In a great field, the traveler heard these words: I whisper without a voice; I weep but shed no tears.My rings are not of silver or gold, Yet multiply with passing years.
What beast crawls on four legs in the morning, walks on two at noon and three at twilight? asked the strange creature composed of an anthropoid head, a leonine body and the wings of a chiropter. The atomic kind, like every other beast, said the philosopher as she sketched an illegible landscape of dots. The strange creature fell silent and looked sadly at the blurry horizon.
One cannot be many, the king insisted, his eyes brimming with tears of frustration. The old blind seer knelt into the wind and sand and drew a chariot wheel with twelve spokes.
The mysterious smoker was often sighted on bridges or at the back of candle-lit cafes, near lampposts and next to arched gateways. Nobody ever got a good look at his features, but they sensed his presence and absence in both a menacing and reassuring way. It was long thought that he was integral to the narrative, the way a loaded pistol in the first act of a play might be significant, but then nothing ever happened to link him to any critical event. Some claimed that he made smoke signals to warn angels. Others divined words, signs, portents and fates in his curling blue smoke, the way one reads tea leaves or coffee dregs or the sudden flight of birds. Nothing was certain. After a brief flicker the match blows out in the wind. And thus he vanished, like his mysterious smoke.
Like a prisoner or a princess, the book was to return with an escort of sargents and bailiffs. The book had traveled widely, had spoken to many, and had vivified cities, landscapes, and indelible faces. There were reports of wars, famines, intrigues, and plagues. Nevertheless, the caretakers of the book had always been cautious, and their care had not been in vain. Following their carriages were carriages filled with coffers of coin. The roadway itself sparkled with the nostalgia and expectation of centuries. The librarians who waited were surprised by the arrival. The carriages stopped. The book was unfettered from its guards and dropped into the dirt from the carriage door. The door closed. One by one, the carriages rolled off into a new and dark distance. One of the librarians reached down to help the book up, and realized she was a well preserved corpse, bloodless and pale, eviscerated and covered in markings, brands and criminal tattoos. Weeping, the old librarian kissed her cheeks and lifted her up into his arms, walking into the morning. The wind played with her long tresses.