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Blue is the color of magic. It’s the color of the sky, endless in its width. It’s the color of the river’s water, which can take a person’s weight away. And it’s the color of The Mountain.
Mountains are not supposed to be blue. I know this, because mountains surround my village in the distance. It is true that on a cloudy day they may seem to be blue-ish on the horizon, but everyone knows that is just an optical illusion. But The Mountain is always blue, no matter the weather.
Our wise woman has many stories about Blue Mountain. The water there has magical powers, she tells us, and the blue dirt is the most fertile in the land. Even one pinch will cure a whole field of dying crops. Tigra has told me in secret that there are many more wonders on this mountain, but that if she told them all to us we would never believe her.
I asked how she knew of the wonders of Blue Mountain, if no one had ever journeyed there.
“It is a truth that has been passed from wise woman to wise woman since our village was first built,” she explained. “There is no doubting the enchantment of The Mountain.”
“I want to go to Blue Mountain, Tigra. I will be the first to have ever seen the beauty of The Mountain up close.”
Tigra chuckled at my bravado.
“Even if you do set off on this expedition of yours, you will not be the first. Many a man has tried to travel to Blue Mountain. None have returned. Since you were born, no one has been foolish enough to try. I had thought that the lesson had been learned by now, after so many dying in their attempt to reach old Blue.”
Taken aback, I shuffled my bare feet in the sand. I had never heard any stories of these brave travelers.
“I still want to go.”
The wise woman stared down at me.
“That would be a grave mistake.”
My feet have grown since that day, and I now have to look down to see the face of the wise woman who once seemed to be the tallest creature that could be created. Sinewy and strong, my body has lost any memory of the baby fat it once had. I revel in the feeling of the breeze ruffling the short mop atop my head that has been recently cut in the ceremony where I was proclaimed a man. I am ready to make my journey.
The pack straps are biting into my shoulders, but I refrain from showing any discomfort. It would be a sign of weakness, a perfect opening for Tigra to show the village counsel they should not allow my trek to Blue Mountain.
I bid farewell to my companions, the boys who passed the same man-ceremony as I did. We part awkwardly, knowing in the backs of our minds that we will most likely never see each other again. After I finish the mandatory salute of parting to the village counsel, I walk up to Tigra.
“You should not go.”
Ever since the day I decided to visit Blue, Tigra has been trying to dissuade me. It never worked, and it certainly won’t work now. Not when I am so close to finally fulfilling my dreams of seeing Blue Montain up close.
“Good bye, wise woman.”
As I say the words, she slips something into my hand. I can tell it’s a water charm, for finding oases in the desert.
I turn away, ignoring the pinpricks in my eyes. A man is not allowed to cry in our village. After the ceremony, a boy gives up his right to tears.
Tigra does not run after me, and I don’t look back.
I have been walking for three weeks now. Until today, Tigra’s water charm has done its job: I have never been in want of water. But it seems that the magic is wearing off. My throat is parched from thirst, the hot sun is beating down on my neck, and there is no water in sight. Not even a mirage.
To keep my mind off this unfortunate event, I look toward The Mountain. It is much bigger than I could have ever imagined. Even if I crane my neck, I cannot see the top. Wiping my brow, I continue stumbling in its direction. I try to remember how long a body can survive without water. Four days? Five? Will I be able to reach the mountain before I collapse from dehydration?
I go for three days without seeing a drop of moisture. Then, finally, I am saved.
“Ho! Over here!”
My head wobbles slightly as I look toward the voice. Am I hallucinating?
“Kel! Get the water flask! He isn’t even carrying a canteen! Stupid boy…”
“I’m not a boy,” I mumble around my swollen tongue. “I’m a man.”
“Right, right. Here, drink.”
I grab the flask and guzzle the liquid.
“Slow down! You don’t want to choke…I’m serious!”
As I drink, I squint my eyes at the stranger and his companion, the man he called Kel. They are both older men, and have probably seen at least sixty summers between them, if not more. Licking the last drops off the lip of the water gourd, the former sluggishness of my thoughts begins to wear off.
“Who are you?” I ask, my voice rasping.
