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The Stone Bird

 

The Stone Bird

 

 

Chapter One

 

‘Can you hear me?’

Adam awoke from a restless sleep to find himself lying on the ground. A man with a grey beard and long, brown robe was leaning over him, a look of concern on his face. Tethered to a tree behind the man was a donkey, laden with goods.

‘Where…?’ Adam groaned. He tried to move, but his head ached terribly. ‘What…?’

‘My name is Fontus,’ the man said soothingly. ‘Your home was attacked. I fear your parents—’

It all came rushing back to Adam. Letting out an anguished cry, he climbed to his feet and saw what remained of the home he had shared with his parents. Fire had reduced the once sturdy stone building to ruins. The ceiling had collapsed and the walls were black with soot. The fences holding their cattle had been torn down and the animals slaughtered.

But Adam’s attention was quickly drawn to something else: two figures lying motionless on the ground at the front entrance.

No!’ he cried.

Scrambling over to where his parents lay, he fell at their side. The life was long gone from their eyes. Adam had not cried for many years. He was eighteen years old and prided himself on his manliness, but now the tears filled his eyes. He felt the world weave around him and darkness claimed him once more.

When Adam next awoke he saw that day had passed into night and that he was now lying on a blanket next to a small fire. To spare him further anguish, Fontus had taken him away from the ruins of the burnt home to a small clearing near the river. It was the same place to which Adam and his parents would sometimes come for picnics.

As he lay there, Adam remembered that Fontus, now stirring a pot over the fire, was a travelling merchant who would come this way to exchange goods.

‘My boy,’ the old man said gently, seeing Adam was awake. ‘How do you feel?’

Adam swallowed. How did he feel? His world had turned upside down. His parents were dead, their farm destroyed, and everything they had built had been destroyed in a single day.

‘Terrible,’ he said, despair in his voice. ‘I feel terrible.’

‘I understand,’ Fontus nodded. ‘I too lost my parents when I was very young.’

‘It was the Dagarni,’ Adam said. ‘The Dagarni killed my parents.’

‘The native people?’

Adam and his parents had moved here when he was only seven. They had settled into their small bend of the river, living off the land and making some money by trading goods with travelling merchants, such as Fontus.

All through the years an uneasy peace had existed between Adam’s family and the Dagarni who lived further up the river. They had left each other alone, one not interfering with the other.

Then a new chief, Prendah, had taken over the tribe. He had quickly emerged as a far more aggressive leader than his predecessor. Resenting the settlers’ presence, he had confronted them, telling them to leave. Adam’s father, though, had steadfastly refused. There had been an argument, and the chief had stormed off, making it all too clear that they would pay for their trespass.

Adam and his parents had assumed it was an empty threat—until that morning when a warrior cry split the air. A group of men attacked, quickly and ruthlessly. While Adam and his parents had tried to fight them off, it was over in mere seconds.

Gingerly touching his forehead, Adam remembered one of the men had struck him across the skull with a flint axe, knocking him to the ground.

Fury welled within Adam. ‘I will kill them!’ he yelled, clenching his fists. ‘I will make them pay!’

‘Revenge is not the way,’ Fontus said, his voice calm. ‘Actions born of hatred inevitably serve only to produce more and greater hatred.’

‘Then what would you suggest I do? They killed my parents!

Fontus regarded him silently. ‘For now, you must do no more than eat and sleep,’ he said.

‘What!? I must attack the tribe! I must—’

‘Attack the tribe?’ Fontus allowed the words to hang in the air. ‘Can you defeat an entire tribe by yourself?’

Adam said nothing. It was obvious that he could not.

‘I have cooked a rabbit stew,’ Fontus said, diverting the boy’s attention away from thoughts of revenge. ‘Eat and get a good night’s rest. Despite everything, the world will look different in the morning.’

Even though Adam did not feel hungry, he nodded and ate the bowl of stew offered to him by the travelling merchant. Soon after, with another blanket placed on him by Fontus, he lay back on the ground.

But thoughts raged in Adam’s mind as he stared up at the night sky through the gaps in the trees.

I will avenge my parents, he thought. I will.

Early the next morning, Adam awoke to the sound of Fontus packing bags to load onto his donkey. Watching silently, Adam remembered what the old man had asked the previous night.

Can you defeat an entire tribe by yourself?

Adam knew he was in no shape to fight anyone. For now, as he contemplated the future, the hopelessness of the situation brought tears to his eyes.

I can’t go on, he thought. I should just lie down and die.

Fontus finished packing the donkey before handing a sack to Adam.

‘I buried your parents,’ he said. ‘Then I searched the ruins for anything that survived the fire. This is what I found.’

Opening the sack, Adam peered inside. There was the gold coin his father had kept hidden in case they ever returned to civilisation, as well as some tools for stone carving. His father had taught him how to carve, and Adam had quickly demonstrated a natural ability and flair.

The last items were sculptures he had made: a bear, a tree and the piece he had given his parents at the last solstice—a stone bird in flight.

‘You must honour your parents by getting on with your life,’ Fontus said. ‘You must leave this place and make a new home. Honour them by becoming the man they would want you to be.’

‘No,’ Adam said. He could not imagine living anywhere else. ‘I…I will stay here. This is my home.’

‘Adam,’ Fontus said, staring into the boy’s eyes. ‘You will not survive if you stay here. The Dagarni came here once. They will come again. A war is brewing between them and the Telang. This whole area is dangerous.’

‘I don’t care,’ Adam said, miserably. ‘It makes no difference to me if I live or die.’

He was surprised to hear those words coming from his mouth. It was how he felt, although he had barely acknowledged it himself. He felt adrift, as if he were marooned on a makeshift raft, alone on a vast ocean.

Adam peered at Fontus, expecting him to appear surprised or disappointed. Instead, the old man was nodding.

‘Many people never truly live,’ Fontus said. ‘They exist as if their lives are eternal. Then one day they look in the mirror and see an elderly face peering back. Their lives have passed by without them noticing.’

The old man gripped Adam’s shoulder. ‘My boy,’ he said. ‘You can lie down here and die if that is your wish. I will not stop you.’ He paused. ‘But there is another path.’

‘What is that?’

‘Choose to embrace life with all its beauty and terror. Be a part of it. Face the day with an open mind, acknowledging the past, but always looking to the future.’ He stared into the boy’s eyes. ‘Choose to live.’

 

Lesson 1: Choose to Live.

Chapter Two

 

Adam slung the bag over his shoulder. The donkey, a gentle animal, bellowed softly as Fontus gave it an encouraging slap on the rear and they started on their way. Following a path away from the ruins that had been Adam’s home, they reached the crest of a hill. From there Adam glanced back one last time. He could just make out a tiny smudge in the forest near the river—the burnt remains of their home. To the west he could make out a much larger settlement—the home of the Dagarni. Fury grabbed at his senses again, and he felt an almost overwhelming drive to run there and attack the villagers.

But Fontus had been right. Alone, it would be futile.

His eyes shifted southwards to another settlement. They were the Telang. Adam and his family had encountered them only twice over the years. During each encounter the settlers had been greeted with little more than suspicion and hostility. It had been enough to ensure that Adam’s family afforded them a wide berth.

He returned his gaze to the tiny smudge that had been his home. It had been a hard life, but every day had been filled with a joy of some kind. His mother’s smile or his father’s laugh. The smell of cooking on their small stove or songs sung in the evening after dinner. It was hard to believe it was all gone.

Fontus urged his donkey onwards and they continued forward and over a rise. As the house fell from view, Adam once again felt tears fill his eyes. He wiped them away quickly when Fontus looked back at him.

‘You must weep,’ Fontus said. ‘Grief comes upon us as does the sea upon the shore. Our grief can lie below the calm surface, but then it rises suddenly and overcomes us.’

‘It sounds like you’ve experienced grief yourself.’

‘Only those without compassion have not known its sting.’ For several seconds the only sound was the gentle clang of the pots and pans as they rattled against the donkey’s side. ‘My wife died seven years ago. It was a pain I feel just as sharply now as I did on the day it happened.’

‘How did she die?’ Adam asked gently.

‘An illness came to Prosperity. Without discrimination it struck down the rich just as quickly it did those who were poor. My wife—Elana—went to care for an unwell neighbour. After her return, she also fell ill. Within a week she was dead.

‘I mourn for her even now. Every day I still recall some small memory that brought us together. Sometimes the pain is still so terrible that it feels unbearable.’

‘What do you do?’ Adam asked, anguish stirring in his gut. ‘When you are overcome with grief?’

‘Mostly I allow myself to be carried by it. Grief is natural. So too is losing those we love. Only by accepting the natural order of things can we be at peace with tragedy.’

‘You mentioned…Prosperity?’ Adam said. ‘Is that your town?’

‘It is the city where we—my daughter and I—live,’ Fontus said. ‘My business is there. I spent many years building it, and now my daughter operates it during my absence.’

‘I thought you just sold pots and pans from your donkey,’ said Adam, eyeing the old animal.

‘This is what I do now. Matilda and I now travel the lands, selling my goods, and sleeping and eating under the stars. But enough talking for now. We must concentrate on covering good ground before nightfall.’

After a few hours they reached a path that wound through a tree-filled valley. Beyond lay a huge mountain range known as the Tellation Mountains. Adam had seen the mountains from his home for as long as he could remember, but he had never come this far from home.

‘We will cross them soon,’ Fontus said, nodding at the high peaks.

‘The Tellations?’ Adam frowned. ‘They can’t be crossed.’

‘What makes you say that?’

‘My parents said it was impossible to go over them. When they found our home they came via the river.’

‘I have crossed them many times. There is a secret path known only to myself and a few other merchants.’

‘So it’s easy?’

Fontus laughed. ‘I did not say it was easy,’ he said. ‘In fact it represents quite a challenge, but Prosperity lies beyond.’

