Once upon a time, during his travels to an exotic mountainous country, a wise man came upon a wondrous tree, deep in the jungle. Its fruit were all different shapes, colors and tastes, he was told, not to mention its bark, branches and roots, which all seemed to have been taken from a variety of trees and put into one. He looked suspiciously at the fruit, yet the guides assured him that all were edible, different, and succulent. Indeed, it was so. For three days, they stayed under the tree and tasted of all its fruit. On the fourth, the guides offered the man two of its seeds as a gift. They were curious little pods, shaped like chubby infants hugging their knees. “Nature makes strange wonders”, thought the man, and took the precious offering home, where he planted the seeds and watched the miracle of their growth in his stone-walled yard.
In the man’s country ruled a strong king, who had a son and a daughter. Both were different in temperament. She, kind, gentle, sharing and caring, he, quick to anger, selfish and haughty. The king heard of the wise man’s garden, for the news of its beauty and odd appearance travelled far and wide, despite his having hidden them behind walls.
The king sent a messenger to the man, who said: “Your ruler and king has heard of the magnificence of the trees in your garden and wishes for you to give them to him to do as he sees fit. Saddened, the man agreed, for no one refused the request of the king. Royal gardeners arrived the next day with silver-plated shovels to uproot the sapling which were beginning to fruit. They loaded them up onto horse-pulled carts, which were guarded by ten of the palace guards, all the way to the keep, under the bemused stares of the bystanders. The wise man was very sad indeed, but had very little hope of seeing his beloved trees again.
The Prince and Princesses birthdays came only days apart, and as was customary, the king chose a middling date to celebrate them both (and save a bit of money in the bargain). Both children had a garden of their own, where they grew whatever they wanted. The Princesses’ overflowed with fruit and vegetables, wildflowers and grasses, cultivated flowers, all manners of herbs and spices and trees of all types which reflected her delicate nature and love of everything natural. She loved variety and mixing and matching all that she could to get the most colors and odors, tastes and feels in one place.
The Prince grew potatoes, oak trees and oregano. They were functional, hardy, and required very little work, and that was that, as they say. Everything grew in straight rows as if standing at attention for inspection. He cared little for taste, smell, sight, and not a bit for feel. They were something he could do entirely without, thank you very much, and were a nuisance to a future military man like himself.
On the day of his children’s birthdays (or the date that fell in between), the king gave them each a sapling. The little girl danced and laughed around such a wondrous miracle of nature, inspecting every budding fruit, every different leaf, as if this were the crowning jewel of her garden (which it was).
The Prince bowed and thanked his father, then turned to his present, hands on his hips, cocking his head sideways as if wondering what to do with such a mess of a tree (which it was).
Both Prince and Princess brought their respective gifts to their own enclosures after having hugged and kissed their father. They both planted the funny-looking saplings where they would get enough sunlight, and rain, and wind, nutrients from the earth, and all the good things growing plants need to become big and strong. This, however, tragically, is where the similarities in the way they treated their magical trees ended.
Both trees grew at exponential rates. So much so that they seemed to double and triple in size in a matter of months. It seemed that whenever they would go out to see how their respective trees were doing, they would both be shocked at how much they’d grown, and grown, and grown. Every day, a new branch, with a new kind of fruit dangling from it, or a new root, or branch, or leaf, more outlandish and more stunning than the last.
The Princess was elated. How could she ask for more? Every day was a new surprise for her. She would tend her tree as best she could, removing parasites, or weeds and vines that threatened to choke the poor tree before it could fully come into its own. The tree flourished and grew, becoming immense. It complemented the rest of her garden so well, never overshadowing the other plants, only bringing more beauty to an already beautiful place. It gave her new fruit to taste and to share, new sensations to feel, and new sights to lose herself in.
The Prince, however, was deeply unsatisfied. Every time he came out to the damned tree, it had changed again. In the beginning, all he’d had to do was to nip and tuck, snip and snap certain branches to get some sort of uniformity into the thing. Granted the fruit were a little duller than he’d expected, then again, he didn’t exactly go for flamboyant, either. Now, though, the thing was getting huge, and he spent much of his time pruning off all those branches that diverged from what he considered the norm. He even gave a few good whacks to some roots that didn’t grow as straight as the rest, and peeled the misshapen and too-colorful bark that offended him. Still, despite their lack-luster appearance, the fruit were somewhat edible, if all identical. The more it grew, the more he hacked away, making it more like one of his elms, and the fruit more like potatoes. He would be damned if this thing was going to start giving him trouble. The fruit grew more bitter, and soon nettles and needles grew here and there. As the roots expanded, they began to choke all other plants and trees in the garden. The elms began to wither, the potatoes to sour, the oregano to dry up and die.
The bark began to go black. The fruit, more coarse. Then, one day, he bit into the fruit and became deathly ill. He was rushed to his room and the court physician was called in. “Vitamin deficiency” was his diagnosis, but despite being fed the most healthy foods, he did not get better.
The King had his head cut off.
Another physician came in and declared he was having “bilious moods”. Despite all the best entertainment the king could afford, the son never got any better.
The king had his head cut off.
Now, during this time, the wise man found out about the Prince’s fate, as did the rest of the kingdom, and had a missive sent to the king. Bureaucratic nonsense being what it was, four more physicians had to lose their heads before the letter got to the king.
It read: “Dear king: You have taken my most prized possessions, and they in turn might take your son. This is a sad turn of events, but not irreversible. Allow me to see what has become of my trees and I may help you save your son.
“This wise man sounds like a wise-guy,” said the king, who had up to this point completely forgotten the man he had defrauded to get his kids some cheap birthday presents. Without further ado, he declared him the culprit and had him ordered arrested.
