Once, long and long ago, there was a mountain. It was not the tallest in the world, nor perhaps the most dangerous, but no snow ever capped its peaks and there were animals who lived on the mountain that lived nowhere else in all the wide world. But this is true of all places and did not make the mountain famous. The guru did, for everyone know the wise old hermit lived atop the mountain and it was said he possessed a mighty wisdom and was wise beyond years.
And so the pilgrims, travellers and tourists came to the mountain, though the way was long and hard. The nearest village was some ways away and one had to disembark from vehicles in it and make the rest of the journey by horse, donkey and by foot. In the village there lived a kindly old lady who would tell people to end their journey there, that there was nothing for them to seek, that the seeking was the sought and, further, that the finding was the found. But still they came, and so they went.
At the base of the mountain there stood a small hut, and in it lived a plain old man who sold maps detailing the paths up the mountain. Some were easy and slow, others quick and hard, and he said few survived the mountain. People paid in food and stories for the maps, those who didn’t get a map never making it back down the mountain at all. Those who stumbled back down the mountain would emerge days later, shaken and exhausted.
They would talk of wild beasts and pitfalls, and some would say that there were traps that could only be made by a human hand – for nature could not be so cruel – and the old man would make food from the provisions they had given him, feed them all and gently direct them back to the village. All went home, and none met the hermit of the mountain.
Until one day. The woman who came to the mountain with her family had been once before as a child. She had survived being pulled along halfway up a mountain, and survived again this time under her own power, though her husband was greatly wounded and the rest of their party shaken and battered. She waited, the woman, only all the others had returned to the village before she turned upon the old man.
“You have given maps for years, and those maps have allowed many to survive the mountain.”
“They have,” the old man said, for he was quite agreeable.
“I met you once before, and in those years you have not aged a single day.”
“This, also, is true.” The old man sipped a tea that was merely tea. “There are few who need what a wise man can offer, and a hermit who wishes to be one should be left alone – is that not a wise lesson that the mountain teaches?”
The woman paused. The old man’s smile was not as soft as that of the old woman in the village, but she saw the same humour in his eyes. “The old woman in the village. She was the same I met when I was a little girl.”
“She is. She tries to turn people away as a favour to me. I am the wise old hermit,” he said, and there was little save exhaustion to the words. “But my wife is wiser still, and no one comes to see her wisdom as they seek out mine.”
“Oh,” the woman said, and nothing else at all.
“Quite so,” the hermit said, and gently pushed her on her way. “My wife and I live far apart, and it is how we have lived together for so long,” he said by way of wisdom, and the woman left the mountain and walked long back to the village.
She did not seek the wise woman, merely gathered up her husband and their friends and went home.
If the woman ever sent any others to the mountain, the story does not relate.