Encore: 'The Shepherd's Disguise'

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Have you ever heard the expression, “Honesty is the best policy”?

Why do you think it’s important to tell the truth?

Well, in today’s story, we’ll meet a mischievous man who tells one too many falsehoods… to a queen. And he gets himself into a royal mess.

Our story is called “The Shepherd’s Disguise.” It comes to us from Germany, a country in Europe. The Jewish community there was sharing this tale as many as six-hundred years ago!

Today’s story was adapted by Jessica Alpert and Rebecca Sheir. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Casting is by Amy Lippens, CSA. Our intern is Chris Ulian.  Find more versions of this story here and here.

This week's episode features the voices of Kim Schraf, Maizy Scarpa, Roseann Cane, Jacob Yeh, Mitch Hebert, and Tony Hale. Grown-ups: you can catch Tony on the HBO comedy, “Veep” and the Netflix series, “Arrested Development.”

ADULTS! Print out this picture so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album on Instagram, and we’d love to see what you color. If you’d like to share your picture on Instagram, post your artwork and tag it with #CircleRound.  We'd love to see it!

Things to Think About After Listening

Lemml’s story shows us how important it can be to get along with others — especially when it comes to solving problems!

Think about a problem you’d like to solve… and how you can work with other people to find a solution. Maybe you can team up with your family to figure out a way to get to school on time … or you can get together with friends to clean up a local park!

Figure out what your problem is… and who will help you solve it… then share your plan with a grown-up, and talk together about how you can put your plan into action.

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: It’s not easy being a queen. You have decrees to make, staff to hire, events to plan. That’s why you might bring on a special team of royal advisers: wise people who help you make wise decisions.

But... once upon a time... there was a queen who had an adviser who was anything but wise. His name... was Lemml.

In truth, no one had any idea how Lemml had gotten his very important job. It seemed that all he did each day was loaf around the palace, wandering the great halls and lounging on velvet chairs.

Yet the truth is… that’s not all Lemml was doing. When people saw him drifting through the palace, he was actually... sneaking around, trying to spy on his fellow advisers! And when people saw him lazing about on velvet chairs, he was actually cocking his head toward the wall... straining his ears to listen in on the advisers’ meetings going on in the next room!

Lemml became so good at eavesdropping on his fellow advisers that very often he would steal their ideas. He’d overhear them working on a problem for the queen. And as soon as they found a solution, he’d sprint over to her royal majesty, and give her the answer… claiming that it was his!

LEMML: My queen, my queen! I’ve spent days – no, months! – trying to figure out this tricky, tricky problem. But I’m pleased to announce that — as usual — at last my brilliant brain has figured out what you should do.

NARRATOR: This kind of thing happened again and again. So, naturally, Lemml was the queen’s favorite.

QUEEN: Oh, Lemml! I shouldn’t be at all surprised to hear my favorite adviser has come up with yet another brilliant solution! What would I do without you?

LEMML: Aw, it’s all in a day’s work. I am always at your service, your majesty!

NARRATOR: Now, as you can imagine, it wasn’t long before Lemml’s fellow advisers had had enough of his hijinks.

ADVISER 1: I am so sick and tired of that Lemml!

ADVISER 2: I know, right? Always taking credit for things he hasn’t done.

ADVISER 3: And answers he hasn’t come up with!

ADVISER 2: And the way he kisses up to the queen while we do all the work?

ADVISER 1: Yuck. Forget about it!

ADVISER 3: I dunno - maybe we should just tell the queen the truth!

ADVISER 2: Maybe we should! We’ll tell her that Lemml has never had an original idea in his life!

ADVISER 1: And all the so-called “wise” advice he gives, he hears from us!

ADVISER 3: Let’s do it!

NARRATOR: So the other advisers went to the queen and told her everything that had been going on.

QUEEN: I appreciate you telling me all of this. But, there’s no way you speak the truth! Lemml is always the first to give me advice, and time and again, it’s brilliant!  But, listen. You’ve all been so faithful to me through the years… just to satisfy you, I will put Lemml to a test. A test with a very difficult solution. And if he doesn’t come up with the solution on his own, well, then I will know you were telling me the truth. But I’m sure he’ll find an answer, as he and his brilliant brain always do!

NARRATOR: The advisers walked away, pleased that her royal highness had listened to them. The following day, the queen summoned Lemml to her throne.

LEMML: Yes, your majesty? You asked to see me? By the way, may I just say that your crown looks especially sparkly today? The way the diamonds and rubies catch the light is positively stunning!

