"I swear that story grows more with the telling." Mouth gaping in a yawn, the storyteller tilted her head back, gently guiding it in a creaking arc. "Though I feel as if I'm forgetting more each time as well."
"You share tales admirably, lady," Arryk gushed. His eyes, dark green-black in the low lamplight, were wide in awe as he looked upon her. "I could only wish to tell my own as well as you do."
"Ah," she laughed; a breathy, self-depreciating sound. "That is because I know it all too well."
"Do you tell it often?" Kiri asked, barely able to lift her voice above a squeak. She was clearly the least among the three of them; Arryk was well on his way to being a bard, and the storyteller was a masterful weaver of tales. Better than any other that had wandered through Haddenfordshire, for certain. She was only some servant girl – any remark she made would sound silly and backwater to them.
Still, the storyteller smiled kindly at her and said, "More often than I thought I would, that is sure."
"How did you learn it all?" Arryk asked, bounding up the last few steps. "It doesn't sound like there's any rhyme to it. Or any repetition. No masters' tricks to help you remember it! I'd forget more of it than I knew to begin with if I tried to learn it, I'm certain!"
The lady's lips lifted in a dry smirk. "I tell it in my own words. It helps more than I know how to say. Though, still I think I have forgotten more of it than I had once known. I wish someone had thought to write it down, but at the time…" For a moment, the storyteller hesitated, as if she had forgotten they were with her. "Well, no matter. It is enough for these days."
"I hope I am as good a bard as Elishaveth one day," Arryk said, suddenly wistful. "I would love for bards to sing songs about how well I sang songs! Think of it!"
It all seemed very confusing to Kiri, but she supposed it must be some sort of thing minstrels dreamed of. Truly, Kiri wasn't sure she would want people to sing of her at all for anything, but perhaps she would feel different if she had done – or been – something interesting. As it was, they would be singing of a small, undersized girl who wasn't much good at anything besides sweeping. Even at that, she wasn't nearly as good as some of the other servant girls. It would be a ditty about a girl who was only all right at things. She didn't think that would pack a tavern – certainly not as the storyteller did, or those minstrels who knew those lewd limericks about a lady's most private parts.
"It will take more than a bit of practice," the storyteller warned him, her voice breaking Kiri's reverie.
"Elishaveth was filled with the very melody of the gods," the young minstrel scoffed. "She didn't have to work at a single song. She was filled with their divine words."
The lady looked very much like she would like to laugh long and hard, but Kiri could not fathom why.
"Now that is a complete misconception." She grinned. "Not even Elishaveth could be filled with the gods' own songs constantly. All the rest of the time I'm sure she had to scrape along like any young bard."
"Hmpf." Arryk frowned as they reached the storyteller's rooms. "I don't know."
"What I know," she began, "Is that it is time for this crone to lay her old bones down. Good night, Arryk Tentales."
He bid them both goodnight and carried on towards the room reserved for the traveling entertainers who could not pay for their rooms in currency. Feeling unnecessary now that the woman's more interesting companion had gone, Kiri made to leave as well. A gentle hand gripped her elbow, holding her in place.
"Hold, Kiri." She searched the girl with her pale eyes. "You look…upset."
"It is no matter, my lady," she assured her with a smile. "I am simply tired."
The storyteller eyed her dubiously. "I am an old woman, child. I know the difference between fatigue and distress." Her posture fell to one that clearly conveyed that she had all night to wait her out, and that even should Kiri leave and avoid the conversation, she would just as easily drag it out of her come morning.
She bit her lip. "I am…I am afraid that you must find me quite dull, lady."
"Dull?" the lady chuckled. "Why ever would you think that?"
Kiri let loose a sigh in a single breath, blowing the flyaway strands of her hair in a halo about her face. "I am nothing special. Not like Arryk. I am just some maid-girl." Her frown deepened. "I'm not even pretty, or sixteen."
"Sixteen?" The woman arched an eyebrow. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"That is when all the pretty maidens get whisked away by princes to have adventures," Kiri clarified. At her blank look, Kiri continued, "You know, in all the stories."
"Ah, yes. That sixteen." She shook her head. "We are not all born to greatness, girl. Some of us must find it. Or it will find you. I have never quite worked out that part. But," she smiled, "interesting things will happen to you one day. And besides, I know more than my fair share of interesting people. Sometimes it is quite a relief to know someone…dull."
"Ah, thank you, lady." She swept a small curtsey, though she just couldn't put her heart into it. Being comfortably dull still wasn't as good as been dangerously interesting. But she still had four more years to grow into something interesting, she supposed. Then maybe a prince would kidnap her.
"You may call me by my name, Kiri." The woman waved a hand vaguely. "I'm not fond of being milady'ed all the time. I've had enough of that for…well, a lifetime."
She blinked. "Er…"
"Oh, well. I haven't told you my name, have I?" She could not be sure, but she thought maybe she saw the woman's cheeks flush in the dim light.
"Er, no, lady."
"Isn't that just like me? Aeron would never let me live it down." She laughed softly, but it sounded sad as well. There was an emotion there Kiri did not know, but she thought, perhaps, it might be longing.
With a shake of her head, the woman brought herself back to the here-and-now. "My name, yes?"
"I have many, but," the storyteller smiled, "you may call me Danna."