Aberrant Hope: Act Two


Jaq, Feste and the boy watched the charioteer from a distance. They were filthy, hungry and tired. They had traveled a great distance and come to a part of the land unfamiliar to them. They had already seen many strange things. This charioteer was the strangest.

He stood in his chariot as if he stood at the bow of a powerful ship. His chin, shoulders, chest and hips implied a steadfast resolve in the face of constant movement. Despite a stifling and brooding heat, the charioteer seemed impossibly fresh and alive. His armour gleamed incandescently beneath his golden hair. In the distance, beyond some trees, they saw the towers and walls of a gated city. 

Jaq asked, “How do you suppose he manages to stay so fresh.”

The boy replied, “Obliviousness.”

Jaq asked, “What do you suppose he is waiting for?”

The boy replied, “To die.”

Jaq asked, “Are you going to kill him too?”

The boy replied, “I haven’t decided yet.”

The boy moved first, picking his way down a small slope into a broad field. It was littered with armoured corpses and weapons. Feste followed Jaq. Jaq followed the boy.

There was no scent of rot hanging in the humid air, despite the corpses. There were no scavengers to be seen — not even circling overhead. The boy, Jaq, and Feste snaked through the littered remains. As they approached the chariot, they noticed that the corpses had been picked clean. Only bone remained.

The charioteer cocked his ear in their direction. He called out, “Stand where you are. No harm shall come to you, I promise.”

The boy took another step and answered, “What harm can you do to us from over there.”

The charioteer brandished a blue rod. In a grand sweeping motion, he took in the field of armoured corpses. “Do not misconstrue the unwavering and silent discipline of my troops. They are deadly, I assure you, and quick to respond to my command.”

Jaq said to the boy, “They wear the same colours as him. Do you suppose they were his troops?” 

The boy called out, “Can’t you see that they are —” 

“Don’t mock me!” The charioteer shouted back. “It is plain as day that I am blind. Take care or I will have my men pluck out your eyes.”

The boy and Jaq looked at each other.

Jaq said to the boy, “That is a queer smile on your face. What do you mean to do?” 

The boy looked at the charioteer, and called out, “Why do you and your army wait in this field?”

The charioteer replied, “We are waiting for a sign!”

“What sort of sign,” called out the boy.

“Come look here.” The charioteer tapped the front of his chariot. “Let them pass, men!”

The boy and Jaq looked at each other.

Jaq said to the boy, “That is a queer look in your eyes. What do you mean to do?”

The boy drew his sword quietly.

Feste followed Jaq. Jaq followed the boy. They snaked their way through the bodies.

“The bodies seem organized,” Jaq said to the boy. “It’s as if they fell standing in ranks.” 

“Do you see this?” The charioteer tapped the coat of arms on the front of the chariot. “Don’t come too close. The stallions are as fierce as they are large.”

The horses, one white and one black, were queer small beasts and long ago dead. The boy toed the leg of the black horse. It was dry and stiff. 

The charioteer continued, “I am the crown prince of these lands, and this coat of arms is the symbol of my authority. The shield represents the protection I shall provide to all those over whom I rule. The spinning top is the balance I shall restore to the land. The wings are the peace that will spread over all the land. The gold orb is the glory that shall never set. I shall rule over these lands one day. I wait only for the signal!”   

The boy asked, “What will the signal be?”

The charioteer answered, “I will know it when I see it.”

The boy asked, “How long have you been waiting?”

The charioteer answered, “It matters not. I shall wait.” 

The boy asked, “What if the signal never comes?” 

The charioteer answered, “It has been foretold! It shall come!”

The boy asked the charioteer, “Why wait here?”

The charioteer struck each of the chariot’s wheels with his blue staff. “The chariot is caught in the mud. That is all.” 

The earth was bone dry. If it had been mud, it was a very long time ago. 

The boy and Jaq looked at each other.

Jaq said to the boy, “I am more confused than you.”

The boy considered the unwavering conviction of the charioteer. Then, he said to him, “I hope your wait is short and your rein long. We ask only that your men let us pass.”

