Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Twenty Questions

I know everything. I know what wars will come, and which side will win, and who will die and who will not die quite yet. I know the meaning of life and the secret ingredient in your grandmother’s cookies and how the world will end. And I know that I can’t tell anyone any of it, unless they ask, and then I can only tell them yes or no.
Perhaps that’s a good thing. I don’t know that for sure, because it’s subjective. But my knowledge is as much burden as gift, and there are some things people aren’t meant to know.
I just wish these idiots would learn to ask the right questions. I mean, I don’t know how many people have made the arduous trek up my mountain to ask, “Am I going to die?” Actually, I do know. Three hundred sixty two (though one was an immortal for whom the answer was no, so that one doesn’t count as a stupid question. But still.) And then there’s those who ask me where something is. Not one of them ever thinks to bring a map so they could point and ask if they’re getting closer. “Where?” is not a yes or no question.
I’d just been dealing with a particularly difficult knight, who’d wanted to know whether he would die (yes), what he should quest after (silence from me, though maybe I should have answered, “No”), and where it was to be found, though of course he still didn’t know what it was. When I didn’t answer, he started screaming at me, calling me a fake and enchantress and con. I wondered if he would attack me physically, and instantly knew that he wouldn’t, but he was still quite an annoyance.
I’d long since stopped listening to his ranting when another voice called out, “Hey, bozo! Read the sign, she can only answer yes or no. It’s not her fault you’re too dumb to figure out how to ask a question.”
The speaker was a woman in her mid-twenties, dressed in clothing practical for climbing a mountain, and wearing a sword. A small dragon was perched on her shoulders.
“You!” the knight shouted. The woman put her hand on her hilt. The knight started to take a step towards her, and shook his fist at her, but turned and fled down the mountain.
The woman turned to me. “Let me guess, he wanted to know how to defeat me?”
“Something equally stupid?”
“I’m Yaleria. You probably know that, I guess?” I did. “I know this probably isn’t the kind of question you usually answer, but do you know how to make people have a little common sense?”
“Yes,” I said, automatically, and searched my mind for the answer. To my shock, I couldn’t find it. I didn’t know, if I’d known, I would have used the knowledge myself by this point. “No.” How could I not know it? Was it impossible? Or subjective, or to vague--that was possible.
“It’s okay, I don’t really think there is a way, with these people.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. I can only dispense information by answering yes or no, but I’m perfectly capable of speaking normally. Yaleria must have known that already, because she didn’t seem surprised.
“It hasn’t been so bad. It used to be just individual knights who would come try to kill the dragons, and not very good ones, to go after the babies. But now the king’s planning to lead an army to eliminate them all.” She paused. “I guess you know that. My real question is, is there a way to stop it?”
“Yes,” I told her, because I saw that there was, and hoped fervently that she’d be able to ask the right questions.
Yaleria considered carefully. “Is it physical?” she asked finally.
“Is it persuasion?”
I hesitated. “Yes….” I wished I could just tell her. There was no reason I shouldn’t be able to, except that that was how it worked. I didn’t always mind, sure, it could be frustrating, but I must admit I enjoy thwarting the stupider querents. But at times like these, I felt my life was a game of twenty questions, only not a game.
Yaleria thought before asking again. “Will they stop willingly?”
I grinned. “No.”
“Will something happen to them if they don’t stop.”
Yaleria figured it out then. “Blackmail!”
“Yes.” And then it was only a matter of her asking questions about possible foibles of her enemies, until she guessed correctly that the king was having an affair with his general’s wife, the general took bribes, one of the king’s ministers had a vested financial interest, another had committed murder…..
I watched Yaleria leave, armed with knowledge, and knew she would have nothing to worry about.

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