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کتاب: شبح باجه اخذ عوارض / فصل 6

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6.Faintly Macabre’s Story

“Once upon a time, this land was a barren and frightening wilderness whose high rocky mountains sheltered the evil winds and whose barren valleys offered hospitality to no man. Few things grew, and those that did were bent and twisted and their fruit was as bitter as wormwood. What wasn’t waste was desert, and what wasn’t desert was rock, and the demons of darkness made their home in the hills. Evil creatures roamed at will through the countryside and down to the sea. It was known as the land of Null.

“Then one day a small ship appeared on the Sea of Knowledge. It carried a young prince seeking the future.

In the name of goodness and truth he laid claim to all the country and set out to explore his new domain. The demons, monsters, and giants were furious at his presumption and banded together to drive him out. The earth shook with their battle, and when they had finished, all that remained to the prince was a small piece of land at the edge of the sea.

” ‘I’ll build my city here,’ he declared, and that is what he did.

“Before long, more ships came bearing settlers for the new land and the city grew and pushed its boundaries farther and farther out. Each day it was attacked anew, but nothing could destroy the prince’s new city.

And grow it did. Soon it was no longer just a city; it was a kingdom, and it was called the kingdom of Wisdom.

“But, outside the walls, all was not safe, and the new king vowed to conquer the land that was rightfully his.

So each spring he set forth with his army and each autumn he returned, and year by year the kingdom grew larger and more prosperous. He took to himself a wifeand before long had two fine young sons to whom he taught everything he knew so that one day they might rule wisely.

“When the boys grew to young-manhood, the king called them to him and said: ‘I am becoming an old man and can no longer go forth to battle. You must take my place and found new cities in the wilderness, for the kingdom of Wisdom must grow.’

“And so they did. One went south to the Foothills of Confusion and built Dictionopolis, the city of words; and one went north to the Mountains of Ignorance and built Digitopolis, the city of numbers. Both cities flourished mightily and the demons were driven back still further. Soon other cities and towns were founded in the new lands, and at last only the farthest reaches of the wilderness remained to these terrible creatures—and there they waited, ready to strike down all who ventured near or relaxed their guard.

“The two brothers were glad, however, to go their separate ways, for they were by nature very suspicious and jealous. Each one tried to outdo the other, and they worked so hard and diligently at it that before long their cities rivaled even Wisdom in size and grandeur.”

‘Words are more important than wisdom,’ said one privately.”

‘Numbers are more important than wisdom,’ thought the other to himself.

“And they grew to dislike each other more and more.”

The old king, however, who knew nothing of his sons’ animosity, was very happy in the twilight of his reign and spent his days quietly walking and contemplating in the royal gardens. His only regret was that he’d never had a daughter, for he loved little girls as much as he loved little boys. One day as he was strolling peacefully about the grounds, he discovered two tiny babies that had been abandoned in a basket under the grape arbor. They were beautiful golden-haired girls.

“The king was overjoyed. ‘They have been sent to crown my old age,’ he cried, and called the queen, his ministers, the palace staff, and, indeed, the entire population to see them.”

‘We’ll call this one Rhyme and this one Reason,’he said, and so they became the Princess of Sweet Rhyme and the Princess of Pure Reason and were brought up in the palace.

“When the old king finally died, the kingdom was divided between his two sons, with the provision that they would be equally responsible for the welfare of the young princesses. One son went south and became Azaz, the unabridged king of Dictionopolis, and the other went” north and became the Mathemagician, ruler of Digitopolis; and, true to their words, they both provided well for the little girls, who continued to live in Wisdom.

“Everyone loved the princesses because of their great beauty, their gentle ways, and their ability to settle all controversies fairly and reasonably. People with problems or grievances or arguments came from all over the land to seek advice, and even the two brothers, who by this time were fighting continuously, often called upon them to help decide matters of state. It was said by everyone that ‘Rhyme and Reason answer all problems.’

“As the years passed, the two brothers grew farther and farther apart and their separate kingdoms became richer and grander. Their disputes, however, became more and more difficult to reconcile. But always, with patience and love, the princesses set things right.”

Then one day they had the most terrible quarrel of all. King Azaz insisted that words were far more significant than numbers and hence his kingdom was truly the greater and the Mathemagician claimed that numbers were much more important than words and hence his kingdom was supreme. They discussed and debated and raved and ranted until they were on the verge of blows, when it was decided to submit the question to arbitration by the princesses.

“After days of careful consideration, in which all the evidence was weighed and all the witnesses heard, they made their decision:”

‘Words and numbers are of equal value, for, in the cloak of knowledge, one is warp and the other woof. It is no more important to count the sands than it is to name the stars. Therefore, let both kingdoms live in peace.’

“Everyone was pleased with the verdict. Everyone, that is, but the brothers, who were beside themselves with anger.”

‘What good are these girls if they cannot settle an argument in someone’s favor?’ they growled, since both were more interested in their own advantage than in the truth. ‘We’ll banish them from the kingdom forever.’

“And so they were taken from the palace and sent far away to the Castle in the Air, and they have not been seen since. That is why today, in all this land, there is neither Rhyme nor Reason.”

“And what happened to the two rulers?” asked Milo.

“Banishing the two princesses was the last thing they ever agreed upon, and they soon fell to warring with each other. Despite this, their own kingdoms have continued to prosper, but the old city of Wisdom has fallen into great disrepair, and there is no one to set things right. So, you see, until the princesses return, I shall have to stay here.”“Maybe we can rescue them,” said Milo as he saw how sad the Which looked.

“Ah, that would be difficult,” she replied. “The Castle in the Air is far from here, and the one stairway which leads to it is guarded by fierce and black-hearted demons.”

Tock growled ominously, for he hated even the thought of demons.”

I’m afraid there’s not much a little boy and a dog can do,” she said, “but never you mind; it’s not so bad. I’ve grown quite used to it here. But you must be going or else you’ll waste the whole day.”

“Oh, we’re here for six million years,” sighed Milo, “and I don’t see any way to escape.”

“Nonsense,” scolded the Which, “you mustn’t take Officer Shrift so seriously. He loves to put people in prison, but he doesn’t care about keeping them there.

Now just press that button in the wall and be on your way.”

Milo pressed the button and a door swung open, letting in a shaft of brilliant sunshine.

“Good-by; come again,” shouted the Which as they stepped outside and the door slammed shut.

Milo and Tock stood blinking in the bright light and, as their eyes became accustomed to it, the first things they saw were the king’s advisers again rushing toward them.

“Ah, there you are.”

“Where have you been?”

“We’ve been looking all over for you.”

“The Royal Banquet is about to begin.”

“Come with us.”

They seemed very agitated and out of breath as Milo walked along with them.

“But what about my car?” he asked.

“Don’t need it,” replied the duke.

“No use for it,” said the minister.

“Superfluous,” advised the count.

“Unnecessary,” stated the earl.

“Uncalled for,” cried the undersecretary. “We’ll take our vehicle.”

“Conveyance.”

“Rig.”

“Charabanc.”

“Chariot.”

“Buggy.”

“Coach.”

“Brougham.”

“Shandrydan,” they repeated quickly in order, and pointed to a small wooden wagon.

“Oh dear, all those words again,” thought Milo as he climbed into the wagon with Tock and the cabinet members. “How are you going to make it move? It doesn’t have a “

“Be very quiet,” advised the duke, “for it goes without saying.”

And, sure enough, as soon as they were all quite still, it began to move quickly through the streets, and in a very short time they arrived at the royal palace.

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