Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Parable: The New Shovel

Peter W. Wickham, Jr.

"Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted;
persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished;
persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
By order of the author."
Mark Twain's warning to readers of Huckleberry Finn

A long time ago in a faraway land, shortly after the last Great Melting, there lived a man named Sard. Sard was a simple farmer and lived a happy life with his loving wife and their six daughters. As was his custom from time to time, Sard was on the path beside the creek walking towards the village at the other end of the valley to trade some wares since he was in need of a new shovel.

Sard looked up the side of the hill on his right and saw his neighbor and the neighbor's sons picking up stones in front of their home. They were piling them into a large heap just beside the goat pen. Sard's neighbor, Corth, was a goat herder, which was probably the best use one could find for the rocky and steep piece of land Corth had inherited from his wife's father.

"Hallooooo neighbor!" Sard shouted.

"Hallo back to your kind self!" answered Corth wiping the sweat from his brow as he took a break from his work. "And how are you on this fine day in the Greening Season?"

"Well and fit, fit and well, indeed. I'm headed into the village to see if I can trade for a new shovel as my old one finally gave out. Want to join me for the walk? I could use the company."

"Sorry no, I can't as my wife has been nagging me for weeks to get this job done and I don't want to disappoint her. I have a new shovel if you want to borrow it but I'll need it back real soon so I can finish here."

"Thank you, neighbor. Let me see if I can get one in the village first, and if not I'll borrow yours." With that Sard continued his journey down the path towards the village.

As soon as he got to the village, Sard went straight to the toolmaker's shop. "Greetings kind brother Sard," said Gaun the toolmaker with a big smile. "How might I be of service to you this fine day?"

"You are indeed the best toolmaker in the country, Gaun," said Sard, "as the last shovel you made for me lasted four harvests but I guess all good things must come to an end and I am in need of another."

"And that was two seasons more than I guaranteed," Gaun boasted, "but alas, I am all out of shovels at the moment. Your neighbor, Corth, got my last one and I won't have any supplies to make another for at least two or three days. But I'll rush one together for you as soon as I can."

"Well, that's how my luck goes sometimes," Sard said while shaking his head. "I saw Corth on the way here and he told me he had a new shovel I could borrow but I had to get it back to him as soon as possible so that he could finish something for his wife."

"What was he working on?" asked Gaun.

"I'm not sure," answered Sard. "He and his boys - and those are getting to be some big boys - were picking up all the stones in yard beside their house and piling them up beside their goat pen."

"Piling up stones?!? That sounds suspicious."

Sard and Gaun turned to see who had spoken and there stood Flav. Flav was the mostly self-appointed night watchman for the village; at least that was the excuse he gave for sleeping through most of the day, but some villagers had to question this since they had been awakened some times at night by Flav's snoring. He also had a disagreeable odor about him that led some people to give him the nickname, "Flav the Flatulent."

"Uh-huh? And how is that suspicious, Flav?" asked Sard with a degree of impatience. Flav was not one of Sard's favorite persons.

"Something the Old Wise One said once," grunted Flav. "Let's go ask him and I'll...I mean, he will tell you."

"Oh why not?" Sard taunted Flav. "You might as well come too, Gaun. This could get interesting."

"Indeed," chuckled Gaun as he threw his apron upon his workbench and followed the two men to the Temple. At the Temple the Old Wise One was engaged in a council meeting but he took a second to hear Flav's report.

"And you saw Corth gathering stones at his place, Sard?" asked the Old Wise One.

"Well, yes, but I'm sure it's noth..."

"He's preparing to attack!" growled the Old Wise One, cutting off Sard.

"Attack? Attack who?" Sard asked with disbelief.

"Why possibly you, Sard, since you live closest to him," answered the Old Wise One. "Then he may have plans for the whole village. That man is not one of us. He comes from the valley to the west."

"But his wife is one of us," Sard quickly inserted. "Corth married her and moved here with her to help her father in his last days. After the old man passed on, Corth took over the farm and he and his boys have worked hard to make it a success. Quite well, in fact. What makes you think he wants to attack anyone?"

"The Holy Writings," the Old Wise One said sternly. "The Book of Elaph says when a man is gathering stones he is preparing to attack."

"Wait, I know that verse," said Sard. "It says 'Wise is the man who gathers stones in preparation should he BE attacked' not 'to attack' like you said." Sard saw the Old Wise One was staring at him in way that could surely melt rock and the other men had less than friendly looks on their faces.

"So the Lord of all the universe has granted Sard the gift of interpreting the Holy Writings, has he now?" scowled the Old Wise One.

