Across the Thyme River, and over Mount Shadow, lay the little known but beautiful Waylaid Valley. Life remained simple in the humble berg despite the hundreds of years it had existed. The townspeople were a likeable sort, living day to day without a care. Only one thing could strike fear into the town.
Mount Shadow. Inhabitants of the valley cowered at the mere thought of crossing the mountain’s pass, for the only resident that had ever braved its narrow and treacherous path hadn’t been heard from again. Consequently, the small borough had become overcrowded over the years, since no one dared leave the boundaries of its safe haven. The mayor of the town had promised to find a solution to their population problem, but had been unsuccessful.
One fine day a stranger named Nicholas ambled into town. He had journeyed far, and sought shelter in the valley. After receiving only stares in return for his amiable hellos, he ran across a young boy who would speak to him. Around eight-years-old, Nicholas guessed, the boy possessed rosy cheeks, large blue eyes, and two rows of the whitest teeth he’d ever seen.
“Hello, my name is Nicholas.” He spoke slowly and succinctly. “Can you help me, please?”
“Sure,” the boy replied. “I’m Randall. I’ve never seen someone from outside Waylaid Valley. It’s been a long time since anyone has.” He grinned at Nicholas and rocked back and forth on his heels.
“Really? Well, no wonder your village seems afraid of me. I’m not so strange, am I?” Nicholas smiled back at the boy, hoping to set him even more at ease.
“No, it’s just that they’re afraid of Mount Morrow. But I’m not. One day I’m going to cross the mountain pass.” Randall puffed out his broad chest and clasped his hands behind his back.
“You’re a brave lad.” Nicholas reached out and patted the boy’s head. “I have a message for your mayor, Mr. Bittergrass. Could you lead me to his house?”
“He’s not there, but I know where he is. He’s my father. Come on.” Randall led Nicholas down a dirt path towards the center of town. They arrived at a building shaded by huge, leafy trees. A hairless, rotund man sat in a wooden chair sipping a cup of some sort of brew. Worry lines etched his face, making it look old and leathery. His jaw dropped as he spied the approaching duo.
“Mr. Bittergrass, I’m Nicholas, from Freeville, over the mountain.” Nicholas shook the man’s hand and received a questioning look from him. “Your daughter is alive.”
“My Melinda? But that’s impossible!” Mr. Bittergrass nearly choked as he spoke the words, then looked expectantly into Nicholas’ eyes.
Randall beamed. “I knew my big sister would make it. She wasn’t afraid of Mount Morrow like everyone else. She told Father she was brave enough to cross the mountain, that she wasn’t a coward like everyone else--”
“Randall, that’s enough,” Mr. Bittergrass stopped Randall and turned to address Nicholas. “How do you know Melinda? We feared the worst after she disappeared four years ago, and we’ve never been the same.”
“I met her shortly after her travels across the mountain. She was injured, but has recovered fully. She has something to tell you. We both do.” Nicholas gazed into Mr. Bittergrass’ eyes and continued. “We’re married, and she’s pregnant. She wants you to come and visit, maybe even move to Freeville. You and Randall are all she’s talked about. Please, will you come with me?”
Nicholas saw the man gulp and wipe his forehead. Randall started bouncing up and down, obviously excited about the adventure. “Oh, Father, can we go?”
“But the mountain…” Mr. Bittergrass said.
“Father, there’s no reason to be afraid anymore. It’ll be okay. Melinda and Nicholas have made it across, and so can we,” Randall pleaded with the man.
Mr. Bittergrass spoke after a brief pause. “Perhaps it’s time this whole town released its fear. Nicholas, I propose we gather everyone up tonight for a town meeting. It’s time to rejoice, and say goodbye to the bondage Mount Shadow has put us in.”
And so Waylaid Valley became a place where people came and went freely without the shadow of fear. All because one person was brave enough to try.
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