Herodotus Tells Tales From Egypt’s Hoary Past! Today’s installment: the Cleverest Man Who Ever Lived (Part 4: Happily Ever After)
Open on the royal chambers, and the king interrogating his guards.
“Let me get this straight,” the king said. “Y’all were on duty, sober-minded and paying attention to your tasks, and somehow the thief snuck right past all of you, removed the corpse, and left again… all without any of y’all seeing anything?”
“Yes, sire,” said a guard who had real trouble meeting the king’s gaze.
“There was a time when I would have just had y’all killed, right now,” the king said thoughtfully. “But I’ve grown generous in my old age. I’ll give y’all a second chance, if anybody wants to come clean.”
And so the whole of the story comes tumbling out of the guards: how they were incited to mug a passing merchant, how they drank too much wine, how they passed out and when they came to, the corpse was gone.
“Well. It’s not possible to identify this wine merchant, I’m sure,” said the king. “Could have been anybody. Merchants all look the same. No, he’s clever, this one. He thinks he’s won, too. He’s outsmarted me, is what he thinks.”
The king’s eyes narrowed as he reflected on the arrogance of his enemy. “Whoever he is, he underestimates me. I’ve still got one trick left up my sleeve. Bring me my daughter!”
“So we’re not getting executed, right?” asked one guard. The other guards elbowed him until he shut up.
The king gave his daughter certain instructions: she was to go to the nicest brothel in town and present herself to the madam there, and let it be known that she was available for really classy and high-end royal sex, for cash money.
The daughter, either because she was dutiful or because she was going to anyway, carried out these instructions. The king hired men to stand on street corners and shout about how the king’s own daughter was available for sexytimes, no questions asked.
“He won’t be able to resist,” predicted the king. “Man like this, arrogant like this? He’ll jump at the chance to sleep with a princess. I know I would, and we think alike. And then — we’ll have him!”
Sure enough, when he heard that the princess was willing to sleep with him for money, our hero leaped at the chance. He went immediately to the brothel and paid cash for time with her.
“Wow,” she said afterwards, because our hero was good at everything he did. “That was… wow.”
Our hero smiled rakishly. “I should go.”
“Oh! Before you do,” she said, remembering the other instructions from her father. He’d given her two questions she had to ask each man she slept with. “Lie here with me a while. Just, you know, cuddle?”
Our hero couldn’t resist the princess’s batted eyes, and so they cuddled together, there in the sumptuous brothel chamber.
“So tell me,” she said, trying to sound nonchalant, “what’s the cleverest thing you’ve ever done?”
“Brag at me! I’m offering you a chance to show off how clever you are. You are clever, aren’t you?”
“Oh, I’m extremely clever,” said our hero. The princess was, after all, a pretty girl and he wanted to impress her, even under the current circumstances. “I’m so clever I robbed the king’s treasury for months, with him none the wiser.”
The princess laughed, because she honestly found our hero more than a little charming. “That is clever, stealing from my father.”
“Well, maybe I’ll steal you, too…”
“Oh, you,” she said, as coquettishly as she could manage. “Is that the wickedest thing you’ve ever done, my clever thief?”
Our hero lay silent for a moment, remembering. “No,” he said sadly. “The wickedest thing I ever did was worse than that. I had to murder my own brother, slice his head off, to protect myself and our mother from your father’s wrath.”
“Oh!” cried the princess, and grabbed at the thief. “I’ve got him! I’ve got him!” she shouted, for indeed she had her hands on what she thought was him. “Guards!”
However the thief leaped up, and the princess realized her hands were on a dildo, rather than the thief himself. By the time the guards burst in, our hero was long gone.
When the king heard about this, he was dumbfounded. “Batman,” he said. “I’m up against Batman or something.”
“Must you kill him, father?” asked his daughter. “I liked him.”
“What would you have me do?” the king asked her.
And so it was that the king sent forth heralds to shout the following message:
To the thief who seduced my daughter and stole his brother’s corpse and murdered his brother and stole from my treasury: greetings!
I’ve thought it over and you know what? You’re pretty badass. You’ve won amnesty for your crimes and also a prize. Come to the palace to collect your winnings. Whenever you get a chance!
Amazingly, this was not a plot. The thief went to the palace, revealed himself, and the king’s response was to marry the thief to the princess and name the thief heir to the kingdom.
“For the thief was the cleverest Egyptian who ever lived, and the Egyptians are of course the cleverest nation of any people,” concludes Herodotus. “They all lived happily ever after. The end!”