For some reason I felt compelled to write this story today. I hope you
enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it : ) - Dax
The warrior sat on a mound of stones atop the great mountain, his head in his hands and his chest still heaving with the exertion of the last stage of his climb.
His black hair, now flecked with grey, clung to his face just as his clothing stuck to his body from the combination of the perspiration that resulted from his recent efforts as well as the ever-present fog that had dogged his steps since he first began his ascent of the sacred mountain many days before.
Chain mail once as bright and shiny as a mirror was now caked in grime and dirt as well as patches of bright orange rust from the lack of the cleaning and oiling to which it was accustomed and his sword, whilst still serviceable showed signs that it had not been cared for for several days.
The warrior laughed inwardly as he thought about how his old swordmaster used to punish him for even the slightest speck of dust on his uniform and more severely still when his arms and armour were not properly cared for. He still recalled the long hours spent marching drill as punishment or, worse yet, cleaning out the latrines when his transgressions against the warriors code were deemed great.
If the swordmaster could see him now...
Thinking of the old man suddenly reminded the warrior of his quest and of the struggles and deprivations he'd endured and, suddenly as it had come, the faint smile that had creased face for the briefest instant was lost and replaced by the frown that had taken up residence a long time hence.
It hadn't always been this way, he reminded himself.
When he had set out on this quest those long years ago, he and his companions, warriors all, had been driven by an almost child-like excitement and sense of fun and adventure that seemed to give them boundless energy and focus. But that excitement had soon worn off.
Within a matter of weeks, three of his companions had been lost to rivers whose banks had swelled with the great flood and two more, fearful of the wrath of the water Gods, chose to return home, justifying their leaving by stating that it was better to live in a castle than die in the wilderness.
"Cowards" he said aloud to himself, still scornful and angry at the memory of their abandoning the quest so soon.
The warrior had remained steadfast and said to the others "We will continue with our quest for if we turn back then our friends have died for naught". His companions, in full agreement, rode on.
Months passed and three more companions were lost, this time to bandits and brigands who had lain in ambush to take by force that which they could not earn by honest labour. They had been routed by the warrior and his men yet still, the cost of victory had been a high one.
Two of his men said "We will go no further. We will return the bodies of the fallen to their loved ones back home and be thankful that our folly has allowed us to come so far and experience so much without harm to ourselves" and with that, they turned and left.
The warrior looked at his remaining men, now so few in number and said "We shall persevere, for to have come so far and risked so much and paid such a dear price, it makes no sense to abandon our quest and return home". His companions, in full agreement, rode on.
A year passed and at last they came upon a prosperous city where the streets were paved with gold and the people were dressed in cloth of the finest weave. Three more men the warrior lost to the quest when they decided to stay and build new lives for themselves in this paradise far from home and unlike any they had ever dreamed of.
"We will stay and raise families here" they said "for back home we were merely warriors at our lords pleasure, yet here we shall live like kings"
The warrior spoke then saying "True, as kings in riches and wealth ye shall be, yet knowing that you abandoned your true quest, I fear that you shall never know the true riches afforded only to those who finish what they start"
"We few shall continue, for we know that what lies before us is of greater value than all we have seen thus far combined" and saying so, the warrior and his remaining companions rode on.
A decade passed and the warrior now found himself utterly alone. His last companions had long since abandoned their quest and returned home leaving him to face the remainder of the journey and the hardship it entailed in silent misery.
Now, sitting atop this fog enshrouded mountain peak in total solitude, cold, wet, hungry and broken in both body and spirit the warrior considered his long quest and asked himself "Was it all worth it?"
And inside his own head the answer came, loud and clear.
The silent response echoed off the walls of his own mind until suddenly and completely unbidden the warrior found tears streaming from eyes swollen with moisture, followed by a raising of his broad shoulders into what he would eventually come to recognise as a sob, something he had not done since since he was a young child at his mothers knee.
"What a fool I have been" he declared to himself, then louder, shouting at the mountain that had finally broken his spirit and his heart. "WHAT A DAMNED FOOL I'VE BEEN!"
As he heard his curses echo through the valley below he became aware of a movement and then the briefest flash of orange presented itself a short distance away and beneath him on the stone strewn track, yet to this battle hardened warrior who had survived numerous violent encounters since leaving home, it was enough to bring every fibre of his being to full alertness.
As he reached for the sword at his belt and old yet kindly voice rang out of the fog. "Stay your hand my son, for we have come not to fight but to rejoice at your arrival for it has been long in coming"
Taken aback by the curious comment the warrior froze, his hand scant inches from the weapon, and peered into the thick impenetrable fog for a hint as to where the speaker may be. Another flash of orange, a blur of movement and mere seconds later there stood before him a group of orange clad monks with smiles that spread from ear to ear and a countenance that could only be described as joyful.
