(Copyright 1970 for Witchcraft & Sorcery Magazine; reprinted by permission of the author.)

In a cave at the edge of the Desert of Salt Tears there dwelt a seer of such fame and accomplishment that many knew his name though they lived far beyond the desert’s borders. To the seer’s dwelling place there came daily, pilgrims whom he turned away, having vowed never again to tell the future for any man.

One day there came to him a young man in the raiment of a desert warrior but the seer knew him for a king and a man of great bravery. “Turn me not away,” said the king.

“For years, O King, I have turned away every man who sought me.” His voice was solemn and quiet, yet as commanding as the thunder of distant seas upon rocks.

“Do you so easily pierce my disguise?” shouted the king. “You are indeed a prophet. I am determined that you tell my future, now more than ever.”

The seer gazed upon the man and knew how great he was, a compassionate man of much wisdom who could lead a people to prosperity and peace. But in his soft voice the seer said, “I have ceased to tell men the future.”

“But I must know,” protested the king. And each time the seer refused him, the king asked again until far into the night. Then at last, the seer realized he could not sway the king.

So the seer gathered kindling and built a fire of prophecy that in its smoke he might see this young king’s future. The smoke grew thick and blank so that within it there took shape the phantom form of the city of the king and the king himself, still young, no more than a month of days older. The smoke showed the king and the armies of his enemies. The armies of his enemies pounded at the walls of the city, over sweeping it, slaying the soldiers and at the end slaying even the young and valiant king.

The seer stared at the rising smoke and thought of others who had come to ask him what the future held. He recalled a vow he had made and the reasons for the vow.

Looking up at the king he said, “I see a destiny of greatness, and a reign of greatness, of prosperity and peace, over a happy and blessed people.”

The king listened to these words and, reassured, went home.

So for a long time the seer sat in his cave, letting the fire die, the smoke drifting away.

And when at last it was gone, all gone, he raised his voice and called out a great curse against the darkness of the night.