A Caution to the Wise
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Transcript of a letter; one of a few dozen similar papers found clipped to the pages of the Codex between the ninth and eighty-first. The paper is cut off neatly at the top, excluding the most of the manuscript, though one may assume that the recipient is a member of the Serpent's Hand. The date of the letter is supposed at anno Domini 1896.


[…]how fortunate they are to have you ask me their questions. Of course I sha'n't refuse you. At your insistence, then, I shall betake myself to pen this little tale of my early days in the West. They ask for a story with a moral; the moral is, “A caution to the wise—look elsewhere for your wisdom.” My anecdotes are not for philosophers to look over. As for fairy-tales, I can say nothing, for I have rarely seen any more point in them than in tales of Faierie itself. Well, will they or nill they, it is their request, and I shall provide exactly what they ask for, in exactly their terms.

Once I met a wealthy lord. He had a palace built of precious stones, land enough to bury a country, and men enough to conquer it in arms; he had a large and prosperous family, with seven sons to whom he bequeathed more than they could have asked of him; he had livestock and slaves, allies and vassals; and most of all, a properly vast banqueting hall, in which he was not shy to hold many a merry event.

All this he had, and prudence and love besides, which are at least as rare as the rest; but when I met him there was one matter in which his heart was less than wise. When I met him he lamented, "If only I were free!"

This desire he thought an idle fancy, knowing the folly of it, but withal, it happily seems he nurtured it within him all the while, and cared for it very much. I made myself a dove, and he bade me tell him a story of the outside. "I shall tell thee one hundred stories, and do thee one service besides," said I.

Eagerly he cried, "What will it be?" but I cocked my head and began to tell.

I spoke to him of the things that I remembered, and many that I forget, all of travel and freedom and the open air. It matters not the breadth of what I told him, for he loved it very much all the same, and it was through this that I found out his desire, and let it blossom all the more. I mentioned the Southern temples, dedicated to the spirits of dead men; I alluded to the Northern bears, who live in castles of stone and eat as plentifully as the kings of men, and cannot be tricked; and at last I spoke of the secret of the Eastern merchant, who makes for himself an effigy of clay, and sets it to watch over his affairs whilst he spends his days untroubled. He writes a word on its forehead, and it comes to life and serves him.

When I saw the look of rapture that came into his face, I finished my tale, and asked him then, "Knowest thou now what my service will be?"

For a moment this puzzled him, and then he besought me to tell him more of the clay men. "It is not that," said I, "but nearly."

He besought me again, asking if I might teach him the way the effigy was shaped. "It is not that," said I, "but nearly."

"What will thy service be, then?" cried he at last, exasperated, "for there is nothing I have desired more."

"I shall surely show thee!" I laughed. "I have prepared it for thee already, O august lord, that thou shouldst suffer no labour on thy back; come thou to-morrow to thy garden, and I shall show thee how it may serve."

I flew away, and that evening and night I spent in the fashioning of a clay image of the lord to set in the back of his palace garden. When I was done, as a bird once again, I perched upon it and waited for his arrival till the morning. Eagerly I waited, for I had not told him that words alone could not make clay living flesh—only life begets life, and only Man's soul can create a life like Man.

When he came, I found him not alone. He had brought a servant, who looked on me with disdain when I spoke—"Wilt thou accept my service?" I asked of the lord.

"Surely I will!" rejoined he at once, for his ardour had not grown less overnight.

"Then take this," said I, "and it will be thine." I offered my orb to him; and the servant, at once, stepped forth to take it for him.

He took my orb in his hand, whereupon my spirit surged forth from within it, as was its wont, and seized his immortal soul from out his body, and set it in the body of the clay man. Then I wrote a word on the forehead of the effigy, and its clay became flesh and blood and bone, and it came alive.

The lord, looking fearfully down at the body of his servant, enquired of me what I had done; though he well knew.

"My service to thee, my lord," I told him, "and methinks it will serve thee well." I flew to the ground and reclaimed my orb where it had fallen, and then once more to the head of the clay man, who stood yet motionless and with silent gaze. "What name hath thy servant?"

"I do not know his name, nor his voice, nor his face," said the lord evenly; "he was no person to me."

I whispered into the ear of the clay man, and then spoke to the lord. "If formless he was, then Golem it will be called. By Golem thou shalt call it when thou enjoinest it to a task. Now thou art free to roam the world."

"But what have I imposed upon myself?" he cried. "For this, what remuneration might thou enjoin me to?" For he sensed, as the wiser of men do, that I was more than I showed him.

"Thy recompense to me shall be nothing that thou committest not of thine own will, or that thou hast committed of thine own will," I answered him, "and thou wilt realise it only with time. Surely it will not dull thy freedom. Rejoice, O august lord, for thou art unbounded forthwith, and hence till the day of thy return!"

I departed forthwith, but saw him dispose of the servant's body and enjoin the clay man, with much careful instruction, to care for his property and household until his return. I saw him set out, doubtless in his heart of many grand adventures to come. I did not follow him, but repaired to the palace once again when he had gone, to whisper in the clay man's ear.

"Thou wilt carry thy burden well," I said to it, "for thou art a good servant to me. Do as I bid thee until thine old lord's return and I shall set thee free."

It did not answer, being mute; and there was no choice within it, nor happiness, nor misery.

I did many things in the lord's absence, and it matters not what I did. But the day came when he returned—I saw him as I walked along the silent roads of the city that surrounded his palace. I became a dove again, and went to meet him.

He was barefoot and leant upon his staff, and he looked about himself as if confused, and I saw that his soul was about to leave him. I perched on a nearby tree and enquired of him, "Why hast thou returned?"

"I have wandered to the four corners of the earth and far beyond them," said he, "and seen greater and more awful sights even than thou hast recounted to me, little bird."

"And why hast thou returned?" I asked again.

"I have grown sick of wandering, and long for my home once again, which the clay man thou hast fashioned for me hath kept in my absence. Where is he? Where is my home, little bird?"

"'Tis here and hence," I answered him, "and thy Golem hath kept it just as thou hast willed it. Not one grain of thy storehouses, or coin of thy treasuries, hath been otherwise spent; nor have thy possessions or thine household suffered unduly. Why? dost thou doubt the truthfulness of my words, that are bound by higher laws even than thine own, O august lord?"

"Who art thou, trickster? Where is my family? What hast thou taken from me?"

"Thou wert wise; yet thine heart fails, and thy senses dim. Dost thou still not know my price, nor understand the value of my service?"

"What price can I owe thee when I cannot reclaim what is mine?" cried the old lord.

"I gave thee freedom," said I, "for all thy life since our last meeting thou hast walked freely, nor hath obligation or responsibility bound thine heart. Thou hast enjoyed it till thine heart and soul were filled; and now that soul, which can enjoy nothing more, shall leave thee. That is my repayment."

Hearing this, he fell to his knees and wept. "Who art thou, deceiver, thief?"

"Such petty names from thy noble mouth!"—and I descended, and returned to my true form, and told him my name of names, and offered him my orb. When he heard that name he despaired, and the light at last left his eyes completely; he bequeathed his soul willingly to me.

I thanked him then, and passed on to the palace, where the clay man still sat enthroned. I whispered in its ear, "Thou art released," and writing another word on its forehead, caused it to crumble to dust; and of the whole grand demesne, all the lord's household and his properties, there remained but chaff and water.


There, pass them that to keep in their records, and do you describe to me, in detail, the looks they have on their faces.

I am, and will remain, your humble and obedient servant, in letter, if not spirit,
Y. K. W.

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