The Storyteller's Tale

Started by Jubal, February 23, 2022, 02:16:16 PM

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The Storyteller's Tale

I once met three travellers on the road. One was dressed like a prince, in fine robes of purple and crimson; the second was a soldier with a sword at his belt and a dark glint in his eye; and the third was a wayfarer, a minstrel, who loped a little behind the others, smiling at a joke half-hidden. I couldn't tell you where they'd come from; I couldn't tell you where they were going to. I had never seen them before and I have never seen them since.

But they seemed wise; and so I asked them how to save the world.

The first to answer - as seemed proper - was the Prince, and he said to me, "You wish to know how to save the world; let me tell you a story."


There was once a great gemstone, hidden in the deep forests of the middle of England, the lands of Robin of Sherwood and other such heroes. It had been put there by some wizard or king or elf-queen; and all the little folk of England got to hear of it, but none knew under which of the thousand trees of the forests it was hidden in. But the lords of the little folk called their followers, and went, group by group, to look for the secretly hidden stone.

The first group to come were Boggarts, the club-footed, club-wielding tricksters from the Peaks. There is nothing a Boggart likes to do so much as squabble; and they rushed from tree to tree in a mad scrap, each determined to get to the next tree before the rest. Tree by tree by tree they ran, barely stopping to search in the scramble. Quite soon half of them were unconcious, half the rest nursing bruises, and not a gemstone in sight.

The second group were the Redcaps - the bloody assassins of the Scots borders. It is said of the Redcaps that there is just one thing they know better than how to stab a man in the chest; and that is how to stab him in the back. Sneaking and scuttling, they descended upon the forest. But each was jealous of the others; and all assumed the next tree was better than their own. Tree by tree by tree they quarrelled and killed, until in any case there were far too few of them to search a forest of ten trees properly, let alone the thousand trees in the great forests. And still not a gemstone in sight.

But then, the third group came. And these were Pixies of the Southwest, falling behind their Queen Joan, victor of a hundred battles against the fairies. A thousand pixies she had with her; and to each pixie was given one tree to search. And so it was that the pixies looked, tree, after tree, after tree... and under an ash, branching tall, was the gemstone that they had come to seek. And so it was the pixies, because they thought beforehand, who carried the great gemstone home.

The prince looked at me, his purple robes flowing, a circlet of gold glinting on his brow.
"Do you wish to know how to save the world? Order saves the world; chaos destroys it. See the people? Give them plans."

The next man to speak was the soldier. "You wish to know how to save the world? Then let me tell you a story."


There were once two kingdoms, in a land that ten thousand people called home. Both kingdoms had kings who wished to make their people the best and most virtuous and wisest. And both were terrorised by the same evil, a great dragon who would fain have destroyed all that he could see and was stopped from it only by the limits of his own great and increasing hunger.

One king was a proud king, and he said "let all those under me know their place, and know that I am their shield. The virtue of a people is in obedience and in their faithful duty to their ruler, who in turn must protect and plan for them. Ensure that every house in the land pays me coin, and I shall have myself a sword and bow forged such as the world has never seen, and slay this beast."

The other king, though, thought otherwise – and he said "I wish for my land not warriors who seek prowess, but many soldiers who stand guard in war so the fields may be tilled in peace. So give every house in my land a spear and bow, a sword and lariat, and let each man stand ready: and all shall do their duty when the dragon cometh."

When the dragon next came to the first land, the king took his mighty bow and his quiver of arrows, and he fired a single shot that wounded the dragon, which roared in pain. Then the dragon landed, and he took his sword, and smote the dragon upon its chest, and it roared in pain again. But still the dragon was not slain and now it was upon him, a dragon of fire and teeth and claws of adamant and the king had no place to flee to – and so he fell, and was slain.

Then the dragon came to the second land, and every house had an archer ready to fire, and though a hundred of them missed there were still a hundred more that struck the dragon, arrows that wormed under scales or forced the dragon to shield its eyes. And it landed, and every house had a spear, and though a thousand of them snapped and shattered on the dragon's hide, still a thousand more would pierce the soft places of its belly or tear the edges of its wings. And the dragon could not turn to face all of the people, for they were upon it with swords and lariats, grasping at its sharp claws and hacking at its mouth and tail: and though when it was slain they found that their king had died amid the press and fire along with a thousand of his men, still the rest of the people were safe and the dragon was slain.

The soldier looked at me.

"Do you wish to know how to save the world? Let people stand on their feet and not their knees. Give them courage; give them resilience. Give them swords."

Finally, the minstrel cleared his throat. "You wish to know how to save the world. All I can do is tell stories; but here is the best of them."


There were once three trees that stood in an open field. In the bottom of the first lived a family of mice; in the second, of shrews, and in the third, of voles. Together there were a great many of them; but of course they never came together. For mice look down upon the shrews for their size, whereas voles think that mice have quite the wrong shade of fur, and shrews for their part are too nervous to talk to anyone very much.

All was not well in that grassy field, and around those three trees; there was an Owl who lived in a  fourth tree, not so very far away, and all the animals were terrified of owls. Owls had great talons, and ever-watchful eyes, and could tear a family of little mice, or voles, or shrews to pieces as quick as a flash.

And then nightfall came, and the owl hunted.  And it took the shrews, and ate them or scattered them far from the field in fear, for they were small and lived only in the grass, and they could not hide in the burrows of the voles, and if a sharp-eyed mouse had seen the great white shape swooping low over the field it certainly would not have thought to tell a shrew about it. The voles and mice told no tales of that night, for they did not think it mattered.

And then nightfall came, and the owl hunted. And it took the voles, and ate them, for they were slow and fat, and made good food. The mice would hardly have told tell them if they saw a great white swooping low over the field, and so the voles scattered far from the field in fear, if any remained. The shrews were gone, and the mice told no tales of that night, for they did not think it mattered.

And then nightfall came, and the owl hunted. And it took the mice, and ate them, and if there was a mouse left alive in the field it would surely have had to leave for there were none left to give it company or shelter. Nobody told tales of that night, for there was nobody left to tell them.

Perhaps the shrews, and the mice, and the voles, were not so very different: but perhaps I think that because of the stories we tell ourselves about what mice and voles and shrews are like. Only the grass whispers tales in that field now, and if this tale is among them it is a tale told too late.

The minstrel looked at me.

"Do you wish to know how to save the world? Let people know why it needs saving. Tell them of pain and hope, of how they are alike and different and alive, of how they make up the world together. Tell them stories."

The three men walked on - the prince who gave plans, the soldier who gave swords, the minstrel who gave stories. And I never saw any of them again.

But as to which of the three I myself believed... well.

This was a story, was it not?

Notes: it's a long time since I've done much storytelling! I was looking through old convention videos and found the one of me telling this back in 2014 and decided to finish the written version. The middle sections have changed quite a bit between tellings, but the basics of the three tales I think have been fairly consistent between tellings. I don't know how well the stories-in-stories format works spoken, but I do quite enjoy it.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...