Story by Cliff Johnson from The Fool’s Errand

Tarot cards by Brad Parker from The Fool and his Money

One sunny day, a lighthearted Fool strolled along a hilly path, whistling a merry tune. A long wooden pole was slung over his shoulder and attached to it was a cloth bundle which carried his life’s possessions.

“What a marvelous afternoon!” he exclaimed to no one in particular, pausing to appreciate the lovely countryside.

Soon the trees parted and the path led to a small clearing, ending abruptly at the edge of a treacherous cliff. But the Fool was undaunted and kept at his swift pace, steadily approaching the sheer drop.

“Your folly is most curious,” a voice boomed. “Have you no fear of death?”

Just as one leg dangled over the side of the cliff, the Fool hesitated.

“Who dares to interrupt my errand?” he demanded impatiently.

“I dare,” the bright yellow sun replied.

“Well then,” the Fool considered, “I seek the fourteen treasures of the Land and I am told that a man who strays from his path is lost.”

“That may well be true,” spoke the sun, “but I fear that you are already lost. Take this map as my gift. It will aid you in your quest.”

And in a flash of light, an aged parchment appeared at his feet.

“At last! A path to follow!” cried the Fool, happily taking the map.

“Perhaps,” the sun murmured, “yet things are never as simple as they may seem.”

But the Fool had already run back down the hill and did not hear the sun’s parting words.

He rested by the side of a dirt road and carefully unrolled the parchment. A sudden breeze whispered through the rushes. A gale whistled through the trees.

EG, LI, OC.. eg, li, oc..” a voice sang.

The Fool looked up and saw a young man carrying ten oaken staffs.

“That is a strange song that you sing,” he began. “I have never heard such words before.”

“It is a spell to ward off strangers!” the boy shouted rudely. “These are evil times and my mission cannot be delayed!”

“Oh, then I beg your pardon,” the Fool apologized. “I did not know.”

Strolling over to the shade of a tall stone tower, the Fool sat down and began to study his map once again.

“You there! Help me! I am in great need!”

With a start, the Fool jumped to his feet and looked around, but could not see anyone talking to him. Scratching his head, he happened to look upward and on the very top of the stone tower saw a man surrounded by seven magical staffs that floated on the air.

“Oh, very impressive!” the Fool complimented. “You must be a very powerful magician indeed!”

But the man was frantic.

“Are your eyes blind? I am under siege and have dropped my BOW!”

Eager to help, the Fool searched the base of the tower and quickly located the fallen weapon. With a deft toss, he threw it back to the warrior.

“My thanks!” he replied. “Someday my bow may be of use to you too.

Wandering away, the Fool returned to the task of inspecting the sun’s parchment, but sadly, he could not make any sense out of it. Further along, he met a Page who stood in the middle of the road, admiring his polished wooden walking stick.

“That is indeed a fine staff,” the Fool complimented, “yet I am lost and I desire your assistance. Do you know how to read a map?”

“I fear not,” answered the Page, not taking his eyes off the walking stick. “I am lost also and I seek the pyramids.”

“The pyramids? Why they are to the South,” the Fool pointed out. “See? The middle one is inscribed with the letter E.”

“Well so it is!” the Page realized, dashing off in that direction.

Naturally this did not help the Fool at all.

Keeping to the path, he approached a narrow stream that ran across the road and just as he was about to jump over it, eight magical wands appeared on the horizon and soared over his head.

NZSLTZMB HGZUU..” creaked the enchanted wood.

“Ah, a mystical chant!” the Fool remarked. “I wonder what it could mean?”

But he did not wonder for very long and hopped across the stream.

Just then, a great white horse galloped up to him, carrying a fully armored Knight.

“Quickly! Have you seen a Page come this way?”

“Yes, he went to the South to seek the pyramids,” the Fool replied.

“The South?” the Knight puzzled, “but the pyramids are to the East of us. See? The middle one is inscribed with the letter X.”

The Fool saw that this was so.

“What was then the South is now the East. I met him further back.”

“That is good! The Queen shall reward you!” shouted the Knight as he galloped away.

Further along, the Fool came to a wooden wheel mounted atop an old tree stump.

“A wheel of fortune!” he exclaimed. “Perhaps it will tell me of the fourteen treasures.”

He gave the wheel a spin and, after many long turns, it came to rest on a set of jumbled letters. But unfortunately, the Fool knew of such magic and was unable to decipher its meaning.

He traveled further up the road and saw three pyramids to the West, the center one inscribed with the letter H. He stared at his parchment in dismay. It showed the picture of a stone bridge crossing a pond.

“I may be a Fool,” the Fool mumbled, “but either this map is in error or the Land is!”

He decided to pack the confusing parchment in his knapsack.

Continuing along the road, he passed under a stone archway and encountered six young warriors waving their staffs triumphantly.

“Is there a cause for celebration?” asked the Fool.

“Yes indeed!” the leader proclaimed. “This day the four Kings have declared a truce to the horrible war that has ravaged our Land. And it is said that between the four, one of the Land’s lost treasures will be restored! Spread the news and be joyful!”

The Fool found it hard to be joyful though, for he had yet to uncover even one of the fourteen treasures.

Beyond the pyramids stood a quaint peasant village and here the Fool met a jubilant party of townsfolk, gathered in the street. In the middle of the crowd was a beautiful wedding canopy attached to four oaken staffs and underneath, a man was searching through the presents frantically.

RED URN! My red urn! Have you seen it?” he asked the perplexed Fool.

“A red urn?” he puzzled. “Is not red a gaudy color for an urn and is not an urn for a funeral?”

