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Old 10-21-2015, 01:59 PM   #182
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Cerwyn and Balan - On The Road

Balan winked at the lad. He thought the young man would refuse his offer, but it was worth a try.

"A road shared by two is only half as long. I have food enough for both of us, and a canvas sheet to cover us from the rain while it is heavy. You look tired; let us rest a while, and continue our journeys with double speed when the downpour stops. Quicker steps do not always lead to a quicker finish, you know."

Cerwyn hesitated. If this man had been sent after her, he would be seeking a young woman, not a lad, and his offer might be just as it seemed, if she could keep up her disguise. Nor was he wrong: her stomach rumbled at the mention of food. Her own fare on the road had been basic, and all she had left was some dried meat, which would be plenty sufficient if indeed she were to reach Scarburg today. Sufficient, but not satisfying. As she stood there deciding, the rain suddenly picked up, and, with that, physical discomfort won out over caution. "Your offer is much appreciated," she said. "Thank you."

Balan nodded. "Then let us find a place to sit," he said with a smile. He soon located a log that could serve as a bench, and draped the canvas sheet over a pole above it to make a tent. The alcove did not shield all the water, but at least it lessened the amount of rain over their heads to a few droplets. While taking out the food, Balan observed the young man. There was something odd about him. He seemed wary and slightly uncertain in his actions. But maybe that came from being small and soft-featured, not seen as a man yet.

"And where does your journey end?" Balan asked as he passed the bread over.

Cerwyn thought it seemed like a harmless enough question. "Scarburg," she answered. She wondered if it meant anything to him; it hardly meant anything to her - just a name, with a slim thread of hope attached to it. "And yourself? You seem well-used to traveling." He was certainly better equipped than herself, between the canvas shelter and the moderately fresh bread, both of which she was extremely grateful for at the moment.

Balan chuckled. "My journey ends ever yonder, across the distant fields, and down the flowing rivers, and beyond the farthest mountains. Aye, I suppose I am well-used to travelling," he added as an afterthought. "But Scarburg..." The name rang in his head with a dim echo. "It cannot be the new Mead Hall here in the Middle Emnet? The young one, built only a handful of years ago?"

He spoke oddly, Cerwyn thought, like a character in a song or tale. Fanciful, her father would say, though he seemed sane enough. She wondered what it would be like to have that sort of freedom, to go where she wanted when she wanted. Then she thought of the miserable rainy road, and her envy tapered.

"Yes, I think so," she said. "It is close, I believe. I hoped to reach it today. Do you know it?"

"I have passed by it once. It was like a sapling - a young place, still fragile and growing, but with firm roots." Something in the lad's voice was too hopeful, too eager. Too afraid. "Yet it seems to me that you hope to reach more than the Mead Hall today."

Balan stopped himself. If this boy - Balan thought of him more and more as such rather than a man - has indeed a deeper hope, that is his story to share. All men have their own stories; Balan respected stories, and he respected men. Stories should never be forced out of people; they will come in their own time. Watching the lad's face closely, Balan realized that he was right not to press more questions.

"But that is your own affair. I am sure it would make a thrilling tale, should you choose to tell it, and I would gladly listen to it, but it is yours alone to give or to keep. As for me, I must stop for the night in the nearest village to gather some food for the next days. I do not usually stay long so as to not be a burden on the village folk, but I could linger for a few days in a Mead Hall." It would be nice to stay awhile in one place, to know its folk and see its life, Balan thought.

Cerwyn eyed the man suspiciously from under the hood of her cloak. She had a hard time believing he was merely being respectful of her privacy, and that he was not backhandedly asking for information. She was not ready to give it to him yet. She must at least reach the Mead Hall. After that, either Leof would help her or she would have to return to Edoras anyway.

"It seems we are going the same direction then," she said. The conversation lapsed briefly, as they chewed their bread and listened to the rain pattering against the canvas. She swallowed, then said, "If you don't mind my asking, what is it you do at all these places you travel to?"

