There were once two people, by
the names of Othoral and Hiadmath, who lived in a small house in the
countryside. The house stood on a slight rise in the land, and was surrounded
on all sides by field after field of tall crops grown by Othoral and Hiadmath.
Every day, Othoral made a cake
‘I am looking forward to this.’
Hiadmath would say as the cake was in the oven. ‘I do so like cake. I could
happily eat the whole thing in one go.’
Once the cake had been baked,
Othoral would take it out of the oven, and place it on the table. Once the cake
had cooled, Othoral said to Hiadmath ‘Here, the cake is made. You may eat the
But despite his earlier eagerness
for the cake, Hiadmath would say ‘I may have some of it later.’, for Hiadmath
would be preoccupied by other things. Some days he would be sweeping the floor;
some days he would be brushing soot out of the fireplace; some days he would be
making a wooden chair. He complained about these tasks the entire time he was
doing them, but he did them nevertheless.
Only after many hours would he
sit at the table and have some of the cake, and when he did, he would only cut
a thin slice for himself.
‘Why not have another slice?’
Othoral would say, once Hiadmath had eaten the first. ‘I know you will like
But Hiadmath would say ‘No, I
have had all I want.’ or ‘I may have some more later.’ (but even when he said
this, he would always become preoccupied with other tasks again).
This happened every day. Othoral
would make a cake, while Hiadmath talked of how much he was looking forward to
eating the whole thing. But once the cake was made, Hiadmath would only have
one thin slice.
After a while, Othoral was fed up
with this, so one day, rather than just give Hiadmath the whole cake, Othoral
took the cake, along with many plates, and walked around the fields and through
the thickets near to their house. Every few paces, he placed one of the plates
on the ground, and then broke a single crumb off the cake, and placed the crumb
on the plate. Once he had placed every crumb of the cake, he returned to the
In the afternoon, Hiadmath, after
many hours of working, said ‘I rather fancy a piece of cake.’
Othoral said ‘Look outside the
Hiadmath did so, and he saw a
plate on the ground, on which was a single crumb of cake. He picked up the
plate, and ate the single crumb of cake that was on it. ‘Mmm’, he said, ‘that
was delicious, but I would rather like some more.’
Hiadmath then saw another plate on
the ground, a few paces away. He walked over to it, and saw that it too had a
crumb of cake on it. He picked up the plate and ate the crumb. ‘Mmm, that was
also delicious, but still I would like some more.’
Hiadmath followed the trail of
plates around the fields and through the thickets. He picked up each one, and
ate the crumb of cake that was on it. By the time he got back to the house, he
had eaten a whole cake.
‘All that cake was delicious!’
Hiadmath said to Othoral. ‘I could eat even more!’
Othoral had made another cake
while Hiadmath had been wandering around outside, and he placed it on the
table. ‘Here you go.’, Othoral said, ‘I have made another.’
Hiadmath immediately ate the
whole second cake.
And this was how they continued.
Every day Othoral baked a cake, and then walked around the fields, placing down
plates, and placing a single crumb of the cake on each one. Every day Hiadmath
walked around the fields, picking up the plates, eating the crumbs. And when
Hiadmath returned to the house, he would eat a second whole cake.
Hiadmath ate far more cake than he had done before – before he had only eaten one thin slice of cake, but now he ate two whole cakes! He even ate more than he had at first wanted to – at first he had only wanted to eat one whole cake – for, as Othoral realised, the crumbs are more than the cake.
This great empire was vast –
reaching from the pine-covered mountains of Arennia in the west, to the golden
beaches and azure reefs of Marcanne in the east, from the freshwater lakes of Belgamon
in the north, to the apple orchards and apiaries of Arganza in the south. It
was so vast that evening on one side of the empire was morning on the other.
And at its centre stood its Capital – a limestone and marble metropolis that
was the seat of power for a hemisphere.
This great empire was also
extraordinarily wealthy. Though it had started as only a small city state, it
had fought many wars over the years against the kingdoms and principalities
along its borders, and it had won most of them. With each new territory it had
conquered it had stolen all the riches it contained, fuelling yet further
expansion of the empire. And with each monarchy that fell before it, ever more
convinced did the subjects of the Emperor become that they were the only truly
civilised people in the world, and that all those beyond the empire’s borders
But most of the people in the
empire were not wealthy – they were impoverished – for most of the great wealth
extracted from the lands they had taken was hoarded by the Emperor and his
Barons. By the time of this story, they
were far wealthier than they had ever been. The Grand Imperial Palace at the
centre of the Capital was a small kingdom of ivory towers, marble colonnades,
golden cupolas, glass-walled orangeries, wisteria-wrapped pergolas, and
mosaic-covered terraces. The statues that stood atop the walls, the painted
domed ceilings, and the stained glass windows all gleamed with a brilliance
that was taken as proof of the empire’s immutable virtue.
The Emperor and his Barons spent
their days strolling through the lush gardens and great halls of the imperial
palace, but for most of the people of the empire, such a life was but a whisper
of a whisper. In contrast to the luminance of the imperial palace, most of the
great city that was the empire’s capital was in disrepair. Fires broke out
every month; the sewers overflowed; the bridges collapsed. The houses were
small, cramped, and expensive. Disease was often a death sentence.
Most of the people who lived in
the city worked twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours of the day. A person had to be
a master of two or three crafts in order to survive. Many were in debt. Food,
at least, was cheap – not fine food, but food that would keep you alive, and
well, for a time. In what little free time the people of the empire had, they
had fun, and some were able to find a reluctant contentedness, but none were
truly able to change the circumstances of their lives, and the risk of
deprivation, despair, and death remained constant.
Many of the problems of the
empire could have been resolved if some of the empire’s extraordinary wealth
were put towards resolving them. The ordinary people of the empire knew this.
And why should this not happen? After all, it had been these ordinary people
who had fought the empire’s wars in the first place. They had obeyed the
commands of their divine Emperor and taken land in the name of their
exceptional civility, and then been left to suffer.
The People of the Capital thought
that perhaps if they could speak to the Emperor, they could persuade him to
implement policies that would solve the empire’s many problems. But getting to
the Emperor was difficult – the Emperor, his Barons, and his Ministers were
isolated within the Grand Imperial Palace. They never went beyond its tall
So the People of the Capital
gathered together, and resolved to send one of their group into the palace as a
representative, to become one of the Emperor’s Ministers. (Unlike the Barons,
who passed down their fortunes and titles to their sons, the Emperor’s
Ministers were chosen from the greater populace.) They chose one man from their
group who they believed would succeed – he was eloquent, rational, and honest,
if somewhat brusque.
It was on a bright day, just
before lunch, that this First Man strode up to the golden gates of the imperial
palace, to be admitted as the Emperor’s newest Minister. The gates swung
outward, and the First Man stepped forward into a world he could not have
The Grand Imperial Palace is
filled with a great many wonders of the world: the Hydrargyrum Fountain, which
will amalgamate any coin that is thrown into it, to become part of its
quicksilver jets; the Lotus of Charan’girak – the flowers of which are fifteen
feet tall and only bloom on the day after a blood moon; the Tree of Rhonyssia,
each branch of which produces a different kind of fruit – cherries, pears,
bergamots, dates, pineapples, blackberries – everything.
