The Wealth of Life

by J. Robert Griffin © 2002

Ensconced in a fine chair carved from Bolarian wood, Therin took a sip of his double distilled brandy. He cast a casual glance across the table at the mysterious man who had invited him to this remote cabin. He had not expected to find the place, but just as the man had said, it was well hidden between two towering goldleafs deep within the Forsaken Forest. Besides offering Therin a seat and a drink, the dark clad man had hardly spoken. Save for the sturdy wooden table and chairs, the cabin was rather nondescript, though it did seem to have an ample supply of wine.

The two had been sitting in silence for what seemed an hour. Therin could not quite muster the nerve to speak, though it galled him to admit it. It was not often that he was intimidated by anyone or anything, but this man….

“I’ve come for the gold,” he finally managed in a voice that was unexpectedly weak. The man across the table smiled crookedly from under his black hood.

“You are the first one in years that has found me.” Therin opened his mouth to say that he had spent most of his life in the woods, but he decided against it.

“You approached me on the streets of Candria and said—”

“Yes, yes, I know,” the man interrupted, waving an impatient hand. “I said that if you could find my cabin in the Forsaken Forest that I would make you immeasurably wealthy.” Therin simply nodded, abruptly unnerved by the icy tone. Perhaps this had not been a good idea after all. Without realizing it, he had begun to caress the hilt of his sword. He jerked his hand away.

The man chuckled softly, shaking his head slightly. “Be at ease, Therin.”

A wave of fear swept over Therin and he shuddered involuntarily. “How…how do you know my name?” He wished his voice did not sound so frail.

“I know many things.” The smile had vanished, replaced by a slight frown. The rest of his face was shrouded in the deep shadow cast by his hood. “Who are you?”

“That is of no importance. You have come for wealth, and wealth you shall have.” Reaching beneath his cloak, the man produced a coin, placing on the table between them. Though Therin had never seen the designation, it appeared to be a simple gold mark from a foreign country. Valuable, to be sure, but hardly approaching “immeasurable wealth.”

“What’s this?”

“Why, it’s a coin.”

“I can see that. But how does one gold piece constitute wealth?” The smile returned, this time revealing gleaming white teeth.

“He who holds the coin holds life. He cannot die. Is that not wealth?”

“Is this some sort of prank?” Despite his fear, Therin was becoming irritated.

“Take the coin in your hand.” Therin hesitated, eyeing the man warily. “Trust me.” Against his better judgement, he snatched up the gold mark. The next instant, a dagger was soaring toward his chest. There was no time to move. Inches from plunging into his breast, the blade halted in mid air and dropped to the table with a clank. Shaking slightly, he glanced up at the black-cloaked man’s still outstretched arm.

“You see?” Therin was awestruck.

“But…why would you give something like this away?”

“Perhaps I have another. If you do not want it, I will find someone who will accept it.”

“No,” Therin replied, more quickly than he would have liked. “I will keep it.”

“Very well. You may go.”

“That’s it?”

“Would you like another demonstration?” Therin merely shook his head, rising slowly from his chair. He strode toward the door, eager to be away from his strange host. He stopped, deciding he had better thank the man. When he turned, the cabin was empty. Startled, he nearly lost his footing as he bolted from the cabin.

The forest looked...different. Perhaps it was only his imagination. He whirled back toward the cabin in an effort to orient himself. It was not there. The two tall goldleafs that had marked its presence were nowhere to be seen. Instead, simple brownwood trees stood where they had been. He spun about frantically, scanning the woods for any trace of the cabin.

On the point of dizziness, he stopped, trying to calm himself. He had heard stories concerning the Forsaken Forest, but he had never believed any of them. There was no reason to panic. He tried to judge his location by the sun, but he could not see past the treetops. He examined the ground, searching for his own footsteps, but the terrain did not even look familiar.

Cursing the coin in his hand before sliding it in a pocket, he chose a direction and began walking. If he walked in the same direction long enough, he was certain to exit the forest eventually. He walked for hours, but saw no sign of freedom.

Hours turned into days, but Therin did not rest. Prompted by a gnawing emptiness in his stomach, he searched for food. He never saw an animal of any sort, though, and the plants he found grew only leaves. After a week of wandering the forest, he could not take the hunger anymore, and began chewing on foliage. He had vomited instantly, and his stomach and chest burned with the poison.

A month passed, and the sickness remained, growing worse with each day. The hunger remained as well, tormenting him, causing him to see things that were not there. He knew the only thing keeping him alive was the coin. Insanity had taken over, and his existence became nothing more than misery. Taking the gold mark from his pocket, Therin decided he did not want to be wealthy anymore. He tossed the coin to the ground and breathed his last.

x x x

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