My daughter, Anya who was nearly five at the time, had been asking me if I would come into her school and tell some stories to her class. Of course, I really wanted to do that for her, but these days it’s not easy with all the regulations that are involved. The whole process took several weeks by the time I had been CRB’d (successfully, I’m happy to report) and her teacher and I had managed to match our schedules. But finally, it was on!
My hour fell in ‘Healthy Week’ and the day before I came in, Anya’s teacher asked if I could read a story about being healthy. Dutifully, I looked round to find a story that would be interesting and entertaining for the kids, where the message wasn’t overly simple and obviously political (these kids, I have learned, are very smart and can see through this easily!) and was, preferably, one they hadn’t heard before. A couple of hours later, I hadn’t managed to find one that fitted all these criteria. I was, very slightly, panicking. I couldn’t possibly turn up unprepared, especially as Anya had been telling everyone for days that her ‘daddy was coming in’.
So, at 11pm, the night before ‘the show’, I decided to write one, and this is what came out. It went down very well, the kids listened spellbound (such a wonderful age for an audience!) to the whole thing and got the message with ease. It will take between 10 and 15 minutes to read when you read out loud, although my second reading managed to extend it to 20 minutes as I embellished it with more detail on the fly. I’m publishing it here because perhaps there will be other parents/teachers who will need a similar story for that time of year and you’re welcome to use it. That’s read it to kids mind, not publish it and claim it’s yours, because that would be very, very naughty, wouldn’t it children? 😉
The King and the Magic Well
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a king who ruled a most wonderful kingdom. He was a very good king and his people loved him. But the king was also lazy. He had so many servants and attendants that, over time, they did more and more things for him. He’d ask them to bring his food and fetch things and do jobs for him and slowly he got fatter and fatter and fatter. Sometimes he felt so floppy when eating his food, that he’d fall asleep – right at the table! His crown would fall right off into his bowl of hamburgers that he liked to eat for lunch!
One day, the king became so fat that he couldn’t move from his bed. His loyal servants called all the doctors in the land to come and see him, and they all tried different medicines to make him better, but they couldn’t. The king became more and more ill and the situation became more and more grave. All his people were very sad because he was a fair and kind king and looked after his kingdom well.
After the last doctor in the land had tried his best with the most expensive medicine that the kingdom had to offer, it was certain that the king would not live. The king’s minister, saddened by the news, went for a walk around the grounds of the castle to think of a solution.
Suddenly, he remembered the wise old man who lived in the cave on the mountain. No-one had spoken to him for a very long time, but the King’s minister knew that if he anyone would know how to cure the king, he would.
So, with the King’s blessing, the minister set off on the long trek to the wise man’s cave. It was a very hard road, very narrow and very dangerous, and after a short while it was clear that he couldn’t ride his horse all the way. So he tied his horse up, left him some food and water and went on foot to find the cave.
After a while he came to the cave and saw the old man sitting next to a fire stirring a pot. He was very old, with torn robes, a long white beard but no hair on his head. He smiled a toothless smile when he saw the minister approach and invited him to join him for supper, for which he was very grateful.
The minister explained the problem and how sick the king was. The wise man listened very intently and asked lots of questions in a raspy, croaky voice. Eventually the minister asked the wise man “can you cure him?”
There was a pause and the wise man smiled a big, knowing smile.
“Of course I can” he said “I have a magic well and a magic berry bush”
He pointed to a water filled hole in the ground near where the fire was and a bush, bearing beautiful red fruit beyond.
“All His Majesty has to do is come here every day for 30 days and drink water ONLY from this well and berries ONLY from this tree”.
The Minister was astonished!
“And then he’ll be cured?” he said.
“Yes” said the wise man “and then he’ll be cured”
“I must leave right away and tell my king immediately” said the minister. “I will have some servants come and collect the water in the morning”
The minister got up to go, but the wise man just chuckled and it stopped him in his tracks.
“I’m afraid that won’t work” said the wise man, still smiling. “you see, the magic is very particular and it will ONLY work for the person who collects it himself”
“But … it’s too far … he’s too weak …” stammered the minister.
“Then he has already made his choice” said the wise man, looking more serious. “go and tell His Majesty the cure is here … if he chooses”
Full of thought, the minister returned through the treacherous path to find his horse and rode back to the castle. When he got back, he went straight to see the king and explained what the wise man had said. The king desperately wanted to live, but he believed he was no longer strong enough to make the journey. Against the advice of the wise man, he sent servants to collect the water and the berries.
The servants went along the path the minister had taken and, after a long and difficult walk, they found the wise man, still sitting beside the fire. He smiled at them and greeted them, almost as if he was expecting them. He sat and watched as they drew water from the well and took berries from the tree and the servants thanked him as they left with a full days’ supply. The wise man smiled again and said “you are welcome to the magic berries and water, but understand they will not work for anyone who does not collect them himself.”