The flowerbeds, the shrubs, the
walkways were all kept perfectly tidy by the imperial palace’s many hundreds of
servants. Every leaf that fell from every tree was caught before it even hit
the ground. Every cracked paving stone was replaced before the Emperor could
see it. Every oil lamp was refilled every hour throughout the night so that not
a single flame would go out.
It was through this wondrous
place that the First Man strode on this day. Though he was transfixed by the
chiselled cornices, the viridian ponds, and the onyx statues, he walked past
them all to the great glasshouse at the centre of the palace that was the
Though the imperial palace had
galleries, chambers, and halls that were the official locations where the
discussion of legislation took place, the Emperor and his Barons and his Ministers
actually spent very little time there. Instead they gathered in the Emperor’s
Menagerie, every day, at midday, to discuss and give assent to policy.
The Emperor’s Menagerie was
bright and humid. It had tall walls and many glass domes. The fronds of the
ferns and the cycads were a lush green, and the pools that sat and the streams
that ran throughout the building were clear.
But despite the grandeur of the
architecture and the greenery of the Emperor’s Menagerie, most of the animals
in it were rather unspectacular. There were lorikeets and parakeets, lemurs and
macaques, pythons, puffins, porcupines, and pangolins, chameleons, tortoises,
sloths, a jaguar, a giraffe, and even a hippopotamus, but they all looked
rather tired and grey.
There was one exception to this,
however – a unique specimen that was the Emperor’s prized possession. In the
very centre of the Emperor’s Menagerie, beneath the great crystal dome and on a
circular plinth of gold and garnet, sat an enormous … pink elephant.
The elephant was truly gigantic –
twice the height, width, and length of a normal elephant. But as remarkable as
its size was, it was nothing compared to the colour of its skin. The elephant’s
skin was a lurid, electric fuchsia – a hot, shocking cyclamen. It was such a
vile and offensive shade of magenta that it stung the eyes to look at it. It
was so fluorescent that it drained all of the colour from everything around it.
The elephant was also disgusting.
It gave off a nauseating stench of bitumen, vinegar, oyster sauce, burnt
aubergine, and piss – the entire menagerie smelled of it. This may have been
caused by its diet. The elephant did not eat leaves and grasses as normal
elephants do – it ate incredibly expensive foods, provided to it at the behest
of the Emperor and his Barons: caviar, goose liver, lobsters, artichokes
stuffed with white truffle, bluefin tuna, and it ate all of this food in vast
quantities. The servants of the Grand Imperial Palace would drag great bowls –
four feet across – filled with this food up to the elephant every half hour.
The more recently-appointed servants were given the task of carrying away the
elephant’s shit, which was produced almost constantly.
All of this makes the Emperor’s
Pink Elephant difficult to ignore, but ignore it you must, because if anyone
talks about the elephant – whether they go on about it at length or just
mention it – that person will be swiftly removed from the palace, and never be
permitted to return.
Almost all of the people of the
empire, however, at this point, were completely unaware of the existence of the
pink elephant. As such, when the First Man strode through the glass doors of
the Emperor’s Menagerie, to begin his first term as one of the Emperor’s
Ministers, he gawped at the pink elephant, in shock and amazement. The pink
elephant stared back, grinding crabshell in its teeth, bored with the turn of
The Emperor’s other Ministers
shuffled up to the First Man, with their hands clasped together and forced
smiles on their faces. They nodded politely as they asked the First Man
pointless questions and ignored his answers. And after a few minutes, the First
Man said ‘I had no idea that the Emperor had an enormous pink elephant in his
menagerie! What an unusual creature!’
The Emperor’s other Ministers
continued to smile and nod, but did not refer to the elephant themselves. They
changed the conversation to something meaningless and dull.
An hour after the First Man had
arrived in the menagerie, and before the First Man had had the chance to speak
with the Emperor (who always stood on a raised area at the back of the
glasshouse, dressed in imperial green and guarded by a number of his Barons)
one of the Emperor’s servants walked up to the First Man and said ‘Most
honourable gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of the
palace – there is a matter that requires your expertise.’ The First Man,
suspecting nothing, followed the servant out of the menagerie and back to the
golden gates of the palace.
He stepped through the gates of
the palace. Once he was outside, the gates were closed behind him and locked,
and the servant walked away.
The First Man, like those who had
elected him to become a Minister, was naïve to the way that the palace
operated, and so was confused. He had expected to find this matter outside the
gates of the palace, but he did not. The servants had walked away, so there was
no-one he could ask. He waited for an hour in case the matter reappeared, but
it did not. Then he tried to get the attention of someone in the palace, but
none came to him.
By the end of the day, he
realised that this was not a mistake, and that he would not be permitted back
into the palace, and could not take the people’s requests to the Emperor. What
he couldn’t figure out was why.
He analysed the day’s events with
the People of the Capital. He told them of everything that had happened while
he had been inside the Grand Imperial Palace, and everything he had said to the
Emperor’s Ministers. He told them that in the very centre of the Emperor’s
Menagerie there was an enormous pink elephant that ate vast quantities of
expensive food and gave off a foul odour, and that he had mentioned the
elephant to the Ministers. But he had said so many things and made so many
slight gestures that neither he nor the People could figure out which of them
had led to his expulsion.
But the empire still had many
problems, so, since they could not send the First Man back into the palace, the
People of the Capital chose another from their group to become one of the Emperor’s
Ministers in his stead. This Second Man was very similar to the first, but
perhaps slightly more observant.
So the next day, just before
lunch, this Second Man strode up to the golden gates of the imperial palace, to
be admitted as the Emperor’s newest Minister. The gates swung outward, and the
Second Man stepped forward into a world he had heard a few things about.
He walked the two miles from the
entrance to the palace to the Emperor’s Menagerie, not stopping to marvel at
the Opal Obelisk, Sereri’s Fresco, or the translucent chrysanthemums. But when
he stepped through the glass doors of the menagerie, like the First Man, he was
awestruck by the pink elephant. The elephant looked at him with impatience.
The Emperor’s other Ministers
shuffled up to the Second Man, eyes eager and greedy. They chatted with the
Second Man about things both tedious and irrelevant, and laughed at things that
weren’t funny. And after a few minutes, the Second Man said ‘I must say, I knew
that the Emperor had an enormous pink elephant in his menagerie, but I could
not have anticipated just how vivid its skin is, or how pungent its smell is.’
‘His Majesty’s Menagerie has many
wondrous and unique animals in it.’ one of the Emperor’s other Ministers said,
though it wasn’t true in the slightest – all of the other animals were rather
dull. ‘My favourite is the pigeons.’ he said, pointing up to the rafters, where
hundreds of fat, grey pigeons sat.
‘Oh yes’, another Minister said.
‘Far better than those sparrows that used to be here. And I never liked that
An hour after the Second Man had
arrived in the menagerie, and before he had had the chance to speak with the
Emperor, one of the Emperor’s servants walked up to the Second Man and said
‘Most honourable gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of
the palace – there is a matter that requires your expertise.’ The Second Man,
also suspecting nothing, followed the servant out of the menagerie and back to
the golden gates of the palace.
