The Bard

The old bard was in the twilight of his years. He carefully leaned back against the tree, trying as best he could to warm his arthritic joints before the move. He had seen so many faces since he began telling his stories. He smiled and began to tell one he had not spoken of in such a long time.

The King commanded his mighty army to go forth so they could bring him victory and honour. His soldiers did not question, at least not openly. The King was King, and he was this through divine convention. What mortal serf would dare challenge his divinely gifted word!

They did go forth and battled many nations, sending almost all the spoils home, keeping only what they needed to continue the King’s charge. Most nations challenged their advances, but occasionally they would come across a group who decided to seize on the opportunity to shake off their current oppressors in favour of the new. The King’s army grew in size as it did in might, and so did the stature his most trusted general.

This general pressed the King’s army forward until eventually it reached a great sea. The general asked one of thevanquished tribes what was across that sea and was greeted with the answer that there was nothing much but water and maybe a few islands of little consequence. Since he could go no further, and realizing that all the King’s foes had been defeated, the general nodded with a smile and ordered his King’s mighty army return. He knew his King would be pleased. “I will name this The Great Sea, in honour of our Great King,” he said proudly.

Eventually, and after all those many years of battles and travels, the general returned to his King’s city. As he neared the walls, he expected a wondrous greeting, and a grand procession, but not a single person could be seen to move. At first he was alarmed, thinking the city had been attacked, but none of his scouts found any battle damage.

His army came around to the south wall, and to the gate where he did see a single man busily hammering away at a signpost. This man did not take note of the mighty army until it was finally upon him.

“You!” shouted the general.

The man with hammer stumbled, almost fell, but quickly turned around to see the mighty spectacle of this general, surrounded by 30,000 of his troops. He looked side to side and wondered how he could not have heard all these feet approaching.

“What is the meaning of this?” ordered the general. “What are you doing with that sign? Who the devil are you?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. My name is Ben," he said reaching out with his hand. The general glared at the outstretched hand of the fool before him and did not move.

The fool quickly regained his composure after his greeting went unreturned. "I am sorry. I did not hear you approach,” he smiled. “You have one fine army there.” He scratched behind his ear and proceeded to hammer twice more on the signpost. He gave the post a quick shake to insure that it was securely fastened, and then pulled out a scroll from his tunic.The fool paused to looked around at the thousands and shook his head. “It is a very fine army indeed. Such a pity.”

The general raised a brow, puzzled that he could not decided to have this upstart's head planted on his sword. The upstart unrolled his scroll and began to read.

“By order of the General Reserve Bank, all assets of this city have been seized as collateral for default in the repayment of debts by his Majesty The King." The fool upstart tutted and tapped the scroll. "Oh, actually, that may be grammatically incorrect. It should mention that the King was unable to pay his debts. Anyway … Furthermore, because of a lack of funds or availability of gainful employment, his subjects are henceforth laid off until further notice,” read the upstart fool. “Such a shame.”

This time, the general raised both brows in shock and amazement. “What do you mean?” he pleaded.

The fool, looked around again, stepped closer to the general and spoke in a lower tone as if to secret information from the masses. “Well, with all the spoils you sent back, the King spent a great deal of money building palaces, buying yachts, giving gifts, etcetera. Eventually he started borrowing a bit too much. There was just so much wealth going around for awhile that we had so many sudden millionaires. Everyone was happy and swimming in wealth.”

The general allowed himself a faint smile. “I have a good army.”

“Yes, you certainly do. Unfortunately, while you did manage to start off very well indeed, the King, like everyone else, had staked all remaining wealth on the futures markets, anticipating that your conquests would continue and grow. No one could have anticipated that you would hit the Great Sea.”

The general replied a little impatiently. “What do you mean? Everyone knows of the Great Sea. Everyone knows of the edge of the world.”

“Oh no, no, no,” said Ben while shaking his head. “No one could foresee this. Well, maybe some foresaw it, but they were just nut jobs. We all expected you to continue and find new victories. We all banked on it during the boom years. However, when you found no others to conquer and send home the spoils, boom turned to bust. Shop after shop closed, until the King himself had to vacate, I’m afraid,” said Ben while nodding his head in that sadness and formal concern many bankers are often given to show.

The general sat on his horse and scanned the horizon at his vast army in horror. “But, what will become of my soldiers?” he pleaded. “What will become of my soldiers.”

“Most inconvenient,” Ben shook his head. “Most inconvenient, but not the end of the world.”

The general looked back down at Ben, again with one brow raised. “What do you mean?”

“Well, as skilled as they are, there’s currently no work for soldiers of your calibre. They will need to be retrained and find new employment.”

“How the devil do you suddenly retrain 30,000 soldiers?” demanded the general.

“Not to worry. I’m sure you’ll find lots of opportunities. I know of a couple of companies that are looking for three or four security guards.”

The general cupped his face in his hands.

“And the rest, well … there’s work … you just have to keep looking. Anyway, there’s nothing I can do about it.” At that, Ben picked up his tools, mounted his mule and rode off as the army gradually parted to make way for his departure.

The general looked from his commanders, to his soldiers, and back again, as did everyone else. No one knew what to do next. The boom time of limitless conquests had suddenly ended. Now was the start of leaner years, and they would need to find other employment, most likely for lesser pay. Many would work at the discount markets, barely earning enough to feed their families.

The old bard, who was telling this story, paused a moment and sat back. He looked around at his disciples, who were all looking at one another, mumbling back and forth. They began nodding and gesticulating, which is when the bard chose to carefully stand and speak again.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment I cannot miss.” He smiled, looked around to see who was listening and then continued. “However, before I go, I have it on good authority that the price of gold will go up sharply very soon. If you’ve got it, buy it,” said the bard before departing hurriedly. His disciples again looked back and forth at each other, now arguing with their gesticulations. Eventually all went silent, and then, almost on que, every last one of them jumped to his feet and scrambled home to raid his savings in favour of what was sure to be that next sure thing.