CROSSROADS

A SANTHARIAN FAIRY TALE

 
Master Tribell's Miraculous Narrations   
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Introduction. Returning to the village he was born in an invalid encounters a youth who is contemplating his future. A discussion ensues between the one returning and the one who is about to set out whether to stay in his village or head out adventuring. The youth's path has arrived at a crossroads, but so has the stranger's...

 

o all those who'd like to hear a strange story for a change, here's an oddly fascinating one for the likes of you. The following tale is still told around the Rimmerins Ring area where it all happened a couple of centuries ago, and it goes something like this:

It so happened that one day a man walked up a pass leading over the Quenshuran Mountains towards Anisael. Anisael is a small village in an aptly named vale called Mistdale, you have to know, and lies east of the major town of Onved, of which you surely must have heard. Now there’s nothing to it going up that path, only that the man of our story was unknown to the locals and a peculiar sight to behold as well, so peculiar indeed that some heads turned when they noticed him as he was heading upwards. For he was missing a leg, you see, and that's why he was moving along supported by two crutches: placing the first a bit in front of him he then let the one leg swing forward, then he placed the crutches again and continued that way on and on. Why he had to go up that steep pass with such an unfortunate predicament of his was anyone's guess, but whoever saw him didn't think much of it then, aside from noting of course that it looked a bit out of the ordinary. Well, the fellow arrived on top alright, for we have an account of a youth who got in a conversation with him, and that's why we're here to tell the tale.

"Good morrow," said the young lad as he saw the invalid approaching. The youth was sitting on the edge of a ledge overlooking the grasslands below; dangling his feet he seemed to enjoy the sunrise. He had seen the stranger's cumbersome ascent from the southern side of the mountains from afar as well, and was already wondering about him.

"Good morrow, kindly," replied the man and then asked whether it would be alright with the youth to join him for a while on his ledge, for he was fatigued from the long walk.

The young man nodded, and thus the newcomer put his crutches to the side and sat down next to him.

"This is Anisael over there, isn't it?" said he, pointing to the small village on the northern side of the mountain. The morning fog was slowly clearing out of Mistdale, uncloaking the settlement.

"Sure it is," the youth confirmed his guess, eyeing him a bit with curiosity. Rarely had he seen someone with a missing limb, and he felt a bit uncomfortable. "That's Anisael, alright. And I should know, for my father's home is there, and where my father lives, I live also. I've spent my whole life in Anisael, if you must know, almost twenty cycles now in this picturesque place."

"Incidentally, the very same thing I can say as well," the stranger smiled impishly. "Though it is more than thirty years by now that I left the village behind where I was born in. Only recently have I decided to return to it, for it occurred to me that there is unfinished business I have to attend to. – Say," he then said rather abruptly without elaborating the business he mentioned further: "How do you like it here? Do you think about leaving this beautiful corner of the world as well like most young men do? Have you plans to see the world, find work in a big town – or do you feel satisfied with what rural life has to offer?"

“Ah, I guess, you’re right there that I've been thinking about all that. The time might have arrived finally for me to go away and try my luck elsewhere,” the youth answered a bit sad. He was struck with sympathy for the stranger though, not only because it was heartrending to see a man who had lost his leg, but also because he claimed to have his roots here. Moreover his voice sounded warm and affectionate and the youth felt as if he could trust the fellow, even though he was thirty years his senior. So he confided in him further and explained: “In spite of everything I’ve grown up with and love here, the world is a large place, isn’t it? How would I ever know what I’m actually missing if I don’t venture forth and see what’s there?“

The stranger looked at him empathetically. “I understand the urge to go away, to spread one’s wings, to be out and about. Who wouldn’t?” he then replied. “After all, I’ve been young once as well. I might not look it now, but my once brown hair fell in long curls over my shoulder like yours does now, and I was determined to do whatever I set my mind to. Now my face is worn, scarred by the life I’ve lived, and my hair is grey, maybe also a mark from the many things I’ve seen.” He didn’t mention the loss of his leg, though. It was on the youth’s mind, however, for it was hard to ignore, yet he didn’t dare to ask the stranger about it directly.

“So, you’ll be leaving soon then?” the man wanted to know. "Is your mind made up already?"

“I’m still not sure yet,” the young man said. “I wanted to think about it today, that’s why I’ve come up here, to get away from things and consider my options with a clear head. It’s not an easy decision to make, you know.”

“No better place to do exactly that than here, I guess,” the one-legged man agreed. “Say, what would you leave behind if you go? What are your prospects if you stay in Anisael?”

“My father is proprietor of a winery,” the youth told him. “He’s quite a famous winemaker here in the region. Would you believe that even the New-Santhalan nobles buy their Chéniar from our vineyard, rather than from the famous Horvindson brothers in Syhron in the south? And they have a dozen times more land than we do! It’s a mighty fine wine we produce, I can tell you!” The youth pointed at the rolling hills on the edge of vale, cradling the village, stretching for a couple of strals from the east to the west and merging into the Rimmerins range to the north. “This is all ours, you see. It goes without question that my father would love to have me continue the business he has established over the past decades,” the young man added pensively.

