.”

“I am neither.”  The girl laughed sweetly.  “I have come to tell you a story.”
“Surely,” said the Sultan, “you would rather play in my garden.”
“Surely.”  The girl smiled.  “I have come to see you!”
“I am a busy man,” said Haajj.  “I am a Sultan!  What time do I have for your story?”
“You will listen.”  The girl shook a finger at him.  “I will speak to you and you will listen.  It is a long story.  It touches upon you.  You must listen to it all.”

Never before had anyone dared to speak to him so.  “Yes.”  He could think of nothing better to say.  “Yes.  You will tell me a story.  I command you to tell me a story.  You have traveled some distance to tell me a story, so it befits me to listen to your story.  I am listening.”

The girl sighed, stretched till she stood tip-toe, then relaxed.  “Once upon a time there was a poor plowman with barely enough land to feed him through the winter.  He had no children.  He had a poor little dog which always stayed by his side.  And he had a wife with whom he shared his few possessions.  He asked little from fate and fate answered with little.  Yet one winter came when even all his summer’s toil left not enough to spread across a dinner table.  The plowman felt his bitterness deeply.  His silence broke and  he angrily marched into the night.  He would finally speak with fate.

‘I am a poor plowman!’ he cried.  ‘Have I ever asked to be wealthy?  Have I envied my neighbor?  Have I stolen from my friend?  Have I ever desired more than what befit me?  Why must I suffer this daily sorrow?  All I ask is to reap what I sow!’

With these words a dark being appeared before him.  It seemed neither there nor absent.  ‘Poor plowman,’ it whispered, ‘since you ask I am come to answer.  You toil all your life and never asked for more than life.  Among the loved you are beloved especially.  I may grant you whatever you wish.  You have lived poor in body yet rich in soul.  You may still live so if you desire.  Though it is winter spring must follow.  Yet I may grant you more if you ask.’

‘I am old,’ said the plowman.  ‘My bones are brittle.  My wife cannot undo the knots she ties.  The cold has carved a place out of our spirit.  Even my poor dog cannot sleep at night for the bruising of his ribs.  What will you grant me?  I will live better if I may.’

‘So be it,’ the shadow answered.  ‘Take your baskets tonight, with which you collect your harvest, and hang them, as many as you have, from the pomegranate tree.  And, come morning, they will be filled with golden pomegranates.  Yet, be warned, let none of the golden fruit touch the earth so long as you possess it.’

The plowman at once hung all his baskets from his only pomegranate tree.  It being the depth of winter, and he being old and easily chilled, the plowman quickly went back to the warmth of his hut.  When he woke the next morning he indeed found the baskets full of golden pomegranates.  The poor plowman nearly danced for joy.  He carefully pulled each precious basket from each branch.  They were just what he needed.  He went, that day, and bought enough food to last through the winter.  All with one  golden pomegranate.

A month passed.  The plowman once again hung his baskets from the pomegranate tree.  When he gathered them the next morning, he was drunk with delight.  They were filled with twice as many golden pomegranates!  And so, by the end of the day, he’d bought a house and farm with cattle, sheep, and horses.  The old plowman relished his happiness.  Yet each day seemed to breed more and more of the little desires in him.  Soon, though his wife was content, he wanted just a little more.

And so, one day, he returned with his baskets fuller than ever.  The old plowman’s wife looked at him unhappily.  ‘I have never seen you walk so slowly,’ she sighed.

‘My load is heavy and I must not drop it,’ answered the old plowman.  ‘My baskets are each full of a hundred pomegranates with which I shall buy so many workers.’

‘Your back is bent and your steps grow weary,’ answered his wife.  ‘You do not dance as you once did, when you carried hundred pears in your sack.’

‘I shall buy a hundred workers,’ answered the old plowman, ‘and we shall dine upon pears, and we shall dance to music, night after night after night.
‘So many golden pomegranates will break your back,’ she answered.  ‘Give some to your friends so they may love you and help you bear your burdens.’

The old plowman, however, wouldn’t listen to his wife.  He was the wealthiest in all the country.  He soon forget he had ever been old or poor.  And soon he treated his friends with forgetfulness.  Yet he was noticed by the emperor.  When he learned that a plowman was richer than he, he at once set out to tax him until he, again, was the richer.  The plowman, knowing nothing of the emperor’s plans, could do little when the tax man came.  He was forced to give over most of his wealth.  The old man was filled with rage and anger.

