Immense forests then covered a good part of the country. Maps were rare and, in their walk from village to village, travelers sometimes lost track of the way. John was one of those, gone for days towards the great plain to help with the harvest. He was tired of dragging his worn hooves over the pebbles of the bad path and was looking for a clearing where he could light a fire, rest his body for a few hours and gain some strength before setting out again in the early morning.
But Jean was not at peace, in the darkness of the forest. He thought he was in the right direction but did not recognize the indications left by his father. The trees were not the same, the paths forked differently in the forest. Could he be wrong? Yet he had repeated every step to himself in his memory. And Jean was the best at this exercise. He might not know how to read, but as far as his conscience allowed him, the smallest details of his life remained engraved in his head. He classified them as if in cupboards in order to be able to find them, and his whole life was like that, tidy, well ordered. He couldn’t fall asleep without lining up his hooves at the very corner of the mattress, he knew how many logs to put on the fire to cook the soup and how many carrots to peel. He knew the stones capable of sharpening his knife, which he always kept in his left pocket. He distinguished which plants could calm a cough or which bark would be used to light a fire.
This reassured Jean when he was afraid. Because he was afraid, afraid of others, afraid of doing wrong, afraid of not choosing the right solutions and of not living up to what was expected of him. Every time he had to make a choice, his memory started to search for so many possibilities that he didn’t know what to do. And soon the others were choosing for him. Again during the last meal in his village to celebrate his departure, when choosing his dessert he had looked at his neighbor’s bowl to choose like him. A few days before, his father had sat down in front of him and said in a deep voice that there was no longer enough in the village to feed the children who had grown up and that the time had come to learn a trade in a another village, towards the plain.
Now alone in the forest, fear regained its power. Maybe he hadn’t taken the right direction at the last crossroads? Maybe it was at the intersection before? Maybe his father was wrong? Perhaps he had even done it on purpose, as is said in certain tales?
Jean was there in his reflections when he discerned a star, then two, then ten. A clearing stood out between the trees, evening was falling and it was necessary to take shelter and sit near a reassuring fire. Once warmed up and fed with a bit of bread that remained to him, Jean felt a soft torpor as the brightness of the fire decreased in intensity. In the distance, a pale halo of light caught his eye for a few moments. Was it the fur of a furtive animal, a reflection of the rising moon, a spirit of the forest that some say they actually saw? Without resolving to take a closer look, Jean added a few pieces of wood to the embers for the night and let himself be overwhelmed by sleep.
In his dream, two men were arguing in a field strewn as far as the eye could see with brambles and thorns. One was in clogs and was afraid, he tried at all costs to avoid the other who seemed barefoot and firmly decided not to remain so. The first knew well that without hooves he could not go very far in the brambles and thorns; not wanting to think of this disastrous end, he struggled as best he could to free himself and flee, flee, flee…
Jean jumped when he heard a nearby noise, like a presence. But around he could make out nothing in the twilight of the already dawning dawn. The fire had weakened, in the distance the pale halo of light that he had seen the day before caught Jean’s gaze for a few moments, who was reassured by this familiar sight, but elsewhere, no trace of life. He sat up to put more wood and look for his hooves lined up at the very corner of his blanket… nothing. The clogs had disappeared. Turning his head he noticed a void close to the fire. His water bottle and the little bread he had left had gone as well, as well as his satchel.
Jean found himself alone, scanning around him for possible signs of the passage of a thief or an animal. He searched for a long time; he could not thus continue his road barefoot on hazardous paths, without food and without water. But what to do ?
The dawning day revealed to him little by little the place where the night had seized him. The beginning of a path opened up in front of him, then another, yet another a little further on. No matter how hard he searched his memory, there was no trace of such a crossroads. Little by little the fear invaded him of the choice which it would be necessary to make to continue its road. Sitting on his heels, he let a mist he knew well rise in his eyes.
How long did he remain like this? Nobody knows. But a noise startled him again, very close. Jean instinctively turned towards this presence but saw nothing. Yet he felt it, there was someone. It wasn’t scary, even rather reassuring, but he didn’t understand what it was, or why he couldn’t control the feeling. Was he going crazy?
He remained motionless for a few more moments. to let go of the thoughts that assailed him, but he had to admit that neither his memory nor his ideas would allow him to solve this mystery. And then the Presence was finally reassuring. He had the feeling that she was approaching him, as if to push him forward. So, after a long time, Jean resolved to do what he had never done: he decided to choose, to let himself be guided by this insistent feeling to choose a path. He set off in the direction the Presence was pointing at him, toward the faint halo he had spotted in the distance, now barely visible in the daylight. Jean trod the grass of the clearing thinking of the brambles and thorns of his dream and found it soft at his feet. He could make out something in the distance, like the glint of sun-bright dew on a small pile of branches. He approached and then saw two magnificent clogs, new and well aligned at the corner of a soft leather satchel. There were placed on it as if for a meal, a beautiful golden loaf of bread, a well-inflated gourd and a small skin of wine.
Jean remained there, a little dazed by his discovery and not understanding how it was possible. But he already knew deep down that the Presence would never leave him. She would be there every day when choosing to discern the right path. He put on the brand new clogs and set off again, very happy.