Once upon a time, a poor man was digging out the ditch by the castle road. And I don’t know how it came about, but the king himself was taking a walk alone along the road, and he asked the poor man:
“Tell me, my dear man, how much do you get paid for a day of such hard work?”
“Your Majesty, the king! Well, for a day, I get three groats.”
The king wondered at this, and asked him how he could live on just three groats.
“Oh, Your Majesty, if I only I had all of them to live on, it would be easy. But of those three goats, the first I repay, the second I lend, and only on the third one do I myself live.”
The king didn’t understand what he meant; he rubbed his hand on his head, while trying to figure it out. After a few minutes of silence, he couldn’t figure it out, so he confessed, that he didn’t understand, how it was possible that from three groats the man could repay, lend, and live.
“Simply, Your Majesty,” said the poor laborer, “It is like this! I take care of my father who is now old and disabled, in this way I repay him, for he took care of me as a child. But also I am raising my own young son: in this way, I am lending, so that one day, he can repay me when I will be old. And the third groat is to obtain what I need to live.”
“This is good, what you do,” rejoiced the king. “Look, my dear man, I have at home 12 advisors and the more pay I give them, the more they complain to me that they don’t have enough on which to live. Now I am going to put to them this riddle, which you have told me. But if they would come to you to ask, don’t tell them what it means, until you see my face.
As he finished speaking, he pulled from his pocket a handful of ducats and gave the peasant.
As soon as he returned to his castle, he called his twelve advisors before him:
“How you are not able to survive with so much money? In this land there is a man who receives just three groats a day; and from these, the first he repays, the second he lends and only on the third does he live, and happily at that. Now, if you are so wise, then tell me, how is this possible? Because, if you can not tell me by the day after tomorrow, I will run all of you out of my kingdom, and no longer will you be eating my bread for nothing.”
The glorious advisors slinked away to their house with hanging heads and sat down together to think what it could be. Each thought himself the wisest, and could not imagine turning to some simple person for help. That whole day they spent thinking and discussing, as well as the second day.
On the third morning, of the day when they had to appear before the king, they still didn’t have a clue. Ultimately someone whispered to them where they could find the poor man, that he would be the only one who could save them from this predicament. They sought him out and immediately came to him. Pleas, threats and curses they hurled at him, to make him tell them the secret of the three groats. But they couldn’t persuade him. He repeated to them the kings decree: that only if he saw the king’s face, then flour could be made from the rye.
“How can we pitiful men show you the king’s face? The king will not come here at our command, and you can’t just walk into the court to see him. Please just tell us the answer!” they begged.
“No, if you don’t even know how to show me his face, then from the flour you are not baking any bread!”
So they tried other ways: they promised him the hills and the valleys; finally that they would give him a great deal of money, so that even without the king’s graces he could have a way to live, if only he would tell them. But he said nothing! Only when one came with the bag of money on his shoulder and it was clear to him that these wise men could figure nothing out, the poor man pulled from his pocket one of the ducats which the king had given him and said:
“Look, here is the king’s face! He himself gave it to me, I see him clearly; I don’t have to fear that I would be breaking his decree! So I can tell you what you want!” And he explained the riddle!
So by the third day these advisors could easily explain the riddle to the king, since the poor man had lent them his reason. But immediately the king could sense that something was up, so he ordered the poor man to be called before him and asked:
“Tell me, how is it that you, an otherwise honorable person, could violate my royal decree?”
“I did not violate, most powerful king, for I was silent as a rock, until I saw your most just face. Here I still have it, you yourself gave it to me.” And he pulled from his pocket the ducat with the image of the king, and told him the entire incident with the twelve advisors, how they threatened and pleaded, how hopeless they were, and how he made fools of them.
“Since you are so wise, that you have more understanding than my twelve advisors, you will no longer be digging ditches, but you will live as a lord in my palace, and sit next to me in counsel,” the king said.
“And with you” he addressed the advisors, “Do you have no shame? What shall I do with you? Not only will I not increase your pay, but even that which you have, I will take from you!”
No more did they come to annoy the king about their wages.
Translated from O troch grošoch by Andrew Ray
Collected by Pavol Dobšinský
Related by Štefan Marko Daxner from Rimavska Sobota.