Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a young boy. His name doesn't matter, as very few people remembered that he even had a name. He lived with the King's blacksmith. He was an orphan, and the blacksmith had taken him on as an apprentice. The blacksmith was not unkind, although he wasn't kind either. He just expected the boy to do what was required, and in return, fed him, and gave him a bed in the forge at night, where, at least, it was warm. .
The boy worked hard. He didn't mind working hard. He collected wood, he led horses in, and held their heads while the blacksmith worked. He stoked the fire, and he brought the blacksmith what he needed, when he needed it, to do his work. He worked hard, not because he liked the work, but because when he worked, it filled up his attention, and he was able to forget everything else. Forget that he was an orphan. Forget that there was no kindness in his everyday life. Forget that he had no family, and that nowhere felt like home.
One day, the boy was out in the forest, collecting wood. He had walked out with an empty basket, held by worn leather straps to his back. He reached a spot that looked promising, and took the basket off, placing it on a steady spot, nestled in the mossy grass.
As he stood and stepped backwards after putting the basket down, his foot caught in a small hole, perhaps a rabbit hole, or maybe just a small hollow in the ground.. He fell to the ground, not hurting himself, but surprised by the sudden change from upright to flat. Opening his eyes, he could see the sky above him, grey blue through the canopy of trees.
Closing his eyes, he listened to the forest around him. Slowly, as his ears tuned in, he heard more. Not just the wind whispering in the trees, but the small sounds of birds flipping and flapping their way through the undergrowth. The sound of small buzzing creatures. The sound of leaves lifted by the wind. And finally, finally - the sounds inside him of his own self. Heart beating. Breath entering his chest and leaving again. The sound of his swallowing, reverberating through his whole head.
Finally, he opened his eyes. "Enough" he thought. "Time to gather wood". He quickly set to, and soon had a full basket of sticks and small logs. He hoisted the heavy basket onto his back and started to make his way back.
He reached the stepping stones, where he had crossed to enter the forest - and found they were under water and partly submerged. He began to tentatively cross, feeling his way, one footstep at a time, over the slippery rocks. It was hard, the heavy weight on his back unbalancing him. But steadfastly, he continued, one step, then another. Until suddenly, the rock beneath him shifted. He tried to right himself, but the weight of the basket was too much, and he felt himself slipping sideways, into the water, and landing on his side, pinned by the weight of the basket and unable to rise, the water rushing over his head. Mouth and nose under water, he struggled and thrashed - and then, as he reached the point where there was no breath left, no struggle left inside him, he opened his eyes - and saw something quite extraordinary. Instead of the water, and the watery river bank, he saw colour and texture, bright and soft and welcoming.
Pulling himself forward, unable to believe what he was seeing, he found himself in the middle of a beautiful, multi coloured carpet. Soft and yielding, like a feather bed. And inside his head, he heard words forming. "I have come to take you home". The carpet lifted, away from the river, away from the forest, away from the blacksmith and the town. More sure, suddenly, than he had ever been in his life, the boy knew. He was going home.