Once upon a time, in the center of the Milky Way, there lived a tailor who was renowned for his skill. He was no ordinary tailor, but one who could stitch shadows onto shoe soles, who filled in the tears which show on many souls, and who generally had many a special glue at his disposal.
As he was so gifted, his wife, who was already well on in years at the time of our story, had borne him a charming little daughter and a boy who was soon of stately stature. The neighbors talked about the special gifts of the tailor, and some whispered that he could read thoughts as well, indeed, that - which they found even worse - his potency was of an extraordinary nature.
This talk reached the ears of Jakobus, who ruled in the center of the Milky Way - which is, however, too big for him to know everything - as well. His face falling into wrinkles, he pondered the fact that this tailor, who surely must have a very simple nature, since he did not use his special gifts, could only be of advantage to him.
Thus he had his myrmidons - for he knew his underlings - capture Asira, the daughter of the tailor, as she bathed in a silver pond and bring her, still dripping, for space travel is very fast, before his thrown; and sent the tailor, whom he secretly feared, a message saying that he should come with peaceful intent and without using light steeds, so that they could begin negotiations.
The good tailor, who was gluing together a fold in space as he received this news, was shocked at the message and at the yellow color of the paper and at the kind of molecules which danced about it, blue and white; and consulted his wife, but she sank into bed at the news and was very ill and breathed her last only three moons later.
Arai, the tailor, looked at himself in the mirror and measured his size and quarreled with life, but found that he was still young; and was considering whether scruples would pay, but found no solution; while the shadows moved and wept in his mirrored wardrobe, and one or the other great shadow fell to its knees and begged Arai to see to his daughter, for she was in great need; but those are others too, Arai answered, his heart nearly breaking.
In the meantime three weeks had passed, and the Emperor was still without word from the wavering tailor. He was so embittered by this and by the disregard of his order that he captured Enwen, Arai's son, as well, to show him the instruments; and promised to blind him if "the old man," as he expressed it, "didn't come to reason soon"; and, as Enwen well noticed, cast lustful glances at the girl, who was anointed daily and rubbed down and bathed in donkey's milk and with whom generally everything was done which could lead an impartial observer to the conclusion that she - no matter how the tailor would behave - was chosen for something special.
Then a dragon, Ormdorm, alighted on Alzey, the tailor's planet, a dragon whom Arai had once done a great favor by releasing him from the cold and the numbness of the constellations in which he had been caught; for, as we know, the constellations revolve over large spans of time, so that Ormdorm would surely have suffered a horrible death in the shifting of the celestial axis.
Ormdorm regarded Arai sadly, and then began to speak: "I know how you must feel at heart. An immense power has been given you, dear Arai, and you hesitate, you waver, because you are afraid to use this power. You also fear that it could fall into the hands of the terrible Emperor, and you see all the conflagrations in the sky of the universe which would follow if the great fire were played with recklessly.
"Now believe me in this," the dragon continued, "that a power which is always kept under lock and key is no power at all; rather, one must be ready to use it wisely and prudently; but it is so that one must above all take things into one's own hands. See our enemies," he spoke, "they act, and you, who are plagued by scruples, hesitate and waver, even when your daughter is in danger, and is not your wife nearly dead from sorrow already?"
"Although you are right," the tailor answered pensively, "I would sooner let my own child perish than use the yardstick which has been given me. They are like children who play with fire because they know nothing of its destructive power. But I know. Thus I will act. I ask only one thing of you, Ormdorm. Stand by me in all the storms which will come, for now that my wife is dying I am lost without a good friend."
"So be it," spoke the dragon Ormdorm and disappeared into the sky, where he shone bright and splendid and turned with the cross of the Milky Way.
Thus the tailor shook gold pieces, thalers and ducats from a fold in space and with them fitted out a spaceship more splendid than any which had yet sailed the interstice. On board he took magicians, itinerate scholars and merchants. Men who fought with giant snakes and women who were so splendid to the eye that all who did not admire them through spectral glasses went blind.
On board the ship there were also medicines, magical potions and staffs from which a glowing light rose. A thought-reading monster, which Arai had easily found on a water planet, where the beings could communicate only in this way, was among them. And that was not all that Arai, after good and careful consideration, stowed away on board the ship IRWEN; but no more either, for he was afraid of doing harm to space and its twists if anything should happen to the flight on the way. And indeed, the ship, which Arai had equipped with reverse keys of glass, had hardly set sail when the Emperor Jakobus sent bad winds, among them one, a wind squall which his advisors guided so expertly that it fell straight at the middle of the ship; for like the giant in the fable, who seems lost without the ground under his feet, thus Jakobus thought that Arai was at his mercy in the vastness and endlessness of the universe.
