Primary Sources: Herodotus, EUTERPE 12 (the Clever Thief Story 2000)
Herodotus Tells Tales From Egypt’s Hoary Past! Today’s installment: the Cleverest Man Who Ever Lived (Part 2: Desperate Measures)
Picking up from last entry, we find the mason’s two sons. They followed up on his instructions and found his hidden passage into the royal treasury one night shortly after their father’s death. It was dark within the vault, of course, and they could risk no light coming in, lest they and their secret passage be discovered. But within they could make out the heaps of coins, a fortune in gold and silver. They filled their pockets and escaped, with none the wiser.
This task they repeated every night for weeks, and gradually they began to amass a considerable fortune, a little at a time.
Now, the king was still hale and hearty, all these years later, and he didn’t trust anyone else with the keys to his treasury. Every month he would carry in, alone, that month’s net profits from taxation, mark down the deposit in his ledger, and leave again, locking the doors behind him. Gradually, over the course of several visits, the king realized that his treasure piles were getting depleted — someone was stealing!
His first thought was the mason, of course, but the mason was at this point long dead, after a lifetime spent keeping the king’s secrets.
The king had no clue about the secret back door, so assumed the thief or thieves had to be getting past the gauntlet of traps in front. His first move was to station guards in front of the treasury.
“Heh,” said one brother to another, next time they robbed the treasury. “Good thing we’re getting in the back like this!”
The extra guards weren’t doing anything, so the king tried to reason something out. “Guards don’t see him,” he muttered. “They’d see a lamp. He must be fumbling around in the dark.”
So the king got a bunch of bear-claw traps, the big ones like you see in cartoons, and spread them all around the treasury. With any luck, he figured, the thief would step in one, not seeing it in the dark.
The next time the two brothers snuck into the vault, one of them immediately put his foot down on one of the traps, crunch.
“Crap,” he said. “Crap crap crap crap crap. This really hurts.”
His brother strained to pull the trap off of him, but couldn’t — the thing was huge and tough and the trapped man was rapidly bleeding to death.
“So I’m going into shock, and I’m dying,” said the trapped brother to the free brother. “You need to get out of here!”
“Not without you!” cried the free brother.
“Dude, I’m a goner!”
“Yeah, I know you are,” snapped the free brother. “But if I leave you here the king’s going to find your corpse and then he’ll know we were the thieves!”
“Crap, you’re right.” The trapped brother groaned.
“Okay. Here’s the plan. We cut your leg off.”
“No good. Even if I survive the blood loss and shock, then tomorrow morning the king goes looking for the guy who lost a leg the night before.”
“It’s going to have to be my head. I need you to cut my head off.”
The free brother was not enthused with this plan, but couldn’t offer an alternative. Reluctantly, he pulled out his thieving-knife and sawed his brother’s head off.
NEXT: AND IN THE MORNING THE KING WAS LIKE, WTF?
Primary Sources: Herodotus, EUTERPE 12 (the Clever Thief Story 2000) — No Comments
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