Once upon a time, there lived a man, down on his luck, travelling the roads of the world looking to increase his fortunes. He had worked for many years as a farmer, but his land had dried up. So, cast out of his simple life, he had begun his search for a new manner in which to make his way in the world.
One day, on a particular road, leading to an unfamiliar town, he passed a sign on the side of the road. He stopped, and read its message : “I PAY GOLD COINS FOR COPPER PENNIES”. Well, though quite skeptical, he nevertheless thought to himself “I better at least hear this person out. If true, I increase my fortune, if false, I continue on none the worse for wear.”
So, seeing a faint path beside the sign, he followed it into the forest.
Soon, he came to a cliff. A narrow bridge six inches wide crossed a wide chasm and ended at the other side. There he could see a small elf, dressed in green, resting on a bed made of many bags of gold. “Hoy there!”, said the man to the elf, “Hoy!”
The elf jumped up immediately. Squinting at the man, he shouted back, “You’ve come for the gold? Wonderful! You see I collect copper pennies, and as an elf I have plenty of gold. However, nobody seems to believe the offer, and I get so few takers! Why, I haven’t given a bag of gold away in months!”
“I wish to hear more about the deal,” said the man, “it sounds good, but what’s the catch?”
“No catch!” exclaimed the elf, “Just one small logistical matter. I will pay you one gold coin for each of your copper pennies, but you have to meet me half way on the bridge. I will not cross to your side.”
The man rubbed his stubbled chin and said, “You won’t, eh? Why should I have to cross all that way to meet you!”
The elf made a grimace. “Look, either you see value in what I have or not. I very much want to add your wonderful pennies to my collection, and in former times, I would cross all the way over to that side, but I’ve had more than one person take advantage, using force to take my gold and keep their pennies, and leaving me to make the long walk back over the chasm!” he huffed. “So I came up with this system where we both have equal risk, and neither of us has to endure crossing the bridge twice.”
The man paused in thought. Looking at the precarious nature of the bridge, noticing a slight wind blowing across it, he began to question this deal. “I can see plain enough that the gold looks real. But what if it isn’t?” He began to finger his purse of pennies. “And, I could just as well lose what I have by dropping it into the chasm!”
The man looked up. “Okay, you little imp, I will get onto the bridge with you.” At this the elf smiled happily, picked a bag of gold and began to cross. His smile faded however once he reached the middle of the narrow, windy bridge, and realized the man had done no more than (with one foot still on land, and the other snaked out on the bridge) stretch out his hand with the purse of pennies to somehow reach the elf far out in the middle.
“This does not equal meeting me halfway,” frowned the elf, “you must leave your side and meet me in the middle in order that we both get what we want.”
The man stepped back off the bridge, and his face went red. “Listen you little demon, you want me to risk everything I have for this gold! I have met you as far as I will, and in fact, I demand you come all the way over and prove to ME that you even HAVE real gold!”
The elf sighed, and turning his back, sadly returned to the other side, laying back down on the bags of gold.
This angered the man, and shaking his fist at the little person, he returned to the road, smugly thinking to himself, “What a blowhard! Asking ridiculous things of me, and wouldn’t even prove to me that he had REAL gold for my lousy copper pennies. Fortunately I kept my wits about me, instead of playing the sucker to whatever scam he had going.”
And with that, the man reached the road, resuming his dusty journey to the next town.