In a certain country there lived a ruthless commander of the King’s army. This man had established a rigid law, and any infraction was punishable by death. Although the army lived in dread, their obedience and conformity led them to many victories. They moved and fought with one mind, like a school of fish darting here and there.
One day, it came to the commander’s attention that the enemy was hiding somewhere deep in the woods near the borders of his country. This news came to him from the sole survivor of a scouting party that had left a week before. “What happened to your comrades?” the commander asked. “Sir, we ran low on supplies and the others ate some large mushrooms that grew in the woods. I was ill and had no appetite. The mushrooms were poisonous and the others died.”
The next morning, the commander sent for his two best scouts, known for their loyalty and unquestioning obedience. He said to them, “This is my command: Find the location of the enemy. As I command you to survive, you must not eat the mushrooms that are in the forest.” With that, the two scouts ran into the woods.
After two weeks, the commander believed that the scouts had died like the others. However, one of them finally returned, looking exhausted and dirty.
“Tell me,” said the commander, “what happened and where is the other?”
“We went in different directions, but I soon got lost, and so, it appears, did my comrade. I found him lying dead in the field of mushrooms, his stomach bloated and flies on his face. As I had also run out of food, I too sat down and ate the mushrooms, and they kept me alive.”
The commander, who was inflexible in his law, ordered some other soldiers to take the scout over to the wall and execute him. Before putting the scout to death, the commander said to him,” You knew me to be ruthless and inflexible. Why did you break my rule?”
The scout looked up and replied,” I broke your rule in order to obey your ultimate command, which was to survive and locate the enemy. When I was a boy, I lived in the woods and my grandmother taught me which plants were poisonous, and which ones were good. Others died because they broke your rule. But because I broke your rule, I lived. Furthermore, the enemy lies in ambush on a bluff nineteen miles to the east”
The commander turned to his officers, “Untie this rebel and give him a commission. He will be second only to me.”