“Yes, of course,” replied the charioteer. “You are free to go. Men, stand aside! Stand aside! I command it!” The charioteer struck the chariot with his blue staff. “I shall remember your voices, if we ever meet again. Travel well. May the Mother’s love and the Father’s will guide you.”  

Jaq said to the charioteer, “We hope to be so blessed. May Her love and His will guide you too!”  

The boy said nothing. He sheathed his sword quietly, as they walked away.

Jaq said to the boy, “You drew your sword but did not kill him.”

“There was no reason,” the boy replied. “He’s already dead.” 

Jaq turned to look at the charioteer. “How so?”

The boy replied, “There is more to death than breathing.” 

Jaq saw it with his own eyes and wrote it down later. 


The dark forest ended abruptly. In the field, a woman dressed in a plain white robe caressed a strange beast. The beast looked powerful and ferocious. It was subservient at her touch. She wore flowers in her hair and around her waist. She was beautiful and serene.

The boy approached her. His sword was drawn. He wanted to destroy her.

“Here you are at last,” the woman said in a strong, clear voice. She continued to stroke the beast. Its tongue lapped at her wrist. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

The boy stopped. “You know me?”

“Yes. I know you and all of your many incarnations.” Her cool and blue eyes rose from the beast to look at the boy. “On this path, you appear to be a boy. On another, you are a girl. On others, you are neither. Sometimes, you are both. Whatever the path, you are always young, foolish and ferocious. It is your strength.” 

“Is that supposed to be a riddle?” asked the boy.

The woman smiled. “It is a simple truth, so, yes, I suppose it is.”

“Are you God?” asked the boy. 

“To some, yes. Truthfully, I am not, no.” She stood at her full height, to better look at the boy. The beast sat next to her, curling a long tail around itself. It also watched the boy. “Like you, there are many of me. God is always one. I am many. I can’t be he. He can’t be me.” 

“If you are not God, do you know where I can find him?” the boy asked. “I want to kill him.”

She smiled again. “Yes, your goal is always the same, whichever path you take.”

“Where is he?” asked the boy, brandishing his sword. “Tell me!”

She looked at the sky, considering the question. “Your question is not new. You are neither the first nor the last to ask it.” The beast nuzzled her hand. She caressed it again. “Unfortunately, it is a question to which only God himself knows the answer. He conceals himself from all. Myself included.”

“What about the Old Wanderer?” the boy asked. “Will he know?”

She nodded. “It is possible that he has learned through experience what I can’t know through reason alone.” 

The boy sheathed his sword. He turned his back on the woman. He headed towards the forest.

She called after him. “I want you to know that you are not alone. Despite all that you do and all that you are, you are not alone.” 

The boy stopped. “I don’t believe you,” he said. 

“You are not alone,” she said again to his back.

The boy turned to face the woman. The field was empty. The sun was low. He was alone. 

Jaq saw it with his own eyes and wrote it down later.


The boy stirred from his sleep.

“What is the matter,” asked Jaq. 

“I had a strange dream,” the boy replied.

“Why do you look at me so queerly,” asked Jaq. 

The boy stared at Jaq. Feste barked sharply at the boy. The boy blinked and looked at Feste. “For a moment, I did not recognize you. For a moment, I did not recognize myself. Now, I remember everything. I am well again.”

“You should continue to rest,” said Jaq. “Our best chance of finding the Old Wanderer is by the light of his lamp. It is best seen at night.” He looked towards the sun. It was high above the peak of the mountain. “There are many hours of daylight left. The search through the night will be long.”

The boy nodded. He lay down again. He watched the clouds in the sky until his eyes were heavy. He slept soundly, dreaming. Jaq woke him up after nightfall.

“It is dark now,” said Jaq. “Our search begins.”

On the first night of their search, they saw and heard nothing.

On the second night of their search, they saw a star in the distance. It seemed to dance before them. They could not reach it however fast they pursued it. 

On the third night of their search, they chased the star again. After many hours, they found the Old Wanderer at the edge of a cliff. He held a lantern in one hand and his staff in the other. He did not turn to face them. His head was bowed in thought.  

“You have found me,” he said. “Why do you seek me?”

