Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




The Turnip, or, How the Whole World Was Brought to Peace

I have heard it on the rumors that when the tale-spinner’s guild gathers in their secret places, a full half of them are sworn to never tell the truth, and the other half to never tell a lie, even if it mean their life. Being one of that trade myself, I can tell you that that’s more or less the shape of it, and I tell you so you know that this tale is true, just as it was told to me, for I am one of the ones sworn to the truth.

The name I’m called is Dusty Boots, I come from the valley of Erwhile, and I am in love with a girl that I can never have. The story I tell you now comes from the lips of a clergyman, and by his honest word it is a good and righteous tale. Far be it from any among us to impugn the rectitude of the Church; a Church man told me the tale, so it must be wholly and entirely true, no matter how extra-ordinary it may seem to us.

Once upon a time, although what time I shall not say, in the wide, rich lands of the Vale Traverse, there lived two brothers, one tall and cunning, the other short and kind. Having served together many years in the king’s army, they at last retired and received their granted lands side-by-side. But, as it happened, the lands granted to the cunning brother were deep and fruitful, and the lands of the kind brother were rocky and poor, and so in the course of time the cunning brother grew very wealthy, living in a fine house with hands and servants, while just beside him his kind brother lived with only his wife in a poor little shack, too poor even to keep a single child, saved from beggary only by his brother’s bitterly given charity.

One day in early summer, the poor brother was out working his poor fields, digging up a crop of turnips, what little had grown of them at all, when he found a turnip too large to pull out by its greens. Curious, he reached to dig it out, but found it was much larger even than he could dig by hand. In the end, he spent all that day digging and digging, unearthing that entire turnip, but even by the evening he had not yet finished.

He was so overawed by that great root that he did not return to his house for dinner, and worked into the dark of the night, straight through until the dawn. At last, in the light of the day’s new sun, he had finished unearthing it. And what a turnip it was! Laid out on the field, it was nearly twice the height of a man, and it was even longer from tip to stem. In fact, although he did not know it, it was the largest turnip that had ever grown in the history of the world, even in the primordial ages that no man knows.

When he returned to his house, he found his wife waiting for him, up all night with worry.

“And where’ve you been out all night,” she snapped at him, “and not even come back for your supper?”

“Wife,” he replied, “you will not believe me but to see it with your own eye, but our field has produced the most wondrous turnip that ever I have seen. I think, although I do not know for certain, that it is the largest turnip that has ever grown in the history of the world, even in the primordial ages that no man knows.”

“Well, don’t that just take it,” said his wife, incredulous, “bad enough that you’re out all night, and not even come back for your supper, but now you’re telling some story tall as I won’t believe! And I suppose the Witch-Queen came and whisked it away before I’ll ever set my eyes on it!”

“No, no,” said the poor man, “my wife, this is no make-believe or story-told. The turnip is right here in the field, plain to see. Come here! I’ll show it to you.” And, although she did not believe him, his wife followed him out into the fields, until she saw the great turnip as well, and nearly fainted from the shock. She threw her arms around her husband and smothered him with kisses.

“Husband,” she said, “blessings and good news come at last. From this one turnip we’ll be able to eat for a year at the least. We’ll be able to repay your brother’s loans. We’ll even be able to have the children we’ve always wanted.”

Her husband stood there as she embraced him, staring at the turnip, deep in thought. “But it would be a shame,” he said, “to have such a magnificent turnip as this and simply eat it.”

His wife stopped, stood back, and shot him a horrid glare.

“What I mean to say is,” he held up his hands, “what I mean to say is that, surely, this must be the greatest turnip that has ever been grown in the whole history of the world, even in the primordial ages that no man knows. If we eat it, it will just be gone in a year or two, forgotten to history. And what a shame that would be. My greatest accomplishment as a farmer, just gone like that. No, there must be some other thing we can do with it.”

His wife did not say anything in response. She just put her fists on her hips, huffed, and marched her way back to the farmhouse.

But his mind was made up. They could not eat the turnip, for then it would feed their bellies and be gone to the world forever. But neither could they keep it—for they were poor farmers, and could not protect it against those who would want a thing of such magnificence. All they could do was to haul the turnip to the capital and gift it to their king, who kept in his possession all manner of marvels.

