Once upon a time, in a village a long way from here, lived a Runner. The Runner was a well-liked, well-respected, strong man, and the villagers thought highly of him. He was such a runner in his spirit that he pursued running as a past-time, running for long ways, for long times, and even winning awards for his running. He displayed these awards in his home in the village, and could often be found showing pictures to the villagers of the many runs he had been on, the places he had seen, and the finish lines he had crossed.
The Runner was also a Warrior. He was skilled in combat and warfare, and was set apart in the village as belonging to an elite class. He honored faith, loyalty, and courage, and was held in the highest regard by the other Warriors with whom he identified. He was a champion, a gladiator. A hero. He was proud to be a part of this highly-esteemed group, and even when the village no longer required him to battle for their safety, he called himself a Warrior.
The Runner was all of the things that make up a Warrior. But in his heart, underneath it all, he was a Runner to his core.
In the next village, down a path and around three corners, there lived a Fighter. And Fighters are different than Warriors: Runners can be Warriors, and Fighters can be Warriors, but rarely is a Runner a Fighter. The Warriors could be counted on to do great things that influenced villages and villages; they would fling themselves into harm's way when there was battle without hesitation, because Warriors know it is easier to die for their village than it is to live for it. A Fighter fights on a much smaller scale, and rarely receives the accolades the Warriors are often given.
The Fighter had learned at a very young age that Dragons frequently came to the village, and threatened the peaceful lives of those who lived there. Sometimes, if the Warriors were home, they would scare off the Dragons; but oftentimes the Dragons knew when the Warriors were gone, and would wait in the forest for when the village was unprotected.
Because the Dragons had a way of showing up at the worst of times, the Fighter was not always prepared for the Dragons' arrival. If I am to tell the whole story, it is truthful to say that the Fighter was known to lock herself in her bedroom, in her house in the village, and weep when she saw another Dragon making it's way to the meeting-place in the village. Some of the Dragons were baby Dragons; they were easily vanquished by the Fighter. The babies didn't cause much damage, and they were the ones that would run when they saw the Fighter approach. Some of the Dragons, however, were fire-breathing monsters. They would level a house with a single sweep of a tail as they made their way into the village. They cared not for the wounds inflicted upon themselves as they tried to ruin and destroy the villagers' lives. In these times, (once the tears were dry), the Fighter would call on the other Fighters in the village. They would meet together, in the forest, and form a plan of how to destroy the monster. All of the Fighters had their own role to play.
One day, the Runner was visiting the Fighter's village, on his way to meet with the Warriors. He saw her, and spoke to her, and sensed something profound in her presence. Over the next weeks and months he found himself more and more at the neighboring village, visiting the Fighter, getting to know who she was.
The Fighter was concerned by this attention from the Runner. Because the Dragons could return at a moment's notice, she was used to the Dragons-- and her plans to vanquish them-- getting the majority of her energy. When the Runner would visit, she would forget about the Dragons right up until the moment she remembered, and she would leap from her seat at the table to peer out the window and make sure she was safe.
It didn't take long for the Runner to confess to the Fighter his new feelings for her. He told her all about how he was a Warrior, and that she didn't need to be a Fighter any longer. The Fighter didn't believe him; she had heard this song-and-dance before. There had been several times in the past when someone tried to convince her to lay down her Dragon-fighting weapons. She knew she was a Fighter. The only ones with whom she shared her responsibility to fight were the other Fighters. They had proven themselves, time and again. They were the only ones she had seen vanquish the Dragons by her side. The Runner was fascinated by the Fighter. To his reason, fighting is the last defense, and one should always try to run first. The Fighter would tell the Runner about the Dragons, elated after a success or wounded after a difficult battle, and the Runner often had no response. The Fighter knew the Runner only as a Warrior, and didn't yet realize he was, at heart-level, a Runner. She thought it was the years of him being a Warrior that made him reluctant to hear of her fights.