He passed through the gates, and
they were locked behind him. He was tricked just as the First Man had been,
though the Second Man realised this as soon as he heard the lock clink behind
The Second Man also analysed the
day’s events with the People of the Capital. He told them everything he said
and everything he did, and the People realised the only thing that both the First Man and the Second Man
had done was to talk about the elephant in the room.
As ever, the problems with the
empire persisted. The People resolved that they could not give up, so they
chose a Third Man from their group to try to get into the palace and speak to
the Emperor. But this time, he would go in with the intention of not saying a
single word about the pink elephant, and if one of the Emperor’s servants said
he was needed at the gates, he would try to find a way of not going.
So the next day the Third Man
went in. When he stepped into the great glasshouse, the Emperor’s other
Ministers shuffled up to him, whispering and glancing at each other. He did not
say a single word about the elephant, but he did stare at it – it was difficult not to – its skin was so blindingly
saturated. And of course, it was right in the middle of the room.
The Emperor’s other Ministers
watched the Third Man as they prattled at him. They didn’t look towards the
elephant themselves, but they knew that the Third Man was looking at it – they
knew that he was thinking about it.
And after an hour, one of the
Emperor’s servants walked up to the Third Man and said ‘Most honourable
gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of the palace – there
is a matter that requires your expertise.’
The Third Man immediately
realised what was happening – they were trying to expel him from the palace –
he must have done something the other Ministers didn’t like. ‘I’m sure the
matter can wait.’ he said to the Emperor’s servant. ‘The discussion of policy
is very important; I would not like to miss any of it.’
‘Oh that won’t start for ages
yet.’ one of the Emperor’s other Ministers said. ‘We’ll probably just be
babbling on for another few hours yet, as we do.’
‘Yes’, another Minister said,
‘you won’t miss anything – I’m sure you’ll have the time to deal with this
The Third Man had not anticipated
this. ‘His Imperial Majesty expects all of his Ministers to be in attendance.’
‘Oh he won’t mind.’ one of the
‘Yes, I’m sure he won’t mind.’
another said with a smirk. ‘You should go.’
The Third Man couldn’t see how he
could reason his way out of this. Everyone wanted him to go to the gates.
‘Very well.’ the Third Man said,
after a moment, and he followed the servant out of the menagerie.
He knew that the moment he
stepped outside of the palace, the gates would be locked behind him, and he
wouldn’t be able to get back in, so he tried to think how he could avoid going
through them. He could just run to a different part of the palace, he thought,
but they would only find him, and then tell him to go to the gates again.
He couldn’t think of how to get
out of this. When he got to the gates of the palace, which were wide open, he
stopped before passing them, adamant he would not go a step further.
‘Well, where is this matter
then?’ he said to the servant.
The Emperor’s servant said with
half-lidded eyes ‘It is in the marketplace a short distance away from the
palace. I will take you there.’
The Third Man was still
suspicious. ‘What on earth is this matter?’
‘It will be easier to show you.’
the servant said.
Once again, the Third Man didn’t
see how he could refuse. But the servant would be with him – they’d have to let
the servant back into the palace when they returned, and he could go in at the
same time. So the Third Man stepped past the gates of the palace, and followed
the servant to the marketplace.
The marketplace was bustling. The
Third Man followed the servant through the dense crowd as they wound between
the stalls. He was almost starting to believe that there was some important matter for him to deal with, but for a moment he
looked the other way, and when he looked back, the servant was gone.
The Third Man immediately
realised what had happened, and pushed his way back through the crowd to try to
get back to the palace as soon as possible. But when he arrived at the
entrance, the gates were once again locked shut, and there was no-one on the
other side who could or would open them.
Like the First Man and the Second
Man, the Third Man told the People of the Capital everything that had happened.
They realised that not only would talking
about the elephant get you thrown out, but even looking at it – acknowledging it in any way.
So the People of the Capital sent
a Fourth Man to the palace. The Fourth Man did not mention the elephant at all,
nor did he stare at the elephant when he first walked into the menagerie. He
managed to stay in the menagerie for longer than the first three had – most of
the afternoon. But though he avoided staring
at the elephant, when its amaranth skin caught the edge of his vision, he
couldn’t help but steal a glance at it.
The Emperor’s other Ministers had
been watching him closely the entire afternoon, even after they had run out of
things to blather on about. They saw the Fourth Man look at the elephant for a
fraction of a second, so the Fourth Man was expelled too.
The Fifth Man that the People
sent in was the first one who managed to remain in the menagerie for a while.
He said nothing about the elephant and did not look at it even for a moment.
He went into the menagerie at
midday every day for a week, along with all of the Emperor’s other Ministers.
The first few hours of every afternoon were spent rambling on about things that
didn’t matter. Many of the Ministers would wander around the menagerie with one
of their friends – the menagerie had many winding gravel paths through it
(walled by emerald foliage, which prevented anything the Ministers whispered to
each other from being overheard by others in the glasshouse).
It was only towards the end of
each afternoon that any actual discussion of policy happened, and it was
usually very quick. The Ministers and the Barons were in complete agreement on
almost everything. The Emperor did not question any of the policies that were
proposed – in fact he didn’t say anything at all in the discussion – and he
gave assent to everything that the Ministers and the Barons decided upon. The
Fifth Man realised that it was not the Emperor that he needed to speak to, but
the Ministers and the Barons.
Over the days that he was there,
the Fifth Man tried to convince the other Ministers of the policies that the
People wanted. He tried to persuade them to support the rebuilding of bridges,
aqueducts, and sewers. He tried to persuade them to put some of the palace’s
great wealth towards building more houses, so that the people of the city would
not have to live in such cramped spaces. He tried to persuade them to end the
constant war and expansion – the empire was big enough as it was – any bigger
and it might fracture.
He went from group to group
within the menagerie, repeating the same arguments. The Ministers smiled and
nodded. They responded with things like ‘What an interesting idea.’, ‘I
couldn’t agree more.’, and ‘Oh yes, we must support the common people.’. But
when he asked if they could put the policy to the Emperor, they said ‘Let’s do
that tomorrow.’, or ‘This will fit well with a bill I’m writing for a few days’
time.’, or ‘Let’s talk to some more people about this.’.
But they never did. Every day
they would defer it. The reasons were slightly different each day, but the
effect was the same. Though the Ministers said
that they liked the Fifth Man’s policies, they would never allow them to be put
to the Emperor.
But while he was in the
menagerie, the Fifth Man also realised something else. You see, while he did
not look at the pink elephant, he
could still see it. When his eyes
were focused on something else, the pink elephant might be on the edge of his
vision, and he could turn his mind’s eye towards it. And of course, the
menagerie was made of glass – he could often see the elephant’s reflection in a
He knew what the elephant was
doing at any one time – they all did – all of the Ministers knew. They all
pretended not to, but everyone in the room knew
what the elephant was doing, and they all knew that everyone else knew. But
what the Fifth Man realised was that the pink elephant must have been costing
the empire a fortune to keep. It ate a great bowl of the most expensive foods
in the world every half hour for every hour it was awake. A team of eighty
servants had the task of preparing all of the elephant’s food and bringing it
to the elephant. Keeping the elephant cost more than all of the palace’s other
daily expenses combined! The elephant was part
of the problem! If they didn’t have to pay for the elephant, they would
have more money to spend on repairing and rebuilding the city.
