The Philosopher and Upashna were through the first gate. They felt a sigh of relief which soon faded when they looked up and realized the stones which formed the walls of the labyrinth before were now a forest of trees.
“The unchanging factor when traveling in magical realms is that they are always changing,” said Upashna.
“We made it this far and through the first gateway in a short amount of time. A labyrinth forest of trees will not stop us now. As you said ‘There is no turning back once we entered.’” added The Philosopher.
Upashna appreciated the positive attitude of The Philosopher as he had the most to lose on this adventure. “Thank you for your sacrifice Philosopher. I know it could not have been easy for you to give up the name you have had all your life and that others, your friends and family know you by. I appreciate your offering.”
“I have no family to forget me and although my friends may not remember me by name, we have each influenced the life of the other. That influence cannot be taken away nor forgotten. It is part of who we are. What we shared is by far greater than the name of the person they shared it with.” said The Philosopher. Then added, “That gate keeper takes his responsibility seriously. I am glad I was able to give him something he wanted.”
“He would have made you return to the entrance if you did not and would have cut off your head if you resisted in any manner. Most of those denied passage end up wandering the catacombs until they die from exhaustion or hunger. The gatekeepers of the labyrinth are here to protect the entrance to the Other Realm. They all are from the same clan of Vikings and are sworn to their duty for life. In their culture it is an honor to be chosen for this position.” Upashna gathered her staff and pack and headed north through the forest. The Philosopher followed.
They had only walked a short distance when Upashna tripped on a partially hidden tree root and fell to the ground. “Are you alright?” asked The Philosopher.
“Yes. I am okay. I was in too much of a hurry and was not paying attention. I think I sprained my ankle.”
The Philosopher removed his pack and bent down to take a closer look. “Yes. Your ankle is already beginning to swell.” He removed a pouch from his pack which contained a small jar of ointment which he applied to Upashna’s ankle. Then he took out a piece of cloth and ripped it into strips and wrapped them around the swollen ankle. “Try to stand up and see if you can put weight on your leg.” He instructed Upashna. She tried but could not stand on the ankle.
The Philosopher remembered a small stream a little ways behind them. After hiding their packs and Upashna’s staff in the bushes, he picked up his own staff and then Upashna in one well executed move. We must soak your foot in cold water to stop the swelling. “We don’t have the time Philosopher.”
“We have no choice,” he replied. He carried Upashna for a few hundred meters back to the stream and lowered her foot into the water as he sat her down on a soft patch of grass. “You stay here. I will go back to retrieve the packs and your staff. Hold on to mine for your protection until I return. Please do not try to walk.”
I will do as you ask Philosopher,” answered Upashna. “Please be quick.” The Philosopher gave her a smile of reassurance and left.
Upashna’s ankle was already beginning to feel better. The heat from the ointment and the cold water of the spring were like magic for her bruised bone. While waiting for the Philosopher to return she noticed the carving on the head of his walking staff. It was very intricate. It was a fire dragon similar to that on the head of her own and her father’s staffs only each was slightly different. When The Philosopher returned with her pack she asked him how he had come into ownership of this walking staff.
“Curious you should ask because I noticed a similar design on your staff when I picked it up. Our staffs were obviously made by the same wood carver. I received the staff from an unknown person on my twelfth birthday. It was left outside the door of my grandmother’s home. It has become a part of me. I do not leave my enclave without it. It is very sturdy and has assisted me in a few skirmishes with would be thieves.” The Philosopher told her. He continued, “I have good news. On my return trip to retrieve our packs I must have taken a wrong turn but as it turns out I found the second gate. It is about a thousand meters from here. Do you think you can make it?”
“I may have to lean on you for support but I believe I can make it.”
“We still have plenty of daylight left. Why don’t we let your ankle soak in the stream for another twenty minutes while I make a brace for your foot.” The Philosopher looked around for a particular wood and twine he was familiar with which would shrink when soaked in water and dried. This wood brace he thought would provide enough support to Upashna’s ankle for her to walk.
As The Philosopher weaved the wood he had shaved from a branch with his knife and the twine he found hanging from a tree, Upashna’s mind began to wonder about this stranger who has come into her life, sent by her father, who has no known family of his own, obviously well learned in the literary arts and trained in the healing arts as well, and who carries a staff with carvings known by her and her family. She once again asks about The Philosopher’s father.
“I think you mentioned before you did not know your father.”
“Yes that is true. I only know what my grandmother told me but that was very little. My father loved my mother more than life. On the day I was born, she died giving me life. My father was deeply depressed and could not bear to be with me. My grandmother would never confirm this of course but why else would he record my name as The Philosopher rather than giving me his family name. I think it was because he did not want me to be able to trace him in any manner. I know nothing about him. Even the marriage certificate between him and my mother disappeared from the Hall of Records. There is no record of either of them having ever existed. I do not even know his name. I grew up in the village where I was born but no one in the village apparently knew my parents. I lived in my grandmother’s house which she left to me when she died and it is where I lived until two days ago when I left to follow a dream to find your father for an interpret of this book I carry. You are the only good in this adventure so far. I would do anything just to be near you.”
“Philosopher, your words cause me to blush.”
“They are true Upashna, daughter of the Wizard Baldwin of SwanSea and the Wizard Elza of Morocco.” He lifted her foot from the stream and wrapped the wooden brace around her ankle. He tied it tightly with the twine. This will dry and provide support until your ankle can heal on its own. We can make it to the second gate before dusk.”
Upashna smiled with her whole heart and the changing colors of her eye but she did not know what words to say.
…to be continued.