The Narrow Gorge
Victor Endersby

The young neophyte, having taken the Great Vow, and duly meditated before reposing, had thought to fall into a sleep that might bring new knowledge with the act of waking; or perhaps even wake in the midnight to see in the room one of Their forms, and hear the soundless voice of high instruction. But unreined images, released aspirations and dreams from the years of the past, took charge of the chariot of the mind and dragged it hither and yon. Excited and tensed, the boy strove in vain for sleep, which finally overtook him, leaden-footed, in the small hours.

Unrefreshed and gloomy, he took himself in the morning to a companion, who had been indicated as one in whom he might have confidence, and said somewhat of his difficult night.

“You then had no recollection of a useful nature?” said the one.

"Indeed I had a recollection; but one that makes my bones ache to think thereon.”

“And the nature of it?”

“It seemed that after I lost sight of the moonlight on the mountains, there was a timeless space of indescribable duration. Then of a sudden, I found myself in a far and lonely place of little comfort. This had the seeming of a narrow pass through huge stones piled disorderly with many sharp edges and spikes; sometimes they met overhead, sometimes opened to give glimpses of sullen, silent clouds hiding peaks of daunting vastness.”

“You saw no one else?”

“No one. Save for tracks in the dust beaten from the stone by passing feet, there was no sign of man.”

“Nor any sound?”

“Yes. Now and then the lonely skirl of some far indifferent bird. The deep rumble of distant thunder, or perhaps avalanche or earthquake. A dark sound to match the sombre heaven that brooded over.”

“These tracks, what way?”

“Upward. Ever and wearily upward.”

“None downward?”

“Not a one. Always upward.”

“And your own direction?”

“Upward also.”

“Why?”

“I - I do not know. I suppose because, becoming aware, I found myself faced in that direction. Also - perhaps because the others went that way. There was, I remember now, an urge to overtake.”

“These tracks - few or many?”

“Many indeed. Uncountable.”

“So. And countless tracks always upward - what would you make of that?”

The boy thought, frowning. “I think it would mean that there must be a vast space beyond for the standing - on the path itself was hardly room for one alone.”

“What else would you make of the no returning?”

“I think it would mean that there was contentment beyond. Or ... or ... perhaps death.”

The friend, chin in hand, considered the youth for a moment. “If it were death - you would perhaps pioneer a backward path?”

“I do not quite understand. We are only talking about a dream that is past. Yet I would say - assuming that such a matter should have reality - that I could not return upon my tracks, I - I think I would have to know, come what might.”

(And that is well, poor lad, thought the other.)

“Well,” he continued aloud,” let us pursue this somewhat.”

“You are not bored with this foolish dream?”

“You might be somewhat surprised at how little I am bored ... tell me more.”

“Well, I remember certain points of exasperation over the realization of wasted effort. Ever and again, along this ever-twisting tortuous route, I gazed over a low dike or line of boulders, to observe near below a point on the way passed many weary hours before. And I would then know that with more alertness, and a quick hard scramble, I might have been at the moment far beyond my present point, and with limbs less weary.”

“And how do you imagine you missed these points?”

“Well, perhaps I was plodding with my eyes too tiredly in the dust. Or again - looking longingly toward the shrouded peak for signs of a destination. Or, it may be I thought that were so many went was the only way.”

(So as always, thought again the companion. Too low, too high, the gaze; too fixed ahead; too observant of the worn path of others, too blind to the breadth of Nature.)

He said aloud: “And what other small details remain in your mind? For instance, were there any comforts or relaxations in this gully of effort?”

“Little indeed; but I do recall being grateful for the many passages that, in spots, had beaten the stones into dust that was soft to the feet, relieving the cuts and bruises of the harder spots. Otherwise - it was not a happy going. There were the sharp stones; and many time a bumped head or scraped brow gained from hanging stones, and shoulders gouged in narrow ways.”

“No doubt at such narrow corners you took thought of those to come, and strove to better the way a bit?”

The boy looked up, startled; then hung his head.

“I am ashamed. I had no thought of any to come. It seemed all I could do to keep my own heavy weight in motion. Yet now that I think of it, numberless feet ahead must mean a numberless tread behind.”

“Then by your going the passage was left not at all easier?”

“Not entirely so. I do remember that now and then - for my own ease only - I took a stone and pounded down a corner, or tore loose a threatening spike, and possibly saved some unknown a bump later. But now that I think of it, so many passing, why not the whole passage as of smooth glass by this time? Ah well - why expect reason of a dream?”

(Or such dream-like events as the roughness growing ever back again, thought the friend.)

“And what other scenery of interest did you observe?”

“A branching path that tempted - until closely looked at.”

“Why tempting?”

“Because it was wide, and no longer upward - even a little downward. It seemed also straight, and beyond, a tinge of rose glow more happy-seeming than the overhead gloom?”

“Then why did you not follow it?”

“On either side was a stone column; on each certain signs that led me to examine closely the pillar from top to bottom. On the top of each a vulture; at the foot, skulls in the dust.”

“Ah! And these carven signs?”

“On one, a triangle, two points up, one point down. On the other - the Jod. In the dream I remember that in the Wisdom, these signs do not have health. Thus I looked attentively.”

“And who may have carven these signs?”

“Some of our own, perhaps? Some who followed that path and returned thus far - to leave their mark above and their bones below?”

“It seems that you have an excellent memory, considering that it was all a dream.”

“Will you then interpret it for me?”

“It needs it?”

“But I understand nothing!”

“You will. The seeing is one thing: the comprehension to follow as the event arises....”

The clangor of a brazen bell echoed through the corridors of the temple. A priest parted the curtains.

“Neophyte, the High Priest awaits thee to begin instruction. It is a high honor deserving haste in the coming.”

The glances of the friend and the messenger met over the neophyte’s head, without love.

The boy stood up quickly to follow. As the priest turned, showing the high beaked profile, there rose in the memory of the neophyte a pillared vulture, against a sombre sky. A chill crept over his frame. He turned back for an instant toward the friend. That one stood, calm, alert, unsmiling. His eyes said: “I wait.”

As the curtain fell behind the two, he walked to the casement, and gazed across the valley, his hands clasped behind his back.

“Darkest under the lamp,” he whispered. “But the boy makes a good beginning. The promise of one more in the Wall - some day.”

Last Update : January 2009
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