As summer turned to fall, and fall turned to winter, the Fighter began to trust the Runner. It is possible, she reasoned, for a non-Fighter to be trustworthy; just because she had not seen it before did not make it less feasible. The Runner took care of the Fighter; making sure she did not get so caught up in the Dragons as to neglect the important life-living there was to be done. The other Fighters whispered amongst themselves that they had never seen her so happy before. The Runner began making plans to move the Fighter to his village, the Fighter began preparing her village to succeed at the fighting in her absence.
It was a cold Monday night, after several difficult weeks, when the Runner began to show his runner's heart. He sat the Fighter down and explained that he was a Runner, and although this season of non-running had done his heart good, he needed to run. Running wasn't just what he did, it was who he was. Confused, the Fighter agreed, knowing that the worst thing to say to a Runner is "No, you cannot run". She, of course, had seen other Runners on the outskirts of the Village as they ran, she even knew a few by name. By now, she had given her heart to the Runner, and believed that he had given his heart to her. She told the Runner, "I've never meant to make you feel like you cannot or should not or must not run. If you need to run, run. But I will be here on your return."
And the Runner ran.
The Runner had been gone for more than a week when the Fighter first had a twinge that maybe this was no normal run. Maybe the Runner would not run home! Is that even possible? She began asking her Fighter friends what they knew of Runners. She asked other women in the village who had loved Runners. And a horrible truth was gleaned from the information she gathered: Runners do not always come back. Sometimes, they make a new home. Sometimes, they go back to a home from yesteryear. Sometimes, they are never heard of again.
The Fighter raced home and upstairs after her last meeting in the village. She dug out an old pair of shoes, bought with good intentions, rarely worn. She put them on, laced them up, and after just a moment's deliberation, started running. She ran to the places where the Runner had last been seen, sometimes just missing him. Several times she saw him; once or twice she was even within speaking distance. She asked, "Please! Will you stop running and talk for a moment? I just need to know if you're coming home, or if you will run for always." The Runner answered, "I will come home! Just not yet. And I don't know when. Please, no more questions." And then he would run.
The Fighter was not a Runner, and she would return after her runs dejected, discouraged. Because running was not in her heart it did not bring her satisfaction, even running after her Runner. She was not capable of running for long distances for long times. She took to writing letters to her Runner, and forwarded them to the places she thought he would be next. Half of the letters were returned, and half she never knew if they ever reached her Runner or not.
The weeks turned to months, and the Fighter slowly began to accept the Runner may not return. She would still go on her runs to find him, see him; but her tread was slower, her knees pained her, and now she began to be afraid of what she would find along the runs. When she first started running after the Runner, she remembered to bring all of her Dragon-fighting weapons; as time went on, she would run unarmed as to try to run faster for longer. One afternoon the Fighter realized she was putting her safety and the safety of the villagers at risk while she ran after a Runner who did not want someone to run with him. She took her shoes off and set them next to the chair. The next day she set them on the stairs. And three days later she put them away. As she wiped a tear from her cheek, she reasoned it is better to let the Runner run. And she laid plans to get back to fighting the Dragons. That, after all, was the life she knew. The other Fighters had been gracious about her uncommon runs, but she knew she was letting down her allies while she pursued a solitary, and unfruitful, quest.
Two weeks later the Fighter answered a knock at the door. She could hardly believe her eyes when she saw her beloved Runner standing in her doorway. He explained he had just needed to run, and that when he started running he hadn't known whether he was ever coming home, but now he had realized he missed his Fighter. At first he tried to tell the Fighter it was her fault that he ran, but the Fighter did not allow that. She had wrestled with that question in her own head when the Runner had been gone, and had realized it was not her fault. While the Runner spoke, the Fighter could barely look up from the floor. She had just begun training again with the Fighters, she had just started to accept the Runner was gone. How was she to handle this declaration? She told the Runner she had been honest when she said she would be waiting for him when he returned from running, but that she had had no idea he would run for so long, with no communication, away from her. She explained that he would need to help her believe in him again. And the Runner agreed.
It didn't take long before the Fighter knew in her heart something was wrong. She was dividing her time between training with the Fighters and taking care of her home in the village and being with the Runner, but things were not right. She had known, once the Runner came home, that it would not be the same as before he left; but although she saw glimpses of the Runner she knew, the time away had changed him. After a meeting in the village ended early on a sunny afternoon, the Fighter came home. And discovered the Runner was still running, almost daily. He was only coming back every night so he wouldn't have to tell the Fighter where he had been.
