Long ago, in a kingdom all but forgotten by the passage of time, there lived a young child. Now this child was neither strong nor fast. They were not smart or savvy. They were just a child like any other who was born of a mother and a father who worked hard for what they had and cared deeply for their child.
At the same time, there lived a King. He was well known for being cunning and clever and always finding a way to turn the worst situation into the best. He had ruled the kingdom for many years. While some thought ill of him and others held deep love, the one thing everyone agreed on was that he was an honest King. A man of the people who always spoke his mind and told his citizens the truth of what was going on; for better or for worse.
But, clever or kind, honest or not, the one thing a great King cannot escape; nay! What no man, woman, or child can escape is the passage of time.
The King had become quite old over the years. A handsome brown beard had become wispy and white. Burning eyes that watched the court’s every movement had become clouded and grey. The oak that had stood tall bowed to the wind and the rain.
Sadly, the King had never married.
Some say he had loved in his youth but lost her before gaining the crown. Others believed that he was always simply too busy to seek a wife to sire him an heir. Whatever the reason, the King held no heir. No person to take the crown in the approaching date of his death.
Now what might this have to do with our young child, you ask? Just listen, and you will see.
The child, while doing their chores, heard an announcement from one of the King’s men.
“All who wish for a chance at the crown, make way to the court!” the man bellowed.
How odd. The child thought. How peculiar indeed.
Now, the child held little interest in the matters of court, but their mother and father, who worked so hard and so long for their place in life, wanted more. They rushed to the court with the young child in tow.
“No pushing! No shoving!” shouted a man at the gates. “You’ll all get your turn.”
And they did. Man, woman, and child were paraded through the court like show ponies before the old King and the guards in shining armor. Some ladies danced and sung to demonstrate their prowess while men showed off their great muscles and their swordsmanship. But it was never enough for the King…
What did he want? The child wondered.
Dozens of people were turned away.
After thousands of people had been turned away by the King, only twenty remained before him. Our young child and nineteen other bright eyed youths.
“You twenty are the ones I believe show the most promise.” The King said in a raspy and tired tone. “You are the ones who I believe are the best hope for this kingdom. The best hope to take my throne…”
The guards produced a table from beneath a heavy cloth. On this table, twenty clay pots rested quietly in two rows. Off to the side, a single glass bowl held a number of little seeds.
“While I think you all have potential, the crown fits only one.” The King went on to say. “And so I will give you all a task.”
With a wave of his wrinkled, shaking hand, the King motioned towards the pots and the seeds.
“You will each take one pot and one seed. You will be given two months to grow that which you can from that which you are given.”
The crowd gasped aloud.
“You mean to tell me you leave our lives in the hands of gardeners?” a man shouted in anger from the court.
The King did not respond.
“In two months’ time, you will return with your pot and your seed and whatever has come of it. I’m curious to see what great and tall plants will come of this endeavor.”
And so the young child, along with nineteen other youths, were given a pot and a seed and sent on their way.
At first, the child was hopeful. They planted the seed right away and cared for it carefully. They watered it and fertilized it and let the pot rest in sun and in shade, just in case the plant needed either. They spent every waking hour watching the pot, waiting for the first sprout to show.
But, after several days, nothing…
“I’m sure it’s just taking a while.” The young child’s mother said.
And so they kept trying. Soon, days turned to weeks and still nothing.
“Perhaps the seed is bad.” The young child’s father said. “If only we knew what type of plant it was so we might replant it.”
The young child said nothing. Instead, they went for a walk through the village to look at the other plants that the children were growing.
It wasn’t long before the child reached his nearest neighbor and saw the beautiful morning glory flowers that were blooming from the pot. In weeks it was already vining and budding.
Oh no! Look at that flower! It’s gorgeous already!
They continued on to the next house where they saw the next pot. To the child’s surprise, a red rose was growing out of the pot!
A rose? But the last flower was a morning glory…
Entranced, the young child continued on. In the walk, they saw five morning glories, four roses, six petunias, three snapdragons, and one lily.
Returning home, they looked down at the barren empty pot and smiled with realization.
Soon, two months had passed and the children once again stood in the King’s court with their pots in hand. Everyone laughed and singed and pointed at the gorgeous flowers that every youth held. Everyone had a beautiful flower except the young child. Their pot was still empty.
Many people pointed and laughed and mocked the child but they remained quiet.
“A gorgeous morning glory.” The King said to the first child as he called them up to show what had grown. “Truly you have a knack for this kind of work. Step back until I make my decision.”
“What a beautiful rose.” The King said to the next child. “Hold there until a decision has been made.”
It continued like this one by one. Praises and compliments and standing ovations for the gorgeous plants each youth held. Until finally, the King reached the young child who stood before him with their barren pot.
“And you, child. Your pot is empty. You are surrounded by beauty and fairness by all the other competitors. Why do you approach me today.”
“B-b-because, your M-majesty. You wanted to see what came of this endeavor and you have seen it.”
“That I have.” The King said, a joy slipping into his cracking old voice.
“We have our new sovereign!” the King declared to the shocked gasps and guffaws of the court. “And my heir!”
“But how?!” cried the parent of one of the children. “My boy’s rose is the most beautiful here and that child has nothing in their pot!”
“And that is why.” The King said with a smile. “For they are the only one to have nothing in their pot.”
The court felt silent at this.
“Tell me, sir.” The King said to the parent’s youth. “Where did you get your rose seed?”
The youth hung their head in shame. “My parents, your Majesty.”
“And you?” he asked another.
“The gardener.” She said with tears in her eyes.
The same repeated another seventeen times, one by one, as the King revealed how every child or parent had planted new seeds when they realized the seed they had was barren. The young child, neither cunning nor witty, but honest, was the only one who did not cheat in hopes of winning the contest.
“And you, child” the King said, “Where did you get your seed.”
“Your Majesty, the King.”
Before a shocked crowd and a gaping court, the child and their parents were raised up before the other men and women in the room to join the King at his side. Over the years, he taught the child everything he knew and, far too soon, faded with time. But the child, now strong and smart from the great King’s tutelage, went on to become one of the greatest Lieges the kingdom had ever known, always remembering the lessons the King had taught them.
(Please note that most will realize this is not an original story. Instead, this is a story inspired by an old Chinese Folk story “The Empty Pot (An Owlet Book)”. Obviously this is my take on the idea with my own adages and a European spin, however I cannot take any credit for the tale itself and do not wish to. Instead I hope that you enjoyed.)