Once upon a time there was
a very, very poor man who dug ditches along the road. I do not know how this
story happened, but enough of that.
One day the king himself
traveled along this road and saw the poor man. He asked him, “Tell me, my dear
man, what is your daily pay for this difficult work?”
“Oh, my magnificent king,
I earn three farthings a day.”
The king marveled at
hearing that and asked how the poor man could live on these three farthings.
“Alas, your majesty, only
to live on the money would be easy. From these three farthings, I return the
first one, then I lend the second one, and I myself live only on the third
But the king did not
understand what the poor man meant. He rubbed his head and thought how it could
be: to return one farthing, to lend one, and to live on one farthing. All that,
all from three farthings! He could not guess how this was possible. In the end,
he admitted that he could not understand how it was possible to return, to lend
and to live on three farthings.
“Well now, my brightest
Lord,” said the poor man, “it is like this. I care for my father who is
already old and disabled. I am paying him back since he brought me up. But I am
bringing up a little son too. I lend one farthing to him so that he will repay
me when I become old and can no longer work. I, myself, need to live on the
“If it is so, then it
must be possible!” rejoiced the king. “See, my dear man, I have twelve
counselors in my court, and the more money I give them, the more they complain
that they do not have enough to spend and to live on. Now I will give them this
riddle that you have given to me. When they come to you and ask you for the
solution to the riddle, do not tell them what the solution is until you see my
After the king had said
that, he presented the farmer with a handful of golden ducats and left for home.
As soon as the king arrived
at his castle, he called his twelve counselors.
“You”, he told them,
“cannot live on as much money as I pay you! However, here in the country there
is a man who earns just three farthings a day. From these, he returns one, he
lends the second one, and he himself lives on the third one. Yet he lives
honestly. Now, if you are so clever, tell me how it is possible. If you do not
answer correctly by the day after tomorrow, I will expel all of you from the
country and you will not eat my bread any more.”
The once proud counselors
went home with hanged noses and they began to consult each other about what they
would do. Each one wanted to be more clever than the other, but they could not
match the wit of the common man. The first day went by, and then the second day
came to a close. On the third morning, they were to face the king, and they
still did not know the solution to the problem. After much thought someone
whispered to them where they could find the poor man. He would most likely help
The counselors went to the
poor man. First with a request, then with a threat, they prevailed upon him to
explain how he managed the three farthings. But he did not fear them. He
repeated the king’s order. Only if the counselors showed the poor man the
king’s face could there be flour from this rye, meaning that he would disclose
“How can we show you the
king’s face?” the counselors asked. “The king will not come to you at our
request, and you are not allowed to have an audience with him. Let us persuade
you in another way for the answer.”
The poor man replied, “If
you do not even know how to find the answer, we will not bake bread from this
flour! We will accomplish nothing!”
At last, the counselors
tried one last possibility: they promised the poor man whatever came into their
mind. They brought him a lot of money, so that he had the means to live even
without the king’s mercy. He had to tell them the solution!
But he said nothing!
At last, when the
counselors brought piles of money, he felt that he had embarrassed them enough.
How could such clever lords not know how to help themselves! He showed them one
of the ducats presented to him by the king. “Well, you can see, here is the
king’s face! He presented this ducat to me. I can see the king’s face
clearly! I am not afraid of violating the king’s order. I can reveal to you
what I wish.” And he disclosed the solution of the riddle to them!”
On the third day, the
counselors approached the king without hesitation, since they had borrowed their
answer to the riddle from the poor man. They had used the poor man’s wit, but
the king knew what was going on.
The king sent for the poor
man. When he arrived, the king asked him, “Will you tell me how, being an
honest man otherwise, you could commit an offence against the king’s order?”
“I did not commit an
offence, my magnificent king. I was as silent as a stone until I saw your face.
I have your face with me even now. You presented it to me yourself!”
He drew out the ducat with
the king’s picture and told the whole story about the twelve counselors and
how they had begged and threatened and presented him with piles of money. He
explained that they were persistent. But he had embarrassed them further,
because of their lack of common sense.
The king replied, “You
are very clever and possess more wit than my twelve counselors altogether. You
will not dig ditches any more! You will live in my castle like a high lord and
will sit next to me in my council!”
“And you?” the king
addressed the counselors, “are you not ashamed? What shall I do with you now?
I will not raise your salaries. I will reduce what you already receive.”
The counselors never came
again to bother the king about their wages.
* * *
This tale was told by štefan
Marko Daxner from Rimava, Slovakia to Pavol Dobšinský.
It can be found in the book Pavol Dobšinský: Slovak Folktales. Complied by Jana Babirátová-Judinyová and edited by Jean Sofranko-Olexy and Frances X Luther. This book can be ordered though Slovak Heritage Society of NEPA. Click on name of book.