Chapter the Seventh
The Llama was shaken by his journey into the West, but he had still much left to do, so he resolved to once again load himself with provisions and go forth into the world in search of strange lands, for if the first two journeys had taught him anything it was that his work in the world was far from over, and that there were many misguided souls still to be reckoned with before he might be permitted to rest on his laurels. This time he steeled himself and looked towards the North, whence the cold North wind emanated and began to hike steadfastly onward. So began the Third Journey.
The Dalai Llama walked into the North for many days and nights, and the weather grew cold and bleak, and the cold rain turned slowly to ice, which pelted down upon the Llama’s head and made him shiver to his very core. But he did not give up, for such was his determination to learn the ways of the world that he traveled onward, and he shrugged off the cold as though it were but a cumbersome garment, which had worn out its usefulness and was no longer needed. For although the weather was harsh, he beheld along his way many sights of great beauty. Great cliffs of ice loomed to one side of him, while on his other he was awed my massive fjords which made up the coastline and framed the glorious countenance of the dark and churning sea. Then the Llama saw that the sea was not at peace and he resolved to keep his wits about him, for in this strange country anything could transpire without warning. It was at this time that a great Blizzard came up suddenly from the North, and though the Llama had prepared himself for this, he was blinded by the snow and could not see, nor could he keep his footing.
It is unknown how much time passed before the great storm passed, but when the sky was once again clear, the Llama knew not where he was, but only that he was surrounded by whiteness on all sides.
»What is this place?» thought he. »Has Llamageddon come and have I died?»
But it was not so, for he saw in the distance a small, yet sturdy hut, obviously built in such a way as to protect it from such storms as must be frequent in this forsaken area of the globe. And so it came to pass that the Llama went to the house, and though it was within his sight it took him many hours to reach it, for the snow beneath his feet was thick and treacherous. When at last he reached the door, he knocked with blue knuckles, only to receive no answer. After some deliberation, he resolved to force entry, for although this hut was not his, it was surely abandoned and he would freeze without shelter from the cold. It was, therefore, to his great surprise when the door opened freely, and to his still greater surprise to see the bent forms of an old man and an old woman seated inside.
His first thought was that they were dead, long since frozen in their seated postures. After all, they had not responded to his knocking, nor did they acknowledge his presence now. But no, for every now and again a small puff of blue smoke was visible from their stiff mouths, proving that breath still dwelled within their withered lungs. The Llama, realizing that he had intruded, approached the two figures humbly and with regret in his voice he apologized for invading their dwelling without their permission. He was about to retreat and find shelter elsewhere when he noticed the small remnants of a fire burning in a corner. There remained only a tiny blue flame which seemed on the verge of going out. Upset by this neglect, he approached the two again and offered these words of warning.
»Master and Mistress, I repeat my regrets for intruding upon your home, but I am duty bound to warn you that your fire, so precious and rare in these parts of the world, is about to perish. If you do not take action soon, it will go out and you both will surely freeze.»
For the first time the woman seemed aware of his presence and her lips moved in such a way as to indicate that they had been silent for a very long time indeed.
»I remember that fire was once a great roaring thing, the envy of any other.» Once again she fell silent. The Llama turned to the man and repeated his concern.
»What will it matter?» he groaned. »Nothing lasts forever. In the end all things must pass. Maybe I’ll put some more wood on it someday.»
At this the Llama threw up his hands in disgust. He quickly cast about himself and laid his eyes upon an old disused chair. With his mighty limbs, he tore it into pieces and threw them upon the fire, which almost at once regained some of its warmth and splendor. The couple looked indifferently at the newly fueled blaze.
»Reminds me of the old days,» said the woman.
»Sooner or later it will burn out,» said the man.
The Llama was indignant at this ludicrous display and he turned on the two at once to speak to them about their attitudes.
