The Amber Tree

Once upon a time there was a tree who stood beside a river bank and cried tears of amber. So beautiful were these tears that jewelers would come from far off lands to pluck one or two for the crowns of kings. When the jewelers would return to their lands, the kings would ask why it was that they had not gathered more of such wondrous resin. The jewelers all replied in the same way: because there had been no more to gather.

            A prince of one of the far lands did not believe the words of the jeweler who spoke to his father, and desiring amber for himself, he followed the path of the jewelers and found the amber tree. But to his dismay, there was not a single tear of golden hue to be found.

            ‘Tree, why have you no more tears?’ the prince asked.

            ‘I have more tears to weep prince,’ said the tree. ‘I am not done with crying. For the world is a bitter place, filled with sorrow. But I saw a maiden comfort a scared child the other day. And the day before that a man gave his food to a hungry family. And the day before that I saw a town give way to dancing. And so, I have been thinking on those things.’

            ‘Ah,’ said the prince. ‘You think of happy things and your tears dry up. But let me tell you of all the trouble I saw in my journey across the kingdoms. There are people who starve so desperately that one by one they die. The people who kill: they are many, slaughtering those who come in their path in hopes of a few measly coins or simply for the pleasure of it. Too, there are those whose greed knows no bounds, constantly taking and never satisfied, until their ilk becomes a plague.’

            The tree was lost in thought for some time in listening to the words of the prince before saying, ‘Indeed, you speak of such horrors, and yet you do not weep. Does not the ill fate of so many make you sad?’

            At that the prince shrugged. And then he said, ‘There is so much of it. What difference does more sorrow make to me? The world is full of it, and I cannot spend my life weeping.’

            ‘Perhaps, then,’ said the tree slowly, ‘you are one of those whose greed has overcome him, for you have no need of amber, and yet you seek out my tears.’

            The prince considered, and then said simply, ‘Perhaps.’

            As silence fell between the tree and the prince, a child came beside the river and jumped in to bathe. Immediately the river swelled, and the current took a firm hold about the child, pulling this way and that, until it was clear that the child would drown. Without a second thought, the prince jumped into the river, holding fast to the roots of the amber tree. Fighting hard against the current, the prince grabbed the child, and pulled both of them out of the river.

            Breathing heavily, the prince looked up at the tree, who was staring down at him and the child, a smile creaking across the rigged trunk.

            ‘Perhaps, then, greed has not overcome you, Prince. For had you let the child drown, I surely would have cried.’

            The prince looked into the crinkled eyes of the tree, and saw something catch the light in each corner. When he looked closely, he saw that there were diamonds twinkling, lovely enough to create the finest of crowns. But he left them there. And when he departed from the amber tree, he felt that he had come away with riches.

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