The Fate of Arbeus

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Arbeus was quite an educated man for most of his life, the most intelligent in the city some would say. He was well-spoken and kind, welcome to change and quick to adapt. He was tall and slender; his hair was short and ragged, a shade of coal tinged with ash. His eyes, grey as an overcast sky, were set deep into his long face on either side of his crooked nose, and his smile was weak but genuine. Arbeus had no fear, for he saw only knowledge in the things he did not understand and he navigated the world with purpose. Yet only he knew how terribly troubled his mind was, for no matter how much knowledge he consumed his curiosity could not be sated. The thought that he might die without knowing all things slowly eroding his mind.


One day, at the library, Arbeus overheard a group of fellow scholars passing through the city, discussing the rumors of a wise woman who lived in the mountains. This woman was said to be in possession of a book that held all the knowledge of the universe. Arbeus, filled with curiosity, asked the scholars to take him to the wise woman and offered to pay them whatever they wished, but they told him they had other engagements. They agreed to make him a map and mark it in detail with the rumored location of the wise womans home and how to get there. So the next day he woke well rested, and with his traveling supplies gathered, the map that they had made for him and the confidence in his ability to secure his destiny, Arbeus set out to find the wise woman of the mountains.  


Arbeus traveled for many days, through the familiar surroundings of his usual adventures and into wholely unfamiliar territory. He encountered plants and animals completely foreign to him, insects with strange but beautiful colors and birds with odd markings, even scents that he had never experienced, but Arbeus paid little mind to these things as he was determined to reach his destination. As he came around a bend in a long beaten path, the sun setting on the third day of his journey, he saw the mountain. It reached high into the air and the peak was shrouded in the clouds, a vast woodland area lay at its massive base, stretching miles across the land, and Arbeus became filled with hope. He camped at the base for a night, eating the food he had packed, around a fire he had built, singing a soft tune in a delicate voice that he had learned from his mother when he was very young. All the while his mind fixated on the book. What would it say? What knowledge would he attain? Would his curiosity finally be quelled? He faded into a restless sleep, his mind overwhelmed with intrigue.


Arbeus rose the next day and gathered his strength. He found the trail marked on his map, winding all the way up the mountain and he began to make his way. For half a day he trudged up the mountain, before resting for a while in a clearing overlooking the woodlands. He continued on until night came, able to find some kindling he made a weak fire and rested, his mind still consumed by scrutiny. He continued on the next morning and began encountering less maneuverable terrain, this caused him to travel off the path in order to pass. Eventually, he lost the path and had no choice but to carry on the best he could. He came upon a place to rest as the sun was setting once more, and all the while his mind was plagued with doubt. Another weak fire, another sleepless night.


In the morning he continued on, and halfway through the day, he found the path once more, this time he could see the end. He traveled a while longer and came upon a small cottage, built nearly at the peak of the mountain. He approached the cottage and was greeted outside by a short, brittle old woman with a harsh and high voice. “It is quite the feat that you have made this journey, traveler.” she said, “Come in and rest a while.” Arbeus followed her inside and they sat on cushioned seats as she poured him a drink. “What is it you seek, traveler?” she asked as she handed him his drink and sat near. “I have heard conversation, whether true or not, about a book said to hold all the knowledge of the universe.” The old woman smirked and sipped from her drink, “You are only the second person to brave this journey in search of the book, you know. Only one other has come before you, many years ago and he made the choice to return home shortly after he arrived, though he came to me with the same look in his eyes as you have in yours right now. ” She said, “So it does exist?” asked Arbeus. “Yes, the rumors you have heard are true. It has been here since time began, though ‘here’ is still a loose concept when speaking of the book.”  she laughed. “I will let you read through the pages of that book if you wish, but I must give you a choice first, for this knowledge cannot be attained without risk.” Arbeus stared at her confused “You may stay here, as long as your heart desires, and read through the book as often as you wish, or, you could take a short trip from my cottage here to the very peak of this mountain, the tallest mountain in all the world, not even the one who came before you accomplished this feat.” Arbeus thought briefly “I do not believe it is my fate to climb mountains, thank you. I choose to stay here and read the book at my leisure until I have finished it.” the old woman looked solemnly at him “Very well, but know this. You are guaranteed a victory if you choose to climb the mountain, but the book can guarantee nothing.” Arbeus thought again for a moment “Bring me the book.” he said. The old woman shuffled off to a separate room and returned with a large, tattered book, bound in what looked to be leather hide with strange markings burned into its cover. She handed the book to Arbeus “I will leave you to your reading, please speak with me if you need anything.” she said as she walked away and began tending to things around her small home.


