After traveling along the dribbling creek for what seemed an eternity to the youth, Arnold collapsed at the base of the tall stone spires of the glistening capital city. Each wall extended endlessly in separate directions through the dense forest, with every brick towering above the boy and being held together with only the most refined mortar, evenly lathered across each stone. At the time however, this did not impress Arnold. And though he waited for many days and nights for his father to appear, the path leading from the small stream never yielded the man’s familiar form.
A small orphanage took him in, cleaning the mud from his hands and the blood from his face, likely the last article of his father that he would ever come to possess. Despite his being in the capital within the region, the glittering pavement, grandiose castle and armored knights and chariots were little to divert his attention which, day by day, remained transfixed upon the stream leading to the city.
For a good portion of his life within the capital, Arnold left himself mostly alone, opting out of conversation or activity with the other orphans. Though these children held no unwarranted disdain for the youth, as did the children from his village, they likewise maintained their distance from the seemingly mute and unsociable boy.
Many years later, when he was old enough to fend for himself, Arnold abandoned the orphanage without so much as leaving a note, and found himself wandering once again. He walked from place to place, one without a home, taking his father’s words to heart. For many days and nights did he traverse the sunbaked grounds of the western deserts, the cascading hilltops of the eastern seaboard, the distant plains of the southern grasslands, and the sweeping swells of the northern icecaps. For many days did the youth walk in vain, and many a day did he question himself and consider the reason for his aimless drifting.
The meaning of life. His father had told him.
One day the youth’s aimless wandering placed him before another modest village of simple clay huts and thatched roofing. Arnold thought little of the village. It appeared as every other in the land and demanded no finer attention. However with the onset of Arnold’s imminent collapse from dehydration, the town seemed like an oasis. Despite his persistent vigor towards the discovery of the meaning of life, Arnold seemingly placed little importance into the maintenance of his own and, yet again, found himself in another situation in which he was forced to request the aid of a small village.
Nearly crawling in the dirt, Arnold dragged his tired body across the floor as village chickens pecked curiously at his torn rucksack. Leaving wide streaks of disturbed sand behind him, Arnold used the last of his strength to lift his arm, and knock on the nearest villager’s door.
In the impending silence, Arnold resigned himself to a memory of his father as the merciless pecking of the chickens grated the very essence of his soul.
“The meaning of my life?” he murmured, his dried lips catching articles of dirt from the floor. Arnold’s vision blurred as the wooden door before him crept open, showing him into the small hut before the youth ultimately succumbed to unconsciousness.
When he awoke, a beam of light, streaming through a space in the thatched roof, shone brightly into his eye. As Arnold absorbed the light’s ambient warmth, a hasty rustling from another room caused him to divert his attention to his new surroundings.
The home, of whose Arnold assumed was the villager’s, was loosely decorated in various ceramics and tools. Wide brushes, dirty gloves, chisels of varying widths and broken pots resonated with the longstanding aura of an artisan’s expertise. A worn wooden table littered with discarded glass bottles and a lone, unlit candle, stood at the center of the room. As Arnold craned his neck, he noticed a small bowl of water had been set upon a stool beside the bed from where he had been laying. As he lifted his head for a drink, he could feel a resounding heat emanating from the room with the rustling.
Besides the light that leaked in from the roof, the only other source of illumination within the small home was the steady orange glow from the room at the opposite wall. The steady wave of orange light washed in and out of the doorway like an ocean tide, seemingly taking and leaving the heat with every breath.
Arnold took the bowl of water heartily to his lips and stood carefully, steadying himself at the bedpost. Through his travels the youth’s body had become a ground for rough calluses, deep scratches and darkened skin. With the physical toll his body had endured over his journey came the familiarity of the fatigue that he felt and, despite his weary condition, was already set for thanking the villager, asking for an extra ration of water, and leaving the village altogether. The youth had but a long road ahead of him though the real reason for his haste was his dislike of being a burden despite his general indifference toward other matters.
As Arnold approached the radiating doorway, he could hear the distinctive scrape and tumble of coals in a fireplace. The furnace before the doorway spewed bright sparks and ash in great volume as Arnold leaned in from the other room. A loosely constructed chimney of soot blackened cobble lined its way through the ceiling to allow for the excess smoke to escape. Like the last room the walls were lined with scores of unrefined and undecorated clay pots, bowls and vases along with strings of utilitarian objects. Unlike the last room however, there sat a middle aged man of a dark and tired complexion at a potter’s wheel by the kiln.
Arnold watched the man curiously, observing the skill the craftsman possessed in shaping his newest creation all while managing the intensity of the furnace. With every downward step on the bellow beneath his foot, a wave of heat, ash and searing intensity was sent from the flame. Through the smoldering heat of the furnace Arnold wondered how the man could work at all. The youth stepped forward.
“So you’re alive. That’s good,” the craftsman snuffed without lifting his head. The level of concentration the man devoted to his art amazed Arnold if anything less.
“Yes. You have my thanks for that,” Arnold replied with a nod.
“There’s no need for thanks. We don’t receive many travelers to the village. It’s only customary to provide what we can,” the craftsman said.
The windowless room focused the light of the furnace onto the form of the craftsman. As the potter’s wheel spun, loose grits of sand caught in the gears created a grinding sound that mingled with that of the fire.
“I’d like to think that it’d be a crime not to help someone in need. Anyone in the village would’ve helped you in any case,” the craftsman said.
“Regardless, I am in your debt,” Arnold replied.
“A debt hm?” the craftsman repeated.
There was a short moment of silence between the two strangers as Arnold contemplated as to how he would ask for the spare portion of water. In this time Arnold was able to depict and outline the various features of the craftsman’s face. His skin and hair were dark and course, most likely the effects of village life, and his gloved hands were wide and unwieldly. Despite the gruff exterior however, the youth felt a genuine gentleness from the man who, for all intents and purposes, had just saved his life.
