Fable and Metaphor
"Wake up lazybones, wake up. Time to go to work! Work, you hear me, work!"
With his purple pointed shoe, Iktar the imp poked Oleg hard in the ribs. A loud grunt interrupted the giant's rhythmic snoring. He blinked and opened his eyes.
"Oh dear," he said slowly in his deep, gentle voice, "is it morning already? I was having a wonderful dream. I dreamt I was a king living in golden palace in the clouds. In the palace gardens there were butterflies that sang like angels. Just before you woke me up, one of them was singing a special song for me." He sat up and rubbed his eyes. "I forget what the song was about now though."
"Never mind all that, never mind," snapped the imp shrilly. He jumped down and dragged a basin almost as big as himself across the stone floor, "here's your breakfast. Eat it up quickly or we'll be late. Quickly now, quickly. Mustn't be late."
Oleg sat up on his gigantic bed, lifted the basin in one hand and, grasping a huge wooden spoon in the other, ponderously ate the wheat-flakes. The imp paced up and down the huge room impatiently, but Oleg, only half-awake, took his time.
"Here's your water," piped the imp rattling a large metal bucket by the bed. "Drink it up quick. Come on now, quick! Chop chop, rush rush, busy busy, quick quick, quick! We've got work to do."
Oleg finished the wheat-flakes, let forth a thunderous belch, and drank the entire bucketful of water in one swift gulp. Iktar scrambled up onto the straw mattress, and from there to the specially made pouch sewn on the back of the giant's heavy leather jerkin. Sitting or standing in the pouch, Iktar's view over Oleg's right shoulder was uninterrupted and he could easily shout instructions into the giant's ear.
"Up," said Iktar. Oleg gradually rose. As he reached his full height, more than twenty times that of the imp, he stretched his arms above his head, yawned and shook himself.
"Forward," commanded the imp, "the door is slightly to your left, and about four paces away. Walk to your left."
As the giant lumbered towards the doorway the discarded basin and bucket rattled with each heavy step.
"Stop!" shrieked the imp. "Handle and bolt are by your left hand, not right, left - right?"
Oleg reached out his hand at shoulder level, found the wall and slid his hand down to the heavy iron fittings. Effortlessly, he swung back the huge oak door.
"Two steps forward, only two, and then right. Right?"
"I've told you before Iktar, I know my way down the corridor," protested the giant, slowly emerging from the room, "I'm not totally blind. I can see my hand in front of my face and detect light and dark. And I've walked down here lots of times. Just tell me when we get to the steps."
The tower clock struck six as Oleg tramped heavily down the long, dim corridor towards the courtyard.
"I told you we'd be late," complained the imp, "I said we would. I told you so. I knew it. Three more paces to the steps, and there are eight steps remember, eight steps."
"Oh I remember alright."
"Well you didn't last week when you tripped up and almost squashed me! Do you remember that?"
"I never forget anything, Iktar, so you've no need to keep rabbiting on. I'm sorry about last week, but that wasn't my fault you know," replied Oleg good-naturedly as he felt his way downwards, "somebody must have spilt something, and I slipped on it."
The imp ignored him. "That's the last step. Two paces forward, two paces. That's far enough. Turn right, we're going to the quarry today!"
"But we only went to the quarry last week. It's cold up there. Can't we stay down here and build walls again?"
"Not today Oleg. We've run out of stone, and we'll have to cut some more. More stone is what we need."
Under Iktar's direction, Oleg stumbled forward through the portcullis and up the dusty trail towards the mountains, turning left into the quarry after a march of about six-hundred paces.
"Halt!" screamed Iktar as they reached the quarry face. "The pick is by your right foot, and the shovel behind it. Pick up the pick and shovel."
The giant reached down, seized the pick and held it up ready to strike.
"Right a little," commanded Iktar, "a little more. Right, right, right. Stop! Yes there, Hit it there, hit it."
The giant grunted as his huge muscles swung the pick, hewing enormous pieces away from the rock wall. The imp watched carefully, directing a blow here a little higher, there lower or slightly to the left or right as the giant attacked the wall.
"There's a big boulder about two leagues above us," called the imp. "It's twice the size of you, twice the size. Put down the pick and get the hammer and spike. They're behind, and slightly to the left, behind ad to the left."
The short-sighted giant placed the pickaxe down within easy reach. His left hand went in search of the huge splitting spike and hammer. Iktar guided him to the correct spot. The giant was busy driving the spike into the rock face with the mighty hammer when the avalanche struck. The boulder came loose suddenly, causing the surrounding rock to collapse and demolish half the quarry face with it. He immediately knew that the stupid, greedy imp had caused him to overreach himself. With his excellent hearing and sensitive body, compensations for his poor sight, Oleg heard and felt the boulder shift and, without waiting for directions from Iktar, instinctively jumped out of the way, only to be knocked unconscious by the corner of a descending slab. His quick reaction saved them both, but Iktar, despite escaping with a few cuts and grazes, was nevertheless annoyed, since his charge had jumped without being told to do so.
The soft, sweet twittering of a blackbird awoke Oleg at dawn the next morning. He lay on his bed, head wrapped in a bandage of vinegar-soaked brown paper.
"Oh noooo!" he groaned, putting a hand to the large bruise behind to his right ear, "my brain hurts! Oh my brain hurts so much!" He vaguely remembered that the lunatic, ignorant imp had almost done for them both, cursed angrily and promised himself that he would do something about it.
Slowly, he opened his eyes. "Oh noooo!" he groaned again, "even worse. Strange colours and lights, the like of which I've never seen before! Oh noooo!" He rolled over and went back to sleep.
Iktar appeared several hours later with a bowl of hot gruel. "Wake up stupid," he demanded, "wake up now. Here's some hot food for you. You need nourishment to aid your recovery, nourishment I say, wake up." He dragged the bowl to the bed, and, feeling ill at the strong smell of the vinegar, left the room through a rectangular hatch in the door base.
Oleg dozed for a while, turned over and opened his eyes. The pain wasn't so bad now. It seemed to vanish altogether when he realised he could see. Without moving his head, he rolled his eyes, looking around the room and marvelled at the beauty, the colour and the sharpness of the images before him. Hardly daring to move, since it might dispell his new found ability, he sat up carefully, ever so carefully, and gingerly surveyed his surroundings. So this was the luxurious giant's accommodation that the imp told him about so many times; this squalid tiny stone room with cobwebs in the corners, a barred window and door. He looked at the dirty water bucket in the corner, and then down at the steaming plate of vomit-like gruel. Swiftly and quietly - for his new found vision overcame his clumsiness - he sprang down and tried the door, only to discover it bolted from the outside. He climbed back onto the rough-hewn, wooden structure and straw cover that comprised his bed, and peered through the window, observing the courtyard with its heavy, iron portcullis and massive walls. Stone walls; walls he had built with his own hands. Oleg's vision was defective no more. The imp had taken advantage of him. This was no worker's luxury accommodation; it was a prison. The veil had lifted from his eyes and transfigured his entire being. By some strange quirk of fortune he could see; the gift of vision opened an entirely new dimension. Sight made him free; unconditionally free. He wondered at the squalor he had lived in, not noticing, for so many years. He thought of revenge against the imp but, despite an immediate emotional reaction of hatred, his inherent good nature forbade it. Had the imp been there at the moment of realisation, Oleg would have torn him limb from limb in anger. But he didn't bear grudges; the imp wasn't there and that was that. The giant leaned back on his bed, secure in his immense natural strength and new found vision, knowing he was a match for any individual imp, giant or imp-giant combination. The first was too small and puny, the second too short-sighted and the third insufficiently co-ordinated to do him any harm.
He heard light footsteps in the corridor and rapidly re-assumed his prostrate position on the bed, pretending to sleep. Iktar scrambled through the doorflap and approached, covering his nose with a handkerchief.
"You haven't eaten your gruel," he complained in his squeaky voice, "we can't afford to waste food you know. You have to eat your gruel. Wake up at once and get it down you. At once I say." The imp dropped the hanky and hauled himself up to pull Oleg's ear, "Come on, food, nice food for you.".
Oleg rolled over, moving deliberately and rubbing his head. For the first time in his life he observed the ugly, sharp features Iktar with unblinkered clarity. He jerked involuntarily upon looking upon the raw face of ignorance, of selfishness and greed, with its hard, tiny, malevolent eyes.
"You look strange," said the imp peering into the giant's face, "very strange indeed. That bump on your thick skull must have done more damage than I thought. Hmmm, more than I thought."
"Oh I'm not too bad," offered Oleg, feigning tiredness, "get down and I'll eat my gruel."
"Good, good. I'll be back later to see how you're getting along. Hopefully, you'll be fit for work tomorrow, fit for work, yes. A bit of a bump on the head is no reason for time off, no reason at all, not at all. I'll be back later." With that, he vanished through the hatch.
The giant laughed and ate the gruel, pretending to be half-asleep on the imp's next two visits. He sat up on the third visit, and declared he would be fit for work the following day.
Iktar duly arrived at dawn and scrambled through the hatch dragging a bowl of wheat-flakes. Turning, he was amazed to see the giant sat on the bed, surveying him critically with clear, hazel eyes.
"Good morning Iktar. And what shall we do today?"
"More quarry work Oleg I'm afraid, more quarry work. We need more stone to complete the castle extension, yes to complete it. Lean forward so I can get onto your back."
The giant did as asked and, as the imp scuttled up on the mattress, suddenly seized him in his huge hand, holding him at eye level. The imp almost jumped out of his skin, and wriggled wildly trying to break free. Oleg could feel his captive's tiny heart racing.
"Don't play silly games now Oleg," stuttered the imp nervously, "no silly games. Put me on your shoulder like a good chap, and we can get out into the fresh air and cut some stone. Remember how you like fresh air."
"Oh I think not, Iktar. Today I intend to build myself a castle. Over there, on the far side of the river looks like a good place to me. Would you like to help me with the surveying my little friend?"
"You'll never manage to build a castle on your own Oleg. Never manage at all. Besides, there are no materials and you live here with me in luxury, live in real luxury, so why leave?"
"I can see Iktar." Oleg grinned, and drew the struggling imp closer to his face, "I can see!"
"Impossible. Giants were never made to see. Giants were made to follow the orders of their betters - like me - not to see! Put me down at once! Do you hear! Put me down!"
"You aren't listening Iktar. I said I can see, see! Do you understand? I can see you, and I can see what you've been up to all these years, getting me to live in a prison of my own making. I can see the reality of this so-called luxury you have provided for me, whilst you have the rest of the castle for yourself. I could crush you like a gnat right now my little friend. What do you think about that? Have you got anything to say for yourself?"
Iktar struggled and squealed. Several times he tried to speak, but the words were garbled and he stuttered incomprehensibly. Oleg felt the imp's heartbeat getting even faster, and whispered softly down his ear.
"Don't be frightened little imp, I forgive you. I'm a kindly giant, remember, kindly and I like my sleep? I forgive you." Gently, he placed the unfortunate imp on the floor and released him.
Iktar felt terrified. As he looked up at the grinning giant, his hair stood on end, and his tiny, bony knees shook and visibly knocked together making a sound like a woodpecker tapping on a tree. Finally, he turned tail and scampered through the flap.
"I'll show you, you stupid, stupid giant. I'll starve you into submission!" he cried from outside the cell. "Do you hear! Starve you! I'm in charge here. You are nothing but an ignorant, blind labourer. When you are prepared to obey, I'll let you out and not before, never, never, never, never!"
The whole castle shook as Oleg laughed. Deliberately, he strode across the cell and with his bare hands wrenched the door from its hinges, crushed it into match-wood and tossed it into the corner.
"Obey, bowbey, scowby, nobey, nobey. Ha! Not any more my nasty little friend. I'm going to build a castle across the river, Iktar," he roared, his voice echoing around the courtyard. "I forgive you, but even though I forgive you, I intend having the benefit of my toil for myself. You did a little bit of work as well, so I'll repay you, fairly and in full. I'll give you a proper room, not a squalid cell like you gave me." He strolled down the corridor into the courtyard and laughed again. "If you would like somewhere to live when the winter comes, maybe you will help me to survey the new site? It will be a cold winter this year. It will be even colder for you if you don't help, because you won't have anywhere to live. It was I who cut all this stone with my own hands. It was I who sweated and suffered carrying it down from the quarry. It was I who strained and struggled to construct these walls. It's all mine Iktar, rightfully mine, and I intend to have it."
The giant deftly climbed to the top of the castle battlements, ripped a huge block off the wall and hurled it across the river where it landed with a great thump. Then another, and another.
"I forgive you Iktar," he laughed. "I forgive you. If you can forgive yourself, you'd better come out now, before this prison you had me build collapses around your pointy little head, and becomes your tomb!"
Tears ran down his face as he worked, tears of laughter and joy.
