The Bridge

Copyright November 6, 2009

by Matthew Haldeman-Time


I am writing about men having sex with other men.  You must be eighteen or older to read my fiction.  This site is for consenting, responsible adults only.

 

If you have subscribed to this series and you enjoy it, please recommend it to a friend.

 

A note from the author: This is a traditional Jacacean story, one told to children.  It dates back to the Goi Dynasty, and bears many similarities to an ancient Suienese parable.  (The Suien were, of course, absorbed into the Empire during the Ean Dynasty.)  As is common with many Jacacean "lesson stories," the lesson is stated clearly at the end of the tale.  These lessons are incorporated into a child's general culture and education, and included in needlepoint samplers, nursery decorations, etc.

 

This story relates to a comment by Kudorin in ITL 161.



            Many, many years ago, a farmer was on his way to Seijaces.  He had spent his life in hard work, and was now leading his family on a long journey to see the glittering palace on the water.

            He traveled for many days before he came to a long, quick river with no bridge in sight.  He searched north, and his wife searched south, but they found no bridge!  He searched south, and his wife searched north, but they found no bridge!

            With no handy way across, they would have to make their own way across.  And so they began to gather many big, heavy rocks from the shore, throwing them into the water, building a pathway for themselves.  It was slow, difficult work, for their children were too young and too small to venture near the busy shore.

            Hours passed, and their pathway stretched only halfway across the river.  They’d scoured the area for rocks and were now traveling twenty minutes down the bank for each new piece!  “This is too slow,” the farmer said.  “We’ll never finish before nightfall.”

            “If we were only the two of us, we could pick up the rocks behind us and place them in front of us, and slowly cross,” his wife said.  “But what of our children, and our wagon?  How shall we ever cross this way?”

            Across the river, suddenly, the farmer saw another man, and another wagon.  “Hello, there!” the farmer cried, waving, happy to see someone who could help.  “We are travelers on our way to the capital!  We have young children and there is no bridge!  Will you help us to cross?”

            “I am a merchant, not a bridge builder.  I cannot help you.”

            “You need only use the rocks along the shore,” the farmer’s wife called, “as we have done here.”

            “There are no rocks along this shore,” the merchant said.  “I cannot help you.”  And he continued along the riverbank.

            The merchant was on his way from Seijaces to Luciase.  He was taking big blocks of granite and marble to sell to sculptors there.  He had traveled for days, his strong horses hauling the big, heavy blocks, and now he had come to the river.

            He could not cross it.  There was no bridge.

            He thought of the farmer, and the halfway bridge.  But how could he build the other half?  There were no rocks on his side of the shore.

            It occurred to him that he could use his blocks of granite.  But what if the farmer discovered the marble?  What if it were stolen?  What if the farmer killed him for it?

            He would have to be secretive.  He would have to be stealthy.  He waited until nightfall, then returned to where he’d seen the farmer.  The moonlight showed him their still, quiet wagon on the other side of the river.  They were asleep.

            Quietly, carefully, the merchant dragged the huge granite blocks into the river.  The night dragged on while he splashed and sweated, but finally he’d completed the pathway.  Finally, the two sides met, just high enough to let his wagon cross without being swept away.

            Hushing his horses, the merchant drove across the pathway.  Once there, he went back to collect his granite, starting from the opposite bank and destroying the bridge block by block, putting it back into his wagon.

            By the time the sun rose, the merchant was gone.  He’d left enough tracks, from his feet and his wheels and his horses, that the farmer realized what had happened.  They’d been cheated.  The merchant had used their half of the bridge and crossed without them, denying them the chance to cross as well.

            “We should have known,” the farmer said.  “We should have guessed.  That’s how people are.  Rich people, city people.  They’ll steal and cheat to get ahead.  They think only of themselves.”

            “Maybe some of them,” his wife said.  “But not all of them.”

            They worked on their bridge some more, but it took more and more time to haul each rock.  Their bodies were sore and tired from yesterday’s exertion.  They were slow and exhausted.

            As the sun began to set, they saw a young man jogging along the riverbank.  “Hello, there!” the farmer cried, waving, happy to see someone who could help.  “We are travelers on our way to the capital!  We have young children and there is no bridge!  Will you help us to cross?”

            “I am an athlete, not a bridge builder.  I cannot help you.”

            “You need only use the rocks along the shore,” the farmer’s wife called, “as we have done here.”

            “There are no rocks along this shore,” the athlete said.  “I cannot help you.”

            “Maybe there are some farther down the shore,” the farmer called.  “We have been dragging these all day.”

            “Oh!  So there are!  I’ve been looking for some.”  Jogging down, the athlete found many big, jagged rocks together on the shore.  But instead of carrying them to the half-bridge, he began to heave them haphazardly into the water.

            “What are you doing?” the farmer demanded.  “We need your help!”

            “I don’t know you,” the athlete said.  “Why should I help you?”

            “Because we need your help!” the farmer’s wife shouted.

