The Fisherman’s Reward


A Folktale from Thailand

One day when the king of Thailand wanted to have a banquet for all the princes and lords in his kingdom, he ordered the chief cook to prepare his favorite fish dish.

But the chief cook replied, “Your highness, there are no fish. No fishermen have gone to sea for the past three days because the storm has made the sea too rough for fishing.”

“Do you mean to say there are no fish for my banquet?” the king asked angrily.

“Yes, your highness,” answered the cook.

“Very well then,” proclaimed the king, “I’ll give a handsome reward to anyone brave enough to go fishing and bring me fish for my banquet.”

Although the sea was still too stormy for fishing, one brave fisherman ventured out and soon returned with a good supply of fish for the king’s banquet.

When the fisherman tried to deliver the fish to the king, a guard at the palace gate stopped him and said, “I’ll let you in only if you promise to give me half of the reward the king will give you.”

The fisherman thought the guard’s request was most unreasonable. But seeing no other way to get the fish to the king, he agreed, and the gate was opened.

When the king saw the fish, he was most pleased and at once asked the fisherman to name his reward.

“Give me fifty strokes of the whip,” the fisherman asked.

“What?” exclaimed the king. “You want to be whipped fifty times as your reward?”

“Yes, your majesty. Whip me fifty times, and that shall be my reward.”

“Very well,” replied the king in disappointment. “You will be whipped fifty times. Do you wish for anything else besides that?”

“No. I ask for nothing else,” said the fisherman as he was tied to the wall.

One, two, three, four, five … The whip fell painfully on the fisherman’s back.

Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen … But the fisherman did not make the slightest protest.

Twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five. “Stop! Stop!” cried the fisherman.

“Do you wish to change your mind?” the king asked in surprise.

“No, your majesty, but I want to share my reward with the guard at the palace gates.”

“What do you mean?” The king was very puzzled.

The fisherman then explained, “When I was bringing the fish to you, the guard at the palace gate would not let me in unless I promised to give him half of my reward. Since the reward I have asked for is fifty strokes of the whip, and since I have now received half of them, the guard should receive the other twenty-five strokes.”

Immediately the guard was brought before the king. “Is it true that this fisherman promised to give you half of his reward?” questioned the king.

The guard, not knowing what had happened but thinking that he was to be rewarded, replied that it was true.

This made the king very angry. He ordered the guard to be taken away and whipped twenty-five times—his reward as promised by the fisherman.

Then, turning to the fisherman, the king said, “Since you have given half of your reward away, do you wish for something else?”

“No, your majesty,” replied the fisherman. “I ask for nothing more than to serve you as a loyal subject.”

And the brave fisherman left the palace and continued to serve his king.

[illustration] Illustrated by Nina Grover