by DCH Park
There were once 5 Kingdoms who traded with each other. They grew prosperous from the trade and all was well.
The people of the first kingdom were great foresters and farmers. They cared for the land and all the plants and animals that grew upon it. The farmers grew things in great variety but always allowed the land to lie fallow for one year out of four. The foresters cared for different plants and animals from the farmers and did it in a different way but produced delicacies that no one else could. The changes of the seasons and the rhythms of the land and the reverence they felt for the land were all in the food they produced.
The people of the second kingdom were hardy fishermen and women. They harvested all manner of wealth from the sea. They knew that their lives were intricately bound up in the sea. They even timed their comings and goings to coincide with the tides. They had parties and celebrations on the beach and gladly took any excuse for a clam bake or a crab bake or a lobster bake or just a dance party with no bake at all. High tide under a full moon was a particularly special time for them.
The people of the third kingdom were excellent miners, which was fortunate because mineral deposits in their their land were rich and varied. They had an intimate knowledge of the land and were constantly probing and imaging it to find new deposits or a new cave. They loved nothing more than to explore a new cave or digging through the earth, searching out the hidden roots of things.
The people of the fourth kingdom were masters of the fiber arts. They could weave a basket or take hemp or linen fibers and make a fine suit of clothes or delicate paper out of them. The things they made were the finest imaginable. They could make rope of any thickness or colored thread, yarn, or paper and make all sorts of things from these materials. Their costumes and decorations were beautiful and surprising. Their festivals were always bright and colorful. It was said that you hadn’t lived until you’d attended a festival in the fourth kingdom.
The people of the fifth kingdom were smiths of all types. They worked with wood and stone as well as with metals. They could make a fine needle or a complex machine. Their people also included marvelous chemists. They were able to fashion fuels and other raw materials out of things they bought or found. They refined metals from some stones and cut others into jewelry and statues. They made porcelain tableware and figurines out of earth, glass implements out of sand, and caved wood into a variety of objects both useful and decorative.
The 5 Kingdoms were very different but they shared a sense of respect and reverence for the land. It sustained them. It gave them their lives and also their livelihoods. There was no reason it couldn’t continue to do so forever as long as it was taken care of. So each generation took care of the land so they could pass it on to future generations. They knew they didn’t own the land. They knew that they were merely part of a long succession – a chain of generations – who managed the land together. They formed a symbiotic relationship with the land. They benefited from the land and the land benefited from them.
Still, the people of The 5 Kingdoms knew that the land would be nothing without the people. People were the true source of wealth. Prosperity flowed from the efforts and genius of the people. Everyone in The 5 Kingdoms owed the creation of his or her personal wealth to everyone else. They all rose and sank together and they knew it.
Thus the various peoples traded with each other and were able to get everything they couldn’t make for themselves from each other. They had everything they needed for life. In fact, they became so wealthy and life was so fulfilling together that the life expectancy of the peoples of The 5 Kingdoms increased to a phenomenal degree.
Rarely did anyone mention one of the kingdoms as a separate entity even in passing. They were legally separate kingdoms but their trade agreements had lasted for so long and their cultures and traditions had merged so much that they seemed more like regional variations of a single, vast country than separate kingdoms and although there was certainly no law against trading with anyone else, there was little incentive to do so.
Strangers were welcome in any of the kingdoms. Many times such strangers were destitute in the beginning but had come to make valuable contributions. Many of them had risen to become highly regarded and influential. Who knew if the next stranger wouldn’t create the next great thing?
So all was well in The 5 Kingdoms for many generations. Then one day a money counter appeared in the first kingdom. He was obviously poor and had traveled a great distance. No doubt, thought the people of the first kingdom, he sought the prosperity of The 5 Kingdoms. However all the money counter could see was the vast wealth in the forests and the farms of the first kingdom. He imagined they were all his or controlled by him and everyone in the kingdom worked for him but he kept his imaginings secret. He said nothing to the people of the first kingdom.
As was their custom, the people of the first kingdom put him up in one of the apartments they had set aside for indigents. He was provided food and means to wash and press his meager clothes. He was left alone to tend to his needs and get his bearings.
Soon he was hard at work in his trade, keeping track of the coming and going of money. He had a practiced way of looking at money and his suggestions invariably increased profits. The businesses of those he worked for grew even richer. He started his own company and hired employees to satisfy demand.
