The traveler stepped through the gate, excited and anxious about the future. Both the possibilities and challenges seemed endless, and he was curious what support he could obtain to help him along his journey. He clutched his traveling papers in his hand.
As he walked into the village clustered outside the gate of the garrison, the first thing that surprised the traveler was the crowded square, a wide space of clamoring chaos that had an overwhelming number of vendors, all vying for his attention. The selection of choices seemed endless, as well as the variety; there were vendors that seemed to want to give him things, and others that wanted to take things from him.
He felt a tug on his garment; he turned to see an older gentleman with a kind face; he was perhaps a traveler in his youth. “A new companion on the path, I see,” the gentleman said with an honest smile. “You’ll want to register with the Traveler’s Agency over there, if they’ll have you.” The traveler looked to his left, and a large imposing structure loomed. A line of travelers, both young and old, stretched out the door and around the block. “No, I think I’m okay,” the traveler said, “I want to get started and don’t think I need that kind of assistance. Besides, it looks like those other travelers need it more than me.”
The kind gentleman’s face fell slightly. “Don’t wait too long, son. You could end up walking a rough road for a while, like me.” The traveler thanked him and continued into the square.
The assortment of vendors continued to startle the traveler. Where to begin? There were some obvious well-established and long-serving vendors, lined together on a high rise on the far side of the square. Their stalls were strong and well-made, but it was curious…it did not seem that many travelers were interested in them. The representatives of these vendors, grave and severe in their demeanor, could be seen in a serious discussion with the King’s ministers, but travelers passed to and fro in front of their establishments without giving them a second glance.
Perhaps more promising were the newer vendors on the left side of the square, no less grand than the established vendors, but with a different air about them. A sense of eagerness, of youth, and perhaps even a touch of new wealth drove their activities. On closer inspection, however, it was hard to determine which of these newer vendors were those who were here to support the traveler, or were here to take advantage of the traveler. The lack of distinction caused the traveler to pause.
On his right, the traveler could see the specialty vendors, who promised all manner of support. He could see vendors that promised to help find employment, others that promised housing, a third that was distributing professional garments. He could see a large number of vendors promising a life of adventure; a week-long trip to the King’s Forest, a weekend adventure on Queen’s Lake. The traveler looked at these offers longingly, recognizing them as trips of a lifetime, but failed to see how they could help him along his journey.
Interspersed among all of these vendors were others, operating small stalls in an inefficient way. Why was there so much duplication in their efforts, the traveler wondered? Every third person wanted to help the traveler record his experiences so that he could find employment. The conflicting voices clamoring in his ears was beginning to overwhelm…
Adding to this cacophony, and confusion, were the minstrels and the traveling performers. Each individual and group with similar advice, raising their voices to try to be heard above the other, because the traveler needed to hear what they had to say, in order to be successful on his journey! A vast array of information was starting to wash over the traveler, from all sides.
He took a deep breath and decided that he should start somewhere. He stepped toward one of the stalls promising employment support. “I’d like to find work,” the traveler said, “but I also could use help with lodgings.”
“Let me see your traveling papers, sir” the young woman said. After glancing over his documents, she said, “Yes sir, you have the qualifications for us to support you. We don’t offer support for lodging, however, so you must seek that elsewhere.”
The traveler was confused. “You don’t support all travelers?” He said. “No,” came the reply, “Only recent travelers with the right kind of papers.”
“And you can’t help me secure lodging?”
“No,” came the reply again, “We only support employment.”
The traveler thanked her and moved on, past another vendor offering an adventure. As appealing a diversion as that would be, he recognized that it was even less beneficial than it was before. He hurried towards a vendor that promised support with lodging. “I’d like to get some help finding somewhere to stay,” the traveler said. Again he was asked, “Could I see your papers?” After a brief scan, they were returned to him. “We can help provide lodging for a short time, but you will need employment before we can support you.” At this point, frustration began to set in. “Could you not help me find employment as well?” The traveler asked. “No, I’m sorry, I’m afraid not. I can only help with lodging.”
As he stepped away from the stall, he began to wonder…if I’m having such a hard time, what about those who are not new travelers? Or who do not have the right paper? He looked down the lane, and saw another traveler being detained by the Sheriff’s men. Could that be me, he thought?
The traveler stood in the middle of the square, overwhelmed by choice and frustrated by obstacles, and began to starve in the middle of a vast feast.