The thief's advice to the king

A king went on a short trip with a few of his ministers and a small entourage. They decided to camp in a particular town for the night and then return home to the palace in a leisurely way the following day. The king’s tent was in a very nice location, and the others in his party placed their tents all around him. All of a sudden, in the middle of the night, there was a great commotion. People began calling out and running to and fro. The king came out of his tent and asked, “What happened? What happened?”

One of his ministers replied, “We saw a thief stealing things, and now we cannot find the thief. We are searching the camp.”

The king became furious. “Here I have so many ministers and guards,” he said, “and you cannot find a single thief? You have to find him! Otherwise, tomorrow morning I shall punish you all!”

There was no sleep that night for those who had travelled with the king. They searched and searched, but the thief was nowhere to be found. Day dawned and still there was no sign of him. The ministers were so sad that their excursion had been ruined, and they were all afraid of the king’s punishment.

In the morning, the king assembled everyone and said, “What have you done? You are all supposed to protect me. I have entrusted you with my safety. Is this how you carry out your job? If the thief had wanted to kill me, he could easily have done so. It seems he had no trouble entering our camp and stealing things. He may have been carrying a knife or some other weapon. This experience could have been infinitely worse. I am so disappointed and disgusted with all of you! Let us go back to the palace at once.”

The ministers and guards were all absolutely miserable as they stood listening to the king in silence. Just as the king finished his speech, they heard somebody sneeze very powerfully. The sound came from a very small tent belonging to one of the guards who had been absent the entire night looking for the thief. The guards rushed to the tent and looked inside. They saw that in one corner somebody had rolled himself up in a blanket. It was the thief! The guards dragged him before the king and waited for the king’s command.

The king said, “You have to punish this thief!”

At that moment the thief spoke up. He was trembling because he thought that his life could be measured in minutes, but he found the courage to say, “O King, please give me a moment of your precious time. I want to tell you something.”

The king’s fury had not diminished. He said, “You! You should be thrashed to death. The whole night you did not allow us to sleep, and now you have to tell me something! All right, what is it?”

The thief said, “O King, I have done you a big favour.”

“You have done me a favour by coming here to steal?” asked the king.

“Yes,” said the thief. “O King, just think of what will happen when you go back to the palace! The local people will all laugh at you when they hear this story. They will say that you are surrounded by stupid ministers and useless guards. I am nothing but a poor thief, but I was able to enter your camp all alone and forty of your people could not find me. This story will spread like wildfire throughout the kingdom. One thief was able to outsmart forty of the king’s men! People will not only say that your guards are useless, but they will also begin to say that you must be stupid to keep them. So you see, I am giving your guards dignity and I am giving you dignity also by allowing myself to be caught. When I sneezed, the guards came to know my hiding place and they were able to catch me. Now people will say that the king’s guards are so alert and so efficient that they were able to catch the thief. And they will admire you also for keeping such excellent guards. But had I not sneezed, I could easily have escaped. Then you would have had to return to the palace without the thief. You would have been so embarrassed and ashamed. So I do not think I deserve punishment. On the contrary, I deserve a reward because I have done you a big favour.”

The king saw that the thief was speaking the truth. He said, “You are right. Because of this unfortunate incident, my guards and I would have become a laughing stock. Please tell me what reward you would like from me.”

The thief said, “O King, I do not need any outer reward. I only want you to be strict when you appoint your guards and ministers. Do not keep these people. Either give them a last warning right now or dismiss them all. You deserve people who are infinitely better.”