“It is our custom at such an affair,” the man sniffed. “There’s to be a wedding between our Kingdoms and everything must be just so. Now, have you seen it?”

The Fool assured the man that he had not and went on his way.

Nearby, a group of five boys were fighting with slender hickory staffs.

BAD YAM! BAD YAM!” they shrieked back and forth.

“Why are you fighting over something of so little value?” the Fool wondered.

“He sold us a crate of bad yams!” one cried out. “And we want our money back!”

“But you left them in the sun!” another yelled back. “I will not reimburse you for your stupidity!”

Not wishing to get involved, the Fool made his way past the crowd.

By a stone wall was a burly fellow who guarded nine tall fighting staffs.

“Could you tell me if this is the correct way to the Queen’s palace?” inquired the Fool.

NEW GNU” was his pert reply.

“I beg your pardon?” the Fool had to ask.

“New gnu,” he repeated. “An old gnu is not new and only a new gnu is true.”

The Fool nodded agreeably and quickly moved on.

Atop a watchtower, a lone sentry gazed longingly at the creeping vines that ran up the walls of a nearby granite castle.

“Excuse me!” the Fool shouted as politely as he could, “Is that the castle of the Queen?”

“The Queen?” he groaned. “RAT IVY...”

“Rat ivy?” the Fool echoed.

“Yes indeed,” he sighed, leaning against his two wooden staffs. “If rats were ivy, then they wouldn’t steal into the royal kitchen. And if they didn’t steal into the royal kitchen, then they wouldn’t eat the royal cheese. And if they didn’t eat the royal cheese, then I wouldn’t have to set the royal rat traps day in and day out. But alas, only little lambs eat ivy.”

“I see,” the Fool mumbled, walking over to the palace. “What a very strange Kingdom this is!”

On the way, he picked a bright yellow sunflower and presented it to the Queen.

“It is beautiful,” she whispered, stroking its spreading petals, “yet it will not bring back our most treasured possession. We did not want war, but when the Swords stole our Royal Wand, we had no choice but to retaliate.”

“But I thought that the war was over,” the Fool pondered. “Surely your Royal Wand will be returned to you in due course.”

“I would like to believe your kind words,” she murmured softly, “but I fear for the worst. We are a pleasant countryfolk, not warriors.

“And even as we speak, the other Kingdoms betray our trust. If only my son, the Page, would come home, my heart would be lightened.”

The Fool considered this for a moment.

“Well,” he began, “I met a Page in my travels and he was seeking the pyramids. I told this to the Knight who was searching for him.”

“Praise be!” the Queen cried out. “You have brought me much happiness! Please, take this magic word CLAC and may it bring you equal happiness.”

Eagerly, the Fool wrote down the magic word and skipped out of the castle merrily.

The narrow path lead him to a grassy plain and there he saw an immense wooden staff mounted upon a stone pedestal, engraved with the letter S.

“Ah ha!” the Fool shouted. “The Royal Wand has been returned!”

“You are mistaken, little one,” the statue replied solemnly. “Here I have stood for many generations. I am the symbol of his Lordship, the King.”

“Oh my,” the Fool stammered, following the path once again. “This must mean that the Royal Wand is even larger yet!”

He could not imagine such a thing.

Soon, a great ocean appeared over the horizon and on its shores, the Fool met a tall man with three wooden staffs.

“It is an omen of ill,” the man uttered gravely.

“Oh?” the Fool commented, walking closer.

“Three ships approach from the South,” he continued. “I fear that it is a surprise attack by the Swords. Though I possess the sacred RW, I am helpless to prevent them from landing.”

And with that, he jumped on his horse and galloped off. “I am the first of six,” he shouted back “Next you must seek he who chases a fish.”

The Fool scratched his chin thoughtfully.

“Well, that should be an easy task!” he realized, skipping a stone across the water, “if all I have to do is locate a fisherman!”

Walking further along the beach the Fool came to a man who juggled two large silver coins.

“I cannot stop!” he shouted, “You must warn the Queen!”

“Which Queen and of what?”

“Of Pentacles and of the two ships that approach! The Cups are attempting to land upon our shores, but so far I have been able to prevent this with my magical spell. I do not know how much longer I can last!”

The Fool scurried northward and came to a small farmhouse. In a nearby field, the farmer was at his wit’s end.

“We have been cursed!” he moaned. “Of what good is wealth without food to eat!”

It was then the Fool noticed that, instead of fruit and vegetables, seven shiny coins had grown from each of the hardy stalks.

“Our enemies intend to starve us to death with their magic,” the farmer lamented. “If only I had some fertile seeds to plant!

The Fool expressed his sympathy, but could offer little else to help the man’s plight.

Taking a short cut across the field, he encountered a regal Knight in a dazzling suit of gold armor, riding atop a stately mount.

“I am here at the Queen’s request!” he proclaimed. “And I have the seeds that you desire, but they have gotten jumbled in my pouch. Will this matter?”

The Fool peered into the Knight’s satin pouch and saw TEHWA, ERCI, and NCRO.

“Well I don’t know about that,” the Fool reflected, “but I do know that the farmer you seek is not me. He awaits you at the other end of this field.”

“You are indeed a man of honor!” declared the Knight. “In this time of famine, there are those that would deceive me and steal this most rare commodity for themselves!”

Soon, the Fool came to a small craftshop and inside, he found a young man working on eight copper dinner plates, each inscribed with the design of a five-pointed star.

AIH,” the Fool read aloud from one of the plates. “What does that mean?”

The craftsman spoke without looking up.

“Althea Isabel Heatherstone!” he snapped. “And she wants these plates monogrammed by sundown. Now trouble me no further! I have much to accomplish!”

