I arrived on a ship piloted by another. As the ship briefly put into port, I found my chance to finally, truly go my own way. Having no map, I wandered the harbour town for months, never staying too long in any one place.
For that time, I was very hot-headed. I saw everyone elseís flaws, but never my own. I had forgotten my purpose, and refused to move on, because my false security was so overwhelming.
One day, a tattered sheet of paper fluttered out of the street and landed at my feet. I bent down, picked it up, and read over it. It was a map, scrawled unartistically in distinctly messy script.
This map rekindled my dreams. Everything I was at that point ended, and I felt somewhat ashamed of who I had been. I gathered my meager possessions and set off north, toward the spot marked prominently on the map: the Desert of the Moon.
What I hoped to find there, Iíll never know; two friends traveled with me. Though we rarely quarreled, we each had different aims. One was along for the joy of it, and one was following us, with no life of his own to lead. Our trip passed quickly, and soon we were lost among the dunes, ill prepared for the climate or the lack of sustenance. My companion who was along with me for fun soon turned back, and the follower soon did the same. I knew my map led somewhere, though I had no idea where that place might be, or what I might find when I got there.
After two months, I saw something different on the horizon. This was not another dune, but an oasis! I had reached the destination on the map.
I made my way to the watersí edge, falling to my knees beside the clear blue pond, and began to drink deeply. Once I had drunk my fill, I began to take in my surroundings. I realized I wasnít alone.
All around me were people walking both north & south. How could I have missed them? All the travelers ignored me, choosing instead to follow their own routes, or sometimes the routes of those in front of them. To the east there was a camp, large and ornate, of people who seemed in no hurry to move on. Occasionally on person or two might venture to the north, and slightly larger groups would head south. This is where I went next.
This camp welcomed me in, gave me food, drink, and rest. Here I felt I could relax, settle myself. I had journeyed here of my own free will, after all, and I had earned the right to be happy.
Soon I began to tell others of my experience, about how different I was from them. I was happy telling others that I had taken the right path to the end, that no one else had gotten it quite right. Soon I was ignored by all.
One lonely day, I stopped a man who had been heading south. When I asked him why he was headed to the south, he told me he was in search of someone to pilot a ship for him. I asked him next why he did not seek to control his direction himself, and his answer was simple: he would trust a man who made it his business to see others across troubled waters, but he could never trust himself to always steer straight, as he was humble enough to admit his failures.
The man tried to convince me to come along with him, but I told him I had started with another at the helm, controlling my destiny, and I wanted it no more.
The man smiled, saying he understood this, but asked me one final question: with the freedom I claimed to have, with all this control, why did I stay in one place, in a community, and yet be alone?
Saying he had no more need of it, he thrust a beautiful map into my hands and left. Looking at the map, I asked myself his questions, and realized it was time to start to walk again.
This wandering was done by me alone. I had no companions, only questions and wonder. The walk was lonely, but I took my time, always seeking, always moving north and east along the mapís course. Sometimes the road would take me east, away from the mountains I would occasionally see on my left. I left the desert eventually, and saw forests and hills. It was atop one of these hills where I saw sign of my first true freedom.
Sitting upon a stump, quiet and alone, sat an old man with a long white beard. He spoke not to me, appearing in deep meditation. It was as I began to walk by that he opened his eyes. He shambled as he stood, and pointed to me with an open hand.
He told me to seek a trail so old it was not on any map, so old only a few could help me along the way. Danger laid upon it, said he, and strength came at its end. He told me to begin alone, then find a guide, and then end alone. After that, I would know what to do.
As I turned to look for the trail, I heard those last words. When I tried to return my gaze to him, he was gone. Behind his stump was an old, light, unused deer trail. Me feet moved down it immediately.
To the west I traveled now, and only met people crossing my path, none walking it. When I lost the trail, only true faith in my path would find it again. None of the other travelers I met could see my trail, much less follow it with me. Sometimes my path would cross with other roads, and temptation to follow the masses would appear. These urges were short-lived, however. I knew the old man had opened my eyes to the trail, not forced me to take it. As long as I was on my path, I was free; if I left it, I was a slave.
