The mud track took one last turn around the hill, and a smile vanquished the last of those fretful lines upon his face. The boy, tired as he was, was finally nearing the end of his almighty quest. The meandering road had taken him through several villages and shanties, over treacherous rope-ways and some insanely beautiful scenery. But he was glad that it was all over now, for his legs: they were pumping acid; and his vision was blurring from fatigue. And thus, he threw himself around the bend with whatever energy was left in him, unconsumed.
Voila! The sight he beheld astonished him as much as it bewildered his senses, for beauty in its most consummate form can hold one in a trance forever; he held the vision in veneration and fear. The trees were taller than many mountains he had seen in his life and they were richer than the richest of kings. Snowflakes, like little stars, floated down through their almighty canopy into the bursting stream which ran down the hill. And in front of him was the most queer looking house, made of logs and bricks and stone - and yet it didn't look out of place.
He was rejuvenated by the glorious sight and he felt like he could run all the way to the house. For it was for the house that he had undertaken this perilous trip once again. Memories of his previous encounters with the wizened inhabitant of the house flooded his thoughts. It had been two years now...
* * *
"Welcome, welcome..." the old man had said, stroking his flowing beard. “What must I owe this delightful honour to? Not many lads come by these days," he had sighed.
"N… nothing sir..." the boy had stammered. “ I am merely an admirer of nature... and a lover of unadulterated beauty.”
"Oh, come now... Let me boil you some tea," the man had said, as he ushered the boy into his austere dwelling. "But you don't have to lie. I know why you have come. I know why all boys come!"
Then he had meticulously boiled the tealeaves in a large kettle and he had returned to the boy's beside only when he carried two mugs of tea.
"Sip on it when it's hot," he had commanded and the boy had obeyed. All of a sudden, he had found himself fully strong: renewed. The old man then posed the question: "Now that you are better, tell me... What are you willing to trade? I know that you have come for the Pot."
"Trade?!" the boy remembered himself faltering, shocked by the old-man's deduction.
"Of course... A trade! It's only fair, isn't it? And how is it you don't know about the trade?!" He had asked. The man seemed menacing now; no longer friendly and definitely not affable. "The pot isn't free of cost. What will you give me in exchange for the pot?"
"I have some gold...?"
"GOLD!" He had laughed, but without mirth. "You can keep that! It is worthless to me. I am looking for something far more precious."
The boy had stayed silent. The old man had played this game far too many times to lose at it. He always won. Every lad eventually gave in! They all knew that their lives would remain miserable without the pot. It was their only way out!
"You know what it is..." he said, slowly. “I know you lead a wretched life! You have nothing more than a pocketful of gold... You believe Life is unjust to you and you have come to me. But you have something I can trade the Pot for..."
The boy had stared mutely.
"Your dreams, your heart! Your soul..." The man went on. "I am willing to trade."
"My heart is mine to keep and mine alone to give. One cannot forcibly claim it. My dreams serve me as an infinite staircase to eternal glory... If you want me to trade that, you are fooling yourself sir. I might be poor, destitute, distraught and ill-omened, but I'm willing to walk back home empty handed. There will be no trade today. Now, will you give me the pot? Or must I walk?"
The man had then smiled, like he had smiled before. "Bravo, boy! Bravo..." He had cried, for never before had he listened to such words. People, usually, willingly submitted. “For you lad, free of cost!” And he conjured a small earthen pot out of thin air. "Just promise me that you will never trade. Otherwise you are not worthy of the Pot."
* * *
The boy was once again at the door of the strange tenement, and he stood on the threshold staring at the large oak door. He had once sworn to himself that he would never make this trip again. And now, he was here. He had promised never to trade, even for something he valued as much as the pot. His life had dramatically improved ever since he had sipped some of its magic. And Life had become fair and beautiful and lovely and grand. For two long years, he had ruled his world, but now he found his pot empty. He felt things would go awry once again. He was afraid: afraid to lose it all and return to square one. He felt now like it was worth a trade.
Suddenly, the door sprang open. But there was no old man this time: in his stead was a little boy.
"What do you want, friend," he asked to which the traveller replied that he had come to see the old man.
The boy looked sad now, and he replied: "You have come to meet grandpa! If only you had come sooner... He forgot to take his daily sip yesterday. I'm afraid he's no longer with us!"
The traveller stared aghast.
"Yes," nodded the grandson solemnly. "Grandpa used to sell Luck."