One morning the old storyteller said to his apprentice: “As you know, the king will be a guest in our town today. I have received a letter stating that he has heard of what I do and would like to hear a sample of my art himself. The king is in great worry, because the monarch of our neighbouring country demands from him a personal apology for some uncouthness, which truly he has never committed. By expressing this apology the king would be stripped of his dignity in front of his own nation and the neighbouring people. If he does not apologise, the other ruler threatens to ravage our land with his strong army. What is our king to do? If he apologises, he loses the respect of our people and of the neighbouring people as well, and maybe even his self-respect. If he does not apologise, the other monarch will take this as an excuse for starting a war. Then our king will lose his land and possibly his life, and our people will suffer great harm. At noon, I shall be at the town hall, in order to tell the King a tale which may give him a helpful hint for making his decision. I feel more feeble now than ever in my life, and I wish you to accompany me on my way.” The way to town seemed longer than usual to the apprentice. They had to pause many times so his master could regain his strength, but finally they arrived. They were guided to the king and all the dignitaries assembled in the town hall, and they were seated among them at a large table. After a number of high and important people had spoken, the storyteller was also asked to speak. He said: “In our town, there once lived a well-known man who was to hold a speech for many people, and even for the king. Now as he looked around, he saw such an abundance of wise and educated people that he himself did not feel wise at all. He forgot how at other times he had known to help himself out of any difficulty. He would have wished to sink into a deep hole in the ground. As this is impossible – what did this man do?”
After these words, the old man fell silent. Despairingly he turned to his apprentice with an inquiring look, as if he were uttering some wordless plea. The young man rose to speak and said: “He fell silent. He let his apprentice speak for him. His apprentice delivered the message to the king and this abundance of wise and educated people which his master would have told if words had not failed him. The apprentice said: ‘My master asks your pardon that he cannot address to you the words that you desire to hear from him. Yet he lets me speak for him. May I express his deep regret.” The people heard the apprentice speak for his master, and no one could decide whether the apprentice truly spoke for his master, but neither could anyone deny it. For his master’s mind seemed absent, and neither did he show approval nor reject the words the apprentice spoke on his behalf.”
The apprentice ended his speech. The listeners looked startled at him and his master. Then some of them started to laugh, while others clapped their hands, and a very odd atmosphere of tension filled the room. The mayor called for the next speakers, and the rest of the day passed by with music and festivities. Finally everyone went home. The king, however, sent heralds out on this very day. In all the towns of his empire they proclaimed the following message: “Tomorrow at noon, the king will abdicate because of his feeble health, and leave the royal throne to his oldest son. The speech of the king on passing over the crown and sceptre must be called off due to his sickness. His son will speak for him instead, and will truthfully state what his father would have said if only he had been able to speak as the king of this land for the very last time. The king knew well that his court would be bewildered at this curious message. But the ruler of his neighbouring country also could not easily decide what had been said by whom, and what was meant by the words that had been spoken.
On the way home the old storyteller seemed more tired than usual. He said to his apprentice: “Tomorrow I expect that a lot of people will come to my house wishing to hear a tale. It is impossible for me to do so. I would like you to take over.” The young man assured him that he would do so. After the apprentice had gotten up and had washed and clothed himself the next morning, he looked for his master. There in his bed lay the storyteller – dead. “What shall I do?” the young man asked himself in utter terror, and looked out of the window. His terror was even greater when he saw a vast crowd of people approaching the house. He went outside. “What do you want?” he asked the first ones who came toward him. “Your master has saved our land – or you and your master. We will live in peace, and we wish to tell him our words of gratitude. We also would like to ask your master to tell us one of his tales.” The young man shook his head: “The storyteller is dead. He asked me, though, to speak to you, and tell a tale on his behalf.” “But do you also know what the master wanted to say to us?” asked the people. The young man nodded. “Every single word.”