A glimmer of gold caught his eye. He paused for a closer look. A coin. It was just a plated coin.
The traveler bent down to retrieve the gold piece and, by some strange magic, he began to hear musical notes percolate a grove of rustling trees. Compelled, he listened with increasing intensity.
The melody came from the edge of a forest, just a stone's throw away. He made a few strides, turned and looked back at the path from where he came.
"There's nothing wrong with a little exploration," he thought, now peering through a fence of ash trees. To his bewilderment, he discovered a beautiful woman with pale skin, wearing a white gown; she poised herself on a stump, a fiddle pressed against her bosom and long, wavy blonde strands of hair falling on the forest floor around her.
Enchanted, he stepped into the wilderness.
Like a doe, suddenly aware of a hunter's presence, she rose from her forest chair and seemed to glide deeper into the woods. Without looking back, the traveler rushed to catch her, saying, "wait."
She stopped at a clearing, where a great wooden table was set with an enormous feast; she smiled and giggled. The man realized at that moment that he was very hungry. "What good fortune," he thought. An empty chair happened to be available. His purpose, his pilgrimage, could wait for just a while longer.
He dined with the most unusual creatures and spent hours discussing how they had each arrived. They drank wine and ale and the more they drank, the more he drank.
After much laughter subsided and many hours passed, a bear-like thing rose and invited the man to walk with him to their caves, but the traveler faintly remembered that there was something else he was supposed to do. "I must go," he said.
The creature said, "nonsense, the light has retreated for the day. You must come with me to sleep in the caves."
Fearful of being alone, of walking back through the wood and getting lost, he consented, "I guess I can stay for the night."
With a distorted grin, too large for its face, the animal-man ushered his guest to the caves. The traveler's eyes were heavy; his mind became dim and his body, suddenly weary. He sat with his back against the cold, damp earth and stretched his legs. He made a fleeting effort to see the way out before falling into a deep, dreamless slumber.
He awoke in a cold darkness after what seemed to be just a few hours. Repeatedly trying to open his eyes and see, he realized they were already open. Filled with an icy terror, he felt nothing to be familiar. "I am lost," the traveler said. "How did I lose my way so easily?"
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