Early one morning, I was astonished to see another man coming down my path! I felt elation that I now had a brother, someone as free as I was. I asked him about the trail ahead, and he gave me some good sounding advice. We passed the time away quickly, and I set off again.
When I came to a fork he had described, I chose the direction he had indicated, and it even almost felt right. It was a beautiful walk, and I finally broke out of the forest and onto the side of a very barren mountain.
I spent days on the mountain, exploring it and feeling it, always becoming more and more ill at ease. Finally, I decided the man was wrong in his directions and backtracked. Several miles from the mountain, I looked back to see the mountain explode. I had spent a week upon a volcano.
I took the fork I had ignored previously, and began my trek anew. I had learned much from my experience with the volcano, and resolved to be more careful.
After many months of travel, I had become very knowledgeable and adept at my skills. I no longer strayed from the path, but was able to find it whenever I needed to. It was becoming too easy.
That is when I lost the path completely.
I panicked at first. I was afraid the path would be gone forever. Four weeks prior I had entered the jungles of the west, and the path had been my only security. Now I was helplessly lost. I had no communication and no weapons.
Soon I realized that the path was simply my safety net, that I didnít need it. I could be attacked just as easily on the path as off, or I could die of starvation either on or off the path.
I knew I could do without the path. I wandered for months, lost beyond repair. Then I found it: the Dark Tower. It was a huge black temple rising above the trees. I looked at it for a very long time, thinking that I could find the path again if I just used this as a stepping stone, a way to see the trail again.
Somewhere, deep down, I remembered the volcano. I remembered that things which seem easy or too good to be true usually are. I felt like the tower was a cheat.
I smiled, shrugged, and walked away. The path was waiting for me.
To this day, I donít know what was atop that tower, but I know the path was always on the ground.
The path turned north immediately, and I found myself crossing paths with the same people again and again. They would come and go, drifting on and off my path. I would learn from them and I would teach them. . . but now I felt it was not enough. Now, it was time to find a guide.
Suddenly, I came to an open field with a circle of people in it. I walked over, meeting them and shaking hands. I felt more in place with these people than with any others before, though I sometimes felt the need to move away.
Sometimes, the path brought me close to theirs again. I wondered if the guide I had been told to seek might be among them. After many meetings, entrances and exits, I realized why I had been meeting these same people over and over: their direction was the same as mine, and our paths were actually intertwined! While we would drift apart from time to time, our paths parting, we would always meet again shortly thereafter. Soon, one person stood out to me.
This person was not a guru, sage, or teacher; this person was just a man. He had flaws, angers, and a purely human wisdom, but immediately I knew that this was to be my guide. I walked with him only for a short time, but during that time I learned much. He taught me control and restraint, appreciation for life, and how to lead. My time with him was short, but it was enough for me to learn all he had to teach.
When he saw my progress, I like to think he was proud of me, though he never said it. Finally, he called me to him, and gave me three treasures: a torc, showing that he had taught me all he could; a sickle, that I might reap the benefits of my training and show others to do the same; and a staff, that I might protect myself and others should the road become dangerous.
He sent me off, telling me that he had given me the tools I needed, and that he expected to see me progress on his own from now on. As I turned to go, I saw the path waiting for me. It diverged from the group again, but I knew that the path would always lead me back to them when I needed them. I stepped onto the path, and had gone a mile up the hill when I heard shouts below me.
I turned to see the source of the shouts, and was horrified to see my guide fighting for his life below me. I knew the man who fought him: we had met on a few occasions, and I knew he and my guide had differences, but I had never seen them come to blows. I raced back down the hill to where the two men stood fighting. My guide had been horrendously wounded in the fray, but I stepped between the two just before my guide's assailant could bring the final strike to bear. I stood between the two men, tense and waiting. As I looked into the eyes of my guide's assailant, they softened. An argument had gotten out of hand, he said. It was all a misunderstanding. He simply walked away then, leaving me with my wounded guide.
As I turned to my guide, I knew he would never walk this way again. When I offered to carry him with me, to bring him along, he declined my offer. I pressed still for him to come with me, but he said his time was done on this path. I took him to a large stone near a stream and tried to clean his wounds, but he pushed me away. He told me there would be others, and that he was simply tired and wanted to rest. I realized I could do nothing for him, except honour his wishes. I walked away.
More to come. . .