By Tim Porteus

FOR this summer, I will share some tales that contain a riddle or mystery to solve. I have heard many different versions of this tale, and most recently come across one version in a book by Taffy Thomas, who is a renowned storyteller. Here is my version of the story, which I have titled ‘The Riddle Rule’:

IT WAS to be the final race of the tournament. The two knights had been equally matched, and now they would race each other for the prize of a gold cup filled with gold coins.

There was an air of excitement as the crowds gathered for this race. Sir John and Sir Harry arrived together, each mounted on their stallions. Sir John’s horse was called Lightning, while Sir Harry’s horse was named Spear.

They were equally matched, both knights had won an equal amount of races, and both had won against each other. There was no favourite, everyone knew this race would be very close.

The atmosphere was electric with anticipation.

Then the king’s storyteller leaned over to whisper in the king’s ear: “Your majesty, this race is the last of the tournament. I feel it should be a race with an extra challenge, so that the crowd are better pleased.”

The king agreed, but asked the storyteller what he thought the extra challenge should be.

“The race should be a test of the knights’ wits as well as their riding ability,” replied the storyteller. “Set them a riddle rule and see how they solve it.”

“And what is the riddle rule to be?” asked the king.

The storyteller smiled: “Declare the rules of this race to be thus: the horse which crosses the finish line second will win the cup and coins for its owner.”

And so the king declared the riddle rule just before the beginning of the race: “The horse which crosses the finish line second will win the cup and gold for its owner.”

There was a murmuring amongst the spectators. The knights looked at each other, thinking.

When the starter flag was lowered and the king cried “go”, both knights stayed at the starting line. “You go first,” said Sir John to Sir Harry. “No, after you,” said Sir Harry to Sir John. But neither knight was willing to leave the start line lest they be deemed to be first.

Soon there were boos and clapping from the crowd, but the prize was too great for either knight to risk going first.

“This race is no fun,” said the king to the storyteller, annoyed now that he’d agreed to the change in rules.

“Give them until this afternoon to find a way to race,” replied the storyteller, “there is a way but they must discover it. It will challenge their wits and also their riding skills.”

And so the king stood: “The race is postponed until 2pm this afternoon. The knights must find a way to race to the riddle rule, otherwise the prize will be forfeited.”

For the rest of the day there was an excited buzz as people began to discuss possible solutions to the riddle rule with the knights.

“Why don’t you agree to cross the finish line together?” was one suggestion

“But then they would be equal first and the prize would be lost,” commented another.

“Besides,” said Sir John, “I do not trust Sir Harry not to pull his horse back at the last moment.” “I do not trust you either,” said Sir Harry.

The deadline was fast approaching and no solution to the riddle rule had been found.

“Perhaps being first is more important than winning the gold,” said an old woman.

The knights looked at each other, thinking about this. Then they both said “naw” and shook their heads.

It was 10 minutes before the race and a child came up to the knights and said: “I have an idea.” Everyone looked down at the child and laughed. How could a poor child know the answer when the knights themselves and all the spectators were scunnered?

But the storyteller was walking by and overheard the laughter. “Children’s wisdom is not to be laughed at,” he scolded them.

And so the knights asked the child for the solution.

The child said two words to the knights.

In a flash, the knights got mounted and prepared to race. When the starter flag was lowered and the king shouted “go”, both Sir John and Sir Harry raced as fast as they could, each being desperate to be first across the finish line. Their riding skills were well challenged by this race.

Who won does not matter in this story. What matters are the two words that were said by the child. They were the answer to the riddle rule, and so made the race possible.

What were those two words?

If you haven’t already worked it out then re-read the story carefully. If you still don’t know, and want to know the answer, then I will give it next week.

Or perhaps you could ask a child. I know some children from P7 in St Gabriel’s Primary School who know the answer to this.