The very next day he hung basket after basket from the branches of the tree.  The old man at once commanded his workers to carefully collect each one.  And during the weeks that followed he gathered together a tremendous army.  He meant to conquer the emperor.  He couldn’t brook being taxed.  He exercised his army day after day.  He bought them uniforms, guns, and canons.  He taught them how to quickly slay the enemy.  He became a severe and cruel general.

No one loved him.  Even the old man’s dog feared to walk beside him anymore.  And when the dog finally perished, his master never noticed.  In less than a year the plowman defeated the emperor and became, himself, the emperor.  Yet the old man remembered only that he had struggled lifelong.  He couldn’t remember the times he’d laughed or paused to play.  He remembered only that discipline had brought him wealth.  And so he robbed his country of any happiness.

‘Yet why must the people suffer?’ asked his wife.  ‘For whatever reason fate has brought you here, if it has been cruel to you it has been good as well.  Do not remember only the cruelty.  Be good to the people.  Be better than fate has been to you.  If you cannot love your past, do not despise their future, sweet husband.  Give them some joy.’

The old man brooded.  Fate had indeed been cruel to him.  He could not understand his wife’s words.  His unhappy thoughts left him alone among his people.  And when, one day, his wife would not come to him, then he was truly alone.  When people came to him, his unhappiness left him easily angered.  ‘If you are starving,’ he said to them, ‘then go back and scold the hands which idled in your pockets when it was time to sow!’  And the old man sent them away.

Finally, his unhappiness all but consumed him.  He had everything he had ever dreamed of, yet no one to share it with.  He taught his people by hardship, as he had taught himself.  And he believed it was the best way to live happily.  Yet none of these things brought any happiness.  Each day left him lonelier than the day before.  Each night he slept less.  His mind grew thick with heaviness. His old heart grew small and weary with sorrow.  At last he could bear no more.  He returned to find the spirit which had granted him so many wishes.

‘Where are you spirit?’ he cried.  ‘I’m tired!  I’m old!  I have a winter inside me so cold!  And I… I can find no fire to warm it!  Help me!  Come out, spirit!’
‘I’ve come.’  The strange figure appeared before him again.  ‘What is it, poor plowman?’

‘You must help me!’  The old plowman fell, weeping, to his hands and knees.  ‘When I was poor, I had a wife!  She loved me!  If it were cold outside, then how gladly she loved me!  If it were her moments of grace, the soft look of her eyes, or the sorrows of her changing face, I loved her nonetheless.  She has fled!  Spirit! – I do not want to be hated by all!  I have been cruel!  She has fled!  Spirit! – I would give all to have her back!’

‘Kindness,’ answered the shadow, ‘cannot be given.  It can only be offered.’
‘Giving?  Offering?’ cried the old man.  ‘They are the same!’
‘How can you know what another loves?’ asked the shadow.  ‘Offer – and what is loved will be taken.  Give – and what is given may not be loved.’
‘I desire only the happiness of my people!’  cried the old plowman.

‘And your happiness?’ asked the shadow.  ‘Tell me where you have lost it, old plowman.  You did not teach each plant how to bear its seed.  You did not instruct each how to unfurl its leaves, nor how many leaves should be borne by each branch, nor how, in what way, nor in which direction each plant should spread itself over the earth.  You loved each as it was and each, as it was, gave to you the fruit which nourished you.  The good emperor is the good farmer.  Do this and find happiness.  If you do not, though you be surrounded by a summer of wealth, the winter which is in you shall freeze your heart till it stop with ice.’

‘I ask only to create happiness,’ wept the plowman.
‘Poor plowman,’ whispered the shadow, ‘would you control destiny?’

The old man clamored to his feet but the shadow melted away.  Still he was resolute.  If he could rule a land, he could command the world.  He made his wish and hung his baskets from  the tree.  Yet he forgot the warning he’d first been given.  No golden pomegranate could touch the earth.  Yet to wish the world, a thing infinite in price, is to wish what created it.  The golden pomegranates might have reaached into the sky but the little tree shuddered and, one by one, the baskets each slipped off their branches.  Nothing could bear so much weight.  The pomegranates turned to rock as they struck the earth, and the plowman’s wealth crumbled with it.  The next morning, his empire was no more.  The people turned against him.  And his name was forever forgotten.”

“I like it not,” said Haajj to the little girl.  “A plowman an emperor?  Never!  I like it not!  It is too fanciful – too long!  You spend too much time in the detail – too many words!”

“Alas,” said the girl, “which words would you have me take out?  You have not listened to my story.  And ’tis a thousand pities.”

Continued: The Fourth of Several Parts