"And I'll tell you another thing. Every single thing I do from this day forth, everything, as well as being for me, will be for the benefit of something else that lives on this world. You've taught me a lesson Iktar, one I'll never forget.
I know what bondage is now.
Your gift to me, brought about by your selfishness and ignorance, was slavery. I know what it's like, and knowing so will never, ever use or subjugate another living being, ever; you have taught me compassion.
Now that I'm free, I'm going to build a magnificent bird house in my castle and give the birds food in the winter. They sing for me and bring me seeds, so I'll repay them. Likewise, the plants feed me, and I am in their debt. So I'm going to tend them, help them grow. I'll even put a mirror on my roof to shine back light at the sun. He gives me light, warmth and life and asks nothing in return. I can't do much for him except say thank you, and I will.
Even you, you guided my steps when I was blind Iktar; and taught me about servitude. For that, I am forever in your debt, and I thank you. You can live with me for ever more if you wish, for you and I are brothers, born of the same flesh and of one mind: our rightful inheritance is to live as one in joyful harmony - as it is for all creation, all of which moves cyclically in alternating peroids of activity and blissful rest and recuperation. But first you must mend you ways a little - that's all it takes, just a little, drop some of your silly habits - like jabbering on to yourself and everyone else all the time, like trying to control things instead of letting nature do as it will, and then we will all live happily ever after for I am the ocean on which you and all others exist.
Hear, and hear well, for this lesson is for you;; go to sleep now and wake up refreshed and new
The Sad Song
The old moth sat high in the branches of an oak by the pond observing a dragonfly. The latter perched precariously on a reed, howling and wailing a lament. Moth had been watching for some time - concerned for his fellow insect's well-being - and moreover the horrible wailing disturbed his tranquillity. All the other forest creatures had been driven away by the baleful sound. Even the fish had swum away to the far side of the pond.
Dragonfly had been singing woefully for several minutes, and just one minute is ages and ages in dragonfly time.
The late afternoon sunlight glistened on his golden wings as softly, the moth dipped forward and sailed noiselessly downwards to land on a reed slightly to the dragonfly's left. Dragonfly didn't notice or falter for an instant; he just blithely continued wailing his mournful lament:
"Ohhhh, ohhhh for woe is me,
Close up the howling sounded even worse, so much that Moth retreated up the bank and stuffed clumps of grass in his ears to block out the awful noise. Dragonfly didn't notice, even when the moth flitted around collected the grass, he just kept on and on singing the same song repeatedly, although there were occasional variations in the order of the lines.
"I've been sat here since ten-past three,
And life's so cruel,
I feel so bad,
My heart is broken,
I'm so sad,
Remember morning-time, I do,
When you with me,
and I with you,
Did fly together hand in hand,
Across the pond, the woods, the land,
For woe is woe,
And woe is me,
How can I cure this misery?"
"Excuse me," said the moth finally, only to be ignored.
The moth moved in closer and hovered alongside.
"Excuse me!" he yelled.
Dragonfly jumped, stopped his howling and turned.
"What do you want?" he demanded angrily. "Can't you see I am busy? What do you think you're doing coming here disturbing my song?"
"Pardon?" replied the moth settling on a reed and removing the makeshift earplugs.
"I said," replied the dragonfly, getting even angrier, "that I am busy. I am singing a song. Don't come around here and bother me, you nosy, impertinent moth. Just go away!"
"It's the singing I've come to see you about actually. Why are you singing such a sad mournful song? You're making a frightful noise you know, it's enough to make the gnomes pull their hats over their ears. Have you not noticed that everyone has been driven away by your terrible racket? Don't you know anything else?"
"I'll sing exactly what I like. I feel sad. Very sad. That's why I'm singing a sad song. Anyway what's it to do with you Moth? It's my song, my voice and my business. I'll sing what I like, so clear off." He spat and scowled angrily.
"That is precisely where you are wrong," answered the moth. "It has everything to do with me. It's annoying and depressing. Your howling and wailing is making everyone around here sad. Even the fish have swum away, and they live underwater. You're polluting the atmosphere around here with your abominable noise and sadness. Why don't you sing a happy song?"
The moth raised his left eyebrow and tipped his head to the side.
"Because," he replied emphatically, "I feel sad. Are you stupid or something? I feel sad, so I sing a sad song. Do you understand? S - A - D, SAD!" He scowled again, and scratched nervously under his wing.
"Not really," replied the moth feigning naïveté, "I think you feel sad because you are singing a sad song."
"What would you know about it," grumbled the dragonfly, "you don't understand my problems, and you don't know what happened to me earlier today. Well let me just paint a brief picture for you, then you might understand why I am so sad. Earlier this morning..."
"You can stop right there," interrupted the moth. "I won't share your sadness. There are countless reasons for sadness, they are innumerable, and yet strangely, at the same time, there's only one. Reasons don't concern me; they're irrelevant. Pain is pain whatever the cause."
"Irrelevant?!" snapped the dragonfly. "Irrelevant!" How dare you say my problems are irrelevant! Huh." He snorted indignantly. "You are totally unsympathetic and uncaring, just like everyone else around here."
"Correction," returned the moth, "everyone else who used to be around here."
He slowly swept his wing from left to right indicating the empty bank and silent woods.
"Yes. That's exactly what I mean, fair weather friends all of them. But when someone has troubles, where are they then? I ask you. Nobody cares about me, nobody."
"I care for you Dragonfly," confided the moth softly, "and because of that I am going to sing you a song. But you'll have to pay attention, just for a minute. Listen carefully, and no interruptions."
Before the dragonfly could complain or stop him the moth cleared his throat and began to sing.
"The red and white rare walrus,
The moth's voice sounded sweet and melodious. As he sang, he bobbed up and down in time on the reed, simultaneously stepping from one leg to the other in a most comic fashion. He finished with a huge flourish and a bow.
Writes wily writhing riddles at whit;
He only writes tongue twisters,
Because he can't alliterate.
'Silly little Wally,
Hurried woolly dewy Harry,
Will he wobble,
Will he marry Lily too?'
The red and white rare walrus,
Wrote a silly little riddle for you."
"What do you think of that then?" he asked mischievously. "Not bad eh, considering that I hardly ever sing?"
The dragonfly - totally stunned by the whole absurd performance - glowered at the moth not knowing what to say at first. Finally he recovered his composure.
"I think," he said vehemently, "that it is the most stupid song I have ever ever heard in my entire life."
The moth shrugged. "I'm sorry you feel that way, but never mind. It's one of my own compositions you know. I'm sure it'll grow on you in time. Let's sing it together."
"Sing it! Sing it! I couldn't even say it!" protested the dragonfly.
"I'll sing it again for you," offered the moth, "just to make sure you know the words."
The moth repeated the performance several times, much to the dragonfly's discomfort. Several green clad elves, attracted by the music, appeared and danced nearby on a grassy knoll, but despite Moth's encouragement, the dragonfly steadfastly refused to join in. Finally, the moth stopped and settled by the dragonfly on his reed.
It had become eerily quiet.
They sat together for some time in silence watching the sunlight dancing on tiny ripples in the pond.
"Do you know Dragonfly," the moth ventured quietly after a few minutes, "that you're privileged to hear me sing. I only usually hum."
"And why's that?" asked the dragonfly.
Moth drew close to him, and looked around as if to see if anyone was listening.
"Because," he leaned forward and whispered dramatically, as if about to reveal a great mystery, "I only warely wemember the words!"
He exploded into laughter & fell about on the reed whooping. Dragonfly could see that the laughter was genuine. Moth had tears running down his cheeks & held his sides. It seemed obvious to him that the moth was totally off his tiny head and needed watching very carefully indeed. There was no way of knowing for sure what he might do next.
Eventually he quietened down.
"You think I'm quite mad don't you Dragonfly?" he said looking askance.
"Er, er, I wouldn't go so far as that," offered the dragonfly hesitatingly, "a little bit eccentric perhaps, but not totally mad."
"You think I'm mad Dragonfly, raving mad, completely and utterly out of my tree. I know you do. You needn't be embarrassed. The question is, why do you think I'm mad?"
"Well," stuttered the dragonfly, "you do behave in a rather bizarre manner. You write and sing stupid songs. You laugh idiotically and say strange things, so what other conclusions am I to draw?"
"Don't draw conclusions Dragonfly, don't draw conclusions; nothing is forever, therefore conculsions are illusory... drawn or otherwise. The theatre is for your benefit." The moth hopped onto a piece of driftwood floating nearby. "You have it, but I'll put it into words for you. Behaviour is the key. You think I'm mad because I appear to do mad things. Now what about you? If you didn't sing a sad song, how would anyone know you were sad?"
"I would know I was sad," replied the dragonfly mournfully. "Because I would feel sad. I would sit and mope I suppose."
The moth looked down at his perch thoughtfully.
"Feelings and behaviour go together," he said lifting his head. "I'm not really mad, except when I do mad things. It's all one movement, like this branch floating on the pond. The branch needs the pond to support it. The pond in turn needs the earth. Others would see you sitting and moping. They could tell by your behaviour that you were sad couldn't they?"
"Alright then," replied the dragonfly, "I would just sit. I wouldn't sing or mope or do anything and nobody would know I was sad."
"But if you could just sit, really sit, and do absolutely nothing, you wouldn't be sad. Sadness, can't exist on it's own you know, it only comes into being as behaviour. It is behaviour. Pain is pain as it happens, and then it is done; full stop. Singing about pain is only a song, a sad song. But then again singing sad songs is sadness. I personally prefer to hum."
Moth studied the dragonfly through half closed eyes and weighed his words carefully.
"You can't fill a pond with water if there is already honey in it," he said cryptically. "The fact is Dragonfly, that there is no real sadness in life; there is only the singing of sad songs."
They sat for a while, the moth bobbing gently on his driftwood perch, the dragonfly swaying on his reed.
Some rabbits came out to play nearby. Several elves frolicked on the knoll.
Dragonfly still appeared distracted. "I don't understand," he said, "and I'm still not going to sing your silly song. It wouldn't be real if I did, I would only be pretending."
"That's all there is," replied the moth softly as he prepared to take his leave, "in truth, dear Dragonfly, pretending is all there is."
He flexed his wings. "I'm going back to my tree. Do as you wish, but remember this. Sadness only exists in singing sad songs. Singing them is stupid; more stupid than singing silly songs. Humming is best of all; there aren't any words. Your choice."
He shook his head, patted the despairing dragonfly gently on the shoulder and with one powerful flap of his wings, vanished into the treetops.
The apprentice weavers were taught from an early age to weave carpets by the weaving master. He showed them how to weave in various weights of thread of all colours - reds, greens, yellows, golds, blues, greens, all the colours of the spectrum. The carpets and rugs they wove were beautiful creations - magnificent - every one in accordance with one design that had been laid down in a time long ago by the original masters of the weaving masters.
In order to sustain the weaving school, the carpets the apprentices wove were sold on the Tuesday of each week at a market held in the nearby town. Although there were also markets on Wednesdays and Fridays, tradition had it that the carpet weavers only sold their wares on Tuesdays. Since they were all more or less equal at producing the given design, and all equally adept at selling the carpets, the apprentice weavers took it in turn to work the stall on Tuesdays.
One Tuesday afternoon, Anquest, one of the apprentice weavers, was in charge of the market stall when a band of travellers appeared, set up a stall facing him, and proceeded to sell carpets of their own design. He noticed their designs were quite different from the ones he sold, although many of the threads used - and the intricate warps and wefts - were similar. He walked across the aisle-way separating the stalls, introduced himself and discussed amicably the various aspects of carpet weaving with his competitor - a woman named Hemol.
On returning to the weaving shed he described his encounter to the weaving master, who scoffed and dismissed his story. 'That, my boy, should have been a lesson to you. We here in this weaving shed have been executing our perfected design for century upon century. Do you think we came upon this design by accident? No! The ancients worked this out long, long ago: our design is the best, the most complex, the most sophisticated beyond any doubt. All others are but pale imitations.'
Anquest listened respectfully to what he had to say - for after all, the weaving master didn't become the master by accident - and said nothing. On the other hand, he thought to himself, the master might be the master, but hadn't even seen this other design - and Anquest couldn't deny the beauty of what he had seen.
The next time Anquest went to the market - many months after his previous visit, since the weaving master always somehow seemed to find other things for him to do when his turn came up - Hemol was there again, but this time she looked troubled.
'What bothers you sister?' Anquest enquired.
'It be the patterns,' she replied. 'Between us we have two, the most beautiful designs you could ever find - or so I thought.'
'I agree. So why look so concerned?'
'Come with me and see.'
She seized Anquest by the arm and dragged him through the busy market to the far corner of the town square where a smiling old man sat sewing.
'Look,' cried the carpet weaver, 'see the designs this simple man makes.'
