an excerpt from The Stories He Knew by John L. French

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  • Dedicated to CJ Henderson

What Tales He Knows


John L. French

Conor of Scotia walked through the fair of Nieves enjoying the dry air and warm weather. Elsewhere storms were raging, storms that kept him from boarding a ship and crossing the NormanSea to Carney, and from there to Caerleon where he hoped to meet brothers-in-arms and perhaps revive an ancient tradition. That the rain and wind had not visited itself on the town and fairgrounds might have been explained by luck. However, the “after storm” smell and a certain tingling in the air told the knight that it was more likely magic at work, magic that guaranteed good weather for the fair at the expense of foul weather elsewhere.

He confirmed this when he sought a room at the Stone Moon Inn. “It’s the Wizard’s doing,” the landlord explained. “Two seasons ago the rains came and washed us all out. No money was to be made that year. And this town depends on what the fair brings in. So does the Wizard, for he gets a share of our earnings. Since then, well, look outside. Even those who don’t care to make merry come to Nieves if only to escape the foul mess outside it.”

“And the fact that others pay the price for your good weather?”

“What do you think? Look around, my inn is full and I’ll make enough to carry me until spring. Yes I know there’s no such thing as a free meal, but as long as I don’t have to pay for the piper’s tune it’s all right with me. And even if it wasn’t…” the landlord looked in the direction of the Wizard’s keep, “… it’s all right with him and there’s naught anyone can do about that.”

Conor knew differently. As a wandering knight and sometimes sword for hire, he had fought and overcome magic and its users. But he said nothing. It was not his fight. He had stopped at Nieves only because he had to.

“But enough talk about the weather,” the landlord said. “What else can I get you? Another ale?”

Conor nodded. “That and a room. From what you tell me I’m here until the fair is over and the weather breaks.”

The ale was good and easily poured. The room was somewhat harder to come by. Crowded as the inn was, as all the inns were, Conor settled for a space on the floor of the common room. It was better than sleeping outside, not that it was likely to rain, not until the week was done.

So with nothing to do and a week to do it in, Conor walked the fair, enjoying what entertainment there was and examining the goods for sale. Most of the latter were from the locals but there were vendors from other parts of the continent as well. A couple from Stratford with what they claimed were fairies in a cage. A brewer from Barrie. Conor was at the stall of a leathersmith’s trying to decide whether to replace his worn scabbard when he heard;

“Don’t walk by. Come, hear the stories. Welcome all to the big, fat, wonderful world of me.”

Conor turned toward the noise. On a makeshift stage he saw a large man in modified jester’s garb enticing people to gather round with promises of songs and stories – told and sung for a price of course.

“He’s been at that all day,” the smith complained. “Every half hour the same rant. It’s getting so if he should suddenly go mute, may the saints will it so, I could step in and say it for him.”

“But is he any good? Are his tales worth the telling?”

“Who can say? Once the crowd is large enough and there’s money in his bowl, his voice drops so that only those who paid can hear him. Now about that hide you hold in your hand. I can fashion you a nice scabbard from in that in no time at …”

But the knight was not listening, his attention now on the story teller. “Thank you,” he told the smith absently. “I’ll think about it and be back.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

A small group that had gathered around the stage, mostly children whose parents had left them while they shopped or sold. The bowl in front of the story teller was mostly empty, the few coins in it either brass or debased copper.

The minstrel sighed. “For this I could tell a short tale of pirates or dragons.”

 “Pirates and dragons,” suggested a young lad in the crowd.

“Would that I could, young sir, but the length of the story depends on the coins in the bowl, and for what I see before me I could only …” he looked out, appealing to what few adults were standing behind the children. No help was forthcoming, but unable to disappoint an audience, no matter its size or age, the story teller sighed and said, “Perhaps I could tell the tale of Jac and Her Beanstalk.”

There were moans and groans and cries of “Not again” and “We’ve heard that one.” And indeed they had, for it had been told twice before and mostly to the same crowd of children.

Conor could wait no longer. “Hold up, Sir Bard,” he called and walked up to the stage. Drawing a gold coin from his purse, he dropped in the bowl. “Your finest tale if you would, one of sword, sorcery and daring deeds. A lengthy tale, one suitable for these fine young people.”

Smiling in delight at the coin that shone in the bowl, the story teller winked and said, “Many thanks, Sir Knight. What is your name so I can sing your praises at a later time and perhaps add you to a tale or two?”

“I am Conor of Tuam and you do me honor by accepting my coin. In my country bards and shanachies are revered and it is considered a duty and privilege to support them.”

“We are well met, Sir Conor. I am called Seejay, son of Hender and if what you say is true then when this fair is over I may travel with you, if you will have me.”

“Let us talk of that another time, Sir Bard. For now you have young folk waiting for a great tale.”

“About that, Sir Conor. While the tale I’m about to tell is complete in itself, it would be even better with song. For another coin …”

 Laughing, Conor added silver to the gold then sat with the children to enjoy the tale of Princess Eliza and the Dragon Lord. He even made sure to include a few pirates. And in no time at all Seejay had his audience laughing, crying, and singing along. 

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⏰ Last updated: Dec 05, 2014 ⏰

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