"My apologies, Old Wise One, but I was just say..."

"Enough!" ordered the Old Wise One. "Flav, gather a War Council immediately. We must deal with Corth before he has much more time to prepare his assault upon us. Sard, you will stay by my side so I can keep an eye on ensure your safety, of course." At this the village men made the necessary preparations to attack Corth's place first thing at dawn.

Sard felt dizzy at the way things were transpiring faster than he could think. Before he knew it, he was standing beside the Old Wise One on the hill behind Corth's home watching the village war party surround the house. At the first hint of light, there was a shout and the men rushed into the house. With some screaming from Corth's wife and the sound of a few sickening thuds, it was all over in a few seconds. Sard followed the Old Wise One down the hill and saw the bodies of Corth and his family laid out like so much garbage in the front yard. The men were patting each other on the back and congratulating themselves on the completion of another successful mission.

"Well done, men," said the Old Wise One. "You have all surely eliminated this threat to our very way of life."

Sard walked over the body of his neighbor and stood looking down upon the carnage.

"...why...?" came a quiet rasping from what remained of the body of Corth.

"Corth is still alive!" shouted Flav as he grabbed for his warclub.

"...why did you attack us...?" asked Corth in a hoarse whisper.

"Brother Sard warned us of your treachery and we 'threw the first punch' so to speak before you had a chance to attack us like you were obviously planning," pronounced the Old Wise One.

"I only told them I had seen you and your sons picking up the rocks," Sard quickly explained while nodding his head in the direction of the pile. As he knelt beside Corth he asked "Why Corth,... why were you gathering stones?"

Corth took as deep a breath as his broken ribcage would allow, "...a garden...I promised my wife I would help her plant a vegetable garden...we were clearing the plot when you walked by, neighbor..."

"And can you explain why you piled the rocks over there if not to prepare to attack?" demanded the Old Wise One.

"...wolves...the wolves had been bothering the goats...we were going to throw them at the wolves when they came around...'Wise is the man who gathers'...," and with that Corth breathed his last.

Sard rose to his feet and turned to face the other men. Some of them were beginning to have uneasy looks on their faces.

"The blasphemous fool!" spoke the Old Wise One.

"What?!?" Sard asked incredulously, forgetting for a moment that he was surrounded by heavily armed men.

"He was blatantly preparing to go to war against us all, including you, Sard, and then he has the gall to tell that lie just before he goes to meet his maker. He will surely be doomed to an eternity in Hell for that," pronounced the Old Wise One. "Leave their bodies where they lie as a sacrifice to the Gods and let the birds fill their bellies. You men have done a fine job at protecting your families and our village. Do not ever forget that. You all may take a share of Corth's belongings as long as you remember your tithes to the Temple. Flav, make sure that Sard gets something since he warned us of Corth's plans," and with that the Old Wise One headed back to the village.

"All right, men," said Flav while rubbing his greedy little hands, "let's start splitting the booty. Sard, I'll let you have first choice. What do you want?"

Sard took a moment to clear his head and solemnly said, "Corth has...had a new shovel. I have need of it. Give it to me."

"You mean this?" asked Flav holding up the shovel. "I mean its a fine shovel and all but are you sure you don't wan..."

"Give me the DAMN shovel!" demanded Sard.

"Alright, alright, you don't have to get in such a huff," replied Flav and he threw the shovel at Sard's feet. "Come on, guys, and let's hurry back to show everyone what we got for a hard night's work." The men hurried back to the village carrying their loot and laughing and guffawing the whole way.

Sard found himself alone in the yard in front of the house. Now that it was full daylight he could see the plot that Corth had staked out for his wife's garden. Sard bent over and picked up the shovel and hefted it in his hands. It was indeed of fine craftsmanship. He walked over to where the garden was to go and shoved the spade into the dark earth so that it stood by itself.

It was fast becoming a warm day, so Sard removed his cloak and then also his tunic. He tore his tunic into long strips of cloth which he used to bound his hands to protect them from the blistering work he was about to do. Sard grabbed his new shovel once more and, with the sun beating down of his bare back and tears welling in his eyes, he began the long tedious task of digging four graves...

Peter W. Wickham, Jr.
AKA The Ol' Grey Ghost

For further reading I would like to recommend War is a Racket
: The Antiwar Classic by America's Most Decorated Soldier by General Smedley D. Butler, USMC. Along with Amazon, General Butler's book is also available online for free at

1 comment:

Joe Allen said...

It's a good thing I was forewarned to to try to attach any particular significance to that story.

I'm might have seen some parallels otherwise.