Anquest scratched his head. He had seen this very man lots of times before, but always assumed he sat in the square darning socks. He looked closely at what the man was doing, and his jaw fell open upon seeing the variegated designs the man was making using multicoloured silks in a square mesh on a plain, black cloth. He understood the meaning of all patterns immediately - and the significance and freedom brought by new patterns as well. He realised that an infinite number of designs at his disposal, and that any of these could be woven into a carpet. His heart dissolved in the beauty Hemol had shown him and they looked deeply into each others tear filled eyes.
The following day, the weavers shed had one apprentice less, and the travellers band one person missing. The two new master weavers set up a weaving shed of their own and lived happily ever after - without any particular designs.
The Bungling Fairy
'If you'll just tell me what you've come here for,' said Freeya the Frying Pan Fairy, 'then perhaps, just perhaps, I'll be able to help. But if you won't tell me I won't be able to do anything, will I?'
She clung on to her perch on the slender branch of a laburnum tree as the wind caused it to shift unpredictably.
Ellen the Elf hung her head and looked at her green, curly toed shoes. 'I'm frightened to tell you. I'm shy, and you'll think I'm silly. You'll laugh.'
Freeya sprang down onto the grass next to Ellen. 'I won't laugh, I promise. Whisper in my ear so nobody else can hear.'
Ellen leaned over and whispered. Freeya's eyes bulged. She turned away and put her hand over her mouth trying hard not to laugh, but she couldn't help it. 'Ha, ha, ha, ha, haaa,' she bellowed at the top of her voice. 'You've got a fat bottom and you've come all the way down here to see if I can help you cure it? Ha, ha, ha, haaa. A fat bottom indeed! Well that's a life threatening condition isn't it? Turn around and let me see!'
The red faced elf turned and bent over so that Freeya could see her bottom.
'It doesn't look particularly fat to me,' announced the fairy, 'indeed, I would say your bottom is perfectly average as far as bottoms go. What do you want me to do with it?'
'Make it go away,' whispered the elf.
'So you'd like to have no bottom at all, eh? Don't you think you'd look a little strange, rather peculiar like that?'
'Well, just make it smaller then. Make it so that it doesn't stick out so much.'
'Exactly how much would you like it to stick out?'
'Not as much as it does now.'
'That is not a specific answer. I asked exactly how much.'
The elf stared at the ground in silence.
'Seeing as we can't decide on just how big your bottom should be, or rather I can't since I don't know how you measure the shape and size of such an imaginary animal, I can't make one. You, on the other hand, seem to know precisely what you want - but how you happen to know that you know that I don't know, and perhaps you don't know either. Nevertheless, what I can do for you by magic is to give your body the power of instantaneous change. The way this works is that I wave my wand and say a magic word whilst you close your eyes and imagine the change you want. That way, I just bring around the conditions for transformation and I don't have to know specifically what I'm doing - which is rather a good thing since I don't really know what I'm doing anyway. Accordingly, or otherwise, any change you bring about is entirely up to you. Is that acceptable?'
Ellen rubbed her chin. 'Do you mean when you wave your wand I'll become what I pretend to be?'
'Precisely. Couldn't have put it better myself, and I didn't.'
Ellen agreed. Freeya stood her on a rock in the centre of the clearing, arranged her with both hands by her sides and stepped back. 'Here we go,' announced the fairy, 'hold tight!'. She raised her wand and brought it down sharply. 'Wertambanat: change now!' she cried. There was a bright flash, a bang and a puff of smoke.
The elf jumped at the sound and coughed at the smoke. When it cleared, she was devastated to find that her right arm was half it's original length. 'What have you done to me,' she cried, 'look at my arm!'
The fairy shook her head. 'Hmm. That wasn't my fault you know, that was you. You didn't pretend properly. Let's do it again, and pay attention this time. Stand still. Krumbadligof: learn and change now!' Again there was a flash, bang and smoke. Even before the smoke had cleared she could hear whimpering coming from within. 'Oh dear? What's wrong?'
'My right arm's gone even shorter and my left arm is now growing out of the top of my head.
The fairy wafted the smoke away. Sure enough the elf's left arm had moved from the side of her body and was now stuck on top of her head.
'Oh dear, dear, dear. That shouldn't have happened, you'll have to be careful what you think my girl. Can you wave it?' she asked, glancing at the displaced arm.
The forlorn elf gave a little wave of her hand and burst into tears, which the fairy ignored: she was too busy looking at the elf's feet - which without the latter noticing had turned around and were now facing in the opposite direction.
The fairy insisted on repeating the process time, after time, after time and the poor elf had variously legs where arms should be, an arm coming out of an ear, a foot where a nose should be, ears on her knees and a large red nose sticking out of the top of her head.
'Hmnn, that doesn't seem right, does it? Let's try again,' said the fairy.
'No!' cried the elf. 'Don't do anything else. I don't think you know what you're doing. It seems everything you try goes wrong. Just put me back together the way I was will you. You are responsible for all this mess and it's up to you to put it right.'
The fairy shook her head and smiled. 'Oh no! Oh no, no, no!I didn't make all this happen, you did. I told you you had to pretend carefully. When you can, you can change anything.'
'But it was your magic spells that changed things.'
'Oh no. My spells only opened the gateway to change, cleared the path. The specific changes are your responsibility. Still, you know one thing now.'
'That you can change if you want to: it is possible. All you've got to do is pretend properly. Now, stand on that rock again and change back to what you were before.'
'How do I do that?'
'Like any other change. Imagine what it looks like, how it feels, what it smells and tastes like and what it sounds like. It's easy.'
The elf stood on the rock again. 'Quelkasdulam: change positively!' As her wand descended there was a tremendous crack and flash. The smoke was even worse than before.
'Hurrah! I'm back as I was!' coughed the elf from within the cloud.
'Not quite,' murmured the fairy as the elf emerged, 'not quite.'
'What do you mean, "Not quite"?'
'Well, you now realise that you can change yourself - I didn't do it, your body did it. I just set up the conditions so that you could change. Now you realise you can change, and if you really, really want to change, your body can change you.'
'What do you mean?'
'Is your bottom still fat?'
'I don't know, and I don't care anymore.'
'Good. I don't seriously think it was fat in the first place, that was just some strange idea you got from somewhere. Just be aware in future that when there's something really important, something you really want to change, that your body can change it. Hope that was of help, goodbye.'
The Wedding Dress
'Oh no, look at this!' The princess had been rummaging around the castle attic and eventually found and unwrapped the bolt of silk left to her by her grandmother. 'It's ruined,' she cried.
'This silk was of the purest, whitest white when it was put up here, and now look at it, full of hideous brown stains.'
She turned to her faithful serving maid, showed her the cloth and burst into an uncontrollable torrent of tears. 'Boo, hoo,' she cried, 'boo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoooo. This was to be made into my wedding dress Miranda. It is the finest, purest silk which my grandfather brought all the way from the mysterious land of Cathay - or rather it was - and it was given to me specifically by grandmother to make my dress. But it's ruined, absolutely ruined, just look at it.
Miranda examined the silk. It was indeed of the highest quality and, although the body of the fabric remained intact, there were numerous brown stains of various shapes and sizes that appeared to penetrate the entire bolt. 'I perhaps know of someone who can help you, your highness.'
'And who would that be, some magician I suppose? For nothing less than magic will cure this.'
'In a way. Out in the woods there lives an old hag, a sorceress, who it is rumoured has knowledge of many ointments, herbs and magic potions. Some of these will cure the body, some the mind, some plants, but I've heard tell that she has a vast knowledge of ways of dying and repairing fabrics as well.'
'What is this hag's name?'
'And where does she reside?'
'Three leagues beyond the sandstone hill in the oaken forest.'
The princess stopped her sobbing and narrowed her eyes. Her father didn't approve of witchcraft and the like and she knew she mustn't be caught consorting with sorcerers. She thought for a while and came up with a plan.
Later that morning, disguised as peasants, she and Miranda slipped out of the castle and set off for the oaken forest.
The hag, a black-clad, ancient woman with a hooked nose and lined face, sat outside her hut stirring a cauldron smelling of onions when the princess arrived.
'I am the Princess Holinda, daughter of King Dornik the Mild. I have a problem with a stained silken cloth I believe you may be able to me with. I'll pay you for your knowledge.'
The hag cackled and spat in the fire. 'A princess no less, and you'll pay will you? Ha, ha, ha, haa! A stained cloth,' she croaked without lifting her head, 'be like a stained soul in that often one does not be knowing the nature of the stains, how they arise and how to clean them. It may also be likened to a downtrodden bed of flowers in that they should be shining, dancing in the sunlight, not cowering in fear of the boots of passers by who be trampling them without noticing or caring of the damage they be causing. Which of these can yours be likened to?'
She lifted her head and fixed the princess with a pair of penetrating, shining, steely-grey eyes that looked as old as the stars.
The princess was unsettled - both by the hag's obscure answer and the gaze. 'L, l, look, I don't want a lecture of herbs or anything. All I want is a potion to remove the stain from my silk cloth.'
The hag lifted up a ladle of steaming fluid from her cauldron and offered it the princess.
'Taste this,' she commanded, 'be telling me what you think.'
The princess eyed the ladle cautiously. 'What is it? Is it some kind of a magic potion? What will it do to me.'
Gingerly, the princess put the ladle to her lips and was amazed that the concoction, although it had the consistency of glue and smelt strongly of onions, tasted of fresh leeks. 'What is it?' she cried.
'Soup,' said the hag flatly. 'Needs a little more salt, eh?' She threw a spoonful of salt in the pot and stirred it. 'And your cloth be silk, eh? I'll bet that be costing a pretty penny. I'll not be giving you a potion, for silk may be damaged by potions, but I'll be giving you a magic spell.'
'A magic spell?' the princess replied hesitantly, 'What kind of magic spell?'
'What kind? Why, how many kinds do you be thinking there be?'
The princess fell silent wondering what to say next.
'Since you don't be appearing to know,' continued the hag, 'I won't be telling you. Let me say that a magic spell be like an unusual arrangement of symbols which be reaching parts of a structure that be inaccessible to ordinary arrangements of symbols. Once it be reaching it's target, it need only touch gently in order for the cure to be taking place - for the reaching of the target be the cure. A potion on the other hand be like fire in that it unless it be carefully controlled it can be getting everywhere, into places you don't want it to be getting and can be causing unintended damage, devastation even. That's why spells be better, but only if you can spell. Be you understanding?'
From her obscure utterances, the princess assumed the hag to be totally insane and just stared. Nervously, she wondered how to react, also whether or not to just forget the idea of repairing the silk altogether.
Miranda eventually broke the silence.
'What will you charge us for your spell?'
The hag grinned. 'I'll be taking nothing for myself that ain't being due to everyone,' she replied enigmatically, 'so for now, you be paying me nothing.'
'I don't understand,' said the princess.
'Let us be calling it a debt. When you be queen, you get to pay me back.'
The princess smiled to herself. If this stupid, unbalanced hag ever imagined that Holinda would ever venture out into these woods once she were queen, then she must be madder than she at first appeared. Holinda decided there and then to accept the hag's spell - for she had nothing to lose - and vanish into the castle never to be seen again. 'I'll have your spell, Mother Hortapem, and as you have decreed will repay you in full when I am queen.'
The hag smiled knowingly. 'Excellent, excellent. Fakubrinta!: do as I instruct. This is what you must do. First of all, imagine a hollow cylindrical object with a bottom but no top and a handle that is used to contain liquids, and you will sleep soundly tonight, and you will be having a dream, a dream of you father's kingdom. In your dream, I want you to feel all the parts of your body: first feel your left foot, not your right hand, your left hand, not your right foot, now go back to the two you've missed as you feel your breathing. Your eyes will be closed of course, but in your dream you'll be able to see and feel yourself blinking as you feel the temperature of the air on your body and the weight of your body pressing against its support. Listen carefully to what I'm saying, to the sound of my voice and as you are aware of your ears hearing this and your nose smelling the scents that are around you and the taste in your mouth, I want you to be seeing the fields, the forests, the rivers, the animals, the various cities, villages and roads. Dream of these in all the seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and be seeing the various things that take place in these seasons - new growth, sowing and tilling the fields, harvesting, summer sun and winter ice and snow. Then be looking closely and compare the lots of a typical knight and day and a peasant. See how the former sits in his castle in his fine clothes, rides his horse freely about the kingdom, feasts and is waited on hand and foot in mouth. Then see the latter, look at the back-breaking work, insanitary living conditions in some freezing, draughty hovel, the starvation, ill health and grinding poverty - all of which be a stain upon this kingdom. When you have done this, you will dream that a magic wand appears in your right hand, an iron wand of purification, and you will be seeing the bolt of silk for your dress before you. As you see it, you will wave the wand once from right to left and pronounce this spell: "Jangudavan: purify this now and remember!" The bolt of cloth will be rendered stainless. When you have done this, you will be sleeping normally and let tomorrow bring what it does. This dream, if you agree to it, will recur to you occasionally, but only when you are queen will you fully understand the true meaning. Do you agree?'
