A prize for those who deserve it

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 July, 2008, 12:00am

A king discovers the value of hard work and honesty and the cost of greed

Once upon a time, a poor peasant was going to plough his fields when he found his ox had died. He was distraught, but he didn't want his field to go to waste, so he visited his neighbour.

'Since I have no ox to pull my plough, I wonder if you would like to lease my field,' he asked.

The neighbour agreed and ploughed the field that spring.

One day, the plough struck something hard. The neighbour bent down, expecting to find a rock in the dirt, but he discovered instead a large copper pot. When he lifted the rusting lid, he was amazed to discover hundreds of gold coins.

The neighbour ran at once to tell the peasant the wonderful news. 'I've discovered a pot of gold on your land,' the neighbour said. 'Come, you must see this, for it is yours.'

'Nonsense,' the peasant argued. 'You paid me to use the land. Whatever you discover must certainly belong to you.'

'Don't be a fool,' said the neighbour.

'You're the one who's the fool,' the peasant said. 'The gold is yours.'

They went out to the field. The peasant was delighted to see the gold, but refused to take it. They decided to take their problem to the king to decide who the rightful owner was.

When the king heard that a pot of gold had been discovered in his kingdom, he knew who it belonged to. He stood up and said: 'The gold is mine! After all, it was discovered in my kingdom, and everything in this kingdom belongs to me.'

The peasant and his neighbour could not argue with the king. They told him where he would find the pot and the king set off with his servants to fetch it.

When they reached the field, the king got off his horse and knelt down beside the old copper pot. But when he opened the lid, he saw not gold but many hissing snakes. He quickly slammed the lid closed.

He was furious. 'Arrest the peasant and his neighbour,' the king cried. 'Take them to the dungeon. How dare they play this trick on their king?'

The servants arrested the two men, but they begged to talk to the king, and at last they were brought to him. 'We have done nothing wrong,' they insisted.

'You sent me to a pot of snakes,' the king said.

'Your majesty,' said the neighbour, bowing low. 'I beg your pardon, but you must have looked in the wrong pot. The pot I found buried in my friend's land is a pot filled with gold. I saw it with my own eyes.'

Now the king thought he must have found the wrong pot, and so he ordered his servants to take the two men to the land. 'You will watch them look into the pot and return to tell me what is there.'

The servants led the peasant and his neighbour to the spot. Sure enough, when they reached the pot and opened the lid, there were hundreds of shimmering coins.

The servants returned to the palace. 'Your majesty,' they said, 'the men are right. The pot is filled with gold!'

'Take me there!' the king commanded, and so again he travelled to the field. He opened the lid, but as before, the pot was full of writhing snakes.

'What kind of fool do you take me for?' cried the king.

The servants replied, 'Your majesty, we saw the gold. We cannot explain.'

'Call the wise men,' said the king. 'I wish to hear what they say.'

The wise men came to the court and heard the tale. 'Your majesty,' they said, 'you must promise not to punish us for what we are about to tell you.'

'Tell me!' the king roared. 'I promise you shall not be punished for wisdom.'

And so the wise men began. 'The farmers received a pot of gold for their hard work and honest ways,' said the wise men.

'The gold is their reward. Alas, anyone who tries to steal another's fortune will discover reward will turn into punishment.'

Now the king felt ashamed. Still, he had one more question. 'And so who rightfully owns the pot?' he asked.

'The landowner!' cried the neighbour.

'No, the man who does the work,' argued the peasant.

The wise men held up their hands. 'Tell us this. Which one of you has a son or a daughter?'

The neighbour said, 'I have a beautiful, sweet-tempered daughter.'

The peasant stood up proudly. 'And I have a kind, handsome son,' he said.

'This is our answer, then,' said the wise men. 'The pot of gold shall be a wedding present to your son and your daughter.'

The neighbour and the peasant looked at each other, their eyes alight.

They introduced their children to each other, and the peasant's son and the neighbour's daughter happily fell in love.

They were married, and as a wedding gift, their fathers gave them the big pot of gold, their reward for honest labour and true love.