IN THE history of Spain, King Pedro I. of Castile, son of Alfonso XI. the Just, is known by the surname of the Cruel.
And his fame as a heartless man was such that his subjects, on whom he satisfied his terrible thirst for blood and violence, held him in great terror.
One day while hunting, of which sport he was very fond, King Pedro lost his way in the wood, and came to rest himself—the night being well advanced—in an hospitable convent, where without being known he was offered food, bed, and shelter.
Hardly returning thanks, he passed into the refectory, and on entering was recognised by a lay brother, who knew that the king suffered from a certain illness called synovitis, the principal effect of which was that the malady produced, when he was walking, a strange sound of bones knocking together.
By this noise he was recognised by the lay brother.
Instantly informing the community, due homage was hastily rendered to the monarch; but King Pedro was in a bad temper, and facing one of the reverend fathers, said to him in a disconcerting tone:
"How fat you are, Father Prior! Study makes no hollows in you, from which I gather that you cannot be so wise as the people hereabout say."
The community was so taken aback, that no one dared to say a word to that monster of a king.
"Well, if you wish to please me," he continued, "I summon you to come to my palace within ten days, and to answer satisfactorily the following questions: First, what is the distance between the earth and the sun? Second, how much am I worth? And third, what do I believe which is false? If you do not answer me to my taste I will have you beheaded at once."
And saying this, he went away.
Needless to say the poor friar was frightened, for he knew only too well that King Pedro was quite capable of doing what he threatened.
And he devoted himself to thinking day and night about the questions, without hitting upon any answers.
At the time when King Pedro reigned the distance between the planets had not been discovered, so there were many discussions between the brethren over the questions of the king. They were still disputing when the day arrived on which the prior was summoned to the palace. And even yet he did not know what to answer. In his distress he invoked the Holy Virgin, certain that She would not refuse to help him.
After which he was about to set out for Seville when one of the lay brothers, a sharp and daring lad, said to him:
"Father Prior, your reverence and I are about the same height, and even look somewhat alike. Why not let me go in your place, father, and answer the king?"
On seeing him so resolved he did not doubt for a moment that the lay brother had been inspired by God to save him, and after hearing him, allowed him to go to Seville.
At the moment in which he arrived at the palace and announced himself, the king gave orders for him to be allowed to enter.
"Have you thought out the answers to the questions that I asked you?" asked King Pedro.
"Well, begin then. What is the distance between the earth and the sun?"
"Eight hundred and forty-seven thousand leagues. Not one more, nor one less. And if your majesty does not believe me, have it measured."
As this was impossible, the king was obliged to say that he was satisfied.
"Not bad," he said. "Now the second: How much am I worth?"
"Twenty-nine pieces of silver."
"And why twenty-nine pieces?"
"Because your majesty is not worth so much as our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and He was sold for thirty."
"And what do I think which is not true?" exclaimed King Pedro, somewhat piqued.
"Well, your majesty thinks that I am the prior, and I am not."
The king was surprised at the ingenuity of the lay brother and pardoned the substitution, and heaped both with favours.
This proves that the fiercest men are overcome and appeased by the forces of ingenuity.