• • • •

The very next morning, the farmer loaded the turnip up into his wagon, hitched up his two bony mules to the front of it, and made his way to the capital, the wagon creaking and groaning the whole way from the strain. Once there, he made his way to the king’s castle and before long was in the sovereign presence.

When the king saw this ill-kempt farmer, his hands rough with the dirt of the fields, he was shocked. “Who are you,” he demanded, “and why have you entered our sovereign presence in such haste, with dress filthy and so unbecoming to our court?”

“Your majesty,” said the farmer to the king, “know that I was once a soldier in your service, now turned farmer by your generous grant of land on my retirement. I have worked hard to till those fields for many years on many years now, but they have yielded little but dust and driven me to poverty. I tell my history now not to complain at your majesty’s generosity, to which I am eternally indebted. Nor to beg for any charity from your majesty. It is only to explain my lowly and unkempt appearance.”

“So why then have you come to our presence?” asked the king. He was suspicious of the farmer, for there were many fine and foul that came to beg his wealth from him.

“Just the other day, as I walked among my field digging turnips,” said the man, “I came across the largest turnip I had ever seen, twice as high as a man on the short side, and perfectly formed as you ever did see. When I looked at it, I knew at once that it was the greatest turnip that has ever grown in the history of the world, even in the primordial ages that no man knows. My wife wanted to eat it—for truly we do not have enough to eat between the two of us, and do not speak of the children we would have. I had half a mind to agree with her. But what a waste that would have been! Such a magnificent turnip, gone in a year or two at the most, forgotten to history. After I thought on the matter all night—all night, I tell you true—I realized that there was nothing for it but to take the turnip to the capital and make a gift of it to your majesty, who has places and capability for keeping such magnificent things in safety.”

“It is very kind of you to think so,” said the king. “But in truth I doubt that there is any turnip in the world that is grand enough for our royal treasury.”

“Ah, your majesty,” said the man, “come with me and see, for the turnip is just outside your hall.”

And the king came with him, and the moment he set eyes upon the turnip he cried out with delight at its size and perfection. He ordered it taken to the royal treasury at once, and he rewarded the farmer with gold and silks and jewels and all manner of other finery, calling him brother and embracing him and inviting him to sit and sup at his right hand. But the man deferred, eager to return in triumph to his wife.

Well, you can imagine her surprise when her husband returned in a great carriage, pulled by two gray horses with the whitest coats she had ever seen! She rushed out to see what great lord was riding through their hamlet, only to see her husband descend from the carriage all bedecked in fineries to take her in his arms.

Yes, after that, it was very good for them.

• • • •

Time passed and the news of the poor brother’s fortune spread as such news spreads, and it was not long before it reached the ear of his brother’s nearby farm. Now, this farmer, unlike his brother, had fortune’s favor upon him, and had in due course become quite wealthy. He was unaccountably proud of his wealth, which he imagined he’d gotten through wit and skill, rather than simply the whims of fate, and perhaps, in the end, there was some truth to that. When he heard about his brother’s newfound favor with the king, he was at first overjoyed at the fortune of his blood. But as the nights passed, and word after word of his brother’s opulence reached his ear, envy began to eat at his heart.

“What a silly sot my brother is,” he said to himself late at night, “to have gifted our king some dirty turnip from his field. And, yet, how generous our majesty’s reciprocity? Surely, there must be some way I can turn this to my advantage, so that I can once again have the better of my brother.”

So, because he was quite cunning, he schemed night after night after night, until at last he set his mind on a path he thought sure to bring him wealth. “If my brother,” he reasoned, “a poor man and nothing at all to his name, with only some overgrown turnip to give to our king, is so rewarded with silks and gold and jewels, then what of I, a rich man? I may gift our king with silks and gold and jewels, treasures beyond the reach of ordinary men—speak not of poor men like my brother! Imagine how much greater my reward would be. It is decided! I shall give the king all my gold, all my silks, and all my jewels, every bit of wealth to my name. Then we shall see what rewards await me.”

So, that morning, he ordered his servants to load his carts with all his gold, all his silks, all his jewels, all the other fineries of his household. He took everything, even the silverware from the kitchens, even the candlesticks from the mantle. Then he loaded himself into the firstmost cart and made his way to the capital, his wagons moving slow, creaking and groaning under the load. Once there, he made his way to the king’s castle and before long was in the sovereign presence.

