I stared at him for what seemed like an eternity to me, but really was probably only a minute. He just looked back at me, smiling. I could feel there was not a harmful bone in his body, and again had that feeling that he was probably the nicest person I had ever met, maybe that I ever would meet.
"So everything I have heard about Ridge Walkers is true then." I know it was a stupid question to ask, but it was the best my twelve-year-old mind could do.
"Well now Jimbo, I don't know just what stories have been told to you but let me give you a bit of truth to balance out those tall tales."
As he spoke he took an apple out of his bag and tossed it to me. "A Ridge Walker can sing to the mountains and hills and they will listen. They will even listen and sing along with him. As they share the song together they recognize he is a part of them and will take him where ever and when ever he wants to go."
The first thought into my mind came right out my mouth, that's just the way I am. That, and there is very little impulse control in a twelve-year-old. "There's more you're not telling me, isn't there?"
He laughed right out loud and nodded his head knowingly. "Oh yes, Jimbo. It's much more complex than what I just told you, but everything I told you is true. I promise you I will never lie to you."
I considered that for a moment and shrugged my shoulders. It would have to do. "So you sing to the mountains and you can go where ever you want?"
"Where are we," I asked, and before he had a chance to respond and I knew he would correct me, "and when?"
"We're about half way to the place I need to go to deliver a package for a good friend. After that we're going to go to a most beautiful spot where you are going to begin your training."
"And when?" He left that part out and I wasn't going to let him not tell me when we were.
He laughed that rich laugh of his and said simply, "Here and now, Jimbo. Here and now."
I left it at that because he got himself an apple out of his bag and we both began to eat. I started just idly gazing at the trees and let me tell you my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw a butterfly with wings that stretched nearly a foot across. It flitted lightly across the clearing we were sitting in. It had to have been the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I just couldn't take my eyes off of it. I looked over at the Ridge Walker and before I had the chance to even voice my question he responded.
"Were a long way from home, Jimbo." he said. Then for emphasis he repeated himself, "A long way from home."
The rest of our meal was continued in silence. He seemed content to just sit and enjoy the peaceful setting, and to tell the truth so was I. It's just that I was in shock from having gotten out of my own bed this morning and now after a walk to what I thought was to Gazzam Lake I was in a place that had giant butterflies and who knows what else?
"Come on," he said with a smile. "Let's get moving." Then putting his hand on my shoulder he said, "I know this is all probably a bit of a shock to you, Jimbo. Part of your first test here is to see if you can journey with me and not lose yourself."
I wasn't quite sure what he meant by that but it didn't sound too good. Still, I remember on that first day, while I saw a lot of things that were pretty amazing to a twelve-year-old boy, all I really felt was the sense of calmness that seemed to emanate from him, that and magic. Even then I could tell that he was completely magical and I thrilled as I wondered if one day I too could be like him.
We started walking down the path and he began to sing again. "Jimbo," he said after singing a verse, "Pay attention to our surroundings, see if you can watch them change. Oh yes," he continued, "Try and hum the tune as I sing it. It's really rather easy to pick up."
Now, I have to tell you, this was almost too much for me. It was hard enough to just concentrate keeping in step with him as he walked and now he wanted me to pay attention to what was going on and hum a tune with him. I had visions of screwing things up so badly that we ended up in some horrible place. He must have sensed my concern because he spoke again.
"Just take it one thing at a time Jimbo. I'm going to make sure we get to our destination and there is nothing you can do to take us off path." The smile he flashed me let me know he had things well in hand, so I relaxed a bit.
I started watching the surroundings as we walked, and something amazing happened. I did notice things starting to change. I'm not talking about the scenery moving by as you walk down the trail either. Trees were changing as we walked by them, growing taller. The underbrush was disappearing. Shadows of animals flitted in and out of view. It was all happening so slowly and in a way that struck me as completely natural. I suppose with him it was too.
I also found I had no sense of time. I couldn't have told you if we had been walking for a half hour or three hours. I do know that I never got tired when I walked with him. Ever. After some bit of time, though, I began to try and hum the tune he was singing. He was right, it was easy.
It was thrilling to me. Even though I didn't know the words, or even the language he was singing in, I found I really wanted to sing. It was like I could feel everything around me. Somewhere off in the distance I even thought I heard an echo of our song coming back to us. I of course knew that was impossible as we just weren't singing that loud. Then I remembered what he said, about the hills singing back to us and I felt a tingle run down my spine. The thought came to me then, that I could do this, and I knew one day I was going to be a Ridge Walker. I swear I almost cried and was glad no one but him was there to see.
We were rounding a bend and there it was. It had to be the most beautiful city I had ever seen. More beautiful even than Old Seattle.
"Wow," I spoke. "What is that?"
"That Jimbo, is Tanelorn. It is also called the eternal city because where ever you are, when ever you are, Tanelorn is there.
That almost made sense to me but all I could think of to say was, "It's beautiful."
"It always is Jimbo. Come on," he said as he put his hand on my shoulder, "We'll just walk the rest of the way, no singing. First we'll drop off this package and then we'll find a place to stay tonight."
As we walked up to and into the city I had the feeling that there were a lot of Ridge Walkers there. In fact the whole city and everyone in it seemed magical, like if he wasn't leading me there, I would never have found it. I had the feeling that no normal person had ever laid eyes on this place, and that I was no longer just a normal person. This sent a bit of a chill down my spine, even though I couldn't have told you why.