Peter Brand came out of the woods and stumbled into a golden meadow.
A young man of 23, he'd spent years in a dark forest, struggling over cave and canyon in search of himself. His clothes and his body bore the stigmata of his lengthy journey. His pants were tattered at the knees, his knees scraped liked they'd been slashed by the claws of a honey badger.
He'd long since surrendered his shoes to a creek with a roaring current. He laid a satchel down at his side and rested, soothing tired feet that had learned to absorb rocks and dirt for comfort.
He sat among swaying reeds in a meadow flanked by two mountains, one on each side. A breeze blew down every minute from each of their snow-capped peaks.
Peter was ready to drift off until he heard a laugh in the distance. It was the giggle of an adolescent girl and slowly it grew louder. Soon, standing in front of him was a spritely young woman, blonde in the hair, blue in the eyes. She wore a checkered vest and baggy pink pants and she danced, eyes closed, hands outstretched to the reeds. She started slightly when she saw Peter before her.
She introduced herself as Nicola, princess of Brose, the kingdom of meadow and mountains. Peter introduced himself as a wanderer, unable to tell her who he was or where he was from.
He was struck by her celestial beauty, her hair flowing with the winds that came off the mountain peaks. In each of her eyes he noticed a scratch across the retina but she saw him fine.
Smiling, she stuck out her right hand and implored Peter to come meet her father. He left his satchel behind and pranced away with her, following as she led him up the mountain. They ran alongside hundreds of other sprites who wanted to meet the wanderer. They, too, wore checkered vests, baggy bright pants and all had scratches through their eyes like Nicola.
They arrived at the summit where they found a half-built castle. Its spires were not fully-shingled and it had not even a retractable gate. Still, the view of the surrounding landscape added to its majesty.
Nicola took Peter right to her father's throne and asked if he could stay. The king was wary of the young man. He rose from his throne, had a sycophant hold his staff. He felt his arms, kicked lightly at his legs, asked him questions he could answer in a heartbeat.
The king was wary of Peter's strength and poise and asked what brought him to Brose. The king softened when Peter said he didn't know.
"You're true to yourself, young man," he said. "If you're to live here, you must learn one thing. To thyself be - enough. Can you do it?"
Peter nodded, unsure of what the king meant. He was then sent off to play in the mountain with the other subjects, sliding down icy hills with nothing to stop them but their hands. He linked arms with Nicola and they slid together down to the meadow, laughing all the way.
Once there he found the other subjects blissful and happy to have nothing more than what was before them. One drank ale, another smoked a pipe. Yet another popped a magic pill and danced to the music of nature. Peter joined in all these things, forgetting the journey and anything else before it. So it went for three days.
On the fourth day, Nicola woke him at dawn. She escorted him back to her father's castle, saying nothing along the way. Once there they found her father sitting still, a staff at his side, staring gravely as they approached.
He asked Peter what he thought of his time in Brose. Peter enjoyed it much, struggling to compare it with any experience he'd had before. The King said he must do one last thing if he wished to stay. He could marry Nicola, live happily, perhaps even become king himself once the current sovereign passed on.
The king lifted an orb from the top of the staff and placed it on the arm of his throne. He then reached again to his staff and pulled out a needle so thin the eye could barely perceive it. The king held it in front of his face, then ran it across his right eye, tracing the path of a scar that ran across his retina. It was a scar that left him half-blind, able to see only enough.
To thyself be - enough.
Peter looked at Nicola and saw the same scar. He backed away from them both then turned to find all the subjects of Brose standing before him. They too held needles in front of their eyes. They approached him one step at a time, marching on the wanderer they hoped would join them willingly.
Peter screamed, looked around for an exit, then remembered - enough.
He leaped through a castle wall, realizing it was only strong enough to help the building stand. He slid down the mountain, pursued nonchalantly by the Brosians. He found his satchel at the edge of the forest and ran into it, though the subjects had long since given up their pursuit.
Peter left Brose, afraid he'd lose himself. Now he found himself back in the forest, unsure of where he'd find it again.