This is one of the stories from Once Upon A Week
One Wish Too Many
Once upon a time there lived a king and queen with their two sons, Leopold and Jacob. Now not long after the eldest son reached manhood this royal family were hit with double misfortune. The queen fell ill with some mysterious sickness that left her weak and bedridden. Then the king was killed in a hunting accident. With his mother, the queen, so sick the eldest prince, Leopold, took over as ruler. He had not been named king but felt like he was and acted as such because one was needed.
Leopold liked the best of everything. The fastest horse, the most expensive clothes and the tastiest food and wine. He was not a bad person in many ways but he was never satisfied. He felt that he should be expanding the kingdom so it would be the largest anywhere and one day was talking to his brother about it.
“Oh Leo” said Jacob. “Why not just enjoy being the ruler of this great land. There is no need to try and conquer others. We don’t need a war.”
“Leo no longer,” his brother replied. “King Leopold. And we need a big kingdom with a big army so we can never be conquered ourselves.”
“Er … still Prince Leopold, I think” pointed out Jacob.
Not a day later, Leopold was out riding, thinking about things. One thing was his mother who was now at death’s door and not expected to last long. The other thing was how quickly he could grow the kingdom when he was true king. “If only I had three wishes,” he said to himself aloud.
“I can help with that,” came a croak.
Leopold stopped his horse and saw a wizened old man in the road.
“What is your name Old Man?” asked Leopold. “And what was that you said again?”
“Ah. As far as my name is concerned if you can guess it I will spin your straw into gold,” said the man. Then after a second he changed his mind. “Nah! Been there and done that. You can call me Rumpsteakenstilton. And I said that I can help you get your wishes.”
“Well, that name is a bit of a mouthful,” observed Leopold. “However, Mr Rumpsteakenstilton, tell me how you can help me.”
“Simple. You do something for me and I will grant your wishes,” said the man.
“How do I know you can do that?” Leopold asked suspiciously.
“Thirsty, Your Majesty?” And a goblet of wine appeared in Leopold’s hand.
“Ah. Right then,” agreed Leopold eagerly on seeing that magic. “What can I do for you?”
“Well, you want three wishes and I need three things. Bring them to me and I will not only grant you three wishes but make it so you can have as many as you like.”
“What do you need?”
The man came nearer. “Listen closely then Your Majesty.” And he explained what he wanted Leopold to do.
Back at the castle Leopold was in a bit of a tricky situation. Of course, he wanted to start out straight away to find the first of the old man’s objects but he had a kingdom to run. He only had his brother to call upon and he was still a boy of fifteen. He had no choice though and he told Jacob the first thing he had to collect to ensure that their mother was made well again. The next day Jacob eagerly set off on an adventure to bring their mother back to health. Nothing would stop him.
The first item Rumpsteakenstilton had asked for was a stick. A knobbly walking stick to be precise owned by a woman reputed to have been the most powerful witch in the land but who had not been known to practice witchcraft for years. She ran an inn now called The Cackling Cauldron and that was where Jacob found himself the next evening. Now that he had reached his destination he was starting to worry how he could get this stick off a powerful witch. To make matters worse, he could see that the inn was very busy. A banner around a nearby tree told him why. It was the yearly Hex Factor final where all the best witches in the land came to see who had cast the best hex over the year. The place would be full of witches. Jacob though was spurred on though by the plight of his mother. He pulled his cloak hood up over his head, screwed up his courage and entered the inn.
He kept his head down and shuffled over to the bar. All he knew was that the witch he was after was never seen. Her cloak and hood covered her whole body and nothing could be seen but her gnarled hands. She was known as Simone the Cowl. Judging by the person stood behind the bar serving Jacob felt this was she. He could not see the stick. She was serving and using both hands so it must be propped up behind the bar.
Before she got to serving Jack there was a fanfare and someone announced the competition was to start. Everyone turned and moved towards the stage except Jacob who stayed where he was. Simone the Cowl came out from behind the bar and sure enough she was leaning on the stick. She stayed at the end of the bar watching.
