A few lifetimes ago, climbing mountains was my obsession. Any chance that I had, I was looking for a new mountain to climb or a new way to go up a mountain that I had climbed before. I would scamper up the rocks and ravines. Running along the ridges, I was so fast that I became renown in the region where my family had their home. My best friend, Tika, also loved to climb mountains but he enjoyed taking his time and stopping along the way to look at some interesting flower or formation or view. The only view that I was interested in was the view from the top. This difference was perhaps why we were such good friends. We both loved mountains and both had our own way on a mountain.
Tika and I came from families which were traders. In the summer our families would travel to far lands to trade in whatever was easy to transport and was profitable. This, of course, gave us many opportunities to climb new mountains. One summer, our fathers finally gave their permission for Tika and I to go off on our own to play the trader’s game. We had many summers of apprenticeship and were certain that we would easily come back with goods that would astound our families. With this in mind, we set off in a new direction. There was, of course, in the back of our minds the search for ever higher and more unusual mountains. Before we had travelled very far, we began to hear of a mountain in a Kingdom that was so far away that we were not sure if it was real or not. This mountain was not just very tall but was renown for being especially difficult to climb. The mountain was considered to be holy and one had to have the permission of the King to climb it. If you were to somehow get in his favour, he would watch from above as you climbed a smaller less difficult mountain nearby. He himself had climbed the mountain many times but had allowed almost no one else to do so. Being young men of some ambition, this was a story that wetted our appetites even more. Especially mine.
It took us most of the summer to reach the border of the Kingdom. We had done only a minimum of trading along the way as we were in a hurry and felt that we could make our profit on our return. As we crossed the pass that marked entry to the Kingdom, we saw what we knew immediately was the sacred mountain. It’s top was in the clouds. At it’s base, we could just make out the city that contained the palace of the King. In the first village we came to, we went into the local general store/ public house and were lucky enough to find a man from the city who was travelled enough that he could speak a dialect that we understood. (In the city, we were able to find many people who spoke the language common to all the courts in our known world.) When we asked him about the mountain, he told us that we were, indeed, fortunate as we had come at an opportune time to climb the mountain. The King, whose name was Sonal, did indeed enjoy climbing mountains. His joy was to take his family out to a lodge on a lake at the foot of the mountain where they would relax and he could scale the peak. It had been a lonely pursuit for years as his wife and first two daughters were very happy to admire the mountain from the lake but had no inclination to go higher than a horse could easily carry them. However, when the third daughter, Sureya, was barely able to walk, she was begging her father to take her with him. With time she was as skilled as he. There were those who, in private, whispered that she was even more so.
As it happened, the first two daughters had married and the queen was insistent that it was time for Sureya to do so as well. King Sonal doted on this daughter and it is easy to imagine that he would have been happy to have her by his side for all of his days. However, he also wanted her to be happy herself and had spoken to her of finding a suitable husband. As she was the third daughter, and the first two had made very advantageous mariages, it was easier for the King to convince his wife that the younger daughter could be more unrestricted in her choice of a husband. Little did the King’s wife expect what criteria would be announced by the King.
Sureya had made a condition that only her father could have understood. It was announced that there would be a contest for the honour to have an interview with the Princess and the chance of her hand. There would be a race to the peak of the sacred mountain. The first five to reach the top would have the opportunity to the interview. (They would also receive a small sack of gold coins for there skill.) Before the announcement had been made, the mountain had been completely surrounded by soldiers to ensure that no one had an advantage. Furthermore, the climbing would begin on the most difficult side of the mountain. There would first be an elimination round on a neighbouring mountain where the King and Sureya would be in a special lookout and observe the skill of the initial contestants. Only the most skilled twenty would go on to the final challenge.
Well, do you think I was excited or do you think I was excited? Being a brash young man who had an easy way with the lasses, it was not the daughter’s hand that excited me. It was the chance to not only climb the legendary mountain but to test my skill against the best in the land.
Tika and I made our way to the city. It was a splendid place. We had experienced many different towns and cities in our travels with our families and this was one of the most pleasant of them all. The structures were well built and the streets were wide and clean. There was a large park in the centre with a small lake and winding paths. The people seemed content and friendly. We had soon found lodging above a public house. The owner was a genial man who was happy to share many more details about the upcoming contest. There was an undercurrent of excitement amongst the people. Many young and not so young men had come to compete.
The next day we found our way to a building where a minor official of the court was taking applications. After an inspection to determine if I were fit enough for the contest, I was given a coloured sash and a number. There were so many contestants, that there were going to be several elimination races. The number was the number of the race and the sash was to make identification easy for the King and princess’s judging. With so many elimination races, it was possible that in the final race you would be competing against men whom you had not raced against before. The beginning races were a week off and, so, Tika and I went two days walk away to find a mountain for me to use as practice. Tika was, as I said before, of a different temperament than I and would act in a support role for me.
I am not one to boast and when I said earlier that I was exceeding quick at scaling mountains, I was being quite accurate. The three days of preliminary races soon arrived and as expected, I found myself in the top dozen candidates.
While I was focused on the racing, Tika, in addition to logistical support, had been making arrangements that would ensure that no one would interfere with me before the race. Tika was a very charming fellow in a relaxed way and he had found us lodging in a small apartment where he could prepare my meals and see that I was safe and comfortable. He had made friends with some of the local children and they had become his eyes and ears.
