Wow! What a weird morning! There is a wispy, twirling fog. This is very strange indeed. It is hardly ever misty this high up on the mountain. Hmmm!
This is Hai Mountain. It is the home of the Hai—a people. It is also the only place on earth where the Hai Berry can be grown. It is such a special berry—useful for heating, dying silks with fantastic colors, as an ointment or salve for itches or scratches and many other applications. It is a very useful berry indeed.
Today, on Hai Mountain, it is a very confusing day. It is a day filled with concern. Something has happened with no logical explanation. Something has happened that has not occurred before, at least in the recorded history of the people. The one and only, narrow and dangerous, path to the valley has disappeared! It was there just yesterday! It was there last night! Now it isn’t!
Also, it is (was) the only possible way to and from The Valley. The Valley is the home of the Le-Han—a people. You are to understand that the path was not just a path. No, no! It was a life line between the two people. Without the path, the Hai could not get food or supplies. They could perish. And with them, the only source of the world’s Hai Berry would be lost. The Hai lost; the Hai Berry lost! No! Inconceivable! Before this day, not to be a thought! Today, it is more than a thought. It is now a distinct possibility! No! Even worse! It’s really real!
The Le-Han would not have contact with the Hai; would lose their only source to the healing Hai berry. The Hai would have no (known) way to contact the Le-Han. They are more than residents of the same mountain. They are brethren. They are followers of The Leader. Many of the two peoples are related by blood as well as by their belief. In fact, Mugs, a Valley dweller, is brother to Misty, married to a member of The Hai. Her husband is We-Lo, a well-respected servant leader of the Le-Han.
There is Mugs now. He is very agitated and concerned. Well, one must admit that Mugs is easily agitated! That is not to say that he is worried, because he trusts The Leader. Nevertheless, he is concerned for the safety and survival of all The Hai. Of course, he is especially anxious for his sister, Misty. That concern is real, especially since Mugs is the person who discovered the tragedy of the missing path. “My, my, my”, were the words that came from Mugs when he saw (or didn’t see) the missing path. He looked. He looked again. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. The next words he spoke were, “What to do! What to do?” He pauses. He lifts his countenance. “Aha! The Leader will know what to do!” With that thought clearly in mind, Mugs resolutely sets out to find The Leader. He is always nearby, so he will be easily found. This is the easy part. The hard part will be explaining to The Leader how he, Mugs, lost the path!
“Focus on the way to serve! Focus on the way to serve!” Mugs kept repeating the latest teaching of The Leader. It was a comforting thought. But right away, the other thought intruded: “Who would restore the path and save the Hai?” Surely, The Leader would know.
Just then, he spotted The Leader up ahead. There he was. It was not unusual to see him, seated on the ground, surrounded by children. They were clamoring for his attention. He obliged them with his loving smile and enthusiastic attention. It was obvious how they loved him, and even more obvious how much he loved them. He was teaching them lessons about serving. Also, he was giving them treats (dried Hai Berries, their favorite).
The Leader observed Mugs approaching. He gently disengaged from the children, promising to resume their session later. He arose and gave his full attention to the noticeably agitated Mugs. “Yes. What is it, my child?” he asked of Mugs. (Mugs really liked it when The Leader addressed him that way.)
Mugs took a deep breath, gulped and then stammered, “I didn’t mean to lose it! It was just gone! I don’t know where it went. It’s just gone and I don’t know where or how!”
The Leader gently placed arm around Mugs. (That was very soothing. But it must mean that he didn’t understand what had happened.) The Leader, in his most soothing voice, told Mugs to take another deep breath and to start at the beginning.
“Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? The beginning and the end of the story are the same! The path to the Hai is gone! Disappeared! That’s it; beginning and end of the story!”
The Leader took Mugs’ hand and said, “Why don’t you show me?” So, feeling a little more courage (not a whole lot), Mugs started toward the foot of the path, or rather, what used to be the foot of the path. Before they had taken more than a few steps, they were joined by the children, who were always in the mood for an adventure. “Oh, great,” thought Mugs. “Now I have the understanding and gentle Leader and an audience of rambunctious children! How will I ever be able to explain so that they understand? What am I thinking? I don’t understand. What had been a private conversation between he and The Leader had now become a mission for the children.
As if reading his thoughts, The Leader said, “It will be all right. They just want to help.”
Newly comforted, Mugs set off with what was now his troupe. They proceeded to what used to be the bottom end of the path. After much oohing and awing from the children, and a couple of trial steps, it was determined that yes, the path was gone. Also, a funny thing happened (in a manner of speaking, because of course, everything about this morning was turning out “funny”). Mugs, The Leader and each one of the children tried to go up what used to be the path. And as each of them set their foot on the used-to-be-path, their foot immediately slid back to the valley floor. The Leader and Mugs tried again, with the same result. It was as if the bottom spot (what else to call it?) was pushing them back. The Leader experimented once more.
The Leader became very quiet and still. He seemed deep in thought, but more so. It was as if he were there, but wasn’t there. Oh, this morning became more and more strange! Then the children became silent—sensing something momentous was happening. Still quiet and very serene, the leader gathered the children around him. He addressed each by name and gently, but firmly, instructed them to return to the village.
