From Certain of the Chronicles, by Levi Stahl (2006)
Within weeks of the gift of the robe, the Emperor’s Mathematist, his chief artificer and scientist, requested a private audience. At a wave of the Emperor’s hand, the counselors crept from the room, clucking and fluttering, irritated at the privileges their sovereign had over the years accorded the Mathematist.
In the silent reaches of the imperial hall, overheard only by the fireflies that flickered through the early evening, the Mathematist explained his theory of combinatorics, using which he could elucidate all possible branchings of a tree of numbers—or stories. To that end, he asked that the Emperor let him count and classify the embroidered scenes, a project that, with assistance, the Mathematist could complete in less than a year.
From that count, he averred, he could tell the number and extent of all possibilities—mathematics would show forth all stories. Infinity would be brought to heel, chance shown to be a lie peddled by the ignorant.
The force of the Emperor’s displeasure should not have surprised the Mathematist. Perhaps it did not—inquiry frequently leads us into paths we should sensibly avoid. Surely he knew that the Emperor would disdain the idea that such a limited tool as mathematics could comprehend the whole of human experience. Perhaps he knew that his request would lead to his death.
But he would surely have been surprised by what the Emperor ordered next. In death, the Mathematist was added—crudely, it must be admitted—to the robe of stories, replacing the absence previously left for the infinite.
And there he remained, stitched as a warning, a chastening for those with the temerity to apply inquiry to the infinite. For the Emperor knew from painful experience that where there is a path we should sensibly avoid, there is always another path, and others still, and even chance knows not our choice until we have taken the first step.