»You are fools. You, woman, are concerned only with the past. Can you not see that what once was is no more? Why dwell upon that which is lost? It is one thing to remember the past, but another thing entirely to live in it. And you, man, are always looking ahead. No doubt you think you are forward thinking and should be commended for it, but when you devote all your energies to what was and what will be to the neglect of the present you are doing yourselves no favors. Look at yourselves, for you have grown old! While others were out living their lives you chose to cast your thoughts to another time. And yet what has it gained you? What have you accomplished? It is well to be mindful of all times, both the past, present and future, for without all these considerations a happy and prosperous existence is impossible. Now, I implore you, rise from your chairs and take a look at your surroundings. Think not of what they were nor what they will be, but think rather of what they are, and rejoice in them, for the past and future are constant entities, but the present is always in motion, and therefore must be cherished before it is gone.»
Here the couple’s eyes seemed to light up slightly, as though they were waking from sleep, and they began to look around themselves. And lo, they were in awe, for it had been many a year since they had seen things for what they were. And with a great effort, the man lifted himself from his chair and went to the door of the hut, bringing his wife with him. And when they saw the sun setting and casting its rays upon the icy landscape they were mesmerized, and they realize what they had spent their lives missing and they wept.
Now the Llama’s work here was done, but although he was ready to depart, he knew not where he was, nor in which direction his home lay. Most fortunate it was then, that the Mongoose had been traipsing in this part of the world during the time of the Blizzard, and she had seen with her sharp eyes all that had transpired. And when she saw that the Llama was lost and wandering in circles, she came at once to his aid and led him straight away back home again, for all paths are straight and easy for the Mongoose to follow. And so the Llama accompanied by Mongoose returned home again, and he thanked her for her help and vowed to return the favor if ever he was able. So ended the Third Journey.
Chapter The Eighth
At this point the Llama was very tired, but he knew that he had one more task to complete before he could lay down to rest his weary bones. And so he gathered up his things and set out a fourth and final time into the world to see what wisdom he might impart unto the people in distant lands. This time, his journey led him to the South. Of all the cardinal points on the compass, the South is the least well mapped and the most dangerous, and so the Llama was apprehensive and unsure of what he might come across in his travels. He therefore kept a close watch out for anything out of the ordinary, for on this, the last of his journeys, he could not afford to be caught unawares, and who could say what lurked around each shadowy corner.
As the Dalai Llama traveled and as he grew deeper and deeper into the Southern regions of the world and farther and farther away from his home, he began to notice a change in the climate which surrounded him. At first the ice and snow of winter began to give way, and the air became warmer, until he was forced to remove some of his heavier garments of wool and leather. These he did not discard, but stowed safely in his bag, for he knew that he may yet need them, and besides, everyone in those days knew that it was bad luck to throw away one’s clothing, although it has since been largely forgotten. He then became aware of an increase in foliage on the trees around him, and before long his vision veritably swam with the color green. These bushes soon grew into trees and before long he discovered that he was in a forest, although quite unlike the forests of the North. Instead of firs and oaks, here grew strange ferns and trees which bore fruit the likes of which were unknown to all Northerners, excepting perhaps the Mongoose, who was well traveled. The Dalai Llama sampled some of these fruits as he walked, and found them to be pleasant, although somewhat cloying in their sweetness. At length he decided that it was better to subsist on the rations he carried with him and on whatever animals he could manage to trap along the way.
The forest, or perhaps jungle is a more accurate term, continued to grow thicker until the Llama feared that he would be unable to continue his journey. Up until this point he had seen no one and had begun to suspect that these Southern regions were wholly uninhabited. He had heard a number of animal noises at night while he slept, for one of Llama’s many incredible abilities is to listen and sleep at the same time, but apart from some unusually brightly colored birds, he had seen none. It did not seem that the South was a particularly hospitable locale. But as chance would have it, the Llama, while forging his way deeper into the thick jungle, his head filled to overflowing with all his deep and profound thoughts, suddenly started, for he had heard a noise far off in the distance. It had sounded like a mix of animal and human cries. Now be it known that the Llama’s hearing is unrivaled, even by the likes of Mongoose and Snake (Snake has no ears and is consequently rather deaf) throughout all the land, and he knew that when he heard something it was no illusion or trick of the mind, and so he changed direction and set off at once to investigate these disturbing noises.
