Picture by GregRob (Creative Commons)
For part one of this parable of four men on the journey of their lives, click here.
The road began to climb more steeply, and before long the remaining three travellers became aware of a dark mass of forest ahead of them.
Maybe it was just the fading light, maybe it was the heaviness that still hung over them at the thought of their missing companion, but somehow all three men felt a growing reluctance to enter the forest that night. None of them wanted to be the first to admit his fear, though, and it was with sighs of relief that they spotted, on the edge of the forest, one of the king’s heralds with a picnic again.
“Come, friends of the king,” he hailed them, “Eat your fill, for the road is long and you must keep your strength.”
The three men sank down on the benches provided for them, Tom and Jon selecting a position with the forest to their backs, Sam choosing to sit gazing into the darkness between the tall, straight trunks and low, waving fronds of greenery.
Their conversation, which till now had flowed so freely, was stilted and sporadic. They ate slowly, wanting to satisfy their hunger, but dreading the end of the meal, when they knew they must move on. Eventually, as the air cooled and the first stars began to shine in the indigo sky, Tom and Jon, who had been shifting uneasily in their seats for some time, decided to take their courage into their hands and resume the journey. As they began to gather up their packs once more, however, Sam turned to the herald.
“Herald,” he said, “The night is closing in and though we would usually walk for another hour or so in the cool darkness, I have been watching the forest all this time, and it seems to me that there are creatures roaming its depths. Tell me, is it safe for us to proceed?”
“Your way is fraught with danger,” the herald replied, “Do not men face the wild beasts with boldness?”
“Indeed,” replied Sam, “When necessary a man stands and fights, but does not the wise man bide his time? Does he not wait to face his enemy when he is rested? Does he not choose to engage in battle when he can see clearly? If you tell us we must go tonight, then go we will and face the consequences, but if we may wait till morning, I think we’d all prefer that course, would we not?”
His companions, humbled by his courage, nodded silently.
The herald smiled at the three men. “You have chosen wisely,” he said. “There will be battles ahead, but for now, rest. Prepare your weapons, plan your strategies, gather your courage, and renew your strength. You will have need of them all.”
Leaving them some supplies for their breakfast, and bread to take in their packs, the herald gathered up the remnants of the feast, loaded them onto his horse, and rode away, down the hill.
Tom and Jon seemed to look to Sam as their leader now, so he organised them to build a fire and set up their rudimentary campsite around it. He suggested that they take it in turns to keep watch during the night, and volunteered to take the middle shift, meaning his would be the most broken night.
Jon took the first watch, and as the others rolled themselves in their cloaks and settled down to sleep, he began to sing softly over them the songs of the king that they had sung so joyfully at the beginning of their quest.
As the day ended, the words in their heads were not of the dangers ahead, but of the victories already won by the king who awaited them at their journey’s end.