The king was not surprised to see another rich man come to pay him court, but on this day he had no patience for such trivialities. “Who are you,” he demanded, “and why have you come into our sovereign presence? Out with it, man!”

“Your majesty,” said the rich man to the king, “know that I was once a soldier in your service, now turned farmer by your generous grant of land on my retirement. I have worked hard to till those fields for many years now, and they have grown good crop year and year again. With such blessings I have in due course become quite wealthy. I tell my history now not to cock and crow at my own cleverness, but rather to thank your majesty’s grant that has allowed me all of this prosperity.”

“So why have you come to our court?” asked the king suspiciously, for there were many fine and foul that came to beg his wealth from him.

“The other day,” said the farmer cleverly, “as I looked at upon all my eastern silks, my austral spices, my good gold from the mountains northward and realized that, for all my fortune, I had not repaid the one who had made it possible. Wealth is hollow without virtue, and gratitude being the heart of every virtue, I have come today not merely to give my gratitude in words—words which pass as they are spoken and thus are of no value nor meaning—but also with the possessions of my wealth. Who better deserves to share in my fortune than my own king, by whose grace they have been granted and by whose might they are preserved?”

“It is very kind of you to think of us,” said the king. “But in truth I doubt that there is a farmer in the world—even as wealthy and fortunate a farmer as yourself—that has wealth grand enough to suit our royal treasury.”

“Ah, your majesty,” said the man, “come with me and see, for my gifts to you are just outside your hall.”

And the king came with him, and when he saw fine carriages drawn by horses black and gray, this carriage stuffed with gold and jewels, this one with spices and powders, and this with silks and slicks, he cried out with delight at the wealth and splendor. He ordered the fineries taken to the royal treasury forthwith. He called the farmer brother, and embraced him, and invited him to sit and sup at his right hand. The farmer stayed a night to feast with his king, and another night, and another, all the while imagining the great reciprocities that the king would heap upon him, and how he would best his brother once again.

As joyed as he was at the farmer’s gifts, the king nonetheless spent a sleepless night in worry. How could he reward the gifts of this gentle farmer? The man had given him such a great treasure of gold and jewels, spices and powders, silks and slicks. Great generosity surely deserved a great reward. But every treasure in the king’s possession was only the same kind. “Surely,” thought the king, “it would be ungenerous to return a gift the same in kind. What use are gold and fineries to such a wealthy man?” He tossed and turned all night, but only as dawn neared did he find a solution.

The next morning he summoned the wealthy brother to his company. “Friend,” he called him, “truly you have rendered me a great tribute, one not easily forgotten. For the whole of the night, I could not sleep, for all my wealth and power I could not find an appropriate gift to return to you in kind. But, as dawn neared, I at last recalled that I was recently given a strange and unique treasure, with no other like it in all the world. Although I am loathe to part with it, it is the only possible reward for your pious generosity. Although it is too large to fit into my throne room, if you will step outside with me a moment I will show it to you.”

With great eagerness, eagerly imagining what reward this could possibly be, the rich farmer followed the king out to his courtyard, only to see a cart loaded with the largest turnip that he had ever seen. “Behold,” said the king, “this great turnip! Truly, it is magnificent, is it not? It is the largest turnip that the world has ever seen, even in the primordial ages that no man knows. I have never seen its equal, not in size nor in shape nor in perfection, and now I make a gift of it to you.”

The man was shocked. He had given up the whole of his wealth, every scrap of value within his household, only to receive his poor brother’s turnip in return? It vexed him! But he could not refuse the royal gift. He bowed before the king, and thanked him humbly, and set off back to his granted land, his wealth wholly spent, with only the giant turnip to show for all his efforts.

• • • •

Oh, how the clever brother was vexed! He schemed and schemed, ignoring his wife and children, ignoring his servants and his friends, ignoring even the hungry grumblings of his own belly. Finally, he concocted a wicked plan. He gathered some of his remaining friends and servants, greedy men and wicked too, and told them of his plan, and then they set off together to the farm of his kind brother.

Suspecting nothing, the kind brother was overjoyed by the unexpected visit. When he saw his clever brother approach, he left off his work and rushed out to embrace him.

