And so the story goes. I'm not that great a storyteller –baking is more up my alley- but please bear with me for a bit. This is a story that needs telling, if only for myself and for the wind, and for whomever might be listening out there.
I was your average hero. The bastard son of a nobleman, no one much cared for me but I was quietly tolerated. It may sound mighty conceited of me, but since there's no-one else left to say it I might as well -I was a hardworking young lad, honest, pure, some might say naive; I never had a bad word for anyone. Straightforward hero material.
I had an evil overlord to rebel against. There can't be a good hero without a worthy quest, after all. When the time came and the crazy bastard decided to hurt my estranged father -with whom I'd never had much contact and who clearly despised me and regretted my existence, though not quite the night when he had conceived me, away from his wife's bed- I rose up against him and fought. My father did not deserve anyone's protection, much less mine, and certainly not at the cost of my own life, but it was the right thing to do, and so I did it. While the evil overlord was not defeated that day, my neighbors and fellow men assumed it was now my duty to finish him off and bring peace and prosperity to the land.
And, dumb and good and righteous idiot that I was, of course I thought it must be. My duty, that is. To kill, or to die trying.
I was on my way to fulfill my destiny when I met her. A vision of gold, hair as dark wheat sneaking down her shoulder in a tight braid, sharp blue eyes that looked to be sweet and kind, and the rosiest lips I'd ever seen outside of a painting. She was decked out in dark red clothes -I found out later it was to better disguise the bloodstains- and carried a bow, and she marched much like me to liberate the country from its mad ruler.
We were, quite obviously, meant to be. Or so it seemed at first.
But she was in the habit of asking questions, out of hand, never quite meaning anything but to fill the silence, or so I figured. It was the way she would just throw them out, like she was musing out loud, never really expecting an answer.
Then again, I found myself wondering too. Why were we the only ones to rebel? Surely there were others out there who had it just as bad as we did, perhaps worse. There were full-grown adults we met on our quests, and old neighbors and friends, who seemed to know what they were doing, but none of them offered to aid us in our fight, only wishing us luck as they pushed us onward. Why did the wise wizard advise us on our fight, yet never help? And why shouldn't we ask for something in return, if we succeeded? What we were doing was a public service, after all, wasn't it?
And then, when it was all over, who would take the place of the evil overlord? Someone had to, was going to, that much was obvious. Would he be a nasty asshole as well?
And one day, just thirty miles away from the castle -give or take, maps of the evil overlord's lair are not that precise, or easy to come by- I stopped, took a long good look at myself, and thought "what the hell am I doing?"
I was ready, from the start, to sacrifice everything I had or could ever become for the faceless mass of complacent cowardly countrymen that lived within the land I had been born to. But then, what did I owe them? Why should I care about what happened to this country, which had done nothing for me but revile me, the one that had chewed me up and spit me out, and then remembered me only when the time came to make use of me?
Why in seven hells would I want to do that? Storm that creature's stronghold, and try against all odds to conquer, to kill him, and then what? It had all seemed so logical when I first set out, so simple. Felt like walking down a well-worn path, and the start, middle and end seemed obvious: I would face evil and lose, then go on a journey, a quest, where I would grow into myself and learn how to defeat the villain, and then prevail upon him in the end, bringing happiness and peace to the land. Boom, job done. But that's just how stories go. Not real life. Never real life.
So why was I acting like it was? I was no hero, I was just a normal guy who did something valiant and stupid when faced with evil, and instead of celebrating I was alive then keeping on with my life, I had decided that not dying once meant I must be invincible.
Once again, what the hell was I thinking?
So I strayed off the path, lost sight of the gold-skinned girl, and moved to a city in a neighboring country, where nobody knew I had once been a hero, or that I was the bastard son of a pretentious noble, or cared that the evil overlord existed as long as he left them well alone.
I lived there for many years, feeling happy with my choice and just a tiny bit guilty -because the girl probably did not deserve to be left there, all alone in her quest, but there was no way I was going back.
And then, forty long years after I stepped off the pious heroic path, long after my fit young body had filled out and sagged, and my bright brown eyes had dulled with the years and bad sight, and most of my beautiful chestnut hair had fallen out, I heard a story, in passing, while spending a few coins in the local tavern. It was just another fairy-tale, at first, and after my time questing I'd never had much taste for them, but then something caught my attention.
It was the story of a legendary being, a being of light and beauty and trickery; they called her the Temptress, and the storyteller didn't seem quite sure whether she was good or evil, or perhaps both. She sometimes pretended to be a heroine, he said, sometimes a fair maiden, a travel companion or a kindly wise woman; but every single time, she joined a company of heroes, or a lonesome hero on the path to greatness (or death). And she talked and asked and looked and prodded, and she drew circles around them until they realized that being a hero did not make much sense. Making them realize how terribly dangerous it really was, and how poor the pay remained, and that the health prospects were always just on the side of atrocious. And little by little she chipped at them until they left their predestined paths, going into normal, boring lives, but for all their ordinariness their own chosen ones. And so she would vanish and would be neither seen nor heard of until another lonesome hero needed to be set straight.
The storyteller, quite into his wine by this point, seemed to now believe her some sort of demon spirit, turning the forces of good against their predestined paths. Still, the story was good and it made me happy, the sliver of guilt I still carried within me slowly dissipating, joining old memories of old quests and old worries. So I left a few coins on the table for the man to buy another round, and left the tavern still in time to kiss my wife goodnight before retiring to bed.
It's good to know there's someone out there watching out for us, dumb heroes, willing sacrificial lambs that we are. So here's to the Temptress, a thank-you and a prayer, my own meager offering: a story forged not in greatness and bloody battle, but in common sense and thinking, and in living a long fulfilling life.
And so the story goes.