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THE CROSSROADS A Goodwife stood by the roadside, and laughed at them as they rode up. Her garb was made from the spinning of the loom of the Demon Polly Esther, and several zippers were in evidence, but even yet she said, "What droll attempts at the garb of our Faery Kingdom! Why, I trow even my six-years old child could sew better than that! And that excuse for -armour!- Prithee, where did'st thou find it? From a galvanized can? Thou really must learn to do better research than that! Fie upon it! And thou can'st not even hide thy seams with skill! I'll wager tenpenny that surcoat is machine sewn, and that so-called leather is plastic!" Prince Justice smiled sadly, and spake to Pilgrim, and said, "Hark not to her words, for she has not learned Nobility. She speaks from her own insecurity, and must needs make others small in order to consider herself great." Goodwife Pick was her name, and as the travelers rode past she plucked mud from the roadway and flung it at them, railing and belittling, but the mud did not stick, and the four riders continued on their way. Onward they rode, past many fair fields and wooded copses, until they came to a crossroads, where there was a lady, prostrate in the dust. She wore many medallions around her neck, and the weight of them pulled her face to the dirt, and there she crouched, in the dust of the road, and she fondled the medallions, and said to herself, over and over, "Thus I show the world that I am great in it!" Prince Justice smiled a sad smile, and said to Pilgrim, "Behold, the Princess COVETOUSNESS, who wears many awards, and who seeks to gain more, and yet more. She must stay here, where her last award was given by Prince Pride, for that award was the final weight upon her, and now she cannot walk for their heaviness, but she knows nothing but her honors and cares not for anything else. Let us pass." And so they did. The crossroads was marked with signs, that showed the names of the roads branching from the highway. One, a straight and broad road lined with cheering people, was marked "Woodenstick Road." Faith said, "This is a road to quick honors, and much fame, but yet, at its end, there is nothing, for he that chooses only to wield a wooden stick finds he can do naught else within the Enchanted Lands when he is supplanted by younger and more agile combatants, and fades away to bitter nothingness. This road leads to the Forest of Falsehood, and then unto the Forest of Despair, not far from where you entered it. Those who ride upon it merely ride in circles for a time, and then fade, unless they find the Perilous Path." "Then we shall not take this road." Said Pilgrim. Another sign read: "Lickspittle Lane," and it led thru fens, and mires, and seemed to turn upon itself, and wind about in confusion. Prudence said, "This is the road of the sycophants and toadies, that hang about the great and powerful. They have no will of their own, and offer naught to the Dream, but must take their lives from the lives of others. They are parasites......and their end is to swear fealty to Princess Envy, and breed hate and joylessness." "I shall not ride that road either." declared Pilgrim. The third road was named "Service," and it was rough, and rocky, and led to high mountains in the distance. There were storms to be seen in the air about it, and much of it could not be viewed thru the dank fogs and mists. Princess Faith pointed over the meadow, to some far mountains, on one of which was the ruins of a castle. "There lie the ruins of Doubting Castle, once the home of the dread Giant Despair. It was destroyed by another party that sought a Dream, many years ago. Some have tried to rebuild it, but always a true champion comes, and destroys it again." (3) Prudence rode to Pilgrim's side, and said, "Those mountains to our left are the Mountains of Shame, and to the right are the Mountains of Peril. Our path leads directly between them, and is dangerous and terrible." "This shall be our road." said Pilgrim, and the company started down it, at a slow walk. They rode carefully over the broken ground of the road, that seemed to sometimes be a road, and sometimes be a highway, and sometimes just a simple path. There were storms, and rain that wetted them to the skin; a cold rain, mixed with hail. The mud thus created slowed them even more, but they stayed to their task. Soon, the path seemed to disappear in a bog, and the travelers smelled a miasma of evil, and a great stink. "This is the Mire of Politics," said Prudence, "And many travelers have met their end here, being sucked into the bottomless marsh, or discouraged from