The people of the first kingdom didn’t know why he had failed where he came from. He was certainly wise in the ways of business. Nor did they understand why he had shown up in their kingdom alone, with no family or tokens or anything reminiscent of any ties. But they were glad that he had come. They assumed that he would talk when he was ready. At any rate, they were certain that a person’s actions would be consistent with his thinking, whether voiced or unvoiced, so they didn’t press.
In the meanwhile, they were focused on making more money. The promise of riches often produces a kind of mania. That mania was taking hold of the people of the first kingdom. It was so slow and they were so distracted by their mounting frenzy that they failed to notice what was happening to them. Instead, they set their sights on the money they imagined before them. Soon that was all that they could see.
The money counter was in high demand as excitement spread. He became very rich but that didn’t satisfy him. There were others who had more money than he had. He had to be the best. He had no family or friends to share his money with and he didn’t trust new people. He was sure they wanted nothing more than to separate him from his money so it was hard for him to make new friends.
Rather than feeling out the hard things to understand them so he could heal them and make them easy, the money counter followed his training and avoided the hard things. In a way, the money counter was a victim. He was trying to be true to his training but that didn’t remove his personal responsibility for what he did or towards other people.
Not surprisingly, it didn’t help him make friends. In fact, avoidance made it harder to make friends. However, he was unaware of all of this. Without awareness of what he was doing, he pursued the only thing left to him. He pursued money with a single-mindedness that was inhuman.
In a short time, he became the most successful money counter in the whole kingdom yet that wasn’t enough. One day, he announced to his employees that he was going on a trip. He would go to the second kingdom to begin operations there. Surely the people of the second kingdom would appreciate him and his keen insight and counting abilities just as the people of the first kingdom had.
So he set off for the second kingdom. But this time he did not travel on foot wearing threadbare clothes. This time he rode in a fabulous carriage and wore expensive, new clothes. He made arrangements for his living space and counting house ahead of time, so they were waiting for him when he arrived.
His reputation preceded him. As soon as he opened for business, he had as much business as he wanted. Soon everyone in the whole kingdom employed him. He did the same with each of the other kingdoms.
After he became well known throughout all of The 5 Kingdoms, he settled back and looked at the figures from his business. He wasn’t the richest person yet but he was gaining. His growth was faster than anyone else’s. Still he wasn’t satisfied. He didn’t feel secure.
There were people in The 5 Kingdoms, thought the money counter to himself, who were so powerful that they could have him arrested and exiled. He remembered what had happened in the country of his birth. He was determined to not let that happen to him again. He imagined that the powerful people could have him thrown into a deep, dark dungeon to rot, cut off and forgotten. Never mind that such places didn’t exist in The 5 Kingdoms. His imagination was ruled by fear.
Fear demanded that he act. Fear demanded that in addition to being the richest person in all the land, he should be the most powerful person in all the land so he wouldn’t be thrown into the dungeon of his imagination. He would have to act cunningly and slowly at first, but after events gained their own momentum, he would be able sit back and relax and watch things unfold.
He waited patiently and continued to pretend to be everyone’s faithful friend while secretly working to undermine them. He used his position as money counter to all the businesses in The 5 Kingdoms to casually say things or whisper things to certain individuals in each of the kingdoms. He made suggestions that sounded wise but always caused business owners to question the motives of anyone from any of the other kingdoms. He raised questions about their reasons for doing things.
Later, when he was somewhat bolder, he suggested that they needed to protect themselves. Who knew, he would whisper, what hidden plans there might be to steal someone’s wealth? He planted seeds of doubt and suspicion all over The 5 Kingdoms. Slowly doubt and suspicion became normal. Contracts became long and laboriously exacting. Safeguards were built into every transaction. If someone began with an attitude of trust, that person was considered a fool and people tried to take advantage of him by presenting one face while secretly honoring another.
By the time that the first price increase was charged for exporting something to another kingdom, the pressure between kingdoms was nearly unbearable. That first increase led to a firestorm of reprisals as increase followed increase. No one trusted anyone else, especially those from another kingdom. Generations of successful trading were forgotten in the frenzy of suspicion and distrust.
The only thing that anyone seemed to be aware of was his own money. Each would-be trader imagined his own little treasure increasing beyond measure and a horde of jackals waiting to steal it from him. The money counter had successfully changed people’s expectations without revealing the truth so the norm was defined by suspicion. This created an opening for the money counter.
The only person whom everyone would accept was the money counter. His company was already present in all the kingdoms and he wasn’t from any of the kingdoms. He had originally come from a foreign land, they reasoned, so they sought him out. They begged him to oversee their deals and to make sure they were fair.
