The traveler stopped for a moment and glanced up at the mountains in his path. He had heard the legends about the, of course. The Spine of the World, some called them. It was said gods lived among their peaks, or monsters or demons. Every nomad knew the stories. Stories were the rock upon which all nomadic culture was built. Stories of war, of peace, of plentiful times and of times when the rains never came. That's why the traveler was sitting here in the shadow of these forbidding giants. It was tradition in his tribe for the young to go out and search for a new story to bring back. Now, it was the traveler's turn. His father had brought back a the story of the white bears to the north, which were hunted by savages prone to berserk rages; and his grandfather told of a great wall to the east, in the land where the sun rose.
The traveler had gone far already. He had gone from the land of his birth, up through a place where the men wore clothing like that of a woman's and spoke a strange, formal tongue. He traveled through lands where the men spoke more barbaric tongues and constantly prepared for war. He traveled to the foot of these very mountains.
His gaze turned back to the white-capped peaks. Those forbidding sentinels signaled the end of everything the nomad had ever heard. For all the stories of the mountains themselves, none existed from the lands beyond. No one had ever crossed them and returned to tell the tale. The legends said that the highest peaks belonged to gods, and the valleys hid treasures and monsters.
The traveler looked away from the mountains to look behind him. The foothills stretched far, bowing low beneath the mighty lords that towered above. There were many trees, which made the traveler uncomfortable—his home was arid, and there were few plants other than the few small and hardy enough to survive the harsh climate. The recent rains had made the land damp, and the dirt beneath his feet, while not mud, was clay like and left footprints easily.
The traveler had been given many chances to turn back; to return home victorious in his quest. He had tales of bandits and treasure; of kings and of spirits of nature. But, no, he had declared to the entire tribe that he would not return without seeing the other side of the Spine. And the son of the chief always fulfilled his word.
The sun began to set behind the mountains, and the traveler swung himself down off of his horse—his sole companion over the many miles. He busied himself by removing the tack and taking care of the animal; brushing it and letting it wander close to a stream and fresh grazing. He felt no need to hobble the animal, he had raised it from a foal and it wouldn't wander too far. Then he set to preparing a camp; making a fire and beginning to roast the game he had caught earlier. He sat and waited, gazing at the scenery around him.
And a man appeared around a bend in the road that the traveler had been taking. Seeing the camp, the man headed toward the traveler. Warily the traveler eyed the newcomer, hand never going far from the curved dagger in his belt. The stranger approached ans spoke to the traveler in an unusual, lilting tongue—unlike any that the traveler had heard, and at the same time similar to the one he, himself, spoke. The traveler shook his head at the stranger, conveying that he didn't understand the stranger's speech. The stranger went quiet for a minute, then gestured toward the fire and the cooking meat. He didn't utter any words, but the meaning was clear: the stranger wished to share the traveler's hospitality. Thinking, briefly, the traveler beckoned, welcoming, and the stranger sat.
The two men began to converse, haltingly at first, but then with greater speed—yet no words were spoken. Silently, the two traded stories. The traveler told of a nomad's life; of living by the sand and wind. The stranger returned with tales of a man past his prime, having gained and lost much in his time. And the two talked, for there is no better word, under the watchful stars.
At last, the stranger stood. He bowed low to the traveler, and gave thanks for hospitality given. The traveler bowed in return, thankful for companionship gained. The stranger left, then, leaving the flickering light of the fire to be swallowed by the night.
As the dawn arose, the traveler noticed something amiss. He checked his horse and supplies, but nothing was missing. A queer sight drew his eyes to the ground. Where the soft ground showed his footprints, not a single one belonged to the stranger from the night before. The traveler had heard that a ghost of an old man haunted the foothills, but to know a story is not necessarily to believe in one. But, he thought as he puzzled over the events of the last evening, there was no other way to explain. He had dined with a ghost.
A moment of cold fear passed through him. Then, a different emotion spread. Elation. He had dined with a ghost. He had yet another story to tell his tribe, one that the children would be begging to hear for generations. The though brought a smile to his face.
The traveler had gained another story to add to his many, but he was not finished yet. The looming peaks ahead still called to him, challenged him. He broke camp and prepared to leave. With one last look behind him, and the unexplainable feeling that he had received a blessing on his journey, the traveler swung onto his horse and rode towards his destiny.