An icy wind blew relentlessly from the mountain. It found the holes in Sheriden's coat and pried its way in. It wound around her fingers and stole their feeling away. A longing for home and warmth welled up in her and a tear slid down her cheek. A shoulder bag strung across her chest held the golden key.
Sherry was alone on her quest, alone on the rocky ridge trail that climbed the hills to the secret cave. Her mission was to find and unlock the chest that held the Healing Potion. She carried the key from the Wise One.
'This key, my child, I give to thee
It holds the power to set you free.
For in a cave on Mount Devotion
Lies a vial of Healing Potion.
Take this map and follow the way.
It may take you many a day.
A golden chest of priceless worth.
Holds the vial to save the Earth.
You are chosen for the task
The golden key does all you ask.
Use it for the common good
Not for self, although you could.
Wedrothingham was ridden with a dark and dreadful plague. Children lay dying, mothers shivered with fever and men were struck down. It crept like a shadow over the land and with it came hunger and pain. Gaunt faces and down-turned mouths topped wasted bodies. Chatterers lowered their voices and laughter was scarce.
Concoctions of herbs, garlands of meadow flowers strung up and spices burnt were all to no avail. The plague raged on taking its gruesome toll, ripping the heart from the village.
The elders met behind closed doors, conferring for hours, seeking a solution. Then they summoned the villagers, those fit enough to make the journey to the town square. The mayor addressed the bedraggled crowd.
'Our hearts are heavy and we long to rid our town of this wretched curse. There is but one who we can turn to, The Wise One on the hill. The die has been cast and the chosen one is Sheriden Umit, my daughter. You must go to him. Step forward Sheriden.'
'Go well, my daughter,' said the mayor striking a brave pose, his eyes betraying his fear. 'Go to the Wise One, then do as he says. Our lives depend on you. Farewell my beloved girl.' And he strode quickly away.
Sheriden straightened her shoulders, raised her chin and headed off. Fear gripped her heart but no-one must know. She was the chosen one, the one to bring healing to her village.
Outside the village gate the road rose steeply to the grey, stone cottage of the hermit, renowned for his wisdom, and his temper. Sheriden reached his door, braced herself then knocked sharply.
The voice came first: 'Who comes this way? Who disturbs my day?' Then the door was thrust open, its place taken by a gnarled and sinewy figure. Sheriden stammered out her words, 'Greetings, oh Wise One.'
'Why are you here? You need not fear,' grunted his bearded face.
'Our village is cursed with a wretched plague that no-one can cure,' she told him. 'Many have died and others are gravely ill. Can you please help us?'
Rummaging in his pocket, the old man placed a golden key in her hand, spoke the instructions in rhyme, then disappeared again, slamming the door.
Sheriden set off urgently towards Mount Devotion fingering the key, wondering how it could help her. She drew her threadbare coat around her against the cold.
'Magic key, please help me' she whispered slipping the key into her pocket.
The path to the mountain wound sharply up through a stand of ancient pines where the dark shadows chilled her thin body. She pulled the key from her pocket.
'Key, make me warm,' she commanded, and a warm drink was in her hands. Amazed, she drank and its warmth spread through her body.
'What else can this key can do? What riches I might have!'
'A lollipop now, dear key,' she demanded and one appeared at her fingertips. She sucked the circle-striped candy, but the flavour was bitter and it burnt her tongue.
'I can't eat that!' Sheriden shrieked and she remembered the final words of the poem:
'Use it for the common good,
Not for self, although you could.'
She understood. The key must only be used for the good of the village, towards their healing. She shuddered in the icy wind. She had a long way to go to reach the Healing Potion.
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