Putting on a big show, he feigned reluctance but he secretly celebrated. He agreed but he said that his staff was already overburdened. He would have to hire more staff, which would require more funds. He would also need to expand his staff further as the number of trades increased. So in addition to the startup funds, he required a portion of every trade that passed between the kingdoms. The former trading partners were desperate and didn’t know what else to do. The money counter’s demands seemed reasonable, if somewhat stiff, so they gave him what he asked for.
The money counter set up his main headquarters near the location of his first company in the first kingdom but he had offices in every kingdom to oversee transactions. His various offices were lavish and extravagant but that was only fitting, so the people told themselves, for someone overseeing every transaction between any of the 5 Kingdoms.
Fewer saw his personal apartments. These were more lavish even than his offices. They rivaled even those of the various Kings of The 5 Kingdoms. Yet still, the money counter was not satisfied.
He looked about him and saw that he was the richest man in The 5 Kingdoms. No one had more money than he had. He was also extremely powerful, perhaps more powerful than the Kings themselves, since he controlled the trade between kingdoms.
Best of all, certainly most ironic, he had done it through their respect and love for him! He had managed to get them to hate and fear each other while their love for him grew! It was as if they had traded one for the other and made him rich and famous while impoverishing themselves at the same time! He licked his lips and smiled. The pretty picture he presented to the world hinted at none of the thoughts he carried within. He would use their distrust of one another to even further separate the kingdoms and boost their love of him.
He took a moment to ponder the age-old philosophical question. Was it better to be loved or feared? Which was safer, he asked himself.
He couldn’t see that he had already chosen fear. He could only see his actions. He failed to notice his own thoughts or expectations or how his choices shaped them. He failed to see that the actions he took were in turn shaped by his expectations so his actions were ultimately shaped by his choices.
He was acting in accordance with fear but he didn’t see that those actions only seemed reasonable from within a context of separation – a context that he had chosen to begin with. He was already driving people apart and thus honoring the illusion of separation. Thus it should be no surprise that the money counter decided it was better to be feared but only after he thought himself safe.
In this way, he was no different from anyone who chooses fear and separation in any form. He was basically a coward. He “reasoned” that once he had isolated everyone to the point that they had no choice but to live within the system that he created, he would be absolute ruler, imperiously doling out things that no one else could even question because he had crushed all opposition with his strength.
Once they were all in his system and had given up hope of living any other way, then he could let drop his mask and reveal his true face. He could let go of all pretenses to love and acceptance and let fear show itself.
He would be the most feared person in The 5 Kingdoms. He would be terrible and wrathful most of the time and kind and merciful when it pleased him. He would be unpredictable and that would just make people fear him more. He would be free, he told himself. It would be wonderful.
He sat there, imagining his power and freedom for a few minutes and then pulled himself out of his reverie. Perhaps, he told himself, it would be wonderful but he wasn’t there yet.
He continued to sow seeds of distrust and suspicion throughout the kingdoms while continuing to pretend to be everyone’s friend. He continued to oversee the trades that passed between kingdoms while collecting a growing percentage of each transaction. He watched while relations between the kingdoms continued to fray and tensions continued to mount.
When the fifth kingdom erected a fence all around its border and checkpoints on highways to neighboring kingdoms, the money counter was surprised and delighted. Soon all of the borders were patrolled and fortified. The money counter knew that increased threats of violence gave him a built-in excuse to charge even higher fees and he did.
As misunderstandings grew into conflicts and conflicts became fights, the checkpoints and their surroundings grew more and more desolate. The money counter quietly supported installing higher and stronger walls. He quietly encouraged each kingdom to separate itself more and more from the other kingdoms.
The people of the kingdoms were suffering. The things that they needed, which had once been plentiful and easy to find had become scarce and expensive. As trade became more restricted, fewer and fewer goods were sold. At first, people banded together and distributed the reduction in income across everyone. They all shared the burden. But instead of passing, as such troubles had always done in the past, the reductions kept mounting. Eventually, they became so severe that many people lost their livelihoods altogether.
Many necessities were beyond the means that most people had remaining. They grew desperate. They began to organize, agitate, or steal – anything to stay alive. Marshal law was imposed in the various kingdoms. Conscription followed after that and border patrols and fences came soon after that.
Conscription into the armed forces was a welcome change for most because it meant that they could at least eat and send their wages home but the royal stocks, on which most people now depended, were limited. They were vast but they would run out eventually.