After a week, getting nowhere
trying to persuade the other Ministers to put his policies to the Emperor, and
seeing just how ridiculous it was keeping this disgusting, useless elephant in
the menagerie, the Fifth Man snapped.
‘This is absurd!’ the Fifth Man
shouted so that all of the Ministers and Barons could hear. ‘All of you are
twattling on about things that don’t matter, and then passing legislation that
does nothing to solve the actual problems of the empire, all the while ignoring
that revolting elephant that is partially the cause of those problems! What are you doing?! What are you here
for?! Why do you keep ignoring the elephant in the room?!’
The Fifth Man was completely
right of course, but while he had understood the Ministers enough to be able to
get into the menagerie, and even stay there for a few days, he did not
understand them enough to realise that there was no point asking these
questions, because the Ministers would not answer them – they would never answer them. No amount of
rationality or rage would ever make
them answer these questions.
The Fifth Man was greeted with
gelid silence. All of the Ministers and Barons looked at the Fifth Man with
stony expressions, insulted that anyone would be so direct about the elephant.
The Fifth Man, looking around, realising that he had no power in the menagerie
anymore, did not need to be expelled by deceptive means – he left the palace
But of course, the problems of
the empire persisted, and the People of the Capital sent in a Sixth Man, then a
Seventh Man. The Sixth Man remained in the menagerie for several weeks, and the
Seventh Man for several months. Neither of them said a word about the elephant,
but as time went on, the two of them, and the People who put them there,
realised that it didn’t matter whether or not they mentioned the elephant. The
Ministers and the Barons simply didn’t want
to implement the policies they were suggesting. All of them were in agreement,
and anyone who did not agree with them would be removed – that way they kept
their control over the Emperor and the empire – that way they stayed in power.
And though they all did this – they all knew
that this was what they were doing – they never acknowledged it.
The Sixth Man and the Seventh Man
were eventually expelled too. The Eighth Man to go in tried a more radical
method of solving the empire’s problems. He took a pistol into the menagerie,
hidden in his coat. As soon as he saw the elephant, he took the pistol out, and
shot at it. But the bullet bounced off the elephant’s skin (who would have
known that in addition to being quinacridone the elephant’s skin was also
bullet-proof?), and instead struck one of the Barons in the arm. (The Baron
didn’t die – in fact he recovered remarkably quickly.) The Eighth Man was
swiftly removed and imprisoned for life.
And then … the Ninth Man went
in. By this point, most of the ordinary people in the empire knew about the
pink elephant, and many realised too that the elephant was part of the problem.
The Ninth Man had listened to everything his eight predecessors had said, and
he had an idea. He asked that the People of the Capital choose him to be the
next person to be sent to the palace, but he did not tell them what his idea
was, knowing that he would not need to.
And so the Ninth Man, when the
sun was high overhead, strode up to the glass doors of the menagerie, and went
inside. He did not mention or look at the elephant. The Emperor’s other
Ministers shuffled up to the Ninth Man, as they always did, and started talking
The Ninth Man said similarly dull
things back to them. He caught a glint in their eyes – they thought they’d got
one of their own this time.
And then after a few minutes of
meaningless words, the Ninth Man said ‘Oh, by the way, I have brought a gift
for the Emperor.’, and he signalled to one of the servants to bring it in.
The servant wheeled it in. It was
covered by a satin cloth. With a flourish, the Ninth Man pulled the satin cloth
off, revealing a large copper cage underneath it. And within the cage was a
magnificent … turquoise flamingo.
The flamingo was delightful. Its
plumage went from cyan to aquamarine to cerulean to teal. Its eyes were a
glimmering silver. And the bird had an aroma of blueberries and pears.
‘Oh what a marvellous animal!’
the Emperor’s other Ministers all sang together. They then looked for a space
for it within the menagerie; the Ninth Man directed them towards one of the
spaces on one of the paths that wound through the building.
And then the afternoon wore on as
it usually did. All of the Ministers spent several hours warbling and
twittering at each other, and at the end of the afternoon, they voted on some
legislation. The Ninth Man played along.
The Ninth Man stayed in the
menagerie for many months. He did not mention or look at the pink elephant,
even though he, like those before him, knew that it was a big problem. He
chattered and jabbered with the other Ministers, and they were not suspicious
of him. Everyone in the menagerie was overjoyed by the turquoise flamingo –
most of all the Emperor, who often came down from his malachite throne to stare
at the bird in its cage. Unlike the pink elephant, the turquoise flamingo was
cheap to keep – it ate the sorts of foods that flamingos normally eat: small
insects, molluscs, and crustaceans, and it didn’t eat all that much of them.
The flamingo was a far better centrepiece for the menagerie than the elephant.
After many months had passed, it
was time for the people of the empire to elect another Minister – well, two
actually. They did so, and two people showed up at the glass doors of the
menagerie. The Ministers – not including the Ninth Man – shuffled up to the two
newcomers, as they always did. They watched them eagerly for many hours, to see
if they would talk about the elephant or glance at it. Neither of them did –
clearly both of them knew that they
must not do so.
The two new Ministers walked
around the menagerie, talking to people and gazing at the other animals. And
then they came to the flamingo, which the Ninth Man always stood next to.
‘What a marvellous animal!’ the
older one said. ‘Where did it come from?’
‘Oh I found it atop Mount
Sarabaya.’ the Ninth Man said.
‘On top of a mountain?!’ the
older one asked.
‘Yes. I climbed the mountain in
an hour, found the bird standing at its summit, and then was back down again
Anyone who knew anything about
Mount Sarabaya knew that it could not be climbed in an hour – it normally took
at least two days to scale the icy peak, and the same time again to get back
‘That’s absurd!’ the older one
said. ‘No-one could climb Mount Sarabaya in an hour!’
The Ninth Man puffed himself up
and said proudly ‘I’ll have you know that I’ve won the Arennian Mountain
Climbing Championship seven years in a row! I am undefeated to this day!’
Believing he had insulted the
Ninth Man, the older of the two new Ministers stumbled over his words, saying
‘Oh … er … well, of course an ordinary
person could not climb the mountain in an hour, but I’m sure it’s quite easy
for a mountain climbing champion.’
‘Indeed it is!’
‘What are you talking about?!’
the younger one said. ‘It doesn’t matter how many championships you’ve won –
no-one can scale Mount Sarabaya that quickly – it’s more than five miles high!’
‘As the current Arennian Mountain
Climbing Champion I dare say I am the
expert on mountaineering in this menagerie, and it is absolutely possible!’ the Ninth Man insisted.
‘Mount Sarabaya Base Camp is ten
miles away from the summit! Unless you sprinted
up the mountain, it’s not possible.’ the younger one said.
The older one gawped as this
argument was happening – shocked that the younger one would dare suggest that
the Minister didn’t know what he was talking about or was lying.
But the Ninth Man had actually
succeeded in his aim. ‘Well perhaps you’re right.’ he said to the younger one.
‘It was so long ago – it’s all just a blur now. Perhaps it simply felt like an hour.’ and the conversation
moved on to other things.
