In the intricate and ornate chronicles of long ago, a halberdier was dispatched to summon a man who had been hiding in the royal library, awaiting a revelation of his calling. Come, said the halberdier. Come and bear witness. And the man followed him into the streets of twilight. Behold, the lamps of the city! The man watched as the lamplighters extinguished one lamppost after another until not a single lamppost burned. And behold, the city was dark and how vast was the darkness. Come, said the halberdier. Come and bear witness! And they walked in the garden of walled orchards where the glorious pear trees stood, arrayed in golden fruit and golden leaves. Behold the glory of the pear trees! the halberdier cried. And one by one the trees shed their pears and their leaves until not a single leaf adorned the naked black branches clawing at the sky. Come and bear witness! the halberdier cried. The man followed him to the edge of the land, to the great pit beyond the cypresses, where the gravediggers bore coffins and shrouded corpses on stretchers and wheelbarrows, emptying their burdens into the quiet pit. One by one princes and peasants fell into that deathly quiet. The halberdier cried out: Behold, the apostates! And the quiet was intolerable. The man ran away. Vespers and matins, matins and vespers, passed and passed and all the sacred hours in between. The halberdier found the man by the shore, weeping under a willow tree, holding en empty, yellow tobacco box and staring into a small crackling fire of birch logs. It was beginning to snow. Come, my friend, said the halberdier. The man would not rise. I want to depart, he wept. To where? asked the halberdier. To be burned, said the man, in the flames of the lampposts and the golden pears, in the light of those beautiful faces that are no more. The man rose and left his fire and his burning tree, the snowfall and the coal-black sea. Alone, the halberdier sat down by the fire and stared into the mystery of its light.
The king sat on his throne in the holy city at the center of the world, his mind burdened with the deep wisdom of beasts, moon and stars, ancient scrolls and distant revelations. A migraine ate away at his head when they brought the two women before him. They had both given birth to babies, but one night, one infant had perished, and one of the women had switched the dead child with the living one belonging to the other mother. The counselors, magicians, conspirators and men of law looked hard at the king. One day, the king sighed, all of this will be the blink of an eye, a fistful of sand. All of tomorrow’s scholars are worse assassins, usurpers and conspirators than any of us hope to be, merciless in a way that only a distant future world, a world of death, can be. All of tomorrow’s scholars may remember me, but they will not remember this hour or day. It will become for them a symbol, a proverb, a parable, and nothing more. They will call it an invention of chroniclers, daydreamers and fanatic scribes. In their dimension, the child, the mothers, you and I—none of it exists. And if it does exist, it only exists as a cipher amongst millions of ciphers. It is mere algebra for the damned. What can only exist as algebra must be treated accordingly. One must satisfy both sides of the equation. Therefore, I command that you divide this nonexistent child with a sword.