There was, as is the way of things, a road, but the details of whence it came or for which destination it aimed I leave to others. On this road were two people; one was on horseback and the other on foot, as is the proper way of it in such circumstances. It may well be that one of these two was a far wanderer, a traveller who begged keeping from land to land, or sojourned here from some yet further land, from which there are no roads; it may be that one or both stood upon their native sod. But however they came there, they fell to talking, and the rider spoke to the one on foot, telling this tale:
Afterwards, after the blood and the darkness and the gnawing hunger, after the wonder had faded from things and all choices had been made – well, at the time there had been no afterwards to consider, only the endless present. One moment there were roads to choose between: the broad way and fair; the narrow road, stony and hard; or some other path as yet untrodden. One moment there was a choice to stay or follow. One moment there was a choice of gifts.
There is a land where it is always spring, where the flowers never fall from the apple trees and the cool streams will never freeze to winter ice. There one may sit beneath the trees and drowse content, or stroll any path that catches the eye. There’s music there, the chime of silver saddle bells, and laughter, and two can wander hand in hand.
There is another land where spring comes and goes and comes again; but that is not a land in which one may stay forever. It is only the spring that comes again, and not any given flower.
In one land, questions are an idle game, riddles to pass the unpassing time:
“Tell me, love, what is heard farthest? No, farther still than thunder; farther than any other thing.”
“Look, beloved, at the white swans flying over the mountains. And you, my love, as white and gold as milk and honey. Do you remember the cold, white snow that shall never again find season to fall? But whiter still than swans, and milk, and snow…”
But here what questions are there but ‘how far is heaven distant from hell’ and ‘where is the road neither broad nor narrow’? Here truth lies bittersweet on the tongue, and time and age gather in their final harvest.
Afterwards, the way she would tell it, it was in the early spring, when the apple trees were flowering, and there was a rider all dressed in grass-green silk, and there was a young woman sleeping by the road.