Silver Dishes

by

Hal Manwaring

Once, a long, long time ago, in the land of the Setting Sun, there lived a good King in a beautiful castle. This beautiful castle was built with pure gold and precious stones. Diamonds were flashing from the walls, rubies and pearls were glittering and sparkling in the moonlight, and the path, leading from the massive front door to the gate, was bordered on either side with gorgeous Flowers and was paved with crushed amethysts and zircons. There were many rooms in the castle, each one more wonderful than the others. The good King lived there in peace and quiet, very happy in his lovely surroundings.

But there was one thing the good king did not like and that was that no matter how well he treated his set of silver dishes, they insisted on playing mean tricks on him while he was eating from them. Sometimes he almost lost patience with them and felt like having them thrown into the deep well of dark blue ink, yet he could never quite bring himself to do this, as he was a kindly man and always decided to give them another chance.

The silver dishes themselves, realized that they had gone almost too far with their pranks, and one time at midnight, after the butterflys had been put to bed and the goldfish were asleep, the silver teapot spoke to the cream pitcher.

"Are you awake, Little Trickle?" he asked softly.

"Yes, very much so. I just can't sleep tonight for thinking of all the mean things I have done to the good king. Sometimes I feel so ashamed I could almost turn sour." Something almost like a sob broke from her throat as she spoke.

The tea pot chuckled, "Are you by any chance thinking of dinner last night when you actually soured the cream and when the good King poured some in his cocoa it spoiled his drink?"

Little Trickle couldn't help smiling. "You weren't at the table last night, and rumors are not to be trusted, you know. Actually, I caused the cream to miss the cup and pour all over the priceless table cloth." Little Trickle laughed. "I can't help laughing, it was so funny. The cup entered into the spirit of things and when the good King lifted it to his lips it tilted sideways and the cocoa ran down the king's beard and onto his vest."

The teapot uttered an exclamation of disgust. "Well, you certainly should be ashamed of yourself. Fun is fun, but that's going too far."

"Well, you're no angel yourself," sullenly replied the cream pitcher, "I suppose you've quite forgotten the time you refused to let the hot tea cool, and when the king drank it his lips were scalded7"

The tea pot squirmed, "That was the tea leaves idea, I was sorry as soon as it happened."

"Perhaps THAT time was, but do you remember the time it was YOUR idea to hold the steam inside yourself, have the tea leaves clog up the spout, and when the good King leaned over and lifted the lid to see what was the matter, you spouted hot steam in his face, taking all the curl out of his royal beard." The cream pitcher took a deep breath "And do you remember..."

"Please don't go on," begged the tea pot, his face red with shame," I've decided to reform. From now on Im not going to be mean to the King any more."

"I guess you're right," replied the cream pitcher, "when I think of some of the things the plates and saucers did..."

"Look whose talking about me," a gruff voice spoke up from the sideboard across the room, "I heard what you said and I want to tell you here and now, that I personally, have never played a trick that Id be ashamed to tell about."

"Oh is that so? Is that a fact?" Chimed in a small butter knife from the depths of the silverware drawer, "How about the time you bribed me to stab the King's lips while he was eating peas?"

"The King had to be taught a lesson in table manners," replied the plate, "he should know better than to try to eat peas with a butter knife."

"That's what you say," sneered a fork, "you always have a fine sounding reason for every thing you do, but I know why you did it! You wanted to put more work on me. You know that the King is a timid man and that after hurting himself once, he would never trust a knife again, so now he uses me on practically everything he eats -- and I'm so tired I can hardly sleep nights."

"Well, all I can say -- "began the knife....

"Hush!" hissed the plate, I hear someone coming."

Instantly all was quiet in the kitchen. The good King entered dressed in his long blue nightgown with the gold stars embroidered along the hem, and wearing his favorite yellow nightcap on his head. For a moment he stood listening, but hearing no sound except the faint breathing of the cups and saucers, turned and started back toward the door. Before he reached it, however, a small butter dish who was young and had not yet learned patience and discretion, broke into a tinkle of laughter and cried gleefully, "I guess we fooled the old boy again this time..." and then broke off with a frightened gasp as the good King whirled fiercely toward them.

