There was once a King of a prosperous country. His Queen was both beautiful and faithful. His Chancellor assured him his fiscal policy was sound. His Generals insisted his boundaries were secure. But, even though the he lay in silken sheets at night, the King could not sleep.
For the King had been woken each night of the last seven by the same strange dream. He dreamt that, hanging above his bed by its tail was a fox, snapping and snarling.
The King called his Special Advisors to him and asked them to explain the dream. They looked at each other somewhat shiftily, then all agreed the dream was a mystery.
The King sent out a proclamation that whosoever’s explanation of the dream should banish it from his nightly slumber would be rewarded with a bag of gold.
A young peasant lad, on his way to the city, heard the proclamation and was wondering what he would do with such a fortune. As he made his way across the high mountain pass his happy reverie was broken when he saw, lying across the way, a huge snake. He was about to turn back when the snake said to him ‘Young man, tell me where you are going and I will help you’.
The peasant told him he was on his way to the City to sell his produce. He also told the snake about the King’s dream.
‘If I tell you the answer what will you give me?’ asked the snake. ‘Surely I will share the bag of gold with you,’ the lad replied. So the snake told him the meaning of the dream and the lad went on his way.
When he reached the City he applied at the Palace and told the King that the dream of a fox was a message. It was telling him that lies and treachery, bribery and corruption were rife in his kingdom. The King listened carefully. That night, the King slept well for the first time in weeks. First thing next morning he sacked his Special Advisers. He called for the peasant and gave him his gold.
The young lad, immediately spent half of it on a flashy black stallion he picked up at a shady dealers by the Castle Wall. He then rode home on the shiny new toll-road, avoiding the mountain pass.
A year passed. The King’s sleep was troubled again. This time his dream was of a sword, hanging above his bed as if to pierce his very heart. This time he called for the peasant directly. The young man was worried. He had sold the stallion long since and he had no money for the toll-road. He had no choice but to take the mountain pass and see if the snake would forgive him.
When he reached the place, he called and he waited. Eventually, the snake came. The young man begged him to help, saying this time he would return and share the reward as promised. The snake agreed. The peasant made his way to the palace. He told the King what the dream meant. In his Kingdom the people were angry that the greedy profited, the laws were unjust and the police were not to be trusted. Hence people were taking up arms to defend themselves.
That night the King slept well. First thing next morning he sacked the Chief of Police then called the young peasant to him and gave him a bag of gold.
This time, on his way home, the peasant bought a donkey, fit for a mountain pass and a peasant’s life. Seeing the burned out shops and groups of angry citizens on street corners, he also invested in a short sword that he hid under his cloak.
When he came to the mountain pass, the snake was sunning itself by the road. ‘How did you get on?’ the snake began. Filled with rage, the peasant shouted ‘You’re not having my gold. You did nothing but sit in the sun while I went all that way and took all that trouble!’ Taking out his sword he chased the snake who fled to its hole, but not before the young man had slashed off the tip of his tail.
It was not long before the King called on the peasant’s services again. This time the dream was of a sheep, hanging above his bed by its tail.
The peasant was now really worried as he went to seek the snake’s advice. This time, the lad promised, he really would share the reward. The snake again told him the answer.
‘The King,’ said the snake, must be like a good shepherd and take care of his people. Then all will be well in his Kingdom.
The peasant went to the Palace and explained this to the King and again, the King slept well for the first time in months. In the morning he called his councillors and told them that from now on all people would share in the good things of the Kingdom. That the rich would give half their profits to the Crown to pay for almshouses for the poor and hospitals for the sick.
The peasant took his bag of gold and walked back by the mountain pass. When he came to the snake’s hold he called softly and the snake came out. ‘I am so sorry,’ he said ‘for how I have treated you. Here is your share of the gold. Take all of it, it is yours.’
The snake said, ‘Boy, do not blame yourself entirely. For when the King dreamt of a fox and the people were cunning and deceitful, so were you. When the King dreamt of a sword and the people were angry and violent, so were you. Now the King dreams of a sheep and the people are cared for as one flock sharing in one good pasture. You too now wish to share good things with those around you.’
‘Take your gold and share it with those you love and those who need it. I am a snake, what need do I have for gold?’