In addition, royal treasuries were tapped to pay wages to the vastly increased army and to subsidize the high fees that were charged for the trades that still went through to keep things running. The 5 Kings didn’t realize it, perhaps the money counter himself didn’t realize it, but the vast stores of food and treasure were being used to enrich the money counter. The money counter was benefiting and everyone else, including the Kings, were being hurt.
But the Kings realized none of this at the time. All they were aware of was their alarmingly rapidly dwindling stores, their swollen armies (swollen with people who would soon become desperate again once their conscription ended), and the apparent inevitable war. None of them wanted to go to war but none of them could think of any alternative plan. It seemed that the walls between the kingdoms were higher and the trades that passed between them were fewer every day. The people grew more and more desperate. War seemed unavoidable.
Then, just as he was about to proclaim war, the King of the fifth kingdom heard of a little market that had just sprung up in one of his towns. Intrigued by what he heard, he went to see it.
He traveled for a day and a night and finally came to a little village on the edge of his realm. It sat near the border his kingdom shared with the first kingdom. Being honest folk, the people of the village told the King the truth about their market even though they were afraid. They were technically breaching the border between kingdoms although they hadn’t directly broken any laws. The fence and then the wall had been erected to protect the people of the fifth kingdom from the people of the first kingdom. It wasn’t thought that any laws were needed.
But people from the villages on either side of the border had interacted and traded freely with each other for generations. Many had family members who had crossed over from or gone to the other side, before the fence had been built. Apparently they had found a way to continue trade under the notice of the money counter and the border patrol.
They had constructed a trebuchet and with it, they could shoot things high over the border to the other side. The King looked at the trebuchet and admired its craftsmanship. After they’d launched the plans for the trebuchet to the other side and established that it was possible to have two-way communication and material transfer, all that remained was negotiation on what to send, how much to send, and its price. Of course since no money changed hands, prices were based on exchange. But since each side needed what the other had in abundance, exchange was easy.
Furthermore, since no money was involved, there was no need for a money counter. People on both sides benefited and this benefited their neighbors and their respective Kings. Both kingdoms benefited. The people didn’t even notice the lack of a money counter.
The King went back to his castle in a daze. It seemed that even in a situation in which all trade is strictly limited and controlled to enrich one person or a small group at the whole community’s expense, a way to trade freely will be found. Being wise and well-schooled, the King saw that this implied that love and connection are more powerful than separation and control – that openness and honesty are more powerful than secrecy and lies. Of course, the King realized, they would be. Why else would secrets be held? Why else would something pretend to be something else? He pondered this all the way back to the capital.
Once he returned, he immediately called for a conference with the other Kings. While he waited he noticed that news of that first market had spread like wildfire all across his entire kingdom. Soon, similar markets had appeared in towns along every border that his kingdom shared with another kingdom.
When the Kings were all together, he recounted his experience and what he’d learned. He wasn’t too surprised to learn that the markets had spread across all five kingdoms. They now connected The 5 Kingdoms together. There were now two exchanges. One was an official exchange, overseen by the money counter, and the other had been invented by and was managed by the people.
The significance of the markets was not lost on the Kings. They agreed to immediately open the checkpoints between their lands to allow for free trade among the people, in accordance with their original agreements. They also tasked their armies to dismantle and destroy the border fences and walls before the conscriptees were released back to their families.
Finally, they issued a joint decree, calling for the money counter to cease all operations and for him to be arrested and all of his records seized and all of his assets frozen.
It took many years for all of the money counter’s records to be found, organized, and read. It also took many years to find the money counter, himself. This was because once he realized the soldiers were coming to arrest him, he fled. Having kept his plans secret and working to separate individuals from each other just to increase profit or to feel more powerful, when he realized that he had been discovered, he fled. This does not mean that fleeing proves guilt but in the money counter’s case, since he couldn’t hide his secret any longer, he tried to hide himself.
Over the years, he tried to remain hidden while moving to escape The 5 Kingdoms and take his hidden stash of gold with him. This is what undid him in the end. Someone saw him and reported it. He was arrested and brought before a special panel of judges from each of the kingdoms and a jury composed of citizens from each of the five kingdoms.
He was found guilty and stripped of all of his money, which he coveted so highly. He was removed from The 5 Kingdoms and exiled. He was sentenced to remove himself from that place for three times as long as he had been there. At the end of his exile, he could return if he wished, provided that his activities from that moment onward were motivated out of genuine concern for the betterment of everyone and not just himself as measured against other people.
© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.
”The 5 Kingdoms” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.