Later in the afternoon, the Ninth
Man took one of the servants aside and whispered to him ‘The older of the two
new Ministers is a most talented person. I think we need to find ways to help
him use those talents.’
The servant understood, and a few
minutes later the older of the two new Ministers was expelled from the palace,
in the same way the First Man had been.
The younger of the two new
Ministers was allowed to stay. Both he and the Ninth Man did not talk about or
look at the pink elephant. They smiled and nodded along with the other
Ministers, and did not attempt to persuade them to support better policies, for
both of them knew that they never would.
A few months later, and another
two people were chosen by the public to become Ministers. They stepped into the
menagerie one day, and they successfully ignored the pink elephant. They soon
came over to the turquoise flamingo, where the Ninth Man stood.
‘What a marvellous animal!’ the
shorter one said. ‘How on earth did it acquire such a colour?’
‘I believe it is a rare species.
I saw a similarly-coloured flamboyance of flamingos when I was travelling
across the Manjure.’
‘There are flamingos in the
Manjure?!’ the shorter one asked.
‘Yes of course. Flamingos like
Anyone who knew anything about
the Manjure knew that it was in fact freezing cold there most of the year. It
was a vast, dense, boreal forest, interrupted only by icy streams and
‘What on earth are you talking
about?!’ the shorter one said. ‘The Manjure is freezing cold!’
The Ninth Man puffed himself up
and said proudly ‘I’ll have you know that I have travelled along the
Trans-Manjurean Railway no fewer than seven
times! I’m quite familiar with the Manjurean climate!’
Believing he had insulted the
Ninth Man, the shorter of the two new Ministers stumbled over his words, saying
‘Oh … well … I suppose you must be very familiar with the region then.’
‘You suppose correctly!’
‘That’s absurd!’ the taller one
said. ‘The Manjurean caribou is famous
for its thick fur. The Manjurean caribou would all die of heat exhaustion if
the Manjure were a tropical climate!’
‘I am good friends with the
leading expert in the climate and geography of the Manjure at the University of
Marcanne! I dare say that I’m more familiar with it than you!’ the Ninth Man
‘Being friends with an expert
does not make you an expert. Unless
the climate of the Manjure has changed drastically in the last few years, it
absolutely is not a hot region!’ the
taller one said.
The shorter one gawped as this
argument was happening – shocked that the taller one would dare suggest that
the Minister didn’t know what he was talking about or was lying.
But the Ninth Man had once again
succeeded in his aim. ‘You know what I think you might be right.’ he said to
the taller one. ‘I’m thinking of Bansoor – that’s where I saw those flamingos.
The service on the Bansoor Express is so awful I think I blocked it from my
memory.’ and the conversation moved on to other things.
Later in the afternoon, the Ninth
Man took one of the servants aside and whispered to him ‘The shorter of the two
new Ministers is a most talented person. I think we need to find ways to help
him use those talents.’
The servant understood, and a few
minutes later the shorter of the two new Ministers was expelled from the
palace. Now there were two Ministers in the menagerie who the Ninth Man had
allowed to stay. They and the Ninth Man played along with the faux concern of
the Emperor’s other Ministers.
And this was how it continued for
many months – years even. Whenever a new Minister entered the menagerie, first
the Cabal stalked them, to see if they would acknowledge the pink elephant, and
then the Ninth Man countered it. The Cabal believed that everyone in the
menagerie was part of the Cabal, since they expelled anyone who acknowledged
the pink elephant, but really the only people who stayed in the menagerie were
those who the Ninth Man did not expel.
Over time, more and more of the
court was on the side of the turquoise flamingo. They waited not just until
they could win any vote against the old Ministers and the Barons, but until
almost all of the old Ministers had been replaced – otherwise the supporters of
the pink elephant would realise that their strategy was no longer working, and would
And once this had happened, those
on the side of the turquoise flamingo started to put forward and vote for
policies that would benefit the people of the empire – much to the shock of the
They voted for bridges to be
rebuilt, for sewers to be maintained, and for houses to be built further apart
so that fires would not leap from one to another so easily. They voted to pay
for doctors to heal the diseased; they voted to nullify debts; they voted to
end the wars of expansion. They voted to remove the Barons from the menagerie,
and the people of the empire started to prosper once again.
And at the end of all of that,
they voted to release the pink elephant back to the wild. It was taken over the
sea and released into the humid forests of Bansoor.
But not just that – they also
released the turquoise flamingo, for now that there was no-one left in the
menagerie who would use the pink elephant for deceit, there was no need for the
turquoise flamingo. Those coming to the menagerie would no longer be expelled
for talking about the elephant in the room. They would only need the turquoise
flamingo again if the pink elephant were brought back.
The pigeons left the menagerie, and the sparrows returned. And every now and then, on a clear day, the people of the city could just about see, flying high in the sky … a turquoise flamingo.
Hundreds of thousands
of people lived in this city. But the people were divided into two groups: the
Many, and the Few.
For the Few, life in
this great city was wonderful, for the Few were very wealthy. They lived in
grand houses on the banks of the river that meandered through the city. Each
marble mansion was filled with drawing rooms and dining rooms and more than
forty bedrooms. Each grand hallway was filled with gold-framed oil paintings
and fine china vases. The baths were made of burnished bronze and the toilet
seats were solid silver. Every house had an outdoor pool, an indoor pool, and a
glasshouse. And the gardens stretched a hundred yards, all the way to the
river, with orange trees and lemon trees to sit beneath in summer.
The Few lived
lavishly. The mornings were spent dressing for lunch. At lunch they sat with
their true friends, eating chocolate cake and cream-filled pastries, gossiping
about who among the Few had the most money. The afternoons were spent dressing
for dinner, and every evening they sat with their fair-weather friends and
feasted on all manner of fowl, stuffed inside one another – a quail stuffed
inside a duck, stuffed inside a pheasant, stuffed inside a grouse, stuffed
inside a chicken, stuffed inside a goose, stuffed inside a turkey, all roasted
in lard with potatoes, parsnips, and pork sausages. They talked about the fate
and fortunes of the city, all the while trying to curry favour with the few of
the Few who held the most power and influence in the city. And at the end of
every evening, they shat out the feast from the day before, clogging the sewers
that took their shit to the river.
For the Many,
however, life in this great city was grim, for the Many were not wealthy. The
Many lived far from the river, on the higher ground. In this part of the city,
timber-framed houses overhung narrow cobblestone streets. The rooms of the
houses were small, with low ceilings. Twelve would live in a house built for
two. There were no sewers in this part of the city, so shit sloshed down the
streets, and the Many had to step over the brown rivers as they pushed past
The Many lived
meagrely. They woke up early, and worked for twelve, thirteen, fourteen hours
of the day, in factories making cotton or iron. The work was repetitive and the
air was filled with coal smoke. They were given no time to rest, and if someone
did not produce enough in one day, the factory owner – who was often one of the
Few – found someone to replace them. They were paid little, and if they were
lucky, at the end of each day they had enough money to buy fresh bread and
vegetables, but if they were unlucky they would have to catch rats and pigeons.
