A long time ago, in a land far far away, there lived a beloved King named King One Off. King One Off loved his people, with all of his heart, and he wanted them to be happy. He hated to say “no,” even to their smallest requests. And so he didn’t.

King One Off knew his subjects wanted to obey the rules of his kingdom. But sometimes those rules seemed just so petty, just so small. So he let them slide, because he wanted to be loved. And his people did love him. But gradually, the burden of never saying “no” became greater . . . and greater . . . and greater.

Harvest was always a time of celebration in One Off’s kingdom. The peasants gratefully harvested the grain, fruit and vegetables that mother nature had seen fit to provide. (This was a time before global climate change would bring the unpredictable weather that could upset agriculture.) There were days of dancing and feasting, and parents spoiled their children with the spoils of nature’s bounty.

This was also the time when King One Off’s subjects paid their taxes. The rule was easy: 10% of each family’s harvest, paid to the King’s tax collectors by the Saturday after the High Harvest festival. But one year, Mrs. Jones felt sickly, and she asked the collector if she could wait a few days before paying. (Perhaps she had celebrated with too much of the King’s mead?)

The King’s chief tax collector, Sir Boundary, naturally said “no,” but Mrs. Jones went directly to the King himself, who naturally said “yes.” And so, for a week, and then another week, and another week still, Mrs. Jones didn’t pay her tax. It meant extra work for the King’s tax collectors, because they had to wait and wait and wait for her. And by the time she paid, her fruit had spoiled, and her vegetables had brown spots, and her grain had been partly eaten by the birds who enjoyed some unexpected extra harvest bounty of their own.

Mrs. Jones’s neighbors had of course noticed her napping on the Saturday when they were delivering their harvest. So next year they asked for a few days grace, too. King One Off, of course, realized it wouldn’t be fair to let Mrs. Jones nap while her neighbors delivered their taxes, so he gave them a dispensation, too.

Then there came a time when King One Off gathered his ten richest nobles to clear a thousand acres of forest for a field for their knights to practice the arts of war. Nine of the nobles were happy to join together in the effort, for they knew that life without well-trained defenses would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. But the tenth noble, Lord Pita, balked. His horse was tired from the long journey he had just taken back from the shore. His wife was cranky because she had missed him while he was away. His bottom was sore from the long ride back. There was a rock in his shoe.

Good King One Off, sensing Lord Pita’ unhappiness, let him off the hook with a promise to spend twice as long clearing the forest the next time. Of course, the other lords noticed Pita’s absence. They grumbled among themselves that One Off was letting himself be taken advantage of. Privately, they wailed and gnashed their teeth at how unfair it was to them.

Months later, the evil king across the sea decided Good King One Off’s land looked better than his own. The evil king sent his armies and navies across the sea, and a pitched battle ensued. Good King One Off fought as valiantly as he could. But too many of One Off’s lords had deserted him, and his storehouses were only half-full. Defending the kingdom should have been easy. But it turned hard, then impossible. King One Off lost his kingdom, shackled in the prison he had built (but never actually used, because, well, nobody would have loved being put inside it).

Only at the very end, as the evil NEW king’s executioner raised his pikeaxe (in a tableaux reminiscent of King Joffrey beheading Ned Stark at the end of Game of Thrones Season One), did King One Off realize that his subjects would have been happier in the long run if he had cracked the whip a little harder. For that would have meant staying on the throne where he belonged, instead of separated in two pieces with his bloodied head bouncing down the stone steps where he used to receive his subjects’ love.

Leave a Reply