Adam wanted to ask him more about the city and how he had built his business, but the ground was starting to angle up sharply. They continued through the forest until they reached the foot of the Tellation Mountains. Peering upwards, Adam saw snow cresting the topmost peaks. The sun’s reflection was so bright that it hurt his eyes.

Fontus led them to a narrow path.

He’s very fast for an old man, Adam thought. I am much younger, yet he walks the path like he’s twenty!

Hours passed. The path gradually became steeper as the ground hardened, and the trees became more sparse. Soon, there was only rock and tough low-lying shrub. The air was freezing and a wind came up. The donkey gave a plaintive cry in protest, but continued on.

Adam wrapped his arms around himself. He was both cold and hot at the same time. The effort of the ascent was making him sweat, but his face was so numb that he could barely feel his nose.

They continued onwards. Adam paused to look back to see how far they had travelled—and almost fell over in surprise. Even though the small party had made good time and were high up, they still had a huge distance ahead! This was impossible! They would never make it to the top!

Adam peered down into the valley. This was the highest he had ever been. He began to wonder what it would be like if he fell. He would topple head over heels until he was flying through the air. And when he reached the bottom—crunch!

The path began to narrow. Soon it was only a few feet across. Adam was amazed that Fontus and his donkey were able to travel it with such ease.

‘Fontus,’ Adam gasped, the thinning air and cold taking its toll on him. ‘I must rest.’

‘Of course,’ Fontus said. ‘The path widens just ahead. Then we will stop.’

They rounded a corner. Here, as Fontus had said, the path was wider, but not by much. Fontus took out a gourd of water and handed it to Adam who drank thirstily from it.

‘Do not drink too much,’ Fontus warned. ‘We have far to go.’

Adam looked up again at the mountain. It was huge. While the old man might be accustomed to climbing such peaks, the highest Adam had ever gone was to the top of a tree. Even then he had felt dizzy. He peered out at the view. The valley now spread out below like an enormous map. It was green and lush. The river cut through to the sparkling sea in the distance.

‘It is very beautiful,’ Fontus said.

Adam nodded in agreement, but his mind was elsewhere.

We still have so far to travel, he thought. Will we ever get over this mountain?

After little more than a few minutes of rest, they started off again, and the path narrowed once more. By now, Adam’s legs were aching with effort and his muscles were sore from the constant strain of climbing the steep path. He didn’t want to glance over the side of the trail, but couldn’t help himself.

It was a sheer drop.

One slip, he thought, and I’m dead.

He turned away from the sight. His whole body was shaking and sweat ran into his eyes. Slipping on some loose stones, he half fell.

Swallowing hard, Adam found it hard to breathe. He could not rid the thought from his mind. One slip and I’m dead. And there was still so far to go. As the hours slowly passed, he did not allow himself to look up. When he did, he saw the mountain still arrowing upwards. Still, he followed the old man and his donkey, forcing his protesting body onwards. Finally he felt he could continue no longer.

Fontus!’ he cried. ‘We must stop!’

‘There is another widening of the path ahead,’ Fontus’s voice came back from beyond the donkey. ‘We can take a break—’

‘No! I can’t do this!’ Adam said, his voice becoming high-pitched as desperation took hold. ‘I can’t go on!’

Adam fell against the rockface and slid to the ground. He could not look down. He was only dimly aware of Fontus bringing Matilda to a stop and pushing past the animal to reach him.

‘What is it, my boy?’ Fontus asked.

‘The mountain!’ he gasped. ‘It’s too high! I’m already exhausted. And if I fall…’ His gaze went again to the narrow mountain edge. ‘I will die if I fall.’

Fontus peered over the edge. ‘That is true,’ he said. ‘You will indeed die if you fall.’

Adam stared up at him in amazement. How could Fontus be so calm? Was he mad?

‘Then you see how hard this is!’ Adam said. ‘One slip and…’

He stopped speaking because now Fontus had started laughing. Adam felt anger rise within him.

‘You think this is funny?’ he said. ‘You think my pain should be mocked?’

‘Not at all,’ Fontus said, sobering. ‘But you see how quickly a person’s focus can be changed. You felt fear and dismay, but that quickly changed to rage when I laughed.’

Still breathing hard, Adam realised Fontus was right.

I was terrified, he thought. But my terror vanished when I grew angry.

‘You are focused on the mountain,’ Fontus said. ‘Am I correct?’

‘Yes,’ Adam replied.

‘You are consumed by its very height? And how far you will fall should you wander from the relative safety of the path?’

Adam nodded.

Fontus, the old man who had seen and experienced so much during his many years, gripped Adam’s shoulder. ‘A person must have big dreams,’ he said. ‘Big dreams inspire, terrify and give life to our emotions.’ He pointed to the path. ‘If we are to succeed—to achieve that about which we dream—our attention must remain focused on that which lies before us.’

‘But it is so far,’ Adam said, peering up again at the mountain.

‘Your goal is to climb the mountain,’ Fontus said. ‘But to climb mountains you must focus on the path.’ He pointed at the ground. ‘Great dreams are achieved by focusing on that which lies before you.’

 

Lesson 2: Great dreams are achieved by focusing on that which lies before you.

 

Chapter Three

 

They continued to climb.

Adam kept his eyes firmly focused on the trail. The climb was still challenging—his muscles still ached terribly—but Fontus had been right about remaining focused on the path. He forced himself to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. When he felt the desire to shift his gaze to the sheer drop, he suppressed it and locked his attention down at the path.

Finally, he heard Fontus’s voice. ‘There. That wasn’t so bad. Was it?’

Adam looked up in surprise. They were indeed near the top of the mountain. The path had opened onto a snow-covered plateau. A light wind swept across it as Fontus wrapped a shawl around his shoulders.

Blinking, Adam stared out at the view. It was spectacular. Now he could see distant valleys winding their way back and receding all the way to the horizon. His father had always said the world was endless. A man could travel forever.

Low cloud hugged the peaks overhead.

‘Do you feel able to continue?’ Fontus asked.

‘Is it downhill from here?’

‘It is.’

‘Then I’m ready.’

The snow-covered plain was tough going but they finally reached a sheer rock face.

‘What do we do now?’ Adam asked. ‘There’s nowhere to go.’

‘My boy,’ Fontus said, with a half-smile, ‘there is always somewhere to go.’

Turning left, they followed the foot of the rock face for several hundred feet to a point at which it intersected with another wall. But just before they reached it, Adam saw a thin cleft appear. The crack was wide enough for them to pass through one at a time.

Fontus went first, with Matilda trailing behind. Adam paused. He could still turn around and return to the valley and what remained of his home.

Or I can go forward, he thought.

Sighing, he followed Fontus and Matilda into the crack. Minutes later they emerged onto a wider track that angled downwards. The view on this side was equally spectacular, except now Adam could see a mighty city below. It surrounded a circular harbour. Into the harbour ran a river that snaked its way northwards through outlying farmlands.

Adam could make out trading vessels moored at docks lining the harbour. Other ships were either coming or going. Even from a distance, the city and its harbour seemed a hive of activity and commerce.

‘Is that Prosperity?’ Adam asked.

‘It is.’

‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’

‘It is the capital of Askar. River boats transport people and goods up and down the Danasee River. Ships from other lands deliver spices, foodstuffs and other supplies to Prosperity.’

‘I had no idea the world was so large.’

‘There are many more lands beyond the horizon. What you see below,’ Fontus said, gesturing towards the city, ‘is merely a speck of what lies beyond.’

They travelled for another few hours before the sun sank too low in the sky for them to continue. Good time and distance had been made now that their journey was downwards, and they were half way down the mountain. It was still cold, but at least the wind had subsided. Adam built a fire while Fontus cut some dried meat for their evening meal.

‘How long will it take for us to reach Prosperity?’ Adam asked.

‘We will be there by tomorrow night.’

‘That soon?’

‘Going down the mountain is faster than going up.’

Adam nodded, thinking. ‘What will I do once we reach the city?’ he asked.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean…I need to find a way to live. Get a job.’

‘Is that what your parents had planned for you? That you would work for someone else?’

‘What else can I do?’

‘Your future is not yet written,’ Fontus said, smiling. ‘But now it is late and you are tired. We will talk further of such things when we reach the city.’

Adam covered himself with his blanket. It was cold on the mountain, but the fire helped keep him warm. His thoughts turned to his parents again…and he wept.

Will this pain ever end?

After an unsettled sleep, Adam awoke to see that Fontus was already cooking breakfast. Pushing aside his blanket, he moved over to the old man and helped. Within an hour they had eaten, secured their supplies to Matilda and were continuing back down the mountain.

Soon the rocky path gave way to grass and pine trees. It grew warmer and it wasn’t long before they had reached the base of the mountain.

I’m glad to leave that behind, Adam thought. But—what now?

The path met a road and within minutes they came across a man riding a horse. He gave Fontus a nod in greeting.

‘What are you selling now?’ the man asked, smiling as he nodded towards Adam. ‘Tadpoles?’

Fontus laughed. ‘Tadpoles aren’t worth much,’ he replied. ‘But tadpoles turn into frogs.’

‘Typical Fontus,’ the man said, laughing as he trotted away. ‘Always thinking ahead.’

As they moved onwards towards Prosperity, Adam and Fontus began to encounter more people. Some had carts drawn by oxen. Others were on horseback or travelled on foot. Without exception, all of them greeted Fontus by name.

‘Everyone knows you,’ Adam said.

‘Not everyone,’ Fontus said with a slight shrug of his shoulders. ‘But many people do. When you have reached my age you get to know many people.’

