The Traveler and His Guide

The following is an excerpt from Year of the Songbird.

Written by Bryan Caron

Before our time there once lived a traveler. He was meek and young, and trusted without fear. Those that met him all admired his honesty and his integrity, including a young lady with eyes of water and hair of gold, who fell in love with the traveler with a simple glance. She asked for him to marry her, but he could not, for he was on a quest that he could not deter. When asked of his quest, the traveler spoke of the legendary point of purity, the only place in the world for which was absolutely perfect, with nary a flaw. The lady fought to make him reconsider, but the traveler had his eye set on his prize and would not end his journey until he could drink from its water.

“Do not go,” the lady cried upon his final day in her arms.

“I must,” the traveler replied. “I promise I will return to you upon the conclusion of my quest with a cup of its water, so that we may drink upon it as one.”

“I do not wish for a cup of water from this place,” the lady said. “I only wish for you and I, as we were meant to be.”

“I cannot stop,” the traveler said, “else I may never know the truth of its legend.”

“Take this,” the lady said, presenting the traveler with a medallion from around her neck. “And remember me.”

The traveler presented the lady with a farewell kiss and with that, continued on his quest, spending the next twenty years of his life searching for that place of pure perfection. He rested only when he was hungry or tired, traveled until his feet were blistered and his heart was heavy and never allowed himself to be deterred from his quest. Even when he was told that no such place existed, he sought it. Through it all, he never forgot his promise to the lady.

One searing morning, as the traveler rested in the shade of a lone palm in the middle of the sunken desert near a small, but delightfully cool stream, an older man, masked and feeble, appeared upon the traveler with a dry tongue.

“May I drink of your water, kind sir?” the feeble man asked.

“Help yourself, my friend. It is not my water to give.”

“Thank you, thank you, sir,” the feeble man said. He walked quickly to the small stream and took sustenance upon the water. Before long, all of the water had been quelled, and the feeble man had become young and vigorous. But he was regretful, as he did not share his gift with the man that had been so generous.

“I am sorry,” he said. “I fear I have taken all of your water.”

“It is all right, dear friend. I am in no need of water. I carry all that I need with me around my neck.”

“Please, I must repay you for my selfishness. If you would allow me to help, I give you my hand.”

“I have my feet to walk upon and my hands to eat,” the traveler said. “I am sure that I have all that I need.”

“I am but a lonely migrant without any possessions but my thoughts. Surely I have some knowledge that you may be in need of.”

“And I am but meek, and am in no need of knowledge.”

“Where is it that you travel? Perhaps I may be of assistance?”

“I seek only that which is of honest purity.”

“Yes, yes. I know of the place that you seek,” the vigorous man said. “Please, allow me to be your guide and lead you to your destination.”

With a joyous heart, the traveler accepted the guide’s assistance and followed him through the desert, traveling without end for two days and two nights. On the third day, the traveler grew weary and asked his guide, “Are you sure you know of the place I seek?”

“Yes, of course,” the guide happily replied. “It is just over this hill.”

Upon reaching the top of the hill, the guide pointed downward at the mountain.

“The place you seek resides there, within the mouth of the mountain.”

“You will not come with me?” the traveler said.

“I am afraid the place you seek can only be found by the one who searches. I can no longer help you in your quest.”

“I thank you, kind sir. I appreciate your gracious help.”

“There is one last hint of knowledge that I must convey before I depart. Within the mountain, you will be confronted with three unenviable tasks. The first is a test of your body; the second, a test of your mind; the third, a test of your heart. You must accomplish these tasks before you are allowed to walk among the purity for which you seek. But beware, for your destination will continue to elude you should you ever stray from your chosen path.”

“Thank you,” the traveler said again, but the guide had gone.

The traveler did not dwell on the mystery of the guide, as his lifelong quest was nearing its end, and he would soon be reunited with his lady. Taking no rest or sustenance, the traveler walked to the mouth of the mountain and entered. For a day the traveler trekked through the darkening mountain until he reached a dead end at the base of a massive cliff. He tried to climb the cliff, but he was not strong enough.

“Oh, why must this be so difficult?” the traveler moaned.

Just then, a gollum, nearing only eight inches high with large ears that hugged his entire body, appeared through one of the small crevices in the cliff.

