Trudging along the lonely trail, winding along a ridge line by moonlight, I catch the occasional glimpse of a light in the distance. Oddly, I don’t seem to be getting closer no matter how long I keep moving. But to stop here is certain death from exposure, so I keep trudging. I am alone and running low of supplies so any company at all will be welcome at this point, whether they be thieves or saints. Both are distinct possibilities, and both are rather more likely than finding another ordinary soul here.
The light appears again. This time, it must be a little closer because it clearly is a candle in a wrought iron cage, the sort of thing that is relatively safe to carry without too much fear of it setting one’s gear on fire. And now, I can see that it has stopped moving. That is either a very good sign, or a very bad sign. Determining which it is will have to wait until I reach it, which may be soon.
I keep moving. The burden I still bear requires that much commitment. I swore an oath to see my burden delivered and while no man would blame me for dying on the way, it is not a man I fear to face with my oath broken. So despite my hunger and weariness I trudge on. At least now, the light is not as distant. The next hill I cross will likely deliver me into the hands of whatever it is I’m following.
I lose sight of the light for a time as I move at a slower pace over the height of the pass, but from the crest I can spot it again. I can see clearly enough to tell that it has joined other lights, and there may even be a fire. The thought of warmth and shelter gives me hope, and I find it in me to pick my pace back up to a solid walk.
The stop me just at the edge of the fire’s light, where they can see me clearly, but I am at a disadvantage. Neither I nor the sentry speak. My condition must have told enough of my story, for the sentry stepped aside and led me to the fire. So if these are thieves, they are extraordinarily polite thieves. Someone puts a bowl in my hand, filled with hot stew, and nudges me towards a bench in reach of the fire’s warmth. To my surprise, they leave my pack alone, the burden buried inside safe for the time being.
“You’ve found a ranger’s camp, stranger.”
I looked up. It was the sentry who was speaking. I just nodded and continued to nurse the stew. The sentry sat down and took off his, no actually her, hat and shook out a long braid. She smiled.
“Let me tell what of your story I can see from here. When you are comfortable, you can fill in the gaps.”
I just nodded again.
“You’ve come a long ways, carrying a burden that few know of and fewer would carry. Your provisions ran out, and you aren’t as well-trained to live off the land alone as you thought you were. And yet, you continued. You are quite close to your destination, but you don’t actually know that. You are afraid we are thieves, and oddly, almost as afraid that we aren’t. We aren’t, incidentally. You aren’t sure you believe that yet, but you will.”
She was right on all counts so far, and I saw little point in volunteering anything else.
“If you are the one we are watching for, you will be carrying a token as a sign.”
She stopped there, and waited as I finished the stew. I considered the situation. I hadn’t been briefed on any group of rangers on the border, but their existence was hardly surprising. I was carrying a token, but I was loath to show it to thieves.
“If you know enough to ask for a token, then you know why I won’t show it openly without some assurances that I’m dealing with the right people,” I said.
She smiled. “Under the circumstances, your reluctance is not surprising. I believe you are carrying an unusual diamond, about a carat, set in a signet ring, or rather set in half a signet ring. Your half has the stone set in the eye at the top of a pyramid, and the seal is broken below the eye. It mates to a half ring carrying a row of rubies below the base of the remainder of the pyramid.” With that, she pulled a large ring on a chain out from her shirt, and even without closely inspecting it I could see that it was what I hoped and feared to see.
I reached into my shirt and pulled out its mate.
As we set the two half rings side by side, I was finally able to relax. I had reached my destination, and I would soon be able to hand off the burden to one qualified.
The two parts did indeed belong to a single whole. And suddenly I could hear the ring demanding to be made whole. With shaking hands, I undid the her chain and mine, and brought the halves together. There was a blinding flash, and suddenly I was holding a single large signet, which fit comfortably on my finger. As I put on the ring, things I hadn’t even realized I was missing restored themselves to my memory and my personality. I suddenly knew exactly where I was and who these rangers were. And more importantly, who I actually was. I stood up, and held up the ring where it shined in the fire light.
My queen looked up at me with relief clearly evident in her eyes. “Welcome back, husband. Your kingdom awaits.”