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Subtle Choice

'Tell me about the dark side.' asked the apprentice, curious, wary and excited, all at the same time.

'The dark side is not so different' said the mage. 'Sure, it is the other side of the coin, but it is the same coin. It is essentially the same thing. It provides balance and equality. It is necessary.'

'And I am allowed to choose?' asked the apprentice.

' No. You are required to choose.' rumbled the mage.

'But how?' asked the apprentice. 'How can I know where I want to go without going there first?'

'Indeed. You do not know what you are letting yourself in for.' replied the mage, patiently. 'Nor do you know what is behind any door until you walk through it.'

The apprentice paused, uncertain and on the brink. 'So I cannot know until I commit?'

'And commit fully.' said the mage. 'Tricky, isn't it? The only way to knowledge is to leap, irreversibly, into the unknown. Innocence may be bliss but knowledge is power. And with power you can achieve your heart's desire.'

The mage placed a gentle hand on the shoulder of the apprentice and looked deeply into troubled, hopeful eyes. 'Do you know yet what you seek?'

'What do I seek?' asked the apprentice?

'What do you desire?' asked the mage.

'I want to do what is right.' said the apprentice.

'What does 'right' mean?' asked the mage. 'And who has the right to decide what is right for you?'

The apprentice frowned, lost in thought. 'Only I can choose.'

'Only you.' echoed the mage. 'Otherwise it is not a choice and so not a real commitment. When you walk through the door it closes behind you. The only way is forward.'

As thoughts crystallized in the apprentice, the mage spoke on. 'Neither path is easy. One path is filled with obligation to the ungrateful and ignorant, whilst the other requires that you journey through perilous lands. One requires denial and abstinence whist the other is laden with excess. One requires piety whilst the other need courage. Each has its adherents who will abhor the other, yet only one will gain you that which you seek and is thus the only path that is right for you.'

'I came to you destitute and alone.' said the apprentice. 'You took me in without question, and sheltered me against a cruel world and taught me the deep secrets. And yet still I do not know which path you have taken, and still it is hard to choose without your counsel.'

'Each must choose alone.' replied the mage. 'For without free and total choice there cannot be total commitment. I have taught you enough to allow for this, now the choice is yours.'

'But what if I choose opposite to you?' panic appeared in the eyes of the apprentice. 'Would I have to leave?'

Sooner or later.' replied the mage. 'For to be a mage is to make terrible decisions that cannot be shared, and never look back in regret. To be a mage is to walk alone, no matter what side you choose. People will always regard you with suspicion and fear. When you carry life, death and worse, no matter what your intent or actions, you will have no true friends. That is the price of power.'

'So it's my choice' said the apprentice, bitterly, at last. 'And then I am alone.'

'Alone you came and alone you leave.' said the mage, sadly.

'Then I know what I choose.' said the apprentice and walked out, not looking back.

The mage smiled.




~by David Straker~

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