Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a town. It was a peaceful, happy and prosperous place, protected from the world by a great mountain - its side strong with grey rock; its top glistening with snow.
One day, an old man came down from the mountain with a cart full of sweet buns.
"One bun for ten coins, two for twenty coins, three for free!"
A middle aged man in a smart hat stopped him.
"Old man, are you mad? You mean you will charge me nothing for three buns but twenty coins for two?"
"Yes," smiled the old man. The creases around his eyes and the lines around his mouth were as deep as a valley.
"So if I ask for one, I must pay ten coins."
"Yes," smiled the old man.
"And if I want two, I must pay twenty."
"Yes," smiled the old man.
"But for three, I pay nothing."
"Well," the middle-aged man said in the smug tones of one who has beaten the system, "I will have three buns for free."
The old man gave him three buns and then gave three buns each to a group of women and the elderly couple walking their dog took three buns each and the mother walking her baby down the street took three buns and his cart was as empty as his purse.
The next day the old man came down the mountain with his cart full of sweet buns.
"One for ten, two for twenty, three for free."
And once again the crowds flocked.
And the next day the same, and the next, and the next.
This went on for days,
One chilly, spring morning when the sun shone brightly over the town, a young man stopped by the old man's cart.
"I'll have one please," he asked and handed the old man ten coins.
"What's wrong with you? You can get three for free you know," said a passing woman, in a fine silk dress.
"I don't want three," said the young man, "I want one."
"What's wrong with you? You can get three for free you know," said a passing man, wearing an expensive suit.
"I don't want it for free," said the young man, "I want to pay him."
A few people heard, but nobody listened. An old woman took three free buns as she passed by and shoved them into a bulging bag.
The young man stood next to the old man, watching the people of the town.
"They don't see and they don't listen," said the old man, putting a gnarled hand on his companion's shoulder. "They don't see."
The old man turned his head and the young man followed his gaze up to the great mountain that protected the town. What had once been a solid, strong triangle of rock and snow, was now split down the middle by an empty wound, a great gaping gash.
"They have been eating the mountain. They have been eating earth and rock and snow and soil," said the spirit of the mountain softly, his hand lifting from the young man's shoulder "and they didn't even notice."
When the young man turned back, there was no cart and no old man, just people with shopping bags walking from shop to shop, from stall to stall.
He stood for a moment as the world moved to and fro around him. No-one lifted their head to see what they had done.
The young man breathed deeply, turned and walked alone up the mountain path.
* * *