Once upon a time there was a thief. Not just any thief,...
this man was the best thief that had ever lived. The amazing thing is everyone knew who he was and that he was a thief. The police knew he was a thief but couldn’t catch him. The judges knew he was a thief but couldn’t try him. Even the king himself knew him but nothing could be done because no one managed to catch him red handed. Also he never left behind any evidence. He was a very clever thief indeed.
But thieves are like any other person and they grow old. So the Thief realized that his best days were behind him, he decided to retire to a quiet part of town and give up his thieving ways.
One day the Thief was shopping for spices in a local shop and as he reached for his wallet to pay, he realized he had left it behind and had no money on him. “What do I need money for?” the thief thought to himself. “After all, I’m a thief!” With a smile he slipped the jar of spice up his sleeve and wandered out of the shop. As he walked down the street, a hand caught him by the shoulder and spun him around: It was a young police officer. “I saw you steal that jar of spice as I looked through the shop window,” and as he spoke he exclaimed. “Wait. I know who you are. You are the thief. My father always wanted to catch you.”
So he was taken directly to the magistrate. “You! What did you steal?”
“A jar of spice worth about five copper pennies.”
“Well, for your sentence you will pay me 5,000 gold pieces.”
The thief looked at the judge in shock. “I don’t have 5,000 gold pieces.”
The judge smiled. “Then you will spend 5,000 days in prison.”
“I am an old man. That could be the rest of my life.”
“I hope so,” said the magistrate.
The thief was taken to an old prison, high up on a mountain. Its walls rose as if to meet the sky. His cell was cold and damp, the bars so thick as to almost blot out the sun so once you were inside you had no idea whether it was night or day. A heavy oaken door creaked as it opened inviting him to a lengthy stay. In its squeal, he could hear the murmur of “eternity.”
“I am going to escape,” the old thief said. The guard laughed. “No one has ever escaped from the King’s Prison. If they did whichever guard was on duty would have to take their place and serve out their sentence. No one escapes.”
“Watch me,” whispered the old man.
Next morning when his bowl of gruel was brought to him the Thief asked if he could be brought to see the King. The Thief told the guard he had a wonderful gift for the King and would like to give it to him himself. The guards laughed and teased the old man who turned away and seemed to speak to the wall as he half whispered, “What a pity! I wonder what the King will say to these guards when he finds out they kept him from receiving a wondrous gift.”
Before you know it, the Thief found himself in the throne room of the royal palace. There the King sat, his Prime Minister next to him, the General of the Army next and finally the bishop of the church. The King looked impatient. “I haven’t got much time. Let me have this wonderful gift.”
The thief held out a small golden box, covered with ornate carvings. The King smiled as he held it but upon opening the box his mood darkened. “This is a peach pit. A dried shrunken peach pit.”
“But, your Highness, this is a magic peach pit. If you plant it, it will grow into a tree in one day. The second day it will be covered in fruit. The third day each piece of fruit will turn to solid gold.”
“If that is so, why haven’t you planted it?” demanded the King.
“Well this is very powerful magic. Part of the magic is that you must have a pure heart. You must have never lied, or stolen or cheated or hurt someone. I’m a thief. It can’t possibly work for me. But you, you are the King. I’m quite sure you can make the magic peach tree grow.”
The King looked down at the peach pit and thought of all the times he had lied to his people, all the times he had hurt them needlessly. “No, I am not the one,” he muttered, handing it back to the Thief.
The Thief then gave it to the Prime Minister. “Now then, the Prime Minister,” exclaimed the thief. “The man who runs our government, I should think you can make it grow.” The Prime Minister looked down at the pit and thought of all the bribes he’d taken over the years and all the people who had suffered because of it. “No it’s not me.”
The Thief then gave it to the General saying “I’m sure the General can make the magic work. The brave leader of our armies,” The General looked down and thought of all the weeping widows who had lost their loved ones over a scrap of land or a forgotten idea or misplaced word. “No, I can’t do it.”
Then the Thief handed it to the Bishop. “I’m sure the Bishop, the holy man, can make it grow.” The Bishop looked down at that peach pit and thought of all the money that should have gone to the poor and hungry but instead went into his pockets. He saw the splendid cathedrals with beggars in the doorway. “No,” he muttered. “I’m not the one.”
These four powerful men all bowed their heads and couldn’t even look at the Thief. “Isn’t it curious,” he declared. “The four most powerful men in the country cannot make the magic happen and yet they live lives of wealth and luxury. While I, an old thief, sit condemned to a cell for stealing a jar of spice. Does this seem fair?”
There was a long silence until the King finally spoke, “No, Thief, it isn’t fair. The lesson you taught us has bought your freedom. Go home.”
The Thief bowed and as he left the room he looked at his guard and winked “I told you I’d escape.” (Traditional tale from Korea)