The Sage tells two Stories
(I couldn’t sleep last night for pondering the ineffable mysteries of Time and Space, free will & predestination. My insomnia keeps The Sage awake too and he’s a crusty old sod when he misses his snoozes, so he told me some ancient tales … )
Thus sayeth The Sage:
” … In the times of Omar the Tentmaker in the far off Arabian deserts there dwelt a wealthy trader of camels. Ratschid was a kind man given to many acts of charity (may his tribe ever increase) but with one weakness (may he be forever forgiven) — he delighted in gambling on the fall of the numbered pebbles.
One warm velvet night in the desert city of Rostrau he was startled to see (staring intently at him from across the brazier) the unmistakeable figure of Death.
Not slow to action Ratschid sprang to his feet, and disregarding even his substantial heap of winnings mounted his swiftest camel and raced off into the night.
Ratschid pushed his poor camel hard for many days, stopping only for the briefest of rests until eventually he came to a remote oasis far off in the distant dusty desert of Taa Mak.
And so it was that on the twentieth morn he came upon the lonely wells where he stopped to water his tired mount, after which he took his goatskin water-bag in hand to slake his own thirst and to fill for the many leagues yet ahead.
As he straightened up from filling the bag he was astounded to see that he was no longer alone. Death was staring at him from across the well.
“But—” Ratschid cried in anguish, “I thought I’d left you far behind, in Rostrau!”
“I know …” said Death. “I was surprised in Rostrau, to see you there—when my appointment with you was always to be here.”
His second tale put me to sleep so all I can offer is the beginning and end with a wee bit of a summary. It was a tale of the scion of a very prosperous coal mining family in modern Scotland, who as an arrogant child had had a gypsy prediction to the effect that he would die on his thirtieth birthday, of a fall.
All the usual story-telling trimmings of course—but the guy’s arrogance shrivels the closer his big three-oh comes, until with just a couple of hours to go he ‘fall-proofs’ himself by going down to the very bottom of the deepest pit his family owns and laying down flat on his back, determined to stay there until his birthday is completely over.
And then the roof falls in …
“You might have put it better than that,” the Sage sniffs over my shoulder. I didn’t know he was around; this is Starbucks after all.
I nod as imperceptibly as I can. People get a bit twitchy if they see me sitting by myself in conversation with nobody.
“A point of order, Sir?”
Damn. He never calls me Sir unless he’s setting me up to rub my nose in it. Whatever ‘it’ is at the time. Obviously he desires converse and I have no option. Whispers will have to be my tool of the day—
“Go ahead. And this, note, is a coffee shop. No rum!”
“Aah … so … If, Sir, we can’t reach the future until we actually get there—”
I anticipate his point but let the old goat babble on. I also keep a firm grip on my coffee. Bucket-sized mug or not, for a metaphysical figment he can sure sock it away.
“—how come the gypsy could see see it? Or was that just a lucky guess?”
“Shush—” I sense his eyes go wide at the lèse majesté but he’s a tolerant sort. I hope. “—you’re anticipating the arguments of my next post.”
“You’re going to attack the concepts founding the popular notions of time travel? Ye’re a brave man, Lad.”
I shiver. What can he, from his perspective in the Great Scheme of Things see that I can’t? My cup rattles inaudibly, too late I clap my hand back on top of it. Only a single slurp missing this time, he must be losing his touch.
I sense him disappearing himself but thanks to that last remark I feel no relief—I thought I had it all sussed.
Damn, my mind is in a whirl, futures and universes collide head-on with misbegotten concepts and superstitions both ancient and modern. I Just know it, I won’t sleep tonight …