A MORAL TALE

Now this is a story of a rich young merchant. Yes, it is just as you suspect, he had been taught by his father that nothing was important if you couldn’t measure it and ascribe a certain amount of cash to it. You know the type. He had forgotten how much he loved to sit in a meadow as a child and watch the flowers and butterflies. Now all he was concerned with was making a profit and not worrying too much who got hurt in the process.

The time came when his father, who had dragged him into this way of life, told him to go to a distant city to sell some cloth. Without a worry he set out and his enterprise was successful, so much so that, for his return, he and his horse’s panniers were laden with coins and also some jewels, to trade on.

It was here that things went wrong. Turning a corner in the road he was surprised to find an armed man standing on the path, his arms crossed, but the man was not tall and but of slight build so the merchant’s confidence returned.

“Let my horse pass sir!”

“You may pass but first leave me your saddlebags by way of toll.” At which point the other drew his sword, which glinted unpleasantly in the sunlight dropping through the trees.

Angrily the merchant drew his own sword and charged at the bandit but forgot all his training so it was easy for the blackguard to parry the blow and crack the merchant on the back of his head with the flat of the sword.

When the merchant woke up he was lying face down in the leaves by the side of the road. As he picked himself up several things became clear to him, his head hurt, he was cold, understandable because he was only wearing his shirt and, worse of all, there was no sign of his horse or the saddlebags she carried.

He could think of nothing else to do but trudge further along the road, limping and moaning, not knowing if he was more angry or fearful. He encountered no one else on the road, for which he was both despondent, for no help was forthcoming, and glad, because he must have presented a ridiculous sight, suitable only for mockery.

As luck would have it the first thing of consequence that he came to was a well worn path off to the left which must lead to some form of habitation. Reasoning that he could not stay in this condition overnight he decided to take the path and trust in God’s mercy that it lead to some form of help.

It lead to a prosperous looking cottage with smoke coming out of the chimney. It brought tears to the merchant’s eyes to see such cosiness when he was in such a desperate state.

But he could do nothing else but hammer on the door with what confidence he could muster. It was opened by a young woman of surpassing beauty. The merchant almost forgot his parlous state looking at her but she gave a cry of horror to find a man only dressed in his shirt in front of her.

“Forgive me madam. I have been robbed.”

“Come in then, for God’s pity.” She sat him by the fire and, while he told her the tale of what had happened to him, gave him wine and bread and bathed his head wound. When drowsiness, that mercy that comes to us after fear is relieved, came upon him she insisted she sleep in her bed, she would be quite happy by the fire. He was too tired to refuse.

He was asleep almost immediately but, when it was quite dark, he was awakened by something climbing into the bed. After a momentary panic he felt the cool, smooth skin of the woman. Of course I need not tell you the details of what happened. Suffice it to say that the man that night was transported to a state of bliss he had not thought possible, several times. With the first light of dawn he awoke, happier than he imagined he would be when he went to bed. As the day became brighter he was surprised to see new clothes lying on a chair near the bed. But, as the light increased, he could see that these were not new clothes but his old ones. He found them washed and mended. Dressing he went into the kitchen where he found even greater amazement. There were his saddlebags on the table. He rushed over and examined them. All the gold coins were there but it was clear that some of the jewels were missing. He turned to the woman.

“You…!” But before he could complete the sentence she put her finger up to his mouth in a sign for silence.

He ate the breakfast she had prepared for him caught between the anger of the morning and the joy of the night. All the words he wanted to say seemed to have gone from him. When he had finished she beckoned him to come to the door. Outside there was his horse, cropping the grass as if nothing untoward had happened.

Almost as if some force was driving him he placed his saddlebags on the horse, mounted and rode away. He looked back but the door was closed and no one was waving goodbye.

When he arrived home he naturally told his father that he had been kidnapped by a gang of outlaws and only through cunning and luck had he been able to escape with his life and the money. His father, after some thought, decided that there was more profit in having him alive than otherwise and life looked as if it would continue as normal.

But the woman out of his mind; he was partly angry that he had been bested by her, for no man likes that to happen but also it had made him realise that there was more to life than just making money all the time. He found himself retracing his steps, looking for that turning into the woods, but never found it. He regretted that very much but it had taught him a lesson, the moral that I promised. There is more to life than getting rich. You have to have love in your life as well.

 

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