Eleven Just Men

The palace of the king of the third kingdom was both splendid and remarkable. The rooms were large and airy. The furniture was especially comfortable. The kitchens were a marvel of cleanliness and orderliness. But the most remarkable room of all was the treasure room.

The treasure room was in the very centre of the palace. It was guarded night and day by twelve guards who had been chosen for their integrity. Each of the guards was perfectly just and honest. They never, ever told a lie.

Besides holding all the usual chests of gold and caskets of jewels, the treasure room also held marvellous objects such as the Disappearing Door, and the Endless Ball of String, and of course, the Magic Flying Carpet. The walls of the room were protected by steel bars and its door had twelve locks. The twelve keys for the twelve locks were kept in a safe made of the hardest metal known, and only the king had its key.

One morning the king decided to take the flying carpet out for a ride. He unlocked the metal safe and took the twelve keys along to the treasure room, but when he unlocked the twelve locks and opened the door of the treasure room, the carpet was gone!

“Thieves! Burglars! Robbers!” the king shouted. “Someone has taken my Magic Flying Carpet, and just when I was going for a ride! Who has done this?”

He asked each of the twelve guards, one after the other, “Did you see someone steal the carpet?”

Most remarkably, each of the guards replied, “No, your Majesty.”

The king fumed to himself, “How can this be? One of them must be lying!” He asked them, “Are not all of you just men?”

One of them spoke up, “Only eleven of us are just men, your Majesty.”

The king was horrified. One of his hand-picked guards must be a liar, and a thief. But how was he to find out which was the thief? They all looked perfectly just and honest, in their shining armour with their swords resplendent at their sides, and their shoes polished until they shone.

He asked the first guard, “Are you a thief?”

“No, your Majesty,” said the guard.

“Are you a liar?” the king asked.

“No, your Majesty, I am not a liar,” said the guard.

Then it occurred to the king that if the guard were a liar, he would say that he was not, and if he were also a thief, he would deny it too. Should he ask the second guard if the first guard was a liar?

He turned to the second guard and asked, “Is the first guard a just and honest man?”

“No, your Majesty,” said the second guard.

“Aha!” shouted the king triumphantly, but then he had second thoughts. What if the second guard was the dishonest man, and he was lying when he said that the first guard was not an honest man?

The king walked up and down, trying to think what to do. “I am in a Dilemma!” the king cried. “I am in a Quandary! This is Puzzling!”

Just then there was the sound of a flying carpet overhead. The king looked up and saw his magic carpet descending gracefully until it landed beside him. The queen stepped off and said, “Good morning, my dear. It was such a lovely morning that I decided to go for a ride.”

The king blustered, “But how did you unlock the door to the treasure room? Only I have the keys!” he said, holding them up.

The queen laughed musically. “The flying carpet wasn’t in the treasure room. I didn’t put it back last time I went for a ride. I like the pattern so much, I keep it in the dining room.”

The king was glad that at least the flying carpet hadn’t been stolen. He said to the queen, “We have a very serious problem. One of the guards is dishonest and a liar!”

The queen was shocked. “Surely not,” she said in her musical voice. “That cannot be! Which one do you suspect?”

“I don’t know!” the king said, in an anguished voice. “How can I find out?”

The queen considered the problem. “You should ask them, one by one.”

“No, my dear,” the king said, patiently, “for the liar will not answer truthfully.”

The queen said, “Leave it to me, dear.” She questioned the guards, one by one, and asked them, “Are the guards on each side of you just men?” until one of the guards said, “No, the guard on my right is not a just man.”

“Aha! You have found him!” said the king. “Unless…”

“Just a minute, dear,” said the queen. She asked the suspected guard, “Are you a just and honest man?”

“No, I am not,” said the guard.

The king grabbed his head and said, “Is this a lie, or is it the truth?”

The queen said, “Of course she is telling the truth. She is perfectly just and honest. You know that I hand-picked each of your guards for their honesty and integrity.”

“Oh,” said the king, in a small voice. “I see that now, of course.”

The queen smiled at him. “Would you like to come for a ride with me on the magic carpet?” she asked, holding out her hand.

“That would be most delightful,” said the king. He took her hand and stepped onto the carpet, and they flew off together.

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