'Do you mean that all I have to do is to have a dream? I could do that on my own.'
The hag shook her head. 'Oh no you couldn't. This be a very special magical dream I be giving you here. Do you agree to it?'
Holinda looked around at her serving maid, who nodded her head. 'Yes, I agree. Are you sure that's all I have to do?'
The hag nodded. 'That's all there be to it. Oh, perhaps one thing more. Be keeping your wedding dress. When you're queen, be taking a look at it now and again. If you be seeing any stains appearing on it, just have the dream again - that will be making them go away.'
The princess returned to the castle, retired to her chamber and had a vivid dream just as the hag had described. Next day she went up to the castle attic and discovered that not only had the silk become utterly radiant white and stainless, but that it had been miraculously tailored into an exquisite wedding dress that fitted her perfectly. As the hag predicted, Holinda's dream recurred throughout her later life - especially on the nights when she had been to the attic to check for stains on her dress - and, despite her resolve to cheat the hag of her reward, the peasants' lot improved vastly owing to the new queen's reforms.
One night when she was asleep the princess found herself dreaming she was outside the hag's hut. The hag, much as on their previous encounter, was sitting stirring a smelly cauldron of soup and looked up as the princess appeared.
'Yes? Is there something you want?'
'I'm sorry I cheated you,' said the princess, 'I'll come out here tomorrow and pay you in full.'
The hag cackled. 'There be no need, my dear, for it be me that cheated you - but with the best of intentions. There are more stains in this kingdom than those on silken cloths. There are stains that be older and be running deeper, stains in men's hearts. Keep on with your work: and the debt be paid.'
The Apple Tree
The two brothers brought their shaking sister to the wizard's cave. They said she had been possessed by demons for five summers and although they had tried all manner of cures to heal her - leeches apothecary's potions, lotions, the laying on of hands - all had failed. The men quivered as they spoke, admitting they were frightened of the wizard and had only come to enlist his aid as a last resort.
The wizard sat the woman down and gazed deeply into her eyes. 'I want to talk to you for a while,' he began softly, 'about memories and apples. I know this seems to be a strange subject to discuss but I'm sure, as I proceed, you'll see there are some similarities between the two, things that one can learn from. Has it ever occurred to you that memories are like apples in that some of them grow in parts of the tree accessible from the ground, whilst to reach others one must use a ladder? They are also like apples in that some memories are crisp and shiny, safe to hold and to eat, whilst others - the ones we normally avoid - very often appear to be indigestible and we avoid them. Memories can also be thought of as apples in that each one appears to be individual, yet when one looks carefully, one sees they all emanate from the same tree, and as there is an apple tree, there is also a tree of memories, a memory tree. Now, as there are many kinds of trees, and many kinds of apples and memories, there are also many kinds of ladders: wooden ladders, rope ladders, extending ladders, step ladders, but to reach the inaccessible apples on an apple tree, one needs a very special kind of ladder. To reach a particular memory, and not cause any damage, one needs a ladder that can reach deep into the branches without causing any disturbance to the rest of the tree. Ladders are like words in that there are many different kinds of words - short words, long words, compound words, simple words, and ladders are also like arrows in that they can be pointed, and pointed in specific directions towards particular apples, like words can be pointed towards particular memories in a memory tree. Imagine you have an apple tree before you, and know that as you do this that the very act of imagining is the act of invoking a memory - so it's a really a memory tree that you are visualising. You also have a ladder, a safe, sturdy ladder, and deep in the body of the tree, up there hidden in the rich foliage, you can see a sickly apple hiding, deep in the tree, that has been causing problems. What I want you to do is to put your ladder against the tree - and when I say ladder realise that is a word for an actual thing we call a ladder - being careful not to disturb anything else, and climb up there and take a good look at this particular apple, not just with your eyes but with your entire body, your whole being. Smell it, feel it, stroke it - feel the texture and listen to the sound as you draw your hand across the surface, perhaps lick it and have a little taste. As you do this, be aware that although you personally may know little about horticulture, your body is part of the earth, its constituent elements are as ancient as time itself. It is a holistic master gardener, a gardener that knows everything that there is, or ever was, to know about plants, shrubs and trees - especially trees of the kind you are now examining. Your body knows precisely what to do to cure sick fruit and trees. It also knows precisely whether or not such a cure is indeed timely and necessary. Even more, your body itself is like a tree: it has a trunk, branches in the form of arms and legs, and an intricate internal network of veins and nerves for the distribution of the life force. This body of yours is more than it appears. If you had an incredibly powerful eyeglass you would be able to see that it comprises a tremendously complex arrangement of minute, dancing particles known as atoms - which themselves are made of even smaller, finer particles, particles as old as the universe itself. With your powerful eyeglass, you could see that the structure, the arrangement of these particles inside your body, resembles that of a tree, with some groups of particles being formed into strings just like branches, some of them growing from the branches as wholesome fruit and perhaps a few, only a few, growing in a disordered fashion. Look on as the examination takes place. Now look again at the tree and it's malaise. Let your body consider a number of cures from the vast repertoire it has available, and when it has done so it will give you a sign - probably in the manner of a small twitch, and certainly a sign you will recognise. Let the examination proceed until you have this signal Your body will then consider the entire structure of the tree and decide whether or not it is safe to implement the specific cure whilst bearing in mind the well-being of the whole tree. When this is done, you will begin to steadily descend the ladder, carefully and step by step, then put it away safely and walk calmly away from the tree, knowing that whatever has happened to the sick fruit, for good or ill, has happened in the context of the overall well-being of the apple tree.' The woman fell into a deep swoon and the wizard turned to her brothers. 'It is finished. Let her sleep now. By tomorrow the demons will be gone.'
The Sick Earth
'I am sick,' groaned the river, 'so sick I can hardly flow, but my sickness is merely a symptom and not the cause.'
'I am sick too,' said the air, 'I my body moves in disturbed, unpredictable ways, but my sickness is merely a symptom and not the cause.'
'I too am sick,' wailed the grass, 'I am marked, burnt and lumps of me are falling away each day that passes by. As with my brothers, my sickness is but a symptom and not the cause.'
'I fear I am becoming sick,' said the sea, 'I have a robust constitution, but am becoming progressively infected by the ills of my brothers. Like them, my sickness is but a symptom and not the cause.'
'What then pray, is the cause?' rumbled the Earth. 'The root of these symptoms needs to be addressed, for I am getting sick, sick of you all complaining. All this constant noise and whining of yours is making me unbalanced. So what is the cause? Tell me, what is it?'
'It is that creature called man,' they all moaned in unison, 'he is making us ill, poisoning all of us.'
'Oh, he is, is he,' replied the Earth, 'well I'll soon deal with this.'
And he took a great big breath, puffed himself up and shook his mighty shoulders. As he did, the mountains trembled, the sea boiled, and the land turned briefly into jelly. And the men fleas that occupied the body of the earth were frightened and ran hither and thither in panic. But it was no use: most their poison making machines were shaken to bits and were silenced. They had to find altogether new ways to live, fresh ways to do things - which they did for they were very adaptive creatures.
As things finally came to rest, the sun smiled down, the air frolicked and danced in breezes through the trees, the rivers began to sparkle and laugh along the valleys once more, the grass became a glowing green again and the sea settled once more into rolling contented waves.
The Whistling Gnome
'Do you remember in your younger daze,' asked Miranda, the Furry Queen, 'and you became annoyed because you were covered in incense, incensed and I asked you silly questions about why would we turn up noses, yet turn down offers, how a nose knows it's a nose, how we would chop down trees yet chop up wood, and why we have an ear to hear here and here, but not here?'
'I remember it well I do,' nodded Elvil the gnome, settling into his toadstool and whistling a little tuneless tune, 'well I almost do.'
'Well,' smiled the queen, 'I have something new for you today. Did you know that some gnomes are very easy to confuse?'
'Pardon?' Elvil raised his eyebrows and looked perplexed.
'Exactly,' continued the queen, 'I'll talk to you about that in a little while. When you were young, and in a daze, do you remember that once upon a time you couldn't walk, couldn't talk or read or write either of those words either?'
'I remember I couldn't read or write them, but I can't remember ever being unable to walk or talk - even though I couldn't write them.' He whistled nervously.
'And why is that?'
The gnome scratched his head: this was indeed a difficult question. 'I don't know,' he replied eventually.
'So, you don't know, eh? Do you know why you don't know? That's a different question you know, try to answer it and then you might know. People should always ask themselves why they don't know for when you find out why you don't know, you know something about knowing you didn't know before - and eventually you get to know. I'll give you some help: first, remember something then, when you've remembered it remember how you managed to remember it.'
The gnome's eyes glazed over. He whistled and scratched his head again. 'I remembered how I learned to write right. I had something to copy from, I formed the letters and made sounds for the letters. Then I made the letters into words and with some of the words I learned to write letters. The old pixie who taught me made me write some strange sentences so I learned how to make proper sentences, things like 'I heard a man using my ears,' 'I laughed at the mess in my shoes,' and 'The man went to the castle without a name.'
The Furry Queen's eyes glazed over briefly. 'So, you remember how you learned to write in pictures.'
'No, I learned to write in letters and words.'
'Yes, yes. But you remember how you did it in pictures.' The queen suddenly turned and kicked the gnome. He fell off the toadstool and landed on the ground with a thump.
'Ouch,' he cried, 'what was that for?'
'Just to remind you how you learned how to walk,' said the queen darkly. She rubbed her chin gently as the gnome clambered back onto his perch. 'Now where were we,' she mused.
As she was thinking, there was a buzzing of wings and Griselda, the Bristly Queen, appeared and lit on a nearby branch. 'We were here in the magical woods. I've been listening in, and I've come to help out with the gnome's lesson,' she announced. 'Funny that: listen in, help out. Strange things words, very strange. Do you know any riddles, gnome?'
Elwil shook his head.
'If I sit by the trees and the stone circle, where will I be sitting?'
'I don't know. There aren't any trees by the stone circle.'
'So, where will I be sitting?'
'Let's try another one: if I knew a wood wizard in a bright crimson cape, would he be a wizard made of wood or would he be a wizard who lived in a wood, and who would be wearing the cape?'
The gnome stared. The Bristly Queen turned away and addressed her sister.
'Not very bright is he? What is his lesson by the way?'
The Furry Queen stared into the distance. 'Do you know,' she whispered vaguely, 'I've quite forgotten. What was your lesson to be, gnome? Do you know?'
'You were asking me why I could remember some things and not some other things.'
'Ah yes! And the reason I was asking you that was in order to help you get rid of that annoying habit you have.'
The gnome whistled nervously. 'W, w, what habit?'
'That stupid five-note whistle,' interjected the Bristly Queen, 'you don't even know when you're doing it do you?'
'I, I do.'
'Oh no you don't,' the queen replied gruffly, 'you just did it again then didn't you?'
The gnome had to admit that he did. He often whistled tunelessly when he was either daydreaming or nervous.
'Question is,' murmured the Furry Queen, 'can you remember when you learned to whistle like that?'
'N, n, n, no,' replied the gnome, whistling as he did, 'I've always done it.'
'Oh no you haven't. You must have been able to whistle before you learned to whistle that stupid tune. And you can't learn to whistle before you learn to walk. Isn't that true, sister?'
The queens nodded their heads in unison.
'Well, gnome, don't you think it would be a good idea to be rid of that whistle? Do you see how it hampers you when you stalk rabbits? Are you aware how dangerous that whistle would be if an ogre came to the woods looking for his breakfast and you let out a little peep?'
The gnome had to admit that his habitual whistle was an impediment and that it would be useful to get rid of it, but he just couldn't help himself.
'We can get rid of your nervous whistle for you,' the queens announced together, 'but first you must realise that it's a habit you acquired a long, long time ago. We must recover that memory for you. Are you prepared for us to do that?'
'Yes, but how?'
'Leave that to us, we are experts on recovering memories. I can even get memories out of a stone - problem is getting it to tell me what they are,' said the Furry Queen. 'I recall from our earlier discussion that you remember in pictures.'
'And you can't remember learning that whistle. Do you know what that means?'
'You don't have a picture of it.' She turned to the Bristly Queen. 'Can you picture a whistle sister?'
'Picture a whistle? How on earth do you do that? She screwed up her eyes and tried to imagine a picture of a whistling sound, but she couldn't. Next, she tried to imagine the sound made by the colour green and what the sound of a waterfall tasted like - but she failed again.
'Strange creatures these gnomes,' continued the Furry Queen. 'However, it is possible to store memories in different ways - pictures, sounds, tastes, smells and touches. If your memory isn't stored as a picture, gnome, it's stored as one or more of the others - probably in sound and/or touch Sit here, here on this patch of grass between us.'
