Fable of the Dying King

Once there was a king who was young and ambitious. He ruled his land responsibly and was loved by his people.

He wasn’t very happy therefore, when one day, the wise court astrologer foretold his death. His exact words were, “Ten years from this day, you will die. And you will die a sudden death.”

The wise one had never been wrong before. The king considered his age and decided that life was not fair. He was to die at thirty!

The king grew angry with the wise one. But he respected him too much. So instead of having him executed or imprisoned, he limited the old man to his house and forbade him from making any more predictions.

As the years passed, the king grew sickly with worry. In all but appearance, he was already dead. The thought of death occupied all of his mind. Nightmares of bloody battles haunted his nights. Seven years remained.

Then one day, a travelling merchant came by to pay his respects. The king sat through the formalities looking his usual wooden self. When the time came for the meeting to end, the merchant asked, “What ails you my king?”

“Haven’t you heard citizen?” replied the king. “I am a dead king. In seven years, I will die. At the hands of what monsters, I don’t know.”

The merchant considered his words and realised nothing would console the young king. He looked about and asked a guard out aloud, “When are you going to die?”

“I don’t know,” said the guard.

The merchant asked him, “Will you die tomorrow?”

“It is unlikely. But anything can happen. Anyone may die at any time.”

The merchant next addressed one of the ministers, “When do you think you will die my lord?”

The minister was silent for a while. Then he said, “I should very much prefer to grow old and die in peace. But that is not for me to decide. I could die any day, if the gods so willed.”

The merchant turned to the king at last, “When will you die my king?”

“In seven years, as you very well know,” said the king, now slightly irritated.

“What if you were to face off with a hungry lion in a ring tomorrow? Will you die then?”

Realisation pounced upon the king out of nowhere. “I won’t,” he said.

“What if you took your forces against that dastardly warmonger king to our north? Will he be able to kill you?”

“No,” said the king, beaming now.

“For the next seven years, neither man, nor god – neither disease nor sword… will be able to harm you. You will die on a day seven years from now,” said the merchant, “But that day is not tomorrow. Nor the day after, or the one after that.”

The king rose to his feet and looked around. The court house looked different somehow. The courtiers looked different. They all spelled possibility.

There wasn’t much time. The king decided to get busy.