Once upon a time in a land not so very far away, a young man named Barlow walked along the road which leads from Here to There. He was only barely a man, really, since it was only yesterday he packed away his childhood treasures. The only thing he kept was a handful of seeds given to him by his father which he kept in his left breast pocket. He promised to always keep them close to his heart, and Barlow always kept his promises.
At first the journey was filled with sights and sounds never encountered while sheltered in his parents' cottage. The sun shone a little brighter today and the sky was definitely bluer than the day before yesterday. Even the birdsong was more alluring, its lilting melody laced with the mysterious secrets which remain unfit for the ears of younger boys.
"If I'd known it was going to be so exciting, I would have become a man much sooner," he decided aloud.
As the day wore on, the refreshing morning breezes dwindled in the stifling midday heat. By late afternoon hunger and thirst were constant companions. That evening, only his desire to escape a flock of swooping ravens gave him the strength to push forward.
“Surrender your seeds!” they screeched as they plucked at his pocket. “They only weigh you down!”
But despite his efforts, soon Barlow's last bit of strength was consumed. He collapsed at the foot of a tree which was so tall he could not tell where it ended and the midnight sky began. Here he would rest. It should only take a day to regain his strength, or maybe two. Disappointed in himself, he emptied the seeds from his pocket into his hand to contemplate their hidden meaning.
Suddenly, the tree behind him stirred and appeared to lean forward. “What seeds are those you guard so jealously, little man?” boomed a voice from above.
Barlow jumped to his feet and studied his resting place. He was surprised to discover he had not been sitting against a tree at all, but the leg of an enormous giant. "The birds were speaking of seeds entrusted to me by my father, sire," he replied, figuring it was wise to be polite while addressing a giant.
“Saving them for your own hunger, eh?” chuckled the giant. "Then you should pop them into your mouth this minute, chew them up, and spit out what cannot be swallowed."
“Oh, no, sire!” Barlow gasped. “I promised my father I would keep them forever close to my heart.”
“Your father would have you starve instead?” frowned the giant. “Let me see these extraordinary seeds.” He crouched lower and squinted at the pile in Barlow’s hand. “Those are magical indeed,“ mused the giant, stroking his broad chin. “They can only be found in the Kingdom of the Clouds.”
“Kingdom of the Clouds, sire?” Barlow echoed. “I’ve never heard of such a place.”
“Nonetheless, little man, it exists,” frowned the giant. “Long ago, I was a prince among the clouds until a single misstep sent me plummeting to earth. Since that time it has become far too dangerous a place for a little man like yourself. I fear your father must hate you and has conspired to seal your fate.”
"My father was a good and righteous man!" Barlow cried out defiantly. "He would never have given me these seeds if what you say is true!"
"You perceive me as a liar, then?" roared the giant, drawing back his huge fist. "Very well, go to your father!" With a mighty blow, the giant sent the young man spinning head over heels through the darkness.
When Barlow awoke, he was lying face down in a shallow puddle of dew mixed with blood. In the center of the pool floated one of his father’s precious seeds. Before his eyes the seed soaked up a drop or two of the reddish liquid. Several tendrils dropped into the earth, then the seed split open and released a serpentine vine writhing upward like a living thing until it disappeared among the clouds.
"Thank you for the seeds, father," he said, testing the nearest vine for strength. "Without them, I might have wandered in the wrong directions for all eternity."
And with a song in his heart, Barlow hoisted himself onto the first leafy branch and began climbing happily ever after.
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