Hero’s Quest

Long ago and today and beyond, there was and is and will be a Caretaker who is forever busy making and tending new ideas. But the ideas he loves best are the ones he plants in the minds of children.

“I will never be brave enough to be a Ranger,” said Hero one day as he watched Caretaker creating flowers in the middle of Wildflower Woods. The boy sat with his hand covering his scar.

People in Great Park never called him names, but the boy was sure he caught them looking
at him. He thought they probably talked about him when he wasn’t near.

“A new idea,” said Caretaker. “Let’s try this one and see how it looks. Ta-doo!” The old man motioned with his hands in front of his face. A bright yellow blossom exploded from the end of a stem.

“Ta-daa . . .” said Caretaker again. The flower changed. This time it had an orange center and its petals were flat and rounded, not spiky.

“No, no, no. Not right. Not right.” Caretaker shook his head. “Let me see. . . .” He thought a while, his chin in his hand.

The old man suddenly looked up, a bright light in his gray eyes. “Aha! I know!” He lifted his arms. “Ta-dee!”

The flower trembled, then its petals turned spiky on the inside with a rim of smooth, cupped petals on the outside.

“Ah-hah!” chortled Caretaker. “Perfect. Perfect. Just right. Absolutely beautiful. Now watch, boy. Watch me!”

The old man stood on his tiptoes. His elbows were bent and held upright; then he began to wave his arms. The knives and shears and trowels in his vest began to jingle and chime. “Ta-dee! Ta-dee! Ta-dee!” More blossoms exploded.

Caretaker waved his arms some more. He pointed. “Ta-dee!” Petals and stem. A flash of yellow. “Ta-dee!” The floor of the woods became carpeted with lush, butter yellow blooms, all delicate orange at their centers.

Caretaker twirled around. “Oh, they’re beau-ti-ful!” He sat down. “Beau-ti-ful!” He held his middle and laughed for the joy of creation.

Hero was amazed. He had heard that Ranger Commander and this old Caretaker were the same person. The powers contained by each continually surprised him. One had the power of leadership; the other had power over creation. Hero was learning to love both faces, but in different ways.

Caretaker stopped his ecstatic glee. He wiped his eyes. “What were you saying, boy?”

For a moment, Hero couldn’t remember. He kept seeing wildflower explosions in his mind. Then he knew. “I said, ‘I’ll never be brave enough.’” In his heart of hearts Hero wanted to be a keeper of the watch, one of the Rangers who were always brave and true. The boy looked down. He held his hand tighter over his cheek. “I think,” he continued, “that you gave me the wrong name.”

“Nonsense,” said Caretaker. The old man stood. He tucked his beard into his vine belt, stuffed some tools in his pockets, and picked up his hat—a small apple tree in blossom. He took the boy by the shoulders. His voice was low and kind. “Only a boy with the heart of a hero would defy the Enchanter to find a king. It always takes courage to believe.”

But Hero knew he had only sought Great Park because he was afraid: afraid of the Enchanter, afraid of Burning Place, afraid of fire and of being an orphan. Hero pulled his collar up to hide his cheek. His voice implored, “Can’t you make me brave? Can’t you give me a potion to drink or a magic mushroom to eat? You can do anything. Can’t you make a boy brave?”

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