The Little Prince: Chapter 10

The little prince found himself close to the asteroids 325, 326, 327, 328, 329 and 330. He started visiting them one by one, so he would have something to do as well as be able to learn about the universe.

The first asteroid was inhabited by a king. Clad in royal purple and ermine, he sat upon a throne that was both simple and regal.

‘Ah! A subject,’ exclaimed the king, when he saw the little prince approach.

‘But how could he know me? He has never met me before,’ thought the little prince.

He did not yet know how simple things were for kings. To them, everyone is a subject.

‘Come closer, so that I may see you better,’ said the king, feeling glad that he could finally rule over someone.

The little prince looked around to find something to sit on, but the planet was completely covered by the king’s magnificent robe.

So he remained standing and since he was tired, he started to yawn.

‘It is not polite to yawn in the presence of a king,’ said the emperor. ‘I forbid you to do so.’

‘I can’t help myself,’ replied the little prince, red-faced. ‘I have come a long way, and I have had no sleep.’

‘Then I command you to yawn,’ the king said. ‘I have not witnessed a yawn in years. I find yawns rather interesting. Go on, yawn for me – it is an order.

‘I … I am feeling shy,’ murmured the little prince.

‘Hmm!’ replied the king. ‘Then I … I order you to sometimes yawn and sometimes not …’ He paused, looking a little uncertain.

What the king really wanted was respect for his authority. He did not wish for any disobedience. He was an emperor through and through. But, he was also a kind man, so his orders were always reasonable.

‘If I demand that a general,’ he would frequently say, ‘should transform into a sea bird and if the general is unable to do so, that would not be his fault. It would be mine.’

‘May I sit down?’ the little prince enquired timidly.

‘I command you to sit,’ the king answered, and majestically gathered in a fold of his ermine robe to make room.

The little prince was wondering: the planet was really small … what was it that the king reigned over?

‘Your Majesty,’ he said to the king, ‘could I ask you a question …’

‘I command you to ask me a question,’ the king hastily replied.

‘Sire, over what do you rule?’

‘Over everything,’ said the king, with great simplicity.

‘Over everything?’

With a sweeping gesture, the king indicated his planet, the other planets, and all the stars.

‘Over all that?’ asked the little prince.

‘Over all that,’ the king answered.

After all, his rule was not only absolute, it was also universal.

‘And do the stars obey you?’

‘Certainly they do,’ the king said. ‘They obey instantly. I do not permit wild behaviour.’

The little prince marvelled at such power. If he wielded such authority, he would not watch only forty-four sunsets a day, but seventy-two or a hundred, or even two hundred, without ever having to move his chair! Feeling a little homesick, as he remembered the planet he had forsaken, he dared to ask the king for a favour:

‘I would love to see a sunset. Could you order the sun to set … for me?’

‘If I commanded a general to dart from flower to flower like a butterfly, or to write a tragedy, or to turn into a sea bird, and if the general defied the order, who would be in the wrong?’ the king demanded. ‘Him or myself?’

‘You,’ the little prince said firmly.

‘That is right. One must demand what can be given,’ the king went on. ‘Authority basically rests on reason. If you commanded your subjects to throw themselves into the sea, they would mutiny. I demand obedience because my orders are reasonable.’

‘But, what about my sunset?’ the little prince reminded him. He could never let a question be.

‘You shall have your sunset. I shall command it. But, I will await the right conditions.’

‘When would that be?’ inquired the little prince.

‘Hmm!’ replied the king, carefully examining a massive calendar. ‘Hmm! Hmm! That will be at about … about … twenty minutes to eight this evening. And you will see then how well my commands are obeyed.’

The little prince yawned. He was unhappy to have foregone his sunset. And he was also a little bored. ‘There’s nothing else for me to do here,’ he said to the king. ‘I’m going to continue on my travels now.’

‘You can’t leave,’ said the king, who was very proud to have a subject. ‘You must not leave. I will make you a minister!’

‘Minister of what?’

‘Minster of … of justice!’

‘But there is no one here I could judge!’

‘How could we know?’ the king said to him. ‘I have not yet surveyed the whole kingdom. I am very old. There is no room here for a carriage. And walking tires me easily.’

‘Oh, but I have looked already,’ said the little prince, turning around to give all sides of the planet another glance. ‘There is no one anywhere.’

‘Then you must judge yourself,’ said the king. ‘It is the hardest thing to do. It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. But if you succeed, then you are indeed a wise man.’

‘Yes,’ said the little prince, ‘but to judge myself I do not need to live here. I can do it anywhere.’

‘Hmm!’ said the king. ‘I believe that somewhere on my planet there is an old rat. I can hear him at night. You could judge him. From time to time you will condemn him to death, so that his life will depend on your justice. But you must forgive him each time and so spare his life. He is the only rat we have.’

‘I wouldn’t like to condemn anyone to death,’ said the little prince. ‘I think I shall be off now.’

‘No,’ said the king.

But the little prince was all set to depart, though he did not wish to hurt the old monarch.

‘If Your Majesty wishes to be obeyed,’ he said, ‘he could give me a reasonable order. He could, for example, command me to be gone within a minute. The conditions seem quite favourable.’

The king gave no answer. The little prince hesitated for a second, then, with a sigh, he got up to leave.

‘I will make you my ambassador!’ the king called out in haste.

He exuded such authority.

‘Grown-ups really are peculiar,’ the little prince said to himself, as he resumed his journey.