What a curious question. Some people would think he did nothing. Others would think he did everything.

"I watch, I listen, and I tell." Balan did not like to speak too much of himself. He preferred to let people wonder. But he did not ask this lad to join him to sit in secrecy and silence, so he continued. "Every thing has a tale. Some people believe that there is only one true tale - an account of this thing's life, a history. There are men who spend their years learning the lore of the past, following the thread of this tale into the depths of time, trying to unravel it where it knots and intertwines with other threads or disappears from sight completely, or else spinning the thread of their time, making it strong and clear, that ages hence it would still be visible. Theirs is a noble and laborious task. My task is lighter, for I am not bound to a single truth, but rather speak of many truths. I tell stories. I rarely speak of things that are, or that were; that is for men more learned than me. I speak of things that could be, and might be, and would have been. These are tales that cannot be true, and yet are no less true than any other. I believe that each thing can have many tales, all of them possible - though perhaps not here and not now. I can see the tales floating around the objects like the seeds of a lion's tooth flower. I capture the seeds, and let them grow and blossom, and then pick a spray and make a gift of it in hope that some of these flowers would give more seeds that would now grow and bloom in other gardens."

Balan spoke for longer than he intended to. Before he could catch himself, he was swept off his feet in the telling and carried off by a current of words. I cannot say even a simple thing without making it into a story. The thought, though warm on the whole, had a sour echo of a bad jest. Balan pushed it aside. Now it was the lad's turn. He decided to surprise him into speech, not so much to learn his business as to see his character.

"And you? Do you believe that a tale - a thing that to most has no substance, truth, or use - can be a gift?"

"I - I suppose so," answered Cerwyn, startled by the question at the end of the man's poetic philosophizing. She had tried to follow his speech, but, by some combination of lack of context and lack of interest, she had gotten lost in his metaphors.

She liked tales; all of her small village would show up when a wandering storyteller or minstrel came through town. She supposed he must be one of these, though why he had not just come out and say it, she did not know. She considered his question again. Many tales were untrue, of course - legends and fables that may once have had a basis in fact but had become exaggerated or confused over many years of telling. "But tales may have many uses - to teach, or enlighten, or entertain, or distract..." she trailed off. Maybe she had answered over-hastily. "The sort of tale you describe seems like a rather poor gift."

Balan smiled at the lad. "Yet a gift is neither poor nor rich. It is merely what it is. It is the people who give and who accept that make the gift useful or useless. A seashell may be worth more that a dragon hoard, and a feather way more than an iron sword. A word is at times the most useless gift of all, and at times the best gift one can give, but there is no difference in the word itself, only in what people make of it."

Cerwyn made a polite noise of acknowledgement. In truth, she was quite irritated: he'd asked her opinion, and, when she tried to give one, he'd twisted her words around and told her she was wrong. What was she doing here anyway? This was getting to be a waste of time. "I think the rain is letting up," she said, and indeed it was. The downpour had been as brief as it had been fierce, and was now settling into the sort of steady drizzle that could keep up for hours. They'd be sitting here all day if they waited for it to stop. "Thank you for the bread," she added as she reached for her pack.

Balan could sense interest cool in the lad's eyes, replaced with mild annoyance. Balan felt a tinge of disappointment, though he knew he should not have. People were busy with their own lives, he kept reminding himself; not all have time for words and wonders, and it is not always an ill thing.

He nodded in acknowledgement to the lad, who bent down for his sack, preferring not to speak. In that moment, the boy's features appeared even more childish, almost feminine, an illusion heightened by a stray lock of hair falling over his cheek. But in a moment, he brushed it aside, and the vision was gone.

Balan did not need long to bring down the simple tent. He joined the lad on the road as both resumed their trudge northward, towards the shelter of walls and roofs.

Last edited by Galadriel55; 10-25-2015 at 08:23 PM.
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