For those of you who weren't there: This is a true fantasy story. It happened a while ago in a different corner of the world. And it appeared in print in an issue of the famous NitWit Papers.
Once upon a time there was a band of four fearless friends travelling south into the Unknown Land, where the people speak in strange languages and the merchants have strange opening hours. The four were Sir Lothar and his beloved wife Lady Almut, Lady "Vege-One" Alyce and Lady "Vege-Two" Sandy, who some of you might remember from the story of Lady Almut's rescue from the evil monster Grendel (also to be found in the famous NitWit Papers, but the number of the issue is lost in the sands of time). Lady Almut and Lady Alyce had just completed elaborate treatises in order to gain academic titles, and Sir Lothar and Lady Sandy had been among the support crew for said treatises. They wanted to relax and enjoy their being on Earth. So they went south, travelling in a snow white carriage, as does become a company like that. They had a week full of exciting adventures like rediscovering childhood playground joys, and finally, on the last day, they were having breakfast (or rather brunch, as usual) together at the Round Table in their cosy little dwelling-place in a pleasant valley surrounded by mountains, when somebody (the story refrains from telling us who) had an idea!
The Company of Four would set out one last time here in this valley to explore a path that none of them had gone before. Just a little path leading up into the forests, and they just wanted to make a short walk up that path. But lo and behold! it was not meant to become a short walk... Up they went, equipped with food and drink (i.e. chocolate and water, the essentials of life) and after a while they decided that they would prolong that walk until they reached the summit of that hill. That hill turned out to be quite a mountain indeed, and so the Fearless Four scrambled and wheezed, and lo! it was laborious and the path would not end.
After several hours of climbing and walking they stepped out into the sun and into a pleasantly green meadow bathed in light! It was oh so beautiful, but there was a dangerous river crossing their path! Lady Sandy decided to scout ahead, and soon the others could follow without getting into too much a danger (does anyone remember the Fachschaftswochenende where Sir Lothar scouted ahead? Well...)
And still they had not yet reached the summit. After another while of walking wearily, while the company refreshed themselves with berries growing along the path, they came to a gate. They opened it, and lo! they were on a wide, wide meadow, green and absolutely pleasant land it was, hills rolling and creeks bubbling. They sat down. They ate chocolate and drank water and planned their next step. Would they venture further on or would they climb down again? They decided it was time to be more on the exploring side today and went on.
They crossed the meadows, which were in fact a valley, set high between two mountains. The four went up on one side, where they met two people from the country where there are cows in the sky. And then, lo! they reached the summit of the mountain (well, at least as far as one can get without climbing gear) and let their gazes wander along the scenery. It was awesome! Incredibly beautiful! The whole world bowed beneath them! It was a picture Caspar David Friedrich would have given his left eye for! Oh, and the Four were so happy that they had made it up to this place! The hard part of this exploration was over!
Or so they thought...
Lady Sandy's constitution had been telling her for quite a while that it would venture no further and that she should sit down (which she did), but the fervour of the others made her go on again, and anyway, now the easy part would begin...
They started to climb down the other side of the mountain, where a strange contraption would wait for them to carry them back and down into the valley in a big, safe basket made of metal. They were so relieved.
But lo and behold! the contraption was nowhere to be seen, and it was getting rather late now! And there was till some business they had to do in the village before the merchants decided to close their shops again! And how could the company travel down 1200 metres again in no time? (Well, jumping would have been an option, but they decided against that.)
But, as you know, these Four are fearless and they are, of course, heroines and heroes, so they decided upon a cunning plan: They would split up, and the two longer-legged ones would set out in a faster pace down the mountain and fetch the white carriage. Then they would come back and pick up the two others with the shorter legs (and the aching feet), and all of them would be happy!
