Pilgrimage

        Once when the country was young, there was a small village to the west, just beyond the mountain ranges. Today this village is little more than a clearing in the forest, and all the buildings and gates have rotted away, but at the time this village was a very vibrant and a new place because of its special position.        Every year, the Emperor would send 32 of his most wise and learned monks and thinkers over the mountain for a month. The Emperor was young, and inexperienced in the ways of ruling the land, but he was wise enough to know that his empire depended on the luck and good blessings of the gods, and so he sent these 32 men each year to the uninhabited forests beyond the mountain range so that they may speak with the gods through their messengers that lived in the forests. Each year as the monks and thinkers passed towards the forest, they would pass through the tiny village and bring with them news from the capitol, and each year as they returned from their pilgrimage, they would again pass through the village, this time bringing with them news from the spirit world and the heavens.         Each year as the pilgrims passed through the town, the townspeople would stand at the gates to their houses and offer the monks and thinkers gifts of food and drink. "Come," one would say, "you've a long journey ahead of you. Please, take with you some of my wife's sweet breads. They will surly give you strength on your path."         As each monk or thinker was belaiden with these gifts, the towns people would ask of them favors to pass on to the gods. Each in turn would ask if possibly the monk or thinker would mention to the gods of his specific devotions, and for favorable harvest of their beans this season, or a relief from nests of gourd flower bugs. As each monk or thinker was only allowed by the emperor to make the journey once, each year the monks and thinkers were taken by surprise at the largess of the townspeople, and once they had partaken of their kindness, found it difficult to refuse their meager requests. Each monk and thinker knew how important it was to the Emperor to focus on the task at hand, but being wise and learned men, they knew that the village was an important bridge between them and the forest spirits beyond, and that it was in everyone's best interest to keep the villagers happy.         One month later as the pilgrims returned from the forest, they would again find the houses of the townspeople who had given them food or drink and asked of them favors to the gods. Each monk and thinker had of course mentioned the townspeople's concerns to the spirits in the forest, but as always there was little the spirits could do other than offer their blessings for the people, as the cosmic laws forbade them from meddling in the affairs of the mortals unless so ordered by the gods. The pilgrims would each apologize to the villagers for their ineffectuality, but the villages, well aware of the situation, would always smile, and thank the monks and thinkers politely, and then send them on their way back to the capitol, often with bellies full.         And so it went for as long as the villages could remember. Each year the monks and thinkers would pass through, and then a month later, would pass through again.