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'The King's Face' | Circle Round 7419:06


Do you have a piggy bank? If so, how do you decide whether you’ll save a coin in your bank, or spend it?

We’re about to meet a farmer whose answer to this question makes a very big impression on the king.

Our story is called “The King’s Face.” Versions of this tale come from a bunch of places, including Greece, Hungary, Italy, India, Russia, parts of East Africa and modern-day Iran.

Voices in this episode include Jon Bell, Laura Gardner, Thom Whaley, Lisa Yuen, Derrick Baskin and Brandon Uranowitz. Baskin has graced the Broadway stage in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and "The Little Mermaid," and is currently starring in "Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations," for which he received a Tony Award nomination in 2019. And Uranowitz has received three Tony nominations, for "An American in Paris," "Falsettos" and "Burn This."

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Katherine Brewer. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn. Laney Ruckstuhl helped adapt this story for web.

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on FacebookTwitterInstagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Musical Spotlight: Kithara

(Courtesy of Mark Cartwright via Ancient History Encyclopedia)
(Courtesy of Mark Cartwright via Ancient History Encyclopedia)

If you’ve seen ancient Greek art at a museum, you may have seen a picture of the kithara. Ancient Greek pottery and sculpture often shows the Greek god Apollo playing this stringed musical instrument; the kithara was also engraved on coins during the Classical and Hellenistic periods.

To play this Greek harp, you pluck the strings with both your hands, usually with a plectrum (pick) made of wood, ivory or metal. The word kithara helped give birth to the names of other stringed instruments, including the cittern, zither, and — you guessed it — the guitar!

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: There once was a prince who became king.

The moment the new king assumed the throne, his life was a whirlwind. When the royal jewelers weren’t fitting him for a crown, the royal tailors were measuring him for a robe. When the royal chefs weren’t offering him a dish, the royal artist was sketching him so the royal engravers could stamp his face onto each and every coin in the kingdom.

Then there were the royal advisers, who were always telling the new king exactly what he should do.

ADVISER 1: (condescending) Oh, your highness, you’re so lucky you have us around!

ADVISER 2: You just got this job…

ADVISER 3: ...but we’ve been working in this palace forever!

ADVISER 4: So clearly we know what’s best for you…

ADVISER 1: ...and for your people!

ADVISER 2: After all...

ADVISER 1/ADVISER 2/ADVISER 3/ADVISER 4: ...we are the royal advisers!

NARRATOR: But the new king wasn’t so sure.

KING: These royal advisers — when’s the last time they stepped foot outside the palace? Do they actually know anything about everyday life in this kingdom? Have they ever even spoken with one of my subjects?

If I’m going to be a fair ruler, I need to know how my citizens live. How they get by, what they want and what they need! Not what a bunch of high-and-mighty fussbudgets whisper in my ear!

NARRATOR: So the new king devised a plan. He would disguise himself as a commoner and travel across the kingdom so he could observe the day-to-day life of his people.

When the advisers heard this idea, they smirked and rolled their eyes.

ADVISER 1: With all due respect, your excellency, you’re actually going to meet your subjects?

ADVISER 2: Face to face?

ADVISER 3: Those commoners aren’t smart enough to know what they want.

ADVISER 4: Or what they need.

ADVISER 1: That’s why we’re here!

ADVISER 2: We decide for them!

ADVISER 3: We’re far more clever than any of them could ever be!

ADVISER 4: After all...

ADVISER 1/ADVISER 2/ADVISER 3/ADVISER 4: ...we are the royal advisers!

NARRATOR: But the new king was determined. He put on some faded overalls and work boots, mounted his horse and galloped away from the palace.

As the sun blazed down from a bright blue sky, the disguised king encountered a farmer digging up weeds in a field. The man was so immersed in his work that he didn’t hear the hoof beats thumping toward him, then shuffling to a halt.

KING: Good morning, sir!

NARRATOR: The farmer glanced up, then leapt to his feet and bowed down low.