“Who dare disturb my rest with his moaning and whining?” the gollum asked.

“I am a traveler,” the traveler spoke. “And I am seeking the great treasure that can only be found in this mountain. But I am too weak to climb the cliff and continue my journey.”

“Too weak to climb?” the gollum repeated. “Then you should find another path to complete your journey.”

“That might take a lifetime,” the traveler said.

“And it most certainly will.”

“I cannot wait that long, when I am so close already. Can you help me?”

“I can give you the strength to climb this cliff,” the gollum said. “But you must do me a favor in return.”

“Anything,” the traveler replied back.

“You must leave everything you now carry behind and forget about it, as if you had never before owned it.”

“I will do as you ask,” the traveler said. And with not another word, he stripped his entire body of all of his belongings, including his lady’s medallion, leaving him bare-skinned and free.

“Now climb,” the gollum said.

The traveler did as he was told, and climb he did. The gollum watched as the traveler made his way to the top of the cliff and then disappeared within the crevice to resume his napping.

The traveler, having now forgotten about all of his possessions, continued walking for another day, when he came upon a door. There was writing along the edge that read as a riddle. It said, “You can only know the past when you seek the future. You can only know the future when you seek the past. One will always bring you truth, one will always lie in jest, and hidden within is the key to your quest.”

The traveler puzzled over this riddle for two days, attempting to find the key. When he could not, he cried out, “Oh, why must this be so difficult?”

With those words, a dragon appeared from atop the highest cave and lowered its head to the traveler.

“Who dare disturb my rest with his moaning and whining?”

“I am a traveler,” the traveler began. “And I am seeking the great treasure that can only be found in this mountain. But I cannot translate the riddle to continue my journey.”

“Cannot translate the riddle?” the dragon uttered. “Then you should return to whence you came until you have mastered the art of thinking.”

“That might take a lifetime,” the traveler said.

“And it most certainly will.”

“I cannot wait that long, when I am so close already. Can you help me?”

“I can give you the answer to this riddle,” the dragon said. “But you must do me a favor in return.”

“Anything,” the traveler answered.

“You must trust that my word is true, and cast off all others as frauds.”

“I will do as you ask,” the traveler said. And with that, the dragon gave the traveler the answer to what he was seeking and the door opened.

“Thank you, kind dragon,” the traveler said.

“Do not thank me,” the dragon murmured. “I did you no service.”

The dragon lifted its mighty head and disappeared into the darkness of the cave. The traveler hesitated no more and walked through the door. He journeyed for one final day until he reached a lake where two women sat. One woman was beautiful and lush, with vibrant eyes and a smile of warmth. The other was old and cripple, with weak eyes and a frown of sorrow.

“Do you know of the great treasure that can only be found in this mountain?” the traveler asked.

“I know of this place,” the young woman said. “And only I can help you complete your journey.”

“It is I who knows of this place,” the old woman muttered. “And only I can help you complete your journey.”

“Only one can be believed,” the young woman said.

“Only one can be trusted,” the old woman concluded.

“Who am I to choose?” the traveler moaned. “The young and quick, or the old and wise. Oh, why must this be so difficult? Can you help me?”

“Choose me and make me your love,” the young woman said, “and we will travel to your heart’s desire. For my word is true, and all other is fraud.”

“Choose me, and return me to my home,” the old woman said, “and I will reveal to you the truth. For I am protection, and all other is harm.”

“I must think long and hard about this choice,” the traveler said, and made himself a home in the far corner of the cave to think over this quandary. After three days, and with a decision in hand, he approached the women once again.

“To help the old woman might take a lifetime,” the traveler said.

“And it most certainly would,” the old woman said.

“But I cannot wait that long when I am so close already.” And with that, the traveler went to the young woman and made love to her. When it was over, the man stood and looked upon the young woman.

“Now show me what I seek.”

“I cannot,” the young woman replied. “For the place you seek is only for the blind of heart.” And with that, the young woman transformed into a giant snake and devoured the traveler in one bite.

“What a shame,” the snake hissed.

“Indeed,” the old woman replied. She then transformed into the young lady with her medallion lying upon the bosom of her broken heart.


©2013 Bryan Caron
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