The Three Bird Stone

Soulea’s father had two daughters, one of whom was beautiful and the other of whom was Soulea. Unpestered by suitors and unburdened of the drudgery of self-adornment, Soulea spent her girlhood in her father’s library, flirting shamelessly with new ideas. And then, one day, she fell deeply in love with an idea of her own.

Solea’s father was the first son of the City’s most prominent family. To everyone’s great surprise, however, he turned out to be neither immoral, nor lazy, nor stupid. Indeed, the common people of the City–who, like the peasantry of every age sat in judgment of their social betters–called him, without irony, the Thoroughbred.

When his wife died, the Thoroughbred declared himself married to the City itself. He put his sister in charge of his oldest’s daughter’s social calendar and left his youngest to be raised by the authors of the books in his library. With his energies now focused entirely on his new bride, he quickly ascended the ranks of the City’s public service.

As Junior Minister of Trade, he fired every member of his staff who had ever taken a bribe or committed blackmail. Soon, the City’s reputation for fair dealing improved and its merchants became wealthy.

So, when, a few years later, as Junior Minister of Agriculture, he helped the farmers during a drought by levying a tax on the merchants, they gave with little complaint.

So, when, a few years later, as Junior Minister of Public Welfare, he helped the poor by levying crops from the farmers, they gave with little complaint.

So, when, a few years later, as Junior Minister of War, he drafted young men from the ranks of the poor for military service, they gave with little complaint.

So, when, a few years later, as Junior Minister of Public Good, he lifted the taxes and levies on the merchants and farmers in exchange for their willingness to offer apprenticeships to the poor young men leaving the army, they readily agreed.

The newly-prosperous corps of merchants and farmers, who now found themselves aided by an army of disciplined young apprentices, grew even more wealthy. And the poor, for the first time in their lives, began to see a future in which they were no longer poor.

The City Fathers were both delighted and disturbed by the Thoroughbred’s success. They were pleased to see the City thriving and even more pleased that the Thoroughbred’s popularity was restoring the people’s faith in the aristocracy. On the other hand, they were all out of Junior Ministerships to throw at him and they hesitated to raise him to a more senior position. The Thoroughbred, for all his fine qualities, lacked one virtue the City deemed essential: piety.

Had he been born a village farmer, his skepticism about all things supernatural would have been dismissed by his neighbors as harmless eccentricity. The City Fathers, on the other hand, could not afford to be so tolerant because, despite its newfound wealth in trading and agriculture, the primary business of the City was, in fact, religion.

The City was home to the three most important temples in the Kingdom, to which people came from the surrounding areas for pilgrimages, festivals, and, most importantly, to pray for and bury their dead. Employing a Senior Minister who did not believe in the gods and spirits would be like hiring a butcher who did not believe in knives.

The Thoroughbred did not flaunt his unbelief, but it was a whispered rumor among the people. Among the City Fathers, however, whose membership included the Chief Priest, it was well-known that the Thoroughbred had not set foot in a temple since his boyhood.

It was known as a fact also to his daughter Soulea, who did not share her father’s impiety. When she left the confines of the family library, it was to visit the temples to pray and discuss religious questions with the priests.

Indeed, despite her self-imposed isolation, there was very little that Soulea did not know about the world around her, and all that she saw was filtered through the insights she had gained from her reading. Unlike the common people who were intimidated by the supernatural power the priests wielded, her devotion to the gods and spirits only made her more keenly aware of their corruption and incessant political wrangling.

During her frequent visits to the temples, she gained the confidence of the Chief Priest himself, who admitted to her that even he was worried about the power his subordinates held in political matters. They were clever and scheming and they bullied the City Fathers with threats of supernatural retribution if they didn’t get their way.

Solea soon came up with an idea that captured her imagination. When she next had a private conversation with the Chief Priest, she shared it with him.

“The only solution to the problem you have raised is to appoint a Senior Minister of Religion who does not fear the supernatural powers of your priests. Go to the City Fathers, therefore, and ask them to appoint my father to the position.”

The City Fathers were shocked by the request, but after lengthy discussion, they saw its wisdom. By appointing the Thoroughbred, they could continue to employ him for the good of the city in a Senior Minister’s post. At the same time, they could rely on a Minister of Religion who would not be bullied by the priests. What’s more, appointing the Thoroughbred to be Minister of Religion would assuage all doubts about his piety.

The Thoroughbred, who accepted the post with some hesitation, was never to learn that he owed his position to his own daughter.