"To describe as dreams what I experienced is inadaquate," said the Fool. "I can still feel the excitement, the visions remain as vivid as your own presence, the sounds as clear as your voice."
Although until this week he had never considered another way of life, the Fool now knew that to remain a travelling beggar would no longer satisfy him. An idea struck him.
"I have lived on the road all my life. Could you find a use for my talent as a traveller?"
"I am glad you wish to harness your experience, such as it is," replied the Emperor. "Indeed I do have a desire which you may help me satisfy. To do so will require both courage and integrity. As you know I am the ruler of an Empire whose boundaries stretch far and wide.
To the north lies uncharted land, but I have heard from travellers that on the northern-most edge, high on a mountain, stands a tower. No subject of mine can tell me what lies within. Some say it holds the secret to all that life is. Others, that to enter the tower is to meet the devil and be forever under his control.
I seek the truth and believe a Fool with newly acquired ambition and a past filled with travel and diversion is just the person to uncover the secret of the tower."
"Neither journey nor destination hold horrors for me," said the Fool boldly. "I will gladly visit this tower, and if you will grant me permission to travel with a Chariot and horses from your stable I believe I can make good time."
Almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, the Fool regretted them. In the past, he would have set off on any journey at once, with no thought of how long it might take. Within days, if not hours, his destination would have been abandoned in favour of a more attractive option. Now, spurred on by his new-found ambition, he had committed himself to a mission which involved responsibility for the Emperor's property! He was relieved therefore when the Emperor shook his head.
"Most of my horses are unfortunately already committed and cannot be spared for a journey of this length, clothed in uncertainty as it is. However," (the Fool's heart skipped a beat) "there are two horses which are not in use - a white and a black. The white will follow your every instruction, though it is somewhat weak and easily frightened. The Black is strong but wild. Some are afraid even to go near him. Perhaps, with the right driver, the pair may be usable, though to get them to work well together will not be easy. These horses, together with a suitable chariot, shall be placed at your disposal."
The Emperor snapped his fingers, and servants appeared from the shadows. "You shall be taken to the stables," he proclaimed, "and given food for your first day. After that however, you must make your own alliances and choose your own paths. I suggest you spend some time in the town speaking with others who may tell you the best routes."
The Fool was speechless with excitement.
"I am pleased," said the Emperor with a smile, "to see the delight which fills your soul. Take care, however, that you do not disappoint me, for you will find no welcome here if you let me down. You must pursue your Quest or perish in the attempt!"
The Fool was led to the stables and was pleased to see the stable man who had so kindly given him a job two days earlier. This time he was greeted with the greatest deference, and shown his chariot, ready for use, complete with harness and gleaming star-spangled canopy. His chest filled with pride as he imagined himself completing his assignment and returning to the Emperor with news of his success.
As predicted, the white horse was graceful and easy to harness, but at the stable of the black horse the manager halted and said, "You are on your own from now on. I go no further than this. Twice I have been kicked and once bitten by that creature and I neither tend nor feed him when the sun is up. I go near him only when he is asleep, and then with care. He has never been known as anything other than "the wild black" in his year with us. I warn you to stay well clear of his back hooves, and do not tempt his mouth. Good luck, my friend. You will need it!"
The battering sounds coming from behind the door were not reassuring and a piercing neigh broke through the crisp morning air.
The Fool felt less enthusiastic now. Realizing his only alternative was to withdraw completely, he decided he must begin to acqaint himself with the black horse. He walked slowly up to the heavy stable door and, standing on a box, looked cautiously down upon the magnificent inhabitant. Balanced on immense hind legs, head back, nostrils flaring, eyes rolling and teeth bared, the creature beat with its forelegs upon the wooden door. Here surely was a horse of strength, capable of great speed, but only if it could be brought under control.
Recalling a time from his youthful past when he had seen gypsies taming their wild horses, the Fool knew he must start by becoming familiar with the animal. He spoke quietly, trying to find a name that would suit the wayward beast. Fifteen minutes of this one-sided conversation ensued while the hammering, cavorting and rearing continued. The Fool eventually spoke the name "Tenebrous", and at the sound of this the horse responded with something like a smile, a whinny and a stamp. The Fool noticed that the chaff in his feeding bag looked grey and stale, so he quickly procured fresh sustenance.
Numerous carrots were consumed and two hours had elapsed before the horse quietened sufficiently for the Fool to risk entering his stable. After half an hour of negotiation, the Fool succeeded in convincing Tenebrous that to draw a carriage in conjunction with the white horse was not such a bad deal and surely better than remaining in isolated captivity.
Quickly, the chariot and its white horse were brought to the black. Harnessing Tenebrous proved difficult and during the course of the exercise the Fool was bitten again on his already painful calf. With a lump in his throat he persisted with his tethering and after calming the white horse eventually climbed into the driver's seat. With trembling legs and a tentative rein the Fool gave the command to progress. The black pulled to the left but as a pair the horses moved forward and with the Fool at the helm and Tenebrous in the lead the chariot set off.
"Oh hell!" he thought as the chariot rattled away from the castle at mounting speed. "If only I hadn't opened my mouth. I wish I was back in the meadow."
At these words the glittering chariot and the spirited horses stubbornly refused to disappear and instead raced on, out of control, in the most realistic way!