King in front of crowd

The King Who Ruled Nothing

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Moral of the story: even the most powerful leaders are dependent on the people they rule over.


Once upon a time there lived a cruel king who ruled without mercy. He was the most powerful king in the world, with a mighty army and an enormous kingdom. One day the general of his army came to him with some rather bad news.

“Your Majesty,” said the general, “my men are tired of war. They are tired of bad food and mud and blood and they wish to come home. We have already conquered half the world. The men think enough is enough.”

“The men think?” screamed the king. “What do I care what the men think? The men do not rule this kingdom—I do. Hang the men who will not fight.”

“I have, Your Highness. I’ve executed hundreds. But still the men will not fight. Now the executioners are refusing to hang any more soldiers.”

“Then hang the hangmen,” ordered the king.

“Me personally? I’m afraid I couldn’t do that. They are all close personal friends.”

“Then I’ll have you hanged. Guards! Seize him!”

But try as he might, the king could not find anyone willing to arrest the general.

“I’ll kill you myself then,” cried the furious king.

Just then a palace guard came in and announced that thousands of women and children were gathering outside the palace gates and demanding that their men be allowed to come home from the wars.

“Tell them to go home,” bellowed the king.

“We have,” said the guard. “But they won’t leave.”

“Then hang them all.” The king was big on hanging.

“We don’t have enough rope,” Your Excellency.

“Arrest them.”

“We don’t have enough dungeon space.”

“Then let them stay there until they all drop dead,” shrieked the king, who was a bit high-strung.

“How will we get supplies into the palace?” asked the guard.

“We have plenty of supplies for now. All this treachery and disobedience has made me hungry. Where’s my lunch?”

“The cook has joined the people outside,” said the guard.

“Well I still have my gold,” said the king. “Have the palace treasurer give a gold piece to everyone who will obey me.”

“The treasurer has joined the people outside as well,” said the guard, “and the rest of the staff is packing their bags. Besides, there aren’t enough gold coins left in the treasury. Wars these days are expensive, you know.”

So the hapless king was forced to cook his own meals, wash his own clothes and make his own bed. As time went by, the people surrounding the palace began to go home and resume their lives, and the soldiers straggled home from the wars. The king was forced to move into a small cottage that didn’t require so much upkeep.

But still no one would obey him—not the neighborhood children when he told them to get out of his garden; not even his own dog. So day after day the king would sit and count his few useless gold coins that no one would accept.

The king is toppled on the chessboard

Sometimes one of his former subjects would come by and they would enjoy a game of chess, but unlike the old days, they wouldn’t let the king win.

Meanwhile, the people in the kingdom prospered in peace and lived happily ever after.1

For a related post, see Telling Stories for Social Change

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Text by James L. VanHise licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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  1. I wrote this story many years ago, and a slightly different version originally appeared on my old website Much later, I think it was published in a newsletter for children in New Zealand.