“Brother,” he cried, “truly it has been too long! As you can see, fortune has finally smiled upon me. Now I can repay you for all your loans and generosity that carried us through our lean years.”

If the shrewd brother had been a kinder man, or a better one, perhaps he would have been content to take his brother’s repayments, and build from them a fortune once again. But, alas, he was a clever man, and no small part wicked, and at that moment all he heard was his own jealousy. “How cruel is my brother’s mockery,” he thought to himself, “that he flaunts his new-found wealth, all to further my of-late embarrassment. I had thought that my brother was a kind man, if not as clever as me. But I see now that his kindness was nothing more than a thin facade that he used to exploit my wealth with loans and promises. Now that he has no need of me, he is no better than any other man. Well, brother, if that’s how it shall be, then we will see at the end of things who of us is cleverer.”

Taking on an honest countenance, he spoke to his brother. “No, brother,” he said. “I come not to recall your loans and promises, for what is money between blood? Rather, in the many years since we were soldiers on campaign together, we have had no time between we two as brothers. And so I have come to invite you with me on my hunting expedition, which leaves this very day.”

The kinder brother, suspecting nothing, was overjoyed, and immediately agreed. He called on his wife to pack things for him to hunt with his clever brother. But his wife was immediately suspicious, and called him aside.

“Husband,” she said, “I don’t like the looks of this. Your brother has never been close, since you were poor and he was rich, and he comes sniffing around now that our fortune’s struck. I know that there’s some wickedness afoot. I beg you, husband, for my sake if not yours, do not leave on this ill-met expedition.”

When he heard his wife’s words, the farmer knew there was rightness to them. But he thought about the other men, and their scornful laughter if he admitted that his wife had kept him. He could not face the shame of it. He took that anger from the weakness of his heart and turned it at once against his wife.

“Quiet, woman!” he commanded, “You are simply jealous of my time alone with men. I will not listen to your petty jealousies! You are my wife, to hear me and obey. Send me off happily or I will divorce you straight-away!”

His wife looked him square in the face, her eyes wide, so upset that she could not say a word. She ran from the room, trailing sobs and tears, leaving him to pack his things alone.

• • • •

After their hunting party reached the forest, his brother rode ahead, and the man soon found himself riding alone with strange men, each of them the greedy compatriots of his sly and prideful brother. As soon as they were certainly alone, the wicked men fell upon him and beat him with their clubs. Although he had been a soldier and was no stranger to battle, there were so many of them, and only one of him, and so in the end of course he succumbed to their assault.

Once they had him on the ground, the other men spat on him and kicked him, laughing all the while. “We would kill you now,” they said, “but for your brother’s sake. He wanted to be the one to do the killing, so we’re off to fetch him now.” They stripped off all of the man’s clothes, tied a sack around his head, left him hanging upside down from an old ash tree.

For a time, the man hung there, despairing of his fate and his wife’s unheeded warning. But neglectful fortune was soon to favor him once again. Along through the woods there came a scholar on horseback, the sort of man who valued knowledge about all else, a man learned of writing and writ of learning, such a man as has not held sword nor plow his whole life through.

When this scholar saw our hanging man, he stopped his horse and stared at him in astonishment. An ordinary sort of person might have thought that he had been set upon by robbers, or might have mistaken him for a fairy, or thought this a pagan practice, forbidden by right and custom, but the scholar did not know what to make of the naked man at all. Not being the sort to leave his curiosity even a moment unsated, the scholar spoke his bewilderment aloud.

“Dear sir,” the scholar asked, “if I may disturb your silence for a moment—and I am very accustomed to silence of the forest, which is why I often in my cogitations come so deep into the woods, where ignorant and peasantish folk fear for bears and fairies—I would merely mean to ask of your mind how it is that your person has been secured so, inverted and naked in a tree, covered by some impediments to your vision but none to your decency.”

Now, dear listeners, you may perhaps find the next part of this story quite peculiar. To listen to it, you even find it paganish, or even heretical. But, I must remind you, this is a tale as it was told to me from the lips of a churchman. Thus, it is in every aspect righteous. Far be it from you or I, simple laymen in honest fear of God, to judge it otherwise.

