Once, on the road, Prim met a mendicant sage. The sage was chewing umbral blossoms and sitting in a ditch, filthy and ragged. Curious, Prim crouched down and asked the man what he was doing, for the day was quite hot, and there were beasts and worse about.

“What makes a man the most powerful?” said the sage. “I’ve wondered about this question for a good three days now. I’ve scarcely drunk a drop, or eaten a morsel, or got a moment’s sleep!” Prim itched to leave and continue her journey, but instead gave the man water and sat beside him, as at one point in her life she had been an excellent daughter, and old habits die exceedingly hard.
“Is is the strength of a man’s arm?” said the sage, “Is it the timbre of his voice? Is it his luminous gaze? Is it the way the light strikes his face?”

Prim was sure it was none of these things, and told the man so. “I thought as much,” said the sage, “so I considered further. Is the root of power buried in the soil of violence? Must it be nourished with blood? But many violent men are overthrown with ease by those who use only words. So it must not be so. Does power lie in the throat, then? Does a truly powerful man keep it in his body like a deep and mighty lake, boiling and bubbling in his guts, only to spill forth when he parts his steaming lips?”

Prim was certain it was none of these things, and told the man so. The sage nodded and continued, chewing on his leaf. “I think so too,” he said. “In truth, my conclusion is that the most powerful of men are neither wholly violent, nor strong of voice. The most powerful of men are radiant. Their power suffuses the air around them, and enslaves the will of others around them, by their own unwilling consent. It is an illusory power, which makes it all the more dangerous, since it feeds off belief. Such a man can kill without thinking, if he so chooses. He is sovereign from the laws of other men.”

“What do you think?” asked the sage, looking equal parts exhausted and pleased. Prim didn’t have an answer. “Well, none of that! I’ve been on this for three days!” sputtered the sage. “Which do you think? The violent man, the vocal man, or the radiant man?”

Prim thought of the violent men who had passed through her father’s house, and the iron rod of her father, with which he had not been sparing. She thought of the silken-voiced men that whispered near her father’s hearth. And she thought of the royal men, who came in processions to consult with her father, carried on their palanquins.

“None of them,” said Prim, at last.

“What?” said the sage, aghast.

“The most powerful man has the capability to be violent, charismatic, or sovereign, all,” said Prim, “but he chooses to be none of them, because if he does, he has become cruel, and a cruel man has lost all claim to power.”

She stood up and dusted herself off. “If God were a mere fisherman, he would earn my respect,” said Prim. She gathered her things and returned to the road, leaving her canteen with the sage, who remained there a day longer. He then gave up on the question, and later abandoned his sage’s rags to become a successful farmer.

– The Song of Maybe