Greed and Honour
In a time when people lived without fear of war and death, there was a boy whose father was a smith. This father hated his son and whenever he got the chance, he made a fool of him in front of strangers, guests and even his own family. The father told everyone who wanted to hear it that his son had no honour, quite the opposite of his father - that was he, he always made sure to tell. He always described himself as an honourable man and to accentuate his bragging, he told of all his deeds he actually never did that made made him look generous and indulgent. Whoever believed in these stories quickly got the feeling that the smith practically gave away his weapons and armour. Just as a side note, the truth is he sold his produce of lousy quality for horrendous prices. However his business was going well despite the high prices, for he was the only smith in the area. This was not to do with the fact there were not enough smith apprentices, no, it was more to do with the growing fear of many prospective smiths that he would murder them at night and set their house alight to make it look like an accident. And rumours have it that he has done this before to get rid of annoying competition. The smith was known to be greedy, hot-tempered and brutal. To all the young warriors who are now asking whatever happened to justice, I can only say: The count was not interested at all, for he and the smith were nearly soulmates, judging by their similar traits.
But to get back to the father's tales.
One day he announced proudly that a poor man dressed only in rags came into his store and told him he wanted to go to war to defend the land against barbaric hordes. Very impressed with the man's "selflessness", the smith got to work right away and finally, sweating but content, gave the brave warrior a sword and armour. These were supposedly worthy of a prince. And he did not even ask for anything in return, but gave them to him as a gift.
So essentially, after hearing his story, we should be following his example and do such deeds too. As I said, essentially.
Unfortunately, as he was telling his lovely story, the smith forgot the fact that no war had been declared in the last couple of centuries.
And so the years passed by, the smith's son grew into a handsome man, the old count died, his son took his place and our smith became ever more ruthless. It was no wonder that the new count, known to be a smart, good-natured man, heard of the rumours surrounding the smith. He wrote - or to be precise, the count's scribe wrote (one should point out the great number of nobles that could call themselves analphabets) - to the smith, saying he should forge a princely sword for the count, and in return the count would no longe delve into the rumours. There were to be no other rewards in the form of little round, gold platelets covered in ugly grimaces. As the smith read the message, he just snorted in scorn and sent the count a note saying he refused. Who was he to give away weapons? As you can imagine yourselves what the count's reaction was, we shall leave the details. What, you want to know how he reacted? Well, his second letter to the smith should give you more insight into the count's thoughts. In the message he explained politely to the smith that, if he did not hand over the weapon to the count within a month, he would be hanging from the nearest tree with a pretty loop around his neck. After this more or less well-meant warning, the smith began work straight away and, fearing for his life, he created a sword truely fit for a king for which his marginal talent normally wouldn't have sufficed. And so came the day when the smith finished his work. At once he called for his son, but he could not find him anywhere. He had his wife search for him, but she too had no success. Irritated, the smith set off by himself, for there remained only two days until the deadline.
With a firm stride he set off and only fell into the dirt twice, for his feet sank in mildew. It had rained the day before.
He followed the trail, his stride now perhaps less confident, and finally left the village towards the east where the count's residence was situated. But he had barely left the village when he came across a shady figure. The smith was frightened by his image, for the figure was dressed completely in black and his face was hidden beneath a large hood. Since the smith was not one of the bravest men around, he began to wonder if he should flee back to the village. However, as if the figure had read his mind, he raised his hand and called after the smith. Even as he stood before the smith, the stranger did not reveal himself. The smith demanded him to show his face and to introduce himself. But the stranger, in response, told him he was tainted, that the devil himself had created him and everyone who saw his visage died an agonizing death the next night. From then on the smith avoided the danger of looking at the stranger's face. Now he demanded the stranger tell him what he wanted of an innocent and lawful citizen such as himself. It is said the stranger answered: "Do not fear me, my friend. I mean you no harm. I have just heard rumours that you, with your masterly talents, have forged a sword that has been blessed by the Gods themselves. And I can see these rumours are not exaggerated. So I would like to make you an offer. In return for this sword I shall give you one hundred gold coins."
One hundred gold coins, truely a large sum of money! In his greed, the smith began to stir. He thought for a moment, but then refused, saying that the sword was meant for the count himself and that an honourable man such as himself would not break his word. The stranger answered: "If one hundred gold coins are not enough to change your mind, maybe five hundred will be." The smith felt as if he would faint. The greed within him was beginning to drool and he was just about to accept the offer when he remembered the count's second letter, so he refused wistfully. Again, the stranger answered: "So, smith, I see you are a decent man, but I desire to call this blade my own. In return for this masterpiece I would give you my father's house, his wife and his entire fortune." Then the smith really did faint.
As he awoke, he found himself lying in a warm room in the tavern of his village. He knew this room, for he always amused himself here with the harlots. He looked around and saw a stranger sitting on a stool, whose face he could not see. Suddenly he remembered the offer. At once he jumped out of bed, grabbed the count's sword and dashed like a madman over to the stranger, shook him awake and pressed the sword into his hand. He demanded the stranger lead him to his new property at once.
The stranger stood up, commended the smith's wisdom with a few, well considered words and led him out of the tavern. As the smith asked where his new property lay, the stranger merely answered it was in the same village the smith lived in. As they traversed the village square where on that day many villagers were bustling about, the stranger stopped and cried loudly: "Citizens of the village, be you man, woman or senior, follow me and the smith to see with your own eyes what a great, wise and honourable deal he has sealed. Follow us and see for yourself so that you never dare to doubt the smith's wisdom again." The smith wasn't even listening to the stranger any more, but had fallen into a sort of ecstasy of happiness.
A large group of curious people were following them. They had not walked for long when the stranger slowed his pace, pointed to a house and told the smith it was the house. The smith was startled at first, but then began to laugh. Was the stranger blind? This was his house! Surely he had gone to the wrong house, or perhaps he meant the neighbour's house.
Slowly the stranger reached for his hood. Bit by bit he pulled it back, and showed himself. The people whispered amongst themselves nervously. The smith could not believe his eyes. The stranger was his own, good-for-nothing son!
The smith was enraged and approached his son. Everything inside him was screaming, he wanted to teach this little wretch a lesson. He had drawn a red herring across his track, he had even changed his voice. Though his voice had seemed familar the whole time, the smith admitted to himself. His son raised his hand and cried: "Stay back, you devil, or do you want to beat me like a dog in front of all these people? And do not forget I am holding a sword in my hands." Then he turned to the mass of people. "So you see what a great deal my father sealed in his wisdom. He gave me this sword that is truely fit for a king, and in return he got his own house, his own wife and his own fortune. Marvel at his wisdom!" Everyone laughed. Some even rolled around on the ground. The son began to grin. His plan had been a success. When everyone had calmed down, which took quite a while, he turned to his father who was standing there as if he had turned to stone wishing that this was all a dream. A nightmare. "So you see, father. Losing this sword won't seem like such a big thing after some time, but don't forget that you gave away more than just a sword today. You lost your image in public and sold every last bit of honour with this sword. But do not condemn me, father, no.. condemn your greed, for over time it made you sell your honour. It ruled over your common sense and made you throw all caution to the wind. Let that be a lesson to you."
His job was done here. He wanted to turn to go when he remembered something important; something he had been wanting to say for years. Once again he spoke to his father, but so that he only could hear: "One last thing, father. Today is a special day for me. For the day has arrived that I can say to you, you are the one with no honour."
With these words the son left the village and was never seen again. Only the rumours of his honourable deeds got back to the village and one often heard the story of the young, brave warrior with the mighty sword, truely fit for a king.