There was once a King who’s lands were rich, luscious, and green. His people were happy, life was good. The King was rich.
In fact, his lands were so productive, the King had excess grain and produce his people didn’t need. What they did need, however, was salt–so the King sent the excess food to a Count who controlled the lands to his west, trading him for the salt produced in great evaporation fields along the ocean.
For many years–and then decades–the trade worked perfectly: the King got his salt, the Count got the King’s excess food, and most everyone benefited, from rich to poor.
However, over time the King noticed his merchants were returning with less and less salt, even though if anything, he was sending the Count more food than ever. When he asked the merchants what was going on, they replied: “Sire, the Count is under the spell of a witch, who’s convinced him we’re cheating him by manipulating prices. He’s turned his people against us, and each season we go, they increase the price for their salt.”
But the king replied: “no, no, that can’t be–at least it’s not the whole story. The Count is a good man who’s been a fair trading partner all these years. Perhaps they’re producing less salt–or using more themselves. As for the witch, didn’t your masters teach you not to believe everything you hear?”
Not wanting to offend their lord, the men simply shrugged their shoulders and went on their way.
The next year, the merchants returned again with half as much salt, and there was great hardship throughout the kingdom as it had to be rationed carefully.
The year after that, the merchants didn’t return at all. By this point, the king was understandably worried, so he sent emissaries to see what was going on. To ensure the Count knew he was acting in good faith, the King sent a chest full of gold coins as a token of friendship.
Weeks went by, however, and neither the merchants nor the emissaries returned. A month passed and still no word. And then another…
Finally, after several months had gone by, even as reports of the Count’s people raiding farms on the border had reached the King’s ears, one of the emissaries arrived. He was horribly dirty, wearing sackcloth and burlap clothes, with several wounds–missing two fingers on his right hand!
The King ordered servants to tend to the man’s wounds, give him a hot bath, feed and clothe him properly, and allow him to rest. When he awoke the next day, he was brought a hot breakfast, and after, asked to tell the King and his court the story of his survival.
“Sire,” he began, “When we crossed our border into the Count’s lands, we were immediately arrested by his soldiers, and brought before the Count himself. He accused us of spying, for which the penalty was death. We told him we had no such intentions and that the gold we brought was an offering of friendship.
“He replied: ‘your King is no friend of mine. For years he has profited off our salt, selling it to his neighbors so that he might build up his army to attack us. Well, as you have seen, I have an army of my own. When winter falls, I shall attack your King, take his land, and avenge my people.’
“Then he ordered us to be locked up and publicly executed the next day. By your lordship’s grace I was lucky enough to escape, though as you can see, I had a hard time returning.
“Sire,” he urged, “We must prepare for the attack! The Count has an army 10,000 strong and if we don’t prepare, he’ll surely destroy us!”
The King was alarmed to hear such a tale. He thanked the man for his service, dismissed him, and called together his closest advisors. After great deliberation, they chose to make another peace offering… but this time with more emissaries and more gold.
Once again, no one returned, and when winter came, the Count’s army overran the King’s defenses; he was outnumbered and ill prepared.
“You fool!” said the Count, after his army had run a battering ram through the main gate and sacked the King’s castle. “Didn’t your spy tell you we were coming? We know he escaped. We thought you might put up a fight?”
“Why did you attack?” cried the King. “I never did you wrong. I sent emissaries not soldiers. Why did you attack?”
“Because you are my enemy. And I had the power to win,” added the Count. “Why share power when you can take it all?”
The King was silent, a look of wild disbelief on his face–a look some say never left him.
Even as he swung from the rope.
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