Once upon a time there was an emperor. He was very vain, and refused to wear the same outfit twice. The people in his kingdom resented it, because he didn’t just give away his old clothes. He burned them. Bad emperor!
This vain emperor was also very silly. That means he was easy prey for con artists and hucksters. A couple of these guys got together, and decided to pull a fast one on the emperor. It wasn’t hard for them to get an audience with the big guy, because he was always interviewing fashion designers.
“Your supreme emperorness,” one of them said, “we have created and designed the ultimate outfit for you.”
The emperor was interested. “Tell me more.”
“Seriously, your emperorship, this is the last outfit you will ever wear.”
That did not go over so well. The dude seriously liked to change clothes. The emperor raised an eyebrow, but haughtily told them to continue.
“This fabric is hand-woven from the threads of an obscure beetle that is found only in the highest peaks of the Andes. And it has a very special quality, one that we believe you will find to be utterly invaluable.”
“Only a completely honest person will be able to even discern that the fabric is there. Someone wish the slightest taint of dishonesty will think there is no cloth at all.”
The emperor was intrigued. “Do you have a sample to show me?”
“Not at present, milord. The cost is so prohibitive that we are not able to provide any samples until the entire outfit is purchased and paid for.”
“So basically you’re asking me to buy a pig in a poke?”
“Oh, no, emperor sir, for we would never make such a vulgar suggestion to you.” They bowed and behaved very unctuously, and he ate it up.
Giving the order to his exchequer to purchase the outfit, the emperor returned to his chambers and changed clothes again.
Several weeks later the emperor was getting impatient. He ordered his manservant to go and check on the status of his new clothes.
The valet went to the high-tech factory where the cloth was being woven. The salesman greeted him genially and, upon learning his errand, took him down a long hall with several bends and turns, past a high-security room with an eye-scanner, and into a top secret room with 3-foot thick steel walls. There a lowly loom was set up, and a young man sat in front of it, laboriously weaving the threads of the obscure Andean beetle into a cloth that was most glorious–
“Wait a minute!” exclaimed the valet.
“Um, ehr–” The valet had suddenly remembered that dishonest people couldn’t see the cloth. He enjoyed the benefits of working for the emperor. “That’s absolutely exquisite. Can you tell me when it will be finished?”
The salesman chuckled, as did the weaver. “Quality cannot be rushed, young man.”
The valet bowed a few times and then hastily returned to the palace to share the news with the emperor.
Another month passed, and the suit still had not been delivered to the palace. The emperor was highly aggravated, and sent his Lord High Chamberlain. Of course he could have sent the valet again, but it occurred to him that this would be a good way to test the honesty of the Lord High Chamberlain.
When the Lord High Chamberlain arrived at the factory, he too was greeted and taken down a series of corridors into a top-secret room. There he saw a dressmaker’s dummy, and a man sewing patiently on a glorious suit of—
“Hey! Wait a minute!” exclaimed the Lord High Chancellor before he, too, remembered that to say he saw nothing meant that he was dishonest. He did not think he was dishonest, but dared not risk displaying his inability to see the cloth.
“Um, I don’t like the drape of the robes. Have your man fix them and deliver it to the palace at once.”
“Of course, milord. They will be delivered promptly at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.”
“Excellent. Thank you,” said the Lord High Chancelor, bowing himself out of the factory.
The emperor was thrilled that his new suit was arriving at last. He ordered that a parade be organized to allow him to both display this glorious new outfit. He also instructed his secretaries to write down the names of everyone in the kingdom who was unable to see the fabric. “At last,” he pompously proclaimed, “I will know who is honest.”
The suit was delivered promptly at eight o’clock the following morning, and as his valet laid it out in front of him, the emperor was a little perplexed. Hmmmm, he thought. I can’t see anything. Holy cow! I’m dishonest! But wait–I’m the emperor. I get to be dishonest. It’s in the job duties. Thus dissimulating, the emperor allowed himself to be clad in what felt like nothing at all.
He paraded gravely through his palace, to loud cries of great acclaim. He began to sweat a little. They can all see the cloth, but I cannot. Am I the only unjust man in the empire?
He got to the front of his palace and led the procession through the surrounding village. People gasped and applauded the exquisite outfit, and he began to think that he could carry it off. Perhaps it doesn’t matter that I’m dishonest. If they can all see it, and it IS in the job description for an emperor, well, it’ll be ok ay. They’ll never know.
Then he found himself face-to-face with a little boy. The child gazed up at him in speechless wonder.
The emperor patted the little boy gravely on the head. “You may speak to us,” he said.
The crowd held its cumulative breath and waited to hear what the child would say.
The little boy extended one arm, pointing, and said, “I can see your wee-wee!”
And suddenly the emperor, and everyone in his village and household, knew that they had been conned. I’d like to say that the emperor changed and was an honest man from that point forward, but I’d be lying. And that would kind of defeat the point, wouldn’t it?
(And I have a nakey emperor finger puppet that was going into Izzybella’s stocking until I decided that I needed it more than she. But it’s not anatomically correct.)