When the king set on his throne, a very tired and lonely man, he was, at that moment, ready to die. Had someone stepped up to him and told him that that day would be his last to live, he would have smiled, almost grimaced.
“My eyes have grown cold, and so have my hands. My heart, that beats soundly enough, but everything has grown so cold within me,” He wheezed to himself, more amused than distressed. Distress would have cost too much caring, a substance he had run very poor on long ago. He thought he must have a small bottle of the stuff saved up somewhere.
He supposed he ought to find the stuff and use it up on something useless before it went to waste. Tiresome stuff. A wonder the young had so many uses for it.
Just then a mouse scampered up to the arm of the throne. Mice were generally not allowed in throne rooms, but the king had not much kept up with that of late.
“My master, please: a bit of cheese!” squeaked the mouse.
“There’s cheese enough in the kitchen, if you want it,” said the king. “Why do you bother me?”
“The cook said I couldn’t have any without your permission, that I must come to you to get it.”
“Well, my permission is granted, go your way,” sighed the king. But the mouse did not move. “Well?” he asked.
“Master, if you please, the cook would not believe me,” said the mouse.
The king sighed as he stood up.
‘So this is what I am brought to,’ he thought. ‘Defending the case of begging mice. Is this how an old king dies?’
When they reached the kitchen at the end of a long hall, they heard a cacophony of banging from within.
“You fought though all this to ask for cheese?” The mouse nodded. As they entered, the king found some three or four cooks chasing mice, each with a pot in each hand, defending a round of cheese on the center table. As soon as they saw the king, mouse in hand, they stopped, and the mice scampered.
“Which of you is the chief cook?” asked the king.
“I am, your majesty,” one of the four answered, stepping out, with one pot
still in hand. She seemed a slight bit flustered, but stood her ground.
“And what is this cheese sitting out on the table, and who is it for?”
“Why, it’s the charity meal, sire, for any who would have it. Today a cheese, tomorrow bread, and who knows the next day. It’s our custom to give to whoever asks, though I would say it’s good enough for yer own taste, if you want any. Except these mice keep trying to get at it, always steeling. And whoever heard of a mouse comin’ and asking?”
The king smiled. “This mouse,” he said, placing it on the table, “came and asked politely.”
The mouse scampered to the cheese, and just before it took a piece, it turned back and gave a wink. The cook was flustered, but she had nothing to say. The king turned to the door and left.
“Imagine that!” came wafting from the door behind him.
The king smiled. Perhaps he was not quite ready yet to die. Perhaps he should find that bottle of care. Surely he could find some good use for it.