"I'd never make sport at another's expense. It's just that 'Tarukin the 7th' has a certain ring to it ... Hold on a moment. A Roman king, seventh in his lineage. I can't say with certainty, but I believe that might be Tarquin the Proud. But anyway, what did this king, whomever he was, do?" "A woman, it's said, came to the king with nine books and asked if he wouldn't buy them." "I see." "The king asked her price, and in response she named an extraordinary sum. Thinking the price too high, the king asked that she reduce it. Without hesitation, she took three of the nine books and cast them onto the fire." "Regrettable indeed." "Within those pages were prophecies or some such writings, unique and irreplaceable." "Well, I'll be." "The king, reckoning that six books were of less value than nine, again asked her price. She stated the same sum as before, not a penny less. On objection from the king that this was unreasonable, the woman cast another three onto the fire. The king, still wishing to have the books, asked her price for the remaining three. True to form, her price for three was the same as her price for nine. Though nine had become six, and six had become three, the sum was unchanged, not a single cent less. The king refrained from suggesting a lower price, lest the last three also be fed to the fire. In the end, he paid the full sum for the remaining books, sparing them from the flames ... 'Now do you see?' he asks me. 'Now can you see the value of books?' He asserts himself with pride, but I still don't see what he means." The wife, having stated her case and that of her husband, presses Meitei to weigh in. Even Meitei seems at a loss. He takes a handkerchief from his sleeve pocket and lets me chase it over his lap. Then, as though having suddenly thought of something, he addresses the wife in a spirited voice. "His obsession with books, on the other hand, seems to have lent him a scholarly air. I even saw, the other day, mention of his name in a literary journal." "Really?" The wife straightens her gaze.