Once upon a time, there was a kingdom called Iugoe in the middle of a fantasy land. The kingdom was very large, but all of the boundaries were blocked by vast ranges of mountains. The kingdom was self-sufficient, though, so any outside contact was unnecessary. Everyone in the kingdom was content, and lived happy lives in the peace of equality.
The ruler of this kingdom was King Muffler, who was preceded by King Midas. King Muffler was a kind ruler, and did everything in his power for the good of his kingdom, and himself. He did this mostly by increasing the amount of gold in the treasury, his favorite hobby. Gold was the main source of wealth, and every ounce found in the kingdom went straight to the treasury.
Though there was no outside contact, King Muffler liked to know what went on outside his kingdom; in particular, how the other kingdoms and their treasuries stood up to his. So, every month, he sent a servant to check out the other kingdoms.
The day came when the servant returned with the latest news.
``Ahhh, Sir Mine of Key, what have you to report?" asked the eager King Muffler.
``I am sorry to say, Your Highness," replied Sir Mine, ``that king Good of Wrench still manages his kingdom better than you."
``Blast!" rasped the king, his eagerness replaced by distaste.
``Blast what?" asked Sir Mine.
``No, you idiot, I'm talking to myself!"
``Oh." he said, nodding to himself.
``What? Can't a man even talk to himself in his own kingdom?"
``I was just-"
`` TREASURY REPORT!!" screamed King Muffler.
The throneroom doors slammed open, inadvertently hitting two guards. Seven men wearing brown, hooded robes trampled over each other into the room. An eighth member lay in the doorway, covered with footprints and bleeding slightly to himself.
The seven men broke to a halt in front of the throne. They each unrolled scrolls they had tucked under their arms and had miraculously saved from certain destruction of stomping during their entrance. They held the scrolls open.
``Good King Muffler!!..." they all cried in perfect unison, ``May we humbly beg that we may ask that we be granted the divine honor of carrying out your royal orders to report-"
``Get on with it, you goons!" yelled Muffler.
``The treasury wishes to report that there has been a thirteen point five - nine - four - six - eight - two - four - nine - seven - five - two - five - oh - oh - six-"
``For goodness sake," frothed the king in agitation, ``I don't need to know the fine points, just sum it up for me!"
``There has been an increase." announced the first man, now breaking away from unison.
``Ah, good!" beamed Muffler.
``In the last three weeks." went the second man.
``Due to the discovery of a new gold mine." provided the third man.
``Of roughly fourteen percent in the treasury." finished the fourth man.
``In the last three weeks." added the fifth man, who had nothing better to say.
``We worked hard..." hinted the sixth man, who hadn't been payed in months.
``Very hard." said the seventh, who hadn't been payed for even longer.
``Unghh." confirmed the eighth man, still laying in the doorway, who was a rookie and hadn't been payed at all.
``Excellent! Excellent!!" said the king.
``Which means," concluded the first man, who had whipped out a sliderule, ``that your kingdom is now at only a point oh - oh - oh - five - seven to one ratio with king Good's kingdom-"
``AAAAAAAAAAAUUGGHHH!!!" screamed Muffler. ``Don't ever-- EVER--mention that name in here again unless you're making fun of it!!"
``Y-Y-Y-Y-yes, your majesty..." they said, in simultaneous meekness.
``Now, you lot, go to the gallows! I'll have missionary Tranz make an appointment. After that, go to the cellar; we need something to plug a leak in the moat until the plumber from Dray-no arrives. Then, uh..., just play tag with some wild horses until I call you."
``Yes, your Highness." they said.
``Make up your minds! `Your Highness,' `Your Majesty,' you sound like those incorrigible peasants from the Mart of Kay!"
``Yes your-" the rest sounded like a jumble of royal addresses and swears.
``Oh, why do I put up with this..." he exclaimed, ``...it's playing havoc with my cholesterol count."
``You mean your-"
``Shut up!... you,... you,..."
``Imbecile?" suggested one of the men.
``Dummy?" suggested another.
``Just... just forget it!'' screamed Muffler, ``Just get out of here! Go!''
The seven men rushed out of the throneroom leaving a cloud of dust . The eighth member was nowhere to be seen. Either he had been picked up as the others left, or had been trampled into the cracks of the floor. Both were plausible.
``Point oh - oh - oh - five - seven to one..." mumbled Muffler, "How can a king with a ditsy name like `Good' have such a great kingdom? Sir Mine!"
