A fable

The king of Ustreasia was a wealthy man, wealthy beyond compare. His kingdom was peaceful and lovely, and his people were hardworking and kind and ethical, for the most part. But for all the riches of his kingdom the king’s true pride was his herd of elephants. And what elephants! Bulls all, with slashing tusks and stamping feet and trumpeting calls that echoed throughout the capital. For generations the royal trainers had taught the elephants to march in procession, to carry the king and queen upon their backs. They passed the knowledge of their profession on to their children and were respected with soldiers and priests. The people watched the royal parades and felt pride, and visiting rulers smiled in appreciation of such well-kept animals.

In his youth he king cared for his herd personally and spared no expense for their keeping, but as he grew older he grew careless. One day the king’s favor fell on a young boy, the gardener’s apprentice. A fine lad, he thought, who admired the elephants and would relieve him of the burden of watching over them. And so he installed the boy as head trainer.

But the boy loved the elephants too well, and not wisely. Enamored of their power and their beauty, he cried that the elephants should roam free. Noble beasts! They should not be made to serve man! No more parades, no more marching: The elephants, the boy decreed, should be set free in the capital, and all the people should bask in their glory.

When the trainers protested them the boy ordered them banished, and the king, old, tired, drunk on cheap Argentinian wine and the love of his grandchildren, acquiesced. The boy burned the elephants’ ceremonial drapes, stripped them of their fetters, demolished the stables. The great homeless beasts now wandered the streets of the capital. Unfed they stripped the gardens of grass; unfettered they trampled children, dogs, bicycles. The boy, panicking, ordered wagons of hay brought from the countryside, but tasting freedom and hungry from their exercise the elephants were not satisfied, and demanded more, thrashing their tusks about and trumpeting. When not appeased they charged at random, smashing houses, and they fell to fighting one another. Soon half the capital was employed in feeding the great beasts and carting away their massive droppings.

By the time the king woke to his folly the elephants were sickly and the people in their fury had turned against the animals. Save us, they cried, from these horrible beasts! Weary, the king turned to the boy and ordered him to do something to save the capital. And the boy, in desperation, called back the trainers and keepers whom he had once dismissed.

They must once more be taught discipline, said the trainers.

But we cannot train them unless we corral them, said the boy.

Then they must be corralled, said the keepers.

But we cannot corral them, the boy protested, they are too large, and too unruly!

Then we can do nothing, said one angry keeper, still bitter at his dismissal. We must let them starve, and die.

But they will surely trample the entire capital, wept the boy.

Then, said the head trainer with a heavy sigh, we must shoot them.

But if we shoot them, cried the boy, their massive carcasses will crush the people as they fall, and the stench of their decay will infest this city for a hundred years!

And so they argued and protested while the elephants stormed and staggered and the people labored to appease them, until the great capital lay in ruins.

Moral: Dogs would have done quite nicely.

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