The Greedy Emperor

Once upon a time, when the world looked much tidier than it does now, there lived a greedy Emperor. One day, he was possessed by a raging thirst and rang the small bell that he kept beside him at all times. Almost immediately, a courtier appeared and the Emperor said ‘I want water’. Moments later, the same servant re-appeared with a silver salver on which he carried a perfect glass of chilled water, its edges frosted with ice. Upon seeing the drink, the Emperor boomed ‘NO!’ in a voice so loud that it shook his palace and made the servant deaf in one ear, ‘When I said I wanted water’, he explained, ‘I meant I wanted all the water in the world.’ And so, the potters were ordered to construct a vessel big enough to hold all the water in the world and the navy was dispatched to go and collect it. When they had drained every river and every ocean, leaving the fishes and whales gasping for breath on the seabed, the sailors returned to the palace gates bearing the huge vessel brimful of water. The Emperor instructed that the water should be brought inside the palace and deposited there and, when as it was emptied, the palace walls swelled up and shifted until they occupied two thirds of the surface of the earth, just as the water had done.

From then on, the people of the earth would crowd outside the gates of the palace every morning, carrying jugs and buckets and pleading for the Emperor to spare a few of his precious drops. For a time, the Emperor enjoyed his new water, deciding who would receive his blessing and swimming in it every day. But, without the fishes and whales that had made the water seem so interesting when it was beyond the palace walls, the Emperor soon tired of it.

One day, he summoned his half-deaf manservant with a bigger bell and told him ‘I want land’. Interpreting this request, his faithful servant went away and instructed the court’s gardeners to get to work. Between them, they designed a landscape of unsurpassed beauty, littered with waterfalls and trimmed with rosebushes. When it was finished, the servant invited the Emperor to walk with him across the lawns. But, before they had even reached the enchanted forest, the Emperor had shouted ‘NO!’ in a voice so loud that the ground shook and the maze constructed entirely of hedges collapsed in a heap. ‘When I said I wanted land’, the Emperor clarified, ‘I meant I wanted all the land in the world’. And so, the engineers were ordered to construct machines that could cut up and carry all the land and the army was dispatched to the four corners of the earth. When the soldiers arrived at the gates of the palace, dragging the land behind them but leaving the creatures that had lived on it behind, the Emperor invited them in. Again, the walls of the palace heaved and strained, expanding until they took up the entire surface of the globe, with all the water and all the land contained inside.

When the whole world was his empire and his empire was the whole world, everyone hoped that the Emperor would be happy. To start with, he went for walks in different directions every morning, exploring every hill and valley. But, without the people and animals that had made the land seem so interesting when it was beyond the palace walls, his pleasure was soon exhausted and the Emperor began to look for new amusements.

One day, the Emperor summoned his poor, exhausted servant and informed him ‘I want the skies’. Again, his servant went away and tried to put his master’s order into action. He arranged for every species that lived in the air to fly over the palace at a given time and he instructed the aeronauts to construct a flying machine of stupendous proportions in which the Emperor could explore the heavens. When everything had been arranged, he invited the Emperor to join him on the lawns and they watched as an incredible display of birds and bees rippled above them in a blanket of extraordinary beauty that almost covered the sun. But, before the servant had the chance to dizzy the Emperor with the aeronautical heights of his flying machine, he roared ‘NO!’ in a voice so loud that a few of the butterflies fainted and fell from the sky. ‘When I said I wanted the skies,’ boomed the Emperor, ‘I meant that I wanted all the air around the world’. Well, this time, the servant was at a loss but eventually he had an idea and went away to instruct the seamstresses to construct an enormous silk balloon that would contain all the air above the earth. When it was ready, the court balloonists were deployed to fly around the globe, collecting the air as they went and leaving a vacuum behind them. Returning to the palace gates, they sought permission from the Emperor to deposit their load and used a golden tube to siphon the air out of the balloon and into the palace. To begin with, the palace walls (that already contained all the water of the earth and all the land of the earth) stretched a little to allow the air in until they looked just like the balloon that was connected to them by a golden tube. But then, the walls stopped moving and refused to let anything else in. The harder the balloonists tried, squeezing the balloon from behind to push the air out, the more stubbornly the walls stood against them. Eventually, the Emperor himself commanded the stony walls that they must move. And so it was that the walls went the only way the walls could, up into the space where the air used to be. As they blasted skywards in a million pieces, the walls released all the land of the earth, which fell around the globe in a haphazard pattern. Then, the walls released all the water, which rose up into a giant wave that washed into the spaces between the land, sweeping the Emperor away as it travelled and dissolving him in a million drops around the world.

Commissioned by Version Magazine, Romania for the version colouring book, 2005.