It was on the very last day of the first month of his last summer as squire that Jonah the turtle became what he always dreamed but never thought would happen so suddenly and not in such a way.
There, in the cool morning water with his fellow squires and their lords in attendance
of the king did he find himself part of a large circle of squires around an ant trembling
atop the surface of the water, and within the circle of squires a smaller circle of smallish fish nibbling at the ant’s shadow.
“He’s a goner,” said one squire.
“Good riddance,” said another. “Ants are vile, creepy little critters.”
“We should help it,” said a third.
“How did it make it out this far?” asked yet another squire.
“My lord,” said Jonah over the din of his fellows and the splashing fins of the smaller fish anxious for the ant to give up and sink. “Have you any instruction for us? This ant is clearly frustrated.”
The lords conferred with their king.
“And the fish are clearly hungry,” said one of the lords solemnly. “This is the last day of the first month of your last summer as squires. Decide for yourselves who to whom you should lend your hands.”
The squires discussed the dilemma: “We should help the fish. Someday
they might return the favor.” “We should save the ant. It’s helpless.” “We should let nature take its course.”
Soon, however, the discussion turned heated and boiled over into argument.
“The ant!” shouted one side.
“The fish!” shouted the other.
As the shouting directed more and more of the fish’s attention away from
the tiring ant, Jonah broke free of the circle and swam toward a dried leaf floating just nearby.
“The ant!” he heard half the broken circle cry.
“The fish!” he heard the other half counter.
The lords and the king watched. The fish watched. Jonah caught the leaf.
“The ant!” The squires closed in.
“The fish!” Soon there would be blows.
The fish smiled at the morning display. The lords and the king shook their heads. And then, from below the smallish fish and the shouting squires came the leaf, rising from the depths toward the surface. Toward the ant.
Like a lifeboat.
As the leaf reached the surface, the ant found himself saved and drying in the sun. The fish sighed and swam away. The squires glared once more at each other and then turned to Jonah.
“Why did you do that?” asked one squire.
“Who made you the boss?” asked another.
Jonah, sensing their anger, hung his head and turned away toward the lords and the king.
“Jonah,” said the king. “Explain your actions.”
Jonah swallowed his pride and began: “My apologies, my king, for acting alone, but my fellow squires could not agree, and the ant grew tired by the minute. I saw the leaf and decided by myself to help the ant.”
Neither the king nor the lords spoke. Neither the lords or the squires moved. “Why the ant and not the fish?” asked the king.
Jonah looked at the king. He swallowed the first words that came up back down, and chose his words carefully.
“The fish,” he said, “can survive without one snack. The ant, however, would not.”
The squires watched the king for a reaction, but the king’s countenance was unchanging. The lords looked from Jonah to the king and back again. The king stared at Jonah, saying nothing. The king just stared and stared and stared. Finally, the king smiled at Jonah.
“Sir Jonah,” he said. “Come, swim with me.”
And so it was that, on the last day of the first month of what was to be Jonah’s last summer as squire, Jonah swam beside the king a knight, and somewhere atop the water above the ant made his way to shore.