There once was an old man who had four servants, whom he wished to reward before his death. So he gathered the servants around him and told them of a great treasure that he had placed in a keep in a far country. He had the servants pack his belongings and lift him into his chair. As they journeyed he told them of the wondrous things he had in store and the measures he had taken to protect them. He told them of jewels and gold, silver and pearls, and of great collections of books, all the wisdom amassed since the world began. He told them of the walls and pits, obstacles and traps, and wild beasts that surrounded his storehouse. Some he had placed to keep his treasure safe, others had been placed by his enemies to prevent anyone from reaching the treasure; still others, because of the harshness of the land, existed naturally.
Soon the party crested a hill, and spread out in the valley below them they could see a large wall stretching east and west from horizon to horizon and behind it a dark forest, and far off, almost to the northern horizon, they saw the keep where the Master had stored his treasure.
As they journeyed down into the valley they quickly lost sight of the keep. Then they lost sight of the forest as the wall began to fill their view. For days they traveled, and the wall continued to grown in their vision. As they approached the base of the wall, the top became lost in haze above them. Soon they came to the single gate, the height of a man and just wide enough for one person to pass through.
“Now my servants, we have come to a place where I can go no further. From here you must travel alone. It will take three days’ journey to pass through the wall, and inside the wall the trees have grown so tall and so thick that most often it will be too dark to see. I give each of you a gift: I have traveled these paths many times in my younger days and so I can guide you, if you will let me. If you need my direction just ask and the wind will carry your words to me and it will carry my words back to you. As you pass through this gate continue in the same direction and the keep will be directly ahead”
The first servant entered through the gate. As he walked the way began to grow dark and as it grew dark the servant began to be afraid, and as his fear grew he slowed down. The more fear he felt the slower he walked until finally he stopped altogether.
“What is this place? I’ve not even made it through the wall and already it is too dark to see. I will be killed by something I cannot see before I can even begin the journey. The old man is crazy, nothing is worth this.” And he turned around and left.
When he reached the others he told them of his conclusions and tried to talk the other servants out of making the journey. But they refused and the first servant left.
The second servant listened to the words of the first and said to the Master:
“I trust you – I know that you love us and so would never send us some place that could cause us harm.” And he began his journey down the tunnel to the forest. After a time he too began to be afraid. As he journeyed through the dark he thought about calling to his Master, but decided that the Master’s instruction had been given: “Continue down the tunnel and straight on to your reward.” The darkness must a test, he decided and so, to avoid the unnerving sensation of walking in the dark while unable to see, he closed his eyes, faced his goal, and ran. He left the tunnel at a jog, with his eyes tightly shut. As he ran he became more and more confident. The more confident he became the tighter he squeezed his eyes shut and the faster he ran until he was running faster than he ever had, when, without notice, he ran off the edge of a pit and he was crushed on the rocks below.
The Master and the other two waited for many months for the second servant, but he didn’t return, and the Master said that he had never called. And so they presumed that he would not return.
The third servant began his journey down the tunnel. He too was unnerved by the dark and closed his eyes, but unlike the second servant he was carful to keep his hand on the tunnel wall. After days of travel he felt the tunnel end on each side of him. It was still too dark to see so he called to his Master to ask for direction. Faintly, faintly on the wind came the Master’s reply. And the second servant took one step forward. He called for is Master and again the reply, and one more step. Call, reply, step, call, reply, step. For days and weeks this went on: prior to each step the servant would check with the Master and do exactly what the Master had told him to do. He made it further and further into the forest, much further that the second servant. He avoided obstacles, scaled walls and was directed around pitfalls and traps. But soon he began to hear another faint voice on the wind. At first it told him the same things that his Master was telling him, so similar were the voices that servant could not tell them apart. Soon one of voices began to get a little louder and other voice began to fade, and the servant found that when he listened to the louder voice the way was easier and when he listened to the fainter voice the way was difficult. “I am getting better and discerning my Master’s voice.” he told himself. And so he began to follow the louder voice and as he did it became easier and easier to hear, and his confidence increased, and the path became easier and easier to follow. Until the loud voice led the servant into a den of lions where he was torn to pieces.
The fourth servant began his journey down the tunnel. He too was discomforted by the dark, but unlike the other servants he kept his eyes open. He too kept his hand on the tunnel wall; he too called to his Master when the tunnel opened up. But his question was different. Instead of asking his Master which way to go, he asked him how to make a light.
The Master provided an answer, and so the fourth servant stopped for many days and fashioned a light as his Master directed him. This light let him see his way through the forest. The fourth servant’s trek was still difficult. He still encountered the counterfeit voice that attempted to lead him into danger, but when the attempts came, because the servant had his eyes open and had light to see, the counterfeit was never able to fool him for long. At times he found himself in new situations, facing obstacles he had not encountered before, at these times he would call for his Master and ask for tools rather than step by step instructions. Then he carried these tools him for the next time he encountered a similar obstacle. And as he went on the light allowed him to see similarities between obstacles before him and those he confronted in the past and he was able to use the tools he had fashioned in the past or, if he needed to, would request instructions to forge new tools. Because he had a light he was able to make better time and was more alert for the most difficult problems. Occasionally he would come to the top of a rise and find himself in a clearing from which he could, for a moment, catch a glimpse of his goal. But most often he trudged through the dark guided only by his light, his past experience, and the voice of his Master carried softly on the breeze. Until after many months of travel he walked into a clearing to find himself standing at the foot of the keep that contained the treasure his Master had promised.