Jaq silenced the boy, with a sharp movement of his hand. 

Jaq said, “Old Wanderer, please hear me. I am of your order. Like you, I have wandered these lands in search of truth, wisdom and the will of God. I have kept the oath you ask of all those who wander in your name. In my wanderings, whenever I find someone more lost than I, I wander with them until they are returned to God. This boy beside me is so very lost that I don’t know where his path to God might lie. Only you have the wisdom to lead him to the true path. If you point the way, I shall guide him there.”

The Old Wanderer did not reply. The silence of the night fell away. In its place, a symphony of sounds emerged from the darkness. 

“Tell me everything that has happened,” said the Old Wanderer.  

Jaq told him everything. He left nothing out. 

“I can confirm the prophecy exists. I too have learned of it in my travels,” said the Old Wanderer. “If you believe the prophecy to be true, your ward is already on the path to God. He is in need of no escort. Why do you follow him?”  

“I hope he will lead me to God.” Jaq lowered his head. “I’ve been lost for so long.”

“That is not the way of the Holy Wanderer,” said the Old Wanderer. “Your oath requires you to guide those in need, not follow those on their own true path.”

“He is a troubled boy,” said Jaq. “I hope I can guide and temper his baser instincts.”

“Arrogance,” said the Old Wanderer. “There is no room for it in my order. You have come to a crossroads. The boy has only one path and you two. I shall play my part in this prophecy and show the boy where God will look for him. Either you leave him now to wander your own path alone, or I shall release you from your oath, and your life as a Holy Wanderer will end tonight. Choose quickly. The dawn approaches.”

Jaq did not hesitate. “I shall go with him.”

“I release you from your oath. You are excised from my order. Do as you will from now on but no longer do it in my name.” Slowly, the Old Wanderer’s index finger extended. “The path for the boy lies ahead. The land is vast. The seas are wide. God is anywhere and nowhere. You will not find him. He shall find you. Look for three guides. Each guide shall test the boy. Pass their trials and God will find the boy.”

Jaq saw it with his own eyes and wrote it down later. 


In a dark corner of the crowded tavern, Jaq rested his head on the table. Feste lay curled beneath the bench where Jaq sat. The boy returned with two tankards. 

“Are you sure you want this,” asked the boy.

Jaq raised his head from his arms to look at the boy. “Yes. I am absolutely sure.” He put his head on his arms again. “I will start drinking in a moment.” 

The boy looked around the tavern, drinking from his tankard. It was crowded. The other tables were full. A group of men stood nearby.  

The boy called out to the group, “You there, standing, you are welcome to sit.”

The men did not look over or respond. 

The boy rose from his bench and approached them. “You men standing, you can sit at our table. There is plenty of room.”

The men did not look at the boy or respond. 

The boy’s anger flared. He pushed into their circle with his shoulder. They fell and shattered across the floor. They were not men. They were statues of men. 

The boy drew his sword. The tavern was gone. In its place was something confusing. He could not make sense of it. He looked again. He saw a wheel with strange markings. He ran towards it, raising his sword to strike. His sword was gone, when he finished his swing. 

“Be calm, boy,” said a booming voice. 

The boy could not feel the ground beneath him. He seemed to be floating. He lashed out with his fists at creatures that were close but out of reach. They seemed to be studying him.   

“Be calm, boy,” said a soft voice. 

The boy struggled furiously against restraints he could feel but could not see. Through his rage, he saw his sword hanging above the wheel. He remembered a strange creature he had seen before. He could not remember where he had seen it before. 

“Be calm, boy,” said Jaq’s voice. 

The boy stopped struggling. He called out to Jaq. “Are you here? Where is little Feste? 

“Yes, boy, I am here,” said Jaq’s voice. 

The boy saw a figure standing near the wheel. He could not make out who it was because of the strange shadows. 

“Little Feste is here too,” said Jaq’s voice. The figure motioned to the floor. 

The boy heard a queer sound beneath Feste’s friendly bark.  

“Be careful,” said the boy. “I hear a snake.” 

