The Great World Multi-Library

A King commissioned a monument to his rule: a library of all the knowledge of the world. His masons build a huge building. His scholars and merchants returned from the far corners of the earth with load after load of books and scrolls and fragments of tablets.
After a generation the library was opened in a glorious ceremony. The King proudly walked among miles of bookshelves. The royal procession made stately progress down one aisle after another.

The King completed the first half of the royal tour. He stopped. He seemed to hesitate. He looked around, then praised and thanked all who had worked so hard for so long. Some exchanged worried glances: the King seemed ill, his speech was short and lacked his customary eloquence. Their worry turned to alarm when the King then turned away and walked to the palace.

In the privacy of his chambers, the King felt his sadness turn to overwhelming despair: I will die before I taste even three drops of this ocean.

His doctor intervenes: "Sire, what is pressing on thy heart?"

"Ay! the library of the world is so vast! My time so short!"

The doctor consults the Chief Counselor. He calls the scholars. They decide to create an abridgment: a series of tomes organized with the best taxonomies the philosophers can devise, to encompass all knowledge.

The Counselor's commission labored for five years and returned with twelve, just twelve, books. The books were massive: The first encyclopedia!

But the doctor reports the Kings health has worsened: if shown even this amount of text he will surely die of shame!

So the scholars labor again: racing against time, to select, condense, edit. After a year they have a slim volume of ninety five pages.

The Counselor says: "Quality work! First class!1 But still too long! You must hurry and reduce again: your limit is nine pages."

Working round the clock, in a month they produce the chapter.
But no, the king is fading fast: the doctor will not allow but one page.

They consult through the night: exhausted, disheveled, they bring the required page: each scholar lamenting the loss of a cherished piece of his own domain of expertise.

The counselor greets them in the hallway to the royal bedchamber: it now contains the death-bed. The king is awake, but weak. "What wonderful work!" he says, "Fit for our beloved king! But still, too many words! Half must go!"

The scholars huddle in the ante-chamber: they are amazed at the ease of agreement: they are confident in this new, single paragraph. Only one third of the page is covered. The king's son, who will be, any moment, the new king, receives it solemnly from the scholars.

As the son enters the chamber of his dying father the doctor holds up his index finger: one. Whatever multiplicity of truths contained in the books of all the world, the son must choose but one word to whisper to the king, one word to carry with him on his flight away to the next world. The son reads the paragraph. A word draws his eye. He resolutely turns to his duty.

The son, with the Chief Counselor, approachs the king. The son leans over the king, his father, and whispers a just one word. The king nods. His eyes fill with love and joy. He reaches out with one hand. He sighs, and breaths his last.

In the days that follow; of coronation, of the funeral, of the taking into hands the affairs of the realm, no one asks the new king: What word did you choose to whisper to the old man? What word, among all the words in the world, is the one that stood for all knowledge?

Most have forgotten the once burning question. A few are consumed by their curiosity, but can not bring themselves to impose upon the king, nor find the way to ask.

Finally, one night, after the end of the mourning period, after the office work of the new king has been tamed and confined to office hours, the new queen asks her royal husband: What is the word, the one word you whispered into your fathers ear?

"'Perhaps'", the King says, "The one word I whispered in father's ear was 'perhaps'".

The New Queen … (rest of story missing)


Dear reader,

The Counselor to the newest King requests your valuable assistence:

In all our copies of this story, there is another paragraph, missing in some, illegible in others. It seems to be two lines. Only the initial three words have been so far deciphered: 'The New Queen …'

We are hopeful that if we compile the offerings of the subjects of the realm, the lost paragraph can be renewed.

Please send the rest of the final paragraph that speaks the truth, your truth to missing paragraph, at the Counselor's office, in the Red Palace

(c) Larry Kenneth Gates, 2010

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