Without another word, the Fool obliged and left the shop, following a gray cobblestone road. He approached a dark cathedral with three high steeples and paused for a moment to inspect each of its five stained glass windows, each in the shape of a circle and each containing a five point star.

ROI,” read the Fool, noticing some letters in the center window. “Now why would someone want to monogram a church?”

Further down the road was a quaint chapel and gathered in front were three craftsmen.

“Yes, that’s it. MYR. Right above the three Pentacles,” the tallest man instructed.

The Fool watched as one man climbed a ladder and began to carve the letters into the steeple.

“No, no, to the left more!” the second man cried.

“No, no, to the right more!” the third man protested.

“What’s done is done,” the first man pointed out. “I cannot move an inscription like a piece of furniture.”

“How true,” the Fool thought as he turned to walk away.

By the side of the road was an elderly gentleman with six shiny gold coins. Judging by his fine silk apparel, he was a man of great means, yet his behavior was most odd.

“Fie,” said the man, giving one of his coins to an orphan.

“Fie,” he repeated, giving another coin to an old woman.

When the gentleman approached the Fool, however, he was not so generous. “FIE,” he snorted, not giving any of his remaining coins.

“Indeed!” the Fool huffed. “Well I do not want one of your coins anyway! Soon, I will have the fourteen treasures of the Land!”

Indignant, the Fool marched down the road, wondering all the while why he had been unable to locate even one of the fourteen treasures. Before long, he came to a merchant seated in front of his shop. The man had one silver coin balanced on his head, another in his arms and two more under his feet.

“Alas,” the man sighed. “I have only half a puzzle.”

“And how is four a half?” the Fool inquired.

“When the puzzle is eight, naturally,” he replied sourly, “and even in this I have failed. I need the words of the four who precede me.”

“But why can you not obtain such a simple goal?” the Fool asked.

“Because,” the man grimaced, “if I were to move from this spot, then the four that precede me would no longer precede me.”

“Ah, I see your point,” the Fool was quick to realize.

He followed the cobblestone road and discovered that it ended at the entrance to a maze of tall hedges.

“I would not go in there if I were you,” warned a woman tending to a garden of nine star-shaped flowers. “No one has ever found their way out.”

“Well,” the Fool pondered, “since you are not me, then it must mean that I should go in there!”

He disappeared into the maze and very quickly found his way to the exit.

“I would not go in there if I were you,” warned an old man tending to a garden of ten star-shaped flowers. “No one has ever found their way out.”

“But I have just done so from the other side!” the Fool boasted.

“That cannot be!” the old man snorted, “for if you had, one of the Land’s lost treasures would be found!

Not wishing to argue the point, the Fool continued onward.

Strolling inside the gates of a magnificent palace, the Fool located the Queen in a lush garden of ivy.

“Are you the messenger from the Cups?” she demanded sternly. “Tell them that we must have our most cherished possession back at once! We will accept no bargains!”

“I’m afraid that I am not the messenger you expect,” the Fool answered politely, “but I was told to warn you that two ships approach from the South.”

“So this is how they honor the truce!” shouted the Queen. “So be it. We will show them how we deal with such treachery! If they think that we have grown fat and idle over the many years, they are sadly mistaken. Our vast wealth has only made us stronger and our revenge will be swift against those who dare to steal from our bounty. I thank you for your most timely information. Take this magic word TRSC as your reward. Use it wisely.”

The Fool thanked the Queen and bowed graciously.

Leaving the palace, he came to an elegant gold statue, glistening by the side of the path. It was a monument of an immense coin inscribed with a five-point star and in its center was the letter B.

“Perhaps the Cups have decided to return their treasure after all,” the Fool wondered aloud.

“No,” the statue replied in a low voice. “I am not the One Treasure of which you speak. I am the symbol of his Lordship, the King.”

“Oh dear,” the Fool thought to himself as he continued on his way. “What could be of greater value than a giant gold coin?”

Further along the path, he came to a haughty Page, intently studying a map etched onto a shiny silver plate.

“Are you seeking the fourteen treasures also?” worried the Fool.

“Hmpfff,” the Page sneered. “I have hundreds of treasures. Why should I seek fourteen more? Magic is what I desire. And once I have consulted with the four sages that await me, I shall be halfway there.”

But the Page had not yet finished reading his map and so the Fool went on ahead of him.

Very soon, he came to an aged stone monument set upon a carved pedestal. It was a model of the World.

“At last!” the Fool exclaimed, running over to the globe and searching it carefully. “There must be a clue to the fourteen treasures here somewhere!”

YES?,” the World suddenly replied.

“Praise be!” he cried, leaping for joy. “Please, I am in haste. What can you tell me?”

“Yes,” the World repeated.

The Fool scratched his head in bewilderment.

“You say yes, yet nothing more?”

“Yes” was its final word on the matter.

Disheartened, the Fool wandered toward a small cave in the side of a sloping hill. As he peered into the darkness, a fierce lion leapt out of the shadows and pinned him to the ground.

“Stop, my pet!” a voice commanded and out stepped a beautiful woman in a white silk robe. “I am Strength. Why have you come here?”

As she petted her lion, the Fool eagerly stated the purpose of his his errand. “Ah, but such a task would take an ERA,” the woman advised.

“Then you cannot help me?” the Fool replied sadly.

“But I have,” insisted Strength. “It is you who do not listen very well.”

The Fool continued on his way and came to a stone bridge that crossed a crystal clear pond. Floating over the water was an angel who held a jeweled chalice.

“I am Temperance. Why have you come to this place?”

Again, the Fool stated the purpose of his errand.

