Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: GREED (03/08/18)
TITLE: Finger Trap
By Jan Ackerson
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Edmund, the king’s most loyal advisor, stopped struggling with his little finger trap. “More what, your majesty?” Together, they silently surveyed the throne room, which was filled with every type of shiny gewgaw imaginable.
“Well, I don’t know!” said the king, irritated. He waved his hand around the room. “More like this! How can I get it?”
Edmund considered. “Taxes, your majesty. But I must remind you that the people have already been taxed on their income, their purchases, and their homes. Anything else might prove…burdensome.”
But the king was already thinking. “Tax them on walking,” he said. “Everybody walks.” He was already imagining how he might fill another room with pretty baubles.
And so the Walking Tax was put into effect, with official Walking Monitors to calculate the tax rates for each citizen.
At first, there was quite a lot of new income for King Trevor’s purchases, and a new wing was added to the palace to contain them. But when income from the Walking Tax dwindled, the king called Edmund to his side.
“It was working so well,” he said. “What happened?”
Edmund bowed. “Your majesty, people are simply walking less, to avoid the tax. Of an evening, they’re staying in their homes.”
The king pouted, but several months later, Edmund presented him with a new idea. “There’s been an increase in births, your majesty,” he said. He cleared his throat meaningfully. “I suppose it’s because people are staying at home.”
“Tax the births!” King Trevor roared.
Taxing births soon proved inefficient, though, as each family could only be taxed once a year or so, and older people were definitely not paying their share.
But possessed as he was by greed, King Trevor demanded more and more taxes of his beleaguered subjects. “We should tax their eating,” he said to Edmund. “Even old people eat.” So the Eating Tax was enacted, and in protest, the king’s unhappy subjects ate less and less. For a while, that didn’t seem to matter; since the people weren’t walking much, they needed less food. But when production decreased because of the workers’ weakness, the king was outraged. “The people are defying me by going hungry,” he ranted. “Tax them on something for which they have no choice.”
Edmund sighed and suggested the Breathing Tax, the Sleeping Tax, and the Tax for Mere Existence.
King Owen paced the floor, clearly concerned. “We need more,” he said.
Mona, his most trusted advisor, set down her pen. “More what?” she said.
“More people! We’ve had several years of plenty, and we’ve never been richer in resources. Our storehouses are overflowing, and I want to share! Where can we get more people?”
Mona, who was as wise as she was trustworthy, concocted a plan.
A week later, King Owen and Mona approached King Trevor’s throne, bowing deeply. “We have a proposal for you, O King,” said Owen. “We know that you desire more money. We can give you money. We’re interested only in the land that borders our kingdoms.”
King Trevor looked at Edmund in disbelief. They both knew that land was desert—utterly barren. This Owen must be a fool.
There were feasts and negotiations, and eventually an arrangement was made. As he and Mona took their leave, King Owen bowed to King Trevor and said, “I hope your people know what a skilled and generous negotiator you are.”
King Trevor immediately ordered a proclamation; the only thing he loved more than accumulation of doodads was accumulation of accolades.
Be it known to all: At dawn of the first day of the fourth month, the Western Desert and everything within its borders will be ceded to King Owen of Galentia, at the pleasure of King Trevor the Magnificent, the Splendid, the Highly Superb.
And at dawn of the first day of the fourth month, King Trevor woke feeling very wealthy, planning a new addition to his palace and imagining Owen with his cacti and lizards. It was unusually quiet; he rang the bell to summon his servants. Only Edmund appeared, carrying a spyglass. Without a word, he handed it to the king, gesturing to the western window.
…the Western Desert and everything within its borders…
…including, King Trevor realized, nearly all of his citizens, who were camped on the desert and watching the sunrise. If he listened closely, he could even hear them, singing and jangling their tambourines.
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