The Smartest Man in All the Land
a Haitian Folk Tale, retold by Phillip Martin

The old king was a rich man. He had all of the things that you would expect a rich king to possess. He had houses, many of them, and they were filled with silver and gold. His closets were filled with the finest clothes and his treasure chests were filled with - you guessed it - so much treasure. But, none of that really mattered to the king. There was only one thing that brought the old man joy. And, that was his pet lamb. He played with her like she was his own child. Even though a king wasn't supposed to really do it, he personally washed the lamb, combed her fleece and dressed her in ribbons. Every day! So, it really should come as no surprise that the little lamb was named Joy. She brought so much of it to the old man's heart.

However, there was also a little fear in that old heart. The king was terrified that something horrible would happen to his bundle of joy. The old man knew that if anyone was clever enough to steal his Joy right from under his nose, it would most likely be that rascal Ti Malice. He was the smartest man in all the land! Ti Malice certainly knew how to get in and out of a lot of trouble. And, if anything ever happened to his Joy, Ti Malice would be in a lot of trouble!

Ti Malice was well aware that the king had a merry little lamb with fleece as white as snow. He was well aware that beneath all those ribbons the little lamb was plump and tender. He was well aware that she was the king's pride and joy. But, above all else, Ti Malice was well aware that lamb was his favorite meat. So, deep down in his heart, and deeper down in his stomach, Ti Malice knew he was going to get that little lamb. Once that trickster made up his mind to do something, it was going to happen, and there would be no joy for that little lamb.

Of course, that is just what he did!

Before you could count, un, deux, trois, that trickster had little Joy in his kitchen, in his pot, and in his stomach. With the last of the lamb stew finished, Ti Malice sat back on his chair and patted his belly. He was truly filled with Joy.

But, there was no joy, or Joy, back at the king's home! "Where is my Joy?" cried the king. He searched his home and garden. Servants scrambled in all directions! The king even looked under his bed! He only found a ribbon but no Joy. "Something terrible has happened!"

When a servant found another ribbon on the road leading away from the royal grounds, the king knew for certain that his Joy was nowhere to be found. "Bring me the houngan!" he shouted. "If there is a way to find my Joy, that old witch doctor will know it!"

The houngan was the very best witch doctor in all the land. So, if anyone could bring Joy to the situation, he was the man. The houngan silenced the king upon arrival and said, "I will find the thief, my king. But, to do this, I need a candle, some money, and a pot of water."

The words made the old king's heart leap for joy!

In no time at all, servants brought the witch doctor the candle, money and pot. He lit the candle, made a cross with the money and placed the pot of water in front of him. Then, the witch doctor did the voodoo that you do to do the things you want voodoo to do.

Finally, a smile crossed the witch doctor's face, but it quickly disappeared. "My king, your Joy is dead. Someone stole your joy and then ate her."

"What?" cried the king. "Who did this? Where is the thief? Tell me who took my joy? Who ate my Joy? That man will never eat another bite of anything!"

"My king," soothed the houngan, "I cannot tell you the name of the thief. I can tell you that he is the smartest man in all the land. I think you know who that is."

"I certainly do," muttered the king.

"Guards!" roared the king. "Get me Ti Malice! Bring that trickster to me in chains and do it now!"

"Yes, my king," replied the chief of the guards, "but you know that Ti Malice is one clever trickster. He's not so easy to catch. We've tried that on several occasions."

"You succeed on this occasion," warned the king, "or you can guess who I will send to prison in his place."

The chief of the guards wasn't the smartest man in all the land, but he knew who the king was talking about. And, he knew you never want an angry king mad at you. He led the rest of the guards away from the king's presence in search of that clever Ti Malice.

When the guards and the witch doctor left, the king had time to think. The more he thought about it, the more he knew that he had to have a celebration in honor of his little lamb. "I will invite everyone I know to remember my Joy."

Since Ti Malice was the smartest man in all the land, he knew exactly what was happening at the palace. He knew that the king was furious. He knew that the guards were after him. And, fortunately for Ti Malice, he knew what to do. He went to find Bouqui.

Bouqui was not the smartest man in all the land. There isn't a tactful way to say the whole truth about the guy. Let's just say that he was kind of the opposite of the smartest man in all the land. And, Ti Malice fully understood the situation.

"My friend, Bouqui!" cried Ti Malice as he entered the house. "How are you on this joyous day?"

"Joyous?" asked Bouqui. "What is there to be joyful about?"

"Where have you been, my friend?" asked Ti Malice. "Everyone is talking about the king's celebration to honor his little lost sheep. There will be beautiful costumes, fine music and even a singing competition."

"A singing competition?" Ti Malice knew how to weave a clever trap. He knew that his friend Bouqui loved two things in life. One of them was singing. So, just the mention of that caught Bouqui's attention. But, the trap would not be complete without the other thing Bouqui loved. And, that was food. All food! Any dish! As long as Bouqui didn't have to prepare it, he was in paradise. Or, in this case, in a trap.