“My name is Tristan of Edles. I come from a long line of craftsman and weavers as you may be able to discern. Recently life has been a little calmer here in the country. As I’ve said not many travelers pass by anymore,” the craftsman Tristan proclaimed, breaking the silence.
“Life…” Arnold began. There was another long silence until the potter’s wheel gradually slowed and the craftsman’s eyes met with the youth’s. Tristan took one last step on the bellow sending another flurry of ash and sparks into the room, before standing and shutting the kiln with an iron shutter.
“What’s your name traveler?” Tristan asked, removing his gloves.
“I am Arnold of Chang,” the youth expressed briefly. The craftsman stepped forward and hung his artisan’s apron but remained silent as if expecting more.
“You startled me this morning, appearing so suddenly and in such a state. I was unsure as to whether or not you would survive,” the craftsman exclaimed, wiping at his brow, transferring blackened soot from his forehead to his hand.
“Yes. For that I apologize,” the youth nodded again.
Tristan gave a questioning look that again seemingly willed for more information though Arnold, perhaps as a result of his fatigue, circumstance and past history, left the youth with little to say. The craftsman patted down upon his dirty clothing, sending puffs of black dust into the air.
“You don’t speak much do you traveler? What brings a youth such as you to a village in the country?” Tristan asked, stepping passed Arnold and into the previous living area.
“A journey,” Arnold replied with wavering conviction.
Tristan moved towards a particularly large pot and removed its lid. Taking one of the bowls beside him, he dipped it into the brown container and sipped at the liquid inside. After doing so he brought up a chair towards the center of the room and sat at the table. The craftsman positioned himself towards Arnold who still stood at the door.
“A journey you say? It’s not common for any person in this day to partake on journeys, let alone a youth. Are you trying to make a pilgrimage somewhere?” the man asked.
“No. I’m simply searching for something,” the youth replied. Tristan, greatly intrigued, leaned back into his seat which creaked under his weight.
“And this… something is?” Tristan asked. Arnold did not answer immediately.
“It’s the answer to a question I had. Simply,” Arnold replied, finally.
“I’m to assume that this something of yours is of great importance?” the craftsman asked.
“Well, not exactly,” the youth replied. Tristan turned his head curiously.
“Then what is this something?” Arnold paused before answering, as if he were too ashamed to tell the man the real reason as to why he had traveled so long and so far. He had yet been asked the reason for his journey by anyone since his initial departure.
“I am searching… for the meaning of life,” Arnold confessed steadily.
Yet another long silence.
“The meaning of life hm?” the craftsman mused. “Where do you plan to find it?”
“I… I don’t know. I’ve been searching for a long time and have yet to find any indication as to what the meaning of life is,” the youth responded in earnest.
“I see…” Tristan said.
As the two men stared at each other in contemplation, Arnold reflected on the time he had spent, thus far, on his journey. It was true, so long on the beaten path and he had yet to find anything. He now stood between the doorway of a craftsman’s home and workshop discussing the tribulations of his adventure. He forwent the comfort of his bed and the company of his goldfish for an aspiration that may or may not have ever been possible to begin with.
Arnold wondered what he’d be doing now if he had simply followed his instinct and remained at home. He wondered as to whether or not he would have ever given the meaning of life a second thought. He silently scorned himself for being so impulsive though the youth felt that if he were to surrender now, the time he had spent would never bear fruit.
In realizing this, Arnold nodded at the man and stepped over to where his rucksack sat lying next to a cracked glass box. Replacing it on his shoulders, he thanked the man once again and asked for the permission to fill his gourd, to which Tristan allowed. Arnold did this in a careful manner, sure to replace the objects he moved and cautious as to not bump into any stray pottery. He gave one last look at the craftsman, who had watched him the whole time, and put a hand to the door, ready to leave.
“As I see it, the meaning of life is right there in your hands,” Tristan said. Arnold stopped.
“What?” Arnold asked, turning to face the man once again.
“Your hands, the work that they do. There’s no better reason for living than to live for the things you can create. The art that you can mold, paint and craft. If we were created, shouldn’t we live to create?” Tristan asked. Arnold considered the man’s words for a time, surprised that the craftsman spoke at all. Arnold turned his body towards the home.
“That could be true… but look around you. Your pots and vases, who are they for?” Arnold asked.
“They are for the people. I make them so that people may buy,” Tristan replied curiously.
“And yet there are so many. Why create so much that, in time, your creations go unnoticed and decay in the shadows?” Arnold asked.
“Some creations are not meant to be sold,” Tristan replied.
“Then why create something that holds no purpose?” the youth asked.
“Everything has a purpose. At some point and at some time,” Tristan replied, turning his chair slightly.
“Then what are they meant for?” Arnold interrogated. Tristan fell silent at the question, considering potential answers.
It seemed as though both individuals reflected upon the single word. Arnold could see the surmounting doubt that began to lace Tristan’s face with the answer that he had provided. Arnold turned to face the door again, taking one step outside.
“Thank you for your kindness Tristan of Edles, but a long road awaits me, and I must see it until the end,” the youth said, a newfound confidence in his ambition.
“Wait, traveler. The sun sets upon the land. You can stay here for the night and get some rest. Dangerous creatures lurk within the darkness,” the craftsman offered.
Arnold looked towards the craftsman and then towards the sky. The orange hue of the setting sun resembled that of the kiln as it breathed life into the darkness of the clay home. A slight gust of wind seemed to urge Arnold back into the entrance of the house to which he set down his rucksack and closed the door.
“Thank you again stranger,” Arnold nodded.
“Call me Tristan.”