An unfortunate chain of events while hunting left a king lost and dependent on a lowly charcoal-maker.
Somewhat overawed by their unexpected guest, the charcoal-maker and his wife served the king as best they could, which was far from what the king was accustomed to.
Amazed that his hosts could seem content in such circumstances, the king ventured to ask the charcoal-maker how much he earned for a day of work. The answer astounded him.
“How do you survive with so little?” the king asked.
Smiling, the charcoal maker said, “I don’t just make enough to survive. On that income I also pay off a debt, invest for the future and still find enough left over to throw out the window.”
The king couldn’t believe this and asked the meaning of the poor man’s riddle.
“Your majesty, my mother brought me up, and now I care for her in her old age. In this way I am paying off a debt. I raise my son with the hope that he will do the same for me. In this way I am investing for the future. I also have a daughter, and put aside an amount for her dowry, which, as you know, is the same as throwing money out the window.”
This answer pleased the king greatly, and he gave the charcoal maker a gold coin for his hospitality.
“Can you keep a secret, charcoal-maker?”
“Until you allow me to speak of it again.”
“Very good. You may speak of it again– when you have seen my face 100 times.”
The charcoal maker agreed, and guided the king back to the road.
As soon as he returned home, the king set the charcoal-maker’s riddle before his entire court, promising the position of royal counselor to the person able to come up with the correct answer.
While others guessed futilely, a crafty courtier rode until he came to the charcoal-maker the king had spoken of.