“Uh oh,” thought Mugs. “This just got huge!”
After being so relaxed in the presence of The Leader, Mugs suddenly became agitated. Well, it wasn’t often that The Leader became quiet and still. It was even less often that he dismissed the children from his presence. This was another wow-moment in a day already filled with too many wow-moments. Things just seemed to get worse and worse.
While the children were departing, The Leader remained mute and motionless. When they had gone, he slowly turned to Mugs.
“Oh, no!” thought Mugs. “I must really be in trouble now.”
But instead of scolding him or being angry with him, The Leader placed his hand on Mugs’ shoulder, looked directly at him and said, “Mugs, I need your help. In fact, The Hai and the Le-Han need your assistance. Without your aid, all the people could suffer dire hardships. Many could die.”
Though filled with self-doubt and a sense of foreboding, Mugs replied in the only way that a member of the people could respond. “Use me.”
“I was sure we could count on you, my child. Now, this is what you need to do.
You must take a back pack which I will personally prepare for you and deliver it
to the Hai. This is imperative! The survival of the Hai depends on your
success. The health and well-being of the Le-Han may rely on your efforts.”
To himself, Mugs was thinking, “Gulp! No pressure, right? Who am I that the survival of all the people depends on me? Oh, my; oh my, what have I gotten myself into?” Speaking, now, he said, “You know I will try my hardest, but isn’t there someone else who is better suited to such a giant task? I am just a humble servant.”
Again, The Leader placed his arm around his shoulder. Immediately, Mugs felt reassured (though not necessarily confident).
“Now, Mugs, I would not ask you to embark on such a dangerous undertaking if I doubted you. You have always been a wonderful servant-leader, and I know you will not stop when you are so needed. Trust me as I trust you. I must go prepare this backpack. You must go and ready yourself for your journey. I shall meet you back here within the hour. Remember, time is of the essence!”
With that said, and with his shoulder still bearing the gentle weight of The Leader’s arm, the two of them started back to the village. Each of them was deep in thought. Neither spoke to the other, yet each felt blessed by their quiet communion.
What had begun as a weird, strange morning had now become intense! No sooner had Mugs and The Leader returned to the outskirts of the village than the children emerged from wherever they had been waiting. The leader leaned down and picked up two of the children, embraced them, whispered encouragement to each and gingerly let them down. Even Mugs, reluctant to show such open emotion, found himself doing the same with two of the other youngsters. Mugs felt very warm inside at that unguarded moment. Reassured, the children ran off. The Leader smiled at Mugs.
“Hurry now, Mugs. Remember, time is short,” said The Leader. They left each other. Each was deep in prayer.
Back in his room, after a tumultuous morning, Mugs’ mind was whirling. Having never been on such a mission, he did not have the first clue what he needed for this journey. It would be cool up there, so a jacket was essential. Dry socks and clean underwear were basic necessities. “What else, what else,” he wondered. “Pray for guidance,” he reminded himself. He sat—and waited while he prayed for direction. Then, in an instant, it came to him, “Not for me, but for them!”
Meanwhile, The Leader was carefully filling the knapsack with the essentials Mugs would need. Praying and humming, he filled the backpack with:
A bag of dried Hai berries (enough for the Le-Han for 3 days, or fewer days if Mugs had to have a few)
A small jug of clean water
Bandages (just in case!)
A Protection Amulet
A page of survival instructions for the Le-Han (hastily written by The Leader, but legible)
A prayer, also written by The Leader, for protection and grace
A blue shawl (for the leader of the Le-Han), instructions folded up inside
Mugs was packing his little bag—not too heavy, but sufficient for the trip up to the top of the mountain. “What do they need? What can I contribute to their well-being? Oh, there is my own little pot for steeping the dried Hai berry. It could even be useful for him, if he needed sustenance on the journey. Mustn’t forget the heating pellets! I’ll pack all that I have!”
Mugs looked around. What could he have forgotten? One more thing was needed—the new purple scarf he had died with Hai berry juice—for Missy, for a special occasion! “Well,” he thought, “this was certainly a special occasion!”
“Done,” he thought. It was time to go meet The Leader. It was time to go.
As if by thought alone, Mugs and The Leader arrived at the starting point (or what used to be the starting point) at the same moment. They looked at one another with a deep affection, and on The Leader’s part, concern. The Leader carefully affixed the back pack around Mugs’ shoulders.
“Now, Mugs,” he began. “You know what is necessary. You must get to the Le-Han as quickly as possible. I trust you to find a way to the top. Be careful, but be quick! One more thing—listen to your heart. Go now. Our prayers and hopes are with you.”
Mugs ducked his head under the weight of this responsibility. Nevertheless, he was determined to fulfill this expectation. Out loud he said, “I’ll do my best!”
With that, he set out. But, of course, he didn’t get anywhere trying to use the old path. He was pushed back as soon as he set foot on it. He looked back at The Leader with a sheepish grin. He moved a few feet to the right and plunged into the undergrowth. In an instant, he disappeared from view.
Thus ends the first chapter of the story of the Hai and the Le-Han.