Story Of A Storyteller – Part 2
Continued from yesterday …
‘This is how it ends.’ The storyteller shifted in a way that suggested he was shrugging, although it was hard to tell as he was almost swallowed by the many folds of his garments. ‘He disappeared.’
A timid, low rustle of disappointment swept through his audience while the children exchanged disappointed glances and hushed comments. Emboldened by her contemporaries’ backup, the girl insisted in a petulant voice: ‘But this isn’t the right ending!’
That must have piqued the man’s curiosity because he nearly doubled over in order to get as close to his interlocutor as possible. She instinctively drew back from him, her eyes widening as they stared at the devouring obscurity of the hood, trying in vain to catch even the smallest glimpse of the storyteller’s face.
‘Really?’ His voice sounded like a hybrid between an indulgent remark and a contemptuous sneer. ‘Then what would make it the right one?’
‘Well,’ gasped the girl in a barely audible chirp, like that of a chick threatened by a hungry fox, ‘and they lived happily ever after, for example. Tales always end well and the prince marries the princess … doesn’t he?’
There was hope, tinged with insecurity. The man contemplated rekindling such young hope.
No child should have doubts about the existence of happy endings, after all.
‘No,’ he said instead with a careless shrug, ‘he doesn’t. However, Carem is no prince and, as much as it pains me to disappoint you, his story doesn’t end well.’
She couldn’t—wouldn’t—believe him, but at the same time her resolution was slipping further and further away from her, replaced with growing discomfort as she couldn’t find anything to counter the storyteller’s reasoning with. She was still but a child, after all. ‘But he saved everyone and killed those bad men!’
The man gave a derisive snort at that. ‘You assume they were bad men, but what do you really know about them? How could you know they weren’t forced to do what they did? How could you be so sure to point your finger at them in accusation?’
The girl didn’t respond; she lowered her gaze and furiously rubbed her face with the back of her hand to wipe away the tears threatening to fall. ‘I …’ She paused, struggled with her self-restraint in order not to make her voice tremble. ‘I don’t know.’
For a while, the storyteller kept silent and still, the shimmering of his eyes under the fabric the only proof that he hadn’t fallen asleep. At last he took a sip from his jug, heaved a long, patient sigh and said: ‘Fine. I’ll tell you the end of the story.’
As soon as those words hung in the cold night air of the yard where the show was taking place, the silence grew so thick with eagerness that you could have cut it with a knife as the children snapped back to attention in unison, like gears in a well-oiled machine. The orange light filtering from under the door of the tavern in which the adults were having their own celebrations—apparently involving far more ale than those of their offspring—waltzed over their features and painted streaks of gold and black on their faces.
The man adjusted his hood—pale, nearly translucent fingers covered with a network of rosy scars running absent-mindedly through the tattered cloth—and cleared his throat, each movement meticulously studied and agonizingly slow, as if to build the tension on purpose.
‘The despair ended up driving Carem crazy. They started to call him Carem the Accursed, although little else was known about him. There were whispers, rumors; what was true and what was not, no one could really tell.
Some said he wrapped himself in the shadow as though it were a cloak and then he lurked in dirty alleys, waiting for dishonest passers-by to punish. Others declared that he was just a lying beggar, probably drinking himself into oblivion in some cheap inn. However, nobody could actually claim that they ever saw him again. It was mere speculation.
Anyway, whoever he was, wherever he ended up, no one ever envisioned him happy. Or married to a beautiful princess, for that matter.
There was no happy ending for Carem the Accursed.’
As he drew closer to the conclusion, his voice dropped lower and lower, until it was barely a murmur and then it was nothing at all. For what felt like eternity, none dared to speak, even to breathe, as though they were afraid to violate something sacred.
Slowly, the man lifted the jug to his lips again, tipped his head back in an unexpected jerk and emptied its content. The obnoxious, slobbery, swallowing noise he made filled the air and crushed whatever solemnity he had previously given life to and the children, no more restrained by the awe, started chattering noisily, their voices mingling like a million flies buzzing.
Unexpectedly, the storyteller threw the useless jug on the ground, startling a boy that almost got hit on the head and hurriedly scooted back from the stool, chased by his friends’ laughter.
That fit of hilarity came to an untimely end when the man snapped in an irritated, alcohol-addled voice: ‘Well, what are you still doing here? Get lost, brats!’
Befuddled by that sudden shift in his mood and behavior, they just stared at him, blinking like deer blinded by a light, until he barked again, even more aggressively than before: ‘I said, get lost! Go back to your mothers’ gowns, you hear me? I’m done!’
Making to stand up, he finally spurred his audience into action: they practically leaped from the ground and ran into the tavern in an off-key orchestra of light footsteps and high-pitched voices. The storyteller sat down again, muttered under his breath what sounded like annoying urchins and bent down to retrieve his abused jug. It was then that he noticed the children were all gone but one, who was now standing a few feet away from him, indecision written all over her face as she silently debated whether to follow the others.
The man looked up at her from the depth of his hood and tilted his head to the side. ‘What do you want again?’
He wasn’t outright rude, but not particularly pleasant either. However, the girl gulped down her discomfort and spat out her confession in a rush, as though trying to get rid of a bag of smelly ordure.
‘I’m sorry for what happened to you!’
The venomous reply ready on the tip of his tongue withered on his lips at that; he stared at her for a long moment, bewildered, before saying softly: ‘What are you talking about, my mad little girl?’
‘You’re …’ She made sure that nobody was around before whispering in a conspiratorial tone: ‘You’re Carem, aren’t you?’ When no answer came, she tried again, even had the gall to squeeze one of the man’s sleeves gently. ‘I’m sorry. Everyone should deserve their happy ending.’
The storyteller didn’t withdraw from her touch; he barely breathed at all. At last he spoke and his voice was quiet, filled with bitterness and self-contempt. ‘How would you know?’
Relieved that she hadn’t been chased away, the girl managed a small, uncertain smile. ‘Oh, it’s because of your eyes. You said Carem had green eyes.’
Before the man could reply, a woman appeared in the doorway of the inn and waved in their direction. ‘Reira!’ she cried out worriedly, folding her arms under her breast. ‘Reira, come here now! What are you still doing out there in the cold?’
The girl looked at her over her shoulder and let go of the storyteller. ‘I should go now,’ she murmured begrudgingly and cast him one last friendly glance, her blue eyes shining in the dim light. ‘Bye. And good luck with your happy ending! I hope you’ll find your princess soon!’
Then she was gone, the door of the tavern closed and the man was left alone, the yard now devoid of any sign of life except for his dark frame perched on the old stool. Soon enough, the celebrations would end and the innkeeper would force him to give it back, thus he decided to anticipate him and rose slowly, painstakingly, like an old man plagued by too many years, too many experiences, too many regrets.
‘This time, I guess,’ he chuckled, ever so softly, to no one in particular, running his hands through his long, unruly hair and closing his lids over his deep green eyes, ‘I made a mistake.’
Bio: Veronica is an Italian writer and this is one of her first attempts at writing an original short story in English. She had only ever written fanfiction stories in English before this piece.