“All things in moderation,” the angel commented. “You are too eager and have missed much already. You must take a SIP of my mystical waters.”

“Thank you, but I am not thirsty,” he answered courteously. “Can you tell me anything else?”

“A sip is all you need,” spoke Temperance somberly.

The Fool found it rather odd that the three who had offered their advice so freely had nothing of importance to tell him.

Shrugging his shoulders, he crossed the bridge and discovered a man hanging upside down from a tree by one foot.

“Does that not hurt?” the Fool wondered.

“I am a hanged man,” said the hanging man.

“That is most obvious,” the Fool retorted.

“What is obvious to some is not obvious to all,” said the upside down man. “Consider that the TOP is at the bottom of the upper half.”

But the Fool was weary of such confusing talk and did not wish to consider this at all.

He came to the shores of another great ocean and met a Page who held an engraved copper cup. Just as the Fool was about to say “hello,” a tiny green fish jumped out of the cup and fell to the ground, wiggling its way back to the sea. “Help me!” the Page screamed. “My KD is getting away.”

The Fool removed his pointed hat and, after a few tries, captured the slippery fish within it.

“Here’s your fish,” he offered, “but I did not see your KD.”

“Ah, but they are one and the same!” the Page told him happily. “Now I owe you a favor. Seek she who holds two swords.

Shaking the water out of his hat, the Fool departed.

“Well that will not be an easy task,” he reflected. “Few people in these parts carry even a single sword!”

Further along the shore, a Knight atop his gray horse stared off into the still waters.

“The ocean is calm, yet no ship approaches,” he uttered gravely.

“But that is good, is it not?” asked the Fool, walking closer.

“No,” the warrior replied. “The Wands had promised to return our most treasured possession and have not done so. The Queen must be told. I will wait here until sunset, no longer.”

The Fool promised to deliver the message.

Following a gray gravel road, the Fool came to a quaint stone cottage where two children were arranging flowers into six straw vases.

“Your flowers are very lovely,” the Fool told them.

“Thank you,” said the little boy, “but I’m afraid they are not for sale.”

“A wise decision,” he agreed. “It would be very difficult to place a price on such beauty.”

“Yet we might part with one basket,” the little girl whispered, “if you were to tell us the word of a star.”

“And the word of the pyramids!” the boy quickly added.

But the Fool did not know these words and so he bid the children farewell.

At the next house, a young couple stood on the porch, drinking a toast from two crystal wine glasses.

“Here’s to my dearest love,” the man toasted.

“And here’s to peace between our Kingdoms,” the woman replied.

“My congratulations and best wishes respectively,” said the Fool. “You have been recently married then?”

“Yes,” the young man affirmed. “We are the last of those who CARE.”

“You see,” the young woman pointed out. “He is a Wand and I am a Cup. Our union will bring peace to the Land.”

“Will this restore your Kingdoms’ lost treasures?” the Fool asked.

That is the work of the Devil and Despair,” she cursed. “It is sad that their words must be spoken with ours. But as you can see, our friends do not share our concern.”

On the front lawn, three women were engaged in a merry dance, each drinking from a hefty goblet of wine. “LEAP for JOY, my friends!” yelled the first.

“Yes, leap and forget our troubles!” cried the second.

“Will you not join us in our dance?” the third asked the Fool.

“Well, I’d really like to,” he fibbed, “but I am on a most urgent errand for the Queen!”

And with that, the Fool scurried away, his face blushing brightly.

A few houses down, he met a family, celebrating in the street.

“The rainbow of hope smiles upon us!” the father shouted gleefully. “Our WISH has been granted!”

Looking up, the Fool saw a beautiful rainbow stretching across the sky and amid the many colors, he could see the faint outlines of ten heavenly chalices.

“For what did you wish?” the Fool wondered. “The food of fertile seeds!” declared the mother. “At long last, the famine is at an end!”

In the center of town, a large crowd had gathered for the local auction and near the front, a man with a feathered cap carefully arranged a collection of antique cups on a wooden table.

“Are you a merchant?” the Fool inquired.

“Certainly not!” the man huffed distastefully. “These NINE are mine and I am the last. What more could one hope for?”

“The fourteen treasures of the Land,” thought the Fool, but kept silent on the matter.

He crossed a wooden bridge spanning a dark moat and quietly entered a castle of solemn beauty. There, he found the Queen sitting beside the shimmering waters of a majestic fountain.

“Do you bring word of our treasure?” she asked eagerly.

“Alas, I do,” he sighed. “Your Knight says that no ship has landed upon your shore.”

“So, they break their agreement,” the Queen hissed through clenched teeth. “What can be expected from such faithless ones! I fear that a holy war is the only way to scourge this evil from the Land. And those who do not believe in the words of truth shall live to rue the consequences! Please, I must have some time alone. My heart is not yet hardened to the grim task that lies ahead. Take the magic word YNAL for your troubles and go in peace.”

The Fool departed from the royal palace and came to another fountain at the edge of the Kingdom. It was an immense ivory chalice, engraved with the letter T, and from it issued four glittering streams of water.

“I will not be fooled a third time!” declared the Fool. “This is the symbol of his Lordship, the King, and nothing more.”

Walking across a grassy knoll, he discovered a young man sitting under a spreading oak tree. Before him were three fine goblets and emerging from a small cloud, a pale hand offered him a fourth.

“Why do you refuse such gifts?” the Fool had to ask.

“Why should I be satisfied with less than I am seeking,” the boy grumbled.

“But you do not look like one who is seeking anything!”

“No, you are wrong! I seek the sacred 6 and 13, but this cloud offers me trifles instead. So here I will sit until it gives me what I desire.”