At the fore stood a monk, far older than the others with brown, weather beaten and parchment-thin skin that was wrinkled beyond belief yet sporting a smile that was bigger and warmer than any that the warrior could remember having seen in his entire life. Striding purposefully up to the warrior who was a full two heads taller than he, the old man took him in an embrace of genuine joy and care and said in a voice warm yet powerful and strong at the same time "Welcome to the sacred mountain, my son. We have been expecting you"
The warrior said nothing, yet, suddenly self conscious of the tears still running down his cheeks, raised a hand to wipe them away in a manner that, he hoped, would serve to disguise his moment of weakness.
Taking a small step backward yet remaining in physical contact with the tall warrior, the old man placed his hand on the bigger man's shoulder and stared into his eyes with a gaze that was at once gentler and yet more powerful than anything he had ever experienced before and immediately the warrior was aware that he stood in the presence of one who had peered into the soul of the world and had found enlightenment and peace as a result.
"Today is a joyous day, my son, and yet you stand here with tears of grief and sadness running down your face and shouting words of anger at the world. Your bitterness, anger and resentment shows clear to all who have eyes to see, yet now, after all these years, you stand at the threshold of your quest's completion.
Why does your heart ache so?"
The warrior closed his eyes, inhaled deeply then let out a sigh so deep and wearisome that even the smiles of the old man and his younger companions seemed to falter a little.
At last he spoke and, as he did so, he told of his journey and that of his companions, of the struggles they had faced, of the losses they had endured and of the pain, suffering, humiliation and feelings of despair that, finally and alone, only he was left to endure.
"And during all this" he said "I kept myself true to my quest because I believed that the soul of the world would reveal itself and bestow upon me its blessed bounty of peace, happiness and wisdom."
"I was a fool" he said "for now, here atop this highest of all mountains I see that no such prize exists and that this peak is nothing more than granite, flint and cold stone. I have wasted my life in search of a treasure that does not exist and seen good friends die as a result of my folly" The last he said quietly, almost a whisper as though he were too ashamed to say the words aloud.
The old man laughed a merry laugh and, with smiling eyes twinkling with good humor said to the warrior "My son, you have travelled long, you have travelled far and you have experienced much since you have left your home. Some of it you have called good, some you have called bad and much of it far more difficult and testing than you ever imagined it would be when you set out with your youthful excitement so many years ago.
You have learned much, my son, but though your eyes have gazed upon much that few men will ever see, you have yet to recognise the power, purpose or potential of any of it.
In focusing only on reaching this holy place you have missed many of the wonders and miracles that the soul of the world was trying to show you, choosing instead to fill your heart with bitterness and regret for what life has delivered unto you"
"Ha!" said the warrior contemptuously "You seem a kindly and good intentioned old man but you are wrong!"
"Long have I been on this path and much have I seen, it's true, but hardly any would qualify as wonders and miracles and much, as I have already told you, would be better described as disaster and tragedy" Then quietly, almost to himself he added "I see no miracle in watching good friends die or give up in despair"
"My son," said the old man, smiling once again "you see no miracles because you have not truly looked for them and yet, still, the miracles were present all along"
"Was it not a miracle that the soul of the world saw fit to bless you with friends who believed in you and trusted you to share in your adventure, even if only for a short time?"
"Was it not a miracle that you were strong enough and skilled enough to swim the swollen rivers that carried the spirit of your brothers home to the kingdom of the mothers and fathers and a miracle again that, in doing so, you learned never to repeat their mistakes when faced with nature's awesome power several times throughout your quest?"
"The warrior looked up, shocked "How..."
Holding up a wrinkled hand for silence, the old monk continued "Were you not in the presence of a miracle when your strength and skill with a blade saved the lives of your companions and yourself during more battles than you can remember and yet another still that you were present at the passing of those you loved, easing them in their passage to the next world?"
"Could you not sense the soul of the world at work when your closest friends, those who you thought had abandoned you, were blessed with the sure and certain knowledge that their own quests were over and that, at last, they could rest and enjoy life's plentiful bounty?"
"And, if not a miracle, how can you describe how your last remaining companions finally discovered that their own quests would be complete only once they arrived safely back home and in the arms of the families that love them?"
"But... this mountain" stammered the warrior, now less sure of himself and his experiences as he had been mere moments before "It is supposed to be a place of miracle and wonder yet I see none. Where are the miracles here, old man? For I see only rock and shale and this blasted fog, yet nothing to explain why I should have been called to walk this long, lonely path for these long years and why I needed to endure so much to get here "
The old man smiled an indulgent smile, placed his hand back upon the warrior's shoulder and said patiently, as if talking to a child "The miracles you have sought have been there for you to see from the very moment you stepped foot onto the mountain yet you were so caught up in your woes that you could not recognise them to register their presence"
"IMPOSSIBLE!" protested the warrior "I passed no wonders. I saw nothing special!"
"You never saw the field of dreams?" asked the old man "The yellow gold flowers there are beautiful, and you could have rested there a while and spoken to your lost companions and learned that they were happy and safe with the mothers and father but, you saw it not because your head was hung with grief and your mind clouded with dark thoughts over your loss"
The old man waved a hand and the fog shimmered then disappeared revealing a bright golden field at the foot of the mountain far below, and right next to the very path that the warrior had trodden.
