"The Alchemist" is a story about a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago who has a recurring dream every time he sleeps under a sycamore tree that grows out of the ruins of a church. In the dream, a child tells him to seek treasure at the base of the Egyptian pyramids.
In an attempt to understand his dream, Santiago bumps into an old woman who tells fortunes. She claims the dream is prophetic and that Santiago must follow its instructions. Santiago then encounters an old man - Melchizedek, the King of Salem - who tells him about the mysterious concept of "personal legend," which is something that someone has always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their personal legend is, according to Melchizedek. Santiago realizes his personal legend is to travel to the pyramids.
At first, Santiago hesitates to sacrifice the life he knows for the uncertain path of his dream. Melchizedek suggests that fear of realizing the dream one holds most dear is the core of all human misery. He also gives Santiago two stones, Urim and Thummim, which help interpret omens.
Finally, Santiago sells his flock and begins his journey across the Strait of Gibraltar and into the unfamiliar, wild terrains of Africa, all alone and with no reason other than to fulfill his personal legend. He gets robbed within the first few days but decides to see this as part of the adventure and carries on, working for a crystal merchant to make money for his onward journey.