It was not long before they arrived at the base of a mighty stone wall that surrounded the city. It was an impressive sight. More than twenty feet high, it had battlements along the top. Guards armed with swords, wearing moss green tunics and thick leather vests, stood on both sides of an open gate. They greeted each person as they passed. Next to them was their commander—a giant of a man with a big black beard.

‘That’s Timian,’ Fontus said. ‘He’s in charge of the city watchmen.’

‘Watchmen?’

‘Men and women who have dedicated their lives to protecting the city and its people.’

Timian strolled over and planted a friendly hand on Fontus’s shoulder. ‘You’re still as small as ever,’ he said.

‘And you, Timian, are still as huge. I assume you are still living with your mother?’

‘Why would I leave?’ Timian asked, laughing. He nodded to Adam. ‘And who do you have here?’

Fontus introduced Adam. ‘He will be staying with me until he finds his feet,’ he said.

Timian gave Adam a slap on his back. ‘Welcome to Prosperity,’ he said. ‘Your future lies ahead.’

Adam nodded and, with Fontus and Matilda, passed through the gates and entered the city. His eyes opened in amazement. People were everywhere: men, women and children of all different shapes and sizes. Also crowding the streets were horses, donkeys and bullocks. There was barely room to move. It was like nothing he could ever have imagined.

People sold food from windows that were adorned with brightly coloured awnings intended to attract the attention of passers by. Others sold and traded goods from tables on the sidewalk and makeshift tents. The buildings were either whitewashed or made of grey stone.

‘Is this a market?’ Adam asked, a note of awe in his voice.

Fontus laughed. ‘No,’ he said. ‘The market is on the other side of the city, but everyone works to make a living.’

‘Even you?’

‘I could sit at home all day and stare at the walls should I so desire, but I enjoy working.’

‘Really?’

‘I relish challenge. I love buying something cheaply and selling it for more. It’s in my blood.’

Continuing through the city, many more people greeted Fontus. The last mile seemed to take forever, because everyone seemed to want to hear accounts of his recent travels.

Finally, they turned a corner that led them onto a street lined by whitewashed two-storey homes. Each had six square windows with tiny awnings fronting the cobbled street. Going to the nearest one, Fontus rapped at the door. After barely a few seconds it was opened by a pretty girl with black hair and blue eyes.

‘Father!’ she cried, throwing her arms around him.

Adam felt uncomfortable while the two hugged. Then the girl, who appeared to be of a similar age to Adam, drew back and nodded at him.

Just as Timian had asked at the gate, the girl asked her father, ‘And who do you have here?’

‘A young man in need of a new start in life,’ Fontus said, introducing Adam. ‘And this is Kara, my daughter.’

The girl led them inside. Adam’s mouth fell open as he gazed at the interior. It was furnished with lush carpets and brightly coloured curtains at the windows. The chairs were covered in plush fabric. Rugs and paintings hung on the walls. Everywhere Adam looked he saw beautiful things—the trappings of success.

‘This is amazing,’ he breathed. ‘It’s like being in a palace.’

‘Palaces are much grander than this,’ Fontus said. ‘But every person’s home is their palace.’ He turned to Kara. ‘Would you make us some tea, please?’

‘Yes, of course. We also have some freshly baked bread.’

‘Then we will have that too.’

Fontus led Adam to a dining area that overlooked a small courtyard. Palms and ferns surrounded a pond.

Kara brought the food, served it and disappeared. Adam realised he was famished. He began eating like he had not eaten all week, but then he stopped himself.

‘I need to thank you,’ Adam said. ‘I would be dead if not for you.’

‘We all have difficult times,’ Fontus said. ‘Have you thought about the future? What you will now do?’

Ideas had been playing in the back of Adam’s mind. ‘In a city such as this,’ he said, ‘I imagine there are many businesses.’

‘There are.’

‘And there are many workers. My father sometimes spoke about me one day leaving the farm to work in the city.’

Fontus nodded. ‘Your father wanted security for you,’ he said. ‘I imagine he found it hard working the land.’

‘The winters were hard and sometimes we were very hungry. He would speak of me finding employment with someone else.’

‘You can work for someone else if you wish,’ Fontus said, nodding, ‘but there is another possibility. You could have your own business.’

The idea excited Adam. Whenever his father had mentioned him moving away and working for someone, Adam had always felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. He felt the same sensation now.

‘But I don’t know anything about business,’ Adam said. ‘And I have no money to start one. And my experience—’

Fontus raised a hand. ‘You are raising obstacles,’ he said. ‘It is important to recognise obstacles because the best way to overcome an obstacle is to avoid it.’ The old man leant forward. ‘But consider this: there are always obstacles in achieving any goal. Many people let the obstacles stand in their way. All too easily they become paralysed by fear, unable to move forward.’

‘So what do I need to do?’

‘You would like to have your own business?’

Slowly, Adam nodded. ‘I can’t imagine working for someone else,’ he said. ‘Working for myself would make me my own boss.’

‘Then the first step is to recognise that you are not the first person to start from nothing,’ Fontus said. ‘Ask yourself this question: has anyone else ever achieved this goal?’

Adam laughed. ‘I’m sure many people have,’ he said.

‘Then if they can start from nothing and build a business,’ Fontus said, ‘so too can you. Success begins with a state of mind.’

 

Lesson 3: Success begins with a state of mind.

Chapter Four

 

‘A state of mind,’ Adam mused. ‘But a thought is just a thought.’

Now Fontus laughed. ‘Of course it is,’ he said. ‘But doesn’t your mind give colour to the world? Doesn’t your mind choose to focus either on the rain or the rainbow?’

I suppose it does, Adam thought.

Fontus continued. ‘Life has given you everything you need to build that which you desire. The only thing stopping you—is you.’

‘Me?’

‘The person who changes their attitude can change their world.’

‘Is it really that simple?’

Fontus stroked his chin. ‘Let me ask you a question,’ he said. ‘What happens when I say to you that every time you see the colour red, you will receive a diamond?’

A diamond?

Only very rich people owned diamonds! Adam’s eyes instinctively started to search the room.

If only the colour red could bring about—

Laughing, Fontus said, ‘You see what I mean?’

‘What?’

Then Adam realised what had happened. It was true. Unconsciously, his attention had shifted to the colour red and he had begun searching for it, even though he knew Fontus had only been telling him a story.

‘Our lives are like this,’ Fontus said. ‘When we focus on being an employee, we will remain one. If we focus on being a business owner—’

‘—then we become one.’

It was now late in the day. Adam wanted to ask Fontus more about changing his attitudes, but the old man let it be known that it was time to rest. He was right. Adam was yawning by the time Kara showed him to his room. It was a tiny chamber at the back of the building. After all that Adam had been through, in his eyes it was heavenly. The mattress on the floor was firm but clean, and a single window allowed light into the chamber. Through it he could see the last light of day.

‘Do you like it?’ Kara asked.

‘Yes. Very much.’

Adam lit a lamp that was on a small table near his bed and slid gratefully into bed. He lay there, listening to the sounds of the city. At home, the night had been silent except for the sounds of owls in the trees and the occasional rustle of an animal in the undergrowth. Here, the city seemed to never stop. The sound was as if the city were whispering constantly to its inhabitants.

I will become a business owner, Adam thought. And I will be successful!

He awoke early the next morning to find Fontus and his daughter already eating breakfast.

‘Welcome!’ Fontus greeted him grandly. ‘The prince has arisen!’

‘Sorry,’ Adam mumbled.

‘I am not serious,’ Fontus reassured the boy, gesturing towards the table. ‘Please eat and tell me of your plans—if you have made any.’

‘I have.’ Adam had already decided what he would do for the day. ‘I will look around the city, learn what it’s like and get some ideas.’

Fontus nodded. ‘That seems like a good place to start,’ he said. ‘I will be working on the books to see how Kara has fared in my absence.’

‘Does she know what she’s doing?’ Adam asked.

‘Of course!’ Kara snapped, her eyes flashing. ‘Don’t you think a woman can run a business?’

‘No…I mean yes…’ Adam felt his face reddening. What he had intended to say and what he had actually said were entirely different. ‘I wasn’t saying that…I just meant—’

‘I run all my father’s shops while he is away, traipsing all over the countryside.’

‘You have more than one shop?’ Adam said to Fontus.

We do,’ Kara said, pointedly.

I don’t think this girl likes me much, Adam thought.

Fontus smiled. ‘We import pots and pans from across the sea. From faraway places such as Indara and Jopanina,’ he said. ‘We then sell them from shops here in the city and throughout the countryside.’

‘It must have taken a long time to build your business,’ Adam said.

‘It did, but you remember the lesson of the mountain?’

Adam did.

Great dreams are achieved by focusing on that which lies before you.

Fontus lent Adam some of his old clothing to wear. It was a little large for him, but would keep him warm, and was in a much better state than those he had been wearing when the old man found him. Adam helped Kara clear away the plates. While she washed, he dried. While trying to keep his attention on the plate, he couldn’t help but glance at Kara. She was really very beautiful.

‘I hope you will respect my father,’ she said.

‘Of course,’ he said, almost dropping the plate. ‘Of course I will.’

‘He always wanted a son, but it was not to be.’

‘Your father told me about your mother.’

‘It was a terrible blow,’ Kara said, looking away. ‘And most unexpected. Now,’ she said, glancing at the plate in Adam’s hand, ‘leave the washing to me. You’ll dry that plate into nothing if you keep wiping it!’

Thanking her, Adam made his way out and onto the street. Before anything else, though, he carefully took note of the location of Fontus’s house.

I don’t want to be so lost that I never find his home again!

Then he started through the city. He remembered from his climb down the mountain that Prosperity nestled against the harbour like a baby to its mother. Adopting a methodical approach, he started a grid search through the city, starting at the northern end.

It seemed there was something new and different everywhere he looked. He realised for the first time how lonely his life had been, living just with his parents. While they had certainly done their best to raise him, his life had essentially been solitary and friendless.

