When Upashna awakened the next morning, The Philosopher, his bedroll, pack and staff were not there to be seen. Her heart felt a sudden emptiness in his absence. He was a man she had only met two days ago but she was inspired by his joy, his views of life, his vitality and love for his world and all it contained. She heard a crack of wood and quickly grabbed her staff to defend herself from whatever it was behind her.
“Wait,” called The Philosopher. “I experienced the sting of your staff once before and have no desire for a repeat performance,” he laughingly said.
“It is just that you move so quietly. I was startled. When I did not see you upon awakening, I thought you had chosen to return to the village.”
“I did not sleep well last night so I went down to the stream early to wash and fill our water jugs. I caught a couple of fish for our breakfast and found some wild herbs for tea. I would not leave you to go forth on this adventure alone and besides I wish to return the book to your father. Perhaps he will show me the words. I have been a seeker of truth for the greater part of my life.”
“I am sure my father will share with you the wisdom of the sacred text but we must first get through the labyrinth and to the Other Realm.”
“Well,” said The Philosopher. “I will stoke the fire and prepare the fish and tea while you gather your things. Then we will enter the labyrinth. Does that sound good to you Upashna?”
“Yes it does Philosopher. I am a bit hungry. While you prepare the food. I will go down to the stream to wash.” Upashna gathered her staff, folded her bedroll, picked up her pack and walked to the stream as The Philosopher watched the sway of her body from the corner of his eye.
Upon her return from the stream, a breakfast of fried fish, herbal tea and potatoes that The Philosopher had brought with him when he set out from his encave two days earlier. As they ate their meal, Upashna asked The Philosopher what had kept him awake the night before.
“My thoughts of life and death have heightened since I decided to accompany you through the labyrinth, a dream I had of my father whom I never saw or knew but in the dream I knew he was my father, and then dreams of dragons and you.”
Although Upashna was most curious of The Philosophers dream about her, she avoided asking. “You did not know your father but what of your mother.”
“I did not know her either. She died giving life to me. I was raised by my maternal grandmother. She taught me to read and to write at a very young age and arranged for me to attend the University. She died soon after my graduation. There was nothing more she could do for me. She had taught me everything she knew. It is her home in the village that I live in now. It is a simple dwelling but it serves me well. I have been on my own most of this life learning, teaching, and searching.”
As the rays of the morning sun reached the opening of the labyrinth, Upashna realized it was time for them to leave. They both quickly rinsed their dishes, and checked their packs. The Philosopher put out the fire and stacked the extra firewood under the tree for the next traveler who might come this way. He believed in leaving his encampments in better condition than he found them when he could. He took one more look at the sign above the entrance to the labyrinth.
§ ALL MORTALS WHO ENTER HERE MUST BE PREPARED FOR DEATH, FOR THAT WILL BE YOUR FATE SHOULD YOU FIND NO EXIT FOR THE WAY OUT.
He then turned to Upashna in whose eyes he saw enchantment and the bubbling up of dreams and life. He had only seen such visions once before in the eyes of the woman he loved as much as his own life. He remembered the words she said to him in a visitation the night she died. “You will love again as great as that which we share,” and he wondered.
“Do not fear.” He heard Upashna’s voice pulling him back into the present moment. “We will make it through, together.”
And with those words the path of The Philosopher and Upashna became crystal clear. They each took that first step into the labyrinth and their new adventure.
…to be continued.