Continuing on his way, the Fool came to a barren field, pitted with jagged rocks.

“I can see them!” a man shouted, spinning about in a daze. “They are just out of my reach!”

“I do not see anything,” the Fool remarked.

“You must!” the man pleaded. “I see seven cups of treasure in a vile cloud. And wait, I can see something else! The numbers 15 and 2 and 20!”

“There are clouds in the sky,” the Fool observed, “but no numbers or cups.”

“They’re gone!” he cried. “It’s your fault. You have no faith! You are blind like all the rest!”

And then the man ran off, laughing maniacally.

Beyond the field stood a woman in a long cloak. Behind her were two chalices filled with a bubbling liquid and before her were three others, their contents spilled on the ground.

“You have knocked over three of your cups,” the Fool felt obliged to mention.

“Quiet!” the woman snapped. “You will disturb the enchantment!”

The Fool watched as the bubbling liquid seeped into the cold earth. To his dismay, a cloud of bluish-green smoke curled upward and formed the numbers 14 and 8 and 15. Not wishing to see what might happen next, the Fool departed in a hurry.

Heading up a steep mountain path, he discovered eight silver goblets, abandoned on a rock ledge. Looking about, he spotted a man in a scarlet robe scaling a distant peak.

“You have forgotten your cups!” the Fool cried out.

“No, I choose to leave them behind!” he shouted back. “I have grown weary of this Kingdom. Blind faith is no replacement for true knowledge. I have the mystical 16 and 16. That is all I desire.”

Leaving the eight cups where they were, the Fool hiked onward.

Keeping to the path, the Fool located a hidden fortress, perched precariously atop a lonely crag. It was here that he encountered the mighty Hierophant.

“I know of your quest,” spoke the priest suspiciously. “Four others have come before you.

“But I seek no harm to anyone,” the Fool assured him.

“Ah, but harm has already been done. The four Kingdoms are on the verge of another war. The countryside is ravaged by famine. And even as I speak, the specter of Death roams the Land!”

He could not imagine how he had been the cause of such things.

“Nonetheless,” the priest continued, “I am compelled to help you in this matter, little good it may do you. Take this and be gone!”

And with a flash of lightning, the Fool appeared back on the mountain trail. Etched into the rock at his feet were the numbers 15 and 24 and 2.

Yet the shadow of night had cloaked the Land, and the Fool could not tell from which direction he had come or to which direction he should go.

“If only this map made any sense,” he moaned, removing the wrinkled parchment from his knapsack and staring at it.

“The Sun is a trickster!” echoed a voice from above.

“But it was he who gave me this map!” replied the Fool, looking up. “It was to be my guide to the fourteen treasures of the Land!”

“And so it will be, but not in the way that you think,” the Moon replied. “The map shows you only of the places you have visited and never of the places you have not.”

“But how will that help me find my way out of these mountains?” the Fool pleaded.

“Just follow the path to the West,” he replied.

Squinting into the darkness, the Fool did just that and by daybreak, he had come to the home of the Emperor and the Empress.

“Fourteen treasures?” the Emperor boomed in a raspy voice. “I care not for the other thirteen, but someone has stolen our One Treasure and they left me with this ridiculous WIF DOVE! An absurd trade at best!”

The Fool looked at the pathetic creature and had to agree. It was a small bird with three wings, two heads, and one leg.

“Perhaps it is magical,” The Fool remarked.

“Magical? Ha! It is totally unnecessary! And look what has happened to my beloved wife!”

The Empress was seated on a long satin couch, her tired eyes barely open. On the wall, she cast two distinct shadows, her normal one and another jagged silhouette that stood next to her like a second person. In its hand was a crystal sphere with five mouths that wailed incessantly.

“Oh,” the Fool mumbled, not really knowing what to say.

“Yes,” the Empress sighed. “My husband may be bewitched by that wretched little bird, but I am cursed with this VILE SHADOW and its unrelenting FIVE CIRCLE. I have been unable to sleep ever since it arrived.”

The Fool expressed his most solemn sympathies and departed from the unhappy couple.

Traveling further, he spotted a lone star in midst of the morning sky.

“How curious,” he commented. “A Pentacle in this faraway place.”

“You are in need of wisdom, my friend,” the heavenly body replied. “I am the Star, nothing more. But to ERR is human, so call me what you will.”

“Then I beg your pardon,” the Fool said with a low bow. “I stand corrected.”

The road narrowed into a winding path that climbed up the side of a desolate plateau. As the Fool reached its top, an explosion of crimson fire blocked his way and out of the flames walked a stern woman, unscathed by the heat.

“You have dared to trespass!” she screamed wickedly. “It is common knowledge that to face the High Priestess is death, yet you have come here alone. Why?”

“I am just following the path that the Sun advised,” he blurted out nervously. “Please tell the High Priestess that I meant no harm!”

“Tell her yourself,” she grinned, “for I am she!”

The Fool trembled in his pointed shoes.

“Yes, and I know of the Sun’s tricks,” she cackled. “He has sent you on a mission to uncover the fourteen lost treasures of the Land. Well, you are doomed to failure, for no one can undo the treachery I have inflicted upon the Land!”

“You?” he murmured. “You have taken the fourteen treasures?”

“I have no use for such foolish trinkets,” she boasted. “I have merely disguised them from the sight of their owners. I admit it was a most amusing game, however, the manner of your death may prove to be more amusing yet!”

The High Priestess laughed sinisterly.

“But I will spare your worthless life if you fulfill these three tasks. First, bring me the sacred inscription from the evil dark tower. And second, deliver the letters from the banner of Death!