Despite the early hour, the streets were already busy. People were hurrying to work. Merchants were setting up their tables and wares for the day. Children skipped or trudged to school, and women leant from windows, selling freshly cooked food to passersby.

Veering towards the west, Adam finally reached the harbour. The early morning breeze washed against him. It was hard to believe that he had been in his little home by the river only a short time ago, and now he was in a huge city on the edge of a sea.

Sailing ships jostled for position at the docks. Wooden cases and baskets were being loaded or unloaded, and men were yelling instructions to each other. Passengers were boarding ships. Strange animals in cages were being placed onto carts to be taken away. Some of the creatures were parrots and lizards, and others were unlike any he had ever seen before.

‘What’s that?’ Adam asked one of the sailors, and pointed at a cage with a particularly ferocious looking animal.

‘A lion,’ the man said. ‘It’s being taken to the castle. The King has his own zoo.’

The king has his own zoo, Adam thought. Incredible.

The beast roared as its cage was loaded onto a wagon and taken away.

Adam continued his walk, heading towards the point where the river met the harbour. He could see a place further along the river that appeared particularly congested. Nearing it, he realised it must be the market that Fontus had mentioned the previous day. Hundreds of small stallholders were shoulder to shoulder. The clamour was almost deafening. Stallholders yelled out to passersby, attempting to entice them with their wares. Families wove in and out of the chaos, trying to make themselves heard above the racket. Buskers played music. Beggars asked for money. People sold food, jewellery, pots, clothing, parchment paintings, potted plants, raw meat and fish, books, spices, headscarves…

It made Adam dizzy as his senses tried to take it all in. Finally his attention was caught by a man sitting at a table. A black cloth covered the table. People were grouped around, peering at paintings laid out carefully on the cloth.

Adam drew his breath sharply. The man’s paintings were similar to ones his mother had done on parchments at home. Several of them had adorned the walls of their house.

The man had painted seascapes that featured great sailing ships, their bows carving a way through the water.

I can do that, Adam thought. I can make the same paintings.

He hurried through the city back to Fontus’s street. By now, it was very late in the day. Fontus and Kara were just arriving home.

‘My boy!’ Fontus said, seeing him. ‘Your face is red! What has happened?’

As the three of them made dinner—a meat and vegetable stew—Adam shared everything he had seen. Kara remained quiet, but Fontus spoke up as they served the meal.

‘You can paint?’ Fontus said.

‘I am my mother’s son,’ Adam said. ‘I’m sure I can do the same thing. And there is clearly a market for the paintings.’ He stared at the old man’s face. ‘Is there something wrong?’

Fontus had fallen into deep thought as he ate. ‘There is nothing wrong,’ he said. ‘You must do as you see fit.’

‘I think it’s a foolish idea!’ Kara said. ‘Just because your mother could paint, it doesn’t mean you can!’

Adam bit back an angry reply. It didn’t worry him that Kara had no faith in his plan, but he felt concern in the face of Fontus’s silence. They ate the rest of their meal without speaking. Before going to bed, Adam found the old man reading a book in the living room.

‘Fontus,’ Adam said. ‘Kara seems to think that I’m making a mistake. If she thinks I’m wrong, then maybe I am wrong.’

Carefully, Fontus closed the book and set it down on the table beside him. ‘Adam,’ he said. ‘You will never have complete consensus. There will always be those who think you are wrong. Those who will stand against you. Those who will mock or jeer you.’ He gripped his arm. ‘You are the one who must decide your fate.’

 

Lesson 4: You are the one who must decide your fate.

Chapter Five

 

The next morning, Adam asked Fontus where he could sell the piece of gold he had inherited from his parents. The old man took him to a nearby merchant who exchanged it for a hundred coppers.

They were heavy to carry and despite their value, Adam knew they would not last for long. He then asked Fontus where he could find accommodation.

‘You have accommodation,’ Fontus said. ‘Our home!’

‘Then I must pay you for board,’ Adam said.

At first Fontus refused. Adam, though, was insistent, and grudgingly the old man agreed to accept two coppers per week. His conscience eased, Adam spent the week readying his business. He bought canvases, paint and brushes from a shop in the city, and started producing paintings. Finally satisfied that he had produced enough, he tracked down the man who ran the market.

Keldar was a burly figure with a bushy black beard and, Adam noted, equally impressive eyebrows. Standing at the doorway of his small house that was situated in an alley behind the market, he slowly eyed Adam up and down.

‘So you want a market stall?’ he said at last. ‘It’s one copper piece per day. How do I know you’ll pay me?’

‘I’ll pay you ahead of time,’ Adam said. ‘A week’s rent in advance.’

‘And you’ll be selling your paintings?’

‘Yes.’

‘Are they good?’

Adam swallowed. He wasn’t sure how good they were, but he had taken care to paint scenery similar to that of the other artist.

‘I think so,’ he said.

‘That’s what I like!’ Keldar bellowed with laughter. ‘Confidence.’

He agreed to rent the space to Adam starting from next Saturday. That would give Adam almost another week to prepare even more paintings.

Paying Keldar the agreed upon amount of seven copper pieces, Adam rushed home to continue working on his paintings. The next few days passed in a frenzy. He knew he needed enough stock to sell at the stall, otherwise he wouldn’t look professional. The learning curve for him was steep as well. He had never painted anything before, and his first few paintings were very poor.

But he persevered. He painted over his first attempts, eventually ensuring that all his works were of a similar standard. He also spent his time visiting the market and familiarising himself better with the city. It seemed that people sold every possible item imaginable. The more he walked the streets of Prosperity, the more he saw foreign faces, different styles of dress and heard strange and exotic languages.

The world is larger than I ever imagined, he thought.

His thoughts also returned to his parents, and the grief would once again return. Sometimes he would be walking down a lane and remember his mother’s quick smile or his father’s laughter. To cover the tears he would turn away from the crowds and peer into a shop window.

At times such as those he would be gripped with thoughts of returning to his home and wreaking revenge upon the Dagarni. He would imagine striding into the camp with a group of men and attacking them just as they had attacked his family. Adam was not proud of these thoughts, but he knew that one day he had to claim retribution.

One day I will return, he thought. And the Dagarni will be sorry!

Both Kara and Fontus were busy during the week with their own business. On the day before Adam was due to sell his goods for the first time, Kara cornered him in the hallway.

‘So you’re ready to sell your paintings?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ Adam said, realising she was looking at him oddly. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘Do you think you’re good?’

‘My paintings are all right! They’re better than you could do!’

‘They probably are! But I don’t call myself an artist!’

‘Then what do you suggest I do?’

At that moment, Fontus entered the hallway. ‘Are you harassing our guest?’ he asked Kara.

‘Not at all,’ she said. ‘I’m simply giving voice to questions about his talents as an artist.’

‘Leave him be,’ Fontus said. ‘The marketplace will determine that.’

The next morning, Fontus left early for his shop. Adam assembled his paintings, table and cloth in the living room—then realised he couldn’t carry them all at once.

I should have thought of this before, he thought. He had about twenty canvases. It was too much for one person.

‘Need help?’ Kara said, entering the room.

‘I’m fine.’

‘I have bags. You can use them to carry the canvases while I take the table.’

Grudgingly, Adam agreed. They made their way through the early morning streets to the marketplace. Here, he found Keldar collecting rent from people for the week. It took him a moment to recognise Adam in the early morning light.

‘Ah, yes,’ he said. ‘The painter! What have you brought us today?’

Silently, Adam opened the bag and Keldar glanced inside. He passed no comment on the paintings, merely describing the location of Adam’s stall.

Kara and Adam carried his table and paintings to the spot specified by Keldar. It was in a good position, near the bridge crossing. Many people passed by here each day. As Adam arranged his paintings he felt his stomach churning with worry. He hadn’t been overly concerned when Kara had laughed at him or when Fontus had remained strangely silent, but the expression on Keldar’s face had said volumes.

People were already crossing the bridge. Adam had decided on a price for the paintings. They had cost him two coppers to make, so he would charge five coppers each. That would more than cover the rent as well as provide a good living for him.

‘Would you like me to stay?’ Kara asked.

‘What for?’ Adam snapped. ‘So you can frown at me all day?’ He instantly regretted his anger. She had given him bags as well as carrying his table. ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have spoken so harshly.’

‘Good luck,’ she said, ignoring the apology. ‘I hope it goes well.’

She disappeared into the crowd.

For the first time since arriving in Prosperity, Adam felt terribly alone. Now that he was here he wanted to hide, but that was an irrational fear. He knew he had to stand his ground. It wasn’t long before the streets began to fill with people, and more began pouring across the bridge in both directions. Many of them glanced at his paintings, but few stopped to take a closer look.

This will take time, Adam thought. I can’t expect everyone to buy.

He started greeting people as they passed, and many of them stopped to return the greeting. Some of them even stayed for a conversation. Most were friendly. Then one man looked harder at his paintings.

‘Are you selling these for a sibling?’ he asked.

‘What?’ Adam said, surprised.

‘These paintings? Did your little brother or sister make them?’

‘No, I did!’

The man reddened and moved away. The morning passed slowly and it didn’t take long for Adam to realise he had made a terrible mistake. Many of the passersby were friendly yet there was a distinct lack of interest in his paintings. As the hours passed, Adam felt his smile fading and his stomach quaking with embarrassment.

Lunchtime arrived and many more people flooded into the marketplace. It was a hive of activity and he felt faces peering at him.

I’m a fool, Adam thought. Why did I come here? I should have stayed in the forest!

He felt tired and depressed. While other stallholders remained busy serving customers, Adam couldn’t help but feel jealous of their success.

But they’ve been doing this for years, he thought. And this is my first day.

