The Road to Ossuna
11 July 2002
In the morning, when I awoke, Master was gone. At first I thought nothing of it - he was prone to rise early to pray or write poetry in some or other clearing or cave nearby to the road. But his horse and bag were gone, and there was no sign of them or him. It had not rained for some days, and the road was too dry for him to have left tracks. Our basic camp was at a crossroads, and only Master held the maps to Ossuna. I remained calm, though, because he would not go far without me, and I had plenty water and victuals to keep me going for some way yet. I am not the kind of peasant to panic.
I resolved to choose by random one of the three roads from the crossroads (I assumed that Master would not have returned back the way from whence we came), and proceed along it for a day. If I had not found him then, I would employ the advice my old father had given me on finding a lost one in the desert: "If, my son, you ever need to search for somebody in the desert, walk in the four points of the compass and you will find them". Admittedly, my father was a miller in the village of my birth, and never once in his life travelled outside of the milestone boundaries, but I reasoned that, as I had no other option, then to follow my paternal advice was as good a plan as any other that I had.
By spinning a twig, my route was chosen as the North path, and, after loading my ass Dapple, made my way. I continued alone well into the day, and the sun rose from my right and was halfway to setting on my left before I saw any sign of human life. There had been an abundance of birds, though, of diverse colour and size, and I kept a note of the varieties I knew, for Master was a keen noter of birds.
The human life I met was in the shape of a homely mother travelling in a cart with her brood of children. As I approached I hailed the woman. "Hark ye, good mother. I am a faithful servant in search of his master who has gone a-wandering. Have you seen a proud and wise man ride past you on a handsome brown horse?" Quoth she, "No, good sir, I have seen no-one on this road, and for that I am glad. The open road is no place for a woman on her own, as I have heard reports of bandits in this province." At this I replied "Fear not, good woman, as I am most happy to accompany you until I find my master, and will do my meagre utmost to protect you and your children from any misgiving." "You speak well" quoth she, "and kindly, and I will gladly join with you for the time it takes to find your master. Also, let me suggest that we turn from this road at the next opportunity, as it is clear that he is neither ahead of us, for he would have overtaken my slow cart, nor behind, as then you would already have found him, and prevented our lucky encounter." "Praise my luck" I cried, "for I have found an able-minded and sensible person to aid me in my search. Your advice is good, and at the next path off this road, let us turn from it as you suggest".
About half a league hence we came across another cross-roads. The mother believed that she had heard that Ossuna lay in the west, and so we decided to ride with our backs to the sun when it rose in the morning. Until then, we made a small camp and shared our provisions for our meal.
Our westward journey progressed peacefully, and we passed the time teaching the children the names of the tress and flowers we passed. At mid-day, we led our horses under the shade of some trees to cool, and as we approached a small shady copse, I spied a man sat under a tree reading a book, and recognised him as a Brother of the Holy Order. Describing my predicament to him , he responded, "Have faith, my children, the Lord will deliver you unto your master. As you find me now, I too am on a voyage - a voyage of faith. In these fields and forests I have been wondering at the power of the Creator." I cried, "Noble Father, can you offer any guidance to me in my search?" "The Lord says to go South, my child, for the brightness of the Sun is greater there. I will also join with you, as it is against the edicts of my order to turn away the needy." The Mother expressed concerned with the Friar's advice. "Does nothing except your faith suggest South as the path to follow? Still, we may as well, as it is clear your master has not passed here, and an extra pair of eyes on the road is always helpful."
With that, our journey took the next road South.
The road took us to the base of some large rocks, through which passed a fast-flowing stream. As we passed through the rocks, we heard a man laughing and singing, his joyous exclamations echoing around this small grotto. We soon came across the source of this noise - a young man, not unhandsome and with a beautiful tenor voice, was dancing and singing in the shallows of the river. The Friar exclaimed, "Keep the children back, this man is not sane", but the Mother cried back, "Oh, do not worry yourself, padre. The man is not threatening us, leave him be." The happy man saw us and bounded over to our group. "Greetings fellow wanderers! If you wonder why I sing so, it is because I was a slave, but my good master has set me free. Know me now as Libertine, although my name by birth is Alphonso Alonzo."
I led the group in our introductions, and then questioned the young man as to whether or not he had seen Master pass him by. He answered in the negative and then exclaimed "Why do you search for your neglectful master, when you have the entire world at your mercy. Surely you must enjoy this short life while it lasts, instead of selflessly following in the shadow of some pompous Lord?" I moved to strike the impudent wretch, but he ducked away. "Be not angry, friend, I mean you know harm. For the moment, I will join your party and help in your search for your Lord, if only to try and persuade you of the value of your freedom in the meantime". We travelled on, but a steep mountain range blocked our passage. We made camp and slept before we continued our journey Eastward along the feet of the foreboding cliffs.
As the day progressed, the road narrowed and led under the arms of a dark forest. The children did not show any fear though, no doubt a reflection on the pride and strength of their good mother. Not long after the trees had enveloped as completely, we arrived upon a small camp built under two interlocked trees. Sat at a small table was a gipsy woman, deep in a trance. As we approached, she woke and addressed the group as a whole "Who do you seek, good people? I am the gipsy Xsarustina, and if you cross my palm with silver, I will venture to advise you on your adventures." As the Friar was opening his mouth to object to her proposal, I passed the exotic beauty a coin. She looked deep into my eyes, examined my palm closely, and took readings using a variety of occultist devices. Soon she finished, and she exclaimed "Never before have I seen signs as certain as this! You must travel North from here, and I must join your party, for my destiny lies there also." With no further words, she mounted her pony, and joined our group.
With no other signs to follow apart from the gipsy's, I steered our party Northwards, and we camped by the road at the edge of the forest.
For several leagues northwards, with the path wide and straight, are party travelled together jovially. The Friar continued to eye the Gipsy suspiciously, but concened himself mainly with advising Libertine about his future path and hearing his confession, to which we all listened with amusement. The Mother then told us the story of how her husband had just died the week before and that she was trying to reach her cousin who lived in that province. The Friar then busied himself with consoling the unfortunate woman, while Libertine busied himself with complimenting the exotic Gipsy beauty, and regaling her with stories of his wit and bravery.
We turned a corner, and the landscape opened before us. A crossroads lay before us, and stood in the middle of it was Master sat astride his steed, writing, as ever, in a small pocket book. I dashed forward and embraced him, tears of joy flowing down my cheeks. "I thought I had lost you, Master" I cried. "Do not worry, you have followed the advice of your father well. By following the four points of the compass you have found me. Look about you." It was true. We were at the first crossroads, where I had last seen him four nights previously.
I bid farewell to the good mother, the Friar, Libertine and Xsarustina and Master and I continued on the road to Ossuna.