My father told me a version of this strange tale when I was a child.
Many centuries ago, a green and fertile land became the scene of a conflict between two rulers – the White Count and the Black Count. Eventually the two counts lined up their opposing forces and fought a brief and bloody war from which the Black Count’s troops emerged victorious!
Safe in his tall, black tower, replete with the latest in crenellated wall features and dungeon accessories, the Black Count relished the war report from his trusty General.
“We overran the evil White Count’s forces my Lord, and they scattered in fear. The land is yours!” The General bowed low enough for the feathers in his iron helmet to sweep the ground at his master’s feet.
“Excellent.” The Black Count smiled with satisfaction, leaned back in his throne and pressed his hands together. Then, looking over the tips of his fingers, he regarded the General with narrowed eyes. “But what of the White Count, and all of his treasure? I do not see his head on a spike. I do not see bearers bringing chests of jewels and gold. What of these things?”
The General cleared his throat, glancing around the throne room with nervous eyes. Once more he bowed very low to the ground.
“My Lord, the White Count retreated to his white castle and remains there. His treasures are hidden and nobody knows the secret of their whereabouts.”
The Black Count leaped to his feet with barely suppressed fury. Gesturing wildly, he bellowed commands at his general, his servants and anyone else within earshot. One by one his soldiers and courtiers hurried to their appointed tasks.
I will not bore you with the story of how the Black Count’s army marched to the fortress of the White Castle, nor how they laid seige to it and gave battle until at last the White Count was captured in disgrace. Suffice it to say that before much time had passed, the White Count found himself on his knees at the Black Castle with an executioner’s tool at his neck and the Black Count standing over him in victory.
“Tell me the secret. Tell me where your gold and jewels are hidden,” demanded the Black Count, “or you will feel the axe at your neck.”
“I will never tell,” replied the White Count proudly.
Three more times the Black Count asked his question, and three more times he received the same answer. At last, frustrated, he gave up all hope of uncovering the whereabouts of the White Count’s riches and ordered the executioner to swing his axe and separate his adversary’s head from his body.
The watching crowd held its collective breath as the black-hooded executioner raised his axe high up into the air.
Suddenly, the White Count let out a cry.
“Wait! I’ll tell you. It’s . . . “
But it was too late. The axe fell with a thud and the White Count’s head rolled across the ground, landing at the feet of his enemy. He took the secret of his hidden treasure to the grave.
And the moral of the story is: you should never hatchet your Counts before they chicken.
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