Quintus looked at me thoughtfully and said,
Are you the one they call Jonah the Mad?
The one who commands the eating of locusts
To his poor, unfortunate acolytes?
Never mind your answer, I see the truth.
I thought my play already dealt you out,
But now I see I lacked all of the facts.

And he whispered a brief command to an aide,
Who nodded and then quickly left the room
Then he turned back to me and gave a grin.

And listen now to my counter-proposal:
I will accept the wager. If you should win,
You'll deliver your message and have your life.
If you lose, first I will emasculate you,
And after that I will eviscerate you.
Next I'll amputate your toes and fingers,
Then arms and legs, and finally your head,
Giving you at last a reason to rejoice
Prior loss of miscellaneous limbs,
Since it expedites things considerably.
But before I allow your torment to end,
You'll deliver your message, if you have one.
So then, sir, convince me that you're lucky.

Those weren't quite the terms I had in mind,
But I must admit you hold the upper hand
And thus must accept the wager as stated.
But let me make this point on good luck.
Suppose a city sits above a fault,
A place where hidden plates slowly collide.
Suppose a small tremour loosens a nail
That holds a beam that supports a tile roof.
A tile slips out, falls, and kills a man
Enroute to fix a photocopy machine.
Or so he would seem, by what parts he bore
And what repair orders his fingers clutched.
But found stuck among the wrenches and probes
In the toolbelt that girded overalls
Was a poison-treated utility knife
He meant to plunge into the city's king.

You saw these events, asked Marguerite,
In visions God's gadfly zap induced?

I've forgotten now how it came to mind.
What King Quintus wanted most to know
In whose employ the dead assasin was.
I want, he said, all the plot's details.

But this is just an hypothetic case,
The kind of thing that might once have occurred,
And if it had, would make the point I want.

So what's the point you attempt to make here?
A fictitious plot, prophet, will annoy
If it doesn't prove directly relevant.

It isn't now nearly as clear to me
As moments ago, when I started out.
What I think I meant, sire, is this:
The builder's poor skill in driving a nail
Brings an entire kingdom excellent luck,
And poor judgment in choosing a townsite
Brings a good king's subjects true justice.

A tough call like this is often made
By monarchs who've honed their leadership skills.
And riddles like this are easily solved
By kings schooled in all of human science.
And this is how we'd proceed in real life:
We'd execute the man who drove the nail
And send along thanks to earthquake gods,
But nothing too fawning, a polite note.
It's best not to appear overgrateful
Lest powers grow aware you're sitting ducks,
Ready for the plucking and ripe for the pot.
This wouldn't turn out well for a realm
Had its monarch less judgment, less skill,
Less foresight, less discretion and tact.

Previous Page
Next Page

Previous Caput
Next Caput

Liber Jonae Contents