The death rate among
the Many was high. Those who did not die of starvation died of disease. Those
who did not die of disease were killed in the factories. And those who were not
killed in the factories killed themselves. The death brought more disease and
despair, and always more young people flooded into the city from the
countryside, believing it would be a better life.
It had been this way
in the city for many years. No-one could remember a time when it wasn’t so.
Indeed many believed that it had always been so – since the beginning of time
itself. (But in reality it had only been this way for a few decades.)
Everyone in the city
knew the myth of the Magic Money Tree. It was said that far away, deep in the
icy mountains north of the city, there grew a tree … with leaves of pure
gold. And the tree did not drop its leaves once a year, as most trees do, but every day, and each morning new golden
leaves grew. The leaves that covered the ground could be gathered and melted down
to make gold bars or coins.
If the tree were
real, and the Many knew where it was, many of their problems would be solved.
The Many could journey to the tree, gather up some of its golden leaves, melt
them down into coins, and then when they were back in the city they could pay
for more spacious houses, better food, and better clothes. They may even be
able to buy many of the luxuries that the Few had. Sure, after a while, gold
would be very common, and the Few would not have so much of it by comparison,
but it would mean that a happy life was not so immutably the domain of so few.
But everyone (almost
everyone) agreed that the tree did not exist. It was fiction. You might go into
the mountains in search of the tree, but you would find nothing. There was no
Magic Money Tree.
Except that … there
The tree … was real! The Magic Money Tree did exist! Its golden leaves, its copper
bark, the sapphires and rubies that grew like fungi among its roots – it was all real …
… and the Few knew
where it was.
But the Few did not
want anyone else to know where the tree was, because they too realised that if
the Many were given access to the tree, the Many would become wealthier, and
the Few would become less wealthy by comparison. The Few did not want to lose
their lavish lifestyle, and so did not want the Many to have access to the
But if the Few
acknowledged that the tree existed, and kept only its location to themselves,
the Many might still be able to find it. A small number of them might venture
into the mountains, and, given enough time, they would find the Magic Money
Tree. So rather than just keep the location
of the tree a secret, they also tried to keep its existence a secret. They pretended that it did not exist. Whenever
anyone who was not one of the Few asked whether the tree was real, they would
say loudly ‘Don’t be ridiculous! There is no Magic Money Tree!’. But in the
evenings, when they were among the Few, they all acknowledged the tree’s
existence, and shared the location of it with each other.
While most of the
Many believed that the tree did not exist, there were some who knew that it
did. This was partly because the Few’s deception was conspicuous – they were so
fervent in their dismissal of the idea that the tree existed that it was
suspicious. But it was also because they were somewhat careless in keeping
their secret – lavishness and meticulousness are rarely found in the same
person, it seems. Some of the Many worked for the Few in their mansions – as
servants and cooks – and often did they hear the Few, through doors both open
and closed, talk about the very real tree. This information found its way to
those among the Many who were more vocal about the great wealth disparity in
These more vocal
people tried to convince the rest of the Many that the tree was real, and that
the Few knew it. They tried to convince them that the Few were deceiving them,
because if the Many found where the tree was, the Few would not remain so
wealthy for very long. But as loud as they shouted, the Few shouted louder, and
indeed the Few paid some of the Many to shout for them. And ultimately it was
the intuitiveness, not the veracity, of what the Few said that swayed so many
of the Many. ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ they said. ‘Have you ever seen a tree with golden leaves and
copper bark? Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!’
Except that … it
One year, there was a
great flood. It had rained continuously for two weeks, and the river through
the centre of this great city overflowed its banks. The Many were hardly
affected by this at all. They lived on the higher ground far away from the
river – the water did not reach their houses. The Few, however, lost a lot. All
of their houses lined the river, and all were flooded. The water rose half-way
up the ground floor, turning all of their oil paintings to brown sludge, and
warping all of their antique wooden furniture. The cellars and glasshouses,
pools and gardens, were all turned into bogs.
The cost to repair it
all would have been enormous. While most of the Few had enough money to pay for
all of the repairs to their houses and gardens, it would have been a
substantial fraction of their total wealth. And the Few were reluctant to give
up so much money.
But as the Few knew
the location of the Magic Money Tree, they decided that, rather than spend any
of their current wealth on the repairs, they would simply go to the golden
tree, gather the golden leaves on the ground around it, melt them into gold
coins, and spend those on the repairs.
And that’s exactly
what they did. A small number of the Few made an expedition to the mountains.
They found the Magic Money Tree, which grew in a shallow between two great
summits, its golden leaves and copper bark reflecting the light in a thousand
directions down the valley. They gathered the leaves on the ground, cut away
some of the bark, and dug in the soil around the roots to find the rubies and
sapphires. Once they had filled the sleds, they hauled their riches back to the
When they got back to
the city, they melted down the gold and minted hundreds of thousands of new
gold coins. They paid a select few artisan stonemasons, decorators, and
gardeners to repair their houses and their gardens, and any money that was left
over they kept.
The Many saw all of
this. Most did not see the sleds being dragged into the city, for they were
brought in under cover of darkness, but they saw all of the repairs being made
to the houses and gardens, and they saw all of the rubies and sapphires that
were given out as payment. But they did not question it. They did not question
where the riches came from.
Those among the Many
who knew that the tree existed shouted that that’s where the Few had gotten the
money from. ‘They have gotten all of this money from the Magic Money Tree!’ they
said. ‘The tree is real – the Few know where it is! But why should they be the only ones who have access to
the tree? Why are their problems
important enough such that they can use the money from the tree, but ours are
not? We have starved for years; we have died for years; and throughout all of
it they refused to use the tree, and pretended it did not exist! But at the
first inconvenience to them, they will use the tree.’
But most of the Many
did not believe it, for they were so rooted in the idea that money did not grow
on trees, that even though they could not explain where all of this new gold
had come from, they refused to even consider the possibility that the tree
might exist, and that the Few simply didn’t want them to know about it.
Twelve years later,
there was a great fire. The fire ravaged the city, burning both the areas where
the Many lived and where the Few lived. Much of the city burned to the ground,
and many people died.
Fortunately, a lot of
people had managed to leave the city before the fire had reached their houses.
They moved to the countryside around the city. For many, life improved – the
air was less stale, there was less disease, and everyone had more space.
The fire burned
through everything it could, and by the time it had burned itself out, not much
was left of the city but smouldering ashes.
The Few, who were now
living in their country mansions, discussed what they wanted to do about this.
While a number of the Few had inherited their wealth, a lot also had owned
factories and machinery that had been destroyed by the fire, and they were dependent
on the profits from those factories to maintain their extraordinary wealth. (It
cost a lot of money to eat a seven-bird roast every evening.) They wanted to
rebuild the city, and bring all of the people back to it – give them factories
to work in and houses to live in – so that they could continue to get the profits
from what they produced.
But rebuilding the
city would cost even more than it did to repair all of their houses as they did
many years ago. This time, the Few absolutely did not have the money to pay for
it all themselves, and the scale of the disaster was far bigger than what it
had been before, so it was easy for the Few to decide: they would once again
use the Magic Money Tree.