He transformed everything carried on board the IRWEN into a light powder which was filled into little bottles and was to be analyzed by his chemists. The essences lay spread out before him on a platter; and among them one in particular shone, and he thought that Arai must be contained in it. He dropped a drop of blood onto the glass platter, and, locked in a radiation closet, the material came to life.
"You see," said the Emperor in a grim voice, "You are in my hands. You are magnetically locked threefold, and you will only be able to use your mind when I allow you to. So be reasonable, Arai, and work for me and mine, and nothing will happen to you."
The figure which knelt before him raised its hands pleadingly; it said: "Exalted Emperor. Do not abuse the power which is given you. Have a heart for your subjects. Think of all the beings which have been created by God. Do not forget that we have only this one universe, and that we cannot create a second one, if you destroy it. What do you think," asked the figure, "I am worth in this form?"
"I know above all," answered the Emperor, "that your power is weak, since you fell into my hands so easily. But I also know that you have special knowledge which I would gladly make use of myself."
"I am not as small," replied Arai, "as I seem. External appearances, as always, can be deceptive. What I am really worth, you can only learn through thinking. Only in consciousness does the real universe emerge."
"You speak in riddles," said the Emperor. "But bah! whatever you may think, you can hardly dispute the fact that you are now in my hands."
Then the tailor puffed up his cheeks until they were as big as apples, soon as big as sacks; he swelled and swelled, and bumped against the magnetic closets, which he sundered in flames and showers of radiation. The ground on which he stood creaked beneath his mass, and he grew still larger. But when he was two heads larger than the Emperor, he stepped up to him and laid his hand heavily on the Emperor's shoulder.
"Well," he said, "what do you think now of my power and my greatness?"
But the Emperor had rung an underground buzzer, and a beamer came through the door, one of the light weapons which had recently been developed and which nothing in space had yet been able to withstand. Pale and with twisted features the Emperor gestured, and from its maw the gun described an arch with which it counted every single molecule in the tailor's body.
Then the molecules were removed, and of the tailor only a shadow remained, which wove and danced in the folds of the room; and which was like light, but also like silk, toward which the ruler was already stretching his greedy hands to take it as clothing, perhaps. He exulted and puffed out his cheeks, as he had seen the tailor do, and immediately became - one would like to believe it - several centimeters taller.
Several years had passed. The tailor's wife had died long since. The Emperor wore new clothes which he had had made from the tailor. Secretly, when he looked at himself in the mirror, the purple shone more beautifully than he had ever seen it. He had violated the daughter of the tailor, the virgin, and taken her into his harem; and watched her sometimes, in tranquil hours, even though he was simultaneously overcome by fear, pensively, for she shed a radiance (when she thought herself unobserved) which Jakobus could not understand.
The son of the tailor was welded into a wall, in which the Emperor thought him harmless; the stones which hid Enwen were finely shaped, and when, in the bright moonlight, when the bats circled his palace, the ruler could not sleep and looked at the stars and the dragon Ormdorm, he heard a ticking in the stones, and under his feet the faithful followers of the tailor sighed, those who could not part from him in memory, for whom he had done something which was beyond the Emperor's power of comprehension.
Then, twelve years later, a fleet came sailing over the horizon of the universe, large, long-keeled ships which signaled with light sails and from whose forecastle heavy light guns hung, and gave the signal that they had set forth to conquer the core realm of the Milky Way; also, they had received news that a mysterious man lived in the midst of the realm; whom they would like to lay hands on, and, in this case, would even spare the Emperor.
They were long-bearded, tempestuous fellows who brought wild women with them, such women as had never been seen before in this part of the Milky Way, and who sang riotous songs and slurped mead from great demijohns and from horns as big as if the half moon were contained in them. At first the ruler was frightened by these fellows, then he saw that they were still far away, and went on sucking calmly at his planets, but a few weeks later the ships had already grown large in the bright nights, and the planets burned all around, and the women cried, but it seemed to matter little to them under whom they languished; these men or the Emperor.
Then Jakobus remembered the powder which he kept in a golden casket in his sleeping chambers; and in a full-moon night, after he had coupled with Asira and drunk of her blood, he opened the Chinese casket and broke open a secret compartment and took out the vial with the powder, which, however, (as he had not expected) was quite fresh.