"Why, my friend, it's all about Joy," answered Ti Malice. And if you truly sing as well as I think you can, you'll win a king's feast. Yes, Bouqui, from what I hear the winner will receive three goats, a few sheep, one pig and the prize ox!"

Bouqui's eyes grew large and his mouth watered just at the thought of that feast. "What should I sing?" he wailed.

"What should I wear for the occasion?" he cried.

"My dear, dear, friend," soothed Ti Malice. "You can trust me. I have a plan."

Since Bouqui wasn't anything close to the smartest man in all the land, he didn't think twice about trusting Ti Malice. Of course, the trickster knew that would happen right from the start. Bouqui fell into the plan and the trap, hook, line and sinker.

On the day of the celebration, Bouqui rushed to the home of Ti Malice shortly after the sunrise. "What are you doing here so early?" asked Ti Malice, fighting a yawn.

"I know I have to practice the song and get cleaned up for the celebration," he replied. "What did you find for me to wear?"

"My friend, Bouqui," smiled Ti Malice, "I have the perfect jacket for this joyous occasion. Since the feast is in honor of little Joy, why not wear this fleece jacket?"

"It's as white as snow!" gasped Bouqui. "And, look at those pretty ribbons!"

"Yes," agreed Ti Malice with a smile, "it is a coat that the king is certain to notice. But, that's only half of the winning plan. Here are the words to the song you must sing."

As Bouqui read the lyrics, a frown crossed over his face. "I'm not sure about these words," he admitted. "I know I'm not the smartest man in all the land, but they don't make sense to me."

"They don't have to make sense to you, my friend," answered Ti Malice. "They just need to capture the king's attention. They are sure to do that. Trust me."

And once again, Bouqui made that same mistake. Since he wasn't even close to the smartest man in all the land, he trusted that trickster Ti Malice. The trap was completely set. Something bad was about to happen.

The two made plans to go to the celebration together, but Ti Malice was nowhere to be seen when Bouqui entered the palace. There were many important people from the community, as well as the king himself, but Bouqui ignored them all and headed straight to the tables filled with stew, yams, plantains, rice and pumpkin soup. In his hurry, he lost a ribbon or two from his jacket, but Bouqui didn't care. There was so much to eat, and Bouqui set about eating more than anyone else at the party. And, in addition to all he ate, there was plenty to drink as well. Bouqui had way too much to drink.

He was in quite a joyful mood when he decided it was time to sing. And sing Bouqui did, at the top of his voice. Nobody, especially the king, missed his song.

..................The king has lost his Joy.
..................With sadness he is filled.
..................But not all news is sad,
..................Because with Joy I'm filled.
..................So take a look around
..................My jacket, you should know,
..................Has lovely little bows,
..................And fleece as white as snow!

No doubt about it, if he wanted to get the king's attention, Bouqui did just that!

"Who is singing that song?" roared the king.

"It's me, Bouqui! Do you like it?"

The little man spun around in a circle, showing off his new fleece jacket. Another ribbon fell off, this time landing at the king's feet. And of course, the king recognized the ribbon he lovingly put on his little Joy.

"You? You're the thief who broke into my palace and stole my Joy?" cried the king. "You will never steal another lamb in your miserable life! Your life won't be long enough for another theft! Guards! Seize him!"

Before the guards had a chance to haul Bouqui away, there was a rustling in the crowd. Ti Malice stepped forward and bowed before the king. "Your Majesty, without my help, you never would have captured this thief. It is I who lured him to the palace for this celebration. It is I who felt your loss of Joy. It is I who am filled with Joy now that the thief is captured. I humbly await my reward."

Now the king was not the smartest man in all the land, but he was no fool either. "Ti Malice, I will give you exactly what you deserve."

The trickster bowed before the king, hiding a smile. But, the smile didn't last long. "My houngan told me that my Joy was stolen by the smartest man in all the land. We all know that this does not describe Bouqui. He would never be able to sneak into my palace and steal away my Joy."

"But, you, Ti Malice," continued the king, "are the smartest man in all the land! You stole my Joy! You are the thief!"

"Guards! Seize this thief and take the two of them to the prison. When my party is over, I'll think of something for them. They may find no joy in their punishment, but I certainly will!"

The two friends were hauled off in chains and thrown in the prison. Now, in many stories, it might have been the end of them. At the very least, they might have suffered terribly. But, Ti Malice was just too clever for any of that. You see, in Haiti it is possible to bribe the guards. With the promise of a present here and a little money there, the two friends were able to escape the prison. They fled far away from the king to spend the rest of their days in peace.

As they fled the prison, one of the guards heard Bouqui muttering, "This is the last time I will ever listen to you, Ti Malice! That's a promise!"

Now, if you believe he kept that promise, perhaps you are not the smartest man in all the land?

Copyright 2013 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.