The day of the final race arrived and I finally found myself on the way through the cordon of soldiers to see the face of the mountain up close. It was a very different thing to see the mountain other than at a distance and the side chosen was indeed imposing. We only had about half an hour to stand and search for the best route upward. There were no speeches or ribbons cut. We were told to get READY…SET….GO! About half the racers headed for one location. I was not one of those. It was an obviously easy way to begin the journey upwards but I was more interested in a more difficult beginning that would lead me more quickly to a section that looked to me to offer more choices to continue. I knew from experience, one needed to have alternatives available along the way because you couldn’t foresee what was really ahead. My skill and speed helped me to maintain equal vertical progress through that first section and, then, my foresight, strength and skill soon had me out in front. I was told later, that after the half way point, there were only three of us in real contention. I was not aware of this. I was just focused on my own progress and moving with the flow of the mountain. This is something that I have not mentioned. As a mountain is born, it’s surface has certain patterns that are specific to it. If you can sense these patterns, you will find a flow that takes over your movement. In a way, you are guided by the mountain itself. Usually I was able to take a bit of extra time to discover that flow. I was fortunate in that though I under the pressure of the race, I soon found the flow on that magnificent mountain. I let go and danced up the mountain.
Yes, I was the first to the top. Only by a little. There were two others less than one body length behind me. As each of the climbers reached the top, he had his moment of triumph or disappointment and, then, looked around from his perch at the top and a broad smile spread across his face. We were all dedicated climbers and the place that we had attained was too special to let it pass in extraneous considerations. When the last person had arrived, we all looked around raised our arms and cheered. It was that kind of moment.
OK, so, I won the climb and was thus one of the five eligible to meet the daughter of the King. I was given the rest of the day to rest and prepare as best I could for the interview. I enjoyed that time. I ate well and the next morning bathed and donned some excellent clothes that Tika had picked up for me. I was going to make the best impression I could even though I had no real interest in marrying the princess. I had done what I had come for, had some gold in my purse (Tika had made a few good bets as well) and I was young and free. I was just going along out of curtesy and curiosity.
When I arrived at the palace, I was shown into a well furnished room where I waited with the other five. We were informed that we would have our interviews in reverse order of our reaching the summit of the mountain. I noticed that most of the others were showing some nerves. I was relaxed and content. We were told that we should not reveal what was discussed in our interviews until the chosen one was announced. So, when I was finally shown through the large doors, I had no idea of what direction the conversation would take.
A servant held the door for me to enter. The room that I entered was smaller than the others that I had passed through. There were some cushions a short way from a fine dark red curtain. Light came through a window on the opposite wall from the curtain. I was aware of something intangible about the place. A voice from behind the curtain floated out, “Welcome, Uina.”
Inside, I went still. My head turned toward the curtain and I slowly replied. The first questions were what you would expect with any friend and so I was able to answer even though I was actually listening to the voice rather than the words. There was a pause and, in a very direct manner, I was asked, “Would you give up climbing mountains if I were to ask you?” With this question I found myself in a way that I had never imagined. My answer was not one of logic and not one that I had ever imagined. “Climbing mountains is my greatest joy. I entered the race only for the chance to climb such a remarkable mountain. I came here only as a curtesy and out of curiosity. There was no desire on my part to become your husband. The question that you ask could never have brought forth any but a negative answer from me. However, since the moment I entered this room and heard your voice and felt your presence, my entire being can only say ‘yes’. ”
The curtain swung open and the most beautiful woman I had ever seen stepped out and was sitting before me. She took my hand and as she drew me towards her she breathed, ‘yes, yes, yes…’
As evening approached, we walked out through the garden to a pergola where she introduced me to her father.
The next day, Sureya and I climbed the mountain that had brought us together. She danced along beside me to the top.
Tika stayed for the wedding. Afterwards, he left on horseback with one of the King’s guards as an escort. He was on his way to tell our families of the news. By the time that he located them, they had to send word with the guard that with winter setting in, they would be waiting til spring to see us.
When my parents arrived, they were happy to find that they were to be grandparents as well. My mother stayed on til after the birth and, then, my father returned from his journeys and after a brief stay they were off again.
During the pregnancy and following the birth, my desire to climb move back in my mind. When our daughter, Sukriya, was a few months old, Sureya and I started up the mountain with Sukriya held in a sling in front of Sureya. Perhaps it was the joy of the three of us ascending this special mountain for the first time that made me so excited and bursting with energy. After a short while, Sureya said to me, “Go ahead. Take off. You wish to fly. Celebrate this occasion and fly.” She knew my heart and with her blessing, I sprang up the slope. I reached the top and looked down. Some clouds had blown in and I could not locate them, so, I started down. When I reached where I expected them to be, they were not there. I called out and heard Sureya’s voice. Following down, I found her huddled behind a large boulder. She pulled me too her, “A gust of wind came around the mountain and caught Sukriya’s sling like a sail. It caught me by surprise and I lost my balance enough that I stepped on a loose rock and fell. As I fell, I could only think of protecting Sukriya. I sprained my ankle and did something to my wrist. I’m so happy that you are back to care for us.”
I was in shock. The joy and excitement of the day vanished as the possibilities flooded into my mind. After checking that there were no other injuries, I said, “I swear that for ten lives I will always be the last one up the mountain.”
Only three lifetimes have passed since that vow. What to do?