The gnome did as asked, and the two queens arranged themselves one against each of his ears. 'What are you going to do to me?' he whimpered.
'Don't be such a baby,' replied the Bristly Queen, 'we aren't going to hurt you, in fact you may find what we are going to do to be rather pleasant. Just stand still and be quiet, quite quiet and listen to our voices.'
The two queens began to speak to the gnome in soft, reassuring voices. Sometimes they spoke separately, sometimes together. Some of the time they used the same words, at other times others. Before long, the gnome became quite confused and didn't know which queen was speaking and who was saying what and where and why.
'We are searching for the events causing your nervous whistle: you must keep that clearly in mind as we begin. You should also keep in mind that we aren't really interested in curing your nervous whistle - although we will - that's just a metaphor for something else, a something which only you know about so you had better think about what that problem might be as we commence. Now, what we have to do first, and last, Mr Gnome is to put you in a receptive state of mind in order that you can properly access the memory of the memory of where you store the memory. All you need to do is do nothing, just listen closely, and be perfectly silent. I was speaking of memories and memories aren't real, whatever that means, other than as memories and they're rather tricky, sneaky things. Close your eyes and think about what you were doing earlier today when you awoke.
See if you can remember everything that happened, and I'll guarantee you can't, because the memories are so difficult to pin down. I can pin them down though, for I know a lot about them. Memories can hide in various places: some hide in noises, so you have to listen carefully for those, listen in the sound of my voice, listen in the sound of your breathing, listen in the sound of the surrounding sounds which are neither my voice nor your breathing. Now, as you listen to the sounds, you can easily become aware of the spaces, the absences of sound, between the sounds, so there is now the sound of my voice, the sound of your breathing, the sound of the surroundings and the sounds and absence of sounds between the sounds to attend to. As well as the sounds, there's something else going on here which you are going to become increasingly curious about while you listen to the sounds. I'm going to show you a new dance, and it would be useful if you could remember the taste of a succulent pear and the faint scent of wood-smoke whilst you learn it. Are you continuing to be aware of those two sensations and which is the strongest as I show you the dance? This is a dance that you do in time with the sound of my voice but without moving any part of your body. As you follow the sound of my voice, and the spaces in-between the sound, it will lead you through the dance. You do this dance by becoming aware of the parts of your body that might dance - like your left hand for instance, not your right hand - and you become aware in time with my voice as it points to them, like it is pointing at your right foot now. Blinking is a tiring business isn't it, and you've only just become aware of it as you think of your right knee and your right hand makes you aware of your left foot, and your right foot and as you now think of your left knee. All you have to do is follow my voice - and don't forget the taste of the pear and scent of the smoke and the gaps between the sounds. As this experience is a feeling experience, an inward journey in touch and sound, you don't really need to use your eyes and may feel more comfortable, find it better to close them to avoid distractions as you've already got enough to do. Are you aware that as your attention is focusing inwards you follow my voice to your right elbow, your left knee, your right foot again and now your right hand and that a marvellous feeling is coming over you. And as you listen to my voice, you become aware of the joyful nature of this dance as you avoid thinking of your left foot but consider your left knee, your right elbow, your right foot, and you hear the space between the words which makes you feel at ease as you perhaps begin to realise, to remember something you shut out that happened long, long ago that your right knee witnessed, because your right knee was there then like it's here now. So was your left eyelid and your right eyelid, as close now as they were then. Your body, your left and right hands, your arms, the legs, your left foot, your right foot each have their own form of memory you know, and they can remember that certain something, that time, with their own perfect clarity. This is a memory you are experiencing, in a hand, a foot, and elbow, and you are perfectly aware it is a memory and as such cannot hurt you. At the time you experienced this memory with your arms and legs, you also experienced it with your eyes and ears and, as you feel your left foot and your right hand and listen to the sound of my voice, other aspects of that memory are becoming available to the other parts of your sensory apparatus. As you continue to relive the memory in a foot and a hand, the visual memory of this certain event returns to you and becomes perfectly clear to you. The memory is there with you perfectly clearly now: you are fully aware of the events surrounding the beginning of your behaviour, a behaviour which at the time was a perfectly reasonable and logical behaviour. But that was in the past: your left hand knows this, your right elbow knows this, as do your left knee, your right foot, your left elbow, but maybe not your right knee which is beginning to know this as is the tip of your nose and your left thigh. Although your body knows this was appropriate behaviour at the time, even your ears knows as they hear the sound of my words, it also knows that it is conditioned, and no longer appropriate behaviour. The body is old, far far older than the mind which is of a temporary, fleeting nature, and the body is wise, incredibly wise. Now the body has been made aware of this inappropriate behaviour it may, if it chooses, find a way to correct it - indeed it is so swift and intelligent that it can review vast numbers of ways of harmlessly correcting this behaviour in moments. Should one of these corrections be suitable, the body will no doubt implement it and monitor it's development such as to ensure no imbalance in the overall system occurs due to the correction. You have followed my voice, to your right elbow, your left knee, your right foot again and now your right hand. You have followed my voice to the memories stored in your body, and the memories associated with those memories in order to access the root of a problem that has been bothering you for some time. You have accessed that problem and asked your body to direct it's vast resources into viewing it and ascertaining a cure. Now, as you follow my voice, you become more and more aware of the surrounding background noise. You become more visually aware of your surroundings, and you slowly find yourself back where you were when we started all this - with the exception that you now have the knowledge that the problem you sought to address is now being addressed by your body and that your body will choose whether or not to have access to the root cause of the problem in your normal waking awareness.'
The gnome shook his head as the two queens backed away and peered at him.
'Well?' he asked, 'When are you going to start?'
'Give me a whistle,' demanded the Bristly Queen.
The gnome tried to whistle, but he couldn't.
'Where are you?' asked the Furry Queen.
'I am here, in the magical woods with you.'
'And where have you just been?'
He scratched his head and tried to whistle again. 'I can't remember properly. I was in another time.'
'Correct,' she said darkly. 'In that other time, you could whistle - and you had one or two other problems as well. Now, you are here and now and your whistling has gone, and some other things are going - some things just take longer than others, but it'll still be here and now when they've gone. Good luck and goodbye. Come back when you want another lesson.'
With that, the two queens took to the air and were gone in a flash.
Why Should I?
The yachtsmen had a difficult voyage across the ocean, indeed their craft had been battered and buffeted by several storms, becalmed, even almost sunk on two occasions. Since they were several days from port, and almost exhausted, they decided to drop anchor in a quiet, natural bay they had found in order to rest and carry out necessary repairs. As they settled in their bunks, the boat was suddenly shaken as if by a giant hand, and then shaken again and again more vigorously. Scrambling on deck, the crew peered over the side to find they were being assaulted by a steady stream of huge bubbles coming somewhere from deep below: the bubbles rocked to boat mercilessly, indeed even the sight of them mad the crew feel queasy. Realising it would be almost impossible to sleep with all the vibration, and that the yacht was in too precarious a state to risk moving it - indeed it might ultimately sink if the situation were allowed to go unchecked - the captain sent a diver down to investigate.
On reaching the sea-bed, the diver couldn't see anything at first owing to the darkness and the agitation in the water. He searched and searched and eventually, more by careful listening than by looking, he found the source of the disturbance. As he rounded a rock, there right before him, basking on a submerged sand-bank, lay the most enormous whale he had ever seen blowing vast streams of football-sized bubbles through his spout. The diver approached gingerly, for the whale was awesome and towered above him. He eyed it cautiously for a while before eventually plucking up the courage to address it.
'Excuse me,' he said.
The whale just ignored him and kept right on keeping on.
'Excuse me Mr Whale, would you kindly listen to me for a moment.'
The whale half-opened an eye. 'Yes? So you think whales can talk do you? How absurd!'
'Er, your bubbles, the ones from your spout, are rising to the surface of the water and causing us some distress in our boat up there.'
'Well? So what?'
'Ahem, perhaps you could stop, or maybe go and rest somewhere else?'
'Why should I?'
'Well because it's dangerous to us if you stay, and surely it's not much trouble for you to move.'
'Oh yes? Do you know what long chain hydrocarbons are?'
'Well lets say they are something that's dangerous to me if you tip them on my head, and not much trouble to you to keep contained should you try. And when I say me, I mean everyone. Some of us look at the whole picture you know, the whole picture. It's necessary for balance, see it? I am a deep sea whale and you'll rarely see any sign of me on the surface - until you disturb me. You move.'
'W, w, we can't. We're stuck.'
'You've got yourself into the situation, get yourself out. By the way, another name for long chain hydrocarbons is oil; oil he oily on me doyly.' He released a sudden ripple of bubbles and winked.
The diver didn't know what to say at first. He knew he'd been as guilty of polluting the ocean as the rest of the crew. 'L, l, look, the captain sent me down here in a panic..'
'Aha,' interrupted the whale with a grin, 'I like that. Now you're beginning to talk my kind of language, come you nick hate. A panic indeed! It looks more like a diving suit to me. Ho, ho! If you stand around here with that lead on your belt for too long, you might find the wait is too much - are we connecting yet, like the ends of a belt around the ear?'
The diver had to smile. It appeared this talking giant whale spoke in puns. 'How about: "Why do I cling to these memories, old things so close?"'
The whale stared: 'Yes, why indeed,' he returned quietly, 'why indeed?'. 'Old things close their doors when the time is right now you can leave them behind provided you clean up as you leave off. I had a male pig down here a few weeks ago you know, told me lots of tales about high buildings with lots of floors, endless tall storeys. He spoke for ages and turned out to be a real bore deep into the essence of things.'
The diver raised his eyebrows and looked puzzled. 'What about the yacht?'
'Ha! Poetry now is it! Troubles with the bubbles are over - provided you consider what I have said carefully. Think on, you'll only get bubbles under your boat if you give me oil to make me boil. Get back up there, tell that to your captain and your friends - then go to sleep and digest all that has passed between us, digest it carefully, in depth, and all will be well, well as in deep understand. You'll have to give me time to get things together though, for I'm a very large and powerful whale, and for me to move or change my breathing patterns is a major undertaking.'
The diver went back to the yacht and reported to the captain and crew. They listened to what he had to say, carefully cleaned out the oil tanks and stowed the waste in secure containers, and eventually managed to get to sleep despite the bubbling sea.
They awoke, to a perfectly calm, sunny day.
The Language Teacher
Zen student Oho thought and thought and thought about the ultimate meaning of words, but the more he thought the more confused he became. He realised that he was actually thinking in words, and sensed that the ultimate secret of words must lie beyond words - but he had no means to approach it, let alone grasp it - as his thinking mechanism would only work within a word defined structure. Carefully, he examined the word structures that he and others used, hoping to find some clue as to the ultimate meaning within. He became aware that much of what passed as conversation between people was conducted in a form of sloppy, ill-defined, shorthand full of assumptions and implied meanings - most of which were not common between the speaker and the listener even though they were assumed to be. The student resolved to become careful in his choice of words when he spoke, to be explicit, unambiguous and not make presupposition. As he, made his resolution, he suddenly understood that the phrase 'right speech', which was supposedly enunciated by the Buddha centuries ago, perhaps meant more than it appeared at first sight.
Although his insight into the potential confusing nature of words brought him some clarity and solace, the student still wrestled and wrestled with the nature of the ultimate nature of language and its meaning. Day and night he struggled until at last, in desperation, he gave up and went to visit his master, Nono, who lived unobtrusively in a small house on the outskirts of a nearby city. When he arrived, he was surprised to see that Nono was pleased to see him - for Nono was not renowned for his welcomes. His usual way with students was to give them some basic training and send them off into the world to learn for themselves.
The master took Oho by the arm and led him to the kitchen where he had two cups of hot, steaming tea waiting. 'You are having problems understanding the nature of language, my boy. These problems come to all of us in due course. Sit down here by me and take some tea.'
'B, b, but how did you know I was coming?' Oho sat on the offered wicker chair and pointed at the two cups of tea.
'I didn't. I just felt the urge to make two cups of tea.'
'B, bu, but you knew I was having problems understanding the nature of language...'
'Only when I saw it was you at my door. First, I know you and your approximate stage of development. Next, for you to to visit me, I knew you must have a major problem - at your stage, that problem will be language. Simple. Now you explain.'
Oho explained his difficulties in great detail as Nono sat quietly sipping the sweet, aromatic tea. When the student had finished, Nono rose without a word, disappeared into an outhouse attached to the kitchen, and returned with a ball of string, some heavy paper luggage labels, a marker pen, sharp knife and an empty white cardboard shoe-box.
'You cut the string and tie it to the objects while I write.'