"Ah, base villans," he cried, more in sorrow than anger, "at last I've caught you in your plots and shameful deeds" He paused a minute and then said, "I was told by Snug Dug, my Wise Man, that if I listened outside the door at midnight on a Wednesday, holding my left thumb in my right hand and repeating the enchanted words, "Aga Fu Aga" three times, that I would be able to hear and understand your conversation and learn what plots you were hatching up against your king." He was silent a moment, very close to tears, then continued sternly, "I have finally learned what traitors you are, so I am going to deport you - every one of you."

At these words a wail of sorrow arose from the silver dishes, knives and forks, spoons and finger bowls, pots and pans, cups and saucers, and the butter dish. Only the tea pot and cream pitcher, being older than the rest and therefore having more self control, said nothing. But the expression on their faces showed how sad they were at the Kings words.

"Please, noble King, spare us this dismal fate," cried a soup tureen with tears streaming down his face, "I promise that as far as it is in my powers I will never again spill hot soup over guests - only don't send us away." He sobbed brokenly, "I mean what I say. I promise."

"And I will never again, never-never..."

The King silenced the salad bowl with a curt gesture. He was much moved by the tears and sobs of these old friends of his, but he had a duty to do, for as he had stated that they would be deported, why then, deported they would be - for the royal word of a King is as good as his royal bond.

However, before anything more could be said, the loud, clear, sharp notes of a trumpet was heard. The King cocked his head to one side and listened attentively for a few seconds and then turned and hurried toward the door, speaking over his shoulder as he went. "This is evidently a messenger come in great haste. I must go see what news he brings at this hour of the night."

Saying this he left the kitchen and went directly to his royal bedroom. Hardly had he reached it when a knock sounded on the door, and opening it the king beheld a royal page boy, dressed in a suit of green leaves sewn together with goldenrod fibres. The page bowed low before the king and said, "0, most Noble King, a messenger is here with news of sad import."

"Inform him that I will see him presently." The King spoke with dignity even though he realized that he was clad only in his night clothes. "You may go." he finished graciously.

It took the king only a few moments to dress, and putting an his crown of wrought gold and platinum set with dazzling jewels of great price, he descended the stairs and entered the royal council chambers. Despite the lateness of the hour almost all the noble men and ladies of the court were there. They bowed low as the king ascended the steps to his throne.

He beckoned the weary and travel stained messenger forward and said kindly, "What is your message, my lad."

"Most gracious Sire, I have here a declaration of war from the King of the Rising Sun. He demands the hand of your beautiful daughter in marriage and ten thousand pieces of gold and seven bushels of precious stones. Otherwise he will send his dragons and TAKE all these things which he has demanded -- and in addition will cut off your head and those of your wise men."

At this there was a great deal of crying and consternation among the noble men and ladies of the court, but especially among the Wise Men who immediately entreated the King to do as the wicked King of the Rising Sun demanded. The King was a timid man, and as much as he loved his daughter, he felt that it might be better to do as the Wise Men suggested rather than lose his head, which he valued highly.

He was just about to agree to the ultimatum of the wicked King, when he was struck with a brilliant idea. The idea was so bright that it outshone the sparkling jewels in his crown, and even the bright hair of the noble ladies which was tied with pieces of rainbow captured during the last rain storm.

"Messenger, go back to your King and tell him that I must have time to decide my policy before giving him a definite answer. Take with you, however, a gift to placate him. Inform him that it is my most valued possession and that I am sure he will be delighted. Now go!" Saying this the good King left the room and sped as fast as he could go to the kitchen.

"Teapot!" he called as soon as he had closed the door. "Teapot and all of you -- listen to your King. You and your comrades now have an opportunity to redeem yourselves in my eyes, and receive the grateful thanks of my entire kingdom. You must do exactly as I bid you. Succeed in this undertaking and I will not only forgive your past misdeeds, but will retire you from active duty and give you a generous pension for life."

"Tell us what to do, O King." All the silver dishes, pots and pans, knives, forks, and spoons, sugar bowl and the butter dish and every single one there on the kitchen shelves cried. "We will do anything you say -- only let us stay with you."

"Very well," exclaimed the king, well pleased, "I am going to send you on a journey and if you do as I tell you to do, all of you will soon be back here with me and receive the rewards promised." I will give sealed orders to you, Teapot, to be opened by you when your destination is reached. It is of the utmost importance that this mission be kept a strict secret. A false move - a wrong word - and all is lost, including my head." Putting his fingers to his lips he left the kitchen.

