Long ago during a time known as the dark ages a village survived in a patch of dim light. Like their goat-footed neighbors, the peasants from this village were a tough, sturdy lot who grunted through toil with vigor, bearing riches from the rugged land.
This pleased their king, a short fellow more oily than nice, who was also greedy and so—no matter how many riches the peasants gave, the king always demanded more. The villagers feared they would run out of means for their own survival.
A decision was made by village-mob consensus to send Thomas the blacksmith into the forest of the unknown, a place full of mystery and darkness, where it was believed only beasts could survive. Thomas did not balk at his assignment, for he was as brave as he was handsome. He also knew the forest remained unexplored which meant the rumors were only that.
Three days into his journey darkness covered the light and Thomas realized he was inside. He forged ahead with no intention of stopping until new riches were discovered. Hours stretched on while the explorer’s clothes became saturated from the thick, wet, greenish air.
Then Thomas came upon an area that was different from the rest, a place where the trees grew apart from one another and allowed space for the growth below, where the air was clear and crisp. Thomas was overwhelmed by what he saw and concluded he stood in the presence of God. He fell to his knees and spoke aloud in direct communication with his Maker.
“Surely I see evidence of You, radiating from the soil as if lit from within; flushing in unthinkable shades of bloom. My voice is nearly paralyzed by the lichen, thriving free and wild, luxuriantly unbound. The beauty of this fungus, ambrosial and fertile—has trapped my senses. How can I break away from such a pleasure as this?”
Nigel and Odo, two village children with a reputation for mischief, were hiding beyond the opening, beneath a pile of tangled brush. These boys were curious and sneaky and wanted to be the first to deliver news of any discoveries. They had followed Thomas in silence, but when they heard the explorer’s declaration, they scuffled back to the village without an ounce of caution.
The boys ran directly to Liecia, the meddlesome midwife. There was no one more capable of causing word to travel. Liecia nodded while the boys spoke words like: unthinkable, paralyzed, trapped, lichen, and addictive pleasure.
When the boys were finished the old woman leapt into a tirade, frightening the boys. She followed them through the marketplace shouting, “Stay away from the forest! The dangers are paralyzing, even fatal. The lichen will lure and trap your flesh. You cannot overcome such destruction, for it will ensnare your soul.”
The news ripped through the village and soon reached Sabina, the wife of Thomas. Sabina became dizzy and so dampened a strip of linen to hold against her forehead. The village though small in size was full of gossip and it was difficult for Sabina to regain her senses.
The day came for the king’s men to collect their profits from the peasants. Immediately, word of the devastating, habit-forming lichen pricked the ears of these men. Thomas returned on that same day, alive and well, and happier than a man in his position should have been.
Sabina leapt into her husband’s arms. “You survived! I was worried. Nigel and Odo, they followed you into the forest and they’ve already spread news of the lichen.”
A crowd was forming. Everyone had an interest in this conversation.
“So you’ve heard about the lichen, then?” Thomas replied. He was pleased.
“Yes” Sabina fretted, “But how did you survive? How were you able to pull yourself away?"
“It was difficult,” Thomas laughed, “But I brought some back, so you could see it too.” And he pulled a clump of the lichen from his pouch.
All at once the crowd shrieked, the king’s men drew their swords, and Sabina fainted.
Thomas replied simply, but hinting of irritation, “What?”
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