            “Because if you help us cross, we can help you cross,” the farmer called.  “Our half as already done.”

            “You might hurt me,” the athlete said.  “You might injure me or rob me.  No, I won’t trust you.”  Throwing rocks, he killed the most dangerous alligators in the river.  Then, diving in, he swam across, getting out on the other side and jogging away.

            “We should have known,” the farmer said.  “We should have guessed.  That’s how people are.  Young people, all people.  They’ll steal and cheat to get ahead.  They think only of themselves.”

            “Maybe some of them,” his wife said.  “But not all of them.”

            When the farmer went to bed that night, he promised his wife and children that they’d cross the next day.  Either they’d find help, or they’d finish their bridge.  Either way, they’d cross tomorrow.  He was sure of it.

            The next morning, the farmer arose early, walking south along the riverbank to pick up another enormous rock to add to the end of his bridge.  Reaching a new area he’d never seen before, he noticed a rope and log bridge stretching across the river!  With hurried steps and new energy, he rushed to the bridge!

            But just as he got there, he saw a woman standing on the shore cut the ropes!  The bridge fell, the ropes fraying, the logs spinning away, carried down the river.

              “Hello, there!” the farmer cried, waving, pained to see the bridge so hastily destroyed.  “We are travelers on our way to the capital!  We have young children and there is no bridge!  You could have helped us cross!”

            “Oh?” the woman asked, shouldering her pack.  “I worked for days building that bridge.  I got myself across, and that’s what matters.  Why should you take advantage of all of my work?  I got myself across, and you should get yourself across, too.  I owe you nothing.”  And she walked away.

            Returning to the wagon, the farmer bitterly told his wife the story.  He finished with, “We should have known.  We should have guessed.  That’s how people are.  Single people, all people.  They’ll steal and cheat to get ahead.  They think only of themselves.”

            “Maybe some of them,” his wife said.  “But not all of them.”

            The night was cold and wet.  The rains were strong, raising the river, washing away a few of their rocks.  In the morning, the farmer huddled in the wagon with the children, filled with despair.  His wife, cold, tired, aching in all muscles, shivered in the rain and tried to repair the bridge.

            Suddenly, a cry from the opposite bank greeted her.  “Hello, there!” someone called, waving to her cheerily.  “We are travelers on our way from the capital!  We have a great load and there is no bridge!  I have found some rocks, but I have not enough.  Will you lend me yours?”

            While the farmer’s wife finished repairing her side of the bridge, the strange travelers worked on their side.  Soon, the two sides met!  The farmer, his wife, his children, and their wagon crossed first, safely.  Then the strange travelers and their wagons crossed, safely.

            When everyone stood on opposite riverbanks again, the strange travelers waved their thanks, and continued on.  “We should have known,” the travelers said to each other.  “We should have guessed.  That’s how people are.  Jacacean people, all people.  They’ll do more than meet us halfway.  They’re so quick to think of others.”

            “Yes,” they agreed among themselves, “some of them.  Most of them.”

            Two nights later, the farmer and his wife came to another river.  They searched north, they searched south, and they found no bridge.  “What shall we do?” the farmer’s wife asked.  “Shall we wait?”

            “We will begin with these fallen trees, and lay down logs and branches, and make a bridge,” the farmer’s wife said.

            “We don’t have enough to go the whole way across,” the farmer argued.

            “In the last place we stopped, we met four different travelers,” his wife said.  “Think how soon we’ll meet another!  All it takes is one person with the willingness to help.”  And so they began to work, using branches and logs together, building their bridge.

            Their work was hard and the day was long.  As the sun began to set, they saw a cart approaching, laden with wood.  The driver greeted them with a cheerful, “Hello!  I am a woodsman, on my way to Seijaces!  You’ve made such a good beginning here, it will be simple to finish, and we should be on our way soon!”

            They all made camp for the night.  In the morning, with the woodsman’s help, the bridge was completed easily, and they all crossed together.

            “We’re lucky to have found each other so quickly,” the farmer said.  “It’s lucky that you had so much wood with you.”

            “I heard that the bridges were out, and planned to make my own way across,” the woodsman explained.  “I expected to lose several days and most of my wood at the last river, but when I got there, there was such a nice pathway of rocks across it that I had no use for my wood!  I sped right across and lost no time at all.  If I’d had to stop there, I likely never would have met up with you at all, and I wouldn’t have had all of that wood left.  Whoever laid those rocks laid the path for not only their own benefit, but mine.”

            The paths we lay today may help us tomorrow.

            The paths we lay today may help others forever.

            Be smart enough, like the woodsman, to carry your own supplies.

            Be generous enough, like the strange travelers, to recognize someone with a similar goal.

            Be determined enough, like the farmer’s wife, to keep working no matter what.

            When two people stand at opposite sides of a river, let each bring his own rocks, and let them share in the crossing together.  The wood saved today may span another river tomorrow.



Home | In This Land | Rini's MySpace |  Feedback |  Subscribe | Donate