Four slaves stood fanning an old queen who was asleep upon her throne. And she was snoring. And upon the queen's lap a cat lay purring and gazing lazily at the slaves.
The first slave spoke, and said, "How ugly this old woman is in her sleep. See her mouth droop; and she breathes as if the devil were choking her."
Then the cat said, purring, "Not half so ugly in her sleep as you in your waking slavery."
And the second slave said, "You would think sleep would smooth her wrinkles instead of deepening them. She must be dreaming of something evil."
And the cat purred, "Would that you might sleep also and dream of your freedom."
And the third slave said, "Perhaps she is seeing the procession of all those that she has slain."
And the cat purred, "Aye, she sees the procession of your forefathers and your descendants."
And the fourth slave said, "It is all very well to talk about her, but it does not make me less weary of standing and fanning."
And the cat purred, "You shall be fanning to all eternity; for as it is on earth, so it is in heaven."
At this moment the old queen nodded in her sleep, and her crown fell to the floor.
And one of the slaves said, "That is a bad omen."
And the cat purred, "The bad omen of one is the good omen of another."
And the second slave said, "What if she should wake, and find her crown fallen! She would surely slay us."
And the cat purred, "Daily from your birth she has slain you and you know it not."
And the third slave said, "Yes, she would slay us and she would call it making a sacrifice to the gods."
And the cat purred, "Only the weak are sacrificed to the gods."
And the fourth slave silenced the others, and softly he picked up the crown and replaced it, without waking her, on the old queen's head.
And the cat purred, "Only a slave restores a crown that has fallen."
And after a while the old queen woke, and she looked about her and yawned. Then she said, "Methought I dreamed, and I saw four caterpillars chased by a scorpion around the trunk of an ancient oaktree. I like not my dream."
Then she closed her eyes and went to sleep again. And she snored. And the four slaves went on fanning her.
And the cat purred, "Fan on, fan on, stupids. You fan but the fire that consumes you."