Once upon a time, two battle-weary soldiers entered a small village. The villagers were somewhat surprised to see them, as they were a goodly distance from the front lines of the long and bloody war.
“Good villagers,” said one of the soldiers, “we have fought long and hard for your country, but now we are starving and have not the strength to continue.” His eyes watered, the shame of needing to beg evident on his face as he asked “Would you be so kind to feed us?”
The villagers averted their eyes, until one finally spoke.
“Noble soldiers,” he said, “We are saddened to see your condition, as we ourselves share it.” The villager continued “The war has been long, and most of our food is taken in taxes to support the army. Our village has lost three to starvation just this week. I hope you can understand why we cannot give our meager supply of food to strangers.”
The disappointed soldiers stood, and the one who had spoken before asked if they might rest for an hour in the village. The villagers agreed.
After talking briefly, one soldier walked to the edge of the river and began gathering fallen branches. The other wandered through the town, looking down, until with a cry of joy he picked up three rocks, each the size of his hand. While the first soldier built a fire, the second took a pot to the river and filled it with water, then placed it on the now blazing fire.
The villagers stared, muttering amongst themselves, shooting angry glances at the soldiers, before walking over as a group to the fire.
“This is stone soup,” said one of the soldiers. “It has been our meal for the past week. Despite what you may think, it is actually quite filling. However, the taste is a bit plain; it would be nice if we could add a carrot for flavouring,” he asked hopefully.
The villagers continued to stare.
“Might anyone have a carrot to spare?” asked the soldier, to which a young man strode forward and yelled “How dare you ask for a carrot, when you have already stolen twigs and rocks from us?” The other villagers grumbled affirmatively as he continued “And in a time of war, no less! Do you think being a soldier is a license to be a criminal?”
Suddenly, an old man shuffled out of the smallest home in the village. The villagers stopped talking, and the soldiers, relieved at the diversion, took a few steps back, but did not flee, for the water in the pot was boiling, and there was no way they could take their pot until it cooled.
The old man stood between the soldiers and the villagers, looking first at one group, then the other, than back for several minutes before he spoke.
“It is true,” he said quietly, as he turned towards the soldiers. “The military may not take what is not paid for. You must pay for what you have taken.”
At that, the villagers rushed forward with a cry; the soldiers were penniless, and they paid with their lives. Afterward, the villagers celebrated and ate the soldiers’ corpses, which was okay, as all the villagers were Christians, and would thus still go to heaven.