“I think I can walk now. You can put me down,” said Upashna.
“O’ I had grown use to your being in my arms but if we are to get through this desert labyrinth we will each do better under our own power.”
This desert had four suns and it looked as if each represented a point on the compass so there was no way to tell which way was north. The suns did not rotate so there were no shadows just brightness all around them, and hot dry moist less air.
Upashna spoke, “Fortunately I filled our water jugs while I was resting at the creek but we have no more food and we must find the third door and reach the Other Realm before midnight. We could cover more ground if we separated but in this desert it would be too easy to loose sight of one another. There are so many dunes and they all look the same.”
“Perhaps we should pick a direction and stick with it until we find the last gate or some directional sign,” said The Philosopher. He turned to look behind them to see if the second gate they just passed through might offer a lead but it had already disappeared and nothing but dunes of sand filled the horizon as far as the eye could see.
“When we reached the second gate we were heading north so let’s continue straight ahead. I do not think we have a better choice,” said Upashna. She then stepped forward a few steps and as she suspected as soon as she lifted her foot from the sand the print of her foot quickly refilled with more sand. “We have no way to mark the trail to prevent us from walking in circles. This is a labyrinth to be sure.”
“How’s your foot? Are you able to put weight on it?”
“Yes. I can use my staff for support. Do not worry. I will be fine.” Upashna replied.
The two of them took off but did not talk in order to save energy and moisture. They each remained within their own thoughts. Each had many questions for the other but neither wanted to intrude. The philosopher wanted to ask Upashna about the Other Realm. Where was it? Why are they needed there? Who lives there? All these questions he kept to himself. There will be time to ask, but this is not that time. He thought of his minimalist home, his books and his favorite chair next to the fireplace where he would sit each evening and read the ancient texts in his search for…. He could not remember. What was I searching for in all those books. What am I doing here in this god awful desert? In the god awful heat. Why are the four suns? He turned his head slightly and saw Upashna’s to his right. Her determination and strength inspired him. She would do anything to answer her father’s call and The Philosopher would follow her anywhere to be at her side.
Upashna was thinking about this man beside her who lights up at her every word. Why did her father send him? Who is he? Why is he willing to sacrifice his life on this unexpected journey to a place he did not even knew existed until I mentioned the Other Realm where my parents are. He thought they were dead.
They had been walking for hours with no sign of the third gate. They thought the darkness of night would enable them to search the stars for directions but the four suns never moved, never set. It was as if they were mounted in place in the endless blue sky.
“Look.” The Philosopher said in amazement. He was looking up into the sky. “Is that a sparrow hawk? What is a sparrow hawk doing in the middle of this nowhere desert?”
Upashna looked up. “We must follow it. I am sure it is a sign from my father.”
The sighting of the sparrow hawk gave the weary travelers renewed energy and they followed its flight over a nearby dune and saw the third gate in a small oasis shaded by a a few dozen palm trees. The gatekeeper was asleep in a hammock swaying between two of the trees but he awakened at their approach. The two travelers looked up once more as if to give thanks to their avian friend but he had already disappeared.
“Welcome Upashna, daughter of the Wizard Baldwin of Swansea and the Wizard Elza of Morocco and also to you with no name. I am Extor. My brothers Mingus and Free told me I might have visitors but very few ever make it to this final gate. The desert labyrinth breaks the spirit and bodies of most but you two are here. Please sit down, refresh yourselves and join me for a bit of food. I know Upashna you wish to continue your journey but you have almost a full day before the third night of the new moon. Time within the three labyrinths is not the same as time outside. So please join me.”
“You are correct Extor we are in a hurry to reach the Other Realm before the third night of the new moon but as you mentioned, there is time. So yes, Upashna and I will be very happy to join you for food and drink.” The Philosopher looked over at Upashna with a glint in his eye and she knew to follow his lead. Upashna was not accustomed to some else speaking for her but she remembered The Philosopher’s words, “We must completely trust each other,” and she did trust him. Completely.
“Extor. Since we are going to join you for some food and drink, might I freshen myself in your pond before dinner?” asked Upashna.
“Why of course. There is an extra tent the two of you may use to change and a private pond where you may bathe over behind those two trees,” said Extor. “Food and drink will be waiting upon your return.”
Upashna had not seen a tent or bathing area before but there was one now. The fields of magic are always changing. The tent appeared small from the outside but once they entered it was very spacious with two private changing, sleeping and bath areas.
“Upashna,” said The Philosopher. “I appreciate you following my lead. It is not my custom to speak for another and especially someone as intelligent and wise as yourself. Thank you.”
“What is wrong Philosopher? You seem heavy with worry.”
“I am Upashna. I am worried I might not be able to pass through the third gate with you. I have nothing else of value to give and I would give all I have to continue this journey with you.”
“I know you would Philosopher.” She places her hand of the side of the Philosopher’s face. “Please do not worry yourself. Let’s bathe and put on a change of clothing, share food and drink with Extor. Then we will have him tell us what he requires for passage. We are in this together my dear Philosopher.”
They each move to their side of the tent where water, fruit and fresh clothing had been arranged on soft billowy cushions. The hot desert wind briefly blows the thin veil separating their two areas and The Philosopher once again is momentarily held spellbound by Upashnas beauty.
…to be continued.