“I’m Kel,” the companion says, thumbing his chest, “and his name is Greag.”
Greag nods warmly. “What brings you here? Where are you from?”
“I come from Tigra the wise woman’s village, to see Blue Mountain.”
“Tigra is still the wise woman? How many summers have passed her by now? Fifty-and-ten? How old was she when you left, Kel?”
“I’d say around five-and-thirty, and twenty summer cycles have passed since I came.”
I look from one to the other, confused. They were from my village? Why had no one ever told me about them?
“Come with us. We’ll explain everything once we reach our encampment on the mountain.”
Greag takes the lead as Kel herds me after him. As we walk Kel tries to make small talk with me.
“How long since your man ceremony? By the looks of that hair, it’s been at least a moon cycle. We have cutting rocks at the mountain, if you want to trim it to keep your eyes clear…”
Shocked, I shift my gaze from Kel’s face to the ground. I can tell by his tone that when he refers to Blue Mountain he has no respect. If he is truly from my village, how is it that he does not believe in The Mountain?
Greag suddenly comes to a halt. We are still a mile or two away from The Mountain, and I do not understand why we are stopping. Greag looks back at Kel, a worried look on his face.
“Are you sure we should do this? He looks so innocent…”
Kel nods and gravely asks me, “Are you sure you don’t want to go back home? You don’t have to continue to the mountain.”
“What are you talking about? I journeyed through the desert for twenty-five sunsets. We are only a short distance away from The Mountain’s base! Why would I turn back now?”
“Alright, keep going,” Kel instructs Greag brusquely. “If it’s what he wants.”
We have finally reached the base of The Mountain. I take a deep breath before stepping out from behind Greag, closing my eyes tightly as I do. As I come abreast of Greag I snap them open, tightening my muscles as if before receiving blow. I gasp with surprise at what lays before me.
Flowers. Blue flowers, completely covering the crust of The Mountain. Quickly, I rush to peer between the stalks. Surely the dirt is blue, as foretold in Tigra’s tales! Surely these flowers are simply a pretty covering to the real miracle that is Blue Mountain! But no. The soil clutched in my hand is brown, same as the soil in our village.
Slipping the pack off my shoulders, heedless of the countless flowers I am crushing, I allow myself to fall to the ground. This cannot be happening. This must be a dream; an illusion brought on by the dehydration in the desert.
“Are you alright?”
“Shh. Give him time to take it in.”
I hear their worried voices through a haze of confusion. If Blue Mountain is not real, than what is? Perhaps the world is not flat, but shaped like an enormous tree? What can I take as fact when the one thing I was sure about is no more than fiction?
Shaking my head to clear these frightening thoughts from my mind, I stretch my right hand out to touch one of the flowers. Turning suddenly, I train an accusatory gaze at Greag and Kel.
“Why haven’t you told anyone about this? You’ve allowed us to live a lie! You’re traitors, both of you!”
Unconsciously, I begin to tear flowers from the ground. Only a few scant minutes earlier I would have been appalled at this act. Tearing flowers from The Mountain? What sort of perverted mind would even think up such a thing?
“Listen, boy. There is nothing more I’d like than to return home,” Kel speaks up heatedly. “Not a day has passed when I haven’t thought of my family, mourning a man who still breathes.”
He pants harshly with emotion and then turns his head to the side. I spot glistening moistness at the corners of his eyes and avert my gaze with shame. A man his age should be able to control his tears.
Greag settles a comforting hand on Kel’s shoulder.
“Think of your reaction to finding the truth of the mountain. Your time in this world is short yet. Imagine one of the Elder’s reactions. They are not so adaptable as they once were.”
I nod with understanding.
“If we were to reveal the reality of their legends, their religion, the village would be destroyed.”
Finally, I grasp the strength of the two men before me. Instead of returning to their birthplace, to their wives and mothers, they have been living unselfishly in a camp suns away from any village. These two men are heroes.
“Come. We will show you the rest of the men.”
Following Greag and Kel, I realize that I have now become one of them. I will never go back to my village, never see Tigra. I, too, will now become one of the preservers of the illusion that is Blue Mountain.