“And the third?” the Fool asked meekly.

The sky erupted with lightning.

“Tell the Magician that his days are few... for I have conquered the Book of Thoth and now its power is mine!”

The Fool ran for his life.

Completely out of breath, he collapsed near the banks of a foggy moor. Ahead lay a ened dirt road, discolored, he realized, by the blood of the dead.

“Enter this Kingdom at your own peril,” a voice rumbled. “This is a time of war and no one is safe.”

The Fool whirled around and saw a quivering heart pierced by three sharp swords.

“But I must go this way,” he pleaded. “I cannot go back to the High Priestess!”

“Then you would be wise to procure a charm of protection,” the ominous sentry warned. “Take the blood of a man killed by ten and smear it upon the weapon of an outnumbered warrior. Yet even this will be of little security against what lies ahead.”

Having no such things, however, the Fool had no choice but to hurry on his way and hope for the best.

In the distance the sound of thundering hooves grew louder and out of the fog galloped a Knight wielding a fierce blade.

“What business have you here?” he demanded. “You are either very brave or very foolish!”

“The latter, if you please,” the Fool answered meekly.

“Our men are being attacked by eight magical wands which fly through the air,” the Knight told him. “The truce has been broken and the Queen must be told, but I am on a mission that cannot be delayed. Will you deliver this message for me? Or would you rather feel the edge of my sword?”

“The former, if you please!” the Fool quickly replied.

Satisfied, he sheathed his weapon and galloped into the fog.

The Fool scurried down the road and discovered the ruins of a once great village. On a stained marble bench sat a blindfolded woman with two rusty swords held in her crossed arms.

EZC,” she murmured over and over again.

“Pardon me,” the Fool began, “but is this the road to the Queen’s castle?”

Seek the family who departs by boat,” the woman whispered.

“Oh, will they know the way?” he inquired further.

“EZC” the woman repeated over and over again.

Venturing further down the road, the Fool entered a desecrated temple and within, a pale man lay asleep on the stone slab of an ancient crypt. By his side was a long jeweled sword and on the floor were three others.

“Who are you?” the man shouted, reaching for his weapon.

“Just a fool in a place where he does not belong!” he quickly explained.

Slowly, the man lowered his sword and lay back down. “I have had this one dream night after night,” he sighed. “A giant wheel stood near the pyramids and I saw three mystical words, one atop the other. A voice told me that these words were of great importance. But alas, every time I awaken, I cannot remember what they were.”

Then the man drifted back into slumber.

Very quietly, the Fool tiptoed back outside and inspected the ruins of a red brick cottage that stood nearby. In a room towards the rear of the house, he discovered a woman sleeping on a long bed, many times her size. On the wall were nine precariously mounted swords.

“Oh, it was terrible!” she cried out, awakening from a nightmare. “I saw a man carrying ten wooden staffs. He sang this haunting song again and again. I was lost and he refused to give me any directions. I shall never forget his awful words.”

“This is very strange,” the Fool puzzled. “You are the second person to have a dream that is familiar to me. It is a most curious coincidence.”

“Perhaps,” she reflected, “yet dreams can have great meaning if one knows how to interpret them. Some say that they can foretell the future.”

“The future?” the Fool mumbled as he left the cottage. “Unless I am greatly mistaken, I believe they remind me more of the past!”

At the end of the dirt road, he approached a bleak three-towered citadel, ravaged by the strife of recent battle. Gathering his courage, the Fool took a deep breath and walked inside. The Queen was startled by his sudden appearance and drew her great sword.

“Are you friend or foe?” she demanded.

“Neither, I believe,” replied the Fool bravely. “I bring a message from your Knight. He tells of an attack by eight magical wands.”

“That cannot be!” the Queen shrieked. “We have never troubled the Kingdom of the Wands! Our grudge is against the accursed Pentacles who have dared to steal our most treasured possession. It is they who have broken the truce, not us. We only fight to reclaim what is rightfully ours. But if the Pentacles have enlisted the aid of another Kingdom, then we must strike quickly and compel their surrender at the points of our blades. You have earned the magic word EKE for your most timely counsel. Guard it well.”

Continuing across the desolate countryside, the Fool came to an immense monument — a fierce battle sword thrust into the dry earth, its dented blade encrusted with reddish-brown rust. On its tarnished handle could be seen the letter E.

“If this be the symbol of his Lordship, the King,” he stammered, “then I for one, am in no great haste to make his acquaintance!”

Running along the path, the Fool crossed a rocky ledge and spotted a small boat departing from its gloomy shore. A woman and her child were huddled together at one end of the tiny craft and at the other end, a tall man steered the boat and guarded six heavy swords.

“Do not try to stop us!” the father shouted. “We will not take part in this horrible war. Too much blood has been spilt already. It is our intention to follow the path of the sacred YH and then seek the broken wheel. You will have to fare for yourself.”

As the boat faded into the mist, the Fool pressed onward and discovered an old woman bound and blindfolded to one of eight long swords, stuck point first into the ground.

“Here, I will help you,” the Fool offered.

“Let me be!” she croaked, much to his surprise. “I am the shadow of Despair. It falls to me and me alone to bear the burden of the Land’s GRIEF. Now be gone or you too shall share my fate!”

The Fool did not have to be told twice.

In his haste, he stumbled into a briar patch and tripped over a limp body, sprawled in the dirt. In its chest were ten glowing swords and instead of blood, vile green PUS hissed out of the wounds.

Terrified, the Fool scrambled to his feet and ran until he was utterly out of breath.