After a time, the Llama drew quite near to these disturbing sounds, having navigated through the jungle solely by virtue of his exquisite ears, until it seemed that they were emerging just a few feet beyond one particularly dense section of foliage. Here he paused but briefly, reflecting on how to proceed, before plunging his head will I nill I through to the other side. And lo! What did he behold there, but one of the strangest and most curious sights he had ever laid eyes upon. There in a small clearing lay a man, his clothing torn and in rags, his body scratched and torn, but living still. Around his limbs, thick vines were entwined, and about his prone form crouched a multitude of animals, entranced by his plight and evidently hoping to get an easy meal out of it. Every now and then, one of the animals drew forward in an attempt to feed on the flesh of the poor devil, but upon seeing this the man would shout wildly, causing the animal to withdraw. This was the source of the noise that the Dalai Llama had heard. However, it was evident from the man’s myriad wounds that these shouts were not always enough to dissuade the animals from their prey. The Llama was horrified at this spectacle and hurried in to free the man from his vegetative bonds. Much to his surprise, upon seeing what he intended, the man began to shout at him as well, only this time his cries bore the form of human language.
»You there! Stop! What do you think you’re doing.»
»I am freeing you, sir,» said the Llama, puzzled.
»You must not.»
»But the vines that hold you are not thick. I’ll wager that you could break them yourself if you cared to exert the effort.»
»Do you think me an invalid? Of course I could break them., but to do so would be morally wrong. These plants are as alive as you or I. Who am I to take that life from them?»
»But if you do not rise these animals will soon devour you.»
»The animals have as much a right to their meal as I do to mine, do they not? Besides, in defending myself, I might inadvertently injure one of the little creatures, and such a thought is abhorrent to me.»
»Man has too long exerted his powers over nature. She has provided us with food and life, and we have repaid her only with death and destruction, and now she is dying.»
At this point the Llama let loose a mighty laugh.
»My friend, I can see that your intentions are good, and for that you must be praised, but your conclusions are sadly misguided. Come walk with me, and I shall explain all.» Here he kicked aside the vines which held the man and lifted him to his feet.
»Let us walk.»
»Look around you, my friend. See the trees, the birds smell the air. Nature is not dying. Far from it. Do not be so arrogant as to think that beings such as we could hope to damage a force as mighty as nature. If she knew of your concern, I’m sure she would take offense, and then your lot would be a sorry one indeed. Everyone who has weathered a thunderstorm can tell you that when nature wills something, she will not be denied. Consider the creatures that go on all fours. Do they not hunt each other? Do they not kill each other in order to maintain their own survival? And if they are threatened with death do they not fight until their last breath? Why then should we behave any differently? It is a fool who gives his life for the sake of his murderer. Furthermore, a dead man can do little to aid his cause, whatever that cause may be. A man must eat. A man must have shelter. To accomplish these things without damaging nature a little is not possible, and why should we desire it? Name the wolf who would act on our behalf when it finds itself hungry. You cannot. Why then should we not reciprocate? It is not vengeful or malicious, but simply the way of things. If it were otherwise, we would have been designed to subsist on rocks and dirt, but a man cannot live by dirt alone.»
»That is true,» nodded the man, and his face was a mass of bewilderment, for the Llama had preached things that he had never heard before and his mind was all a twitter to digest these deep thoughts. Suddenly, a wild boar burst in on this conversation, raising its tusks in haughty challenge to the Dalai Llama’s authority. Before the men could act, it lowered its head and charged, but the Llama was quick on his heels and quick in his wits and he deftly leapt aside. And lo! In his hand appeared as if by magic a shining blade which he sank deep into the boar’s flank as it passed. An instant later, the creature lay dead on the forest floor.
»Come my friend,» said the Boar Slayer. »The Hour of suppertime has come. Let us feast.»
And the man smiled, for in that moment between life and death all of his thoughts had crystallized and he saw that what the Llama said was indeed wise and true. They feasted heartily, and it was good.
Having imparted his wisdom to this man of the South, and instructing him to do the same to his brethren, the Llama’s work was done and he began the long return journey through the jungle to his distant homeland, where he would enjoy a period of long respite from his duties, resting and reflecting on the world around him. For you see, the Dalai Llama is wise, and in his wisdom he is always questing to become wiser still, as all wise men should.
So ended the Fourth Journey.