He sat down and proceeded to write the names of various objects on one side of the labels, handing them to Oho as he did. The smell of the solvent vapour from the marker pen filled the room as Oho scratched his head wondering what was going on, but knew better than to argue. He took the labels one by one, read the inscription, cut a length of the rough string and attached it to the appropriate objects. "TABLE," said the first label, so he tied it to the table. "CHAIR," said the second, and so on. Before long, the entire room was covered in labels, looking as if it were an auctioneer's saleroom. The student looked at the next label: and read "SANWOK". As he stared at the meaningless word, Nono passed him another unintelligible label: "VAILFAND," then another and another and another, and urged him to get on with it.
Oho just stared. 'But all these words are meaningless, they aren't objects.'
'Oh no they aren't. Those words are equally as valid as all the other words, after all they're only words you know. A sanwok, for instance, is the word for a cup sitting on a table - but only when the table has a chair beneath it. Cut a long piece of string and fasten it to the cup, the table and the chair: tie them together.
Oho did as instructed. 'What does this one here mean then, "Dahgnum"?
'That's a word for the empty space in a room, space that isn't taken up by furniture, clutter and the rest. Stretch a long piece of string across the room with the label hung on it.'
And so it went. After an hour, the room was criss-crossed with pieces of string attaching various objects, measuring the distance between objects, showing the absence of objects and so on.
Finally Nono, who had been writing something on the faces of the shoe-box, seemed satisfied. He turned in his chair, with one face of the box pointing towards Ono: the word SIT was written on it. Nono pointed at himself. As he did, he rotated the box, stood, and displayed the word STAND: again he pointed at himself. Rotating the box again to reveal the word WALK, Nono pointed at his feet and walked across to the table where he picked up a knife and rotated the box again to reveal the word TAKE. He placed the knife on top of the shoe-box and positioned the label attached to the knife such that the words read TAKE KNIFE. Deftly, he rotated the box to read WALK again, rounded the table, halted, rotated the box again to read PLACE against the label KNIFE and then held his box adjacent to the label on the plate such that the words read PLACE KNIFE PLATE. With that, he put the knife on the plate and threw the box in the corner - the whole pantomime being carried out in silence.
Nono resumed his seat. 'Well?'.
'I don't understand,' began Oho.
'There is little or nothing to understand. Go home, go to sleep, and tomorrow you will have the answer.'
Oho new better than argue. The wind whistled in his ears as he made his way home, wondering about the strange lesson his master had given him. Despite being restless when he went to bed, slept soundly and awoke refreshed. Later in the morning, the postman arrived with a large parcel for him.
Oho hadn't been expecting a parcel, and opened it curiously. The box contained thousand upon thousand of heavy paper labels, each with a single different word neatly written on one side in marker pen. On the reverse side of each label, again in marker pen, was written the word "Label". He tore open the envelope inside the parcel and read the neatly written note: 'The description of something is not the thing it describes, it is but a label. Labels exist for practical things and non-practical things: only one kind is necessary, the others describe illusions.'
The Wizard's Tale
Guinda had gone to visit the purple wizard to discuss healing. He welcomed her warmly, and said he would do better than discuss it, he would demonstrate it with the aid of a story.
'I remember once,' he mused, 'I attended the court of the Great Blue Wizard and, as a number of us - wizards of all denominations - sat around in his huge smoky hall relaxing and drinking wine after a heavy day's spelling lessons. He told us a story about a similar gathering he attended led by one of the ancient masters, the white wizard Interus - one of the greatest mages ever to live - that he had once had the privilege to know. The tale he told is a strange story of power and imagination, so I want you to listen particularly carefully, pay complete attention to my voice, without interrupting, as I repeat it. No matter what happens, or what you might hear, don't interrupt.'
Guinda settled comfortably back in the seat.
'Interus,' said the wizard, 'was a master of healing. When he wasn't busy repairing shoes, he often spent his time repairing people. When anyone went to see him for repair, he would invariably disrupt them and make them sit upside down on a beige coloured bucket - he called it his pale pail - that he kept inside a chamber in his chamber specifically for that purpose. He would then ask them to take up a particular hand position, to place both arms in front, with palms upwards. As we all sat around staring at each other with blank faces, the wizard shook his head and waved his finger at us. "This is a demonstration as well as a story," he boomed. "I thought you wooden tops were supposed to be worldly wise wise wizards, but all I've heard from you is why's and wherefores. This is a demonstration of the magic art in space and time. I want you to imagine that you are the person sitting on the pail, that you are looking pale and have come to me for healing. In times to come, you will relate this story to others and have them do the same. My power will reach out to them across the centuries. I hope this is not all too hard times past for you all at once?"
He paused and looked around. "If you want to be healed, you have to relax. Strangely enough, relaxed people rarely need healing, and well healed people never need relaxing - although some well heeled people do: think about this, and that. What you need to do is zongrangal. Put your arms out in front of you, palms up. All of you, now, do it! This is not just a fairy story, this is real magic. Even though you don't show it, you all have ailments hidden deep within and you all need healing: so participate! Come on, hands in front!"
There was some shuffling as the gathering put their hands out in front of them.
"You too!" boomed the wizard. He gazed into the distance beyond us towards the back of the room.
'We all looked at each other sheepishly, for we couldn't make out who he was talking to.'
"I'm talking to that person there. Yes you! You there, you down the centuries who's supposedly taking this in. Timnagragh! Attend to this story!"'
The wizard nudged Guinda. She changed position, putting her arms out, palms up.
'We all looked at each other uncomfortably, more in awe than fear. The wizard was so powerful that he could actually see people taking heed or not in the mists of the far distant future.
"And you! That person there. Yes, you actually perceiving this now. Put your hands in front of you with your palms up if you want this adventure to have any meaning: if you don't, why bother participating? This is for your benefit, not mine you know, so please have the courtesy to either attend or leave."
He turned his attention back to us.
"Listen carefully, and be silent. You wise ones may have your wiles, but while you might whine about my wine already, I'm having no more of it and neither are you: there has been enough whining and "why's" about wine already, so now you're all ready we shall begin the re-healing. The place of healing is to be found deep inside each of you at the foot of an internal staircase comprising sixty-one steps. It is a place of fantasy and safety, and at the same time a real place from whence the fountain of your inner life force springs. In order to be healed, you must trust your own life force and let it fill you. I have the keys to open your personal fantasy kingdom, but I am no more than a guide. We shall begin. You can all count, after a fashion, so you must all know what the numerals two and five look like. Imagine the number fifty-two: now. As you visualise the digits, turn the five upside down and reflect the two from left to right. Now, look at the number you've got. That's problem one, but you have no problems. Problem three is that you can read, not the kind found in a pond, and since you can read it therefore follows that you can remember learning how if you try. Think about it, think about thinking about trying, then think about how once upon a time, long ago, you had difficulty telling the difference between the letter "b," and the letter "d," how one is a reflection of the other, as the letter "p," is a reflection of the letter "b". While you're doing that, become aware of a word for a cylindrical object beginning with the letter "c," something you might burn to give light. Think about that, see if you can visualise the word for it, and when you have, change the letter "n," in that word to a "g," and the letter "a," to a "b". Let your hands go floppy and as they do, imagine how to pronounce this new word. There are no questions. Now, while you try to remember how you remember, what I don't want you to do is not relax yourself entirely. If you find that easy, just imagine you're not there and you can't feel yourself breathing, feel the weight of your feet against the floor and the freshness of the air on your cheeks as your body continues to not become more and more relaxed. As you contemplate how to pronounce that new word you can feel the pressure of the seat on your body you notice you are blinking and hear my voice clearly and let it displace your thoughts. All the time, you have been changing and you are becoming more and more curious about how you are changing and you remain aware that you can count. If you can count forwards, you can also count backwards: I'm going to count backwards from sixty-one in threes - imagine it perhaps as descending a stairway of shallow steps three at a time, and at the bottom of the steps is a land of fantasy and warmth. Sometimes, perhaps because the stairway isn't very even - or perhaps to check your concentration and make sure you don't stumble - I'm going to make mistakes in my counting. Sometimes, I'll pause between the numbers and make some comments, sometimes I won't. You needn't say anything when I get my counting wrong, as it won't really be wrong, it's just to make sure that you are concentrating. Sixty-one, fifty-eight, fifty-five, fifty-two. As you focus your attention inwardly your heart-rate and breathing slows even more as you relax and enjoy this, forty-eight, forty-six.. How does one seal two jars? Forty-three, forty-one, one closes the lids, thirty-seven. You can vaguely hear the noise of the surroundings in the background slowly fall, thirty-four, thirty-one, die away like the light from a fading candle as the numbers descend, and though it's not important that you close your eyes, twenty-nine, twenty-five, you feel you don't not have to close your eyes. Remember when you were young, when you learned to read and count and as you do, twenty-three, twenty, seventeen, you notice a particular sensation and wonder about it as it begins to occupy more and more of your attention. The sensation grows, fourteen, as the background noise fades, twelve, and you are settling and merging into a state of inward fantasy. Eleven, eight, the lids feel heavy as you place them on the jars, five, and as you close them you close your two eyes. You are at the bottom of the steps: pause now at the gateway of the fantasy kingdom and feel your right hand, feel how relaxed and sensitive each finger is, and as you feel it you imagine that you are holding something in it, something light and solid. You begin visualise a ball of foil in your hand, a ball of shining silver foil that you begin to grip. As you continue to grip the foil, your mind drifts into your past to a certain memory, an upsetting memory that can't hurt you now for you are fully aware that it's just a memory, nothing more. The more you grip the foil, the more the memory begins to flood your consciousness, the sensations that took place at the time of the memory are there now, but they don't bother you because you realise they are only being caused by a memory.
As you continue to grip the foil, you can hear it crinkling and you feel a strange sensation in you stomach, the same sensation that existed when you first acquired this memory. Once the memory has filled you, once you fully realise it, you release the foil and place it carefully to one side. As you release the foil and place it aside, the unpleasant memory fades away and once more you are free to relax, to feel your breathing slowing, to continue to hear my voice and feel your body safe and secure against the seat. It occurs to you that the memory you just had was of a time long ago, when you were younger, less able to cope with such things. You know, now you are stronger, older, wiser, more competent in many ways, that you have abilities, resources which, if you had had them at the time of the memory, would have been useful in surmounting the problems.
You become aware of another ball of foil in your left hand, a shimmering ball of green, healing foil. You begin to squeeze this foil, gently at first, and as you continue to do so, your present abilities and resources that would have helped you overcome the cause of the bad memory begin to fill your mind. The more you squeeze the green foil, the more powerful, strong and unshakeable the images of your present resources become: you can visualise them, hear them, feel them filling every pore of your body. As you squeeze the green foil, you slowly reach out for the silver ball and grip it in your right hand: this restores the bad memory, but you aren't frightened of it in the slightest - for now you have new resources at your disposal. Slowly, you bring both hands together and envelop the silver foil with the green: as you do, you see the events surrounding the acquisition of the old memory, but this time you see yourself dealing with them with your superior resources. Taking your time, you work this through, the sights, sounds, tastes, odours and feelings - particularly the feeling in the stomach. You see exactly how things would have turned out had you had your new resources available at the time. As you do, you realise this is a new memory, and the old one will never hold you in thrall again. You slowly release your grip on the foil ball and hold it out in your left hand. As you hold it out, the image of the ball begins to gradually fade and you realise that I am slowly taking it away. As the image fades, you realise that it is I who have been speaking to you, and you begin to notice your breathing again. While you continue to notice your breathing, the noise from the surroundings gradually gets clearer and clearer and more distracting. You don't need to open your eyes and rouse yourself, but as you do you remember perfectly, and without any pain or fear, all that has happened during this story when you come back to normal waking consciousness, now."'
It was a warm sunny day in the Magical Forest. Several rabbits frolicked by the side of the forest pond, as a gentle breeze rippled through the largest oak overlooking the water, making the leaves dance and tinkle softly. The unmistakable scent of wild lavender was in the air.
'I can do a lot better than this you know,' declared the largest branch on the tree, 'soon I'm going to branch out on my own. I'm almost as big as the entire tree now, I take most of the light around here, absorb most of the food and catch most of the rainfall. On top of that I provide the best shade for travellers in the summer and the majority of acorns for future growth and food for the squirrel and rabbit populations. I am supreme.'
The other branches on the tree agreed. They had to accept what the big branch said, he was indeed predominant in most ways - his only failings being a lack of modesty and understanding that all parts of the tree were one. The trunk of the tree, in his usual manner, said nothing. Unnoticed, he just quietly kept on supporting the chattering branches has he had done year in and year out since ancient times.
Late one year, when the cold nights were drawing in and all the golden leaves had tumbled sleepily to the ground, a woodcutter appeared and eyed the large branch. 'That'll keep us warm for the winter,' he said to his apprentice, and with no more ado he sawed it off and dragged it away to his hut.
The smaller branches were panic stricken, thinking their turn was next.
