Fifty Tales, or The Heart of the Matter

By Hugh Lupton

Hugh Lupton reaches into world mythology and shares fifty tales from the heart of his repertoire.

Old King Caiman

Old King Caiman was coming to the end of his days. Nobody loved him. He had been a cruel king. Now he was old and alone, his teeth were yellow, his eyes were dim and his scales were tarnished.

In the back of his mind one question troubled him: Who would follow him to the throne? Who would rule over the country when he was gone?

Years ago he had eaten all his children. Just to make sure that they didn’t cause him any trouble, he’d eaten every one of them (he was a caiman after all). Now he wished he hadn’t.

“Just one son,” he thought to himself, “If only there was just one handsome son or a beautiful daughter to take my place.”

One day, as he was sitting on his throne with these thoughts turning slowly in his mind, a Young Caiman burst into the room. He was magnificent, his teeth white and sharp as knives, his eyes bright, every scale shining like a jewel. He bowed.

“Father!” He said.

“Father?”

“Father! I am your secret son. My mother hid me from you. I grew up far away across the world. Now I have returned. I am young and strong and clever. Give me your golden crown. Your throne should be mine now.”

Old King Caiman looked the youngster up and down. He scowled. He was filled with jealousy and admiration. He liked and hated what he saw.

“I can see that you are young and strong and bold, just as I was once when I was in my prime - but are you clever?”

The Young Caiman smiled:

“Test me.”

The Old King thought. He thought for a long time. Then he lifted his head.

“Very well, I will set you two tasks. The first is this: I want you to make me a meal out of the best thing in all the world.”

The Young Caiman bowed.

He began to search. He searched lakes and lagoons, mountain-tops and sea-beds, he searched forests and deserts, cities and farms. He visited the finest markets and the poorest kitchens.

Suddenly he knew what to do. He found what he was looking for.

He cooked it slowly and carefully with spices and herbs. He poured an exquisite creamy sauce over it. He brought it to Old King Caiman steaming on a silver platter.

“Here is a meal made of the best thing in all the world.”

The Old King tasted it.

“Mmmm, delicious, delicious ..... what is it?”

The Young Caiman smiled.

“Between heaven and earth there flies a red bird that is always wet. You tell me what it is.”

The Old King ate and thought, he thought and ate and every mouthful tasted better than the one before.

“I don’t know, tell me more.”

“A soft innocent that always lies between two assassins. Now tell me what it is.”

The Old King finished the meal and licked his lips with his long, red, wet…

“Aha! I have it. It is a tongue!”

The Young Caiman nodded:

“It is a tongue – that can lull a baby to sleep, that can fill the ears and the heart with love and delight, that can make peace between two warring armies and can lead the world into truth. Truly it is the best thing of all.”

The Old King sighed:

“You are right, and I wish mine had done such things. But now for your second task, I want you to make me a meal out of the worst thing in all the world.”

The Young Caiman bowed and began to search. He searched lakes and lagoons, mountain-tops and sea-beds. He searched forests and deserts, cities and farms. He visited the finest markets and the poorest kitchens.

Suddenly he knew what to do. He found what he was looking for.

He dipped it into a pool of slimy water. He pushed a stick into it and held it over a smoking fire. He sprinkled it with ashes and he brought it to Old King Caiman on a wooden board.

“Here’s a meal made of the worst thing in the world.”

The Old King lifted it to his mouth and tasted it. He spat it out.

“Pta! Disgusting, disgusting - what is it?”

The Young Caiman smiled.

“It is the whip that can lash itself as well as others. You tell me what it is.”

The Old King ate and thought, he thought and ate, and every mouthful tasted worse than the one before.

“I don’t know, tell me more.”

“There are thirty two white stools in the long red room where this old gossip lives.”

The Old King dipped his mouth into a tub of water to wash the taste from his long, red, wet ....

“Aha! I have it. It is a tongue! But how can the best thing also be the worst?”

The Young Caiman replied:

“A tongue can fill a child with fear, it can fill minds and hearts with hatred, it can bring two countries to the brink of war and it can lead a whole people into slavery.”

The Old King sighed.

“You are right, and many times has mine done such things. A tongue is truly the best thing and the worst thing in all this world - and now my throne and my golden crown are yours.”

And Old King Caiman hobbled away and was never seen again. 

Cuba

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