There was a Fool out walking along the Queen’s Way beside the River. He saw a gleam off to the side of the road.
“Some money,” he said to himself. “Perhaps a bit of silver dropped out of a hole in a purse and was never noticed.”
But when he went to investigate, all that he found was the small blade of a little twin-edged Knife, half buried in the dirt and grass.
“Curse you for the deceiving thing you are,” cried the Fool, picking up the Knife. “Just for that I’m going to throw you into the River where you can sink to the bottom and rust to death.”
Just then, a firefly glow sparked in a chip of what perhaps was diamond or maybe a cunningly shaped bit of glass in the hilt of the Knife. The Fool felt a slight yet steady buzzing in his head. The buzzing grew louder and became words.
“Oh, good sir, don’t do that. Better that you should keep me. I could be of service to you, perhaps to cut slices of bread or pieces of cheese for you.”
“Oh, indeed,” said the Fool to the Knife, as coolly as if accustomed all his life to chatting with magic things. “Very likely you would do that too, and, I dare say, in anyone else’s hand you might be so good as to cut my throat too.”
The Fool turned towards the River. “No, my fellow,” he said to the Knife, “it’s into the River with you and no mistake.”
As the Fool drew back his hand and prepared to hurl the little Knife into the River, a fat Merchant, wrapped in costly voluminous robes, came jogging up astride a horse.
“Ho, there, lad, what are you about now?” enquired the Merchant, seeing the Fool about to throw something into the River.
“I’m getting rid of a good-for-nothing deceitful little Knife,” answered the Fool. “And no fine words nor aught else it says can change that.”
The Merchant’s eyes widened. “Does it truly talk then?”
“Oh, yes indeed, and very well too, but that will not save it from the River.” The Fool began again to draw his hand back to throw the little Knife into the water.
“Here now, then, be not so hasty,” begged the Merchant. He thought to himself that, if the Knife really was magic, why then, better that he should possess it than the Fool who only wanted to throw it away.
Once the little Knife had proven itself by “speaking” to the Merchant while he himself held it in his hand, in the Fool agreed to hand it over in exchange for five silver bits. Yet, he felt obliged to warn the Merchant of what he considered to be folly.
“It’s a deceitful little thing,” the Fool said. “It tricked me by shining along the road like a lost coin. To be sure, it has the two edges, as you can plainly see, which means it may cut both ways. You might find it slicing your throat as easily as slicing your cheese.”
“Indeed?” laughed the Merchant. “Well, be assured that I won’t make that mistake.”
The Merchant then rode on down the Queen’s Way, chuckling in satisfaction at having obtained the priceless magic knife for the price of a decent bottle of wine. The Fool, for his part, had satisfied his conscience by warning the Merchant about the Knife and was happy because he now had five silver bits where before he’d had none.
So they parted ways, both content with themselves and their fortunes.
A little later that day, the Fool used one of his silver bits to purchase a loaf of bread, a wedge of cheese, and a skin of good ale. He sat down in the shade of a tree to enjoy his repast. Having no knife to cut with, he was forced to tear off chunks of bread from the loaf and break off bits of cheese from the wedge. But that was no great hardship and, besides, a swallow of ale washed it all down his throat very well.
The Merchant, alas, fared not so well.
Later that day, he and his horse found themselves on a wooded section of the road that was a favoured haunt for robbers. Such a gang, armed with cudgels and staves, leapt out of ambush at the Merchant and his mount. The horse received a hard smack upon the rump from one brigand. Surprised and not a little pained, the beast reared up, dumping its rider onto the ground, and galloped away down the road.
Most of the bandits ran after the horse in a mad rush to catch it if they could. It carried saddlebags, doubtless stuffed with the bulk of the Merchant’s valuables. One burly fellow, though, lingered behind to tend to the Merchant who, gasping and wheezing for air, nevertheless struggled to get to his feet, plucking from a sash bound round his waist the little Knife he’d bought from the Fool.
“Aid me now, little Knife,” pleaded the Merchant, “lest I perish.”
In the hilt of the Knife a little chip that might be diamond or a cunningly shaped bit of glass glowed. In the Merchant’s head a buzzing grew loud.
“And how might I aid you, good sir?” asked the Knife.
Before the Merchant could reply, the robber swung the cudgel in his hand, striking the Merchant’s wrist. He yelped and dropped the Knife. As he knelt and scrabbled to retrieve it, the robber clubbed the Merchant’s head on the backswing, stunning him.
In less time than it takes to say the words, the robber scooped up the Knife, stepped round behind the Merchant, reached one hand around front of him to grasp his forehead, and circled the other hand holding the Knife around and under the Merchant’s chin.
As the razor-sharp tip of the Knife pricked against his neck, the Merchant regained wit enough to mutter, “I should have listened when the Fool warned about you.”
“Ah, yes, well, good sir,” answered the Knife. “Even a wise man knows that a fool may be right at least once.”
Gregg Chamberlain is a community newspaper reporter, four decades in the trade, living in rural Ontario, Canada, with his missus, Anne, and their clowder of cats who allow the humans to think they run the place. He has about four dozen short fiction credits, from micro to novelette, in various magazines, including Daily Science Fiction, Apex, Mythic, Pulp Literature, and Weirdbook, and in various original anthologies.