The Fighter had another urgent problem as well. There were more and more Dragons coming to the village, more than had ever been seen before. The Fighter was exhausted constantly. She would collapse into her bed every night, after fighting and fighting, and barely be able to keep her eyes open long enough to place her head on her pillow. The times she did spend with her Runner she wanted to talk about his running; what did he see while he was gone? What made him come home? And why was he still running, often without speaking of it? But the Runner would avoid her questions, and she would let him, figuring he would speak of his travels when he was ready, and wanting to enjoy the short times they had together.
Eventually the Dragons became such an overwhelming problem for the village a meeting was called. The terrified villagers tried to come up with solutions to help the Fighters in the crusade to keep the Dragons at bay. The Fighter kept looking around for the Runner, but he was nowhere to be seen in the crowd of people, and she was disappointed he was not there for something so important. Finally a villager loudly proclaimed, "Someone must be showing the Dragons the way to our village! There is no other logical reason for the numbers we've seen. Someone must be traveling on the Easy Path, and leading the Dragons back to our homes and our lives."
The Fighter's heart sank. She was afraid she knew whom the culprit was. And why her Runner was not at the meeting.
The Easy Path, dear Readers, is one that the villagers were warned of from the time they were young. It began on the far end of the village, and led to a destination unknown, as the ones who sojourned down this Path usually stayed away. The Easy Path was known to be treacherous, with poisonous vines growing alongside which would wrap around a traveler's ankle and, in a blink of an eye, pull the unsuspecting soul off the Path never to be seen again. Also, the Dragons made their homes here, hidden in the vines and the trees, and the folklore stories told of many who began a journey along the Easy Path and were overcome by the Dragons.
When the Fighter left the meeting, she found the Runner along the way to her home. He smiled when he saw her, but faltered when he recognized the look on her face. He tried to tell her he had things he needed to do, but the Fighter was not going to let him avoid her this time. The Fighter calmly, with tears in her voice, asked her Runner if he had been running on the Easy Path. She told him she knew of his running, and that it was okay; she wanted him to be able to run if he needed. But she also explained, in the quietest of voices, that she feared it was he who was leading the Dragons to her doorstep.
The Runner grew angry, and demanded an explanation. The Fighter told him of the meeting in the village, and how the explanation of an Easy Path-traveler resonated in her heart. The Runner denied playing a part in the Dragons attempting to take over the village; hadn't there always been Dragons since the beginning of time? How dare she, a Fighter, accuse him! The Fighter grew silent and waited. Then, the Runner agreed. Yes, he was running along the Easy Path; but he was a Warrior! No harm could befall him. He hadn't told the Fighter because he was smarter than the traps laid by the path, he knew how to avoid them. It was none of the Fighter's business where he ran, or how long he ran. No one would be hurt.
With a heart overflowing with sorrow, the Fighter told the Runner she would not tell him he could not run, or where to run; but if he continued to choose the Easy Path as his preferred road, he could no longer run home to her. The Dragons were too strong, and there were too many. She and her team of Fighters could not fight them all.
The Runner yelled, face flush with rage, "You hate that I run! You don't accept who I am! I've been explaining this since I first started running, it is your fault that you don't understand!" The Fighter let him finish, and replied, "It was never about the running. Not even the first, long time. Not even when I did not know if you would ever come home. Even when I really knew who you were, I chose you. But now, there is something of high value at risk. Your choice of running Path affects my home, my safety, and my loved ones. It is up to you: which is more important? The Fighter, or the Path?"
And the Runner chose the Path.
The Fighter hears of him on occasion; he has found a new village in which to rest his head after his runs, and is still held in high regard as a Warrior and a Runner. The Dragons continued to be overwhelming for a time once the Runner left the village for good, but the team of Fighters were strong and unwavering, and peace has, for the most part, been restored.
The Fighter still misses the Runner. But she has a new tranquil life, in the village of her youth, surrounded by the Fighters that know her and understand her best.