``Next time you come back from Wrench, bring back a native; a small one I can spit on.''
Muffler sighed, ``How does he do it?"
``He has so much more gold is his treasury than you, Sire," said Sir Mine of Key.
``Mmmmm... yes, that must be it. Tell you what," he said after a few minutes of thought, ``next time you return bring that angel-guy or whatever that granted my predecessor that golden touch thing. I want to make a deal with him. Treat him well; he may be the answer to our problems."
King Muffler waited, and soon the day came when Sir Mine of Key would return from afar.
``Aha! Here he comes now!"
Sir Mine entered the throneroom leading two other people behind him; a native of Wrench, and Arch, the semi-tangible sorcerer. Arch stopped momentarily by an older guard by the door and nodded in friendly greeting. The gaurd smiled and nodded back. Muffler was too excited with the arrival of Arch to notice the small exchange or to spit on the little Wrenchite.
Arch was a young looking man for a sorcerer. Probably because he was immortal. But his face, his eyes mostly, showed the vast wisdom and experience inside this ordinary looking man. ``Ahh, good Arch!" exclaimed the king, ``'Tis a pleasure to meet you face to face!"
``Greetings, King Muffler, I am glad we now have the chance to meet. Now, you say there is something I can help you with?"
``Oh, yes. Here," said Muffler, indicating a chair next to him, ``sit down and I will explain."
Arch sat down, but when he tried to cross his legs, one leg fell right through the other.
``Oooooh, this is a nuisance!" he complained.
Muffler talked long, and in detail, explaining how he needed more gold for his kingdom, but dodging the real reason why. He was now only interested in outdoing King Good in terms of treasuries, not the good of his kingdom.
Finished, he asked: ``Well, can you help me?"
Arch twisted his face in thought.
``It's not so much a question of `can I'..." he explained, staring at the ceiling, ``... it's more a question of ethics."
He thought some more.
``Alright," he said, finally, ``I'll give you one wish that will make you a better person for your kingdom. Name it."
King Muffler did not have to think about it.
``I want," he said, ``to be able to turn everything I touch with my right index finger," he emphasized, ``into gold, Aurrum, whatever."
Arch slapped Muffler on his balding forehead with the palm of his hand, and disappeared in puff of floating calculus equations.
Everything was quiet for a few moments, then Muffler tapped a nearby guard on the shoulder.
``Psst, where'd he go?" Muffler asked.
``Where'd who g- BWWAAAAAAAA!!!"
The guard, with a flash of light, froze in place and fell to the floor, suddenly a statue of gold.
``Amazing!" cried Muffler.
``Incredible!" cried Sir Mine of Key.
``Neat!" cried the small Wrenchite.
``Aaaahh, that's old hat." said an older guard. Everyone looked at him. ``Old Midas used to do better than that in his sleep."
The next day, King Muffler had all the people in his kingdom send all their useless junk to the palace, anded all day he turn item after worthless item into pure gold, Aurrum, whatever. The people in nearby villages could see a glowing radiance coming from the royal castle as Muffler created gold, gold, and more gold.
Muffler had taken precautions, of course. He had prepared himself for this miracle. He had a cap made to cover his finger so he would not turn everything he touched into gold.
The day after that, he returned to the throneroom as usual and began the orders of the day.
The same seven men rushed into the room, and the same two guards were inadvertently crushed by the opening doors. The rookie made it further than last time, though. This time he made it almost halfway to the throne before he was inevitably trampled. He was getting the hang of things.
Muffler was in an exceptionally good mood. So good, in fact, that he put up with the tedious prologue of the report. The excrement hit the fan, though, when the actual numbers started to come out.
``There has been a decrease." said the first man.
``Ah, good, a... a what?"
``A ninety-five percent decrease in the treasury." confirmed the second.
``A decrease. Overnight." repeated the first.
``Well, it seems," explained the third man, ``that you had suddenly amassed so much gold, overnight..."
``Sixty-six thousand, four hundred and ninety-two metric decatons, to be approximate," announced the fourth.
``... that the value of gold has plummeted. Decayed. Been massacred. Zinger. Gone."
``I think that stunt of turning the entire north field and Melville Hill into gold was what did it." informed the fifth.
``Suh-suh-suh-Sir Miiiine..." he wailed.
``Yes, my Transformership?"
