Once upon a time there was a king who had three sons. The eldest, Caprificus, was very clever. He understood every maths problem that was ever put in front of him and was an absolute wizz at chemistry.
The king’s second son, Adrogans, was also very clever and was constantly trying to compete with his older brother. Like Caprificus, maths came easy to him, but biology, not chemistry, was his passion.
The king’s youngest son, Amicus, was not like his brothers. While they were solving complex equations or experimenting in the palace laboratories, he was walking in the meadow, listening to birdsong and admiring the wild flowers; or laying on his back after sunset, staring at the stars.
His father loved him dearly but wondered if he would ever amount to anything.
One day a messenger brought extremely troubling news from the neighbouring country. The king called his sons and told them he needed their help.
“People in the Aridam villages are getting very sick. Their elders think it might be something to do with the water which they collect from the river Piger each day. The very young and the very old are particularly vulnerable and some have already lost their lives.”
The three brothers listened to their father intently.
The king continued:
“These people are important to me, my sons, so I present this problem to you. Whoever returns the Aridam communities to good health shall inherit this kingdom and take over from me as ruler. Now make haste! People are dying – there is no time to lose!”
Cap thought, “It’s obvious to me that the answer is to eradicate the harmful contaminants in the river. I will solve this problem and claim my prize!” and he went straight to his laboratory.
Ad thought, “It’s obvious to me that the answer is to find a cure. I will solve this problem and prove myself the king’s rightful heir!” and he went straight to his laboratory.
Ami got on his bicycle and rode away.
Inside his lab Cap filled an artificial pond with water from the river Piger, as well as some of the fish, frogs, plants and other organisms that lived in it. He looked at a sample of the water under the microscope and identified a parasite that was causing the sickness.
“Aha!” he said, “I knew it! With my vast brain and expertise in chemistry I will certainly be the first one to solve this problem!”
Then he got out his test tubes and many different chemicals and began mixing and concocting.
Meanwhile, Ad was working in his lab. He acquired some samples of water from the Piger river and fed it to a rabbit, a mouse, a dog and a cat. Then he took samples of their blood. He did this every day and monitored the results. The rabbit, whom he named Subject 1, developed diarrhoea and sickness and soon died of dehydration.
“Aha!” he said, “I knew that drinking the river water was causing the sickness! With my exceptional powers of deduction and my expertise in biology, I will certainly be the first one to solve this problem!”
Back in the other lab, Cap was working hard. The first concoction which he added to his artificial pond did kill the parasites but it also killed all the frogs. So he began again. The second concoction which he added to his artificial pond did kill the parasites but it also killed all the fish. So he began again. The third concoction killed the parasites and some of the fish and some of the plants. But the rest of the fish seemed okay and the frogs were apparently unharmed.
“A statistically significant improvement,” Cap decided, proudly announcing to the survivors, “This will save the Aridam villagers!” And he rushed to tell the king.
Ad was making just as much progress. The mouse, whom he named Subject 2, seemed to be going the same way as subject 1 but then he began to get better. He had apparently developed a natural immunity to the parasite. So Ad took more blood from the mouse and used it to develop a medicine with which he dosed the dog, Subject 3, and the cat, Subject 4. Subject 3 was unaffected by the medicine and her sickness continued to progress until she died. Subject 4, however, began to improve and, after taking the medicine daily for two weeks, whilst still drinking the contaminated water, she appeared to return to good health (although her hair had fallen out in large patches).
“That is what I call statistically significant improvement!” Ad declared as he perused the results of his experiments. “This medicine will save the Aridam villagers!” And he rushed to tell the king.
The king looked at his two eldest sons who were both talking at once in their eagerness to prove that they had solved the Aridam problem and claim their prize.
“Stop!” he shouted. “One at a time!”
And he nodded at Cap to speak first. Ad waited impatiently for his turn and then tried to convince the king that his idea was superior to his brother’s. The king listened in silence and finally told them, “I cannot make my decision until I know all the facts. I must hear from Ami first. Then I will decide on the best course of action.”
The brothers scoffed in unison.
“We haven’t heard from him in weeks. He’s probably making daisy chains somewhere,” said Cap.
“He hasn’t the brain to come up with anything useful anyway,” said Ad.
“Three days,” said the king. “In three days, if we haven’t heard from Ami, I will decide between your ideas.”
Day one passed with no word from Ami. Day two passed with no word from Ami. On day three, with one hour to go until the king was to make his decision, a messenger arrived from Aridam. The king called Cap and Ad to his side and read the message aloud.
“We thank you Sir, for sending your wise son Amicus to our aid. First he cycled between the villages and talked to everyone. Then he brought in engineers from your country who taught our people how to dig wells and draw clean water from the underground aquifers.
“Then he showed us how to create reed beds so that we can safely treat and recycle our own waste water.
“With clean water to drink, the sick people in our villages began to improve and now everyone is thriving again. We cannot thank you enough for sending such a good and thoughtful person who must truly be your wisest child.”
To Caprificus and Adrogans, the king said,
“I have had my eyes opened. Up to now your brother was thought by many to be someone who had no future and nothing to contribute. I am ashamed to say that, though I have always loved him, I too was blind to his best quality: his natural compassion and empathy for all living beings.”
At that moment the door opened and Amicus, looking tired but peaceful, entered the room. While his brothers looked on his father reached out and hugged him tight.
“Whatever your motives may have been, my young scientists, your methods were wrong. Hurting one in order to save another can never be right. It’s as simple as that. Your brother didn’t have to learn that, he just knew. There is always a better way when there is a willingness to find it and you, my boys, certainly have the brains to do that.”
“Amicus,” he said, “In you great wisdom has been born of compassion and I am very proud. It has been proved, without a doubt, that my youngest son is the rightful successor to my throne.”