The Fool returned sadly to the town, reaching it at nightfall. With no bag now to hold them, the disappointments of the day hung over him like a cloud. Wandering the narrow streets he spotted no friendly faces or open doors, so coming upon a church he gratefully entered it to rest for a while.
Inside were benches made of dark mahogany, worn smooth by countless years of use. Yet now the church was empty and cold. Two candles cast a flickering glow upon an altar, above which hung a silvered mirror. He sat down, feeling more miserable than he had in many a year. The future looked as bleak as the present moment felt.
His lonely thoughts were interrupted by a kindly voice from the shadows. "Do not be alarmed, my young friend, for there is nothing here to harm you, unless it is yourself that you fear."
As these words were spoken, so the face of the mirror seemed to brighten, reflecting both his own pale face and the face of an old man with a long white beard, standing behind him. He wore a robe of green and turquoise edged in gold and on his head was a white crown, embedded with jewels.
The Pope noticed the play of alarm and dismay which passed across the face of the Fool, for he chuckled softly and said, "You thought perhaps that I, who have lived many years, might lecture you on the best way to live your life? I will do nothing of the sort. Each person must walk his own path, and choose his own destination. It is you who must live behind your face."
Encouraged by these gentle words, the Fool soon told the old man what had happened at the Castle, and confessed he had no idea what he should do next.
The Pope sat down beside him and raised one hand, as if in benediction. "In the Theatre of Life you are the author, the player, and also the audience," he said, in a gentle tone. "Your ideal role, when you don't know what to do, is to observe yourself."
At this point he fell silent for so long that the Fool was beginning to think he had fallen asleep, until suddenly the old man bellowed in a thunderous tone, "Yet this is probably the most difficult thing in the world to do!"
He pointed to a line of ugly figures carved at the base of the bench.
"Look upon Pride, and Wrath! And there is Lust, Gluttony and Envy! And over there Sloth and Avarice!"
The Pope's eyes met those of the Fool, who was feeling a bit of all of those things, and then his tone softened again. "These are the reasons people will not look closely at their lives," he sighed, "for they are afraid they might see these monsters within. Yet they are phantoms, all. Yet, in your eyes, is the light of some innocence. Perhaps you will be willing to see the face of truth as it is, and not as you hope or fear it to be?"
As he spoke the church grew darker, while the mirror grew brighter and the Fool saw reflected there the story of his life. He looked without emotion but with deep interest at the antics of this person whom he had known only from within, behaving in ways which he had previously been quite oblivious. As he watched, almost hypnotised, the Pope continued in a sing-song voice.
"As you watch, notice the mirror shows only your behaviour, not your intentions. Ask yourself how your behaviour serves your various values. For, just as a baby's hunger for milk and love is satisfied by crying, so do many people continue to cry out repeatedly long after this behaviour has ceased to produce the desired effect.
We are all prisoners of the past, locked in the dungeons of habit, memory and imagination. The phantoms in these depths continue to allure and repel us. Yet you can shed light on the phantoms and expose them for what they are. If you will only observe your life without prejudice, you will see the patterns of your strength and your weakness, and can begin to arrange your life to serve your personality."
To the Fool's embarrassment, the mirror showed a series of lurid vignettes which caused the Pope to frown and wag a finger.
"Notice, particularly," he said in a slightly cooler tone, whether you serve yourself well if you continually succumb to the temptations of idle fancy."
The Fool sighed. "To give up present pleasure in favour of some future reward - that does not come naturally to me," he said. "However, from this night on I most certainly shall endeavour to plan for tomorrow."
"Beware unrealistic resolutions," warned the Pope. "They provide fleeting pleasure at the cost of future guilt."
With this doleful pronouncement the old man again fell quiet until once more the air was rent by his resounding voice.
"Civilisation," he proclaimed, "is built upon a single principle; that of INVESTMENT!"
He paused, savouring the word, then laid one bony hand upon the Fool's shoulder. "The small, instant pleasure is deferred in favour of the larger return. It is this discipline which confers upon those who practise it the true rewards. But to become a disciple, you must learn what or whom to serve, if you would achieve a greatness beyond your petty individuality."
Unable to shift his gaze from the mirror, or to move a muscle, the Fool felt as if the voice of the old man was moving away from him, as the tone once again grew kindly.
"Pay attention, my son, to the patterns you observe in the story of your life. Attention is the cardinal virtue for there can hardly be faith nor hope nor love for anything unless it first receives attention. By the same token, ignorance is a sin, bred by willful neglect and cold-heartedness."
The voice became faint now that it seemed like the whisper of morning wind.
"All castles are built from dreams, but to make them real you must lay the foundations. If you would change tomorrow, you must begin by changing the way you act today. Choose your habits with care, so that they serve you rather than you them."
The pale light of dawn crept through the stained glass above the altar, as the fading candles hissed and spluttered to an end. The Fool, startled by the sudden sound, blinked as sunshine flooded through the half-open door of the church.
He was alone. The mirror showed now a single figure, bathed in white light. It was time to leave. Clear in his intention, he walked into the beckoning new day.