Perplexed, the servants headed back to the castle with their supplies. When they returned, they offered the berries and the water to the king who ate and drank them right away.
After an hour or so, the king did not feel better, so he had some more. After another hour, he started to feel worse and decided that he’d prefer to eat some hamburgers instead and ordered some from his kitchen servants. He ate them all, still in his bed, but as he did so, he began to think about what the wise man said; that the magic would ONLY work for those who collected the magic water and berries themselves.
The king was quite a wise man and he knew, in his heart, that the only way for him to get better was to do the journey himself. So he ordered his staff to ready his horse for the next day and went to sleep.
In the morning, the king made a tremendous effort to get out of bed. He needed the help of six servants and it took him nearly two hours to get dressed and ready. He slowly walked down the beautiful marble stairs of the castle and by the time he had been hoisted onto his horse with the help of five more men, three more hours had passed.
The king rode off along the path that his minister and the servants told him about with a small group of attendants. After a short while he came to where he had to leave his horse and his servants helped him down.
“Stay here while I see the wise man” the king bellowed. “I must do this part alone”
For the king, who had not been out of bed for a long time, it was very, very hard work. He was sweating and breathless. He had to stop ten times for a rest and crawl some parts of the trail on his hands and knees, but eventually he came to the wise man and collapsed in a heap on the ground next to him.
The wise man smiled and greeted him “Your Majesty, I am so pleased to see you”
It was several minutes before the king could even say a single word, gasping for air as much as he was. And while he lay there, the wise man explained that he had to collect a whole basket of berries and a whole flagon of water. The wise man shuffled to his cave and bought out the basket and the flagon.
“One more thing” said the wise man “you must not eat the berries or drink the water before you reach the castle”
The king agreed.
It took the king a long time to collect the berries and the water, panting all the time. When the evening came, the king put the flagon on his back and the basket on his front and waved, weakly, to the wise man. The wise man raised his arm and said “see you tomorrow, Sire”
With a mighty effort, the king walked slowly back to his horse. It took a lot of time and another ten rests before he got back to where his servants helped him onto his horse. When they rode home, the king ate the berries and drank the water and fell into a deep, deep sleep.
The next day the king felt terrible. He was aching and coughing and sweating, but he knew he had to go back to the wise man for the magic to work. And so he did every day for many days. And each day he carried on his back the heavy flagon of water and the bulky basket of berries, and took back the empty vessels for more the next day.
One morning, the king got out of bed to see the wise man as usual. But this morning was different. On this morning, he only needed five servants to help him get out of bed, instead of six. And it only took him one hour to get ready instead of two, and it only took four men to hoist him onto his horse instead of five. Even more strange, the king only had eight rests on the way to see the wise man instead of ten.
The wise man seemed extra happy to see the king that day and said “I think the magic is working, Sire”. The king, for the first time in a long time, smiled back. He was amazed by this little old man who knew so much.
Then, another morning, he only needed three servants to help him, and then two. On another day, the king tried to put his robes on and they’d seemed to have grown in the night, but it was only that the king wasn’t as fat any more. The king started to enjoy seeing the wise man, even though it took all day, and he felt stronger, and wiser and more energetic.
On the last day, the king jumped out of bed without any help at all. He was dressed in an instant and ran down the stairs. When he got to his horse, he decided to just keep going and ran straight past him! His horse was very surprised indeed! He ran all the way to the wise man without stopping once!
As soon as he saw the wise man, he threw down the flagon and basket and knelt before him in gratitude.
The king said “Wise man, I owe you my life, you have saved me with your magic water and magic berries, how can I thank you? I will give you anything in my power, and gladly so”
The wise man smiled and gently pulled the King to his feet. “It is I, Sire, who should be kneeling before you both as my king and because of your tremendous efforts”.
The king looked confused because this was not the answer he was expecting at all. The wise man began to explain.
“You see, sire, there is no magic water and there are no magic berries. This is just an ordinary well and this is just an ordinary berry bush.”
The king was startled, and just for a second, even a little angry. But he knew he had to listen to the wise man speak .
“The magic, Sire, is in you. The ‘magic’ comes from carrying heavy weights backwards and forwards on foot to the castle, drinking only pure water, like from my well, and eating only the natural foods that are good for you, like the berries from my tree. Now that you have learned these things, you will be wiser and healthier than any of your subjects. I have no need of money or things, my reward is knowing that my king will serve our kingdom well for many years”
And the King did live a long and happy life, and the kingdom flourished under his energetic rule. Never again did he get fat and never again did he eat hamburgers, well, except perhaps for a treat on his birthday! As for the wise man, he stayed in his cave, as content as he ever was and perhaps he is there still, stirring his pot and encouraging his visitors to try his magic berries and magic water with his toothless, knowing smile!
Jason Deane, April 2013