Regardless, when the hanging man heard the scholar’s question, he knew at once that this was a scholar and then, only a moment later, he struck upon a plan to free himself. “Sir,” he said, “in truth I would not tell you, for this is the greatest secret of all mankind, greater than the works of the eastern philosophers, greater than the works of the austral scientists, greater than the secrets lost in the occidental lands forgotten to the ages of man. But I can tell that you are a scholar, the sort of man who values knowledge about all else, learned of writing and writ of learning, such a man as has not held sword nor plow his whole life through, so perhaps you might have some sliver of capacity to understand the nature of this exercise.”

Hearing this, the scholar leapt from his horse and fell to his knees before the hanging man. “Oh, sir,” he said in desperation, “or sire or any other respect you might claim, please tell me your secret, I beg of you. My whole life, I see now clearly, has been preparation for this moment. I promise you I shall be worthy of it.”

“There is no need for sirring or siring,” said the hanging man, his ruse already sprung, “for amongst men of reason such as ourselves there should be only a natural equality. So I tell you now that this cloth enclosing my head, though it appears to be an ordinary sack, is in truth an ancient receptacle of all the knowledge and wisdom that has been lost to the ages. By hanging myself naked in this tree and plunging my head into its depths, I am partaking of the pure and free knowledge of the universe, the knowledge beyond the firelight, the knowledge that one particular philosopher, in times antiquous, was made to drink his poison merely for speaking of it. The forgotten knowledge of every world is contained within this sack, and I gaze upon it in utmost clarity.”

The scholar fell to the ground, shaking with rapturous anticipation. It was all he could manage to croak out a few words. “Please, sir, please, my brother-in-knowledge, I beg you for a single glimpse into that sack upon your head. I would not be so bold to ask to plunge my head into its depths, but merely a glimpse would be enough to satisfy my lifetime of study.”

“Enough!” said the hanging man, “you may have more a glimpse of it, but the way is difficult, and I fear that you would shirk from it. No, no, I think it would be best if you returned to your books. You could certainly not bear it.”

“No!” screamed the scholar. Hearing the refusal pained him more than knives. “No, please, I will do anything, suffer anything, bear any depredation, for my life is given in pursuit of knowledge, and so it follows, like A from A, that I will even give my life for it. Please, I beg you, tell me that way and I will follow it, though it take years, though it take my body and my life, if my mind will finally know the whole of it, that should be enough for me. I beg you, show me the truth. Do not forsake me to this world of shadows and firelight!”

“Very well,” said the hanging man after a pause, “First you must strip yourself of all your clothing, giving no thought to your decency nor dignity, for in the light of truth we are all known fully, with no illusions to hide us from the world. Then, I will beat you to within a very moment of your life, for to understand this knowledge you must abandon the flesh and its pleasures and illusions. Lastly, I will hang you reversed from this tree, for in this manner you will see the world entirely new, without any of the pre-judices that your learning has wrought in you. That done, you shall be able to see the world entire, to each of its four round corners, everything as it truly is, every secret laid bare at last.”

“Enough!” said the scholar, and immediately he stripped off all his clothes and let the hanging man down from the tree. “You must beat me within an inch of my life! Tie my hands with that rope, if it please you, so that I do not succumb to my baser impulses and resist your blows. Hang me reversed from yonder tree, and plunge my head into this sack, so that I shall know the world and finally be free.” And the other man did so, beating the scholar most brutally, then suspending him from the self-same tree and wrapping his head in the self-same sack. When that was done, he donned the scholar’s clothes as his own, mounted his horse and, thus evading fratricide, made his way back home.

As to what that scholar saw within that sack, however, I shan’t speak a word of it. A righteous tale from the lips of a churchman is well enough and good, but there are still some tales that, if you heard them even once, would surely twist your heart to heresy.

• • • •

Shortly thereafter, the kinder man went to pay a call upon his murderous brother. He cried out from the edge of his brother’s field, saying “Do not be afraid. I have not come in vengeance. Come out, and embrace me as your brother once again, and all shall be forgiven, for I have determined a method for both our fortunes.”

What could the wicked brother do? He could not cower in his house forever. At last, he came out into the field, making a great show of tearing his shirt and crying for forgiveness, but the kind brother would not hear it.