FARMER: (bowing) Good morning, your majesty!

NARRATOR: The king was surprised.

KING: Your majesty?! How did you know it was me? I’m wearing a disguise!

FARMER: That’s easy, sire. Your face gave you away! It’s engraved on every coin in the kingdom!

NARRATOR: The king smiled.

KING: (impressed) So it is. Listen, I’m sure you’re plenty busy, but I’d love to ask you a few questions. I assume you’re a farmer by trade, yes?

FARMER: I am, your majesty.

KING: Do you enjoy your work?

FARMER: I do, your majesty!

KING: And how much money do you earn in one week?

NARRATOR: The farmer held up three fingers.

FARMER: I earn three silver coins, your majesty.

KING: And what do you do with those three silver coins?

NARRATOR: The farmer scratched his chin.

FARMER: Well, the first coin, I eat. The second coin, I loan out. And the third coin, I give back.

NARRATOR: A puzzled look spread across the king’s face.

KING: I’m sorry, but I don’t understand! How do you explain this riddle?

NARRATOR: The farmer chuckled.

FARMER: Well, your majesty, when I say “I eat” the first coin, what I mean is, I use it to feed myself — to buy myself food. I “loan out” the second coin because I use it to feed my children. They’re the ones who will support me later on, when I’m grizzled and gray.

NARRATOR: The king’s eyes sparkled with curiosity.

KING: And the third coin? The one you “give back”?

FARMER: Well, that third coin goes to my mother, to repay her for everything she’s done for me. So, in other words...

KING:’re “giving it back”! Of course.

NARRATOR: The king was impressed by the cleverness of this not-so-common commoner. Very impressed. He began to hatch a plan.

KING: Listen, farmer. This riddle you’ve shared with me — promise me you will not tell the answer to anyone else. At least, not until you’ve seen my face 100 times.

Do I have your word?

FARMER: (sincere) Of course, your majesty! I won’t tell the answer to anyone until I’ve seen your face one-hundred times.

KING: Good. Farewell then, farmer. Peace be with you!

NARRATOR: Then the new king started his horse and trotted back to the palace, where he summoned his royal advisers to the throne room for a very important meeting.

What do you think the king is plotting? We’ll find out what happens next, after a quick break.


NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “The King’s Face.”

NARRATOR: When we left off, a new king had assumed the throne, and along with his royal crown and robes, he inherited a team of royal advisers.

The advisers had lived and worked in the palace for years, and the king worried they were out of touch with what was happening outside those great stone walls. So the king donned a disguise and headed into the kingdom to observe how his subjects lived.

In the fields he met a farmer, who told the king a riddle. The king made the farmer promise not to tell anyone the solution to the riddle until he had seen the king’s face 100 times.

Then, the king galloped back to the palace and asked his royal advisers to gather round.

KING: Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve returned from my travels with a riddle. Whoever can answer this riddle will be promoted to the position of chief adviser!

NARRATOR: The advisers’ eyes lit up.

ADVISER 1: A riddle, your highness?

ADVISER 2: We love riddles!

ADVISER 3: Surely, we’ll know the answer!

ADVISER 4: After all…

ADVISER 1/ADVISER 2/ADVISER 3/ADVISER 4: ...we are the royal --

KING: I know, I know! You are my royal advisers!

But believe it or not, I actually heard this riddle from one of my people — an average, everyday citizen — a farmer, whom I encountered while he was pulling weeds in the hot sun.

This farmer, I learned, earns three silver coins a week. When I asked what he does with those three coins, he answered me as follows. The first coin he eats. The second coin he loans out. And the third coin he gives back. Tell me the meaning of the farmer’s words, and you will be my new chief adviser.

NARRATOR: The advisers spent the next day racking their brains.

ADVISER 1: This riddle is a tough nut to crack!

ADVISER 2: I’d say it’s downright impossible!