Gasping for air, he looked up and seated on a crumbling marble throne was a somber woman with a crown of iron. In one hand she held a fiery sword and in the other a set of scales.

“I beg your forgiveness!” the Fool stuttered. “I did not mean to trespass. Please do not take any offense!”

“You have nothing to fear,” she answered solemnly. “I am Justice and my wrath is reserved for those who have wronged the Land.”

The Fool considered this a moment.

“Then have you judged the thief who stole the treasure from the Emperor and Empress?” he asked, remembering their sorry plight.

“They have lost nothing,” Justice told him. “To lift the curse, the Emperor must simply take what is his from what is hers. Until that time, however, their treasure will remain hidden from their eyes.”

Taking his leave, the Fool came to a narrow pass and was stopped by a stubborn Page, swinging a heavy sword.

“You cannot come this way!” he ordered. “The four Kings are in counsel!”

“Oh look!” cried the Fool. “Eight giant letters have just appeared across the face of Land!

“Where?” the Page demanded, looking all about. “I cannot see any such thing!”

But the Fool did not reply, for he had taken the opportunity to sneak past the Page and run up the road.

Scurrying along a narrow mountain path, the Fool was startled by the sudden approach of a swift Chariot.

“Look out!” yelled the driver, steering it sharply.

The Chariot spun about and flipped on its side. With a loud crunch, one of the wooden wheels broke into two pieces. The Fool offered to assist the man, but was shoved aside.

“Out of my way!” shouted the driver, leaping onto one of the horses. “I have uncovered the mystic HA and with it I must locate a thief who steals seven!

And with that, he thundered away in a cloud of dust.

As the sound of hooves faded into the distance, the Fool became aware of the low murmuring of many voices, coming from over a small hill. Departing from the road, he scaled the slope and stood on the top, overlooking a wide valley. Stretching out for as far as he could see were the mighty armies of the four Kingdoms and gathered about a huge bonfire were the four great Kings engaged in a vicious debate. The Fool crept closer to observe the proceedings.

The King of Swords, a most imposing figure, stood and flourished his weapon which was engraved with the letter N.

“I demand that the Pentacles return our One Treasure at once!” he threatened, “Or I shall order my men to attack!”

The King of Pentacles wore a fine silk robe and held a gold scepter, engraved with the letter Z.

“Have you no ears?” he cursed bitterly. “I have told you repeatedly that we do not have it nor have we ever desired it! But mark my words, the Kingdom of the Cups had better surrender our One Treasure or the consequences will be most severe!”

The King of Cups calmly took a sip from his jeweled chalice, engraved with the letter T.

“We would have no use for such a thing,” he sniffed. “We are a people of faith and have always abided by the law of the Land. Unlike the heathens who have stolen our One Treasure, the Kingdom of the Wands!”

The King of Wands tightened his grip on his stout fighting staff, engraved with the letter U.

“It’s a lie!” he shouted. “We are not common thieves! If you open your eyes, you will see that there is only one among us who is capable of such treachery! The very ones who have dared to rob us of our One Treasure! The murderous Swords!”

With a vile curse, the King of Swords leapt forward and waved his gleaming blade. Undaunted, the King of Wands held his ground, thrusting his staff forward. The King of Pentacles withdrew a hidden dagger and the King of Cups reached for a fierce battle axe. A sudden stillness came over the wide valley as the many armies awaited their Lordships’ commands.

“Oh no!” the Fool lamented. “It is just as the Hierophant had predicted. The four Kingdoms are on the verge of another war!”

Fearing for his life, he dashed down the slope and stumbled into a man sneaking off in the same direction. With a loud clatter, the seven swords in his arms fell to the ground.

“All is lost!” the Fool shouted. “Another war is at hand!”

“Quiet!” the man whispered. “They will hear you! Is it your desire to be hanged for thievery?”

The Fool shook his head nervously.

“Well then, be silent!” he continued, retrieving the stolen swords. “If a new battle is to begin, then my enemies will have to fight it with seven less weapons. The magic word RW has given me the power of stealth, but it is the last of its kind and has to be used wisely. Now I must be off.”

As the man darted into the shadows, the Fool kept to the path and went as far away as his legs would take him.

Pausing for a moment to rest, he noticed a nearby soldier gathering the five fallen swords from a host of fleeing warriors.

“How is it that one unarmed man can so easily defeat five?” the Fool asked.

“I take no credit for this,” the man replied somberly. “My comrades were stricken with a sudden madness and have abandoned their posts to search the Land for four mystic spells that will restore four of the Land’s lost treasures. I tried to reason with them, but alas, they could not be swayed.”

“This is indeed ill news,” the Fool realized. “I must make haste if I am to outdo the efforts of five!”

Very soon, the Fool found himself lost in a confusing tangle of crooked paths. After wandering aimlessly for hours and hours, he got so exasperated that he just sat down in the dirt and refused to move any further.

“The one who built this road is a greater Fool than I!” he huffed. “This is hardly the shortest distance between two points!”

“Really?” croaked a scruffy Hermit, popping out from behind a bush. “And what is the shortest distance between two points?”

“Why, a straight line of course,” he snapped, “which this path does not in the least bit resemble!”

“Ah, but a straight line can be the most difficult puzzle of them all!” the Hermit insisted. “Especially if you do not know where to begin. If nothing else, you must remember to locate a J and proceed from there.”

Eventually, the Fool grew tired of sitting and decided to walk a bit further, coming at last to the end of the tangle of paths. The next road was indeed as straight as an arrow and naturally he had no difficulty whatsoever in following it.

“That Hermit must have stayed out in the sun too long,” he laughed to himself. “This path is the easiest one yet!”