QUEEN:  Why, thank you, Lemml. Now, as you know, I have long relied on you to give me the most excellent and brilliant advice. So today I have three very important questions that require your expert opinion. If you can give me an answer, I will reward you richly.

NARRATOR: Lemml’s heart fluttered at the thought of a “rich reward.” What could it be? Silver? Gold? Maybe a new position as her adviser-in-chief?

LEMML: Oh, my queen! You know you can always count on me to provide the key that will unlock your every problem!

QUEEN: Indeed, Lemml, indeed. But you must know: these three questions I’m asking… they are top secret. Tippy, tippy top! No one must ever hear them, or even know that you and I spoke of this today.

NARRATOR: Lemml was overjoyed to be taken into such close confidence with the queen. To think that she had chosen him, just him, over all her other advisers!

LEMML: Alright, your majesty. I’ll answer your questions. You know it always gives me pleasure to be the comb that untangles your problems!

QUEEN: Very well. Here are my questions. The first thing I’d like you to tell me is this: what is the difference between a rising sun, and a setting sun?

LEMML: (repeating/memorizing) “The difference between a rising sun, and a setting sun”… Okay, got it. Next?

QUEEN: The second thing I’d like to know: how far are the heavens from the earth?

LEMML: (repeating/memorizing, a bit more nervous now) “How far are the heavens from the earth”… (bluffing) Easy enough, easy enough. Piece of cake! And the third question?

QUEEN: My third question… and we know each other so well, I’m certain you’ll be able to answer it without any problems…

NARRATOR: The queen paused, her lips curling into a little smile.

QUEEN: …My third question is: (pause) What am I thinking?

NARRATOR: Lemml felt his hands begin to shake. These weren’t exactly the kinds of problems he could overhear the other advisers talking about – and it wasn’t as if he could ask them for their help! If he wanted to please the queen… and collect his rich reward… he would have to find some other way.

LEMML: My queen: what fine questions! What fine questions, indeed! As you know, a brilliant brain such as mine needs time to tackle such complex and puzzling problems. If you could give me one day, 24 hours, I will return with your answers.

QUEEN: Of course, Lemml – of course! But remember…

NARRATOR: The queen reached out and took Lemml’s hand.

QUEEN: …the answers must come from you, and you alone. You must not discuss these matters with anyone else. If you do…?

NARRATOR: The queen squeezed Lemml’s hand. Hard.

QUEEN: …you will be asked to leave the palace. And the kingdom!

NARRATOR: Lemml bid the queen farewell and stepped outside. He was shaking so hard he had to grab on to one of the velvet chairs for support.

LEMML: Oh my, oh my, oh my my my! ‘What is the difference between a rising sun and a setting sun’? ‘How far are the heavens from the earth’? And ‘what is the queen thinking’? Those questions are impossible! And if I don’t find the answers? My goose is cooked! (pause) I need to get help. The question is… where?

NARRATOR: So Lemml set off into the countryside. He passed by fields and forest, but saw no one on his way. As he walked, he repeated the queen’s questions over and over.

LEMML:  What is the difference between a rising sun and a setting sun? How far are the heavens from the earth? What is the queen thinking?

NARRATOR: As the day wore on, Lemml grew tired. He also grew quite hot; he was wearing his royal cloak and garments, which were made of heavy wool and lined with silk. He stopped for a moment to wipe his brow, when suddenly… he heard someone... whistling.

LEMML: What’s that? Is someone there? Finally! Another person!

NARRATOR: Looking around, Lemml spotted a shepherd walking with his flocks. The shepherd was staring straight at him, with a funny look on his face.

LEMML: Um, hello, good man. How are you this fine day?

SHEPHERD: The question is, how are you? I heard you muttering to yourself just a moment ago, and I couldn’t help wondering if maybe you needed some help…?

LEMML: Well, actually… yes, I do need some help! You see, I am a royal adviser to the queen – her favorite royal adviser, in fact – and she has sent me on a very important mission.

SHEPHERD: ‘A very important mission’?

LEMML: Yes! A mission of such utmost important that it’s tippy-top-secret! But you look like an honest guy, so I think I can trust you. You see, I must give the queen the answers to three questions. And if I don’t, I’ll be fired from my job, and forced to leave the kingdom!

NARRATOR: The shepherd scratched his head.

SHEPHERD: Three questions, eh? Is that what I heard you muttering over there? I thought I caught something about the sun...? The heavens...? What the queen is thinking...?