'Your time is yet to come,' groaned the trunk, in a deep rumbling voice, for his body ached where the big branch had been chopped off. He felt not only that he had lost an arm, but a son as well. 'Everyone's turn will come, even mine. So be advised that you can survive longer and be happier if you don't get noticed or too big for your boots - like he did. A tree is not just one branch; in the same way as a branch without twigs and dancing leaves is barren. Neither is a trunk alone a tree: I am but nothing without branches and roots. Go to sleep little children, for the Winter of our night is upon us. Tomorrow, in the dawn of Spring, I shall provide for you anew, as Mother Earth in turn provides again for me.'
The Horse and the Donkey
'Aaargh! Help! Help!' Horse had gone for a drink one day and got stuck in the smelly, sticky mud down by the forest pond. He became buried up to the fetlocks in the soft cloying, sucking mud and was whinnying and whinnying as loud as his lungs would let him. Lungs, who was trapped inside Horse, didn't have any choice in the matter. He was being given so much grief by Horse that he couldn't wait for the former to become free, and thus become free himself.
Donkey, a moth-eared, old, flea-bitten apology for a beast, happened by, heard the commotion and went to investigate. 'Whatever is the matter, Hee, Haw, Haw, Haw, Horse?' he enquired earnestly on reaching the pond side.
'I'm stuck, stuck in the mud!' whined Horse. 'Help me, help me! Please, please!'
Donkey peered at Horse's feet, flapped his ears and puckered his mouth. 'I can't see what all the panic's about. It's only a bit of mud. If you stand still for a while, the sun will dry it out and you'll be able to walk away with just dirty hooves. All your struggling is only getting you in deeper.'
'Do you think I'm stupid or something,' spat Horse, his knees shaking uncontrollably, 'I can see that as well as you, you know.'
'Well,' Donkey swung his tail in order to dislodge some flies that had settled for a feed, 'first thing is I never said anything about you being stupid. Second is I came here to help - so don't get uppity. Third thing is if you can see what to do, then why don't you do it?'
Horse glanced at a nearby reed bank, and nervously motioned Donkey closer. Donkey went as near as he dare, mindful of not becoming trapped in the mud himself. There was a lot of pungent, steaming horse dung underfoot that made it particularly unappealing, and Donkey wrinkled his nostrils as he shuffled across.
'It's his fault over there,' Horse whispered, nodding towards the reeds.
'Whose fault?' Donkey looked at the quite ordinary clump of reeds, raised an eyebrow, then turned back to Horse. 'Who exactly do you mean?'
'You can't see him, he's hiding in the reeds.'
Donkey looked back at the clump. Even though his eyes were going a bit, he couldn't make out the shape of anyone hiding in the reeds and felt sure there wasn't. His gut feelings said all was well.
'I can't see anyone, or anything, hiding in the reeds. Who's it supposed to be, the Invisible Mare or something?'
'No,' hissed horse conspiratorially, 'it's a magician, a powerful, evil magician. He's cast a spell on me and trapped me here in the mud.'
'What kind of a magician?' Donkey's eyes bulged as he looked at the reeds and back at Horse, 'is he a Black or White one?'
'Keep your voice down, he'll hear us!.' Horse looked agitated and leaned across to Donkey to whisper directly in the latter's ear: 'He's a green one! He's got a striped green suit and great big, monstrous bulging eyes!'
Donkey, imagining such a magician suddenly leaping out from the reeds at Horse choked back the laughter. 'Haw! A green one! Well, I never. Haw, haw. And has he got a pointed hat, a magic wand and a spell book to go with his green suit?'
He wrinkled his nose, sniffed and looked knowingly at Horse. 'You haven't been eating aniseed have you?' he murmured. 'I can smell it here, taste it even; it's very strong. Too much aniseed can cause strange things to happen you know - altered states of consciousness, hallucinations and the like.'
'No I haven't,' snapped Horse. 'You aren't taking me seriously are you? I tell you he's a green magician. He's huge, with magical powers, bulging, hypnotic eyes and webbed feet.'
'Aha,' said Donkey, 'or should I say Hee Haw, Hee Haw, Haw, Aha! Webbed feet eh? I think I understand your problem. Watch this.'
Boldly, he strode across to the reeds and kicked the supposed magician's lair.
'Don't do that,' Horse begged, his heart pounding in his chest 'you'll annoy him. He'll come and get me again. It was him who cast a spell on me and trapped me in this mud!'
Donkey turned and winked knowingly. 'Us sorcerer donkeys are famous for two things you know Horse,' he said slowly. 'Do you know what they are?'
Horse shook his head nervously, his eyes fixed on the reeds.
'Well the first,' said Donkey darkly, 'is that we can make ribbed, tapered, orange objects vanish in a trice. And the second, is that...'
'...the second is that we can suddenly divert thought into unexpected directions.'
'I don't understand...'
'Oh but you do.' Donkey brayed loudly and guffawed. 'Come out you green rascal!' he demanded, turning away and repeatedly kicking the edge of the reed clump with his front leg.
Horse began to quiver and suddenly let go a hoarse whinny as a small, green and yellow striped frog emerged from the reeds and stared at Donkey.
'Oh nay! Nay! We've both had it now,' cried Horse, 'he'll cast a spell on you too. You'll be trapped the same as me. We're doomed! Oh, Goat help us!'
The frog looked impassively at Donkey and croaked. Then he hopped forwards twice and croaked again - a little more forcefully.
'See,' whinnied the horse, shaking and sinking even deeper into the mud, 'that's it. That's how he did it to me!'
Donkey turned away unconcerned, and walked back to the quaking horse. The frog hopped along behind - as the horse trembled, quivered, whinnied and shook, sinking ever deeper into the succulent, clinging mud as he did.
'Tell me Mr Frog,' said Donkey as he drew up alongside Horse, 'I know there are Frog Magicians in these parts, but I thought they were all of the White, or kind, variety kind. Which are you?'
'Ribbet,' said the frog, settling by the donkey's nearside front leg.
'That's not the answer my friend and I are looking for. Kindly explain.'
The frog hopped nearer the horse, which almost went berserk at the sudden movement.
'Well then,' continued Donkey, 'seems you have a somewhat limited vocabulary, especially for a Green Magician. In fact you don't appear to be a powerful magician to me at all. You don't seem intrinsically evil, invulnerable or particularly bright. What would you say if I were to warn you not to frighten my friend any more or I'll stamp on you? Crush your head, and all the junk that's in it, make it nothing?'
The frog jumped onto a patch of grass directly beneath the donkey's belly: 'Ribbet,' he croaked in exactly the same voice as before.
Horse began to calm down.
'It seems to me,' said Donkey thoughtfully, 'that this little character here is not a even a competent talking frog, less so a magician. He's just a simple everyday frog who does what he does - lives by the pond, leaps about, swims and croaks; nothing wrong with that Horse, quite natural. There are thousands of them around these parts. And I'll tell you what, this little fellow can jump around and say "Ribbet" as much as he likes Horse, but one thing's for sure...'
'He'll never trap me in the mud. So, one must put the question, who really trapped you there?'
Horse thought for a while. 'Me, I suppose. But that doesn't matter, I'm already trapped! So what am I to do now?'
'Just see how it was you got there, see how you are holding yourself there, and in seeing it you'll make yourself free.'
'I don't understand. What exactly have I got to do?'
'Gumblap! Stop! Do absolutely nothing for a moment, nothing - just stay there.'
Lungs understood this immediately, and let go a huge sigh of relief. Horse took a little longer, but in the end he understood - he had to sigh when Lungs sighed - and he became free as well.
'Now look at things from Mr Frog's point of view,' grinned the donkey.
The Visitor's Riddle
"Now, apprentiice, I want you to listen carefully. This tale originates in the late twentieth century United Kingdom - about 1987 I believe." The Shaman grinned, unwrapped one of his favourite boiled sweets and began to suck it.
"It concerns a Saturday night dinner party held at a large house in North London, a party attended by a merchant banker, a politician, broadcaster, newspaper editor an academic and their wives. Things were going well until a strange visitor appeared at the front door, mysteriously talked his way into the house and settled himself at the table, and started asking awkward questions. Yomvilgrapt: imagine this:
'I will not leave until you have given me a proper answer to my riddle!' The hooded, black robed figure hammered the table with the fleshy part of his gloved fist. The crockery and glasses shook as he resumed his seat and stared directly at McClelland, the host. The other guests at the dinner party fell silent, glancing quickly to the unwelcome guest who sat at one end of the table then to their host who sat at the other.
Arthur McClelland stared at the sinister figure facing him, trying to make out some kind of features - a nose, chin or eyes perhaps - underneath the hood, but all he could see was an unsettling blackness. 'Now listen here, old chap, I don't know who you are and..'
'I am not your "Old Chap".I have a name, but I am no thing!' roared the intruder, hammering the table again as he did. 'I am from no where, and I am with you until you answer my questions!'
'I've had enough of this, I'm calling the police!' McClelland strode across to the telephone on his sideboard and lifted the reciever. 'I don't believe it, it's dead. Right. There's a telephone kiosk on the corner. Rest of you look after our visitor here, I'll be back in a moment.'
'You are going nowhere,' hissed the robed visitor, 'none of you leaves this room until you have answered me.'
McClelland strode forward towards the door, but on reaching it found it to be mysteriously jammed. He called two of his guests, Walters and Ewing, to assist but the door refused to budge. The three men returned to their seats. Aletia, Walters' wife, began to sob quietly as the room started to become deathly cold.
'All right, Mr Nothing, or whatever your name is, we've had enough of your party games. You're obviously not a Kissogram, as you said you were when you arrived here, and you appear to have accomplices who've jammed my dining room door. Now, I'll give you fifteen seconds to get out of here or I'm afraid I'll have to use rather stern measures to get rid of you.'
He reached down and seized an ornate brass poker from the Edwardian fireplace.
''Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh,' cackled the hooded figure, 'so predictable. You are presented with something you don't understand and your response is violence. So be it. If violence is what you offer, violence is what you shall be given. Attack with that, and I shall break your arm.'
McClelland rose, traversed the length of the room in a flash and made a stabbing motion at the intruder, more of a threatening thrust than an actual blow. Before he had retracted his makeshift weapon, the figure half-rose, seized it and struck him on the right arm causing McClelland to scream out loud with pain. The smoothness and speed of the riposte made the rest of the group tremble with fear: they seemed to realise simultaneously that the intruder was not a pantomime act and indeed meant business. McClelland, whimpering and attended by Ewing's wife Marion, returned to his seat.
The robed figure resumed his seat. 'My name is Plague,' he hissed, 'Plague, do you hear! I am one of four brothers who stalk this earth, and have done since time immemorial. I have more forms than you might at first suspect.'
Walters, the broadcaster, shivered and experienced an empty feeling deep in his stomach. When the intruder attacked McClelland, he had managed a peek under his hood and had seen clearly that there was nothing there, just emptiness.
'See! He is a bloody Kissogram,' chuckled Jones, the drunken politician, 'come here to give our host a well deserved thwack on the arm! Ha, ha, ha!'
Walters hushed the drunk and decided, since McClelland was incapacitated, to take up the vistor's challenge. 'Would you kindly explain to us once again why you have come here ahem, Mr Plague, and what exactly you want? You'll have to forgive our initial disrespect, but it's not everyday that something like this happpens you know. We thought you were just a joke.'
Plague half-turned and nodded. 'Not laughing now though, are you? I shall restate my question. I shall restate the question as many times as you request. I am Plague. I spread from person to person using agents to carry me, I produce common symptons in each person infected, once I have begun my work I am difficult to stop, I am a mass killer and infect the guilty and innocent alike and I can mutate into new forms. I am Plague, but besides Plague I have other names: what are they?'
The gathering were quiet for a moment and stared at each other. Then they asked Plague to restate his question and then began to debate the various possibilities."
"And what happened next?" enquired the apprentice.
"Well, I suppose they debated the possibilities."
"You suppose? So, what is the answer to Plague's question?"
"I don't know, but I know there are plenty of them."
"So what happened to the people at the dinner party?"
"They're still there."
"But won't they have got old and died? Won't some of them be missed?"
"No. Plague will make sure of that. To them, it will still seem as if it's Saturday night."
"Will he ever let them go?"
"Yes, when they've understood the question properly and come up with a decent semblence of some correct answers. That might take a very long time though."
The Nephontente System
The man behind the counter at the builder's merchant was getting irate. 'Look, Pal, it's a very, very simple question. How big's the house you want to treat, small, medium or large? I've got three different sizes of carton here and those are your options. See for yourself.'
Morris, the self-employed, Jack of all trades builder and property dodger, leaned over the counter and eyed the boxes on the trolley. Each was emblazoned with a bright-red logo and the words: 'Nephontente. Eradicate Dry Rot in a Flash.'