“How to get the stick?” thought Jacob.
“First a song to get us going,” said the Hex host. “He opened his mouth and about a dozen bolts hit. “Youchee! Ok no singing,” for which there was a great cheer.
That gave Jacob an idea. He was between those at the stage and Simone the Cowl. He started singing.
“Who likes a witch? No one that I know. Dirty as a ditch. And ugly as a crow.”
For a few seconds there was amazed silence then everyone raised their hands and sent hexes flying at him. He had been waiting for this and dived out of the way at the last moment so that all the hexes hit Simone the Cowl at the same time.
What a mess that was as all types of hexes fought each other and she kept changing shape from toad to rabbit to mole and so on and so on. Jacob did not hang around but grabbed the fallen stick and ran out of the inn. He tripped over a giant ant grown by a ricochet hex and hit the deck briefly but he was up instantly. He vaulted onto his horse and road away through the night before anyone had got over what they had done to the Hex Factor Supreme Being.
Jacob raced home, the stick clutched in hand, and when he got there he handed it to his brother. Jacob knew nothing of Rumpsteakenstilton. All he knew was that his brother left alone straight away telling him to get some rest because tomorrow a new quest dawned.
The next day dawned and Jacob rose to find his brother pacing the great hall. “Ah good, you are up,” his brother said when he saw him. “Get some breakfast then I will tell you the next task.”
So it was that an hour later Jacob found himself on the road again. Travelling to the far edge of the kingdom and beyond. The next thing Rumpsteakenstilton wanted was a unicorn. Unicorns are magical creatures and this magic stems from their horns. That is all he really wanted but he knew to ask someone to kill a unicorn was probably one step too far, so he asked for a living one.
Now unicorns had been hunted to near extinction so people could use their horns for magic. There was only one herd of animals left and they lived in a forest protected by gamekeepers. That did not stop poachers trying of course and there were always battles between poachers and the gamekeepers. Jacob knew none of this until on reaching the forest he came across a gamekeeper lying on the ground, an arrow in his shoulder. The gamekeeper saw Jacob and waved him over.
“Save the unicorn,” he moaned through his pain.
Jacob did not know what he meant at first but then he heard a cursing through the trees and getting nearer. “Come on you great stubborn mule headed beast!” Jacob crept behind a tree and saw a poacher pulling a unicorn with a rope around its neck. Not sure what to do Jacob picked up a fallen branch and hit the poacher over the head with the thick end as he passed the tree. The poacher was knocked out cold. Jacob led the unicorn back to the gamekeeper even though he had what he wanted and could just as easily have fled with it.
The gamekeeper told Jacob to let the unicorn go so he did and it trotted off. Then Jacob let the gamekeeper ride his horse to the gamekeepers lodge and he walked beside. When the other gamekeepers learned what had happened they all thanked Jacob and when they heard what he wanted they broke their vow to keep all the unicorns in the forest. Two new foals had been born a few weeks before and Jacob was allowed to take one. He placed the foal across his saddle and started the journey home. It took a while and by the time he got there the foal was not so little and was walking behind his horse.
When Leopold saw the young unicorn he was afraid. Rumpsteakenstilton had asked for a unicorn not a baby. Still he set off alone to deliver it, again telling Jacob to get some rest. Rumpsteakenstilton was surprised and not a little angry because the unicorn’s horn was nowhere near at full power. Yet he had time on his hands to wait so he did not let his displeasure show. Instead he praised Leopold on how near he was to getting his wishes and told him of the final deed.
And so it was the next morning that Jacob was on his final search. This time he needed to find a magic mirror, one that was a gateway to other lands. It had not been seen for many a long year but Rumpsteakenstilton had learned that it was in a cave high in the mountains, guarded by a huge and dangerous troll.
It took Jacob two days to reach the mountains. Then he had to leave his horse tied to a tree, but of course with access to grass to eat, and climb up to the cave. It was hard going and the higher he went the colder it got. He wrapped his cloak more firmly around him. The thought of his mother being cured after this trip gave him the strength to carry on and eventually he reached the mouth of the cave.
