Once upon a time there was a worm.
He wasn’t just any worm. He was the King of the Worms. All the worms in the kingdom : the earthworms and the tapeworms, the roundworms and the pinworms, the hookworms and the liver flukes; he was the king of them all.
How is it that he was the king of the worms? How did he achieve this status?
Simple. The kingdom had a king. He was a very conceited king. He was such a conceited king that he decreed that anything and everything he owned was royal, and was above and better than all the rest in the realm.
This king owned a belly – a very capacious belly – and the worm made his home inside that belly. Therefore the king, even though he didn’t know it, owned the worm. Therefore the worm was a royal worm. Therefore he was king of all the worms.
Quite modestly, because he was a modest worm, he named himself Wormperor I. And every day he promenaded up and down the royal intestines, and held court at the royal stomach, and felt very proud of himself.
Now it so happened that the king, and the sultan of the kingdom next door, had a rivalry. This rivalry had been going on between their dynasties for centuries, and had involved many wars, assassination attempts, and other such unsavoury things. But that was in the bad old days. The current king and sultan both disliked wars and assassinations.
This was because wars and assassinations tended to spill blood. And both of them fainted at the sight of blood. But the rivalry must go on. The honour of their ancestors demanded it!
It so happened that the king had a crown, as kings will; and this crown had, inset in it, a diamond as big as a pigeon’s egg and as clear as ice. And the sultan, who knew of this diamond, coveted it desperately.
And the sultan had a turban, as sultans will; and inset in this turban was a ruby the size of a hen’s egg, and as red as the rising sun. And the king, who knew of this ruby, coveted it desperately.
And both monarchs had sprawling gardens around their respective palaces, which were neglected and straggling, because neither of them had the slightest interest in horticulture at all, or, to be frank, in any kind of culture except that involved in the cultivation and fermentation of grapes.
One day a wandering sage travelling through the country came to the king’s court, asking for alms; and, well satisfied, he then went on to the sultan’s palace, where he, again, got more than he asked for. And after listening to both monarchs, he gave them both the same advice.
“Have a gardening competition,” he said. “The one whose garden is better, three months from now, wins the other’s jewel.”
“But who is to be the judge?” both monarchs asked.
“Why,” the mendicant replied, “if you permit, I will be.”
And of course both the sultan and the king immediately agreed. Now, you should never, ever, make your decisions on the advice of some random wandering beggar, even if you are a sultan or a king.
But the sultan and the king did not know this. So they hired the best gardeners in all the surrounding country, paying them the highest possible salaries, and bought the best manures and mulches and seeds that were to be had. And to pay for all this, they emptied their treasuries, and when the treasuries were empty, they went to their subjects and demanded more taxes to uphold the honour and glory of the nation.
The people of both kingdoms immediately paid all the money they had. They paid all the money they had because if they did not, they would have their heads cut off, and they did not want to see their blood spilling everywhere any more than the king or the sultan did.
So the gardeners got to work, from the first light of dawn to the fall of night; and both gardens stopped being straggly and unkempt, and began to look quite decent. And both monarchs, looking upon their respective gardens, had the identical thought.
“I wonder what that #@%&’s garden is like,” he thought. You should know that #@%& means ^$~*. Of course, this was a very naughty term to use, and you should never say #@%&, or ^$~*. Not even if you’re a sultan, or a king. But “I wonder what that #@%&’s garden is like,” the sultan and the king thought, and promptly sent out spies, to check on each other’s gardens. The spies reported back, and both monarchs were thrown into the deepest disquiet.
“That #@%&’s garden is getting along better than mine,” each thought to himself. “I must hire even more gardeners, and buy even better seeds and manure, and raise more taxes to pay for all of this.”
So worried was the king that he even began to lose his normally prodigious appetite; and the enormous amounts of food he normally consumed every day decreased very considerably. In fact, instead of his normal thirty course dinners, he made do with only twenty one or twenty two.
This, in turn, meant that Wormperor I in his tummy also got less food, and this, of course, would never do.
