An argosy of fables/Chinese fables/The King and the Horses that Turned the Mills


ONCE on a time there was a certain King who was so miserly that for a long time his army had no cavalry, because of the high price of horses. But at last he was persuaded to buy five hundred horses as a protection against his enemies. When he had fed these horses for some time, and his kingdom was at peace with all the world, the King said to himself: "It is costing a great deal to feed these five hundred horses. They have to be cared for all the time, and are of no use in protecting my kingdom." So he ordered the master of the royal stables to blind the eyes of the horses, and set them turning the mills, so that they would at least earn their living, and not be an expense to the kingdom.

After the horses had been for a long time used to turning the mills, all of a sudden a neighbouring King raised troops, and invaded the country. The King at once gave orders to equip the horses, and provide them with harness of war in order to provide mounts for his brave soldiers. When the hour for battle came, the soldiers whipped and spurred their horses to drive them forward against the enemy and break his ranks. But when the horses felt the whip and spur they began turning round and round in a circle, and refused to go forward. The enemy's troops quickly saw that this cavalry was good for nothing. So they marched against it and quickly crushed the King's whole army.

(Translated from the Chinese by M. S. Julien. Paris, 1859.)