Chapter the Ninth
The Dalai Llama was sleeping peacefully, having completed the Four Journeys and feeling that he deserved a little rest, when he was awoken by the sounds of a great clamoring and clangoring coming from beyond his hill. Slowly, he rose and rubbed his weary eyes and it was then that he saw a great multitude of people swarming towards him and he beheld that their faces were contorted with rage and that some of them carried torches and pitchforks in their hands, although it was not dark, nor were they farmers. Then the Llama knew that the anger of this crowd was directed towards him, and he was befuddled, for he had never done them wrong, nor had he even met them before, and he wondered how it could be that they could feel such outrage towards someone they did not know. He braced himself for their arrival.
It was not long before the multitude had gathered around the Dalai Llama’s hill and their cries rang out loudly, but they were voiced without order and their words were garbled in the great confusion of their many tongues. And it is certain that had the Llama not taken swift and decisive action that they would have overtaken the hill on which he had made his bed, and swarmed over the prophet like a horde of charging and senseless ants. But he was not one to be caught unawares, and as the throng approached, the Dalai llama threw up his hands and raised his powerful and mellifluous voice in a mighty wordless cry, and the crowd fell back upon hearing this and after a time they too fell silent as if waiting for the Llama to speak. Speak he did, and his words were thus:
»Why have you come here to my hill? For I have recently returned from traveling and was merely resting my weary bones. But now you have interrupted my slumber and provoked my temper, for without sleep a man cannot be expected to be at his cheerful best.»
And a man at the head of the throng shouted out, in a voice both bold yet clearly intimidated. »We know that you have been traveling, yes, and we know what you have been doing. Spreading filthy lies to the people of our fair land. Seducing them into your sick religious zealotry. Preying on the poor sheep who do not know any better than to do as you tell them. That is why we have come. To put a stop to your superstitious and wicked meddling.» Here the crowd let up a great cheer, but the Llama merely raised a hand and they were again silent.
»I see. And tell me, you who make such accusations, who you are and where you come from, if you would be so kind.»
The man was not expecting this type of response, and answered in a ragged tone »My name is Athe and we are all from the town of Nihil. I am the mayor there, and I speak for us all when I say that we will not tolerate the imposition of your ridiculous tenants on our people.»
»Your words are confused and unfair, Friend Athe. Have I come to your house and harassed you? Have I imposed my beliefs upon any one of you against your will? Bear in mind that you are all free agents to act and believe as you please. I have never infringed upon that freedom. If you think, as you seem to, that your fellow men are so stupid as to be unable to distinguish my teachings from their own thoughts, then it seems to me that you are the ones in need of chastisement, not I, for I assume the benefit of a working mind in anyone with whom I have dealings. It seems to me extremely insulting to do otherwise. You claim that I impose my beliefs on others, but I am not the one wielding torches and pitchforks, prepared to do violence in support of my cause. And what pray tell, is your cause? A lack of belief? A shrine to nothingness? A lack of principles is nothing to celebrate, much less to attempt to perpetuate it among others. He who believes in nothing, stands for nothing and is worth just as much. He who lives to destroy and belittle the faith of others, is merely shifting his focus away from his own sense of emptiness.
»You say that I advocate blind obedience, but this is not so. For a man who obeys a principle without meditating on it and understanding it, is not truly committed to it and deserves no praise. And as for zealotry, there is no difference between the intolerance of your kind and the fanatics whom you claim to hate.
»Go back to your wretched town, Athe, and enjoy your short reign as a man of power, for it will be short. Those who destroy the sleep of a weary traveler are never truly awake themselves.»
With these final enigmatic words the Dalai Llama turned his back on the mob, concerned no longer with their pitchforks and torches, and lay himself down to continue his slumber on the hill. Behind him, the assembly began to murmur uncomfortably, slowly digesting the words he had spoken. Had anyone been observing, they would have noticed the tide of support behind Athe slowly ebbing. When it became apparent that the Llama would not awaken any time soon, those who remembered what their mission had originally been were forced to admit defeat and return home, while the others followed in a daze and scratched their heads, pondering the strange words that they had heard that day.
The Dalai Llama slept.
To be continued . . .