The stranger smiled. “I gather your father must be Fjorsund Marsten then?”

Pride gleamed in the eyes of the youth. “You know him? Actually, it’s Fjorsund Goldwine now – he received a honorary title a couple of years ago!”

“Sure I remember your father!” the one-legged man said. “It’s not that I’m a stranger in this part of the world, remember?”

“Of course, of course,” the youth nodded.

“Have you got any siblings that could take over the winery your family is so proud of?”

“No, I haven’t,” the young man admitted shaking his head. “That’s a pity. But relatives would be willing to continue the business if I’m not around. I’m quite sure they would, it’s not that anyone insists that I have to do it. And my father could always sell the winery to some rich merchant if he wanted to and make a decent price.”

The stranger said nothing for a while, only gazed at the village down below, and with him the youth fell silent as well. Late in the morning as it was, the settlement still lay sleepily between the hills as if it were posing for a picture. The activities of the handful of people visible could barely be noticed from above, and the scene felt dreamy, almost hypnotic in its simplicity. If one watched closer the scattered cattle could be beheld grazing leisurely in the meadow, the chatty washwomen were kneeling at a nearby brook attending to their business, oh, and right now a peasant was leading his horse out of the stable down a rutty road towards a field where a plough was already waiting to begin the day's work. The latter disturbed the idyllic image a bit, making the observer aware that what looked like an oil painting was indeed very much alive.

“Any idea already where you’d be going, young fellow? What you’d like to do if you indeed decide to head off?” the stranger thereupon asked.

“I might become a sailor if everything goes well,” the youth offered. “See places like the dwarven kingdom of Denilou, or the flying ships of Qel’tra’loh, and continents like the deserts of Aeruillin or the rough, barbarous lands of Northern Sarvonia! Could you imagine? – Or maybe I'll join the guards, become a soldier for His Majesty, the Santran. I’d come around quite a bit in the United Kingdom then, fighting for the good and the just, maybe even get knighted or blessed, so that I'd become a paladin in the service of the Gods. Wouldn’t that be something?”

“You’re not afraid to fight, to put your life on the line?” the stranger probed. “You might have to fight, to defend yourself and to kill others for causes you don’t necessarily agree with... After all, in the King's army you’re supposed to follow orders without questioning them. You’ll be your own master if you’re a soldier among soldiers for the Thane or even the King.”

“Risks I’d have to take,” the youth answered curtly and shrugged. “I might distinguish myself when I'm doing my job right. The award is to rise in the ranks, to be valued for one’s loyalty.”

“So the need for adventure and possible fame wins out against concerns that you might not be able to enjoy all that the way you intend to?”

“Could be,” the young man replied. “But that’s what decisions are made for, aren’t they? To stick with them once they are made, in spite of arguments that still speak against them afterwards. You need resolve to make decisions, and courage and commitment to follow them through. Soldiers know that.”

The stranger squinted and let his gaze drift over the rolling hills in the distance, only to arrive at the porches of the winery, which he could see tucked between one of the foothills of the Northern Rimmerins range. Then he said: “Continuing your father’s business also would require courage and commitment; maybe even more so if you had to give up other things that you now dream about and might think you can’t do without." His tone turned somewhat sorrowful. “Challenges life offers are many and always differing, and whatever you choose, they are all rewarding, only in other ways – that I’ve come to understand over the course of the years. But regardless which path you choose, you have to make sacrifices, you know, for yourself and for others – and there are always others in your life affected by whatever decision you make. Each shadow we cast, we cast upon somebody else, remember that.”

The youth said nothing. His eyes had followed the stranger’s and were now resting on the winery in the distance, which had been his home for such a long time. Life in Anisael would change if he weren’t there anymore. But it would change anyway, with or without him, he was convinced.

“There’s a girl as well, right?” the one-legged stranger then brought up.

At that question the youth flinched a bit, but then nodded wordlessly, lost in thoughts.

The stranger didn’t follow up with another query, rather, after some time, he began to tell his own story: “I’ve left back then, you know. Never looked back. I thought it better not to. That was my way of dealing with goodbyes. It was difficult at times, but I let old memories drown in the wake of new undertakings, risks I took, adventures I picked. I was a seaman in my twenties, I also was a lady's man for a while, for I enjoyed their company, and I eventually became a fighter. That, I felt, was my vocation, there was something I wanted to prove. I have seen many a thing, and I don't regret most of what I got myself into, for – as I said – you grow with each tiniest experience and you learn. Nothing is really in vain, neither pleasures nor pain.

