The boy and his father stood in the crowd by the side of the road and watched, as the bridal procession approached, along the road that ran through of their village. The daughter of a rich and powerful merchant from the city was to be married and, in keeping with the tradition of the country, each daughter, before she was wed, was to be shown to the people. The greater the wealth of the family, the finer and more extravagant the clothing, the more villages it was necessary to visit and the bigger the spectacle that was expected by the people. Everyone clapped and cheered and tried to catch a glimpse of the bride, reputed to be one of the most beautiful women of the region, as the procession came passed. The father lifted his boy onto his shoulders, so that he might get a better look. After all, it was not everyday that such a marriage as this one, between the daughter of one of the wealthiest merchants and the son of a noble took place.
"When I grow up, I'm going to make lots of money and to become rich.", said the boy to his father after the procession had passed and they were walking along the street back towards their home.
"Why is that son?", asked his father.
"So that I'll be able to marry a beautiful, wealthy merchants daughter and have a wedding procession just like the one that we saw." replied the boy.
"I'm going to tell you a tale of two brothers, money and riches." said the father, "Let me set my pipe and then I'll begin. As they continued to walk, the father reached inside of his jacket and took out his tobacco pouch and a small pipe he had carved from the horn of a deer. After setting the tobacco, he lit the pipe with his tinder and took three quick and deep breaths, to make sure that it was started. "Let's sit here against and lean against this old oak tree and I'll tell you the tale."
The boy sat by his father's side and waited expectantly for his father to begin.
The Tale of Johann and Mathias
Some years ago, there was a man who had two sons, Johann the eldest and Mathias, his younger brother. Johann worked hard with his father at their shipping and importing business and when he was not working, he studied his books and was always learning, so that he could become knowledgeable and wise, because one day, he would have to take over their father's business and he wanted to be a credit to the family name. Mathias, two years younger than Johann, also worked at the family business but he did not study and read. Instead, he preferred to be out walking in the fields and woods, or spent hours down at the dockside, watching the ships and talking with the sailors about their voyages. For Mathias longed to see the world and to travel. The father loved both of his sons equally and very dearly, but always feared that Mathias would never make anything of his life in the world.
One mid-summers day, after they had finished eating their evening meal, the man called his sons into his study, as he wished to speak with them. The man sat at his mahogany desk, with his wife at his side. "My two precious boys. As you know, life has been kind to us this past few years and we have been able to put a goodly sum of money aside. I would like to make a gift to each of you, as a token of our love and to reward you both for helping me with the business. The man reached down to his side and pulled out two bags of equal size and weight, each full of coins. He handed one to Johann and one to Mathias. "This money now belongs to you and as such, it is for you to decide what to do with it. I set you at liberty for the period of one year. Please go and do what you will, but promise me one thing only..."
"Yes father?", the boys asked in unison.
"You must return to me here, in one year's time. No more, no less. That is all that I ask of you."
"Of course father!", they replied together.
In the days that followed, both boys made their arrangements and then came the day of parting. Neither brother was to see the other nor their father or mother until one year hence. The brothers in turn embraced their father and mother before embracing each other, and then each set off.
Summer faded to autumn. The leaves turned to browns and golds and fell from the trees. Autumn gave way to winter. Snows lay on the frozen ground, covering the hills and fields in a white blanket of stillness. Winter retreated as spring took hold. The flowers bloomed again and on the trees, buds appeared, which soon became leaves that danced in the breeze. And spring ushered in another summer, where the buzz of the insects was a constant companion.
Mid-summer day arrived. The father and mother has been eagerly awaiting the return of their sons and as the day of return approached, their anticipation had grown. As the morning tipped over to the afternoon, much to the relief of the parents, first Johann came galloping back on a fine black stead, followed not long after by Johann, who had hitched a ride on a farmers cart. Both brothers were happy to be home and both were happy to be reunited with their parents and with each other. After much happy and excited talk during the afternoon, the father again asked both brothers to meet him in his study after the evening meal.
