A wise man rode into a desert village one evening as the sun was setting. Dismounting from his camel, he asked one of the villagers for a drink of water.‘Of course,’ said the villager and gave him a cup of water. The traveller drank the whole cupful. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘Can I help you at all before I travel on?’‘Yes,’ said the young man. ‘We have a dispute in our family. I am the youngest of three brothers. Our father died recently, God rest his soul, and all he possessed was a small herd of camels. Seventeen, to be exact. He decreed in his will that one half of the herd was to go to my oldest brother, one third to the middle brother and one ninth to me. But how can we divide a herd of 17? We do not want to chop up any camels, they are worth far more alive.’ ‘Take me to your house,’ said the sage. When he entered the house he saw the other two brothers and the man’s widow sitting around the fire arguing. The youngest brother interrupted them and introduced the traveller.
‘Wait,’ said the wise man, ‘I think I can help you. Here, I give you my camel as a gift. Now you have 18 camels. One half goes to the eldest, that’s nine camels. One third goes to the middle son, that’s six camels. And one ninth goes to my friend here, the youngest son. That’s two.’ ‘That’s only 17 altogether,’ said the youngest son. ‘Yes. By a happy coincidence, the camel left over is the one I gave to you. If you could possibly give it back to me, I will continue on my journey.’ And he did.
What went wrong ?