Then he recognised a face in the crowd.

‘Oh,’ Adam said. ‘Hello.’

Kara sidled up to him.

‘How has it been?’ she asked.

‘Wonderful. If it gets any better, I’ll need guards to protect my money.’ Adam noticed a bag in her hands. ‘What’s that?’

‘Some food. I made you something to eat.’

Adam silently took the parcel from her. It contained pieces of bread and cheese. Eating slowly, he told Kara about his experiences of the morning. He expected her to laugh at him, but she was sympathetic.

‘My father had tough times when he first started in business,’ she said.

‘But no longer,’ Adam said. ‘Now he is rich and successful.’

‘It took time.’

Adam finished eating the bread and cheese. ‘Time I have,’ he said. ‘Money I don’t.’

Kara left him, and the rest of the afternoon passed slowly. It became a familiar routine: greeting customers and showing them his wares before they wandered off to buy something else. Finally, the sun made its way across the sky and settled over the roofs of Prosperity. As twilight fell, Adam packed up his goods, following suit of the other stallholders.

It was only then that the man at the next stall introduced himself to Adam. His name was Lucius, and he sold jewellery. In contrast to Adam, he had enjoyed a busy day. ‘How did you fare?’ he asked.

‘Not well,’ Adam admitted.

‘There is a man on the west side of the market who paints similar pictures,’ Lucius said. ‘Except his are better.’

Adam agreed.

Kara appeared and helped pack his paintings away. They walked through the crowds back to Fontus’s house where they found him preparing dinner. The older man immediately noticed the look on Adam’s face.

‘I assume from your expression that it did not go as well as you had hoped,’ he said.

Adam gave a harsh laugh. ‘It didn’t go well at all,’ he said. ‘I didn’t sell a single painting.’

Fontus served dinner and they started eating.

‘What do you think happened?’ Fontus asked.

Adam had been asking himself this same question for most of the day. All the stallholders either made their own goods or sold goods that had been imported from somewhere else. The stallholders selling the imported goods had prices that were similar to each other. Those who made their own goods seemed able to charge whatever they wanted.

‘I didn’t think this through,’ Adam said. ‘I thought I could just do the same as the other painter in the market. The fact is, though, that he’s much better than me.’

‘Everyone has their talents,’ Fontus said. ‘Every person has an ability that is completely unique to them. Successful businesses are built by finding a niche in the market.’

 

Lesson 5: Successful businesses are built by finding a niche in the market.

Chapter Six

 

The following days were difficult for Adam. He had already paid a week’s rent so he had to persevere in trying to sell his paintings. Even though he dropped the price to three copper pieces, there was still a distinct lack of interest in his work. By week’s end he had made only two sales. The first was a woman who bought one because she thought it had been painted by one of Adam’s younger brothers or sisters. He hadn’t corrected her error.

The other customer was Kara. She had purchased one to hang in her room. Adam was surprised when she said she wanted to buy it. He offered to give it to her.

‘You and your father have already done so much for me,’ he said, embarrassed. ‘I can’t accept money for it.’

‘Business is business,’ Kara said pointedly. ‘That’s what my father always says.’

The picture she picked was of a forest glade near Adam’s home. He and his parents would sometimes go there to eat meals.

Finishing his last day at the market, Adam went to see the painter who sold his work on the other side. The man recognised him almost immediately.

‘Ah,’ he said. ‘It is the young artist.’

Adam blushed. ‘I’m not an artist at all,’ he said. ‘I tried to copy what you do—and failed.’

‘My mother used to say I was born with a brush in my hand,’ the man said. ‘Some of us possess this skill and others do not. Some can acquire it, but it takes much practise and a determination to succeed.’

The man’s words made Adam think about what he would do next. Returning home, he told Fontus and Kara of his plans.

‘I will make sculptures,’ he said. ‘I have been doing it since I was a child, and no one else at the market is doing this.’

‘Good boy,’ Fontus said. ‘You have identified a niche in the market.’

Adam still had the tools given to him by his father, plus the carvings recovered from the ruins of his house by Fontus. He would not sell them—even if his life depended on it.

I need to find tapis stone, he thought. It’s easy to carve and gives a good result.

He quickly reached an obstacle, though. Despite scouring the streets and market, he was unable to find a single supplier of the stone throughout Prosperity. Even Fontus and Kara had never seen it before. There had been a plentiful supply of it near his home, but Fontus insisted he not return there.

‘You will probably not survive the journey,’ he cautioned.

Adam turned his attention to the docks, asking the men unloading from the ships if they were familiar with the stone. The answer was always no—until he met with a particularly grizzled fisherman by the name of Isaac.

‘I’ve seen it,’ he said. ‘There’s a lot of it on Katana.’

‘Katana? Where’s that?’

‘It’s an island about twenty miles off the coast. Only about a hundred people live there. It’s a wild and rough place. The wind always blows and the waves are enormous. A reef surrounds it on three sides. The only safe entry is through the harbour on the west.’

‘If it’s so rough why do people live there?’

‘Why do people live anywhere?’ Isaac asked. He peered at Adam curiously. ‘Why are you interested in the stone?’

Adam explained his plans.

‘Do you think there’s a market for such a thing?’ Isaac asked.

Adam had felt confident about his paintings, but they had proven to be a failure. This time he had made up his mind to be more cautious.

‘I think there is,’ he said. ‘I can only try.’

Adam arranged to travel to the island the next day. The cost would be ten coppers.

My money is going fast, Adam thought. But I must take the risk.

At dinner that night he told Fontus of his decision, and the old man offered to accompany him to the island.

‘Are you sure you can spare the time?’ Adam asked.

Kara, passing by the room, leaned in. ‘Probably not,’ she said. ‘But he has a capable daughter who can run the business in his absence.’

The next morning they arrived at the dock to find Isaac waiting, his small boat readied for departure. Adam examined the vessel critically. Thirty-feet long, it had a small sail and a cabin beneath. It was weathered and the paint had long since peeled away.

Adam’s eyes turned to the sea. It seemed like a tiny boat for so much water.

Fontus recognised Isaac as they shook hands.

‘It’s been a long time,’ Fontus said.

‘Too long. I get the impression you don’t like the sea.’

‘I like it fine—as long as I’m near it rather than on it!’

Adam was feeling the same. The last time he had been on a boat was when his parents had moved to their home in the forest—and he barely remembered the journey.

Isaac peered at him. ‘You’re not afraid,’ he asked. ‘Are you?’

‘No, not at all.’

Truth be told, Adam was afraid. Even though his parents had taught him to swim in the river, the thought of swimming in the ocean filled him with dread. Regardless, he and Fontus followed Isaac onto the boat. The old fisherman released the mooring lines and soon it was making good headway out of the harbour.

Adam looked back at the city. It still looked enormous. From here, the largest structure rising from it was the King’s palace located at the heart of the city.

Water sprayed over the bow of the small ship. Isaac turned back to him, smiling a toothless grin.

‘A grand day to be on the water!’ he cried, clearly in his element.

‘Oh, yes. Sure.’

Fontus turned to Adam quietly. ‘Have you been to sea before?’ he asked.

‘Not for ages.’ His stomach was feeling a bit queasy. ‘Do you think this will take long?’

‘The breeze is with us,’ Fontus said. ‘It shouldn’t take too long.’ He peered closely at Adam. ‘Focus on the horizon if your stomach is going south.’

Adam took his advice and immediately began to feel a little better. The wind and the sea spray swept against his face, and he took deep breaths. Soon he caught sight of a landmass on the horizon. Isaac steered the small boat towards it and within the hour they were rounding Katana for a small harbour on the west side.

Adam’s legs were wobbling as they disembarked onto an old jetty. Seagulls wheeled overhead, carried by the wind. Isaac pointed them towards a path, explaining that it would take them across the island and to the small settlement on the other side.

The narrow trail wound through low lying scrub. After several minutes of walking, Fontus pointed to an outcrop of rock.

‘Is that what you’re searching for?’ he asked.

They scrambled through the undergrowth towards the rock face. Adam produced a hammer and chipped away a piece of the rock.

The stone was identical to tapis stone, but it was too hard to carve.

‘This is the wrong stone,’ Adam said. ‘It would take years to cut this.’

Fontus saw the disappointment on his face. Gripping his shoulder, he gave a gentle smile.

‘Take heart, my young friend,’ he said. ‘A stumble is still a step in the right direction.’

 

Lesson 6: A stumble is still a step in the right direction.

Chapter Seven

 

It was with a heavy heart that Adam made his way back to the boat. He couldn’t believe he’d come all this way for the wrong kind of rock. Fontus clapped a hand on his shoulder.

‘Never mind,’ he said. ‘These things happen.’

‘You said this is a stumble,’ Adam said, ‘but I was still headed in the right direction. How is that possible? This is the wrong kind of rock. I can’t do anything with it.’

‘We all need to be open-minded about opportunities. Sometimes it’s just as important to rule some things out as it is to rule them in. There are times when we seem to be on a wrong path, realising only later that it was a necessary part of our journey.’

They reached the harbour where Isaac was waiting patiently by his small boat. The seaman listened while Fontus described their discovery, or lack thereof.

‘That’s odd,’ Isaac said, rubbing his chin. ‘I was sure it was the same rock. Many of the people on this island use it in the construction of their homes.’

‘I wonder how they cut it,’ Adam mused.

‘Why don’t we ask?’ Fontus suggested.

Once again bidding Isaac goodbye, Adam and Fontus traipsed back along the path. Half-an-hour later they reached a town of about a hundred buildings crowded against the coast. By now they were getting hungry, so they found a general store and ordered some stew.

While they were waiting, Adam’s eyes searched the shelves. Items of every description were for sale: pots, pans, knives, dried meat and vegetables, bowls, clothing and fabric. His eyes settled on a crowded shelf near the counter.