“I had better find out what’s going on,” Wormperor I thought to himself. And, slithering out of the king’s tummy, he crawled up until he reached the king’s skull, where he settled down to listen. He could do this because the king’s head was quite hollow. That his head was hollow is not surprising at all – nobody without a hollow head would bet his crown jewel on a garden. Would you?
So, coiled up inside the king’s hollow head, he listened to that worthy moaning and whining to all his queens about the garden competition. What? Yes, he had many queens; because he had a hollow head, he had had no idea when to stop. And he whined and moaned and whimpered to them all.
Wormperor I, listening, grew very troubled. “At this rate,” he thought, “this fool will starve himself to death with worry. And that means I’ll starve, too. And that will never do. Well,” he decided, “I’ll just have to make sure he wins, that’s all.”
So he slithered out of the king’s head and back down to the royal belly and the enclosed royal intestines; and from there he sent out messages to all the worms in the realm, telling them what to do.
And the worms set to obey. They came from all directions, each eager to help in his, her, or its (worms do not care what pronoun you use for them; they’re conservative and backwards, you know) way.
The tapeworms set to measuring the areas of the flower beds, the lawns and paths, to calculate the exact amount of effort needed. The roundworms rounded up all the soil parasites, the ants and the beetle larvae, the termites and the grasshoppers, the caterpillars and the aphids, and all the other undesirables; and banished them to the forests and the fields and the farms, to do their mischief elsewhere. The hookworms hooked up straggling leaves to stems, and loose petals to the flowers they were trying to escape from. The liver flukes checked the soil for acidic spots, and neutralised them with judicious applications of bile salts.
And the earthworms!
From all over the kingdom, from field and farm, from compost heap and midden, from flower pot and forest, they came swarming. They tilled and burrowed, they mixed the manure in the soil and fertilised it with their own excretions; they drained excess water and they brought air to roots struggling to breathe.
And the flowers grew larger and brighter, and the trees bore bigger and juicier fruit, than they ever had before.
So the day of the competition finally arrived; and the king, standing on the balcony of his palace, looked out at his garden, and heaved a happy and relieved sigh.
“I’m sure I’ve won,” he said. “That #@%&’s ruby will be mine!” And he sent a messenger to fetch the wandering beggar, telling him it was Judgement Day.
And Wormperor I, slithering around inside his hollow head, was as happy and relieved. “I’ll soon be back to eating as usual,” he thought. “And through history this will be known as the Triumph of Wormperor I.”
At that moment the ragged, bearded, scraggy figure of the old sage appeared in the distance. For a while, he paced back and forth along the paths in the garden, looking at everything, occasionally stopping to smell a fruit or eat a flower. Then, hands on skeletal hips, he stood, waiting for the king to join him.
“I have seen the sultan’s garden and your garden,” he announced, when the king had trod his elephantine way down to the garden path. “I have smelt, tasted, rubbed and twisted. I have, in fact, done everything a judge should; and I have finally arrived at my judgement.”
“And that is?” the king asked anxiously. “Who won? Who won?”
“It is impossible to decide,” the sage pronounced. “The result is an exact tie.”
The king screamed and would have fallen to the ground in a faint, but a singularly sturdy fruit tree was in the way.Therefore he merely contented himself with turning red and white and blue and green by turns, so that he looked very much as though he was one of the things growing in the garden. “This means,” he moaned, when he felt able again to moan, “that this has all been for nothing. Our kingdoms’ rivalry is still unresolved. And I will not get that ruby after all!”
“No such thing,” the mendicant huffed. “That is simplicity itself. You both won. That means you give him your diamond, and he gives you his ruby! Everyone’s happy. That’s what you want, the ruby. Right? Right?”
Meanwhile, Wormperor I, coiling in the king’s head, was reeling with no lesser shock. “What happened to my triumph?” he asked. “How is it possible that all my worms did not get me victory?”
At that very moment, not far away, inside the sultan’s hollow head, the worm monarch Wormultan I was asking himself the same question.
“I will have revenge,” both worm monarchs swore, seething. “I shall not rest until I win!”
And from that moment they swore undying hatred and rivalry for each other.
But that is another story.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2019