He made his way quickly down to the royal carpenter shop and ordered a suitable case to be made to hold all the silver dishes, pots and pans, knives and forks, cream pitcher, tea pot, butter dish, mustard jar and all the other kitchen utensils -- and when this was done, to take it to the messenger.

In the meantime he went to his royal writing desk and wrote the instructions he wanted followed and, sealed it with a big splash of red wax. Taking this back to the kitchen he handed it to the teapot and whispered in his ear, "let yourselves go as you have never done before."

This surprised the teapot but he was philosophical and he felt that all would be explained when he read the sealed orders which he hugged close to his chest.

It was early dawn when the messenger started his return trip to the land of the Rising Sun, carrying the chest of dishes strapped securely on a three humped camel which the good King provided. In due time he reached there, having had very few adventures other than slaying a double headed dragon and an ugly witch. He gave the message to the wicked King and then had the case opened, presenting him with the set of beautiful silver dishes.

These are the finest dishes I have ever seen in all my life, "he exclaimed, "Guard!" he roared, "Throw all my other dishes into the river of slims, for I swear by my ancestors that not another bite of food, nor drop of drink will I ever take except from these beautiful plates, cups, saucers, knives, forks and spoons."

The guard hastened to obey for not to do so would have meant the loss of his head.

That afternoon the teapot read the sealed letter of instructions from the good king and as he did so a chuckle escaped his lips. Finally he broke into such loud laughter that all the rest of the dishes wanted to know what was so funny.

"Listen!" cried the teapot gleefully, I'11 read you our instructions." He did so and when he had finished the room fairly shook with the laughter of all the dishes.

"You can just bet we will do what the good King orders us to do. That isn't work - it's fun." And all joined hands and danced merrily around the room.

That night the wicked King gave a huge banquet for all his noble men and ladies, to celebrate with the gift from the good king of the Setting Sun land. The table was set with all the silver dishes, and all the guests were anxious to eat from them. At a signal from the King the waiters began serving the food.

But something seemed to be wrong. As the soup was served the tureen spilled hot soup down the front of the wicked King, and dropped some on the lap of the Queen who screamed with pain and annoyance. She turned angrily in her chair and blamed the King, and he in turn blamed the waiter and ordered him beheaded.

He then called for the next course. But this did not work out so well either. Nothing really happened except that the frying pan scorched the fish so badly that none of the guests could eat it. It was a mess and a total loss, and now the wicked King was in a terrible rage and ordered the cook to be beheaded.

Then, as the King lifted some salad to his mouth, the tines of the fork stabbed his lips and he howled in agony, but having guests he had to go on with the dinner - but everything went wrong. The knives cut the fingers of the guests and the forks stabbed them. The heavy plates and cups dropped on their hands and bounced off their toes. The teapot scalded them, the cream had soured and the sugar had changed places with the salt, and the mustard was in the butter dish.

Everything was a complete disaster. The King was shouting, the Queen was screaming - the noble men and ladies at the table were hungry, and as each new course was served, and something went wrong, the King ordered someone beheaded. This frightened all the servants so much that they decided it would be far better for them to run away than to stay and risk the wicked Kings displeasure. So they all ran swiftly away and were never heard of again. And all the guests - believing the silver dishes to be bewitched - bowed low before the King and Queen and fled to their homes as fast as they could go.

As for the wicked King, having made a vow never to eat or drink again except from the silver dishes, slowly starved to death, because the dishes, following the sealed orders from the good King, were up to their pranks again, and the wicked King could not get a single bite to eat from the plates, cups and saucers, knives, forks and spoons.

As soon as the wicked King had died, the teapot sent a steam signal and messengers on horseback galloped from the land of the Setting Sun and carried all the silver dishes back to the good King.

There was great rejoicing in the beautiful castle. The dishes made a compete report of their activities and many times the King had to hide a smile behind his hand.

"You have done well, my dear old friends," he said, "not only have you saved my daughter from the clutches of that wicked King, but you also saved me ten thousand pieces of gold and seven bushels of Jewels - and my head." He smiled at them," And now, as I promised, you are retired from active duty. But I do hope that all of you will have dinner with me now and then - not as servants - but as guests."

"We will, we will," cried the silver dishes joyfully. And they did, many times in the years that followed. And everyone lived happily in the beautiful castle, in the land of the Setting Sun - the good King and Queen, their beautiful daughter, the noble men and ladies, and all the silver dishes, knives, forks, spoons, cups, saucers, butter dish and mustard pot. THE END