‘Look!’ Adam said, feeling a sense of excitement. ‘Sculptures!’

He examined them closely. They were very fine sculptures of animals, birds and people. At that moment, the proprietor—a woman who identified herself as Destor—appeared with their meals. Adam asked her about the sculptures.

‘They are made by Canion,’ she explained. ‘He lives a little way down the coast.’

Quickly eating their meals, they asked Destor for directions to the sculptor’s home before leaving the store.

‘I wonder how he carves the stones,’ Adam said, as they continued their journey. ‘The rock is too hard for it to be done by hand.’

After a short walk they found a tiny house crammed between two boulders. It had a single window and a whitewashed timber door. Adam knocked at it hesitantly. After a minute, it was eased open by an old man with a short grey beard.

‘Yes?’ he said, looking at the two unexpected visitors. ‘What is it you want?’

Adam introduced himself and Fontus. ‘I am trying to start my own business,’ he said. ‘I want to make carvings similar to yours.’ The more Adam spoke the more embarrassed and uncomfortable he felt. Why would the old man share his secrets with someone who was obviously a competitor? Much to Adam’s surprise, though, the man’s face brightened.

‘I understand your curiosity,’ Canion said. ‘Have you brought any of your carvings with you?’

Adam had brought his sculpture of the stone bird. He showed it to the old man.

‘That’s fine work indeed,’ Canion said, eyeing it critically. ‘It’s better than what I produce.’

Adam was flattered. ‘Thank you, sir,’ he said.

‘But how long did it take you to make it?’

‘About a week.’

Canion nodded thoughtfully. ‘I could produce a similar piece in a few hours,’ he said.

‘How?’

The old man took them through to the back room of his home. Piles of dusty stone sat on one side. On the other was a workbench upon which were numerous finished carvings. Beside it sat a complicated contraption that looked like a spinning wheel.

Canion sat down at the device. He had a half-finished piece of stone held in a vice. Pressing on two foot pedals made a blade move up and down. It sliced through a piece of stone like a knife slowly pushing through cheese.

‘That’s amazing!’ Adam asked. ‘And you use this to make your sculptures?’

‘My device does the rough cutting. I then finish the pieces by hand.’

‘Where did you get it?’

‘I made it.’

Adam stared at the device, his mind working feverishly. Using the machine he might be able to make three pieces a day. They would sell for good prices. With the help of the machine he would have a business for life.

‘Your eyes are glowing,’ Canion said.

‘Really? It must be something I ate.’

Canion roared with laughter. ‘You have come at the right time,’ he said. ‘I am an old man and my days of carving are at their close. I might even be tempted to part with my toy—for a price.’

‘How much?’

‘Thirty coppers.’

That’s most of my money, Adam thought.

Fontas broke in. ‘Allow us a moment to consult,’ he said.

‘Of course.’

Fontus took Adam outside. The sun was low in the sky now, turning the surface of the ocean into a blanket of glistening diamonds.

‘What do you think?’ Adam asked. ‘I can make many more carvings, allowing me to—’

‘Let me ask you this,’ Fontus interrupted. ‘How many carvings have you sold?’

‘Uh, none.’

‘So we are not sure there is even a market for them.’

That’s true, Adam thought. I could lose everything.

‘You’re saying I shouldn’t invest in the rock cutter?’ Adam said.

Fontus paused. ‘I’m saying this is a big step into the unknown,’ he said. ‘The best entrepreneurs test their market first.’

 

Lesson 7: The best entrepreneurs test their market first.

Chapter Eight

 

‘Most businesses are small before they are large,’ Fontus said. ‘As time passes they increase their productivity. Sometimes the business revolves around a single piece of equipment.’

Adam knew what he was talking about. Some of the people who sold food in the market cooked it fresh on a huge skillet. While the initial cost of the skillet would have been high, it had no doubt paid for itself many times over.

‘But what if someone buys the rock cutter while we’re away?’ he asked.

Fontus shrugged. ‘Then they own it and we don’t,’ he said. ‘It is better than risking so much on an untried endeavour.’

They went back inside and informed Canion of their decision. He seemed pragmatic. ‘When you have changed your mind,’ he said, ‘let me know.’

Before returning to the boat they made their way inland and picked up some of the rocks. It was now late in the day and starting to turn cold. By the time they reached the boat, the faint lights of Prosperity were already flickering on the horizon.

Adam was deep in thought during their journey back to the city. He had found a source of rock for carving. He had also found a way to cut it quickly and efficiently—if he cared to outlay the money.

Night had fallen by the time they reached Prosperity, and Adam felt weary as they crossed the city to Fontus’s home. He offered to carry all the rocks, but Fontus insisted on helping him.

‘I’m not old,’ Fontus said. ‘Yet.’

Adam awoke early the next morning. His goal was now clear in his mind. He began by taking stock of what he had. He had thirty-two rocks. Taking breakages into account, he could produce about thirty carvings. Working long hours he could produce two a day, which meant it would take him fifteen days to finish.

Fontus had already left for the day and he found Kara readying herself to go out to the shop.

‘Father told me you had mixed success yesterday,’ she said.

‘Not everything went as expected. At least I now know what I’m going to do, though.’

He explained his plan.

Kara nodded thoughtfully. ‘That sounds like a good course of action,’ she said. ‘And I think you were wise to not buy the carving machine.’

‘It would have taken all my money,’ Adam said, ‘and I don’t even know that there’s a market for my carvings.’

Starting for the door, she paused. ‘I’ll be buying quite a lot at the market today,’ Kara said. ‘I could use another pair of hands.’

Adam nodded. Heading for the market alongside Kara, he pondered how much his opinion of her had changed. In the beginning he had thought her surly and difficult. Now he saw she was kind and considerate. She helped her father operate his business, as well as running the house. And she had shown kindness to Adam—despite barely knowing him.

‘You are good to your father,’ Adam said as they strolled through the streets.

‘Why would I not be? He is a good man. The best I’ve known.’

‘It must have been hard when your mother passed away.’

She paused under the awning of a bakery. ‘I have never seen my father so unhappy,’ she said. ‘For a week after she died he stared into space and barely spoke. The house was so quiet, as if time was standing still.’

‘But he came out of it?’

‘Yes. It was after that he started taking Matilda out on trading runs.’

Remembering his own parents, Adam looked away so that Kara would not see the tears that welled in his eyes. The anger still boiled in his belly when he thought of their home in the forest and the way the Dagarni had destroyed everything.

I will have revenge on them, he thought. I will!

Continuing towards the market, Adam noticed Kara greeting many people along the way. He also noticed a great number of the young men giving her appraising glances.

‘You have many admirers,’ Adam said.

‘Really? I hadn’t noticed.’

Adam burst out laughing.

‘Maybe I have noticed,’ Kara said, stifling a smile. ‘Just a little.’

‘You’re a pretty woman.’

‘How can you know? You grew up with only deer and foxes for friends.’

‘Some of them were very attractive deer.’

They both laughed.

‘But I am surprised you are not married,’ Adam continued. ‘Men must have asked you.’

‘A few have,’ she said. ‘But I am in no hurry. I have to look after my father, plus I run most of the business now that he is travelling more often.’

‘I would have thought he’d have no need of the money.’

Kara laughed. ‘He could have retired long ago,’ she said. ‘I think he goes out there looking for some peace and quiet rather than benefit from trade.’

They reached the market. Kara made her way from stall to stall, bartering and buying from many of the stallholders. Within the hour Adam was loaded up with half-a-dozen full bags.

‘We should have brought Matilda,’ he puffed.

‘Who needs a donkey when I’ve got you!’

Returning home, Adam excused himself and went to his room. Scooping up his rocks and tools he went to the small courtyard in the rear of the house and started by cutting the stones with his hammer and chisel. Most of them broke cleanly, but a few broke at unfortunate angles and weren’t large enough.

By the time night fell he had twenty-eight usable pieces. His back was aching and his eyes hurt from focusing for so long. He went to bed tired, but satisfied.

When he awoke, he realised he had dreamt the whole night about his new business. He had been thinking about birds and fish: these were what he had mostly carved over the years. Now he wanted to try something new: trees, bears and a boat. A variety of carvings would appeal to more customers.

Returning to the courtyard, he thought about Canion’s machine. Although it couldn’t do fine work, it would have made all the major work easier.

Well, Adam thought. I can’t have everything. Not all at once.

The following days passed in the same fashion. Each morning he rose early and set to work while the sun was still low in the sky. At this time, sounds of the city mingled with the crying of a restless baby in the next house. Slowly, Prosperity would come to life with the ring of oxen pulling carts along the cobblestones, and people calling to each other.

The more Adam worked, the more proficient he became. It didn’t take long for his old skills to return. He was surprised that a carving business had not occurred to him in the first place.

Sometimes the most obvious things are right in front of your face, he thought.

Each day, Fontus and Kara would look in to check his progress. He was pleased to see they appeared enthusiastic.

‘You are coming along well,’ Fontus said at the end of one long day. ‘How long till you are finished?’

‘Another week, at least,’ Adam said. ‘They all need to go through their final polishing.’

Fontus picked up one of the bears. ‘They are excellent work,’ he said. ‘I’ve never seen anything like them.’

‘That’s high praise coming from you.’ Adam knew that Fontus had travelled to many places and would have seen the work of many artisans. ‘Do you think they’re really that good?’

‘I do, but it’s not my opinion that counts.’

‘It’s the customer?’

‘It is.’

The week passed slowly. Gradually, Adam was able to put aside each of the pieces as they were finished. Even he was surprised by their quality. He was sure they would sell at the market.

He went to see Keldar again about hiring a market stall.

‘Ah,’ Keldar said. ‘The painter has returned.’