“Be calm, boy,” said Jaq’s voice. “There is nothing to fear here. We are only going to play a game, a very simple game.”

The boy’s rage calmed. His bonds loosened. Without feeling the ground, he stumbled towards the wheel.

“Be calm, boy,” said Jaq’s voice. “On the table before you, the letters of the wheel are marked. Place your wager on one of the letters. The wheel will spin. If the wheel falls on the letter you have picked with your wager, you win. If it does not, you lose. Do you understand?” 

The boy nodded. 

“On what letter will you place your wager?” said Jaq’s voice.

The boy answered through a tongue, thick and twisted. “I have nothing to wager.” 

“Everyone has something to wager,” said Jaq’s voice. “Here. I will lend you this copper piece. Play. Place your wager.” 

The boy placed his wager, the wheel spun, and he won. He wagered again. He won again. The victory excited him. He wagered again. He lost. The disappointment of the loss was queer. The disappointment was not complete. It reminded him of the excitement of victory. He wanted to feel the excitement again. He wagered again. 

The boy bet and bet and bet, winning and losing over many lifetimes. He amassed a fortune. He lost it all. He fell into a deep and impossible debt. He slowly recouped his losses. Over and over, again and again, he bet. Whenever he was at the cusp of quitting the game, whether because of a staggering gain or a debilitating loss, his fortunes quickly reversed, and he was drawn back into the game. Until, at last, he grew tired of playing. 

“Why do you hesitate, boy,” said Jaq’s voice. “Place your bet.”

The boy was down to his last copper piece. He had reached this point many times before. Always he had bet; always the game continued.  

“No. The game is rigged,” said the boy. “Chance cannot explain what has happened here. The balance between winning and losing is too fine and too perfect. You or some other force is controlling the wheel.”

“Does it matter if the wheel is controlled,” said Jaq’s voice. “It is the play of the game that matters, is it not?”

“There is no point in playing the game,” the boy answered, “if the outcome is determined, whomever or however it is determined.” 

“You can’t control the game,” said Jaq’s voice. “What difference does it make how the outcome is determined — so long as you play it?”

“I won’t bet again,” answered the boy. He held the copper piece out to the figure. “I repay my debt. I thank you for the loan.” 

“Some debts can never be repaid,” said Jaq’s voice. 

A wave of nausea overcame the boy. He vomited violently.

Jaq patted him on the back. “You should have told me it was your first time drinking. I wouldn’t have brought you so many drinks.” 

The boy vomited again.

Jaq said, “The next time won’t be as bad.” 

The boy said, “I won’t drink again. Ever.”

Jaq said, “I wouldn’t bet on it.”  

Jaq saw it with his own eyes and wrote it down later.


The crowd that had assembled in the makeshift courtroom exploded in fury when the accused was brought before the judge. They called out for justice. They desired revenge. 

The judge sat on a simple bench. Behind him, strung between two pillars, a purple cloth was hung. His robes were a deep red. Over his shoulders, he wore a dark green cape. On his head, there was a crown. The symbols of his office, a sword and a set of scales, lay near to hand. 

“How does the defendant plead?” he asked.

Jaq cleared his throat, before replying. “He does not plead, you honour. Indeed, he cannot plead, for Feste, the defendant, is a dog.”

Feste yipped at the sound of his name. He was inside a cramped cage, shivering. Jaq stood beside it, in front of the judge.

The boy sat within the angry crowd. They shouted and jeered. They fell silent when they saw the judge was about to speak. The spectacle of the court amused the boy. He was also tired of walking. He was happy to sit somewhere out of the rain.  

“Silence!” the judge thundered. “Do you speak on the defendant’s behalf? Do you mean to represent him in this court?”

“Your honour, I speak only to clarify for the esteemed court that, being a dog, Feste can’t in fact speak and, therefore, can’t plead,” said Jaq. “Although I am happy to represent him in this or any other matter, I don’t mean to represent him here, in this court, because, indeed, in being a dog, he cannot, I think, be represented. There is nothing, as it were, to represent, when one is speaking of matters of justice.” 

