Kathryn England is an Australian author who writes books, short stories, and articles for adults and children.

Image of Short Circuit - Short Circuit #04

Queen Riddles was a fun-loving monarch who liked riddles and jokes. She had spent most of her life working out answers to riddles, so there were few who could trick her. All it took was a little time and any riddle could be solved. Or so she thought.

One day, she decided to hold a contest. Whoever asked her a riddle she could not answer would win a sack of gold.

When the day of the contest arrived, people lined up outside the palace and asked the Queen their riddles. Some were easy. Some were hard. The Queen answered them all. Just when she thought there would be no prize winner, an old man came before her throne. He took a deep breath and crossed his fingers behind his back. "This riddle I give Your Majesty," he said.

"The rich want me

The wise are sure of me

Fools know me

Heroes fear me

What am I?"

At last, a challenge! the Queen thought. She twiddled her thumbs. She pulled at her chin. She drummed her fingers on the jeweled arms of her throne.

"Wealth!" she said at last. But even before the old man shook his head, the Queen knew her answer wasn't right. Heroes don't fear wealth. What do they fear? she asked herself. "I know," she said. "Fear! Heroes are only afraid of fear itself!"

"An excellent answer, Your Majesty," the old man said. "But alas, that is the only part of the riddle it fits."

The Queen thought, and thought, and thought some more.

"Do you give up, Your Majesty?" the old man asked hopefully. He had six sons and six daughters and (at last count) eighteen grandchildren. A sack of gold would make their lives more comfortable.

At last, the Queen gave up. "Congratulations, old man," she said. "You have won the contest. Now, tell me the answer." The old man opened his mouth, but the Queen suddenly held up a hand. "Come close and whisper it in my ear."

The onlookers groaned. Everyone wanted to know the answer to the riddle.

The old man leaned forward and told the Queen the answer.

Queen Riddles slapped her forehead. "Of course! How could I not have known. What a clever old fellow you are." She handed over the sack of gold and the old man left the palace.

"Now listen all," the Queen said. "There will be a second contest. I give you a riddle:

The rich want me

The wise are sure of me

Fools know me

Heroes fear me

What am I?

The one who solves this riddle shall receive two sacks of gold. You have a week to find the answer."

In a faraway village, a young peasant boy heard about the second contest from a traveling salesman. Seth was not very good at riddles, but he decided to enter the contest anyway.

First, he borrowed The Giant Book of Riddles from the library. Then he stood under the Tree of Knowledge for inspiration. He even made himself a rough cloak from the tree's branches and leaves. A kindly wizard gave him a magic cone hat. It was too big and kept slipping over his eyes, but he could feel its power.

With hope in his heart, he set off for the palace. By the time he got there, the final three contestants were standing before the Queen.

A librarian stepped forward. She held a copy of The Giant Book of Riddles.

"The answer to the riddle is power," she told the Queen.

When the Queen shook her head, the librarian's shoulders drooped, and she left the palace.

A wizard stepped forward. He wore a cone hat just like Seth's.

"My answer is fame," he told the Queen.

The Queen shook her head again. The wizard disappeared in a puff of purple smoke.

A teacher stepped forward. With an air of certainty, he declared, "There can only be one answer and that is knowledge."

"Incorrect," the Queen said. The teacher huffed and stomped from the room.

When Seth stepped forward in his cloak of leaves and twigs and stood before the Queen's throne, onlookers chuckled. The cone hat slid down to his nose and he struggled to hold the enormous riddle book.

The Queen repeated the riddle:

"The rich want me

The wise are sure of me

Fools know me

Heroes fear me

What am I?"

Seth took off the wizard's hat. If a real wizard couldn't use his magic powers to find the answer to the riddle, what hope was there for a mere peasant boy?

He dropped the book on the floor. He thought he had found a couple of possible answers, but if the librarian hadn't found the correct answer, then his were sure to be wrong.

He took off the cloak. If a schoolteacher didn't know the answer to the riddle, Seth thought it unlikely he could guess it.

"Do you have an answer for me, boy?" the Queen asked.

Seth hung his head. "I come before Your Majesty with nothing," he said. "So my answer is... nothing."

"Congratulations!" the Queen said. She handed Seth the prize money.

As Seth set off for home, he thought by the time he got there he might have worked out which part of his answer was correct.

But nothing seemed right.

© Short Édition - All Rights Reserved


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