They made another
expedition to the tree, taking far more sleds this time. This time they
gathered every leaf in sight, even grabbing the ones off the tree that had not
yet fallen that day. They cut away more of the bark, and picked up all of the
branches that had fallen over the last few months. They burrowed for more
rubies and sapphires, and they even picked the fruit of the tree, which was
shaped like a pear, but which was silvery-green in colour, and which instead of
seeds at the centre had small pearls. (It was also said that eating the fruit
would give you an extra eight years of life.)
They brought all of
it back to the city, and they paid for all of the factories and houses to be
rebuilt. This lured the Many back to the city – they moved into newer, but
still just as small, houses, and began working in factories again, though the
work was still repetitive, and the coal furnaces blasted out just as much
But still, even
though the Many themselves were the ones that the Few paid to rebuild the houses and the factories – even though they had
been given the gold and rubies and sapphires from the tree – they had held it
in their hands – they still did not believe that the tree existed.
‘Where do you think
they got the money from?!’ those among the Many who did know that the tree existed said. ‘They didn’t have all of this
money before – where do you think it came from?! They went to the tree again!’
ridiculous!’ the Few shouted. ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!’
‘Yes, don’t be
ridiculous!’ the rest of the Many parroted. ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees, you
‘There is no Magic
Money Tree.’ they chorused together.
And nothing changed.
Within a few years, the city had returned to how it had been before the fire.
The Few still held control over the tree. Only when it was in their interest
did they harvest its leaves, but always did they pretend that it did not exist.
And never did the Many learn, that sometimes, when someone doesn’t want you to
do something, rather than try to persuade
you not to do it, they will try to deny that it is even physically possible.
written by me, Benjamin T. Milnes, based on The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen
The Emperor had an enormous penis.
That’s what he said, at least. Only the Empress and the Emperor’s concubines – all eighty-eight of them – had ever actually seen it, and they dutifully repeated the Emperor’s own claims about it. And the Emperor himself repeated his claims every chance he had – he would shout it from the walls of his palace – sometimes three, four, five times in a day. He claimed that it was twenty-four and a half inches long – longer than that of any emperor ever before – longer than that of anyone else in the world. He claimed that it was so great in girth, that he could not grasp it even with both of his hands.
Mind you, his hands were very small – that everyone could see – small and fat. Indeed, many questioned, if his hands were so small, surely his penis must be small too? The only thing that wasn’t small about the Emperor was his waist. The Emperor was fat and old, with a face like a pouting pig.
You might think that no-one would believe such unbelievable claims about the size of the Emperor’s penis, but some people did! I’d say at least three out of every ten people believed it – it was even more when the Emperor had first ascended to the throne. Those who believed it were, unsurprisingly, the Emperor’s supporters – those who liked the Emperor’s policies (or at least, who liked the idea of the Emperor’s policies – once implemented, those policies actually cost the Emperor’s supporters).
But no-one else believed it. It was so obvious that he would want to boast about something like that. The Emperor was petty, petulant, and pompous in all that he did. And if it was true, it wasn’t difficult to prove! ‘Show us the penis!’ the Emperor’s opponents said.
Those who did not believe the Emperor’s phallic claims were baffled by those who did. It was so obvious that the Emperor was making it up. But the Emperor’s supporters were insistent. Like the Emperor himself, they too claimed that it was the size of his penis that gave him his divine right to rule as Emperor; it was the size of his majesty’s wang that had brought great wealth to the empire over the last few years; and lesser kings of vassal states obeyed the wishes of the Emperor because they were in awe of the size of his imperial schlong.
The great city where the Emperor resided was always bustling. People from all over the world came to the city. One day, two swindlers came to the city, and they had a cunning plan to get a lot of money. They told everyone they met that they were the greatest weavers in the world, and that they could make the finest silk brocades and damasks using colours beyond all imagination: bluish copper, fuchsia gold, emerald-orange, and topaz-white. Not only that, but they said that the fabric they made possessed magical qualities: the cloth would be invisible to anyone who was not loyal to the Emperor, or to any man whose penis was indefensibly small.
‘What a brilliant material!’ the Emperor thought when he heard of the master weavers’ claims. ‘If I wore a suit made of this material, I would be able to tell who in my empire – including those in my own government – are not loyal to me. I must have this fabric woven for me at once.’ So the Emperor gave the swindlers a great sum of money for a bolt of this material.
The swindlers got to work right away – at least, they pretended to. They set up two looms, and pretended to be hard at work at them. They moved their hands as though to send the shuttle back and forth, and moved their feet as though pushing down on the treadles, but in reality there were no threads in the looms, and they produced no fabric at all.
‘I want to know how much progress they’ve made on the fabric.’ the Emperor thought after a few days had passed, so he sent one of his ministers to where the swindlers worked to inspect the cloth.
I will say at this point that almost no-one in the Emperor’s government liked the Emperor. The Emperor was petty, changeable, and above all stupid. The Emperor had no idea how to rule his empire, and it was all his ministers could do to prevent the Emperor from implementing policies that would see the end of the empire’s prosperity. The Emperor was an annoyance – one that his ministers could do without. Most were not loyal to him, and a number of them were plotting to remove the Emperor, and place someone more competent on the throne.
The minister that the Emperor sent to inspect the fabric was one such person. When the minister walked into the room where the swindlers sat at their looms, the minister could see no fabric. ‘It is because I am not loyal to the Emperor.’ the minister thought. Not for a second did the minister wonder if he had a small penis, because he, like the Emperor, was quite convinced of the massiveness of his dong. ‘I must pretend that I can see the cloth, otherwise these master weavers may tell the Emperor that I cannot see it, and he will discover our plan to overthrow him.’
The swindlers requested that the minister come closer to the looms, so that he might see the intricate patterns they had woven into the fabric. They asked if he admired the way the fabric shimmered in the light, and the way the colour changed as you moved around the room, all the while pointing at empty looms.
‘The fabric is most exquisite.’ the minister said. ‘The colours are so vivid, and the patterns are so beautiful. I shall tell the Emperor that the fabric is of extraordinary quality, and that you are making excellent progress.’
‘We are glad to hear that.’ the swindlers said, and the minister returned to the palace to tell the Emperor what he had seen.
Now the swindlers asked the Emperor for more silk thread, so that they might continue their work. The Emperor eagerly gave it to them, but they did not use any of it. They kept it, so that they could sell it later, once they’d left the city. And they continued to work at the empty looms.
After another few days had passed, the Emperor sent a second minister to the weavers, to see how they were getting on. Like the first minister, this second minister was also planning to depose the Emperor, and was also assured of the vastness of his pisser. But this second minister was older than the first; he had been part of the government for decades. He was more astute, and more sceptical of the claims of these weavers.
When the older minister walked into the room where the weavers sat at their looms, he too saw nothing, but he was not fooled by the swindlers. ‘There is no fabric.’ the older minister thought. ‘They are trying to deceive the Emperor.’ But the minister, having no loyalty to the Emperor, saw no reason to tell the Emperor of this deception – the minister would gain nothing by doing so. ‘I must pretend that I can see the fabric, otherwise these swindlers may tell the Emperor that I cannot see it, and he will believe that this means I am disloyal, and he will discover our plan to overthrow him.’
‘Is it not a beautiful fabric?’ the two swindlers asked, lifting up the non-existent fabric and showing it to the minister.
