A KING made a law, by which whosoever was suddenly to be put to death, in the morning, before sunrise should be saluted with songs and trumpets; and, arrayed in black garments, should receive judgment. This king made a great feast; and convoked all the nobles of his kingdom, who appeared accordingly. The most skilful musicians were assembled, and there was much sweet melody.
But the king was discontented and out of humour; his countenance expressed intense sorrow, and sighs and groans rose from his heart. The courtiers were all amazed; but none dared ask the cause of his sadness. At last, the king's brother whispered to him the surprise of his guests, and intreated that he might understand the cause of his grief. "Go home now," answered the king; "to-morrow you shall know." This was done.
Early in the morning the king caused the trumpets to sound before his brother's house, and the guards to bring him to the court. The brother, greatly alarmed at the sounding of the trumpets, arose, and put on black. When he came before the king, the king commanded a deep pit to be dug, and a rotten chair, with four decayed feet, to be slightly suspended over it. In this chair he made his brother sit; above his head he caused a sword to hang, attached to one silk thread; and four men, each armed with a very sharp sword, to stand near him, one before and one behind; a third on the right hand, and the fourth on the left. When they were thus placed, the king said, "The moment I give the word, strike him to the heart."
Trumpets, and all other kind of musical instruments, were brought; and a table, covered with various dishes, was set before him. "My dear brother," said the king, "what is the cause of your sorrow? Here are the greatest delicacies, the most enrapturing harmony; why do you not rejoice?"
"How can I rejoice?" answered he. "In the morning, trumpets sounded for my death; and I am now placed upon a frail chair, in which, if I move ever so little, I shall probably be thrown upon the pointed sword beneath. If I raise my head, the weapon above will pierce to my brain. Besides this, the four torturers around stand ready to kill me at your bidding. These things considered, were I lord of the universe I could not rejoice."
"Now, then," answered the king, "I will reply to your question of yesterday. I am, on my throne, as you on that frail chair. For my body is its emblem, supported by four decayed feet, that is, by the four elements. The pit below me is hell. Above my head is the sword of divine justice, ready to take life from my body. Before me is the sword of death; behind, the sword of sin, ready to accuse me at the tribunal of God. The weapon on the right hand is the devil; and that on the left, is the worms which after death shall gnaw my body. And, considering all these circumstances, how can I rejoice? If you to-day feared me, who am mortal, how much more ought I to dread my Creator and my Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ? Go, dearest brother, and be careful that you do not again ask such questions."
The brother rose from his unpleasant seat, and rendering thanks to the king for the lesson he had given him, firmly resolved to amend his life. All who were present commended the ingenuity of the royal reproof.