Tales : The brass bottle and the raven’s wisdom

It happened once upon a time, that a certain man was walking by the edge of the immense sea, when he came upon something he had never seen before. Looking closely at it, he found it to be a brass bottle of unusual shape, covered all over with strange signs and writing. In the neck of the bottle there was a stopper, fastened in place with lead.

Picking it up, the man thought it was heavy for its size, and decided it must contain something – perhaps of great value! Therefore he began to peel away the lead and pull out the stopper. If he had been able to read the writing on the bottle, he would have known that this was a dangerous thing to do, but sadly not everyone who walks by the sea is able to read.

The instant the stopper was out of the bottle, a strange, vividly coloured vapour began to boil out of the bottle, a turbulent, choking cloud that went streaming up into the sky until it formed an enormous figure towering over the man. It was a huge and powerful jinn, with flashing eyes and a very angry face.

“At last!” roared the jinn. “After a thousand years of imprisonment, I am free! Miserable human, prepare to die!”

“To die?” said the man, very surprised. “But, ah, your honour, it was I who set you free! Why should you wish to kill me?”

“It was by the power of man that I was imprisoned,” thundered the jinn, “and during all my years of dark confinement, I have sworn by the ring of Solomon that when I should be free again, I would kill every human I met.”

“But, I am innocent – be merciful!” the man pleaded.

“Mercy?” sneered the jinn. “What do humans know of mercy?”

“Then,” stammered the man, “be just! Surely I deserve something for freeing you.” And then, grasping wildly for help, he added, “By the ring of Solomon!”

The jinn stared at the man contemptuously. “Very little you know of that ring,” he said. “But I agree to this: we shall have this case judged by the first being that passes. If that judge declares you worthy of mercy, I shall free you from your doom.”

The man looked around, hoping for assistance, but the beach was wide and empty. Then a raven came flying by. “Raven!” shouted the jinn. “Come hither and hear our case.”

When the raven had joined them, and the matter had been explained to it, it put its head on one side, looked at the jinn, then at the man, then again at the jinn, and finally at the bottle that lay upon the sand. “I am not sure I understand,” it said. “You say that you, jinn, were imprisoned in this bottle?”

“For a thousand years,” said the jinn bitterly.

The raven hopped closer to the bottle and bent forward, peering into the neck. “That does not seem possible,” said the bird. “You are large, and the bottle is small. Even I could not enter it.”

“Ignorant bird,” said the jinn dismissively, “you know nothing about my powers. I can be as small as a grain of sand if I choose.”

“No,” said the raven flatly. “This makes no sense. It cannot be that you were in that bottle. Perhaps you imagined it.”

Lightning flashed from the jinn’s eyes. “Imagined it?! I will show you!!” And with that, he began to shrink and contract and stream again into the bottle.

And when the last tendril of vapour had slipped inside the bottle, the raven quickly jammed the stopper home in the neck.

Then, looking at the astonished man, he said, “And now, ignorant human, be warned. Nothing is more curious than a raven but we are also wise. Wisdom is knowing that not everything that can be opened should be opened.” And with that, the raven flew away.

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