LEMML: Yes, yes! All of the above! The queen wants me to tell her the difference between a rising sun and a setting sun… how far the heavens are from the earth... and finally, she wants me to tell her what she is thinking! I’ve spent an entire day trying to figure out these riddles, and even though I have quite the brilliant brain, ridiculously brilliant, so far I’ve come up with bubkes!

SHEPHERD: “Bubkes”?

LEMML:’s another word for “nothing.” I’ve come up with nothing!

NARRATOR: A grin spread across the shepherd’s face.

SHEPHERD: You know what? I think I might be able to help you out!

NARRATOR: Lemml grabbed the shepherd and enwrapped him in a big bear hug.

LEMML:  Really? You can help me? Really and truly?

SHEPHERD: Yes, yes. Now. Here’s what we’ll do. You’ll take off this royal cloak of yours, and give it to me. I’ll give you my jacket, and you’ll stay here with the sheep. Then I’ll go to the queen and try and answer her questions. If she’s satisfied, I’ll come back and we’ll switch places again. I’ll pick up my sheep, and you’ll go back to the palace, where you’ll once again be the queen’s favorite royal adviser.

NARRATOR: As I’m sure you can guess, Lemml was a big fan of this idea. If the shepherd failed, Lemml would be safe out here in the country. He didn’t know the first thing about tending sheep, but hey – he could always eavesdrop on other shepherds to pick up some pointers!
But if the shepherd succeeded in answering the queen’s questions... Lemml could return to his former life, and be richly rewarded!

LEMML: Alright, my man. We have a deal! Now give me that jacket! And… those sheep.

NARRATOR: The shepherd slipped on Lemml’s royal garments and set off for the palace. When the guards saw him coming, they assumed he was Lemml, and let him in with barely a glance! The shepherd marched up to the queen’s throne and bowed down low.

SHEPHERD: Your highness, three days I’ve spent puzzling over your questions, and at last I have come up with an answer!

QUEEN: That’s wonderful to hear, Lemml. But please: stop bowing! You know there’s no need for such formalities between you and me!

NARRATOR: The shepherd continued to bow.

SHEPHERD: Oh, but your majesty! Your questions were so intricate, so involved. My brain struggled and grappled and wrestled with your riddles. I now feel infinitely humbled! I’ll only rise if my answers meet with your satisfaction.

QUEEN: Very well, then. So, tell me the answer to my first question: what is the difference between a rising sun and a setting sun?

SHEPHERD: The difference between a rising sun and a setting sun, your highness, is none other than… the whole world.

NARRATOR: The queen was pleased. That answer seemed reasonable enough. After all, the sun rises on one side and sets on the other, with the world in between!

QUEEN: Go on, Lemml, my wise and faithful adviser, and tell me the answer to my second question: how far are the heavens from the earth?

SHEPHERD: I have pondered this one deeply, my queen, and here is what I’ve come up with. The heavens are as far from the earth... as the earth is from the heavens.

NARRATOR: The queen smiled. She couldn’t argue with that one! And to think the other advisers thought Lemml was a fake! Wow, were they wrong about that!

QUEEN: You’re doing well, my friend. Now, finally, tell me the answer to my third question: what… am I thinking?

SHEPHERD: You ask what you are thinking, your majesty. And my answer is this. Right now, you are thinking that I am Lemml, your royal adviser. But the truth is...

NARRATOR: The shepherd jumped up and threw off the royal cloak, revealing worn overalls and a patched-up shirt underneath.

SHEPHERD: …the truth is, I am the shepherd who tends your sheep in the pastures below!

NARRATOR: The queen was so surprised... she fainted.

QUEEN: (fainting sound)

NARRATOR: When the queen came to, the shepherd told her the whole story: how Lemml had approached him and asked for help with his questions... how the two men had swapped places so that the shepherd could meet with the queen.

QUEEN: So, my other advisers were right! Lemml isn’t nearly as wise as I thought him to be. So much for him and his “brilliant brain.” Listen, my friend: if anyone has a brilliant brain here, it’s you! What would you say about coming on as my royal adviser? You’ll take Lemml’s place while he stays in the fields with the sheep.

SHEPHERD: I’d say… absolutely! My “brilliant brain” would be foolish not to!


NARRATOR: So the shepherd joined the queen’s staff of royal advisers. And he got along wonderfully well with the others; he always respected their expert opinion on royal matters, and they respected his.

As for Lemml, he stayed on with the sheep... who have no ideas to steal.

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Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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