Sentimentality and Cynicism at the crossroads


Once upon a time, in a far-away land, a sister and brother lived in a tiny cottage at the edge of a vast forest. They were called Sentimentality and Cynicism. You might be thinking that the sister’s name was Sentimentality, while the brother’s was more befitting a man of the world. In fact, it was the reverse.

Their parents were lost to them when they were young children and they had fended for themselves for ten years. They had a few neighbors who sometimes dropped by with eggs or a loaf of bread, but for the most part, they were on their own.

Cynicism was older by two years and ruled the house with an iron will and military order. Sentimentality was grateful for the safety of a roof over his head, but he was happiest wandering in the meadows and fields surrounding their house, conversing with the grasses, flowers and birds. Fortunately, he had started a vegetable and herb garden, so his sister couldn’t complain that he was outside from sunrise to sunset nearly every day. He also cared for her with his medicinal herbs, for she often had terrible headaches and weeping fits.

The time had come for them to go out into the world and seek their fortune. Being eldest, Cynicism chose their destination. Everyone knew there was a great castle town across the mountains, and even though it was a frightfully long way away, she decided that’s where they would go. There, she would develop her nascent blacksmithing skills to make the best armor the King had ever seen. Her brother Sentimentality wanted to study with an herbalist and become a healer.

And so, after heaving sacks full of their worldly belongings onto their backs, they set off one bright spring morning. They walked each day until they came to a village, then asked kindness of the residents to give them food and shelter. After a few weeks of this, their shoes were worn to nothing, their legs and feet ached, and their clothes had become rags. And the mountains seemed as far away as ever.

“How on earth are we ever going to get there at this pace?’ Sentimentality wailed as they sat at a crossroads to rest.

“We must keep putting one foot in front of the other,” his big sister said. She was always full of advice like this.

He was about to challenge her (which he rarely did, so you know he was at wit’s end), when along came a stooped old woman from the other direction. Thinking back on it later, he couldn’t say for certain where she had come from.

“Excuse me, Ma’am,” Cynicism said. “Have you by chance been to the castle beyond the mountains?”

“Yes,” she said in a high strained voice, stopping to get a better look at them. “My, you two have been run hard and put up wet.”

Sentimentality got to his sore feet and bowed to her. “Please, Ma’am. Tell us how much farther it is to walk there.”

The old woman pushed her hood back to study them. Her hair was a great creamy cloud encircling her head, and Sentimentality thought he saw a flash of lightning deep within.

“Well, that all depends,” she said slowly. “What do you intend to do there?”

Sentimentality had opened his mouth to answer, but Cynicism stepped in front of him, cutting him off. “What does our purpose in traveling have to do with distance? The two are entirely unrelated. Now, can you tell us or not?”

A smile bloomed in the old woman’s deeply wrinkled face. “Ah, yes. I forgot to whom I was speaking. I don’t expect you to understand.” She leaned to one side to get a look at Sentimentality, who was still partially blocked by his sister. “You, my dear. You know what I mean, don’t you?”

Cynicism frowned and shook her head severely at him.

“I . . . think so,” he said, eying his sister warily.

“No. This is nonsense. We have miles to go today. We can’t waste any more time talking to an old hag who’s got a screw loose.” She grasped her brother’s arm and started to pull.

The old woman threw her head back and laughed. It was more of a whoop than a laugh, and it made the two young people jump. Sentimentality thought he saw more lightning flash in her hair. He glanced at his sister, wide-eyed. How could she not see it?

“You,” the old woman crooned, pointing a long boney finger at Cynicism. “If you want to get to the castle, you must first excavate your idealism. It is buried deep beneath many years and layers of hardship, but it is still there, glowing in the darkness.” She pulled a tiny golden shovel from her bag and offered it to the young woman. “Put this under your pillow at night and use it in your dreams.”

Cynicism took the gift, blinking once, twice, and again, her mouth quavering in a small smile. Tears pooled in her eyes but did not fall.

“And you, young man,” she said, putting a hand on Sentimentality’s shoulder. “As light as you are, people tend to dismiss you. But your character comes from a real and meaningful place, a place that you have the power to reveal to others.” From her bag, she gave him a silver-tipped walking stick, the finest object the boy had ever seen. “Carry this and people will take you more seriously. Your stories will heal their longings.”

He grinned with delight at how light and yet solid it felt, and how perfectly it fit his hand and height.

“Your journey is not long now,” she said, waving her shawl end in the direction of the mountains. “Another week, at most.”

And she was right. The brother and sister thanked the old woman, hastened on their way and arrived in the castle town late in the afternoon of the seventh day. The first inn they went to offered a meal and a bed.

Sentimentality and Cynicism changed their names to Truth and Idealism, and lived well there all the rest of their days.

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