Written by Isabella Thermes
Edited by Hassan Morsy

The Lantern Bearer was feeling very tired.
For the whole day he walked in the countryside to reach the Imperial palace before night fell.
The Emperor did not allow him to have a horse so he had to rely on his feet.
Despite the hardship of the long walks, the Lantern Bearer was a rotund and happy man: in his long walks he would stop at a temple and burn incense to the gods for a safe journey.
He always managed to enjoy the walk one way or another because he could make all sorts of encounters, and also because he had the comforting thought that at the end of each walk there would be the Imperial Palace offering rice and rest.
Overwhelmed by the unusual heat of a spring day, the Lantern Bearer sat at the feet of a tree to catch his breath.
The countryside was so peaceful that he drifted to sleep.
In the haze of his dream, he saw four monkeys sitting on the tree branches and a fifth one hiding in the tree.
One of the Monkeys was laughing while the others curiously looked at him and then talked to each other.
“He’s the eighth one today. Do you think he’ll have the answer?” asked one.
“If he does not, he’ll be locked in the dream forever.” said the second.
“Do you think we should pose him the riddle?” added the third one.
“Let’s wait and find out who he is first.” said the fourth.
The man was astonished. Then, one of the Monkeys spoke to him:
“Who are you?”
“I’m the Lantern Bearer” replied the man.
“So you bring light in times of darkness” said the Monkey.
The man was surprised by the Monkey’s answer: in his experience monkeys never talked, never mind being able to formulate coherent thoughts: “Where am I?” he asked.
“You are locked in the dream and we are the guardians of the key.”
“Wouldn’t waking up be enough for me to leave the dream?” he asked again.
“When you enter the dream, it’s not up to you anymore to leave it.” replied the Monkey with a serious face.
“What do I need to do in order to return to my journey?” calmly enquired the Lantern Bearer.
“Purple and scarlet silk wraps around a powerful sword. Depending upon its master’s command, it will cut or spare lives, make friends or enemies.” cryptically replied the Monkey.
“How long do I have to find the answer to your riddle?” asked the Lantern Bearer again.
“How long will it take you to reach the Imperial Palace today?” replied another Monkey.
The Lantern Bearer sighed for he was a simple man and not used to obscure notions.
Flowers were blossoming at his feet spreading their intense perfume in the air.
He thought that, as he found a way to be content in his daily life, he might perhaps find contentedness in the dream. Then, as quick as lightning, a thought crossed his mind: “The tongue is the powerful sword, the brain is its master”, he simply said. The Monkeys looked disappointed and flatly replied: “The Princess and the Warrior will escort you out of the dream. Your answer is right but will remain locked in the dream, and once you trespass its boundaries, you will have no recollection of any of this.”
The Lantern Bearer followed the Princess on a Monkey and the silent Warrior through a fog curtain.
He placidly woke up in a cooler afternoon, his mind light and free from any thoughts.
He carried the lantern on his shoulder and quietly continued his journey towards the Imperial Palace.

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2019 All images and content copyright Isabella Thermes