So Sir Lothar and Lady Alyce set out in great strides, but the way down was a tricky and dangerous path full of rocks and pebbles, hard to travel and easy to slip on and roll down a very long way... Sir Lothar grabbed a long branch as a walking stick (and to defend himself against evil creatures lurking in the shadows, of course), and on they went. Lady Almut and Lady Sandy also went on, but by far slower than the other two scouting ahead.
But lo! after a while, the two groups met again, as Lady Alyce and Sir Lothar had tried to use a shortcut which turned out to be a trap, so they had to climb back up again. Thus, when the Four met again, they were not so sure about what to do next. At that point, Lady Sandy finally decided it was time to use those energy reserves and got off like a flash. The others were left standing in awe and watching their comrade disappear in a cloud of dust. Sir Lothar went after her, so that the group split up again. Now it would be Sir Lothar's and Lady Sandy's task to get the carriage. And down and on they went.
They got downhill in no time and were quite happy to prove that they were real rangers in that they had laid out some twigs to form arrows, pointing into the direction in which they went. What an indeed cunningly planned plan! So, with their twig signals, the two heroes showed their fellow heroes the right (and straight and narrow...?!) path. At the huge mountain's foot they found a village called Alba (Well, it had been sitting there for quite a while already, to be honest...) Standing at the wayside, Lady Sandy and Sir Lothar bade an aboriginal of the area halt in order to take them with him in his carriage to the very place where our heroes had left their carriage. Indeed, the fellow they travelled with was a crack carriage driver, and on they went. Sir Lothar left Lady Sandy in a wayside tavern, so that she might rest a while and have a hot drink (it was already starting to get cold...), while he fetched the carriage. So far their plan was great and cunning. Sir Lothar returned with the blazing white carriage, and both our heroes set out to the foot of the huge mountain to rescue Lady Almut and Lady Alyce. They cunningly ignored a sign saying "No civilian carriages up here" in the country's strange language, and they also ignored a gate (an open gate, that is.). The carriage, alas, was not built for climbing up mountains and soon gave up, so it had to be left halfway up the mountain. Then Sir Lothar and Lady Sandy started searching for footsteps, like all true rangers would do in that situation. Dusk was already upon them, and they went about crawling along the path to find tracks of their fellow heroes. And lo! they found tracks, and after searching awhile, they even concluded that the two ladies must have already come down the mountain again and should be on their way home by then (they were not so slow after all!) It took our ranger-heroes quite a while to arrive at that solution, and it was dark now. Quite exhausted, they went back to their carriage, shining white under a starry sky, to ride home as well.
The barrier was closed.
And it had a very sturdy lock on it. Our heroes were in despair. They sat locked up with their carriage high on a lonely mountain in the exact middle of nowhere. Woe, oh woe! As desperate as they were, they even pestered some poor locals after they had been gone down again (on foot). Strangers in a strange land, they finally managed to make first contact (and conversation) with the local militia, via a magical box at the wayside. Sir Lothar told the Lady at the other end quite a tale, and Lady Sandy nodded wisely and carried the map. Finally they agreed to send in the real rangers with a key.
Freezing, our two lonely heroes stood waiting at the proposed meeting point, the village church. With horror they noticed strange goings-on in the area: A lot of young women with babies went into the graveyard behind the church and did not return! (at least not while the two were standing there). After long whiles of waiting a green mini- carriage with two long- haired crazy locals in it arrived- who must have been the real rangers, in fact.
Lady Sandy cleverly simulated footsoreness (to add some tinge of reality to Sir Lothar's tale of a poor lost maiden on the mountain), and the remaining story is, after all, quite short and simple. The rangers opened the gate, and happily our heroes went home. Waiting for them was quite a meal, some teasing words and several hot liquids to enjoy. Lady Almut and Lady Alyce had, of course, made their way home on their own, and quite fast as well.
Does this tale have any moral implications? Yes. Do read signs and maps carefully if you want to survive in the boondocks.
A tale told by (surprise!) Lady Sandy, who swears it happened exactly like that.
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