going on." "We have tried to reclaim it to good land, but all our efforts have come to naught, due to the great quantity of scum and filth that is collected here. Some that call themselves workers, and that seem to be filling in the Mire, are actually depositing more dung and filth therein. It is a dangerous place, and we must tread only upon the Path of Service, and no place else, and avoid the treacherous places that will swallow us up entire." They began to pick their way thru the mire, and many times did one or the other of the travelers slip, and must needs be pulled therefrom. The stink and foulness near drove them back, and they seemed to see the shades of other travelers lying beneath the fetid pools, rotting, and moaning as they rotted, but they persevered, and anon, tired and weary unto death they won thru to the other side, to good ground. They rested a while, and then gazed ahead, and saw the highway led to a steep mountain, then dwindled to a thin track, that wound about, and turned upon itself, and was covered with rocks and sharp stones. Faith turned to Pilgrim, and said, "This is perhaps one of the hardest tests thou wilt meet, for we approach the mountain called BurnOut, that hath destroyed many, thru its difficulties." They wearily began to climb the mountain, and the rocks tore at them, and the horses went lame, and the sun grew hotter each moment, until the sweat poured from their bodies. Already exhausted from the Mire of Politics, the Mountain called BurnOut tired them beyond endurance, but they continued, gasping for breath and thirsty for cooling waters. They had almost reached the peak of the Mountain, when they came upon a lady, seated by the wayside. Her garb was in much disarray, partaking somewhat of both Mundania and the Enchanted Land, and she sat upon a lawn chair. She spoke to the travelers in a tired voice, and said, "Why dost thou toil up this Mountain? Know thee not that there is nothing at the peak, and less on the other side? Rest here, and take no more trouble with thy quest, for it is useless and unreal." And they saw the path led to the bottom of a cliff of solid rock, that rose many man-heights into the air. There seemed to be no way past it. Pilgrim turned to Faith, and said, "I see no way past this obstacle, my Lady. What do we now do?" Faith looked at the lady in the lawn chair, and said, "Know thou the means of surmounting this cliff?" The lady frowned, and spoke in harsh tones. "Ask me not for help! I have served my time, working for this so-called Dream, and 'tis time others worked for -me-! I am Princess SLOTH, and I tell thee thou hast reached the end of thy travels, for there is no way past this. Thou hast reached the End of the Dream, and the end of thy quest. There is no Dream. There is no quest. Besides, thou canst always do it tomorrow, for has thou not heard of 'SCA Time?' There is no hurry ..." And she yawned, and leaned back in her lawn chair, and fell fast asleep. There came then, from behind them, a knight, armed cap-a- pie in glittering mail, and mounted upon a warhorse fair to behold. Faith and Prudence smiled, and said, "Welcome, dear brother! Well met indeed!" And they ran to him gladly. The stranger was presented to Pilgrim as the most puissant Prince Fortitude, the eldest of the seven Children of Virtue, and Pilgrim bowed, and gave him courteous greetings. Pilgrim spake, and said, "Can'st thou show us a way past this cliff? I fear this may well be the end of our quest indeed, for I see no means of passing it." "There is a way," said Fortitude, "But it will take much strength and courage to achieve it." "Look thou," he continued, "Here is a path, seemingly no wider than a man's hand, that we may ride to the top of the cliff." And thus it was. But, as they began to enter upon the path, Sloth awoke, and said, "Take up my chair, and carry me with thee up the path! I have served the Dream, and deserve to be served, and I am tired, and worn, and cannot walk!" The Princess Sloth cried to them in imperious, yet lazy tones. The Prince Fortitude turned to her, where she lolled in her chair, and said, sternly, "Thou canst achieve the path thyself. All must walk the Way of the Dream of themselves, for to carry another to it denies them the chance to achieve for themselves, and cheapens the effort, for those who do not work for their Dream value it not." He waved the company forward. "Ride on!" he said. The path was small, and seemed not to be able to bear both horses and riders, but it did, and the further they rode up it, the easier it became, until it debouched at the top of the mountain.
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