After his night of meditation the Fool concluded that his present dissatisfaction sprang from a certain fickleness of character. He resolved to remedy this by returning to the castle and taking whatever opportunities presented themselves in order to find and make his way in life.
It was nearing midday when he reached the top of the hill and caught sight once more of the castle towers. The drawbridge was raised and there appeared to be no one on this side of the surrounding water. No helpful Empress this time, to ease his way.
Although no human figures were visible, horses grazed on the grassy banks below. Nervous now he was in sight of his goal the Fool walked rather slowly down the path leading to the stables.
At the end of the pathway was a stile and as he approached it a man appeared.
"This is not a public highway but part of the Emperor's estate," he said curtly. "If you are in search of the town you should follow the path to the right."
"I left the town this morning" said the Fool, "and have come to these stables in search of work. If you will hire me, I swear you will not be sorry. I ask for no money, simply board and lodging. In time I hope to travel further but for now I seek to spend time in the service of the Emperor."
The terms were agreed immediately, for it was difficult to find workers for the more menial tasks involved in running a stable. So the Fool began that morning to clear and sweep, tend and feed the horses.
It was dark before he neared the end of his task and he was sweeping the furthest corner when he stumbled over a loose floor-board. Investigation revealed a trap door with a brass handle and catch. Releasing the catch he was able to open the door to reveal an iron ladder, dropping vertically into a darkness that was almost tangible. He felt a delightful sense of anticipation and his hand trembled as he reached for and lit the torch he had been given for nightly errands. The torch threw a strong beam, and taking care to secure the trap door to the hook on the wall, he began cautiously to descend.
The ground at the foot of the ladder was damp and slippery. Ahead, his torch-light revealed a narrow passage which stretched far into the distance. Keeping one hand to the wall and using the other to direct the torch, he made his way carefully along, trying to ignore the rustling sounds as his feet disturbed nests of rats. Eventually, his steps became firmer and his way easier. Casting the torch downwards he saw cobbled stone ahead and in the distance the path sloped slightly upward. Sensing a possible end to be within reach, the Fool almost ran along the remaining section of the tunnel.
At the end was an iron ladder, very similar to the one he had left behind at the stable. Although worn, it was easy to climb and the wooden roof directly above yielded to his first tentative push. Emerging breathlessly, he gasped in wonder for the torch shone upon a treasure trove for which no experience in his past had prepared him. There were no words in his vocabulary to describe the vast array he beheld.
Costumes made of satin and silk, capes and waistcoats, shirts and bodices hung in glittering lines. Diamonds and pearls spilled from a velvet jewel case. In the room were to be seen all the colours of the rainbow and high above hung a crystal chandelier. Other objects, each one beautiful or valuable, lay on trays of precious metal, piled high almost to the ceiling.
Despite the grandeur of the display, the Fool's attention was caught by a painting, shrouded in a multicoloured halo of light. It showed a man and a woman holding hands. The woman gazed at the man and the man looked upward, while a figure flew above them with arrow at the ready.
The Fool was transfixed by the beauty of the picture, the almost tangible figures, the colours, and the sheer wonder of the scene. For shown there, for all to see, was none other than himself! But a self so transformed as to be almost another person. Blinking with wonder, his eyes adjusted to the light. Beyond the painting, shapes began to form against the gilded background. At first the scene was blurred and faint, as if seen through a mist, and then the contrast deepened, the shapes sharpened and separate colours were exposed. The scenes he glimpsed were truly magical. No one visible for more than a moment, each coming into focus then shimmering briefly before dancing entrancingly out of sight.
His heart beat rapidly with excitement as intoxicating music filled his head and desire rose in his heart. He longed to move into the land beyond the painting so that he could catch hold of the images therein.
So lost in these visions did he become, that the night passed in a moment, and with the first light of dawn his fantasy was suddenly and rudely interrupted by the voice of the Emperor!
"Good morning, Fool" said the Emperor. "The passage to this room is used rarely but none can travel it without my knowing. Fine trinkets indeed you see before you. They are the tokens others have believed will bring happiness. How many people have given their lives for "fool's gold", when the real treasure, available to all, remained in darkness? Yet, surrounded as you are by all that is here, I have watched with interest as your attention was caught and held by the most valuable treasure in my collection."
The Emperor's tone softened, and a curious light entered his eyes. "That painting is a magic lantern, through which you glimpsed your heart's desire."
He moved forwards and, like the Fool, appeared to be lost in wonder as he contemplated the image.
"Observe the centaur flying above the heads of the Lovers - "Eros who through love breaks the limb's strength, who in all gods, in all human beings overpowers the intelligence, and their shrewd planning." His arrow has inflamed their passion, yet he is blindfold. So many people have followed their hearts to destruction!"
The Emperor turned towards the Fool, and in his face could be seen lines etched by experience and sorrow.
"The Lover's see their hearts' desire within each other," he said softly. "Each ardently craves what the other wishes to bestow. But look closely at the picture and you will see that between the Lover's feet are cracks in the ground. The path of their love will not run smooth. They have made their choice but have they chosen wisely? Once a choice is made, the third party is change.
Yet, the state of passion makes so many things seem possible. The Lovers live most vividly within their enchanted realm of imagination. For Eros is blind to mundane reality, yet conjures a beauty far more compelling in the fires of his imagination. I see in your eyes a lust for more than gold. I would hear more about the Vision that you saw!"