“Whether or not he is a dog, whether or not he can speak, it is irrelevant to the scales of justice. It is, therefore, irrelevant to this court,” answered the judge. He held up his set of scales for everyone in the courtroom to see. “If he will not plead for himself, or, if you will not plead on his behalf, the court shall take his silence as a plea of guilty.”

“Your honour, Feste is not guilty!” Jaq said. “I will gladly plead on his behalf, if you will let me. He is not guilty! How can he be guilty? He is a dog!”

“The court recognizes that a plea of not guilty has been entered on behalf of the defendant. The court, however, will not recognize the speculative assertion regarding the defendant’s guilt. Had the defendant admitted freely of his guilt, this court may have shown him clemency. Let it be known that the full weight of the law shall be brought to bear upon him, if we find the defendant guilty.”

The crowd erupted in delighted fury. They were already convinced of the defendant’s guilt. They were doubly pleased to hear that his certain punishment would be bold.

“Who in this courtroom will bring evidence against the accused,” the judge asked. 

Everyone in the crowd raised their hand to speak. They shouted all at once.

“Quiet, quiet, quiet,” thundered the judge. “Let he who was harmed directly in this matter speak.” 

An old man raised his hand. His back was hunched from a long life of work. He cleared his throat. 

“Your honour, I am old and I have worked my whole life. My farm is small and meager. I have raised men and women of good standing in our community on its soil. Through good and faithful work, any reward can be attained, I tell you. Of that, I am sure. Two of my sons, now grown, are in this court with me today. Not all of my children have survived, sadly. My wife is long dead. My work has been rewarded, true; I have suffered as well. The Father’s will is as just as the Mother’s love is unyielding, so I know that I am to blame for my own suffering. I have endured it, in the face of droughts and floods, famine and war, disease and death because I know the world is just. It is and always shall be the result of the Father’s will and the Mother’s love. Those who are deserving are punished. Those who have earned it are rewarded. All are paid their due whether it be for good or for wrong. In this, I find my peace.”

The judge nodded. The crowd cheered. The boy began to lose his patience. 

“I come today to this court knowing in my heart that justice will be done. I saw the crime with my own eyes. All those who have gathered here today saw it with their own eyes. The defendant, be he dog or not, violently attacked and killed one of my chickens to satisfy his own beastly hunger. To level the scales of justice, he must be punished. Please do right. Please honour the Father’s will and the Mother’s love. Please punish this murdering dog. I beg the court.”  

“Your honour, the chicken escaped from its coop,” said Jaq. “Had the chicken not been allowed to wander freely, all would be well. Feste did not leap a fence. He did not sneak into a pen under cover of night. He can’t be expected to understand that some animals are fair game and others are not. He is a simple animal. Even so, out of respect to this man and this small village, we offered compensation. It was readily accepted.” 

“An admission of guilt,” shouted the old man. “Their compensation is an admission of guilt! Compensation is insufficient! I demand justice as well! The accused is a killer by his representative’s own admission. The defendant must be held to account for his wanton act of violence. Otherwise, this court is not just. Otherwise, this world is not just. Otherwise, this court defies the will of the Father and the love of the Mother!”

“Feste is a dog,” said Jaq. “He is a beast, an animal. He does not know the difference between right and wrong, nor the difference between private property and wild game. He is a product of nature and acts as such. We can’t hold him accountable for his decisions because he is incapable of making them. You might as well punish the wind for the way it blows. Guilt and innocence, accountability, these are human considerations. They are not at all relevant in this matter.”

