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A friend of mine died in 1994, when trying to culminate a very, very high peak. Years later, two climbers from Gosaindan carried some personal objects of him to the valley, and they were buried at the foot of that Mount. He had kept his dream.

Perhaps my friend was right, after all, to hold to his belief that the inhabitants of the valley had reached some strange state of immortality which gave them power when the hour of need arrived, so that, like the prophets of old, they vanished into heavens. The ancient Greeks believed this of their gods, the Jews believed it of Elijah, the Christians of their founder. Throughout the long history of religious superstition and credulity runs this ever-recurrent conviction that some persons attain such holiness and power that death can be overcome. This faith is strong in eastern countries, and in Africa; it is only to our sophisticated western eyes that disappearance of things tangible, of persons of flesh and blood, seems impossible.

Religious teachers disagree when they try to show the difference between good and evil: what is a miracle to one becomes black magic to another. The good prophets have been stoned, but so have the witch-doctors. Blasphemy in one age becomes holy utterance in the next, and this day's heresy is tomorrow's credo.

In the mountains we come closest to whatever being it is that rules our destiny. The great utterances of old were given from the mountain tops: it was always to the hills that the prophets climbed. The saints, the messiahs, were gathered to their fathers in the clouds. It is credible that the hand of magic reached down that night to the mount and plucked those souls to safety.

My friend saw the full moon shining upon that mountain. He also, at midday, saw the sun. What he saw and heard and felt was not of this world. He thought of the rock-face, with the moon upon it; he heard the chanting from the forbidden walls; he saw the crevasse, cupped like a chalice between the peaks of the mountain; he heard the laughter; he saw the bare bronzed arms outstretched to the sun... perhaps. Perhaps we have felt this. If so, we are capable of believing in immortality.

When the magic of the mountains loses its grip over old memories, as it does over old limbs, we can imagine that the eyes he looked into the last day on the Mountain of Truth were the eyes of a living, breathing person, and the hands he touched were flesh.

Even the spoken words belonged to a human being. "Please do not concern yourself with us. We know what we must do." And then that final, tragic word, "Let him keep his dream."

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