The Forty-Sixth Leaf


Now there are many legends about Finn McCool, and I have heard many told.  Some say that he was a giant.  Some say that he was the greatest warrior of Ireland.  Some say that he was a great wizard.  Many of these legends are very hard to believe however, and it is even claimed that he built the Giants Causeway, and is in fact responsible for creating our little island.  Of course this is all nonsense, for imagine how old he would have to be, Iona. 

These words I spoke to her one dreary night during an unpleasant storm.  She asked me to tell her a story to pass the time, for she knew I was fond of telling stories.  Since the death of my lovely wife I had not been in the mood for stories, but the young girl is so sweet to me that I could not resist, and I found myself embellishing my words more than usual, even as a growing lethargy is weakened by the sudden draft from an open window.

Finn McCool was no giant at all, but he was a very powerful wizard, I said.  This I know, for I have spoken to him.  But I have only spoken with him when he was in the form of a salmon, and to escape me from eating him, I made him promise to tell me what he was doing swimming in the  myriad lakes and streams of my island, for I am a King, Iona, and do not suffer demons and wizards to go about to and fro with impunity.

Now I knew all about the legend of Finn McCool, and I knew about his cunning and wily ways, for he is a trickster.  I drew him in slowly.  He was a fighter.  Suddenly he popped his head above water and spoke.

"What are you trying to do?" he asked. 

"Are you a fish?" I responded.

"My name is Finn McCool," he said forcefully.  "By what right have you caught me?"

"I am King Sigmus," I answered, "and I reserve the right to hunt any animal or fish in my kingdom.  You are caught now, and I suggest that you temper your words, or I shall eat you right now, just as you ate the sacred salmon caught by Finegas.  Yes, I know who you are Finn McCool."

"It is my privilege to have been caught by a great King," McCool responded with deference.  "I ask your pardon."

"And I shall grant it," I said.  "But first you must agree to answer my questions."

"Agreed," McCool quickly responded.

"If you are the wisest man in the world, as I have heard, then how is it that I have caught you?"

"When I am a fish, I sometimes forget things, because I do not have a thumb to put in my mouth."

"That is true," I answered with a nod.  "Good answer.  But now answer this: What will happen to my kingdom when I am gone?"

"Undetermined," Finn McCool answered with conviction.

"I was told that all is certain."

"All things move toward certain death, but no man shall know the time."

"Is my life predetermined?"

"Your death is predetermined, all else is flux, and all things are in motion."

"Do you know all things, McCool?"

"Nothing can be known until it happens," answered McCool.  "All wisdom is history, for all wisdom is of what was before.  All else is undetermined.  All else is folly."

"Are there no secrets for you to tell me?"

"I know many secrets," Finn McCool admitted.  "But truly I tell you, King Sigmus, that secrets will not bring you contentment or happiness, but instead frustration and restlessness.  Secrets only bring misery and discontent.  But if you demand that I reveal a secret to you, then I am obliged to do so.  It is your choice to make."

"I would like to know a great secret," I admitted.  "Tell me something great if you are truly Finn McCool."

"Alright," McCool relented.  "I will tell you a great secret.  I will allow you to hear the sound of the world.  The world is speaking all the time, but most of the words are lost inside the sound of the myriad creatures that inhabit the lakes and streams and forests and holes in the ground, for the creatures are part of the sound of the world.  I will allow you a chance to hear this sound so that you will know what the world is thinking, but I warn you, it may be upsetting to you."

"I am a King," I announced, “and I am not afraid.”

"Then you must first take the hook out of my mouth, for I will have to whisper the magic word into you mouth and I cannot do it unless this hook is removed."

I took the hook out of his mouth just as instructed, and waited to see what he would say.  He looked relieved, and finally said:

"Now hold my mouth close to your ear, but you must remain very still or the magic will not work."

I carefully brought his mouth next to my ear and waited to hear the magic word, but suddenly I felt a sharp pain as McCool bit my ear, and with one powerful flip of his tail, launched himself back into the pond from which I had caught him.  In a moment he was sunken beneath the spreading ripples and disappeared.  I brought my hand to my ear, but it was not bleeding, for McCool had been careful not to injure me.  A moment later I saw his head pop up from the water.

"I am sorry to have bitten you, King Sigmus.  But I could not reveal to you this secret, for this secret is not ready for the world of men, and you would have caused much mischief wilth such a secret.  Farewell, my friend, and do not be angry with me for what I have done."

Iona laughed and her laughter brought a tear to my eye, for I was truly happy again after such a long period of mourning.  The storm had stopped, the storm within me was expired, and I asked her if she would make us both a cup of steaming hot tea.




This leaf is a revelation to me.  The changes and surprises are remarkable.  Firstly, the tone dramatically shifts from the somberness and sadness of the prior leaves to one of pure whimsy.  This writing is clearly a story or fable rather than a retelling of actual experience.  But the story is filled with humor and hopefulness.  Upon reading this for the first time I asked myself, how was Sigmus able to make this change, so abruptly?  Was it simply the infatuation he felt for the young servant girl?  But what makes this leaf so remarkable to me is not the story that Sigmus tells to Iona, but rather the fragment of writing which was attached to this leaf, written in another hand, undoubtedly by Sorren.  How did it come to be attached to this leaf?  Was it placed there by Sigmus, and could this have been the impetus for his moving away from the darkness, his journey back to living?  The fragment was the brief poem which I include below.

A house that stands apart

a sharing with the wild

Cold kettle, cold bed

A house without a child

The wound that never heals

a sharing with the same

Cold kettle, cold bed

a loss without a name

But the house is not your home

and your heart is not the wild

The house is strong

Thine beating strong

The child lives

Within the sounding of the world

Is a beating of the wild

And yea,

the house was made strong

the heart yet beats while day is long

The child lives

Melanthros was right - Sorren knew for whom the third tolling of the bell was.  But why would he say differently?  Was he merely telling stories?  To himself?  Why would a man write stories that only he will ever read, or sing songs that only he will ever hear?  And now I know why it was my turn to receive this book.  To answer that question.

- D