“I know well enough that it was desperation that turned your heart to murder,” he said.

“Oh brother,” replied the other, weeping, “you don’t know the half of it. Even our seed has gone to fill our bellies. Surely we shall starve come winter, for there is nothing left to save us. Better that you should forget your treacherous brother, and make your own way, that at least one of our family should carry our forefather’s line into future generations.”

“Oh nonsense,” said the first brother. “For I have in my method salvation for us both. Now, that turnip from my field—the largest turnip that the world has ever seen, even in the primordial ages that no man knows, that I gave to our king who gave it in turn to you, is it still in your possession? Surely, you cannot have eaten all of it already.”

“In truth,” said the second brother, “I was so vexed to receive a worthless gift that I have left it to rot in the remains of my carriages.”

“Worthless gift! My brother, that turnip is worth more than any gold or jewels, spices or powders, any silks or slicks. It is greater wealth than this entire kingdom! Greater wealth than all empires of all the world!”

When the cruel, sly brother heard this, he curled his fists in anger. “Brother, I have always thought you to be kind, but I see I was mistaken. To leave my family to starve, very well. I deserve no less. But to add to this your mockery? It is cruel, brother, all too cruel!”

“It is not a joke! Simply cut the turnip into parts, no smaller than your fist. Reserve what you need to eat this winter, and sew the rest into your rich and fertile fields, just as you would with any seed, and in the springtime we shall see what comes of it.”

The wicked brother did not understand, but what could he do? In desperation, he followed his brothers words. Imagine his surprise when he found in the springtime his fields full of giant turnips, each as large as the first or larger still. He immediately ran to his brother’s house, embracing him and kissing him and promising him all manner of repayments. “No, no,” said the first brother, “all I wish for repayment is one of your many turnips, so that I may sew my fields in the selfsame manner.” His brother gladly granted him a turnip, and he sewed his fields in the selfsame manner, and by midsummer both households had more turnip than they might eat in twelve lifetimes and one more.

Word of their prosperity spread and spread, until it came to the ears of their sovereign the king, who summoned both of the brothers his sovereign presence. When they arrived, he recognized both of them from years before.

“Tell me,” asked the king, “how you are both now so wealthy, when one of you came before me a pauper, and the other one paupered himself in gifts?”

“We have determined a method,” said the kinder brother, “by which we may harvest enough food to feed ourselves forever, with plenty left over for sale and charity. Thus, we appear now before you built so plump and dressed so gay.”

“Tell me this method at once,” said the king, “and for it I shall create you both as dukes. But if you withhold it from me, you’ll both get a long rot in the dungeons before your heads hang lifeless from my wall, for my gratitude is outmatched only by my wrath, and I shall not wait a moment more.”

“Your majesty,” said the shrewder brother, “there is no need for threats or promises. Our duty to you compels us to speak the truth regardless.” They told the king their method for growing the turnips, and gave him a gift of several from their fields. True to his word, the king created both the brothers his dukes with proper lands and titles and invited them to sit and sup at his either side. Having done so, he distributed both the turnips and the knowledge to grow them to all the men of his realm. And so it came to pass that the people of that kingdom grew rich and plentiful and never again knew any kind of want.

But the nearby kingdoms grew jealous at their neighbors’ sudden wealth. Whispers of their weaknesses travelled fast amongst all the princes and kings of the Vale Traverse. Soon, in hard spring after a hard winter, ragged armies marched jealous against that little prosperous kingdom, intent on seizing their stores of food or at least some part of their great treasure. What’s worse, all the men of that realm were by now both rich and content, with wives and families, so rich and so content that they could not be persuaded to take up arms, or serve otherways in the king’s armies. For what had the fortune has the soldiering life to offer men who already have enough?

Faced with the armies of a dozen realms or more, and with no soldiers willing to stand against them, the king called his two most trusted dukes to court. “I have created you both dukes, and you have supped at my either side. Now I call you to account on all your oaths and promises. You are clever men; use your cleverness to defend our kingdom. For these armies are demanding of our turnip-lore, and our people are too content to take up arms as soldiers. If the world should learn our secret, then there shall be no differences between us. Our kingdom shall once more be poor and ordinary, with all my newfound wealth and power gone. No,” he cried, “I will not have it! You must find a way to turn these armies back or both your heads shall hang lifeless from my walls!”

