“What do you crave most at this moment?” I ask, my voice barely audible in the falling twilight.
The Returner stands before me, dishevelled, weary. His long grey beard is unkempt, his hands are callused from a lifetime of physical labour. He looks at me momentarily, considering his answer carefully. “Power,” he replies, making no attempt to embellish the response with implausible justifications. This man is a Truth Speaker.
I have seen the answer already, of course. Long, long ago I learned to read the hearts of The Returners by looking into their eyes. Some might make a feeble attempt to resist me, hoping I will see nothing but my own reflection when I peer into their souls. None succeed. Always, I win. Always, I see the visions of frustration their eyes still hold. For they have done battle with the fire and with the ice, The Returners. And they have lost.
Thus, they have had to suppress their weariness, their howling, screaming exhaustion a little longer as they return to me once more. For it is I alone who can offer The Change they seek. There is no other to whom they can turn at Journey’s End. I am The Gate Keeper. I hold the only Key to the Change. And they know that without The Change there can be no Power.
Once, very long ago, I sought to influence their use of the Power. I tried to tell them that it held great danger, that it needed to be used with utmost care. But that was long, long ago. Now I have acknowledged that once I grant The Change that gives access to The Power I can exercise no further control over how it is utilised. Some of The Returners use The Power to become enlightened, bringing warmth and illumination to those they love. Sadly, others – the Unwise Ones – will misuse The Power. These are they that will burn and be burned. But I cannot fool myself. So long as the Returners furnish me with The Note I have no right to withhold The Change, for I myself am answerable to a Higher Authority.
As I look into the eyes of the one who stands before me now, I know that this time there is no danger. He will use The Power wisely. He has lived long and understands its dangers. And yes, he is indeed holding his Note in his outstretched hand. I take it and study it closely. The illustrations are exquisite. The signature is one with which I am familiar and clearly genuine. The wording contains a Promise which I consider carefully. One cannot be too sure of Promises. But in this case I believe I can trust the Signatory to keep the Promise. I therefore accept The Note and place in The Returner’s outstretched palm the five Golden Coins that will give him The Power.
“Sorry,” I hear myself saying, “I should have mentioned when you arrived here at Journey’s End Holiday Park that the meters in the caravans take only one pound coins.”