The Clever Weaver

: The Olive Fairy Book

Once upon a time the king of a far country was sitting on his throne,

listening to the complaints of his people, and judging between them.

That morning there had been fewer cases than usual to deal with, and

the king was about to rise and go into his gardens, when a sudden stir

was heard outside, and the lord high chamberlain entered, and inquired

if his majesty would be graciously pleased to receive the ambassador

powerful emperor who lived in the east, and was greatly feared by

the neighbouring sovereigns. The king, who stood as much in dread of

him as the rest, gave orders that the envoy should be admitted at

once, and that a banquet should be prepared in his honour. Then he

settled himself again on his throne, wondering what the envoy had to


The envoy said nothing. He advanced to the throne where the king was

awaiting him, and stooping down, traced on the floor with a rod which

he held in his hand a black circle all round it. Then he sat down on a

seat that was near, and took no further notice of anyone.

The king and his courtiers were equally mystified and enraged at this

strange behaviour, but the envoy sat as calm and still as an image,

and it soon became plain that they would get no explanation from

him. The ministers were hastily summoned to a council, but not one

of them could throw any light upon the subject. This made the king

more angry than ever, and he told them that unless before sunset they

could find someone capable of solving the mystery he would hang them


The king was, as the ministers knew, a man of his word; and they

quickly mapped out the city into districts, so that they might visit

house by house, and question the occupants as to whether they could

fathom the action of the ambassador. Most of them received no reply

except a puzzled stare; but, luckily, one of them was more observant

than the rest, and on entering an empty cottage where a swing was

swinging of itself, he began to think it might be worth while for him

to see the owner. Opening a door leading into another room, he found a

second swing, swinging gently like the first, and from the window he

beheld a patch of corn, and a willow which moved perpetually without

any wind, in order to frighten away the sparrows. Feeling more and

more curious, he descended the stairs and found himself in a large

light workshop in which was seated a weaver at his loom. But all the

weaver did was to guide his threads, for the machine that he had

invented to set in motion the swings and the willow pole made the loom


When he saw the great wheel standing in the corner, and had guessed

the use of it, the merchant heaved a sigh of relief. At any rate, if

the weaver could not guess the riddle, he at least might put the

minister on the right track. So without more ado he told the story of

the circle, and ended by declaring that the person who could explain

its meaning should be handsomely rewarded.

'Come with me at once,' he said. 'The sun is low in the heavens, and

there is no time to lose.'

The weaver stood thinking for a moment and then walked across to a

window, outside of which was a hen-coop with two knuckle-bones lying

beside it. These he picked up, and taking the hen from the coop, he

tucked it under his arm.

'I am ready,' he answered, turning to the minister.

In the hall the king still sat on his throne, and the envoy on his

seat. Signing to the minister to remain where he was, the weaver

advanced to the envoy, and placed the knuckle-bones on the floor

beside him. For answer, the envoy took a handful of millet seed out of

his pocket and scattered it round; upon which the weaver set down the

hen, who ate it up in a moment. At that the envoy rose without a word,

and took his departure.

As soon as he had left the hall, the king beckoned to the weaver.

'You alone seem to have guessed the riddle,' said he, 'and great shall

be your reward. But tell me, I pray you, what it all means?'

'The meaning, O king,' replied the weaver, 'is this: The circle drawn

by the envoy round your throne is the message of the emperor, and

signifies, "If I send an army and surround your capital, will you lay

down your arms?" The knuckle-bones which I placed before him told him,

"You are but children in comparison with us. Toys like these are the

only playthings you are fit for." The millet that he scattered was an

emblem of the number of soldiers that his master can bring into the

field; but by the hen which ate up the seed he understood that one of

our men could destroy a host of theirs.'

'I do not think,' he added, 'that the emperor will declare war.'

'You have saved me and my honour,' cried the king, 'and wealth and

glory shall be heaped upon you. Name your reward, and you shall have

it even to the half of my kingdom.'

'The small farm outside the city gates, as a marriage portion for my

daughter, is all I ask,' answered the weaver, and it was all he would

accept. 'Only, O king,' were his parting words, 'I would beg of you to

remember that weavers also are of value to a state, and that they are

sometimes cleverer even than ministers!'