``Get Arch down here NOW."
Sir Mine of Key began to leave.
``And have Melville Hill dug up and brought here as well!" he added after him.
Muffler made sure his cap was on tight. He tapped a nearby guard, just to make sure.
Arch Entered the throneroom.
``Oh, thank goodness..." breathed Muffler.
``What can I do now, Muffler? By the way, the north field looks very nice, but wasn't there a hill in the middle of it last time I was here?"
Muffler dodged the question.
``Can you alter my wish a slight bit?" asked Muffle, hopefully.
``Oh, I suppose I could. I admire you more than I did Midas, I must say. He asked for almost the same wish and killed one of his family members and almost himself! How did he think he could eat or drink? But you, my boy, you take it all into consideration."
``Almost all of it..." Muffler muffled.
``Oh, nothing... nothing..."
``Well, what can I do?" asked Arch, sitting down next to Muffler, failing again to cross his legs.
``I would like everything, that I want to, to turn into a wad of money when I touch it with my right index finger. Can you do that?"
``Aaaaah, that's going to be a little more tricky, you see, because of your thought interaction. But it shouldn't be impossible... Tell you what; I'll work on the spell, and by... what's today? Monday?... by Friday I can be here with the spell."
``Oh, thank you! Thank you!" said Muffler, standing up and shaking Arch's hand vigorously.
``Now then, young fellow, there's no need to get all excit-BWWAAAAAAAA!!!"
Arch keeled over, made of gold.
Muffler stared at Arch, then looked at his right hand. The cap had somehow slipped off.
``Oh no, poor Arch, poor Arch..."
``Oh, don't fret, your moneiness," said the old guard, reassuringly, ``this has happened before. Old Midas must have done it to Arch at least twice. Just leave him out in the cold, and he'll be fine.
``It'll take about a month for him to change back, though."
``A month?! I can't wait a month, the citizens are thinking of a revolution!"
``Here, men," said the guard, ignoring Muffler, ``let's take him outside."
Four guards grabbed at Arch's gold body, but their hands past though him without purchase.
``Hmmmm..." said the guard, ``didn't have that problem last time... ol' Arch must be getting kinda shabby. I guess we'll have to open all the windows and doors in the castle. Hope you don't mind..."
Muffler shook his head, oblivious of his loss of control.
``TREASURERS!!" yelled Muffler, and was blinded by the fog created by his own breath.
This time, eight men arrived.
``I did it, guys, I made it!!" cried the rookie.
``Treasurers," said the King, ``I need a plan for getting a profit on this gold. The last inside report indicates that people are beginning to request that jewelry be made of lead, rather than gold now."
``Ouch!" they all cried in unison.
``And that the value," continued Muffler, ``is just about even with sheep guts... and we all know how unpopular sheep guts are... Any suggestions?"
``I know," yelled the third treasurer, ``make sheep guts more valuable!"
``Anything else besides brother William's contribution?"
``Start making all third place awards out of gold instead of bronze!" said the fifth.
``Sell it to the airline industry to make their planes out of!" said the fourth.
They all turned to him.
``What the Hell are you talking about?" screamed Muffler, ``The airline industry hasn't even been conceived of yet!"
The fourth treasurer shrugged sheepishly, ``I... I..."
``I've got it! I've got it!" screamed the rookie, ``We'll gather all the gold and store for a month, maybe two. Then when the price of gold goes up, we'll let it back into the market a little at a time!"
Muffler's eye's lit up. ``You're a genius, boy!"
``A brainiac!" yelled the others. ``Our problems are solved!"
``And while we're doing that," added Muffler, ``we can bring some of it to the other kingdoms! They're mad for it there!"
Before he had finished, Muffler knew he had found the best solution possible. With whoops and cheers, the treasurers celebrated the premature victory.
``This kingdom will be rich!" shouted Muffler, smiling, ``We're all going to be rich... just like that!"
King Muffler snapped his finger, and the cap on his finger flew off.
The cap hit the rookie across the nose. It bounced off various other heads of treasurers. It ricocheted many times from wall to wall of the throneroom, and finally, hit Muffler in the eye.
``OW!" he cried.
He massaged his wounded eyelid with both hands.
Outside, as the villagers climbed up the hill on which the royal castle stood, carrying pitchforks, hoes, and weed-wackers, they saw, for the last time, a glow emanating from the windows of the castle.