He had, as he now realized, grown tired, for he no longer knew what the different colors of the powder meant; neither did he succeed in deciphering the secret writing which he had kept so hidden that no one, not even his most faithful followers, all of whom he mistrusted anyway, was initiated in it. But, feeling the strength which Asira had given him, he dropped blood on the symbol. Before he knew it, a giant stood behind him and breathed on him with terrible breath.
The giant spoke: "Do you remember me, Jakobus?"
And the Emperor, alternately white and red, retreated to the mirror. Behind him stood none other than the tailor, whose face was utterly gray and only now began gradually to fill with color.
"What is with my daughter?" asked the tailor. "Was it she you just let out of your chamber? Answer me," the tailor commanded when Jakobus was silent.
"My memory has become so poor," said the Emperor, and rang, as he had done once before.
"And what lies buried under the elderberry bush?" asked the tailor, swelling a little bit larger.
"We all must die some day," whined the Emperor, "have some forbearance. It's hard to administer such a large empire, and the enemy is at the gates, as you can see."
"I can see that indeed," replied the tailor. "But do you not recognize yourself in those barbarians? And what is tapping," asked Arai, "there in the wall? Is it not so that those seem to be the sounds of my heart?"
"That is nothing," said the Emperor, "of significance."
"Oh," said the tailor, and drew a pair of scissors from his sleeve, scissors with which time wrinkles could be patched and space fractures repaired.
"Where did those scissors come from?" asked the Emperor.
"They were," Arai answered, "always contained within me. But you are blind to the beauty of the universe. I, who command time, only wanted to see how much infamy you would stoop to if permitted. Now I know, finally and for all time, what kind of a human being you are, or rather, what kind of an animal. Away with you and your memories and your dreams of massacres and violence! I want to see you no more: Off with you, and be glad if you land on native soil!"
But then through the door came the snake Narnig, whose venom kills at once, and bit the giant in the heel, at which he fell pale to the ground, there to breath his last. Hardly had Jakobus put the snake in a casket and sealed the lid, for he was afraid of it himself, when a messenger plunged through the door, foaming at the mouth and with eyes wide from fear.
The messenger fell to his knees, but the Emperor commanded him: "Speak! What brings you to me! Why are you in this state?"
But the messenger, without saying another word, toppled over, for there was a knife in his back, a knife such as the Emperor had never seen in this part of the Milky Way; and now an entire horde flung the door open, and dozens of wild fellows, drunk from wine and in blood frenzy, streamed inside.
One of them slew Jakobus, who had fled behind a curtain which led directly to a time wrinkle, before he could escape, and took from his face the frozen eyes, which he slipped into his pocket like marbles; another stroked the fangs of the snake, which he freed from its casket, before breaking them off; such was the power of the men who now ruled over the realm of stars.
Again many years passed, and the tailor and the Emperor seemed forgotten, for the legends which tell of the victory of good live in the hearts of mankind, but so much time had passed, and the electron wind had blown so powerfully into the black hole at the innermost center of the Milky Way, that the memories failed; also the people had to work hard; and at last one grew weary of hoping.
Then a little girl, who was artless and innocent and knew nothing of the old legends, ate an apple from a tree which shimmered golden in the sunlight and which grew not far from an old, ruined castle of which evil tales were told and about which the children were warned; they were not supposed to play there either; but the little angel had lost her way behind a space fracture and had stepped through a blue-shimmering door.
As soon as she had swallowed the last bite a prince appeared before her, shining in a blue light, and declared, laying his finger to her lips: "I am Enwen and lived many years ago. There is a prophecy, little Katharina, that I and mine shall come to life for a few moments to expiate ancient injustice and avert new injustice. Here am I and am still blinded by the radiance of the universe, for we shadows are not used to see such beauty, for in the realm whence I come it is gloomy and dark. So take my hand and lead me out, so that I can smell the wind and taste the bushes, and so that I can sense the time wrinkles."
Thus it happened, and as Enwen peered over the edge of the universe, which can also be seen over the Imperial Planets, a ticking worm, which the Lord of the High Castle had trained for this purpose, listened, took alarm at the sight and was also envious and jealous and said to itself: "Wait, handsome stranger! I was born as a worm and will always be a worm! I will destroy you!"
Quickly it delved through the earth to the other side of the planet, where its masters drank so gaily and gathered intoxicated around the table and caroused and sang. But on their table danced a fairy which they had produced for themselves in a holographic projection. In the corner cowered Jakobus, whom they never wearied of materializing. And twisted his face sourly and could not live and could not die. And ate bitter grapes.
