A Children's Story For Grownups

Once there was a king called Dominicus, who was a very cruel ruler. He used fear to force his subjects to do as he willed, and no one dared challenge him, for he had awesome strength. He also had a particularly devious way of dealing with unruly peasants and dissenters.

Whenever anyone fought against Dominicus or tried to speak out against him, he would order them before his throne and offer them a challenge: an eating contest. First, Dominicus would place something before them to eat. Then, they would get to choose something for Dominicus to eat. However, Dominicus assured himself he would always win by making his captor eat hemlock, the terribly poisonous plant. Within minutes, the lifeless prisoner would be dragged from the room, and Dominicus' rule became even stronger.

One day, the great physician Paracelsus made an idle comment that Dominicus should be "thrown to the wolves." A castle guard overheard the comment and had the doctor arrested. Paracelsus was very afraid of what might happen to him, and when he was called into Dominicus' court, he knew his life was forfeit.

"Paracelsus! I have heard you speak against me in public!"

"Sire, may I humbly offer my sincerest apologies. It was a mere jest, gone too far..."

"Silence! I have made up my mind. We shall have an eating contest. First, I shall choose something for you to eat."

Paracelsus looked on with a drastic countenance as the covered dish was brought before him. When it was revealed to be hemlock, he let out an audible gasp of disgust.

"H..h..hemlock, sire?"

"Eat, physician."

Paracelsus gingerly picked up a leaf from the plant. Then with a dramatic flair he grabbed the entire stalk and bit down on it. He chewed as hard as he could, and then took a large gulping swallow, and the hemlock was gone.

Dominicus' evil smile appeared on his face.

Minutes passed, and Paracelsus showed no ill effects. Soon, the king's smile began to vanish, replaced by a look of surprise, then of concern, and finally of fear.

"What devil's trickery is this?"

"Sire, I believe it is my turn to pick something for you to eat."

The king straightened up in his chair. "This is not how the contest is supposed to work!" He paused. "But very well, make your selection."

Paracelsus thought for a moment, and then spoke to the king. "You shall eat ... nothing."

"Nothing?" The king was confused. "And how shall I eat nothing?"

"Why, Sire, you are eating nothing now."

The king stopped midsentence. Now his fate was sinking in. As he stood up to leave the castle, his guards surrounded him. "Sire, you must follow the rules."

He stood flabbergasted at what was happening. "You dare defy your king?"

"No, we do not. That is your rule, that the person must eat what he is challenged to eat, or he will pay with his life."

The king looked around at his guards and their hidden smiles and knew it was the end of Dominicus. He resignedly walked up the stairs to his castle - now his prison; now his tomb.

On the fifth day, as the weakened king sat in his bed fading away, he called forth the new king Paracelsus.

"My liege, you must tell me: how did you eat the hemlock and not die?"

"When I was a very young boy, I accidentally ate some hemlock. I was in a fever for three days, but I survived. Now I'm immune to hemlock. You should've read my autobiography, Sire. I believe I wrote in it, 'Nothing is poison. Everything is poison. It's all in the dosage.'"

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