At the edge of the forest, a steeply inclined bank led to the sea. Lonely leaves fluttered from the trees and drifted gently toward the boat that was to carry him onwards - a mere speck on the ocean far below.
As he clambered down the slope he paused to collect nuts, berries and bananas to sustain himself during the voyage back to the mainland. To his surprise and delight he saw, scattered along the path, dozens of brightly coloured stones and gems, similar to those he had seen in the Emperor's treasury. Perhaps this was some long-dead pirate's bounty - a fortune now ripe for the picking!
He had such an armful by the time he reached his boat, that he could hardly see in front of him. No wonder then, that he failed to notice the strange creature hanging upside-down from a nearby tree. As he piled his treasure into the boat he nearly fell into the water when the Hanged Man spoke.
"Do you have the price of your journey? You must know, as I do, there is a price to be paid for everything in this life." The strange man twisted uneasily and folded his left leg behind the right one, which was tied by the ankle to a stout beam of wood.
Without waiting for an answer, he carried on mournfully.
"I hang upside down from the gallows of social fashion. Like you, I once valued the material treasures of this world. Now, coins fall from my pockets, yet I laugh. Truth is the reverse of what most people think it is!"
"I can see you are not one of the common crowd," said the Fool, carefully, "yet perhaps there is some wisdom in not sticking your neck out too far, so to speak."
"One should strive to be original," snapped the Hanged Man, "because Life is like a work of Art. And Beauty is always unique! However, Beauty...", he paused for dramatic effect, "is sometimes overlooked. Take my case, for example. The world did not appreciate me. The judge said I should be hanged, and to make the punishment even worse he said that the hanging must take place unexpectedly on any day between Monday and the following Sunday.
I was naturally quite devastated until, as I sat alone in my cell, I started to think about what the judge had said. And I deduced the hanging couldn't possibly take place on the seventh day, Sunday. Can you see why?"
"If you hadn't been hanged by Saturday it would be quite obvious to you that Sunday was the day, and then the hanging would not be unexpected."
"Quite right. So I knew the hanging could only happen between Monday and Saturday, since Sunday was definitely ruled out. And then, you know, something very interesting occurred to me. The hanging couldn't happen on Saturday either! Because, by the same line of reasoning, if it hadn't happened on Friday I would expect it to happen on Saturday. And the judge had specifically told me that the day was to be unpredictable."
"If Saturday and Sunday are ruled out, then it couldn't happen on Friday, either!" exclaimed the Fool.
"Right again, and so, you see, I proved quite logically that it couldn't happen on Thursday, or Wednesday, or Tuesday, or Monday either. I was sure that, so long as the judge kept his word, I could not be hanged at all!"
There was a long pause, which the Fool didn't like to break. "But they hanged me on Wednesday," said the Hanged Man sadly. "It was quite unexpected". Then he chuckled.
"I learned my lesson, you can be sure of that. Always expect to be surprised by life. And never make the mistake of thinking there is only one right answer to a question. For instance, you might believe that the only way to get to the top of a tree is to climb it. Instead, why not sit on an acorn? Or make friends with a big bird?"
The Hanged Man laughed so much that the Fool feared his rope might break, but instead a collection of small change and a Map fell from his upturned pockets. As he passed them back, the Fool asked, "Do you, by any chance, know the way to the dark Tower?"
"That depends. There are dozens of ways, you know. It all depends on where you want to start from. Of course, all are recorded in the very Map which you have so kindly returned to me!"
Here he laughed so loudly that the Map nearly fell from his pocket again.
"It is no good to me, but you shan't have it, at least not without giving me something" he declared.
"I will play you for this map, by setting a puzzle for you to solve. I will offer you two deals, and you must choose whichever you prefer.
My first offer is this. Tell me something that I judge to be true, and I MIGHT give you my map. On the other hand, I might not. But if I judge you have told me a lie then I shall have nothing further to do with you and shall ignore you completely."
"The SECOND offer," continued the Hanged Man, "is simpler. Speak to me truth or lie, it matters not, and I promise I will help you. Now, which is the better deal? Whatever you pick, be assured that I shall keep my word."
The Fool thought hard. The first offer didn't seem to hold much promise, for whatever he said it seemed that the Hanged Man could keep his map. So he said, "The second offer is the better one."
"WRONG!" laughed the Hanged Man. "That is a lie! But since you chose the second option I shall keep my word and help you regardless."
Wagging an upside-down finger, his companion continued.
"Flexibility! That's the key to success. Do you know how to catch a monkey using some nuts and an open glass jar? You simply put the nuts in the jar and leave it where he can find it. When you return you will find a monkey with his hand stuck fast inside the jar. He squeezed his hand in easily, but once he grabbed the nuts he couldn't remove his clenched fist. He won't let go of the nuts so he's stuck."
The Hanged Man chuckled again. "That's funny, because we're flexible enough to see things from another angle. But the monkey only knows he won't let go of the nuts and that his hand is stuck. He doesn't see the connection. That's what humour is - seeing things connected up in a new, unexpected way.
Life is a jest, and all things show it.
I thought so once, and now I know it!"
He winked at the Fool. "And now that YOU are here, I shan't be short of company."
"I fear," replied the Fool, diplomatically, "I should be a poor companion for you, since you are obviously a man who needs more than a Fool can offer."
"A good Fool, replied the Hanged Man, "makes a fine companion, for he sees things through the fresh eyes of a child."
"I know you are much too intelligent to respond to flattery," said the Fool, after pondering this last remark, "but you have convinced me that you know best. I am sure, therefore, that you will be flexible enough to let me change my mind? Returning to the puzzle you set, may I choose the first option? For I now see how that is quite the better bargain."
"Well spoken," laughed the Hanged Man, "Speak your mind then, and if I judge you speak the truth I MAY give you my map, as I promised."
The Fool said the following, in a very clear voice.
"You will either give me the map, or you will have nothing further to do with me."
There was a silence you could slice, as it dawned upon the Hanged Man that he had fallen into a trap.
If he judged this statement to be false then he had promised to have nothing further to do with the Fool, but this would prove the statement to be true. And if the statement was true, he could not ignore the Fool, for to do so would be to break his word. So he had no option but to give up his map!
He howled with frustration, gave several kicks, and shook so much with anger that the Map fell from his pocket again. The Fool, feeling he had earned it, quickly picked his valuable prize, jumped into his boat and rowed away from the island on the sparkling tides of fortune.