"My sons", he began, "it truly is an amazing day, to see you both returned safe and sound. Now tell me, how did you spend your time and what did you do with the money that I gave each of you?"
Johann, as the eldest spoke first.
"Father, the gift that you gave me was mighty. I made my way to the city and there, I spoke with some acquaintances and I invested all of the money. Due to good fortune, I was able to extract a monthly sum on which to live. It did not afford me a lavish lifestyle, but I was able to rent a modest room and to keep myself adequately. I spent my time going to the library to borrow books and to immerse myself in literature and learning. I have returned from the city after one year not only with the money that you gave to me as a gift, but I have been able to double the amount and I now give these riches to you my loving father, as a gift from a loving son."
The man was very pleased. His son Johann had been wise and the family business would be in excellent hands, when one day, he handed it over to his eldest son. Yes, Johann would indeed do well at the business. Now he turned to Mathias.
"And my second son, how did you fare?"
"Alas father, I must confess that I did not meet with such good fortune as Johann. I made my way down to the docks and sought passage over the ocean. On my second day in foreign lands, I was robbed and beaten by bandits and all of my money was taken. I was left penniless and unconscious by the side of the road. But as I lay there, a kindly woman from a passing trade caravan stopped and took pity on me. She took me in, fed me and nursed my wounds. I travelled with the caravan and, to repay her for help, I worked for her for some months. We travelled through many strange lands, full of amazing towns and cities, of people and animals as strange to look upon as looking upon a purple moon. I learned of the cultures and customs of these people, which were sometimes unusual, sometimes unsettling and sometimes familiar, but always interesting. I made friends among the people of the caravan and I made friends in the towns and cities that we visited. I travelled further than I ever thought was possible or ever dared to dream. After some weeks of travel, the woman who had taken me in, began to pay me a small amount of money in exchange for the work that I was able to do for her. I saved this money, in order that I would be able to travel back home again and fulfill a promise a son made to his father. And that is what I have done but I return with barely a penny to my name father and for that, I am sorry."
The father spoke first to Johann.
"Johann, you did a fine job. You returned here not only with the money that I gave to you, but also you increased your wealth. You will one day in the future become a very rich and wealthy man."
Johann smiled and was pleased with himself. He felt pride in his chest at his father's words. He knew that Mathias had not done as well, in fact, with barely a penny to his name, it was obvious to Johann that his brother had failed and their father would not be pleased. It had always been this way.
"Mathias, you returned with hardly a penny to call your own. You were careless and had your money stolen from you. That was foolish. Yet, you could have returned home at that point, and I would not have loved you less, but you did not. Instead, you have returned home after you have seen the world and experienced things that no one else here in this room has ever experienced. You have done more than I could possibly have asked of you. I judge you now to be a man who is truly rich beyond that of money, wealthy in experience and the ways of the world. And that is a wealth that no amount of money can ever purchase. Thank you Mathias for proving an old man wrong."
"Father..." it was Mathias who spoke again. "Father, there is one more thing I must say. During the time I spent with the caravan, I fell in love with a beautiful girl called Sarah, who is the daughter of one of the traders and I have made a promise to her. I came here today, so that I could fulfill one promise, but I will be leaving here again the day after tomorrow, so that I can fulfill another. I will return to the caravan that travels through a distant land and to the girl that I love."
The man smiled at his youngest son and he was pleased with him. 'Yes, my youngest son has truly found treasure and possesses riches more than I could possibly imagine.', he thought.
The father put away his pipe and turned to his son. "There is only one kind of richness in this world, and that is the kind of richness that money cannot ever buy you. Always remember to live your life like that of Mathias and you will lead a life full of experiences and riches that no one can ever take away from you. Now, let's get home for supper."
Both father and son climbed to their feet and began the walk back home again. The boy had enjoyed the story. He would one day like to travel like Mathias and maybe meet a beautiful girl from a foreign land. The thought made him blush.
The father walked at his son's side. 'Home', he thought and then, in another moment he smiled as the name of his wife came into his head. Sarah.