A Tale of Love & Money: The Country That Had No Onions

“My great panacea for making society at once better and more enjoyable would be to cultivate greater sincerity.” ~ Frances Power Cobbe

In a small village at the foot of an ancient mountain, a thriving community held many tradesmen. One of them, though now quite old, had been given the moniker ‘Saul The Dreamer’, years ago, by the rest of the townsfolk. More than proficient at his craft, he nonetheless lived a humble life, having learned long ago the value inherent in giving. He kept only those things required for his basic well-being, trading generously to maintain them, and was never in want of food, clothing and a comfortable living space.

And while these things kept him satisfied, it was the company of his townsfolk that remained his true reward. Aside from the adventure of travel, there was nothing he enjoyed more than the slow, daily bustle of his small village — the shouts of the children and the sounds of the animals as they moved in and out of the market everyday; the chattering and laughter of the merchants as they conducted their business with customers, and the nightly festivities, which would often find him sitting down to break bread and exchange stories with kinfolk old and new.

And stories were one thing Saul was never short on. Child and adult alike would sit, enthralled, as he told of the strange and whimsical lands he had visited over the years. Having seen so many foreign countries, exotic folk and customs over the course of his life, there was rarely a tale he couldn’t find to fit the moment. Sometimes, in fact, late at night, waiting on sleep, he wondered if he hadn’t seen it all. Was there anything that could possibly surprise him?

One day, however, a wandering preacher happened into town and began making his rounds. Eventually he was introduced to Saul, and, being quite worldly himself, fell into into a bout of delightful and deep discussion with this man they called ‘The Dreamer’. During the course of the conversation, the preacher revealed he had recently passed through a country that had no onions.

Saul was astonished. No onions! How could that possibly be? In all his travels, he had never heard of such a thing. What an incredible dearth those poor people were suffering from — and without even knowing it! Was it possible to truly understand the magnificence of food without the distinction of onions?

Before the conversation had even ended, Saul’s mind was made up. He would buy enough onions to fill his entire cart, set off on horseback, and introduce the succulent vegetable to this far away land. No one deserved to be denied the knowledge of such treasures! 

The next day he gathered all of his provisions, weighed his wagon down with as many onions as it could hold, and said goodbye to his people, setting out into the dawn with his two best horses.

It was a long journey, taking him nearly a full cycle of the moon, but finally, on a warm, wet evening, he crossed the border into the land of the onion-less people. By the time he reached the imperial palace, night had fallen, but the guards were intrigued enough by his cargo to summon the Emperor, even at this unlikely hour.

“I bring you a great gift from abroad,’ Saul announced proudly to the ruler. “It is a plant native to my country, but new to yours, replete with the ability to enhance the flavour of any food! Eaten on its own, as well, it is a delicacy for the connoisseur. Nothing would please me more than to have you try it, and to have you, in turn, introduce it to your people.”

The Emperor was cautious. “I would very much like to,” he said,  “but I am warning you, if this strange plant turns out to be harmful in any way, you will not be returning to your homeland.”

“I assure you my lord, you will not be disappointed.”

The dinner the next day was declared an official event: all the Empire’s ministers, the nobility and senior officials were invited. Saul the Dreamer was required to do the initial tasting, after which the feast commenced. The ministers, the other guests, and finally the Emperor himself, began to dine.

Within moments the hall had lapsed into a great, noisy spell of excitement. The smell, taste and succulence of the onion were praised unanimously.

In a fit of exuberance, the Emperor demanded Saul’s entire batch, pledging its full weight in gold as a return. He then made Saul an official citizen of their country, beseeching him to stay with them long enough to pass the cultivation technique on to their farmers, enjoying the many luxuries the kingdom had to offer in the meantime. Saul agreed, and the feast and festivities continued well into the dawn.  

It was nearly a fortnight before Saul left his new home. At the parting ceremony, he was declared Hero of the Year and granted a large sum of gold — on top of that already obtained for the onions — for his generosity. The Emperor and the townsfolk thanked him profusely, and saw him off with much revelry.

The journey home was long and arduous, but Saul was greeted at the edge of his town by a committee of prominent citizens who received him festively and congratulated him on his success. For hours that night, Saul The Dreamer recounted the splendour and magnificence he had experienced in that far-away land, where gold itself was worth less than onions.

In the crowd, listening, was a man named Kolbojnik. Normally disinterested, he kept a keen ear tuned this time to Saul’s tale, intrigued by the large bag of gold the traveller had brought back with him. During the conversation a revelation came to pass that the onion-less country was also without garlic! Saul spoke of going back with some, but not until he had thoroughly recovered from the present journey.

Kolbojnik, a banker by trade and a very enterprising fellow in general, knew immediately that he would gather the garlic himself and make the journey. Garlic was not only more precious, but infinitely more tasty and aromatic! If they were giving gold for onions there, he could expect diamonds for garlic. And he wouldn’t be so foolish as to give most of his riches away after his return, either, as the far-too-generous Saul was sure to do with his gold.

Wasting no time, Kolbojnik set off that very night, five bags of the finest garlic his country had to offer strapped to his horse, the riches he was sure to receive jingling merrily in his mind.

Like Saul, he managed to be received at the imperial palace. And, as he had expected, the garlic was granted with even more praise than the onions. The Emperor deliberated with his ministers for a long time about the reward for their noble guest. In their opinion, gold was not enough for such a delicious food, on which even God and his angels must feast. So they insisted instead to reward him with the most precious thing they had to offer.

And that is how Kolbojnik returned home with five bags of onions.