By: Denny T.
The boy packed his travel sack, torn gloves placing leather-bound books after books, a seamlessly endless supply of scrolls and a small change purse. He stopped at a particularly plain scroll, and rolled it open. In it contained one of the illustrations of the divine Tree of Ideals. It has been said that a gaze upon the flowers of the tree could hold the secret to all perfection. From his first glance into the scroll that passed as family heritage to father to son, he was enchanted. It was just unfitting that during the evening of his thirteenth birthday after his father showed him the scroll, an incident at the local tavern took his life. He caressed the scroll, realizing it was the only thing he had of his family. Just half a month after his father’s death, he was preparing to begin a quest to find the Tree of Ideals, for it was the only purpose left in life, the only pilgrimage that mattered. It has not been found since the beginning of time. No one even bothered with “useless trips” like that anymore. Not since the golden age of the vast land, several generations ago. Nowadays, humanity was in decline. Surviving alone was a challenge. The boy put on his cloak and walked outside the door.
Perhaps the village has always been as desolate as it has today, everyone locked inside stout, grey homes. However, according to the sage, everything changed as times moved away from prosperity and into downfall. The boy knocked lightly on the small dwelling of the sage. The piece of half-rotten wood swung open to reveal an old man with a cane. His skinny frame and hunched back indicated sighs of strain as a child, though it seemed that if one has gazed so deeply in his sunken eyes, they could see whirlpools of stars and wisdom far above the realm of mortality. During the boy’s frequent visits to his home as a child, the sage has always denied his wisdom, although none other in this town saw it that way.
“Is it time?” mouthed the sage, almost inaudibly.
“Yes, sir. I see that you have everything ready.”
“It has been long since I have looked forward to anything. Every man was indeed once a child.”
They did not bother to close the doors. The sage probably believes that he would never return to see his home again.
Away they walked from the old village, towards the waning colours of dusk. They walked until the town was just a collection of glowing orange and smoke. They walked throughout the night; the sage relied on the stars for guidance. The half moon shined dimly despite the clear, open night sky. The silence was not once broken until sometime after midnight.
“What is the difference between the prestigious philosophers of the faraway cities and a sage such as you?” Inquired the boy.
The sage contemplated long and hard about this question.“A philosopher is someone who, through their pursuit of wisdom, relies plainly on knowledge than experience. They give and always wish to receive gifts from their wisdom, while we sages, accumulate experiences from our lifetime, with no purpose but to live knowing that we will never achieve true wisdom. ”
“Can the Tree of Ideals be related to those philosophers?”
The sage did not answer until he finally replied with a short “We’ll see” phrase.
They trotted past rolling hills until they reached a vast lake of seemly miles until the other side. As the darkness of night began to retreat to reveal another day, shadows started to distinguish from light. The silhouettes of trees, the clouds above began to take on a purple hue, they seemed to form a picture from a vivid storybook. The boy was in awe; he has not seen anything of this scale before. Yet the sage kept his eyes on the gravel path before them and focused on his cane.
As the path began to thin and the footprints began to disappear, the sage becomes more confident while the boy would check what limited information of the whereabouts of the Tree of Ideals on scroll.
“Less people means that few people are willing to give up everything for a chance to see perfection…” Muttered the Sage to himself, staring downwards at avery stone that he stepped on.
“Why, sir?” interrupted the boy, who suddenly remembered he was talking to an elder and closed his mouth abruptly, expecting severe punishments.
“Curiosity is the foundation of all wisdom; everything starts with a question. Questioning is good, boy. Sometimes there are no answers for questions that are better asked than resolved.”
Then, the sage closed his mouth and did not open them again until later that afternoon when the company reached edge of the lake. The boy stripped down to his undergarments to cleanse himself of a day’s toil.
When they finally sat at a fire, both rested, they laid their packs in the drying gravel. Vultures cawed in the distance; little creatures scuttled at their feet. “It’s going to be a cold night.”
“Ay.” Replied the boy halfheartedly, picking at pieces of his jerky. No one seemed to be in the mood for talking after both a day of exhaustion and generations of hopelessness.
Then, after the duo ate and unpacked, they silently crawled into their covers. The boy caressed the knife of his father before him, before sheathing it and slipping it into his covers. The notorious tale of night beasts were famous throughout the land. As soon as his landed in the cushion, his breathing fell into rhythm.
His companion sighed slowly. Although the sage was glad to be free of the burdens at home, he knows that the tree of perfection will not be anyone’s expectations, even those prestigious scrolls. He threw the remaining branches into the fire, watching intently as the bright ashes danced into the sky and the embers died. He did not fall asleep. After all those years, he was finally sleeping under the cover of the stars.