Arbeus, wide-eyed with wonder, a flame burning in his soul, opened the book and began to read. He read all night without sleeping and then went another 4 days without rest, always reading. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, months to years, until one day Arbeus, withered and malnourished, hair and beard growing wildly, read the final words of that great book. He looked up from its final page at the old woman, a look of confusion and whelming anger on his face “There must be more, another book, anything.” He said, “That is all there is, for now, my friend.” said the old woman. “How can this be all there is to know?” Arbeus snapped, becoming slightly irritated. “Go back to the beginning and read again,” she said. Arbeus, more irrate and confused now, opened to the first page of the book once again, for the first time in years, and as he read he began to notice small differences. The wording was different in some places, the subject matter altogether changed in others, there was new information added and old information removed. Panicked, he flipped through the pages and as he neared the end again he saw the words changing right before his eyes as he turned to the final page, the final sentence changing, even that which he had just learned. The old woman spoke, “I did not say it was all there is to be known, I said it is all there is for now, but it is forever changing.” Arbeus sank into his seat, the book falling to the floor as he stared off for a long while before speaking again. ”I must continue reading, there has to be an end, there is always an end,” said Arbeus. “Of course there is, but you will never know it.” said the old woman. “You may still climb to the peak of this mountain.” she continued, “And in that regard you may, at the least, accomplish something great in your life.” “You said I had to choose one or the other,” Arbeus said, confused. “Yes, but that choice was always there. You chose, even now, to ignore that you had one but there will always be a choice.” Arbeus, feeling lost with his mind clouded, stood up and looked at the old woman, defeat in his eyes “If it is not too late, then yes, I would like to finish the trek to the peak, so that I may return home with some sort of pride.” he said, the old woman smiled weakly at him and nodded.

Arbeus left the cottage, following the trail behind it, climbing up a steep slope to a small plateau as he reached the top. He stood straight and looked out over the land, from higher than anyone ever had before. The sun was setting and it painted the sky the warmest colors he had ever seen, the tops of the clouds washed in a pastel of pink and purple, red and orange. He had read nothing of this beauty in that great book or any other book he had read before. He looked on in wonder, and for a brief moment, he felt the calm of simplicity and ignorance. “What else have I missed?” he thought to himself when suddenly, his mind became flooded with every question he would ever ask, and it was on that day, at the top of the highest mountain, gazing upon all the splendor of the world, that his mind finally broke.

He climbed down from the peak, gathering his things from the cottage, mumbling to himself as the old woman looked on in pity. He made his way back down the path, down the mountain stopping briefly to rest, never getting a decent nights sleep. Always thinking, always talking, always learning too much. He made his way through the woodlands again, ignoring all the vividly colorful bugs and birds, and all the growing plants and animals. He arrived back at his home and that is where he stayed, day in and day out, always thinking, always talking, always learning too much. There he remained until he laid down one night many years later for what would be his final sleep, and as Arbeus closed his eyes a vision of that glorious sunset from the top of the highest mountain, flashed in his mind, and he faded from this world forever.

At this moment the old woman on the mountain felt a weight in her heart and she dropped her head. She walked out of her home, around the side to her garden, and she planted a flower for Arbeus. One of hundreds of flowers she had planted, for a hundred other people who had made the same journey as him. She had hoped to encounter even one person who could resist the temptation of intrigue, but still she would wait and still it would continue to happen. For as many times that it had happened before, she had told the same story and given the same choices, for it was not her purpose to intervene with the fate of others, only to give them their choice. She returned to her small cottage and wondered how long it would be until the next great mind arrived, to be forever broken by the one and only thing they could not control.


Submitted: February 16, 2019

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