‘I’m not a painter anymore. I have been sculpting.’

‘Really?’ The market owner’s eyes were twinkling. ‘Are they as good as your paintings?’

‘Better!’ Adam said, now able to laugh about the wasted effort. ‘Anyone who buys two or more carvings gets a painting for free!’

‘How lucky they are!’ Keldar said, clapping him on the shoulder. ‘If you’re interested, I can again position you at the bridge, and for the same rent and conditions.’

‘I’ll take it.’

He arranged to rent the stall again for a week, starting from the following Monday. Returning home, he told Fontus his latest news.

‘My boy,’ the old man said. ‘You seem very happy.’

‘I am.’ He explained what he had arranged with Keldar. ‘So I have two days before I will start selling my goods.’

‘Have you thought about price?’

‘I’ve been thinking about not charging very much,’ Adam said. ‘I want to keep prices down.’

‘I know you didn’t have any success with your paintings, but I think things will be different with your carvings.’

‘What would you suggest?’

‘You should always charge as much as you can. Never undersell yourself.’

 

Lesson 8: Never undersell yourself.

Chapter Nine

 

‘First, you must factor in the cost of your stone.’

‘But the stone is free.’

‘Does Isaac take you to the island for free?’

‘No,’ Adam said, thoughtfully. ‘He doesn’t.’

‘And the cost of your tools?’

Adam remembered that he had broken a chisel during the week. The replacement cost was five coppers. Fontus continued to tally other costs: the rent for the stall, the cost of a shade if it should rain, and various other sundries. Adam was surprised when he realised it had all come to more than twenty coppers. He had simply not stopped to think of the cost of production.

Also, Adam knew he would one day have to leave Fontus’s home. The old man had been incredibly generous to him. He couldn’t take advantage of his kindness forever.

‘It’s true,’ Adam said. ‘There are many costs involved in running a business.’

‘A business owner has to find the line that divides profit from loss. He has to be able to pay to live—on days when he is well and those he is not.’

Adam had already noticed this. There were some stallholders who were at the market every day, even when they were sick. He recalled the day when a man had collapsed at his stall and had to be taken home on a makeshift stretcher by his friends.

‘So how much should I charge?’ Adam asked.

Fontus scratched his head. ‘‘I would suggest selling for one hundred,’ he said.

One hundred!?

‘That…that’s a lot more than I was planning,’ Adam stammered.

‘Your carvings are excellent and there are no others like them,’ Fontus said. He picked up one of the carvings Adam had finished that day—an intricately carved bear—and turned it over to inspect its base. ‘But you must carve your name on the base.’

‘Why?’

‘That will soon become obvious,’ Fontus replied with a knowing smile.

As tired as he was, Adam did as Fontus suggested. It was late, and his candle was burned down to a nub when Kara appeared with a bowl of food.

‘Hungry?’ she asked.

‘Yes. Thank you,’ Adam said.

As Adam ate the food in the dim candlelight, he studied Kara’s face as she looked around at the work he had done. Was it really only a matter of weeks that spanned the transition from a boy living on a farm to someone living in Prosperity and building an entirely new life? He shared his thoughts with Kara. The level of respect—and even friendship—had come a long way since that first day when Fontus had brought him to the home he shared with his daughter.

‘There is an old saying,’ she said. ‘The unturned page is always blank.’

Adam thought on that for a handful of seconds. ‘I didn’t know you were so philosophical.’

‘So you thought I was simply a pretty girl with no brains?’

‘Oh. I didn’t know you were pretty.’

Kara glared at him, and then they both burst out laughing. Adam was surprised. He had never seen her laugh so freely and it made her look more beautiful than ever.

‘You need to sleep,’ she said, wiping away the tears of laughter from her eyes. ‘Tomorrow is a big day.’

Adam was awakened early the next morning by the cheerful song of a bird that had perched just outside his window. Climbing from the bed, he quickly washed and dressed.

This is the day, he thought. This is the day it all changes.

He heard movement from elsewhere in the house and was surprised to see both Fontus and Kara appear at the doorway of his small room.

‘We are fighting over who will accompany you to the market,’ Fontus said.

‘I can carry everything myself,’ Adam reassured them. ‘I don’t want to take you away from your own business affairs.’

‘A journey with friends halves the distance.’

As they left the house and navigated the quiet dawn streets, Adam felt a mixture of excitement and fear. He couldn’t help but remember the last time he had gone to the market to sell his wares.

It was a disaster, he thought. A total failure.

Doubt began to twist at his senses.

What if the same thing happened again? What if he had spent all this money and time trying to build a business from his carvings, but no one wanted his goods? What if he wasn’t good enough?

Kara sidled up next to him. ‘Doubts?’ she said.

‘Is it that obvious?’

‘Your brow furrows in the middle when you’re worried.’

He told her of his concerns.

‘Nothing is so terrible that it can prevent you from changing direction,’ she said.

‘But my money is running out.’

‘Then you would need to quickly change direction,’ she said with a half smile.

By the time they reached the market, people were already setting up their stalls. Adam set up the table and placed his black cloth over it. A stall holder named Carlos recognised him and smiled.

‘Back again?’ the man asked. ‘You have more paintings?’

‘Not this time,’ Adam replied with—he hoped—a note of confidence in his voice.

It took Adam only a few minutes to lay his carvings out on the cloth. Fontus and Kara stood nearby and watched. When he was done, he looked up to see that an elderly man had already stopped at the table.

‘Where are these from?’ the man asked.

‘I made them.’

The man frowned. ‘Really?’ he said. ‘Who taught you?’

‘My father.’

He didn’t say anything for a moment. He picked up a statue of a bear—the same one that Fontus had picked up only the night before—and turned it over in his hands.

‘How much are they?’ he asked.

‘One hundred coppers,’ Adam said, reddening. It was a fortune and far more than they were worth. Maybe I should offer a lower price. The man must think him stupid.

‘That is quite expensive,’ the man said, continuing to turn the statue over in his hands and examine the fine detail over which Adam had laboured. ‘But the work is very good.’ He focused on the bottom. ‘Are you Adam?’

Adam nodded.

The man frowned. ‘Will you accept eighty?’

Eighty coppers!

Before Adam could speak up, Fontus was at his side. ‘Jeremiah,’ he said. ‘Are you still a haggler?’

‘Always. Why pay the full price when I can pay less?’

‘Quality costs.’

Jeremiah sighed. ‘You can’t blame a man for wanting a bargain,’ he said.

‘Of course.’

Reaching into his pocket, Jeremiah produced a handful of coins and handed them over. Numb with surprise, Adam nodded and watched him leave. Then he looked down at the coins in his hand. It was like watching a sunrise for the first time. The sounds and smells of the market fell away to nothing as he realised what had happened.

I sold one of my carvings, he thought. And I was paid one hundred coppers.

He looked up to see Kara grinning at him. ‘It’s a start,’ she said, drawing near. ‘A good start.’

Adam was still unable to speak.

‘Can we leave you now?’ Fontus asked. ‘Are you capable of speaking…breathing…?’

Laughing, Adam stirred himself. ‘Of course,’ he said, a feeling of confidence now replacing the earlier fear. ‘I’ll see you back home.’

Adam watched them disappear into the crowd. Then he noticed Carlos looking at him. The man smiled.

‘Well done,’ he said. ‘But we still have a long day ahead.’

The day passed with hundreds of people passing Adam’s stall, pausing to look at his wares. Many of them were interested and asked how much he was charging, but moved on when he told them. While Adam was sorely tempted to drop the prices, he kept in mind that first sale of the morning. In each case and without wavering, he politely—but firmly—repeated what he was charging.

By day’s end Adam had sold five carvings. Arriving home, he felt as if he were walking on air. The day had been a complete success. He also understood why Fontus had told him to carve his name on the bottom of each piece—it meant people could identify his pieces in an instant. If things went well, Adam would soon be as famous as his sculptures.

Entering the doorway of Fontus’s home, he found Fontus and Kara had prepared a cake in celebration.

‘Well done,’ Fontus said as they gathered around the small table. ‘How did your first taste of business success feel?’

‘Like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.’

‘And you want to continue?’

‘Absolutely.’

‘Then you must make plans to grow.’

‘To make my business larger?’

‘Indeed. A business must always be growing and seeking new ways to improve and expand.’

‘Why?’

‘Because its competition is usually trying to do just that—grow. A business that stays still will find itself overtaken by other businesses. If a business is not moving forward then it is moving backwards.’

 

Lesson 9: If a business is not moving forward then it’s moving backwards.

Chapter Ten

 

After dinner, Kara walked Adam back to his small room. He felt happier than he had ever felt in his life. Everything was going his way. A short time before he had been lost and directionless. Now, thanks to Fontus and Kara, he was confident and had started his own business.

‘You must be pleased with yourself,’ Kara said.

‘I am. Everything has changed.’

‘Your parents would be proud of you.’

Adam nodded. His parents had not entered his mind all day. A feeling of guilt overcame him with the realisation that they had strayed so far from his thoughts.

Kara was staring at his face. ‘Did I say something wrong?’ she asked. ‘You look angry.’

‘No,’ Adam said, swallowing. ‘Not at all.’

But his parents remained in his thoughts as he climbed into bed. As much as he tried to focus on the successes of his day, Adam was unable to get his parents’ faces out of his mind.

Adam fell into a restless sleep that night. He had a terrible dream that he was in the forest and could hear his parents’ cries for help. Running frantically through the trees, he tried to find them. To help them. To save them. But every time he drew near, their voices receded, moving further away.

Awaking in the middle of the night, Adam realised his heart was hammering and his body drenched with sweat.

I’ve done something terrible, he thought. I can’t go on like this.