ADVISER 3: I’ll tell you what’s "impossible" — that a simple farmer could be more clever than we are!

ADVISER 4: I know! After all, (sheepish) we are the royal advisers, right?

NARRATOR: Eventually, the advisers decided that if they wanted to solve the riddle, they would have to track down the farmer.

So they stole away with the king’s horse and had the animal retrace its steps to the farmer’s field. It was drizzling outside, so by the time they got there, their long robes were damp, and their fancy shoes were splattered with mud.

ADVISER 1: Excuse us, farmer. We’re wondering if you can help us out.

ADVISER 2: Not long ago, did you by any chance meet the king?

NARRATOR: The farmer glanced up from his weeding.

FARMER: Why, yes! I did.

ADVISER 3: And did you by any chance tell the king a riddle...

ADVISER 4: ...about how you spend your three silver coins each week?

FARMER: In fact, I did!

NARRATOR: The advisers grinned.

FARMER: But his majesty made me promise not to tell anyone the answer.

NARRATOR: The advisers grimaced. Then, one of them reached into the horse’s saddlebag, and pulled out a large silk purse.

ADVISER 1: This purse contains 100 silver coins...

ADVISER 2: ...each one newly-minted with the king’s royal face.

ADVISER 3: We will give you the whole kit and caboodle...

ADVISER 4: ...if you tell us the answer to your riddle.

NARRATOR: The farmer gazed at the purse. His eyes twinkled.

FARMER: Well, I don’t need 100 silver coins. But I’ll take 99!

NARRATOR: The advisers were confused by the farmer’s request. But they counted out 99 silver coins and handed them over. The farmer peered at each and every coin before dropping it into his leather satchel.

Then, once all 99 coins were stashed away in the farmer’s bag, he told the advisers the answer to his riddle.

Without delay, the advisers rushed back to the palace, where they proudly shared the solution with the king.

KING: You solved the farmer’s riddle? How in the world did you figure it out? Only the farmer himself could know the answer!

NARRATOR: As the king stared at the advisers, he noticed their sodden clothing and the mud spattered all over their fancy shoes.

KING: Wait a minute! Have you been out of the palace? Riding around the kingdom? To a certain field where a certain someone was weeding, perhaps?

NARRATOR: The advisers caved in, and told the king everything — how they had tracked down the farmer, and how they had traded 99 silver coins for the solution to his riddle.

Immediately, the king ordered his guards to bring the farmer to the palace. When the humble man arrived, the king jabbed a trembling finger toward his face.

KING: (angry) You! You weren’t supposed to tell anyone the answer to your riddle. Not until you’d seen my face 100 times.

NARRATOR: The farmer shrugged.

FARMER: I know that, your majesty. But the truth is, I have seen your face 100 times!

NARRATOR: The king’s jaw dropped.

KING: What are you talking about? We’ve only met once!

FARMER: Yes, your majesty; we have only met once. But I’ve definitely seen your face 100 times. One time when we first met, and 99 times this very morning!

KING: What?! That’s absurd. You didn’t see my face this morning. And definitely not 99 times!

NARRATOR: There was a glint in the farmer’s eye as he held up his leather satchel and gave the bag a gentle shake.

FARMER: Your majesty, this satchel contains 99 silver coins. Your advisers were kind enough to give them to me. And when they did, I saw all 99 coins, and all 99 of them bear an engraving of your royal face. Therefore…

KING: …you have seen my face 100 times! Of course.

NARRATOR: After that day, the farmer became the king’s chief adviser. His only adviser, actually. The king offered his former advisers a new position: planting and weeding out in the royal fields.

When the farmer moved into the palace to start his new job, he didn’t come alone. He brought his children and his mother with him.

And even though his new royal salary was a wee bit larger than three silver coins, he continued splitting his earnings into three parts: one, he ate. One, he loaned out. And one, he gave back.

This is the license for the image courtesy Mark Cartwright via Ancient History Encyclopedia.

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