“Not relevant?” said the judge. “If guilt and innocence and accountability are not relevant in this matter, why should they be relevant in any matter brought before this court?” He thoughtfully straightened his robes before continuing. “Consider this, a boy was brought before this court last month. He had murdered his sister in a children’s game. His mother and father pleaded for mercy, arguing like you that he was too young to understand his actions and should not be held to account because of this. Another time, an idiot was brought before this court, who could not and would not stop stealing. Again, his soft-hearted and ill-thinking family and friends pleaded on behalf of this idiot — as you now plead for your murderous dog. He can’t understand right from wrong, they said, he shouldn’t be held to account for his actions, they said! And why not? I ask you, as I asked them! The line between an idiot and a poorly educated man is only a matter of degree. Should some poorly educated thief go free simply because he was never taught right from wrong? Should a man delirious from hunger be forgiven his thievery? In another instance, a defendant admitted to murder but pleaded for mercy because demons told him to do it. They spoke inside his ear, he said, and he could not resist their direction. They compelled him to do it. Madness! Utter madness. This man’s plea was as mad as your argument is today. Know this, if you know nothing else. If we do not hold this dog to account for its actions, all of these defendants and many more will not be held to account for their actions. Indeed, if we were to follow the logic of your argument to its only natural conclusion, no one would be punished for their actions. Consider this! As all pious men know, everything we do is preordained by the will of the Father and the love of the Mother! Because this is so, according to your reasoning, is there any true reason to hold any man to account for anything he does? If all of our actions are at the behest of His divine will and Her divine love, why, a man could be brought before this court admitting freely to parricide and, by your reasoning, not be held to account for his actions. What absurdity? What madness? I will not let your morally bankrupt reasoning corrupt this court or affect the scales of justice.”

The crowd cheered! The old man beamed. The boy rose from his chair. 

The judge continued, “I am prepared to render my judgment. No more witnesses will be called.”   

A hush of anticipation filled the court. Into this silence, the boy spoke clearly and deeply. “The dog goes free.”

“Who are you?” spat the judge. “Why should the court give any consideration to your testimony? I have already said I will hear no more witnesses.”  

“I am a product of nature,” said the boy. He stood and placed his hand on the hilt of his sword. The crowd involuntarily moved away from his radiating menace. “I know not what I do.”

“Impudence,” thundered the judge. “Bailiffs take this man to jail. His contempt for this court must be punished.” 

A moment of uncertain and pregnant silence hung in the air. From the crowd, a weak voice squeaked into it. “Your honour there is no bailiff. No sheriff either.”   

“I see,” said the judge. He considered the boy. Then, he spoke slowly and clearly. “In all matters of justice, all evidence and testimony must be weighed carefully, the pertinent law or laws identified and all precedents carefully considered. Only then, after thoughtful deliberation, may a judgment be delivered ” He held up his scales with one hand and his sword with the other. “I find the defendant not guilty. The dog is free to go.”

The disappointed crowd, to the man, wisely made no sound. 

Jaq saw it with his own eyes and wrote it down later.


The long road from the city had men and women crucified along it. Some were nailed to crosses by their hands. Others were hung upside down by their feet. For many miles, the boy, Jaq and Feste walked in the stench of death and decay. At the very end of the line, they came across a condemned man hanging from one foot who was alive. The expression on his face was serene and magnanimous.

The boy stopped and studied the hanged man’s face. He asked, “Why are you so calm, in the face of a slow and certain death?”

“I have been convicted and condemned for treason by a treasonous lord, who himself has no understanding of the good and true,” he replied. “I am content with the knowledge that I have lived justly.”

“What good is a just life, if it ends only in a brutal and suffering death,” the boy asked.  

“I am not suffering,” the hanged man answered. “I am not even dying.”

Jaq tugged at the sleeve of the boy’s tunic. “Look, the cross itself seems to be alive. There are leaves growing from it.”

The boy drew his sword. He asked, “Are you God?”

The hanged man replied, “I am not.”

“Are you one of the guides sent to test me?” the boy asked.

The hanged man replied, “I am not.” 

“Who or what are you then?” asked the boy.

“I am a mortal man. I have lived, I have sacrificed, and I now have the comfort of understanding.”

Jaq asked, “What have you sacrificed?” 

The boy asked, “What do you understand?”

“Life, comfort and understanding,” answered the hanged man. 

The boy asked, “Which question did you answer with your reply?”

“Both,” said the hanged man. 

“Is that a riddle?” asked the boy.

The hanged man answered, “It is a simple truth, so it can be seen as such.”

“If it is simple,” said the boy, “explain it plainly.”

There was a strange movement of light. They looked again. Before them was a dried and withered corpse, long dead. The wood it hung from was old, worm-eaten, and brittle. The leathered skin of the corpse’s face, even in death, seemed serene and magnanimous.  

