The Seven Beggars, Part 6: The Water Castle

On the sixth glad day they longed for the beggar who had no hands. No sooner had they expressed their wish than he appeared, saying “Here I am!” just as his predecessors had done. After they had kissed and embraced he said,

      You think I’m maimed, that I have no hands. I do indeed have hands, and very powerful ones, but I don’t use their force in this world. I reserve it for a different purpose, and I have an affidavit to this effect from the Watery Castle.

Once upon a time people gathered to boast of the power in their hands. This one had this kind of strength, that one had that. Another could shoot an arrow and snatch it back in mid-flight. I (the beggar without hands) asked him, “What kind of arrow can you snatch back?” For there are ten kinds of arrows, according to the ten kinds of poison one can smear an arrowhead, each one deadlier than the one that came before.

      “So, what kind of arrows can you snatch back? And can you reverse the effect of the arrow after it has struck, or only before?”

      He answered that he could take back the arrow even after it struck, but only such-and-such a kind of arrow.

      I replied, “If that’s the case you won’t be able to heal the princess.”

      Then another man bragged that he had such power in his hands that his taking was actually a gift. In fact, he was a genius at charity, and what he accepted from one who had, he gave to someone else who needed.

      So I asked him, “What kind of charity do you practice?” He answered, “Tithing.”

      I said, “In that case, you won’t be able to heal the princess, you won’t even be able to approach her, because just one kind of charity crosses just one kind of social barrier, and the princess is surrounded by ten such walls.”

      Then another man boasted he could confer wisdom by the laying on of his hands, wisdom such as was needed by the statesmen who control the affairs of the world. By the laying on of his hands he consecrated people as anointed kings, and apparently this sufficed to give them the abilities they needed as rulers.

      I could see right away that he could never heal the princess, and told him as much. There are ten kinds of blessings conferred by the laying on of hands. One of them is the transmission of authority to a new ruler, and the healing touch is quite another. This man had only one manner of laying on the hands, with which he couldn’t so much as take the pulse of the princess, much less heal her.

      Another man bragged his hands had the power to seize a whistling storm wind and restrain it so it blew in a helpful, measured way. I asked him what kind of a whistling storm wind he could bridle thus. “Such-and-such a wind,” he answered.

      So he couldn’t heal the princess either, because her cure would also be through music and he would need to make the wind whistle in more than one mode to restore her bodily harmony.

      At this point all the men with their manual skills demanded, “And you, what can you do?”

      Everything they couldn’t, that could I. Every power they were proud of possessing the tenth part of, I had in full.

There’s a story that relates to this. Once upon a time there was a king who fell in love with a princess. He planned and schemed how he might capture her. He finally succeeded, by means of an ambush, and then he had her.

      One night he dreamed that she stood over him and slew him. He leaped up in terror, and even then the dream still seemed real. He called his dream interpreters. In their opinion the dream meant exactly what it seemed to. The princess was going to kill him.

      The king couldn’t figure out what to do. He would be very sorry to kill her, but he was also quite unhappy with the idea of simply sending her away, for then someone else might get her, after all the trouble he had been to capture her. Then too, with the help of someone else, she might be able to kill him after all. But if he kept her, she was sure to kill him, as the dream foretold.

      All this pondering gradually wore away the king’s love for her. And whatever affection she had had for him, that too changed by slow but sure degrees into hate. So she ran away. He sent men after her. One of them reported back that she was headed for the Watery Castle.

      This castle had ten walls, one within the other, and all of them were made of water. The ground on which the castle stood was also water, as were the castle gardens with all their trees and flowers. The beauty and the wonder of this sparkling transparent stronghold were beyond describing, or even imagining.

      The princess was going around and around the castle, unable to figure out how to get inside. It was, after all, made entirely of water, even the doors. Meanwhile the king was approaching with his army, to recapture her. The princess decided to plunge right in. Better she should drown than go back to him! And there was always the chance that she’d survive, and end up safe inside it.

      When the king saw her going in, he ordered his men to fire their arrows to stop her: if she was killed, so be it.

      She was hit, with all ten kinds of arrows, that is, arrows whose tips were smeared with all ten kinds of poison. But she made it through the castle gates, the gates of all ten walls, one within the other, and there she collapsed, and there she lies unconscious.

      I will heal her (said the beggar without hands) for she can only be healed by someone whose hands hold the ten righteous powers, only such a person can open all the gates of the Watery Castle and not be drowned in the attempt.

      The walls of that castle are the waves of the sea, held upright by the wind. I can part the waters, and I can withdraw all ten arrows because I can perform every healing act accomplished by the laying on of hands, for every one of my finger holds a different cure, and I can restore her bodily harmony with all ten songs the winds know how to whistle.

      Such is the power in my hands, and I give it to you today as a wedding present. You will become like me.

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