Paul trudged through the swamp, kneed deep in muck and filth. For miles he walked through the water, always scanning the surface of the water for the signs of crocodiles and other creatures lurking in the deep.
But the swamp proved only tiring, not treacherous. And as he climbed out of the water onto a meadow of dry grass, he felt good about what he had accomplished so far. Only a river and a snowbank were left, and then he would have his answer.
Paul moved ahead to the edge of the river. He was tired after pulling himself, one foot at a time, through the swamp. But he could not stop now. He dove into the icy water, thinking that surely he would be on the opposite bank in only a few minutes. But his arms and legs failed him. He was more tired than he thought, and as his strength left his body he felt himself sinking deeper and deeper into the water.
It was then that he felt two strong hands grab his shirt and lift him out of the water. Gasping for air, Paul saw a boat and those two hand again. And then he fell into a deep sleep.
When Paul awoke again, he was in a warm bed with a fire crackling close by in a fireplace. He saw a woman sitting next to his bed, quietly reading a book. When he tried to sit up, the woman stirred from what she was reading and quickly stood up. “Don’t try to get up yet, dear,” she said, her brown hair falling in waves across her shoulders. “You need to eat something first.” She left briefly, returning with a loaf of dark bread, cold fresh butter, and a hot bowl of soup. She sat on the side of his bed, and fed him the entire meal. As he was finishing, he heard a door open and a man with strong hands walked into the room. Paul knew those hands–they were the ones who had saved him in the river!
“Thank you,” Paul said softly to the man. The man came closer to the bed, took Paul’s hand, and told him what had happened. How he had found Paul floating in the river, pulled him to safety, and kept vigil over him in his own home for 3 days and 3 nights until Paul finally woke up. “We were so worried,” the man said, nodding towards his wife. “But now, with rest, I think you will get better.”
The next few weeks went quickly, as Paul grew stronger each day. The man and woman fed him, clothed him, read to him, and talked with him. Paul was very happy in his home, but he remembered what the wise woman said. “Do not forget your question.” Finally, the day came when Paul decided to continue up the mountain. The man and woman did not want him to go, but also knew that he must.
“Wait!” The both called out as Paul stood up to leave. “The mountain is cold,” said the woman. “Take these boots and this hat. They will keep you dry and warm.”
“And you will need a better jacket than this, ” the man said as he looked Paul over. “Take my jacket. It is thick and has always kept me warm.”
And so Paul left, with warm boots, a new jacket, and a hat to cover him up. The man and woman rowed him across the river to the mountain path. As Paul turned to say goodbye, he saw the tears in their eyes. . .