The Storyteller

The storyteller holds no tome,
His stories are unrehearsed and never repeated.
His voice captivates his audience:
Men, women and children sit around the fire.
And when he speaks,
He breathes life and soul into the words,
Which tell the story.
Dragons, knights and wizards appear,
More real in the imagination
Than in the reality which surrounds the fire.
No-one speaks but the storyteller,
Whose eyes sparkle in the firelight.

The storyteller was walking in the woods, looking for some berries. He was the only one who was allowed to pick berries for food, because he was the only one who knew which ones were safe. Last spring one of the younger men in the village had eaten some berries from the woods and it took many herbs from the storyteller's hut to cure him.

Looking for berries was not the only reason the storyteller was in the woods. He loved to walk under the canopy of the trees. If the weather was cool they kept him warm, if it was hot they kept him cool and if it was wet they kept him dry. Occasionally, if walking in the twilight, he would catch a glimpse of a fox or badger. Not only animals inhabited the woods - many druids also lived there. They were sometimes helpful and friendly, sometimes secretive. It was to do with the seasons. The druids knew a lot about the seasons. They had made the stones, long ago, bringing them from far away and shaping them so that they would tell the seasons just right.

Occasionally the storyteller would spend the night in the woods, if he was on a journey. You had to be careful, if you were doing that, to keep up the fire so that wild animals didn't approach. Usually he returned to the village for the story at nightfall. The other villagers were always very disappointed when the storyteller went away. He always came back in a few days, but when there was no story life seemed somehow empty.

It would be getting dark soon, so the storyteller headed back to the village. He had not found the berries he was looking for, but that didn't matter. The day's hunting had been good, and there was plenty to eat. Perhaps even enough for the travellers if they arrived. Travellers were always good for the village, bringing such exotica as jewellery, baskets and colourful wooden toys for the children. They always had something new to show whenever they came, but did tend to eat a lot. It was nearly two moons since they last came, so they could be back any day.

As it happened, the travellers had returned. Their colourful caravan was clearly visible outside the clearing in the centre of the village, and their horses were enjoying a drink. The storyteller located the leader of the company in earnest discussion with one of the village elders.

        "Well, if it isn't the storyteller. Good to see you again, my friend."
        "And you, Alfeus. How are things?"
        "Fine - I have so much to tell you about, so many adventures."
        "It seems we have a lot to catch up on, as ever."
        "Plenty of time for that, my friend. First, a gift." Alfeus uncovered a large and heavy book. "I obtained it from some monks several days south of here." The storyteller's smile turned into a frown.
        "And we both know what you mean by 'obtained,' friend. I can't accept it."
        "Relax, it was a gift. We brought some reagents they needed. None of us can read, so you may as well have it." Warily, the storyteller opened the book. There were pages upon pages of neat, hand-written script interspersed with diagrams, lists, numbers and colourful decorations. From what he could gather at this short glance he deduced that it was some kind of treatise on the nature of the physical universe. Such things were usually left to the mages. What would the monks be doing with it? He closed the book.
        "Thank you, Alfeus. It will be most useful."

The three old friends talked for hours. After dinner, when the only light in the village was firelight, it was time for the story. All the villagers assembled around the fire while the storyteller started his elaborate ritual, setting out his sackcloth to sit on and throwing the powdered substance onto the fire which caused it to flare up. He sat down on the book and began his story.

*        *        *

The storyteller studied the book well into the night, his hut lit by the flickering torches. His initial suspicions seemed to be correct. The book described many things that even the storyteller had never heard of, but he grasped the basic concepts quickly. He performed some of the initial experiments such as dropping spheres of rock and wood to determine that they hit the ground together, despite their difference in weight, he decided to try something more ambitious.

To an outsider observing the storyteller, it might have appeared he was working powerful magic, but the words in the book were quite down to earth. He mixed reagents, evaporated liquids and drew shapes in the ground with yew branch - triangles, circles and pentagrams. Soon he was finished. He touched the line of elixir he had made on the ground with the torch, and it burst into flame. The flames were unlike any he had ever seen before. They reached as tall as the storyteller himself, and gave off an eerie violet light. They also seemed to be burning very slowly, and were hardly moving.

Cautiously, the storyteller touched the flame with his hand. It was not hot, not even warm. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and stepped through the flame.

The first thing that the storyteller noticed when he opened his eyes was the ground. It was incredibly smooth - smoother than rock. So smooth it seemed shiny. He knelt down and touched it. It was hard and cold, like metal. He stood up and looked around him. The room was huge - bigger than even the largest huts of the village. The only light came from strange circular torches in the ceiling, burning with the same cold, unflickering light that he had first observed comming from the portal. This light was somewhere between white and yellow, though, rather than violet.

He looked back at the portal. It was still there, as it had been in his hut. He walked around it but the interior of his hut was always on the other side, barely visible through the violet glow. He decided to take a look around his new domain. He could return here later. After a nasty experience with a transparent door which, although not locked, seemed to have a desire to stay closed, he found himself outside. It was night, but there were so many lights it hardly seemed that way. It was also very noisy. He was used to being able to listen hard and not hear anything, but here there was a continual buzz which verged on being annoying.

The ground was different again - rough, as if it was made up of many small stones somehow stuck to the ground. Perhaps it was volcanic, thought the storyteller. He had heard about such things from the travellers - tales of hills so high that they touched the sky and made rocks so hot they turned to liquid. When this liquid cooled it made a strange rock, pitted and porus.

Suddenly, a pair of incredibly bright lights appeared in the distance and headed towards the storyteller. They were making a terrible noise, which grew louder and louder as they approached, faster and faster. The storyteller was caught like a rabbit in the headlights for a moment - too frightened even to move. The lights were just a few yards away when the storyteller started to run - faster than he had ever run in his life. He ran back across the road and back into the building which housed his portal.

He leapt through the portal and landed in his hut, almost knocking over the table. Quickly, he kicked dust over the ground below the violet flames and scuffed out the marks he had made, before the monster could follow him. Soon the hut was lit only by the torches again. He sat down on his bed to get his breath back.

Lying in the dark, the storyteller reflected on his experiences in the world on the other side of the violet flame. The book might shed some light on the nature of this place, but he doubted he ever wanted to open it again. Magic this strange and powerful should be left to the mages. This other world might make a fantastic setting for a story, but who would ever believe it could exist?

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