“The prince is coming here,” said the traveling merchant.
“How do you know this?” asked someone from the crowd.
“I saw him in a town far to the south, and members of his entourage told me he was heading this way. He plans to come all the way to the coast, and that will surely be right here.”
“How long will it be before he gets here?” asked another.
“It’s hard to tell, but it will be at least a year, maybe as much as two years.”
The crowd soon broke up into smaller groups. Many thought the arrival of the prince was so far in the future that they needn’t worry. But there were others that thought it was time to begin preparations.
It had been several centuries since any member of the royal family had been in that particular town. In fact, it had been nearly that long since any member of the royal family had been within a thousand miles. The town was run down. Commerce was poor. There was still some trade by sea, but the trade routes to the interior were risky and unreliable.
So the town council got together and began to discuss how they might prepare for the arrival of the prince. There were many things that needed to be repaired. Certainly the roads within the jurisdiction of the town council should be repaired. The walls needed considerable work. The port facilities needed improvements.
So workers were hired to work on the roads, the walls, and the port. More guards were recruited to protect those workers from bandits. The workers, in turn, needed to be fed, so merchants began to go inland to buy fruit and vegetables, and to villages north and south to buy fish.
Some of the engineers noticed that they could get some very fine wood if they just followed the paths that were being reopened by the merchants, and so they sent work crews to cut trees and to carry them back to the city.
Within a few months, merchant ships that stopped in the city found more customers than usual and were able to buy more goods to ship elsewhere. Word spread, and so commerce by sea increased.
Occasionally there were rumors about the prince traveling in areas to the south and west, but never any firm word on where the prince actually was and when he would arrive. There were plenty of people who claimed to have seen the prince. There were even some who thought they knew when the prince would arrive in the town, but as time went on, they all proved wrong.
Two years passed, and there came a time when the town council met again. They’d been spending money to get ready for the visit of the prince, but they were now past the latest time that anyone had projected for the prince’s arrival. Not only had the prince not arrived, but they didn’t have any word from any of the towns nearby where people might give a reliable estimate.
There were three parties in the council. The first maintained that the prince would arrive eventually. They were confident in the many words that they had heard about the arrival of the prince. Sometime, they were certain, one of the predictions would turn out to be right, and they would see the prince and his party come over the hill and up to the gate of the town.
The second party maintained that it was likely that the rumors about the prince were false, or at best there was no knowing when the prince would return, but they suggested everyone look around the town. “Who can possibly suggest,” they said, “that the town is not much better off. This idea that the prince is coming has made this town a much better place. If we keep preparing for him, it won’t matter whether he shows up or not.”
The third party said that the whole thing was silly. The prince wasn’t going to show up, and he never had been planning to show up. They felt that the townspeople had wasted a couple of years of hard work. Why bother when there was no prince on the way?
There was quite an argument in the council. Those in the first group obviously wanted to keep the town in good shape for the expected arrival of the prince. Though they agreed with the second group on how to proceed in general, they felt they were faithless. It wasn’t really enough, they said, to keep the town in good shape. One needed to keep it in shape for the prince.
The third group thought the new way of doing business in the town was simply too much work. Why not relax more. Perhaps things hadn’t been as good and people hadn’t had as much before folks started expecting the prince, but life had been more relaxed. They even passed around stories about how comfortable things had been in the good old days.
It’s only fair to point out that both the first and second groups thought that the third group had forgotten many of the less pleasant aspects of the good old days, especially lack of food and high unemployment.
So it came time to vote . . .
What should the town do and why?
(This post has been submitted to the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival – Come.)