'Where's this stuff from?' he demanded suspisciously, 'I've never heard of it before, and to say small, medium or large on the boxes is meaningless. I wanna treat a four bedroom Victorian house, so what size do I need.'
'That'll be large,' offered the assistant emphatically. He dumped the largest box on the counter with a thud, keeping a dead-pan face as he did. 'This stuff works like magic, mister, provided you follow the instructions carefully - and that means to the letter There's an applicator in there and some other things that you have to return, so you have to pay a fifty dollar deposit on top of the hundred and fifty dollar purchase price.'
Morris scowled: he didn't like paying deposits. 'Put it on my account,' he growled. He turned and nodded to his apprentice, George, who picked up the box and carried it out to the battered pick-up.
Thirty minutes later, the two were back in the old house they were restoring. The dry rot was pernicious and extensive. Even when they had cut out several sections of old timber and renewed it they discovered further infestation was so extensive that radical intervention was required. Together, they sat down on adjacent saw-horses and Morris opened the carton. Inside, he found two further cartons. On top of them were two sheets of instructions written on something that looked like tinfoil laminated in transparent plastic. Down the edges of the laminations were written the words 'Copystop Lamination. WARNING: any attempt to copy these documents will destroy them, invalidate all guarantees and forfeit return of any deposits paid.' He scratched his head and turned to the documents proper. Across the top of each page was the Nephontente logo - something that looked like a crucifix with a circle on top - and half a dozen other strange glyphs. Below were the instructions proper which he started to read out aloud for George's benefit.
'1) Congratulations on selecting the Nephontente Crendonamphon Clean System. In the enclosed cartons you will find two protective gowns and one canister of product
2) To use the system you must
a) open every single internal door in the property to be cleansed
b) temporarily close all external doors and windows (for a minimum of one hour)
c) don protective gowns
3) carry out all application work in the basement only of the property (effects will work through the remainder of the property)
4) Nephontente is a unique product and uses a patented chemical/sonic system to obtain its effect. In instances where damage may be caused by water based chemicals, the sonic system only may be used.
5) to operate chemical spray, attach pump unit to top of canister and pressurise until atomised spray appears. Direct this into all parts of basement until all walls, ceiling and floor are wetted.
6) once basement is fully wetted, occupy centre of floor and read instructions given on sheet two in a loud clear voice.
7) for dry application of system, omit steps 5) and 6)
8) this system is patented. As a condition of sale, canister, spray head and instructions must be returned for recycling on completion of works.'
Morris shook his head and lit a cigarette. The stuff seemed easy enough to use. 'Whaddya make of that George? You ever heard of this junk before?'
'Yeah. An uncle of mine used it last year. It's a really weird way to clear dry rot, I must admit, but it works like a charm.'
'Yeah? Let's do it then.' He reached into the box and opened the carton containing the gowns.
'One thing my uncle did say...'
'Never mind your uncle - he's not a monkey is he - look at these godamm gowns!. They look like some kinda fancy dress costume!'
He held one of the protective gowns up by the shoulders. The full length hooded garment, fashioned from heavy-duty, dark-blue polythene, came complete with baggy sleeves and was emblazoned with several bright yellow Nephontente Corp. logos on both front and back. Morris donned the gown and pulled the large hood over his head: George began to laugh.
'What you laughing at boy?' Morris demanded mock seriously.
'You look like you came from a horror movie, like the Mad Monk or something.'
'Oh I do, do I? Well you can laugh some more when you put this on.' He threw the other gown across the room.
'Jeez,' laughed Morris when George had the gown on, 'I hope the City Surveyor doesn't call in on us, he'll have us arrested!' He laughed again, lifted his arms and moved towards George, "Whoooooo!' he chuckled, 'I told you, you should never have come working with me boy. Property repairs and witchcraft. Never mentioned it until now, did I. Whooooooooo!'
The pair of them fell about laughing for a while in the strange gowns before eventually settling back onto the sawhorses and the business in hand. Morris re-read page one of the instructions. 'Right George,' he said eventually, 'you go round close all the external doors and windows, then open the internal doors like it says here. I'll take the spray down to the basement and set it up.'
'But you don't need to...'
Morris waved him away and grabbed the carton. 'Stop arguing with me, Boy. Do as I say. I want to get this finished with before lunch so we can let it dry out while we get some chow.'
George tried to interrupt again, but Morris waved him away and descended the rickety stairs into the basement. As he turned on the lights, he looked around noting, as he had before that apart from the woodwork, the basement in this house was in remarkably good condition for it's age - indeed the timber had hardly been touched by the dry rot, and the brickwork was in almost 'as built' condition. Deftly, he assembled the spray and canister and picked up page two of the instructions as George clumped down the stairs in his heavy boots.
'All done?' enquired Morris.
'Yeah, and before you stop me again, let me tell you that you don't need to use the spray.'
'You nuts or something? You expect me to stand in here in this stupid gown, talk out loud to the basement and the rot will just fade away?'
'That's exactly what I'm saying - it even says so in the instructions. That spray is distilled water.'
'Huh? Water? You've gotta be kidding?'
'It's water I tell you. I tried to tell you upstairs. My uncle is an inventor. He was really impressed by the way this system works and concluded the answer must be in the spray. He used the stuff in the early days when there was no dry application option. So, being curious, he saved some of the gloop and had it analysed, and I'm telling you it's water. If you don't believe me, pump a little out and I'll drink it.'
Morris's jaw dropped as he stared at his robed assistant and realised the farcical nature of the situation. Here they were, dressed like some weird Egyptian wizards in the bowels of an empty house and preparing to spray the place with water whilst they hollered some strange instructions. Even better, he had paid two-hundred dollars for the privilege. He began to wonder about his sanity, and wonder even more what explanation he might have for the cops if they happened to come by - for he realised that George and he had probably been seen in the strange gowns by the neighbours. 'Are you saying,' he said slowly, 'that I've paid two-hundred dollars for a can of stupid water?'
'George shook his head. 'No. The system really works. It works by sound and vibration somehow - the water just helps key it to the surfaces.'
Morris waved the laminated instruction sheet. 'Are you saying the real cure is on this sheet?'
'Yep. It's in the sounding of the words - that's why it's copy protected, and that's why you have to leave a deposit - so they get 'em back.'
Morris's eyes narrowed. He was always on the lookout for ways to make a little extra money. 'Suppose I were to hand copy these words myself, would it still work?'
'After a fashion, but not perfectly. There's something else - just what, my uncle could never figure out. And don't forget the system is patented. If you get caught using it, you stand to get sued for millions.'
Morris eyed the sheet of instructions and thought for a while. 'Right,' he said, 'we'll try it dry and see what happens. Here goes.' He stepped forward sheepishly into the centre of the room and cleared his throat: 'The first: Conjenshteham: the internal doors are opened. The second: Haashuaresnes: the problem is known. Esrutscurts: the mechanism is understood. Sputreshovesh: the remedy is available. Phuiswatsiph: if it will be, it will be.'
As he spoke, the cellar, and then very fabric of the house began to shake and vibrate with the intonation of the words - particularly the peculiar ones. George, who'd had a stupid grin on his face at the beginning of the speech, began to get frightened. The hairs involuntarily stood up on the back of his neck. When Morris finished speaking, an eerie, pregnant silence fell about them, a silence which made it feel that the very house itself had somehow been roused from a deep slumber and was listening attentively. The two men stared at each other then, without a word, they quickly removed their protective gowns, disassembled the spray, packed everything back into the carton and then scurried off to the pickup truck and headed off for lunch.
Back at the builder's merchant two hours later, Morris was demanding his full two-hundred dollars back. 'I ain't paying no two-hundred dollars for a bucket of water,' he protested loudly.
'Look, mister,' replied the assistant, 'you bought a system to get rid of dry rot. That's what it does and it works most every time. The system costs a hundred and fifty, and there's fifty dollars deposit: that will be credited to your account now you've brought everything back. Now, the question is, "Will the system cured your dry rot?" If not, then we'll talk about credit on another system. If it has, it's no deal. So what's the answer, has there been any change in the colour of the timber yet? The full cure takes several months, but there should be some change detectable by now.'
'Well,' Morris scratched his head, 'I dunno. But that's not the point. All it is, is a can of water, and I even brought that back.'
'No way, Mister. Do you pay your accountant for his knowledge? What about your doctor, the guy who tunes your car, the singer who entertains you. What you paid for here was the same thing - know how. If it doesn't work, we'll work out a refund, otherwise, no deal.'
Morris scowled and turned away. He realised the man was right; Morris had just been trying it on - it still rankled him having to pay for water though.
Half an hour later, back at the house, the strange atmosphere had all but gone and there was a feeling of lightness, airiness and space. Morris sent George up into the roof space to examine the timbers whilst he checked out the rest of the house. They discovered that all the dry rot, every single, last speck, had metamorphosed and changed colour ever so slightly. Morris scratched his head yet again and stared hard at George - who just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
Fly fly Iron Butterfly
In the geometry of Art and Life
Weave patterns and dance
In the open sky
And you'll never have strife
The blacksmith thought long and hard before finally preparing drawings for the new machine. Even when he had a full set of plans, he pored over them day and night making revision after revision to ensure the design was right. Finally happy with it, he set to work in his forge heating, hammering, bending, drilling, joining and filing the tortured wrought iron until the basic shape of his new design emerged. Satisfied with the essential form, the smith set to work inside it, installing a tiny steam engine and generator - in order that the device could be self propelling - and a delicate self correcting control mechanism. He set the controls such that the machine could automatically refuel wherever it happened to find itself, and thus be self perpetuating. Satisfied his work was complete, he placed it down in the courtyard outside the forge, lit the fire and, with a toot and a hiss of steam, it trundled away down the path towards the village. The smith smiled, triumphant at his success. He watched his creation disappear into the distance, knowing it would return, for he had programmed the controls to ensure that this would be the case.
The next day there was no sign of the machine, nor the next or the next after that. The worried smith donned his cloak and set off for the village.
'Have you seen a strange new machine passing this way?' he enquired of a herdsman he passed on the track.
'Indeed I have Mr Smith. Twas a puffing, steaming thing that played music.'
'Music?' replied the startled smith, 'no that can't be the one. Mine was designed to transport people.'
Further along the same track he encountered a milk-maid and asked her about the machine.
'Aye, two days ago I saw it. Two legs it had, and it was laughing and teaching some village children how to dance a jig a jig jig.'
'That can't be it. The machine I built didn't have legs, it had wheels. That can't be my machine, it's nothing like it.'
At the Arable Pea, the village inn, a group of farm labourers were sitting outside swilling ale and belching. The smith enquired had they seen his machine, describing it in detail to them in order to prevent ambiguity, for ambiguity was something he always sought to avoid.
'No I ain't seen nothing like that,' said the first labourer, a large, burly, sun-tanned man with green eyes. 'But there be a metal box out here last night talking and telling us jokes. Had us in stitches it did.'
'Nay,' said a grey haired man, 'it be telling us strange stories.'
'I don't remember it saying nothing, nothing at all at all, nothing,' asserted a third man. 'What I do remember is it were sat there and it suddenly grew wings and flew off over the church tower.'
The three men stared at each other and then started to disagree, a disagreement that grew into a heated dispute fuelled by the ale.
The blacksmith shook his head, wondering what had become of his transportation machine. He turned and walked back slowly to his forge with a heavy heart. When he arrived, he found his machine sat on the bench humming quietly. Carefully, he examined it and, to his surprise, found that it had indeed somehow acquired wings and a pair of legs. He stepped back, stared at it blankly and scratched his head.
'Tell me, what is the biggest surprise,' said the machine in a melodious voice, 'the wings and legs, or me talking?'
The smith fell back in amazement wondering if he were hearing things and going mad.
'Well,' continued the machine, 'is the question too hard?'
'Y, y, you can speak!' stuttered the smith, 'I didn't build you to do that! Your purpose is to transport people.'
'Well that might be what you think, but it's not what they think. There are more ways than one of transporting people you know; in fact there are as many ways as there are people - perhaps more. When you created me, you did more than you know, you know. I am of a species known as the Earth Mop. We are forms, but formless because our form changes as the individual beholds us: we are maps, but maps of nothing until someone looks at us in a certain way - then we show them way home which they were looking for. We ratify rosy outlooks: if you don't happen to have a rosy outlook, we'll ratify that as well.'
The blacksmith stood flabbergasted and looked on with his mouth open as his creation made a strange buzzing sound and flew off through the window.
In the secret cellar of the forge the real blacksmith, who created the mechanical blacksmith that built the machine that modified itself according to circumstance, listened to the goings on upstairs. As he did, he smiled, tapped his foot on the dirt floor, and chuckled quietly at the consternation above...
Other Things on this Site
Pomes and Lyrical
Overcoming Conditioned/Habitual Behaviour
Prince and Magician Index