Now they entered a prosperous kingdom, and in time they were summoned to the palace as word of their deeds had gone before them.
They were impressed by the ordered fields and the apparent happiness of the populous who worked in them. Everyone they passed had a cheery wave for them. It was an almost eerily happy place.
The king was middle aged, his wife of a similar age, and they were surrounded in their receiving room by their children, all handsome and healthy and of varying ages. They too looked happy.
"Adventurers, eh?" the king greeted them heartily. He asked some of the attendants to bring in food and drink and it was done. The Clever Lad noticed that the royal children helped without complaint or ceremony, even the middle-sized child who seemed to have only one arm. Despite that he still deftly handled a large carafe of sweet fruit wine, pouring the visitors a generous glassful each.
"I used to be an adventurer like you" the king remarked when they were all settled and fed, "My greatest find was a magic lamp. Yes, such things existed, in my day! This one still had its genie inside, too."
"Remarkable. Did it grant you a wish?" asked the Magpie.
"Three, as the custom has it. Such a piteous creature though, trapped inside that little lamp bowl forever. He cried for joy when I summoned him from the lamp as he had been lost in a midden some few hundred years back and only unearthed, by happy chance, that very morning by a passing mongrel. He told me that the dog had scratched the vessel as he dug it up and that he had therefore to grant the wishes of the beast. Thankfully for the genie those were simple, amounting only to a meal, a warm place to sleep and a pack of strong brothers and sisters. Apparently this sort of thing happens often in the course of a genie's long long life."
"Well, I had escaped from a kitchen where I had been a fire boy - turning the spit for the roast, you know. My family were so very poor. As pay I received only food - scraps, really - and a spot by the fire to sleep, and I thought myself lucky enough. But when I had the chance to leave I didn't hesitate as the owner of the house didn't even pay me a coin I could send to the rest of my family. Perhaps a brother of mine would get my job and I could help in that way. In any case, I spent years after that out on the roads doing this job and that. Sometimes I fell in with less reputable people and was induced to help relieve a rich coach of its shinier contents. I am not proud of that, but I cannot change it now. I mention it for context, so you know why the genie's laments touched me so."
"I hit upon an idea from an old story - I could get myself a rich pedigree from a wish and so raise myself in the world, and then I could set the genie free. He was sceptical of this, although he did not say so outright. However, I wished myself a king with a fine kingdom and when I saw the fine saddle horse come towards me at the head of an entourage hailing me as their majesty I immediately wished that the genie was released from his prison - keeping him around might have backfired, you know, as these things sometimes do."
"Well, the creature was so pleased that he blessed my kingdom forever, without any prompting. He said to me 'You have done yourself out of a wish, noble sir, you could have wished for any other thing before setting me free. Frankly I did not expect you to do that, in any case. Others before you have spoken airily of releasing me but they have changed their minds, or I have been stolen from them before they get the chance.'"
"Indeed, I said to the genie, this is why I released you straight away! I said I would do so, and there you go - you are free."
"The genie nodded to me and said that as a reward for this he would grant me my third wish anyway, just because he wanted to. Well. To have a wish from a genie, what a gift. However I couldn't think of anything I would want and I did not want to keep the creature around or summon him from his leisure in the future. So I wished to die at an advanced age, healthy, happy and surrounded by loving friends and family. The genie nodded, waved one arm over my head, and vanished from my life forever."
"But how do you know if that wish was granted?" the Magpie asked, exchanging glances with the Clever Lad.
The king smiled at them both "I expect I will find out in time" he replied.