Though he applied the oars with gusto, the Fool found it difficult to move the laden boat back to the mainland. He soon grew tired of the effort and the boat made only sporadic headway against the tide. It was difficult to concentrate on the task of rowing, when the boat was piled with treasure, and he soon distracted himself by reflecting on his changed circumstances.
His new-found wealth seemed to open an Aladdin's cave of tempting options. Why should he risk the journey to the Tower, when he could afford to buy a dozen suits instead of the one the Emperor had promised as a reward? The only problem was the missing chariot and failed mission. Perhaps he should not return to his homeland at all, but could his wealth compensate him for the exile he would face? His head started to spin with the complexity of it all, and for a brief moment he wished he were back in the meadow living the simple, satisfying life he had known before he had discovered ambition.
Such was his preoccupation that it wasn't both his feet were immersed in icy water that he noticed his boat was sinking! Water was streaming in through tiny gaps between the planks of the hull. The more water came in, the faster it came in. With a palpable shock the Fool realised that he might lose not only his treasure, but his life.
The water reached his waist, then the boat slid from under him, leaving him struggling to keep abreast of the waves. He became suddenly aware that all his years of pain and pleasure were coming to an end without warning. His life was about to be snuffed out in a few seconds, like the flame of a candle. In a moment of time whole periods were condensed and experienced as a feeling.
As he was dragged down, as if by an invisible rope, he lost all fear and relaxed. A part of him became curiously detached. This part watched, in utter silence, the treasure floating down past the limp body of the drowning figure.
Arising from the depths, half gliding, half dancing like a puppet on an invisible string, an eerie spectre moved towards him - a scythe in its hand and a raven at its side. Its voice was thin and dry as dust.
"I am Death and this sea is my home. You call it the Sea of Life but we are inseparable, Life and I. Naked as you came into life, so shall pain and fear strip away your actor's robes and leave you shivering when you die.
Though you choose to ignore me, I am with you always and may step forward at any time to make my presence felt. Think of me when you hesitate, when you put off until tomorrow a new beginning, a start you could make today. Glance over your left shoulder and you will see a shadow. That shadow is mine and I am your wisest advisor, if you will but listen.
Each end is also a beginning. As birth gives rise to new beginnings, so change heralds the end of another way - the death of all that was before. Thus, I am an artist. Like a sculptor, I remove pieces from the material of Life so that the hidden figure may be revealed. The structure is there, if you will let it emerge."
With these words the Spectre glided beneath the surface of the waves, and the Fool alone again. Then, as suddenly as he had been gripped, the undertow released him and he was kicking to the top and sucking at the air, his lungs filled and his heart pumping wildly.
As he struck out, gulping salt water as his head bobbed up and down, his flailing feet suddenly connected with sand and rock. The water was shallow! The little boat had carried him to within a stone's throw of the beach. He had been granted a reprieve. Pleasure and gratitude flooded into him. The loss of his wealth meant nothing compared with this gift of life. Whooping with joy he half-swam and half-ran to the shore where he embraced the earth as if it were his own mother.