A rich, golden tale of a king and four princes
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a king and his four sons. The king had come to power through a promise he had made with the elves and fairies of the kingdom to look after their needs and wishes in exchange for him ruling the kingdom.
For many years the kingdom was successful and as his sons became older he gave each of them a task. The first prince was responsible for ensuring that there was sufficient food and firewood. The second prince was responsible for collecting taxes. The third prince was responsible for castles and weapons. The fourth prince was to look after the needs of the elves and fairies.
For many years, the system worked well and the king, the princes and the people in the kingdom enjoyed happy lives. But one day the gold that was kept in the biggest castle was stolen and the kingdom was thrown into chaos.
The king called his four sons to a meeting and explained that their reserves were very low and they would all have to reduce their expenditure if the kingdom was to survive. He set each of the sons off to consider their plans and commanded that they return the next day with proposals.
The first prince decided that he would plant cheaper crops, reduce the amount of food given to each member of the kingdom, and increase the cost of food.
The second prince decided to increase income tax, put up taxes on hovels, and reduce the donations made to court beggars.
The third prince decided that they could sell off one of their castles to another kingdom, reduce the size of cannon on the castle walls, and stop the building of a new castle that had been planned for many years.
The fourth prince was stuck. He looked at his job and could think of lots of ways that he could reduce his costs. For example, he could stop giving each elf a gold coin every day; or he could stop allowing fairies to replace their wings on a weekly basis; he could even take the drastic step of telling the elves and fairies that they would no longer have a room of their own in their fairy castle.
But each time he pondered an option he came up against the promise that had been made by his father, the king, to the elves and fairies.
The next day the king called his sons to his court table and asked them to set out their plans. Each of the first three princes explained in great detail how they would manage their reductions.
On completing the presentations, which had been well received by their father, they turned to the fourth prince. He began by reminding the others of the promises their father had made to the elves and fairies on his becoming king. As he continued, he could see that his brothers were becoming angrier and angrier as it became obvious that he was saying that there was no way that he could reduce his expenditures if he was to keep the promise their father had made.
The other princes demanded that their brother go away and return the next day with a proper plan for reducing his costs in the same way in which they had done to the approval of their father.
That night the prince had a sleepless night for he had explored every possible avenue to reduce the money spent on the elves and fairies but he kept coming up against the promises his father had made to the elves and fairies on his crowning as king.
The next day they gathered again in the great hall and they waited patiently for their brother to match their proposals. As he slowly got to his feet, he stuttered that he did have a plan. That plan was to stop giving each elf a gold coin every day and give them instead a silver coin. He had calculated that this would save the same as his brothers and that it would allow the kingdom to survive.
His brothers were elated - they knew that their brother had been holding back on them and that if they pushed hard enough he would come up with a plan like this.
However, the king was a wise man and did not share his sons' euphoria. He asked the fourth prince if he had discussed this plan with the elves and fairies. The prince explained that he had, but that they had not accepted the change in the conditions of the promise. The other princes did not think that was important - surely the elves and fairies understood that if savings were not made the kingdom would fail and that none of their conditions of the promise would be met in the future.
The king sat quietly and contemplated the dilemma. As he sat, the other princes shouted and demanded that the condition be changed. Eventually the king spoke. He explained that the promise made to the elves and fairies was one from which there could be no withdrawing. He instructed the princes that the "problem" and the "promises" belonged to each of them equally and that they must work together to solve their challenge.
A year later the kingdom had survived its trial, for the four princes had come to recognise that the problem could not be resolved by working in isolation, or by ignoring commitments they had made to others, but only by working together in sharing the problems each of them faced in an equal manner. And they all lived happily ever after.
Don Ledingham is director of education and children's services, Midlothian, and executive director of services for people, East Lothian.