He had been busily building a new life for himself and all the while his parents had been resting in unmarked graves in the forest. What sort of son was he? I have to avenge their deaths. The Dagarni had gotten away with murdering his parents and he had done nothing about it!

Fontus and Kara had been kind to him. They had done everything they could to help him make a new start—but he couldn’t keep moving forward without first bringing resolution to the past.

Adam quickly put on clothes and packed a small bag with all his belongings. I don’t know when I’ll be back. He lit the lamp that stood on the small table in his room and made his way to the front door.

‘What’s going on?’

‘Kara?’

The girl was standing in her doorway, looking at him in astonishment.

‘Go back to bed,’ Adam said.

‘What are you doing?’ she demanded. ‘Where are you going?’

‘I’m doing what I must do,’ Adam said, feeling sick at heart. ‘I’m going back to the forest.’

‘What’s in the forest?’

He shook his head. ‘I have not been a good son,’ he said. ‘I must avenge my parents.’

‘Have you lost your mind?’

Adam placed the lamp down and looked squarely into the girl’s eyes. ‘If all goes well,’ he said, firmly, ‘I will return.’

‘And if it doesn’t?’

He didn’t answer. Pulling the door shut behind him, he made his way into the night and within minutes was striding through the empty streets of the city. His heart felt like it had been torn in two.

It wasn’t long before he exited the city gates and headed back along the road towards the mountains. The sky was still dark, but the sun had begun to crease the horizon. Apart from the occasional cry of an owl and the noise of his footsteps on the road, there was only silence.

No one’s around at this time, he thought. Not unless they have a good reason.

Then he heard a sound behind him. Surprised, he turned quickly and spotted a shadowy figure approaching.

‘Who…who’s there?’ he asked.

‘Who do you think?’

‘Kara! What are you doing?’

‘What am I doing?’ She marched up to him. In the early morning light, she looked furious and out of breath. ‘Never mind me—what are you doing?’

‘You know what I’m doing.’

‘Avenging your parents’ deaths?’ she said. ‘How? By getting yourself killed?’ She gripped his shoulder. ‘Adam, you’ve built a life for yourself here. You’re on the verge of building something wonderful for yourself.’

Adam sighed. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘But how can I do that when my parents are lying dead and forgotten?’

‘They’re not forgotten. Not while they live in your heart.’

‘That’s very poetic!’ Adam snapped. ‘But I can’t live knowing that the Dagarni chief—Prendah—has gotten away with their murder.’

‘So what are you going to do? Take on a whole village?’

‘I’m not sure what I’ll do. I only know that I must deal with this before I can move on.’

There were tears in Kara’s eyes. ‘It sounds like your mind is settled,’ she said.

‘It is.’

‘Then I wish you well.’

She looked both furious and dismayed all at the same time. Adam watched as she turned away and started back towards the city. She turned back one last time.

‘There are people here who love you, Adam,’ she said. ‘Come home to them.’

Hours later and in full daylight, Adam found the trail that led up the side of the mountain. With determination as his companion, he started up and along the trail at a good pace. The first time he had climbed the mountain he had been terrified. His focus had been on falling. Now his goal was to get to the top so he could make it down the other side.

What will I do when I get there?

He had never killed a man before. Prendah was bigger than him—a strong and proven warrior. How could he defeat such a man?

I will find a way.

It was mid-afternoon by the time he reached the mountain’s summit. Adam was hungry, thirsty and freezing. Snow covered the ground. He had not brought any food, water or warm clothing with him. The sooner he descended, the better. He followed the path down the other side of the mountain, his legs shaking all the while from strain and his stomach growling.

It was dark again when Adam finally reached the forest. Finding a stream, he drank thirstily from it, using his cupped hands to scoop big mouthfuls of water into his mouth. After the exertion of the long day, coupled with a lack of water, he immediately felt better. Then, spying a nearby bush laden with blue berries he knew were safe to eat, he gorged on them until he could eat no more.

With his thirst quenched and hunger sated, he gave thought to his next actions. Despite the darkness, Adam decided he had to keep moving. His stomach was churning with worry—and he had a mission to complete.

Continuing through the dark forest, he tried to work out the best way to confront Prendah.

I will challenge him, Adam thought. I will engage him in a duel to the death.

Adam tried to feel brave, but his body was shaking, almost as if it were betraying him; and with the passing of each moment he felt it increasingly difficult to draw breath.

I can’t win. Kara’s right. There’s only one outcome, and it doesn’t involve me winning.

To quell his fear, Adam forced his thoughts towards his parents. Yet, while he sought to achieve firmness of resolve, all that took hold in his mind were thoughts of their disappointment.

They would not want me to throw my life away. Yet that is what I am doing.

Eventually, Adam found a bush and crawled under it. He had been travelling all day and was now almost at the point of exhaustion.

I can’t confront Prendah like this, he thought. I must rest and face him in the morning.

Closing his eyes, Adam doubted he would be able to sleep. But he did.

When he next opened his eyes, he saw an early morning mist swimming about the trees. Pale beams of light cut through the forest’s canopy.

This is the day, he thought. Today I will confront Prendah.

He thought about the contents of his bag.

Other than my carving tools, I don’t even have a weapon, Adam thought. But I don’t need one. I will fight him with my bare hands.

In his heart, though, he knew it was a ridiculous idea.

He continued his journey, finally finding a path that he knew led to the Dagarni village. As he neared the settlement, Adam’s nostrils caught the smell of smoke. At first he thought it was from early morning campfires but then realised the air was thick with it. There had been a large fire through here recently—probably within the last few days.

Quickening his pace, Adam came over a rise and saw where the Dagarni village had been. Adam had only been here a few times over the years. Then, it had been a settlement of thirty or more woven grass huts. All that had changed.

The huts were gone. Burnt to the ground. Lingering columns of smoke rose from their remains. The bodies of men, women and children lay everywhere, as did those of their slaughtered animals.

Adam turned his head away, sick at the sight.

What had happened here?

Cautiously, he crept through the village. It was obvious that there had been a fierce and bloody battle, and that the villagers had been caught unawares. Possibly an attack had come at dawn before they had risen for the day.

After ten minutes of searching, Adam was able to identify Prendah’s hut at the centre of the devastation. It had been the largest hut in the village. The chief lay next to it, a sword in his hand. A woman—presumably his wife—lay dead at his side.

‘Adam?’

He turned in amazement. ‘Fontus?’ he cried. ‘Kara?’

‘What happened?’ Kara asked, shaken. Her eyes took in the remains of the village. ‘Who killed these people?’

‘It was the Telang,’ Adam said, holding up a spear that he had found. ‘They bind the handles of their spears in tamara grass.’

Boosted by his success of killing Adam’s parents, Prendah must have turned his attention to the Telang. But unlike Adam’s parents, the Telang were experienced warriors with superior numbers. They must have launched a dawn attack upon the Dagarni, destroying them in a matter of minutes.

Now Adam focused on Fontus and Kara. ‘But what are you doing here?’ Adam asked. ‘How did you find me?’

‘How?’ Fontus said. ‘You forget that I’m the one who showed you the path through the mountains.’

‘But why—?’

‘Kara told me you had completely taken leave of your senses. I knew I had to save you…from yourself.’ Fontus then nodded towards his daughter. ‘I tried to leave Kara behind, but she refused to stay.’

Adam swallowed. These people had followed him all this way, and had been prepared to risk their own lives to help him.

‘Thank you,’ Adam said, his voice thick with emotion. ‘Kara, you were right. I was stupid to behave as I did.’

‘I know,’ her voice firm, but there was kindness in her eyes.

He did not argue with her.

‘Fontus,’ he said. ‘You have been good to me—and I repaid you with foolishness. I never should have come here.’

‘When I was young,’ Fontus said, ‘I allowed my anger to control my actions. A man who had been a friend challenged me to a fight. I could have walked away, but did not. We fought, he fell and hit his head, and died.’ He shook his head sadly. ‘I think of that fight every day.’

Adam felt miserable. He felt that he had betrayed Kara and Fontus.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I’m so very sorry.’

‘Adam, it was not far from here and only a short time ago that I said to you that hatred only leads to more hatred,’ Fontus said. ‘Now you must learn your next—and for now—final lesson.’

Adam looked at the man who over a period of only weeks had become his friend and mentor. ‘What is it?’

‘Letting the past control you is like tying an anchor around your neck,’ Fontus said. ‘It drags you down. It strangles you. It stops you from being all that you can be. There is only one direction in life—and that is forward.’

Lesson 10: There is only one direction in life—and that is forward.

 

Epilogue:

 

Later that morning, accompanied by Fontus and Kara, Adam returned to the ruins of his home in the forest. Nature had already started to consume its remains. Soon it would disappear and there would be nothing to show that Adam and his family had ever lived here.

Taking the stone bird from his bag, Adam placed it between his parents’ graves.

I will never forget you, he thought. But now I must focus on the future. I’ve come a long way, but I still have a great distance to travel.

Fontus gently gripped his arm. ‘Are you ready?’ he asked gently.

‘I am,’ Adam said. ‘I’m ready to become the best I can be. I owe that to my parents.’

Kara smiled. ‘Adam,’ she said. ‘You owe it to yourself.’

They walked away from the ruined home. Soon the only sounds were those of insects singing in the undergrowth and sparrows fluttering between the trees.

The place that had once been a home was swallowed by time. The walls sagged and collapsed. Vines and ferns grew over the makeshift graves. A tree grew from the place where Adam had once slept.

If a passerby had come across the spot, they might have guessed that a family once lived here. They might have pondered at their hopes and dreams. They might have found the sculpture of a stone bird lying between two raised mounds of earth.

But no one came, and the stone bird lies there still.

 


The Stone Bird

  • Author: Darrell Pitt
  • Published: 2016-11-02 07:05:10
  • Words: 15948
The Stone Bird The Stone Bird