“Illusion is the first of all pleasures.”

There lived a faerie prince who was so vain that one day his reflection came to life and lived alongside him like an uninvited guest. The faerie prince was jealous of his reflection, as it was every bit as handsome as he, and so he called his gnome servants to him.

“I require a big, black beauty spot,” said the prince to his loyal gnomes, “A perfect beauty spot upon my perfect cheek. A beauty spot so perfect that it puts my reflection to shame!”

And so the gnomes fashioned for the prince a perfect beauty spot from the eye of the most beautiful fish in the sea, which was no small feat to find. But alas, when the prince wore it upon his cheek he found that his reflection had taken to wearing a spot that was just as perfect as his. He called his gnome servants to him again.

“Create for me a beautiful barnet, a bounteous bouffant of unbeatable brilliance so that I might reveal this charlatan for all that he is!”

“It is the city of mirrors, the city of mirages, at once solid and liquid, at once air and stone.”

And so the gnomes wove for the prince a wondrous wig from silver dragons beards, which are hard to come by, but when the prince donned the wig he saw that his reflection possessed an identical creation. The prince became angry.

“You must do better!” He yelled at his gnomes, “I require vestments. I require a really ravishing robe that is more radiant than sunlight!”

The gnomes were the best craftsman in the land and so they set to weaving the princes robe. They did indeed succeed in weaving strands of sunlight into a gown of gold. The prince was delighted with his new coat and prepared to show it off to his rival, but no sooner did he appear to his reflection than he saw that he had been beaten to it. The prince grew enraged.

“Fink up and fabricate for me a frone,” he cried, mispronouncing the words for the sake of alliterative emphasis, “A throne of thuch thplendour and thtyle. Do this for me, and I shall release you from my service.”

“Do not be misled by what you see around you, or be influenced by what you see. You live in a world which is a playground of illusion, full of false paths, false values and false ideals. But you are not part of that world.”

At this the gnomes became very excited. Never before had they contemplated that they might be free to work for anyone but the prince. They would even be able make things for themselves when they had the time. And so that evening they laboured long and hard, the workshop was filled with jolly chatter about the things that they might do, the places they might go when they were free. Come the morning they had wrought from wires of mithral a throne so magnificent it’s like had never been sat on by any ruler that ever ruled anything anywhere.

The gnomes brought it before the prince. As he sat in the throne he felt such power and omnipotence as could only be felt when sitting on a throne of pure mithral. But when he allowed his rival to see him upon it he could not believe his eyes. His reflection had acquired a throne just as splendorous as his and now sat proudly upon it too. The prince was maddened such as his gnomes had never seen before. He shouted at the poor little servants for three days and nights before growing hoarse.

“What purpose this place to park my posterior without neither a plafond nor planchement to protect me from precipitation?” yelled the prince. The gnomes looked at each other in confusion.

“A palace!” he croaked for clarity, “A palace! Build me a palace! Not a paltry one nor a pathetic one, neither poor nor poxy, and not just passable neither. Let it be pleasing, let it be pompous. Let it be so prodigious that this pretender panics when he peeks at it!”

“Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.”

The gnomes went away in an cloud of glum. They wondered that should he not be satisfied yet again with their work he might have them all executed, for, like all faerie princes, he was as capricious as he was vain. That night they drew up plans for the greatest palace ever built and saw it completed as the sun rose. But, as they had feared, when the prince unveiled it his reflection already owned a palace just as magnificent. It was indeed so prodigious that the prince panicked when he peeked at it.

“A city! A city!” he bellowed as best he could, “I should see a city surrounding this stronghold!A shining city, a scintillating city! Now see to it and quell my insolent image once and for all!”

“How should it be exactly, sire?” Inquired the gnomes, who were keen to get it right this time and earn their freedom.

" Well," began the prince, “For a start it should stupefy and stun, so steer clear of steel and stone, for steel is staid and stone is stereotyped. There should be sapphires set into the surfaces of soaring citadels, and spinnerets of sparkling spessartite, not to mention silvered steeples of staggering stature. There should be a state of the art statue on every street, and a skillful sculpture in every square. I want a stucco store house, a substantial state house, and a stylish studio on stilts should suffice.”

“If time is not real, then the dividing line between this world and eternity, between suffering and bliss, between good and evil, is also an illusion.”

And so the tired little gnomes, ever-resilient and ever-resourceful, built around the prince’s palace a city that was the most glorious city ever built, perfect in every way. But by the time the prince showed it to his reflection it was already too late, for right before the prince’s eyes there already stood a city just as perfect. At this the prince burst into a rage. With a wave of his wand he banished his reflection to a land without air nor light so that noone might ever know that his was not the most beautiful beauty spot, or the most wondrous wig, or the most radiant robes, or the most thrilling throne, or the most perfect palace, or the most shining city ever built.

To his gnomes he said: “For your failures you shall ever more serve me, and so shall your children and their children after them until the end of time.” And with that the prince flung himself into his chambers and never again appeared, except to use the toilet. As for the poor gnomes, they continued in the service of the prince, except now they had a city to run.

“What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.”


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