The Cactus

One day the king, feeling bored and tired of his servant’s company, came up with a preposterous request in order to make the servant go away for a long time and leave the king in peace.

“Go and find me a cactus, cut it down, bring it back to me and I shall be most pleased with you.” The king told the servant. “But, if you cannot find a cactus to bring back to me, don’t bother coming back at all.” The king added, meanly.

Feeling honored that the king had trusted him with such a request, the servant set off immediately, determined to make the king proud. But the servant couldn’t help feeling a bit sad too, because he was very fond of his king and enjoyed being in his company. Nevertheless, he was determined to bring back the biggest, most prickly cactus he could and make his king very happy.

Now, this was no easy task as the kingdom that they lived in, in fact, had no cactus in it at all. The servant walked far and wide across mountains and valleys, even across an entire ocean (please don’t ask how he walked across the ocean for that is a different story). He walked in all sorts of weather, hunger, and dangers. At times, he despaired that he would ever be able to find a cactus for his beloved king.

One day, just as he was about to give up, the servant, who by now was very weary from his journey, looked up and there was a huge cactus, green and strong and even taller than the servant was. His heart filled with joy. He could finally return home to his king and kingdom and with the most beautiful cactus as a prize. The servant pulled out the axe he had carried with him all this time, and just as he was about to swing the first blow to the base of the cactus, a small window high up in one of the arms of the cactus opened and a little man looked out at the servant. Seeing what he was about to do, the tiny man let out a squeak of alarm.

“Oh, no please!” cried the tiny man. “Please do not do that! If you chop down our home, where will we go? How will we live?”

“I beg your pardon, “said the startled servant. “I had no idea that anyone lived inside this cactus.”

“Oh yes! There are two of us, at present. Myself, that lives in this arm, and my friend that lives in that arm over there.” The tiny man leaned out the window and pointed to the other arm of the cactus.

The servant studied the cactus for a moment, taking this in. “And the middle?” He inquired.

“Oh, that is unoccupied at the moment,” Said the tiny man. “In fact, if you are looking for a place to stay….” The tiny man trailed off, giving the servant a meaningful look.

“Oh,” laughed the servant. “I am much too big. I would never fit.”

“Not true,” answered the tiny man. “We have a potion that makes you just the right size to live here. There is just enough left for one person, and you may have it if you wish.”

The servant thought about it for a few moments. It had been so very long since he had had a home and he was very weary, and he hadn’t seen his king or his own home in so long that the once warm memories had faded and started to turn cold for him. “Is living in a cactus very comfortable?” asked the servant.

“Oh, so very!” Answered the tiny man with great enthusiasm. It is cool in the warm sun, warm in the cool evenings, and smells so very lovely all the time. Only the outside is prickly. Inside is soft and wonderful!”

“Well, all right. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble. It has been a very long time since I had a home or saw a friendly face.” The servant took the bottle that the tiny man offered him and the moment he drank the dark liquid he found himself to have shrunk quite small. “Oh!” Exclaimed the servant. “That was very easy!”

“Yes,” agreed the tiny man. “And I think that you will find that life is much easier for you now, as well. Come, let me show you your new home.”

And so, the two tiny men went into the cactus and the servant climbed into his new middle arm of the cactus, that was very much like a townhouse within the cactus. He had multiple floors all with windows he could open or close at his pleasure. The cactus did indeed smell lovely inside, and provided him with food and drink as well, and since he was so small, he didn’t need much to satisfy him. And so, the time passed pleasurably, the servant taking to his new life with relish, and was very happy.

One day, it happened that they were walking outside the cactus when they heard a faint yelling. Turing around, they saw the other tiny man running across the sand toward them, waving his arms.

“Oh! Here he is! My friend that lives in the other arm of our cactus, he’s been away on vacation. Now what is he about, I wonder?” The tiny friend was yelling something they couldn’t quite hear and waiving frantically, pointing at the sky behind them.

“Oh!” Cried the tiny man, glancing over his shoulder at the sky, and then suddenly whirling around and started quickly moving back to the cactus. “Run!” He called to the servant.

“But whatever for?” Asked the servant alarmed, looking around but not seeing any source for panic.

“Rain! It’s going to rain!” The tiny man cried as he reached the cactus and scurried inside.

“Hurry! Hurry!” Shouted the tiny friend as he ran by him, also frantically running for the cactus.

“But whatever for? I’ve always enjoyed a good rain shower. Very cleansing, you know.” Said the servant, looking up at the building clouds. He was rather pleased at this turn of events as he hadn’t felt the rain on his face in a long time.

“No! You don’t understand!” Cried the two tiny men from the safety of their cactus home. “You’ll….” But what they had to say was drowned out by a large crack of thunder overhead.

Thinking the two tiny men to be very silly indeed in their fear of a little shower, the servant decided to humor them and started walking back toward his home just as the first drops began to fall. But as each raindrop hit him, he noticed that the ground seemed to be just a little further away.

“What’s this?” He wondered, confused until suddenly he found himself wet to the bone and restored to his old height as a regular man. “What’s this?” He cried again, much more alarmed.  “What has happened?”

A small window opened high up in the cactus above him. “We tried to warn you” said the two tiny men, peering out at him from the safety of their window. “The rain washes away the potion. That’s why we live in the dessert in a cactus where it hardly ever rains.” They told him sadly.

“Oh!” Said the servant, rather miffed that this important information hadn’t been conveyed earlier. “Well, give me another dose and I will know for the next time.” He held his hand out for the potion.

“We can’t” said the tiny men, sadly. “We used the last of it to make you small. There isn’t anymore.”

“Well, can’t you get more?” spluttered the servant.

The two little men shook their heads. “I’m sorry, dear friend. It was lovely while it lasted. Goodbye.” They said as they slowly shut the window, looking at him regretfully.

“What!” shouted the servant, rage building in him as he thought of the wonderful little life he had found, and now had lost, through no fault of his own he felt.

In a blind rage, he picked up the axe he found lying nearby and started to hack at the cactus home savagely until the whole thing toppled over in a loud crash. He grabbed the ravaged end and started dragging it behind him, cursing and muttering angrily at his misfortune and feeling very badly used. He dragged the cactus though mountains and valleys, even across an ocean, through all kinds of weather and hunger and dangers, and just as he was about to give up with despair, he saw the flags of the castle and very soon the whole castle came into view. Out came the king to greet his old servant heartily, for the king had missed his loyal servant very much and felt bad for sending him away in the first place. The king, seeing the bedraggled cactus that the servant pulled behind him was shocked at the condition the poor cactus was in, having been dragged over mountains and valleys, and even an ocean, through all kinds of weather, but being so pleased to see his faithful servant and determined to make amends for making him go away in the first place, the king pretended to be pleased with the cactus anyway, and made a big fanfare of his servant and ordered the servant receive his own little cottage for his trouble.

So, the servant wearily settled down in his very own little cottage, next to his very own cozy fire, and never thought about the two tiny men or what became of them ever again.

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