You follow the sprite as it takes you first down slope a way, then upslope. You begin to wonder if it
is not leading you astray, or perhaps it is moving for some accord other than to guide you. You
follow and climb above the mist. Snow has fallen here, but you are still below the tree-line. You
reach a plateau in the more sheltered leeward side and there, along with scattered trees, is a log
cabin. The window shutters are ajar and a gentle orange light emanates from within. The sprite
has ceased its movement. You hear the distant harmony of wind chimes amidst the gentle wind.
You turn back to the sprite, but it is nowhere to be seen. Within an hour or so, the Sun will be
setting, so you have no choice but to entreat entrance and shelter for the night at the cabin.

Someone opens the peephole in the door, then closes it, and then the door opens. Had you meant
trouble, you could have forced entry through the single window. An old man in a drab peasant's
smock stands before you. His beard is long and grey, despite his impoverished and wild looks he
appears orderly and well-groomed.

"It's been a long time since this old eremite had visitors, and you carry no provisions. You had
better come inside for you will not otherwise survive the night."

You enter a humble abode. You see simple wooden benches and a tree stump for a table and a
little shelf with some books and another shelf for trinkets and not much else, besides the hearth in
the centre of the room, cooking pots and utensils, and a ladder to a platform for a loft. Some kind
of broth is cooking over the fire. The cabin is filled with the aroma of wild herbs and smoke. Your
guest closes the window shutters, as it is getting colder now. The smoke now rises to the roof, but
seems drawn out through vents in the gables with shutters that allow them to be closed in the
coldest weather. Everything here is typical of the ingenuity of the peasant-folk in these parts,
whose handy-work enables them to survive with so little. However, the old and well-bound tomes
on the shelf tell you that this man is no simple peasant.

Your guest gives you a clay beaker of mead to warm you up - there is no better drink for the job!
He offers you a wooden bowl of broth and apologises for having no fish today. The broth is an odd
assortment of herbs and vegetables and grains and goes well with the bread you are given. He
speaks little as he prepares these things, but waits until you are seated and have eaten a few
spoon-fulls to get the warmth back inside you.

'This winter looks as though it may never end,' he begins.

When did it begin? How much time has passed since your visit to the island with the rowan tree you
have no idea what time you have returned in, you left in autumn and returned in winter. The truth
is that several months passed here to what seemed but a day to you on the island.

'Spring is long overdue and the crops have failed. The granaries are running low. The King is
wounded and the land withers and wastes.' Which King is he referring to?

The hermit explains how he feels compelled to help the land, but he is too old for much questing
now. The people have lost the Secret that will heal the land. Aren't you curious to know who this
man, who he was, and why he lives alone in the mountains? Then why not ask him?

'I used to live in a great city,' he says, 'a city of learning, where I studied at the great Museum.
Hundreds of thousands of books they had, and clever people doing many wondrous things,
pushing back the darkness by power of thought, driven by the desire for Light and the Quest for
Truth, in part for the benefit of others, but in larger part for the sheer curiosity that the Mysteries of
Nature engender in those who take up the Quest. For when eyes prior accustomed to darkness do
open a little more and see a little more Light and adjust to that Light, the sheer joy of what they
see drives them on to see yet more clearly and to behold yet more Light, until they reach the very
limits of what the eye can endure without blinding the beholder. For if anyone were to see the
Dragon whole in a single glance, then it would burn them to cinders!'

Where is this Museum, and why is this erudite not there now? He explains:

'Less enlightened men came, well I might as well call them that, for they did not appreciate what the
more learned had achieved, but I will not vent anger on harsher words... ' he pauses, then
continues, 'These men valued only power, might, the prestige and glory of the World, and, above
all, they desired material wealth without limit. Driven on by their masters, the Beast, they resented
the Light of Truth, nay, they feared it, and drove it out of the land, away from the cities, and
replaced it with their own lights, of a much darker kind. They destroyed the knowledge that had
been accumulated over many centuries, for they saw no value in it. They sought to enslave the
doctors, and some did yield to the temptations of mundane rewards, whilst others allowed the
bonds of servitude to be placed upon them in the hope that somehow this state of affairs would
pass, or so that they might carry on their own researches in secret, but the Beast is never so
generous. I chose to fly, and so I now live alone, detached from the society that has no niche for
me, and my knowledge, ...,' he sighs, '... Is wasted.'

This man, learned by all accounts, has so much to offer the World, and yet the World despises
him. He tries to help people, from time to time, by helping passers by, and occasionally journeying
to the city to offer his experience to the people, but always they abuse him and drive him away
again. You recall the Dark Cave mentioned by Socrates, from which, after much trial and
tribulation, a few men climbed their way out into the Light. Upon returning to lend a hand to their
fellows, they resented the help they were offered and ridiculed and insulted those who came back
to help them. So it always has been. Look what they did to Socrates, they crucified him. Those who
see the Light of Day are always compelled to help their fellow human beings, but always do the
majority persecute their would-be helpers. It is written, 'Do not hide your light under a bushel', but
what use is it dazzling those whose eyes are not accustomed to the light?