Venturing ahead, the Fool approached an angel who sat atop an enormous hourglass.

“One who blindly follows a path without question,” she spoke, “is as lost as the one who follows no path at all.”

“I beg to differ,” he replied politely. “But as you can see I am no longer lost.”

“Yes, but have you yet uncovered one of the Land’s lost treasures?”

The Fool shook his head sullenly.

“Then heed the advice of the Hermit and gaze into the sands of time!” she commanded.

Reluctantly, he looked into the hourglass and watched the twinkling grains of sand. The longer he stared, the brighter they seemed to become. Then his eyes began to itch. His knees weakened. His stomach went queasy.

Then a faint voice spoke...

“4 to the North... 7 to the West... 3 to the North... 8 to the West... 6 to the South... 5 to the East... 9 to the North...

He woke up alone on the edge of a barren field. The Fool leapt to his feet and could find no sign of the angel nor the hourglass. On the horizon stood a dark abandoned tower. As he walked nearer, he observed that the parapet was engraved with the letters QM.

Then, without warning, a twisted bolt of lightning burst from the clear sky and shattered the tower utterly.

“Hahahahahahahahahaha!” a sinister voice cackled.

The Fool whirled about and came face-to-face with the Devil himself. He had the wings of a bat, the horns of a ram, the legs of a goat, and the feet of a bird.

“It is good!” he gloated. “Tell me little one, which do you prefer? To be living or to be DEAD!”

“Living!” the Fool answered without hesitation.

“Then you had better choose another path to follow!” the Devil cackled, waving a sizzling pitchfork over his head and vanishing in a burst of brimstone fire.

As the smoke cleared, the Fool beheld a rocky plain, strewn with the sun-bleached bones of the dead. On a flat slab of rock, written in dried blood, were the words:

“To secure that which cannot be gotten, you must invoke the points of a compass and convince it to come to you.”

Then, as if from nowhere, a knight astride a pale white horse appeared in the distance. The Fool became too scared to move.

“It is true!” groaned a wary voice. “You do not have any fear of me! The Sun has won his wager.”

“Wager?” the Fool stuttered.

“Yes,” Death replied, “I had agreed to spare your life if you had the courage to face me unarmed and alone. It is a bargain that I heartily regret.”

The armored knight raised the visor on his helmet and a skull, writhing with worms, peered out to the northeast.

“Ah, but still,” he hissed, “the outbreak of war may yet offer me satisfaction.”

And with an awful shriek, the knight raised a banner bearing the letters ZA and galloped away.

Beyond himself with fright, the Fool dashed down the road and fell at the entrance of a dark cavern. Not knowing what to do, he scurried inside for safety and trembled in the shadows.

In the dimly lit chamber stood an old man in a tattered gray robe, chanting an incantation over four objects on a wooden table — a Sword, a Pentacle, a Wand, and a Cup.

“At last, you have come!” cried the Magician. “I had begun to fear that my spell was insufficient to lead you here. Now! Have you the Sun’s map?”

The Fool was not the least bit aware of having been led to this place, but kept silent. He removed the parchment from his knapsack and the Magician studied it carefully.

“It is no wonder that you have been unable to locate any of the fourteen treasures,” he realized. “This map has been corrupted by a powerful enchantment!”

“It has?” the Fool worried, backing away.

“It is not meant to harm, only to confuse,” the Magician assured him. “The High Priestess may have learned how to command the sacred Book of Thoth, but even she cannot force it to do anything inherently evil. Still, her mischief is not without consequence. The fourteen treasures must be recovered without delay.”

You must visit every corner of the Land and talk to its people. As you do, each missing piece of the Sun’s map will reappear, yet not always in its correct position. To fully restore the map, you must use the knowledge of your journey to rearrange the many pieces into the proper order.

The Fool had hoped to do far less work.

“But where will I find the fourteen treasures?” he asked.

“The Magician turned away solemnly. “Each of the four Kingdoms contains one of the lost treasures and all require the use of secret words. But in every case, the townsfolk have either told you of these words or told you where they can be found.

The Fool was quite bewildered.

“I’m afraid that I can offer you little else,” the Magician sighed. “Now it falls to you and you alone to undo the treachery of the High Priestess. And once you have returned the fourteen treasures to their rightful owners, peace will be restored to the Land.”

The Fool shuffled his foot along the dirt floor.

“But I had hoped,” he began meekly. “Well, actually I had hoped to claim the fourteen treasures for myself.”

“And what would you do with such things?” said the Magician with a smile. “The Land is in great need, my friend, and only you will have seen all of its secrets. And if you are able to accomplish this great task, I know that you will find what you are truly seeking in the end.”

The Fool could not imagine how he would accomplish this without any further help. Sadly, he rolled up the parchment and walked into the sunlight, feeling very sorry for himself. He looked back to the Magician’s cave for some encouragement and saw that it resembled the shape of a skull.

“It is lucky that I did not notice this before!” he blurted out. “Otherwise I might never have met the Magician at all!”

As he turned away, however, the Fool discovered that there was one last road ahead of him. So without another thought, he hurried along the path and very shortly came to its end. There he found a man and a woman seated on a marble bench, their hands embraced in love.

“Oh look, a wise man approaches!” they both exclaimed. “At last, there is hope for the Land!”

The Fool twirled around, but saw no one standing next to him.

“Do you doubt their words?” the bright yellow Sun asked.

Pacing back and forth, the Fool took a moment to reflect upon the events of his errand and then snapped his fingers with a smile.

“Why not at all!” he suddenly realized, “for I am the one who will save the Land!

The Fool’s Errand ends. And The Fool and his Money begins.