The man was paraded down the street, surrounded by palace guards, declared the cause of the Prince’s illness. The populace booed and spat at him, and he scowled back at them in return. He was taken to the deepest, darkest dungeon, where he was shackled to a stoned wall with other common criminals and the few physicians still alive who were awaiting their turn for execution.
“The king has gone mad with grief!” they said, and the wise man answered:
“He does not seek the true reason for his son’s illness. He could easily do so. I could tell him, but he does not want to know. We may all lose our heads for his folly,” and the other prisoners trembled in fear, making their shackles shake and jitter, creating a horrible racket in the dungeon. The jailer finally arrived and asked them to cut it out, but they could not. The only one to remain calm was the wise man. Other guards began to complain, and soon, word began to filter down the corridors of the palace that a spooky clamor emanated from the dungeons. One of the Princesses’ attendants, fearful of all things supernatural, told her about the din. Being a no-nonsense investigator, the young girl headed toward the castles dungeons, hearing the shaking and trembling progressively getting clearer as she approached. Of course, the trembling was not as strong as it had been, hours before. Those who had shook in fear only gave their bonds cursory wiggles, for the form, most of their energies depleted.
The wise man sat, arms crossed as far as the chains would let them, waiting.
“You,” the princess said, spying him among the others as the odd man out. “What is the meaning of this?”
“Who wants to know?” he said.
“Why, I am Princess Romilda, Prince Vanc’s sister. What causes this racket that disturbs the palace, all the way to my brother’s sick-bed.”
“Princess, men who are afraid for their necks while shudder and tremble. It so happens there are chains attached to these men; thus, the bothersome noise.”
“Yet you do not tremble.”
“I do not.” He said, looking her straight in the eyes.
“Because I alone know how to cure your brother. I only await for his majesty to free me to do so.”
“Are you tricking?” she asked, suspiciously.
“If so, I do it from a rather precarious position,” he rattled his chains a bit, looking up at the metal ring on the wall where they were tied. The princess nodded and dashed away.
In a far corner of the castle, the King sat at his son’s bed-side, holding a pale, clammy hand. Vanc’s breathing was so shallow, his chest had trouble lifting the covers. Romilda rushed to her father’s side and explained what she had heard.
“It could be a trick to kill your brother,” he said, squeezing the boy’s hand tighter.
“I do not believe so, father,” she said “he appears an honorable man. Listen to what he has to say, and if you don’t like it, you may have him beheaded, like the physicians. It would be a shame if he told the truth, though, would it not, father? To let Vanc die as he lies, though his salvation be trussed to a wall only a few hundred metres away?” The King pondered the words of his daughter and remarked to himself how wise she was for one so young. He had the Wise man taken to the throne room, surrounded by the usual contingent of palace guards.
“Explain yourself. How do you propose to save my son?”
“First I must see the trees. What have you done with them?”
“Impudent dog! You vowed to save my son, yet you now only think of your damned trees!”
“At least you admit they were, your Highness,” and he stole a glance to the princess who stood there in shock. “I need to see how they fare to more ably prepare a salve for your ailing son.”
“I will take him to the gardens,” said the princess, steely eyed, to the gasps of the attendants. Without another word, she went to him and took him by the hand.
Through the corridors of the sorrowed palace they traipsed, the young princess and the man, hand in hand.
“Is this a good course of action, your Highness?” he asked.
“I have to trust it is, sir. My father has done enough damage; it is time to fix it.”
They first went to her garden, where ‘her’ tree had grown to immense proportions, laden with an infinite variety of succulent-looking fruit, colorful and odorant. The wise man could not suppress a smile at the sight of such health and vigor. “Take me to your brother’s garden,” he said, already knowing what he would find there… or so he thought.
It was worse, much worse than what he had envisioned. Everything save the wretched, blackened, tentacled thing dominated the barren ground had been sucked dry of life. An Evil aura permeated the air around it, and they felt sick just to be near it.
The Wise Man wept.
“What can we do?” the princess said, as a foul wind danced through the grimy foliage.
“Now we make a pie.” The Wise Man said, and the princess looked at him, bemused. He had the kitchen staff pick the most beautiful fruit from her tree and prepare them in a delicious pie, feeding it slowly to the sick Prince. Meanwhile, he took the few precious seeds he could coax out of her tree and planted them around the sick one, and watered them well. Being a magical tree, the seeds began to sprout almost instantaneously. The Evil tree seemed to want to fight the new invader, but soon, it too began to have different-looking growths. Its colors changed. The spines receded. A harmony descended upon it, and its menace began to fade.
“Princess! Princess! Your brother is well! He has come out of his room!” shouted a nurse from out a palace window, and she and the wise man rejoiced.
Called to the throne room, the Wise Man explained what had happened:
“You, Prince Vanc, had taken a Tree of Multitude and corrupted it, turning it to poison.”
“But it was so different and uncouth.” The boy managed, weakly.
“If you look around you, the world is made up of things that are different, yet, it is by admiring them for their differences that we can achieve harmony, like your sister has.” And the prince nodded, ashamed.
“You have saved my son’s life, and for this, I shall spare yours,” the king said.
“You are too kind, your highness,” said the Wise Man, with a note of irony.
“This man has saved my brother. I want him as my precept, father. With he as my teacher, I am certain to become more acquainted in the ways of the world,” the princess said.
And so it came to be that the Wise Man became precept to a Princess, eventually gaining rights to tend the gardens of the Palace. The Prince grew to respect him, and in turn, he, him. A banquet was henceforth held annually, wherein the kingdom itself was invited to partake in the fruit of the trees, so that the people could be one, in the Multitude.