Weathered & Wounded.
Jean Baptiste & the Three-Legged Lady.
Jean Baptiste sat down on the narrow sidewalk outside his front door, putting his shoes on. Miss K. watched him from the top of the hallway staircase, wondering if this would be a solo escapade or if they would go together. As the Baptist reached back through the door to grab his small backpack, he stopped and looked at the dog waiting on the stairs.
‘Come on’, he said, ‘We ain’t got all day’.
Truth was, they had more than a lifetime, and Miss K. never missed a beat doing everything at her own pace.
Geroni was the one who first told him about the Three-Legged Lady, and yesterday he’d gone further by drawing a map in the sand to mark out her cabin. ‘It’s not as far off as everybody wants you to believe’, he’d said, ‘Not if you find the shortcut leading up to the Two Twins’.
He told the Baptist to prepare for the Lady’s joyful way of watching us struggle on our way up. She knows you won’t come down the other side without her and takes pride in letting her lost heroes doubt.
‘Finding the cabin is the easy part’, he said, ‘You need to dare to wait’.
The waiting. Where most men fail. You can count the ones who have passed the cathartic hours of trusting the Lady to show up with one hand.
Geroni is one of them.
Nobody moves in the Tramuntanas at night. Not even a man born between the rocks, knowing its every corner. Geroni went up there with the sun, set to stay as long as needed, and The Lady gladly made him wait until the setting sun burned the high cliffs red.
He’s never spoken about what happened next, which is why Jean Baptiste needed to go up there to see for himself.
If ever you decide to go, leave southbound from the village and head up the grand route toward Heaven’s Gate. As the Castle disappears behind you, you’ll find a secret path behind the Gate Keeper’s cabin leading up through the rock slides and broken trees. Things will try to scare you off, but keep your eye on the trail, even as you pass the House of The Wizard, then continue further toward the Two Twins.
The Twins have done their best to cover all trails, and it’s well-known that they don’t like visitors. An untrained eye will struggle, but if you dare to look beyond your feet, you’ll find red stains on the rocks and sparingly scattered cairns to lead the way. Try not to speak, never complain, and never ask. The Twins will give whatever respect they receive.
Rest assured, you will make mistakes. One wrong step, and you will miss the mark. Two, and you will lose your way. Three, and you’ll have to start over. You will learn never to rush a closed mountain without listening, even if your legs burn and your lungs hurt.
And while the Twins decide if you’ve earned the right to go further, the Three-Legged Lady will wait to see if you’re ready to trust her. She will find you. Not the other way around. And remember, reaching the cabin is the easy part. Daring to wait is for the brave.
“One wrong step, and you will miss the mark. Two, and you will lose your way. Three, and you’ll have to start over.”
Geroni’s words played as a mantra in Jean Baptist’s head. He had walked there countless times. Lost, hurt, and always forced to turn around. Today was going to be different.
Miss K. came down the stairs, and the Baptist locked the door behind them. With the pack on his back and the leash hanging over his shoulders, they left the village, southbound toward Heaven’s Gate.
Geroni had warned them about a gap in the trail after they passed the first ravine. It’s not much, but long enough for anyone to lose their way.
This is where vanity had challenged the Baptist in previous attempts. He’d instinctively chosen the steepest path, upwards, through the hidden scars, and over the boulders. It looked right at first, but the rocks got bigger and bigger, and pretty soon, he’d wasted all his might on climbing a dead end.
“Finding the cabin is the easy part.”
The right path isn’t always the hardest route. ‘Take your time,’ the Baptist mumbled, ‘The final piece of the puzzle is just a few steps away.’
Jean Baptist stopped.
Miss K. looked at him while he squatted down on the rocks, searching for whatever he’d previously missed. Their eyes met, and he saw a small opening in the wild olives behind her. He got up, nudged the dog forward, then forced himself through.
It initially felt too small, but as the trail meandered past the trees and up a dusty slope, he knew this was the way. And there, hidden and merged with its surroundings, a small cabin.
“Their eyes met, and he saw a small opening in the wild olives behind her. He got up, nudged the dog forward, then forced himself through.”
Miss K. rushed ahead while Jean Baptiste took his final steps up the slope. They stopped and listened. The path they’d taken was clearly the back way, and the Baptist didn’t want any surprises coming around on the other side.
The Castle at the edge of the valley seemed small from where they now were, and as the Baptist took off his backpack and sat down opposite the front door, the sharp sunlight melted the Mediterranean horizon into a blurry white. He gave Miss K. a bowl of water while grabbing two oranges for himself.
Then they waited.
Jean Baptist woke from his slumber as her hooves hit the paved patio. The once bright sun glowed red and orange, and Miss K. was already on her feet, prepared for the worst.
As the Three-Legged Lady pondered her decision, the Baptist slowly gathered his things, ready for whatever judgment she would make. He asked Miss K. to stay close at all costs while ensuring he had everything they’d brought.
The Lady suddenly turned and disappeared down the steps to the terrace below. The Baptist rushed up, fearing he’d lost her. He walked closer to the edge with Miss K. by his heels, and there she was, waiting for her students to follow her down the right path.
The old ewe was weathered and wounded. Wild dogs had taken both her ears, and God only knows what happened to her foreleg. She staggered slightly down through the terraces, and the hidden trail opened up with her every step.
Jean Baptist and his dog followed.
They kept a polite distance, and The Lady waited patiently at every corner to ensure the bond wasn’t broken. She moved, they moved. She stopped, they stopped. She suddenly jumped and fell, and Jean Baptist held his breath until the dance continued.
She remained in their sight until the trail was big enough for her to let them go. And on that last corner, she stopped.
For a while.
She gave them a few seconds. Or a minute? Enough to make it real? Then she strolled down the side and disappeared among the bushes.
Jean Baptist stopped as the tears came. He fell to his knees with Miss K. by his side. ‘Did you see that?’ he said while gently patting her back.
Miss K. smiled. As she did with all her secrets.