"Do you know when I write?" The wrinkled woman asked the child by her side.
"I write when I feel nothing, when I want to feel."
"We had an author come and he told us that he writes best when he's emotional."
"He would say that, he's an author."
"But you're not an author."
"No I'm not. I'm a story-teller."
"What's a story-teller?"
"A story-teller creates emotion with their words. They take something, an experience, a moment, and they twist it around in their hands. They turn it and flip it, and once done only then do they speak. They tell their story, they spread their magic."
"Tell me a story then please." The child moved closer to slide onto her lap, snuggling close.
Smiling, the old woman began.
"Once far off, in a land beyond our time, there was a young man whittling a tune. He always loved to whittle, to create a song piece by piece, shredding it layer by layer to get the music beneath. He was a wayfarer, and he whittled wherever he travelled, creating a new tune for each place he reached. In each new town he left the song, keeping only the smallest ounce to render his memory.
At this same time, there was a maiden, a fair young maiden who lived a comfortable life with her family. Soon it dawned for her to marry, and suitors rode in on their shining horses, presenting diamonds to the girl and land to the family. But at each jewel she turned her nose, each gem she shook her head. 'Try it on' they urged. 'Look how that chest goes with your eyes.' Still at none she would move. Her Father became angered, doting on his daughter but seeing the lives she refused. So he gave her one month, or he would choose her husband.
More men flocked in at this, from all standings of life. Perhaps she was looking for something simpler? Pigs and rye instead of jewels and wealth. Her expression for each remained the same. She said nothing to any of them. She began to retreat to her room, saying little to her parents, staring at the window showed the path to the house.
Our boy passed through the villages now, still whittling his tune. Wherever he went he heard of this maiden, and watched as men prophesised over what to bring to her. One night he sat, against a tree in the outskirts of a small town, whittling as he did before he moved on the day next. He did not stop when he saw the hunched figure coming towards him, nor when he saw the expression of an old woman of greying hair.
'I can hear your tune from my house.'
He stopped then. 'Does it quell you?'
'No, it consoles me. There are many others it could console.'
'It does not console everyone, I can only console those around me.'
The old woman smiled. 'Pick up a tune please, I wish to start my heart again.'
The young man returned to his whittling. It was jagged in places, as he went forward, then dug back to another place across the tune.
Daybreak broke and the woman stopped him. 'Who is that tune for?'
'It is for the soul that needs consoling,' he replied.
She nodded. From her side she took a small round box, a plain box with just one red jewel inlaid on its lid. 'There will be others.'
He took the box from her. She rose, brushed off her knees, and left without a word.
When she was gone from sight, he lifted the lid on its hinges. The music box played his tune back. There was nothing inside, just the song that took to his ears. The whittling he had done.
There was a week left for the fair maiden to choose her own groom. Men continued to flock, some again, bringing different things each time. Books were brought, dresses shown. One face was turned, a hundred times a hundred times. She had gotten to riding out at night, escaping the house the only time she could. At daybreak she would return, tired and content in her spree.
Close to the moon the young man gazed up at the sky, whittling his tune all the while. He was there yet not there, encased in his song for the sky. He shocked him then, when he heard the young voice emerge.
'That's a pretty song.' Unbeknown to him, it was the fair maiden that sat on her shimmering horse, gazing down at him.
'Thank you mistress.'
'Mistress, I am no one's mistress.'
'You are too pretty to not have found a husband.'
'To be sure there are plenty of husbands, just no lovers.' She left her horse, and sat gracefully beside him.
'No lovers hmm, that can present a problem miss.'
'It can present many problems indeed. But there is no need to worry, I shall have myself a husband before the week is out.'
'Not a lover then?'
She was amazed by his gallantry, and fled into silence.
Our young man did not seem fazed, and so continued. 'You are about to marry someone that you do not love, someone that at this point you do not know, I presume. So why?"
Silence came, emotions coursing. 'You cannot speak to me like that!' Silence came again.
'I am sorry miss, I should not of said a thing.'
This fair maiden did not know what to think of this young man. He started with a pretty tune, and ended with such subtle words.
'You speak like your music.'
'Do you think so?'
'Yes, you are a beautiful musician.'
He shook his head. 'I'm not a musician. I create music yes, but I do not create it from myself. I create it from the desires of others, and the desire to feel, just for a moment, what others may feel.' He felt the small box weighing in his shirt. Softly he pulled it out. 'I think you need this.'
She turned it in her hands. 'What is it?'
'You'll see. But don't open it yet.' He had seen her go to pull the lid.
Together our wayfarer and fair maiden sat, watching as the sun enveloped the moon. When dawn come the girl rose, not saying a whisper to our young man. In a moment she was gone.
The maiden had riden with swiftness back to her home, and it was there, in the safety of her room, that she opened the box. It was then that she heard the beautiful tune, the song that consoled her heart. She heard the jumps, each flit to another space, but together, it all created the perfect tune. She went down to her parents, walking swiftly down the stairs, an untamed grace about her.
'I will marry the next person that walks through that door.'
They all heard the knock with silent nerves. They all waited by the door. They all hoped in their heart, for the right man. They all smiled when they saw him.
'I came before your graces to present myself to your daughter, and with me I instil these gifts, in the hope that you will give me some audience.'
The parents hurried him into the sitting room, happy of the rich life their daughter would claim. The fair maiden followed.
A week later they married, and the wayfarer whittled a tune in the shadows.
In this far off land beyond our time our young man continued his life as a wayfarer, creating tunes through others. And he may well still be there, whittling away, whilst the fair maiden, lives her life."
A silence came between the old woman and child.
"That's not the right ending."
"Why is that dear?
The child was shaking her head. "She was meant to end up with him. The wayfarer and the maiden, it's what's meant to happen."
"That's what an author would do."
"But it's not right," the child whined.
"Then you must create your own ending. Become the story-teller yourself, anything can happen."
The child smiled, content that she could make the perfect ending.
"I will then." She jumped from the woman's lap. "I'll go do that right now." Off she ran.
The woman smiled, content with what she had done. The greatest art of the story-teller is to keep the story alive forever, to let it always continue, different each time.
The child gone, the old woman continued the story.
"And this fair maiden had a child, who had her own child in time. This grandchild was a curious child, and eager for the right ending to occur. So she took the past, and twisted it in her hands. She turned it, flipped it and then she shall tell her story. A story that with its magic will tell of a lover and the loved, the perfect story. Through this small child, the fair maiden will once again live, and once again love."
The old woman smiled, a tune in her ears. She rose, letting the small box leave her grasp to the table. Walking slowly, for the first time she took herself away from the music, the final act of comfort.
Later the child would come, and discover the music box sitting silent on the table. But that now, is another story, one left for another day.