However, I found that to some things, to some people, to certain memories and dreams one can’t ever get back again if one doesn’t choose in their favor in the first place. Consider them well, as long as you still have the chance. As for everything else: Life always changes, that’s just the way the Gods intend it to, and what you once missed might offer itself anew, and what you thought lost is no loss at all – either because it returns to you or you lose interest. So weigh your options carefully – yours, and the options you leave others with if you make decisions.” The stranger sighed audibly. “Sounds like trite advice, I'm aware of that, young fellow. It's just that from time to time someone needs to tell you what you already know.”

The youth nodded again. He had a lot on his mind, but he didn’t know what to answer right now and so he said nothing. Thus the both of them sat for a while longer on the ledge without uttering another word, until the stranger reached for his crutches.

“Well, my friend, I guess one of us needs to return to Anisael. That’s at least what I’ve come for,” the invalid said and attempted to get up. “I shouldn’t dally all day. And you – you keep on thinking a little while more to make a good choice.”

The youth lent him a hand as he saw him struggling with getting on his single foot. Once the stranger stood and was about to go ahead with his journey, the young man couldn’t help himself but had to ask: “Excuse me for being blunt, but about that leg of yours: May I ask how it came about that you lost it?”

The stranger, leaning on his two crutches, wiped the sweat from his brow and replied: “It was an ambush, up Stormwarden’s Ridge, near Watchford. It happened just a couple of months ago.”

“So you are in the service of the King?”

Was, my friend,” the one-legged said with bitterness in his voice.

“But there is no war going on right now, is there?”

“No, it was a big concerted operation against the Sanguian thieves underground,” the stranger elaborated. “The biggest since Santhros’ ascension to the throne, that's what it was. Unfortunately, mistakes were made. Parts of our troops found themselves waylaid by bandits who had gotten wind of the affair, and outright carnage ensued. We were only a small group, largely outnumbered by the assailants. Reinforcements arrived too late. I’ve lost many companions in the battle and barely escaped with my own life as you can see. Death and destruction are constant companions if you commit yourself to the path of a royal guard. And one day one might find one’s self on the losing side.”

“Stormwarden’s not that far away from here,” the youth remarked, a bit puzzled. “But we’ve never heard of any of this carnage around here. A few months ago, you say?”

The stranger frowned. “You think I’m lying?” he retorted and pointed at his missing leg. “Looks real enough to me.”

“Just saying,” the youth noted. “Maybe you guards acted in secrecy and kept the whole thing covered up?”

“Trust me, you’ll hear of it soon enough. All in good time,” the one-legged man assured him cryptically, then turned towards the path that went down into the vale. “But I guess I really need to go now, I fear. Good luck to you at any rate!”

“Thanks for talking and your advice,” the youth said and offered him his hand for shaking. The stranger did so and then patted him on the shoulder. “I trust we’ll see each other in Anisael later today, right?" the youth suggested. "What are your plans anyway?”

"Ah, we'll see, my boy, we'll see," the man said. “I guess there are a couple of things from my past I have to catch up with.”

“Well then, see you...” the youth was searching for a name, but found that the stranger hadn’t provided any.

“Ermarmin,” the man replied and was already on his way. “Ermarmin, the One-Legged they call me now.”

“Ermarmin?” the youth repeated incredulously as the stranger already descended. “That’s my name as well! And I thought it is such a rare one... How are the odds?”

But the stranger had already gone.

Only one Ermarmin arrived back in Anisael that day.

It was the youth, and he asked around for the stranger he had met at the inn, the tavern, the shops, even at the smithy and the sawmill at the other end of the village, but nobody had seen him or heard anything about him. A one-legged stranger would have attracted some attention, everyone said, so they assured him that it was obvious that his mysterious man hadn’t been in the village at all. He must have gone elsewhere. Ermarmin was mystified, but he still remembered the invalid’s words so clearly that he thought long and hard about them.

As for his decision to leave the village and try his luck elsewhere: Eventually Ermarmin chose to stay. He couldn’t quite explain to anyone what caused him to make up his mind, and mentioning the stranger who had talked to him up there on the ledge didn’t help matters. Especially – according to the mysterious man’s own words – he had only told him what he knew anyway. To most people Ermarmin talked to this didn’t make any sense. Some said he must have dozed off or hallucinated when sitting too long in the blazing sun, but the youth insisted that he had seen someone and that the person couldn't have been an illusion. Finally he learned that villagers south of the Quenshuran range had indeed noticed someone that fit his description, and that he had been seen ascending the pass as well, but then they had lost track of him. It was almost as if he had vanished.

Ermarmin married the next year and his wife bore him three children. He also took over the winery and became a renowned winemaker just like his father. So it's safe to say that he and his family lived indeed happily ever after.

One day however – it was many, many cycles later already – Ermarmin finally heard the news of an incident at Stormwarden: Bandits had slain dozens of royal guards in a botched operation near Watchford. The stranger hadn’t been lying after all. But by then Ermarmin knew already in his heart what had become of him. By whatever miraculous ways it all had happened, he was sure that the stranger now stood again on his own two feet, and that he wasn't that strange after all and never had been.
 


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Fairy tale written by by Artimidor Federkiel View Profile