‘The fabric is most exquisite.’ the older minister said. ‘The colours are so vivid, and the patterns are so beautiful. I shall tell the Emperor that the fabric is of extraordinary quality, and that you are making excellent progress.’
‘We are glad to hear that.’ the swindlers said. The older minister returned to the palace, and told the Emperor what he wanted to hear.
Everyone in the whole city was talking about the magnificent fabric, but they did not all say the same things. Those who were opponents of the Emperor were not fooled by the swindlers. They did not believe that this fabric had magical qualities – let alone such conveniently specific qualities as identifying who among the population was not loyal to the Emperor, and who had a small penis.
Those who supported the Emperor thought quite differently. They believed the swindlers, and saw this fabric as an opportunity. If the Emperor wore a suit made of this fabric, they would know, for certain, who opposed the Emperor, and they could see that those people were less vocal about their opposition in future.
At last the Emperor wished to see the fabric for himself, so he went to the room where the two swindlers sat at empty looms, surrounded by (what he thought were) eighteen of his most loyal ministers.
‘See, your majesty.’ one of the two swindlers said, pointing at the loom. ‘Are not the colours so vivid? Is not the pattern so intricate?’
The Emperor stared, open-mouthed, at the loom. He slowly realised that he could not see anything on it, but he did not understand – the fabric was only supposed to be invisible to men who had small penises – and he was quite convinced that his whacker was sufficiently whopping to be able to see the fabric – and the only other explanation was that he was not loyal to the Emperor – but he was the Emperor – how could he not be loyal to himself?
The Emperor asked the two master weavers about this. ‘It is because you are the Emperor, your majesty.’ the master weavers said. ‘Can one be loyal to oneself? It is a meaningless question, thus the fabric will be invisible to you.’
The ministers who stood around the Emperor – most of whom knew that there was no fabric – were amazed that the swindlers were able to get away with such a ludicrous reason, but they were glad that they did. The Emperor turned to his ministers and said ‘What do you think of the colours? What do you think of the pattern?’, pointing at the empty looms.
‘The colours are most vivid, your majesty, and the pattern is most intricate.’ the Emperor’s ministers chorused. None of them could see the fabric, for there was nothing to see, but none wanted the Emperor to see that they were disloyal, so they played along with the swindlers.
The Emperor turned back to the master weavers. ‘Your fabric has my approval. I shall make you the Imperial Court Weavers. You must make a suit for me out of this fabric, and I shall wear it in a great procession through the city.’
The swindlers agreed to do so, and they stayed up long into the night, pretending to lift the fabric, cut it, and sew it together into a suit. Many people looked in through the windows to watch the master weavers work. When morning came, the swindlers set down their scissors and needles and at last said
‘The Emperor’s new suit is ready now.’
The swindlers walked to the imperial palace, pretending to carry the suit with them. They went into a hall where the Emperor waited, surrounded by all his ministers. The swindlers held up their arms as though they were holding something in their hands and said ‘Here, your majesty, these are the trousers! This is the coat! This is the cloak! They are as light as air, and when you wear them, it will feel as though you are wearing nothing at all, but that is just another of the fabric’s magical qualities.’
The Emperor turned to his ministers. ‘What do you think? Is it not the most beautiful suit in the world? Do I not have the most brilliant taste in clothing?’
‘Yes, your majesty.’ the Emperor’s ministers said, though none of them could see anything, as there was nothing to be seen. ‘No Emperor before has ever had such fine taste as you.’
‘Let us assist you in putting on the new suit, your majesty.’ the swindlers said, and they went to the Emperor’s dressing room with the Emperor.
Meanwhile, the Emperor’s ministers made preparations for the great procession. Guards stood along either side of the wide street that the Emperor would walk along; trumpet players stood on the steps that led up to the entrance to the imperial palace, ready to play a fanfare for the Emperor when he walked out. The bearers of the canopy waited outside the great doors to the palace, and the people of the city pushed against each other as they tried to get a place at the front of the crowd along the sides of the street.
‘I am ready.’ the Emperor said, standing behind the doors to the imperial palace. ‘Does not my suit fit me marvellously?’ the Emperor asked the master weavers.
‘Most excellently.’ they said, and they left the Emperor, exiting the palace quickly, with a plan to leave the city as soon as possible, with all of the money and silk they had received from the Emperor. ‘That was even easier than the last Emperor.’ one swindler said to the other.
Outside the doors to the palace, the fanfare played. The doors swung open, and the Emperor strode forward, in full view of all of the people of the city. They gasped in shock.
The Emperor, of course, appeared to be wearing nothing at all, because he was wearing nothing at all. Whether a person believed that the Emperor was wearing something or not did not matter – none of them could see any clothes … but they saw something else instead …
The Emperor had a small penis.
… I mean, it wasn’t just small – it was practically microscopic. None of the people who lined the street had ever seen such a small penis in their lives – they didn’t even think it was possible for someone to have such a small penis. It was like a grape and two raisins … … an almond and two walnuts … … a lentil and two peas … … a grain of barley and two grains of r- you get the idea.
The Emperor had been lying for years, though of course his opponents had always suspected it. Those among the crowd who opposed the Emperor at this moment burst out into laughter at the Emperor’s tiny tool.
The Emperor’s supporters did not. They glowered at the Emperor’s opponents.
‘The Emperor has a small penis!’ his opponents called out. ‘He has been lying to us for years!’
‘No he doesn’t.’ his supporters responded. ‘The only way you could see his penis is if you are not loyal to the Emperor, or if you yourself had small penises – if either is true, your opinion is worthless.’
‘But don’t you see?!’ said the Emperor’s opponents. ‘He’s not wearing any clothes! There never were any clothes! There never was any magical fabric!’
The Emperor’s supporters refused to consider the possibility. ‘He is wearing a magnificent suit!’ they said. They knew that they could not see the suit, but they also knew that they were loyal to the Emperor, which meant that they must have small penises. They did not want to admit such a thing, so instead they pretended to see it. ‘We can see the suit. Therefore we must all be loyal to the Emperor, and we must all have big penises. It is all of you who must have small penises!’
But the Emperor’s supporters did not realise – the Emperor’s opponents all knew that the Emperor’s supporters could in fact see the Emperor’s yoctoscopic yoghurt-slinger, but since they also knew that the Emperor’s supporters were all loyal to the Emperor, they knew that the only reason why they would not admit that they could see the Emperor’s petite pink oboe was because they feared it would suggest that they had small penises.
‘It does not matter whether you think there is a suit there or not.’ the Emperor’s supporters said. ‘You can see that the Emperor has a small penis! You KNOW that he has been lying to us!’
But the Emperor’s supporters did not believe it.
I wish I could tell you what happened next in the story … but I do not know. Did fighting break out between the Emperor’s supporters and opponents. Did the Emperor command his guards to seize all of those who said they could not see the suit as traitors? Did the Emperor realise that in fact he had been fooled, and that he wasn’t wearing any clothes? Did the Emperor’s ministers ever succeed in their plot to overthrow the Emperor? I don’t know. I don’t know how this situation could be resolved. How do you convince people to change their minds, when they will deny the obvious and inescapable truth before them, that the Emperor has a small penis?