There was no sound from within but it was pitch black. Jacob had thought of this and brought a small branch with him to light as a torch. He crept through the entrance and deep into the cave which lead back a long way. He was so deep in now he thought he might come out of the other side of the mountain. Suddenly his foot caught a loose rock and sent it rolling noisily away. At this there was a huge snarl and out of nowhere the troll appeared swinging a giant club. Now what no one had known was the troll was very old and had gone blind so Jacob found it quite easy to avoid the swings and he left the troll thrashing around at nothing.
Not much further on Jacob found the mirror draped in a black cloth. It was rather large and was a struggle but he managed it. He did not see the troll and wondered where it had gone. He soon found out. It was at the mouth of the cave and he would have to get past it to get out. He put the mirror down and crept over to the troll. He moved past its wild swings until he was outside the cave and on the brink of the ledge.
“Hey! You big ugly troll!” he yelled. The troll turned and came out of the cave swinging. Jacob ran under his arm and on the next swing the troll overbalanced, falling over the edge and down the mountain.
Jacob got the mirror down the mountain using a rope he had brought for the purpose, then lashed it to his horse and galloped home as fast as he could.
Leopold was happy to see him and immediately took the mirror to Rumpsteakenstilton. When he came back he was beaming. He was on a new horse, wearing brand new clothes and carrying on his belt a large shiny new sword. He went straight to the queen’s bedchamber and made a wish, then she was well again.
Meanwhile Jacob had followed his brother and had seen him enter Rumpsteakenstilton’s house in the forest. He listened outside a window and heard his brother being given the power of wishing. He had a wish himself now, that he had not got all these magical things because he felt that something bad was going to be done with them. At the back of the house Jacob found the young unicorn which was fenced in a corral. Having a feeling that it would be killed once it got old enough Jacob released it, put a rope over its head and led it back to his horse. Then without another thought he started off for where he had found it so it could return to the herd.
Whilst he was away it was mayhem at the castle. Leopold kept wishing for more and more things. Food, clothes, horses and gold, lots and lots of gold. Not just for himself though. All the people in the kingdom found they had enough food and wealth to last a lifetime.
The queen, now fully recovered, knew not what to make of it but as no harm was being done she said nothing. She worried about Jacob though because no one knew where he was.
Leopold though was too busy to look for his brother. He was too busy wishing. The more he wished the easier it became so very soon he just had to think something and it came true. He wished for the most beautiful princess to be his wife and she was there. He wished they could have beautiful and healthy babies and there they were. He was so happy he quite forgot on conquering more lands.
There is a problem though with being able to wish for anything by thought alone because when you start to think bad thoughts these come true too. Leopold let dark thoughts enter his mind. What if I get old? The next morning he was an old man. What if my wife dies? The next morning his wife was dead? What if I lose everything? The next day all the clothes, money and everything else he had wished into being had gone. What if I get bit by a poisonous spider and die? I think we can guess what had happened next.
When Jacob got back from returning the unicorn he found that his brother was dead and all had gone back to the way it was before, except for one thing. The only wish that was totally unselfish and that was the queen’s health. She was overjoyed that Jacob was back and told him what had happened.
“If only Leopold had been happy with what he had,” sighed Jacob. “He would have been the true king one day and even if this isn’t the largest kingdom it is the best in the world.”
As Jacob proved in later years when the queen had died and he was the king. A king who ruled kindly and wisely.
As for Rumpsteakenstilton – he never did discover what happened to the unicorn and without it he could not pull off the evil magic he had hoped for.
What We Learn From This
There is a saying, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” What this means is that if you have something in your hand that is better than only the possibility of getting something better. You have the bird. This is better than two birds that are free and will need to be caught and could get away. In other words, don’t risk losing what you already have by trying to get something you think might be better. In the story Leopold had a chance to be king but he was not satisfied and wanted a bigger kingdom. He kept wishing for more and more. In the end he ended up with nothing, not even his life. Sometimes it is better to be satisfied with what you have.