xxx was about to start a new life. He was not adept at sword fighting or other pursuits, so his father, Sir yyy was sending him off to learn the ways of wizardry. xxx could not wait to learn how to read minds, since that would make life at Court quite a bit more interesting. Coincidentally, on the day xxx is about to depart, a man comes to King Arthur's court to preach about the pseudoscientific practices of Merlin and others. After insulting the King's wizard, priest, and the King himself in practically one breath, King Arthur sentences the man to be burned at the stake. However, xxx's friend zzz has been inspired by the man's speech, finally finding someone else with his own views. He decides to travel to the place the man talked about, where science is studied instead of pseudoscience. So, xxx and zzz set off on their journeys, paths which coincide for part of the way. Along the way, xxx changes his views of the world . . .
xxx stepped outside of the cave, blinking as the sunlight reflected off of the snow. He leaned over, transferring the burden of his unconscious friend's weight from his shoulder to the ground. xxx looked around, finally spotting a lump in the snow where they had left the sled. He dug into the deep snow with his gloved hands, and after digging a foot or so, he saw the brown, woolen blanket that covered their supplies. He finished uncovering the sled, and saw that the supplies had been untouched during the blizzard. Weak though he was after fighting the bear and carrying his friend the distance of the tunnel passage, xxx began to unload some of the supplies. His flint was there, along with some dried fruits and hard bread, and the medicinal herbs. After gathering some twigs and lighting a fire, xxx dragged zzz towards it. He then melted some snow over the fire using his cooking pot. He ripped off part of his tunic and dipped it in the water, and used it to clean zzz's wounds. He had received many minor scratches over his body, along with the wound on the back of his head where the bear had thrown him against the cave wall. xxx wiped a tear from his eye. He hoped that zzz would be all right. He was the best friend a knight's son could have, despite his unusual opinions on magic.
xxx then attended to his own wounds. He, too, had received many shallow scratches from the bear's claws, along with a rather large gash on his right shoulder. Meanwhile, his left shoulder ached from carrying his friend. xxx sighed, thinking how bad his luck was lately. It had started out as a simple journey, traveling from Camelot to Erin, where he could study magic with the best mages. However, along the way he had taken many bad turns. He could not resist helping the beautiful maiden escape from her evil witch of a stepmother - little had he known that she was just a harmless old woman, and the maiden was the witch. If not for zzz's cunning, he would still be trapped in the village, ready to be used for whatever rituals the witch had in mind. He had also gotten lost in a forest after arguing with zzz, and zzz finally found him hanging upside-down from a tree, his leg caught in a rope-trap. What he needed now was some sort of magic charm to counter-act his bad luck, but there were none nearby.
xxx looked down at zzz. He still lay unconscious, and was looking pale. xxx's attempts at becoming a healer had been unsuccessful, so he did not know what to do to help his friend. He would have to find someone to help him - maybe whoever lived where they had seen the smoke the night before could help. xxx quickly ate some of the dried fruit and bread, and drank some water, to get his strength up. He extinguished the fire, and put the supplies away on the sled zzz had designed. He would not be able to carry zzz on his shoulder while pulling the sled, so he loaded zzz onto the sled and began to pull. The bottom branches had become frozen into the snow, but when xxx pulled harder, they finally gave way. He proceeded to pull the sled.
Suddenly, xxx heard the call of a sparrow. It had always been one of his favorite birds, and now one flew overhead. It circled over the two men a couple of times, and then flew off to the left. It was not in the same direction as the smoke had come from, but it was a clear sign of the way that xxx should travel. xxx thought that maybe some evil lurked near the source of the smoke, so the sparrow led him in the proper direction, in the direction of help. Confident in the sparrow's signal, xxx pulled the sled to the left.
It was hard to pull the sled that way. It was heavy, and kept getting snagged on tree branches and stumps. The way to the smoke had been a smooth trail. After zzz had gone about half a mile, he came across a large fallen tree. It blocked the way ahead of him, and the trees were thick to either side. It would be difficult to get the sled over the tree - he would have to unload everything, including zzz, and carry it all over the tree stump one item at a time. xxx slumped down against the fallen tree, exhausted and frustrated.
Somehow, xxx had fallen asleep. He had meant to close his eyes and rest for only a moment, but he woke up with a start, cold, and with a man standing in front of him. The man was holding an axe in his hand.
"I said, 'What the 'ell are you doin' way out 'ere in the middle o' nowhere, sleeping?' Are you tryin' to get yerself and yer friend killed or something? Couldn't you see the smoke from my cottage?"
xxx could only stare at the man. He was tall and husky, with an unshaven, stern face, and the axe in his hand looked very sharp and intimidating.
The man noticed xxx looking at his axe. "Now, I'm not going to 'urt you or anything. What would be the purpose of that? Now, 'urry up and grab 'old of the sled, and we'll pull it back to my cottage. Yer friend looks like 'e needs some serious 'elp."
At the mention of his friend, xxx broke out of his trance. It looked as if the man meant to help them, and anyways, it was worth a try. zzz was still unconscious, and xxx was really beginning to worry. He stood up and grabbed one of the sled's ropes, and the man grabbed the other one. With the two of them sharing the burden, they dragged the sled back to the cottage.
"I followed yer trail past my clear trail and off into the forest. What made you do that, when the smoke from my cottage was as clear as day?"
"I followed a sparrow," xxx stated, and realized as soon as he said it how silly it sounded.
The man laughed. "A sparrow? Now that's a new one. Followed a sparrow!"
October 9, 1996