Yuan Shao yawned, raising his hands over his head in a stretch as he made his way through the halls of the capital city of his vast northern empire. Morning had come, and as every morning before, he got up with the sun, his single interest for the time being the enjoyment of a fine breakfast cereal.
He entered the grand breakfast dining hall, a large room built around a single fine table in the middle, the table complimented by a single fine chair, a cereal bowl, spoon, napkin, and two separate boxes of cereal. Paying no attention to the advisors who had arrived to meet him this morning, he sat down.
His attention passed between the Corn Pops to his left, then over to the Frosted Flakes on the right, a deeply troubled expression passing over his face as he looked to the center only to find that his selection for the day, Cocoa Puffs, could not be enjoyed, for the Cocoa Puffs were absent.
“Where are my Cocoa Puffs?” raged Yuan Shao.
“Lord, Yuan Shang ate the Cocoa Puffs this morning,” was Tian Feng’s response.
“What?” cried Yuan Shao, obviously angry about this most unexpected turn of events. “If Yuan Shang has eaten my Cocoa Puffs, what am I to do for breakfast? I had my heart set on Cocoa Puffs, but now I must choose between Frosted Flakes and Corn Pops!”
“It is my humble opinion,” replied Tian Feng, “that my lord should eat Corn Pops.”
Before Yuan Shao could respond, Shen Pei stepped forward and shook his head. “Corn Pops, my lord, cannot compare to the fine taste of Frosted Flakes. My lord must choose them over the Corn Pops, which can never compare to the sugary delight provided by the clearly superior selection.”
Yuan Shao looked between the cereals, then reached for the Frosted Flakes. “Very well, today I shall enjoy…” he began to say, but stopped, turning to his side in surprise as Ju Shao stepped forward.
“It is not sugary delight that defines the value of a cereal, my lord,” interjected Ju Shao. “One must consider that Frosted Flakes, while sugary delights, get soggy much quicker in milk. If my lord were to select them this morning, he would have only a short period of time in which to eat them. Certainly the best option is Corn Pops?”
“No!” wailed Guo Tu. “You must not eat the Corn Pops! Frosted Flakes are superior in every way, they are trying to deceive you. My lord is equal to the task of eating Frosted Flakes before they become soggy with milk, you must not pass up this chance.”
“Do you remember,” replied Tian Feng, “when you last ate Corn Flakes, sire? Hardly a few minutes had passed before you found yourself eating a soggy breakfast. Frosted Flakes are nothing more than Corn Flakes with sugar on them, no good can come of risking this endeavor.”
Outraged at the memory of the Corn Flakes, Yuan Shao turned to Guo Tu in anger. “It is you who is trying to deceive me! I have not forgotten the terrible experience I suffered through when I ate the Corn Flakes!” He turned to his guards, his face red with anger. “Take this man away! Execute him!”
The guards stepped forward, but at the request of Xu You and Xun Shen, Yuan Shao held off on Guo Tu’s removal and execution. Yuan Shao considered to himself, “Here are two men of wide experiences in the art of selecting fine breakfast meals, let me hear the flavors of their choice?” He turned to them, and spoke. “Tian Feng and Ju Shou have advised me to eat Corn Pops, but Shen Pei and Guo Tu opposed it, suggesting I eat Frosted Flakes instead. I, however, remember sadly the time at which I ate Corn Flakes, the meal becoming soggy and detestable within minutes. For this deception, I have ordered Guo Tu’s execution.”
“My lord,” interjected Xu You, “truly nothing can compare to the frosted delight of Frosted Flakes, and indeed, though Corn Flakes may grow soggy quickly, the frosty coating of Frosted Flakes keeps them crisp much longer in milk.”
Xun Shen nodded his approval. “And my lord should also remember that, once finished, the milk will be flavored in the same sugary taste enjoyed earlier when eating the flakes themselves, so you can even continue to enjoy the meal once you have finished eating it.”
“What?” demanded Yuan Shao, turning to Tian Feng in anger. “Because of you I nearly ate a bad cereal! Guards, take him from my sight and imprison him at once! I will not tolerate such misinformation in regard to the fine meal of breakfast!”
Tian Feng hung his head in sadness, despairing over his lord’s election.
After Tian Feng was removed, Ju Shao excused himself, and not long later the other advisors departed as well. Yuan Shao poured his bowl of cereal, intending to enjoy his Frosted Flakes, then filled the bowl with milk. He slowly savored his fine meal, but much to his dismay, half way through the cereal became soggy. His breakfast ruined, and out of milk from his son’s breakfast earlier in the morning, he was left with only half the enjoyment he had hoped to receive. He despaired, and word of the sad event passed through the territory.
The jailer said to Tian Feng. “Lord Yuan Shao has eaten the Frosted Flakes, but as you predicted they turned soggy. I am certain he will have you pardoned, even if he does not reward you for your good advice?”
Tian Feng sighed and shook his head. “No, I will be executed.”
Later, while Yuan Shao was lost in regret, Pang Ji came to see him. Yuan Shao turned to him. “Tian Feng advised me to eat Corn Pops, saying Frosted Flakes would become soggy, but I refused his advise and look what has become of me? How can I ever face him again?”
Pang Ji shook his head. “When Tian Feng heard of the fact that your cereal grew soggy, he jumped up and clapped his hands, saying, ‘I was right! Yuan Shao’s cereal has gone bad, and it is all because he neglected my advice!’” Yuan Shao, infuriated by this report, immediately sent out for guards to execute Tian Feng. The next morning Tian Feng was executed, Yuan Shao’s decision having given truth to his prediction of his own death.
Copyright © 2003 James Peirce