The past is a strange and dangerous country. I sit here and write, and my quill traces out patterns that tell a story. Note that I avoid with care the term "history", which is a term reserved for the highest truth, most literally a "high story". For while my story is one that purports to tell of the past, it is, alas, a mere fanciful tale and not deserving of that name. Too jumbled have the old accounts become, and the gaps that must be filled in by reasoning and creative guessing are large.
Today turns into yesterday, into last week and the last year. As men grow older, the memory fades, and dies with them. Ink can preserve only the merest glimpse into the mind of one, the writer. And even ink will fade and so, at long last, only whisperings and nursing rhymes are left of what was once sharp and clear as the end of my quill before me. It is that knowledge that reveals to me the futility, even the folly of trying to grasp the past, to hold its unvarnished truth in iron grip and bind it to parchment for evermore. What happened but yesterday is now but in the memories of those who saw, and who can say they know the whole, or are above changing it in their own minds?
The work of historians is paradox, for we wrest from the past its tale, following the tiniest scraps of evidence to weave a memory of the tapestry - knowing that this same record will itself be lost to the future, if not tomorrow, then a century or two down the road. Why then do we bother to recite by rote the births and deaths of kings, when we can merely summon up a garbled parody of our yesteryears, which will be further garbled by those yet to come?
The foolish historian takes these scraps, knots them together, and says "This is what happened", never thinking he could be in error. The prudent historian arrays them on the table, weighs them and puzzles long to see how they fit together, dreading that he may err. The wise historian combs them and smoothes them till they shine, and weaves them into a colorful and entertaining whole, knowing that without fail he will err. For the wise historian is a story-teller.