Then the worm whispered into the inclined ear of Lord Childknecht what had happened at the ruins of the old castle. He, however, about to crush the worm with his foot - "Bah! What nonsense are you talking!" - was surprised at the expression on Jakobus' face and at his violet-tinged lips, and thought: there must be something to it!
Rewarded the worm, which crept away, not without having given more precise details. Light riders, armored halberdiers, computer fighters burst into the air and into space and descended in a shower of sparks and hail over the Old Castle, but found only a will o' the wisp here, there swamp gas and there a juniper tree which blossomed blue and gold. The apples which they ate from the golden tree tasted bitter, and one or the other found them hard to digest.
Childknecht had three of them beheaded and laid a fine filter over the planets and the universe, not fine enough, however, to capture loving hearts. For in the meantime Katharina had become a young woman who loved Enwen; the power of her thoughts made it possible to materialize Asira, and soon thereafter the dreamy tailor, who had slept in the mountain until he was needed, also appeared in a dark cave in which rainbows gleamed.
Again he called the dragon Ormdorm, who immediately descended from the sky.
The dragon looked at him with wide and reproachful eyes and said: "Arai, my dear man, are you never going to learn? How often have I thought to myself, if only you had the strength to do what is good for all!"
"Yes," the tailor said in rejoinder, "but it is a terrible yardstick with which I must measure all the creatures and worms. Do you understand! I believe this yardstick is almost too big for anyone! But should I destroy them all?"
The dragon snorted and said: "You are making a mistake, Arai. You think that everything should be perfect. But that will never be in this universe or the next. Things need time, Arai, to develop and to grow. This is a natural law which you should follow."
"Yes, but," the tailor remarked, "how do I know what would become, or would have become, of those whom I must now destroy?"
"There are developments," said the dragon, "which one can recognize, and which one knows are not good and never will be good. Lord Childknecht will never be a respectable person, will he, and what do you want with Jakobus, the overthrown Emperor?"
"Yes, although you're right," said the tailor, and as Ormdorm returned to the sky, where he belonged, he reached for an yardstick, but one which grew longer and longer and gathered up time within it. Upon it he then rode to the New Castle and looked through the window and saw the lords, bathing in blood to make themselves invincible.
He also saw Jakobus, who had been shut up in a chest, where he languished and counted the days. Then the tailor cunningly made a cut through the universe, removing a large part in which his son and daughter were, and many others of whom he was fond. But he took the rest and plunged it into the shadow which stretched as long as the past; and saw how Childknecht and Jakobus and all of them became children who seemed innocent in sleep; their thumbs in their mouths; and made trees grow from which golden apples hung.
But, although he knew many things, he had not reckoned with Childknecht's soul; for he had one, and it came creeping up secretly and quietly and opened its jaws, which shimmered with blood; and breathed a terrible breath; and would not rest, although the tailor sprinkled stardust over it.
"What do you want?" the tailor said to it.
But the soul, which was stupid and clumsy and could not think, breathed fire at the tailor, making the whole room, and many other rooms, glow.
"I want you, your soul, all that you have and I do not have. For I want to possess," it said.
And reached swiftly for the tailor, who withered in its grasp, for it did not know that what it wanted can only come to being when people act together and aspire to the same goal; that is, in the same fire which each kindles in the other; it had never heard or read of this; it, which could only devour. Thus it was surprised and soon yawned, for it had nothing but an illusion in its hand, as it thought.
But the tailor had already ridden back on the yardstick, for his experience with Jakobus had made him wise, ridden far back in time and in the shadow; and there he killed Childknecht and Jakobus as children; for he knew that if he did not do this they would become dragons; and now he also knew why he had hesitated so long, for who can slay innocent little children, or ones which seem little and innocent?
But what would one not do for the good of the universe? As soon as these infernal children were dead the suns began to shine again, and a breathing and a whispering went through the universe. Weddings were celebrated on all the planets, and more children with a future were born than ever before; Katharina and Enwen had become a couple; but the tailor's wife did not come to life again; thus he sat year after year over his yardstick and looked inward and came again and again to the conclusion that power is not evil; instead it matters in whose interests one looks ahead in time.
And thus he patched and puttied many a wrinkle in space, until his time came as well. He was laid in a glass coffin, and many a time he passed through the clouds in the Milky Way, and we can see him when the moon is high; then it seems as if a light or a lantern were being carried along there; a light which kindles our understanding, so that we grasp everything. That was the story of the tailor who did not know what power is. Do you know, dear reader?