It is also written: the Judgment works like this, there is a light, but many are too afraid to enter that
light, for fear it will expose their faults, and so they cower in the darkness. Furthermore, it is also
written: do not despair if the World hates you, for it hated me first.

The following day, the old hermit falls ill with a fever, and so you stay with him a while, until his light
leaves the World, a few days later. You bury him. He has left to you all his possessions - his books,
and his log cabin. At least now, you have a retreat to turn to when the weight of the World
becomes too heavy and you need a lighter yoke. For the second time on your quest, one of your
learned guides has passed away. It seems as though Wisdom is leaving this world, and the
wizened are now too few. The days of their kind are numbered. The Beast has come to drive them
out.

You walk down the valley, and peer out across the city. You journey there for provisions. As you
walk the streets, you give a some food to a beggar, but there are too many downtrodden outcasts
to help, and yet, others pass by in expensive wagons, tended by their slaves, with runners, armed
with sticks, to drive the crowds of peasants out of their way. Drunkards sleep in the ditches, slaves
and servants rush around, anxious to please their masters. A handful own almost all the wealth of
this city, and yet they claim to do so for the benefit of the populace. They will not 'waste' money on
the scientists and philosophers, not unless those alchemists can make mundane gold for them.
They need to create wealth to benefit medicine and education, they say, and yet all the while they
waste money on pampering themselves with the luxuries of many kings, and all the while they
educate the children in how best to serve them. It is true, however, that the poor may get to eat the
scraps and bones dropped from their masters' tables. All that you see here, could be yours, if only
you obeyed the Beast. A certain philosopher of old, once tempted, resisted the temptation, will
you?

This city is as a desert, a real wilderness to you. The Wilderness in which you lived, for many
months, outside the city, is much more a source of life-sustaining bread. Weary, you sit down
awhile in one of the gardens, which is one of the relics of past times. It seems as though you are
alone, for only you it seems, is awake in a city that sleeps. Perhaps you alone are awake in the
whole wide World.

Nobody can buy or sell in this city, unless they carry the mark of the Beast. That includes you, for
you carry the mark also, in your pocket. Yet you still have need of such, for provisions. The World
is hungry, people starve, and winter rages on. What is the answer? What is the Secret that the
eremite spoke of? Should you listen to the masses and crawl back into that Dark Cave? Is this
Quest but a silly, exaggerated nonsense borne from delusion? Socrates never thought so, and
many others since him have undertaken the same Quest. Have times really changed so much?
Have people really changed? What is the Secret that the World has forgotten?
Dark Ages
What was the War that Socrates spoke of? Do you fear this symbol, if so then why?

You look up from your contemplations to see a figure over the other side of the garden. This figure
stands out from the local townsfolk and from the travelling merchants. They are clad in a white
hoodwinked robe which hides their identity from your view. They are feeding crumbs to birds in the
garden. There is something odd about this person. You watch them as they turn and leave the
garden and through a crenel in the garden wall you watch them walk on through the busy street.
Curious you decide to follow. They pass effortlessly through the crowds of traders, nobody seems
to pay them any attention. Surely a monk would receive at least a greeting from the old men selling
the farmer's produce on their behalf, or from the maids running their errands or from the young
men pausing from their labours, or from the guardsmen patrolling the street? Even you draw
suspicion, dressed as you are. Who is this person? You struggle to keep up with them. The figure
climbs a ladder to the town wall battlements. Nobody asks their business. They pause and look at
to the West. You near the wall, but the stone mason accompanied by a foreman and a guardsman
ascend the ladder. Not wanting to draw attention to yourself you look for another way up, but the
figure on the battlements has vanished. Did they jump? You heard nothing untoward, no
commotion. The battlements are not well watched in peace times, as this is a small city, indeed
they are largely patrolled by ravens and doves. Still, something is awry in these times, you sense a
coming storm and this winter, will it ever end? After musing a while you climb the ladder, and
nobody seems concerned with you, but the figure is nowhere to be seen, neither up here nor down
below. Over to the West, amidst the hills is some sort of mound, very regular, as if made by human
hands, but long since overgrown.

You leave the city and journey west. Upon the way you pass a group of warriors camped some
distance outside the western gate, in a clearing on the edge of the forest. Villagers are gathered to
watch as the knights and squires, and foolhardy bystanders test their skills at arms in a nearby
field. The tourney has clearly been going on all morning and one veteran knight staggers into the
resting area to be greeted by a concerned monk with water. His surcoat is blooded and his helm is
cracked. The knights are close to retiring as they appear largely spent. You watch for an hour or
so, until the knights call an end to the games and seem largely decided who the winner is, but they
cannot find him. It transpires that he is with the blacksmith who is removing his heavily battered and
dented helm with hammer and tongs!

Just then you notice a figure in white hoodwinked robes. The figure has been surveying the
tournament and melee and now turns to leave, passing through the woods. You follow, but always
it remains ahead of you as you catch fleeting glimpses through the trees. No matter how fast you
hurry, the figure, walking casually, always keeps ahead of you. Eventually you emerge on the edge
of the wood, by the earthen mound. The figure is sitting beneath a great and ancient oak tree, as if
it has been sitting for some time.
Curious?