Once upon a time in a faraway land, there lived a 70 year old despotic king who owned a magical cabinet. The cabinet was a magical for two reasons: it could talk in 16 different voices and, no matter how much gold you took out of it, it was always full of gold.
Each morning, after the king dressed and brushed his hair, he would cannily lock the doors to his palace and open the cabinet, taking out as much gold as he needed for the day. The cabinet would then talk to the king, giving advice or compliments, or news about the kingdom.
One Monday morning, the king said,”Cabinet, I need 200 gold pieces for our army, 60 gold pieces for the Queen’s new robes, 24 pieces of gold for the court physicians, and 6 gold pieces for a carriage ride this afternoon.”
The cabinet complied, adding that perhaps his majesty might prefer an alternative to the carriage ride, as unsavory characters had been spotted around the kingdom of late.
“Bandits and thieves!” the king exclaimed. “Worse and worse, entirely the fault of our neighbors to the east. They have no sense of proportion.”
“Indeed,” said the cabinet, “Perhaps we should hire more guards.”
“I agree,” said the king, “But there must be something else we can do. They’re probably after our riches.” he added, eyeing the gold heaped up in front of him. “And we don’t have any to spare.”
“Perhaps we could build a wall?” the cabinet suggested. “And only let in who we choose to let in, and keep our riches safe? Who knows what they’re really up to? Terrorism? Communism? Corruption of our government?”
The king and cabinet shared a quiet chuckle at the last.
“But really,” said the king, “let’s get started on that wall.” And that very afternoon he ordered construction to begin, issuing a decree with firm instructions on whom should be allowed on what side of the wall and when and where and how.
On Tuesday, the king said “Cabinet, I need 4000 pieces of gold for our wall, 300 for our new palace guards, and also 8 pieces for the kingdom’s medical staff.”
“Very wise,” said the cabinet. “And what of royal magicians? They have been complaining that the storms have returned, and that they need gold to study them and to offer aid, else they render hectares of the kingdom barren and diseased. They give us no peace with their foolish stories.”
“Charlatans and imposters!” cried the king. “The last of the great storms occurred centuries ago, and magicians are known to falsify reports and to wander from the facts.”
“Highly unlikely,” the cabinet concurred, “perhaps you could send them a message and burn down a couple of their libraries?”
“I’ll send them a message,” the king decided, and he appointed a new new head of the magicians guild and let it be known that no further gold would go towards magical defense or research. “It’s a complex subject,” he said to the cabinet later that day, “but we know everything we need to know about it, and anyway, we can’t encourage those kind of wild stories.”
By Wednesday, the wall was partially completed and the magicians were properly cowed – or exiled or silenced – and no new weather reports had been issued, as all the town criers had been coached on their lines by the royal guard, and deviation from the script was gently discouraged with the threat of becoming declared an enemy of the crown, followed by swift imprisonment and removal of the tongue.
“Cabinet,” began the king, “I require much gold today, as our great architect promises our defenses will be secured by week’s end, and the captain of the guard has tripled patrols to remove or block undesirable citizens.”
“Of course,” said the cabinet, “clearing out the riffraff is a noble goal.” The cabinet doled out the gold, then paused. “You know,” it said thoughtfully, “we do spend quite a bit of gold on medical care and physicians.”
“You’re right!” said the king. “And what with all the dregs er, threats, being evacuated from the city, there’s really not much call for free hospitals in any case. I’m sure we can think of something better to offer them – maybe the magicians can suggest something.”
“Ahem,” said the cabinet, “the magicians have been relocated across the sea.”
“Right,” the king nodded, “so they have.” Slightly embarrassed at his gaffe, the king quickly ordered all royally-subsidized hospitals to be closed, and for any recalcitrant patients to be either exiled or beheaded, depending on the severity of the case. “After all,” he said magnanimously, “we can’t have the terminally ill loitering in the streets and generally getting in the way.”
And so it goes. But what will happen tomorrow?