Jaq saw it with his own eyes and wrote it down later.


A knight in black armour sat astride a powerful white horse. His banner fluttered sharply in the stiff breeze. The horse pranced impatiently. In the distance, on a darkening hill, the sun set between two towers. The knight seemed to be waiting. The boy approached him, followed by Jaq and Feste.  

“Are you one of the guides sent to test me,” asked the boy.

“I am,” said the black knight. “If you pass the test, I will guide you to a boat. It will take you further along your journey towards God.”

“What is the test,” asked the boy. “Am I meant to defeat you in combat?”

“No mortal can defeat me,” said the black knight. “You included.”

“Is there a riddle to solve,” asked the boy. “If so, tell it to me.”

“There is no riddle,” said the black knight. “There is only a choice.”

“What is the choice,” asked the boy. “Tell me. I am ready to choose.”

The knight raised the visor of his helmet. Instead of a face, there was a skull. The skull’s empty sockets turned towards Jaq and Feste. Jaq held Feste in his arms. 

“What is the choice,” asked the boy. “Tell me.” 

The skull continued to look at Jaq and Feste. Jaq shivered. Fest whimpered. 

“Tell me plainly,” asked the boy. “What is the choice?” 

There was a strange movement of light. The boy saw many corpses lying at the feet of the knight’s horse. He saw the corpse of the magi he had killed in the market. He saw the corpse of the priestess from the temple he had destroyed. He saw the corpses of a man and a woman, who were dressed like royalty. Between them, there was a naked boy. He also saw the corpse of the old Hierophant. There were others he did not recognize or, perhaps, did not remember.

“I see,” said the boy. He drew his sword. He turned towards Jaq and Feste. 

“See what,” asked Jaq. “How can you see anything in this queer light? I don’t see anything at all. Where did the knight go? Why have you drawn your sword? Are we in danger?”

“We made a bet, did we not?” said the boy. 

“We did,” Jaq said. “It is a bet I intend to win.” 

“Hold out your hand,” said the boy.

Jaq held out his hand. Into it, the boy placed the token of the Holy Wanderer. 

The blood drained from Jaq’s face. “What’s going on? Why are you returning this to me? We haven’t found God yet. The journey isn’t over. What’s happening?” 

“The test has been communicated to me,” the boy said. “I know what I must do.”

“There is nothing you must do,” said Jaq. “Nothing at all.” 

“It’s God’s test,” said the boy. “Take it up with him, when you meet him.”

“I shall,” answered Jaq. “When I meet him with you.”

“I know who I am,” said the boy. “It is inevitable.”

“Nothing is inevitable,” said Jaq, “Let me prove it to you. Let’s continue the journey together. Let’s find God together. After that, do what you will, if you must.” 

The boy studied Jaq for a moment. He smiled. “Leave now,” ordered the boy. “Run.”

Jaq did not hesitate. “No,” he said. 

“Then, kneel,” said the boy, “and close your eyes.”  

“I will kneel,” said Jaq, “But I won’t close my eyes.” 

“Do as you like,” said the boy. “It was for your sake, not mine.”

Jaq got on his knees. Feste shivered in his arms. The wind blew harder. The boy looked down on him. His eyes were cold, blue and hard. Jaq saw that he was resolved. There was a profound pain in Jaq’s head. He feared he was dead. The pain would be his everlasting punishment. He was glad that Feste was with him in the afterlife. Fest licked his face. Jaq opened his eyes. There were blue glowing dots everywhere he looked. He was not dead. He stood, looking for the boy. A wave of nausea flooded through his body. He sat again in a heap. In the distance, on a wide river he had not seen before, Jaq saw a small boat. A bright white sail shone brilliantly in the last light of the setting sun. Jaq knew the boy was on it. The token of the holy wanderer was no longer in Jaq’s hand. He searched for it in the uneven shadows of the rough ground. The sun disappeared behind the hills. When he looked up again, the only light was from the stars. They reflected in the calm of the distant river. He wasn’t sure if he would cry or not.

A PDF of the complete novella is available here.

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