For days and nights the two dukes planned and plotted, but in the end they could divine no method that would save their nation, their families, or their heads.

Finally, with enemy armies already gathered at the borders of their little kingdom, the cunning brother came bursting into the other’s room at midnight. “At last,” he said, “I have hit upon it!” He explained his plan to his brother.

“But,” said the kind duke, “though it could work, surely it is treason. Our king’s generosity is only exceeded by his wrath, so though our kingdom would be saved, our heads would surely hang lifeless from his wall.”

“Yes,” said the cunning duke, “but what is there to be done about it? What are our two heads against this entire kingdom? There is nothing for it. We must gather up our households this very night and, having enacted our plan, we shall flee to the cities of the south, where I have heard there is some refuge for unfortunate men.”

“Then we must make haste,” said the kind brother, “for enemy armies already gather at the borders of our little kingdom.” They gathered up all that they could, and all their households, including amongst their things some cuttings of the great turnip, and under a flag of parley came to speak with the enemy commanders.

• • • •

When the enemy commanders saw that only two families had come to meet them the field of battle, they laughed at the ease of conquest. But still, they came to speak with the two dukes, for such is the custom of the Vale Traverse, that a flag of parley is never once ignored.

“How is it,” said the leader of them all, a haggard man in red armor who was called the Prince of Rust and Blood, “that so wealthy a kingdom can only manage two old men upon the field, accompanied by a number of women and servants, whereas we poorer nations field an army so large to stretch from one horizon to another? Have you become so weak in your prosperity that you have forgotten war entirely?”

But the kinder of the dukes stepped forward, and showed him a great turnip. “Oh Prince of Rust and Blood,” he said, “mighty at war, it is true that we have no armies that might oppose you. So we offer you instead the secret of this nation’s prosperity. With these turnips from our fields, we know not hunger nor want nor need, and are thus wealthy beyond wealth, content beyond contending.”

“So why,” said the Prince of Rust and Blood, “should we not simply burn your villages, slaughtering your men and your children, taking your women and these marvelous turnips as well?”

“If your armies turn back now,” said the cunning duke, loud enough for the whole gathered host to hear him, “we will tell each of your soldiers the secret that grows these turnips, and give each of them a part that he may grow for his own, on his own land, and from this he shall never again know for want, never know for hunger, never know for need, never again need for war.”

The Prince of Rust and Blood loved nothing more than battle, so he laughed at the duke’s offer, not even bothering to refuse. But his soldiers were not cruel men like him, or if they were cruel they were only cruel out of necessity. Every soldier of that army had heard the clever duke speak his promise aloud. And, even as the Duke spoke his offer, the wives and servants of the two Dukes’ households walked amongst that assembled host, giving each man a piece of the great turnip, and whispering to each the secret of its cultivation. So when the Prince of Rust and Blood ordered them to battle the soldiers of that army would not raise a spear or sword or bow, instead demanding only a little piece of the great turnip, and a little land to grow it on, that they might know for themselves that wealth or, at least, sufficiency. And when the Prince turned back to the Dukes, betrayed by his own armies, they were already gone, fled along with their households to the cities of the south, where there is some refuge for unfortunate men. What happened to them after, I cannot say. The story leaves them there.

I can tell you, though, that all those soldiers took their turnips home, and grew from them their own crops, and gave the secret to their neighbors in sale or charity, who passed it on to their neighbors in turn, until the turnips had spread over the entire world. Once they had the turnips, no one ever again knew hunger, no one ever again knew want, no one ever again knew war. And so, in this gradual manner, the whole world was brought to eternal peace.

That is the story, the whole and the heart of it, just as it was told to me from the lips of a pious churchman. However impossible it seems to you, however absurd you find its ending or how heathenish its middle, if any man call me a liar, he’d best take that matter up with God.

P H Lee

P H Lee. A close-up photograph of three white plum blossoms on a branch, with an out-of-focus brown-and-green background.

P H Lee lives on top of an old walnut tree, past a thicket of roses, down a dead end street at the edge of town. Their work has appeared in many venues including Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Uncanny Magazine. From time to time, they microwave and eat a frozen burrito at two in the morning, for no reason other than that they want to.