His eyes widened and he went as if about to speak, but the old man continued "You never saw the pool of healing? Its warm, crystal clear waters could have served to rejuvenate you in both body and mind yet your eyes were cast to the floor and you were cursing the very stones under your feet for an imagined conspiracy to trip you and so you walked right on by and never noticed a thing"
Once again, he waved his hand and once again the fog parted parted to reveal a turquoise pool of stunning beauty situated halfway up the mountain and within a mere arm's length from the path he had climbed.
"And here, atop this great peak at the roof of the world, did you not see the mirror of wisdom? Had you but looked you would have found a way to learn secrets known only to the soul of the world and found a way to ever lasting peace. Yet instead, you placed your attentions in the past and chose to pick at the scabs of wounds that should have long since healed and, in doing so, missed it entirely."
One last time the old man waved his hand and the dense fog that shrouded the mountain top faded, slowly at first and then faster until finally it was gone altogether.
The warrior looked around the mountaintop on what was now a beautiful, sunny and warm summers day and saw, to his amazement, that not 3 yards from where he stood was a simple yet elegant mirror that stood twice as tall as and shwing a reflection of the rugged peak itself.
"How could I have missed so much?" said the now bemused warrior as he took in the majestic views from his high vantage point.
The old man smiled "It is the nature of men" he said "to see every obstacle they encounter as something set to rob them of what they seek when, in reality, each obstacle is nothing more than a a chance to decide upon the true value of what you are seeking. If worth much you will breach the obstacle, if little, why then, you will turn back.
It is not good. It is not bad. It just is."
The warrior felt truth in the old man's words and suddenly, as if a giant hand had reached into the very core of his being, a tremendous weight was lifted from his heart.
The old man continued "It is the nature of men to see each struggle that they engage in as a battle that someone else must lose in order that they may win when, in truth, the struggle is nothing more than conditioning to strengthen us for what we must yet endure.
As you have had to exercise your arm and shoulders every day in order to wield your great sword with strength and skill in combat, so too have you been given the opportunity to gain the strength of body, mind and spirit required to reach this sacred place"
The warrior smiled as he thought of all the struggles that had been visited upon him and yet how much stronger he was now than he had been at the start of this great quest. He realised that whilst he had chosen to focus on his suffering for so long, that joy had never been very far from him and he he had only to have bothered to look to have seen it with his own eyes.
"I've been a fool" he said with a smile and, as he did so, he felt that great hand reach inside once more and he physically staggered as the burden of sadness that he had carried for so long was finally lifted from him.
Realising what the warrior was going through and experiencing, the old man smiled and continued with his lesson "It is the nature of men to experience fear upon thinking of what may or may not become in the future and to experience resentment when that future does not turn out as planned or hoped for. Yet with each fear comes the opportunity to demonstrate faith and belief in what may yet come to be and with each resentment the opportunity to demonstrate gratitude for the gifts already bestowed.
This is the way of love" said the old man, still smiling.
"Love" repeated the warrior and, as he did so, he recognised yet more truth coming from the old man. "No, not from" he corrected himself "through" for it was clear now that the soul of the world was speaking with him now through the spirit and body of the old man before him.
Suddenly thankful of the opportunity to experience and overcome each and every fear that had visited upon him since leaving home, the warrior became aware of its opposite; a deep and powerful love of life and a thankfulness that threatened to overwhelm him completely with tears of the purest joy.
And at last, as the final burden of fear left him, the warrior, after years of journeying, fighting, struggling and heartache found his miracle...
...and realised, just as the old man had said, it had been with him all the time had he but looked for it.
He turned to the old man with fresh tears rolling down his cheeks and a smile of the greatest joy and saw that the old man was now bowing from the waist with his hands pressed together before his face.
"Rak Due Kwam Jing Jai" said the abbot of the temple of the soul of the world to the warrior in a reverent tone that intimated something of significance was being said.
"I'm sorry, I don't understand" replied the warrior.
"It is the name of the miracle that you have sought for so long and that which you have just experienced" said the old man.
"It means 'truth, joy and love' and with it you now possess the answer to every question you could ever ask and the solution to every problem you could ever face"
The warrior turned to face the great mirror that stood behind him and peered at a reflection years younger than the one he had seen that morning in the reflection of the stream as he bathed. Trying his mouth around the words the abbot had uttered just moments before, the warrior said aloud "Rak Due Kwam Jing Jai" and as he did so he finally understood... everything!
At that moment the man, now no longer a warrior, for he had no need to be, did something that he hadn't done for more than ten long years.
A deep, hearty, joyous laugh full of love and gratitude.
And the soul of the world smiled.
For my family, who I love with all my heart and also for
anyone who needs reminding that their quest is about
more than climbing the mountain.
Enjoy the journey!
Truth, joy and love