The King’s Question

by Marc Friedlander

The King asks aloud, What time is it? The King’s Chief Advisor feels a jolt of panic shoot up his spine.

The King doesn’t really care what the time is - he is just asking idle questions to pass the day, and already his thoughts have moved on to other, equally unimportant subjects. But he could just as easily have been mandating the rapid aquisition of this vital information, upon pain of severe punishment, should anyone be so foolhardy as to ignore it.

The King’s Chief Advisor does not know the exact time, but he fears that the King’s wrath could be harsh if the question is not answered, and he will not risk that wrath.  He tells the King that he will research the question and get back to him.    The King shrugs his shoulders (neither expecting nor needing an answer anyway) and continues sitting on his throne, staring out the window, thinking idle thoughts.

The Chief Advisor asks the King’s question to the Castle Manager, who then asks the Director of Serfs. None of them know the exact time.  They can probably figure out the day of the week, or the month of the year, but the exact time is difficult since nobody has an accurate timepiece, and they don’t even fully understand the concept anyway. Morning, Afternoon, Evening, Nighttime - that has always worked well enough, but now the King wants to know the exact time.

One of the serfs overhears this and realizes he might have a way to get the question answered, which could bring him praise and a promotion.  He approaches the Director of Serfs and tells him he knows of a nearby town where they have a sundial, and if he goes to that town he can look at the sundial and get the answer to the King’s question.

The Director of Serfs agrees, wanting to get the answer to the Castle Manager, hoping that he will be awarded with praise and perhaps a promotion.  The serf sets out on his journey.

After two and an half days, the traveling serf reaches the nearby town.  He finds the sundial and looks at it but does not know how to read it.  He asks around and locates the Sundial Manager.  The Sundial Manager looks at the sundial, and tells the serf that the current time is precisely 17 minutes past 1 o’clock in the afternoon.  The serf thanks him profusely, and starts his journey back to his village.  It takes him a little longer to return, and gets back about 3 days later.

Once he returns, he finds the Director of Serfs and proudly tells him the time is 17 minutes past 1 o’clock in the afternoon.  The Director of Serfs informs the Castle Manager, who proudly tells the Chief Advisor what the time is.  The Chief, hoping to win praise and a promotion, requests an audience with the King.  It takes 2 days for the audience to be granted.

King:  What brings you to my court, Chief Advisor?

Chief Advisor:  I have researched your question and I have found the answer that you seek, My Lord.

King:  Come again?

Chief Advisor:  I have discerned the exact time.  It is 17 minutes after 1 o’clock in the afternoon.

King:  What in blazes are you talking about?  Look out the window – it’s evening, just before sundown!  Get OUT OF MY COURT AND STOP WASTING MY TIME!  YOUR PAY SHALL BE DOCKED 15 DUCKETS! And you're demoted from Chief Advisor to stable cleaner.

Dejected, the former Chief Advisor skulks out of the King’s court, his dreams of praise and promotion shattered.  He flogs the Castle Manager, who beats the Director of Serfs, who kicks the daylights out of the serf.


The King continued sitting on his throne, staring idly out the window, wondering what idiot started this stupidity in the first place.