Monday, June 13, 2011

The Castle on the Hill

BY Kathleen Bradean

The posted idea behind this week's topic is: Think of a creature or person that normally you despise and find a way to feel compassion or admiration for it/them.

I'll tell you a paraphrased version of a story my great grandfather used to tell me:

Once there was and once there wasn't a nobleman who lived in a castle high on a hill overlooking a small town. One day he rode into town and told the butcher to send his best boar to the castle for a feast. So the butcher sent it. He waited and waited for his money, but as the days passed, the nobleman didn't pay him. He told everyone in the market, but they didn't believe him, because they all knew that a nobleman was noble.

Another day, the noble came down the hill and demanded the blacksmith shoe his horse. After the blacksmith was done, the noble rode away. The blacksmith complained, but people said "The noble has a lot of money, why would he cheat you out of the little bit you charge?"

Later, the nobleman rode down the hill and told a tailor that he needed very fine clothes for a feast. The tailor borrowed money from everyone to buy the expensive silks, furs, and pearls to make this magnificent set of clothes. When he was done, he took it to the noble, who refused to pay the tailor the price the tailor asked. Finally, wary of the nobel's guards, the tailor agreed to half the money, even though it meant he'd only have enough to pay back what he'd borrowed, and his family would starve.

Of course, he also waited for his money, and it never came. The tailor felt smarter than the other villagers though, because while they'd lost the full price of their boars, beer, and bread, he'd only been cheated out of half the price of the clothes he'd made.


That seems like a weird ending, and it is, although the rest of the tale always came later, after other stories, and it goes like this:

So one day, a barbarian king from the eastern empire invaded, and his soldiers demanded everything from the people, which they gave. But they were so poor that he was enraged, so he demanded to know where they kept their gold. Every person in town pointed up the hill to the castle. The barbarian king took his army up the hill, killed the noble, and took all the gold back to his kingdom, and no one in the town ever mourned the noble.


My great grandfather liked this story. Was it true? Did it even happen in his village? I have no idea. Some days, I think that the moral of this, if there was one, was that to earn compassion, you have to give it. Other days, I think he simply enjoyed the part where the nobleman died. After all, my great grandfather murdered a man in cold blood, and I doubt he felt a second of remorse about it. He was a very happy man.


  1. Hi, Kathleen,

    Now this is enigmatic. For whom should we feel sympathy? The nobleman? Your grandfather?

    The story has a non-Western feel to it. For one thing - there's no hero.

    Interesting post.

  2. Which begs the question - is it possible to learn about compassion at a devil's knee?

  3. I keep looking for a way to feel compassion for the noble man and I can't. He had it coming. I feel sorry most for the towns poeple who didn;t get a break from anyone all around. There's an African proverb, "when elephants fight, its the grass that suffers."


  4. This is an interesting teaching story, Kathleen. It suggests that karma is just logical consequences,& usually fairly easy to foresee, much like global pollution. This helps put evil in perspective.


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