As I stepped into the tavern I didn’t know that that action would change the course of my life for the next several years. I didn’t know that when I sat down at that table I’d hear words that would send me on a journey far greater than I could have ever imagined. And, I didn’t know that I even wanted to be the man that that quest would transform me into. So I entered that tavern and I sat down at that table, and this is what I heard…
“I tell you it’s true! I was lost not two days ago on the edge of the Elomar Forest and the Urgoth Plains somewhere north of Forinmere.” The man that spoke was a middle-aged fellow, stout of build and with a bristled mustache peppered with grey, matching his short-cropped hair.
A short, skinny man with red hair next to him guffawed. “Delron, if you were so lost then how’d you know where you were?”
“When I got unlost I realized where I was! Stop interrupting, I’m trying to tell a story.
“Now, where was I? Ahh, yes… Out in the middle of nowhere I tell you, lost in the dark! I wandered blindly; no moon or starts that night, you see, nothing to guide my way. After a while when I was good and lost I see a fire in the woods. So, naturally I goes on towards it. I was hungry and tired, you see, and needed direction.
“Well when I got close enough and was trying to see if the fire looked safe to approach several things happened all at once. A flash of light exploded from the fire, my feet came out from under me and went above my head, a man appeared from nowhere, I heard this strange music like from a lute or some such instrument, and then everything went black.
“It was a strange sensation, feeling so powerless… I wasn’t unconscious—or maybe I was for a while—it was more like I wanted to close my eyes and dim my senses. Like I just wanted peace and calm and all the bad thoughts I ever had to disappear forever. I felt powerless, like I said, but I just didn’t care. The music was so beautiful.”
The short, skinny man waved towards one of the wenches. “Marilla, another pitcher of ale here; I’ll need a lot more drink in me if I’m to believe this hogwash…”
“Eddlem can’t you keep yer mouth shut fer one story? I’m telling the truth you hear! Beldin, can’t you shut him up?”
The man who was apparently Beldin merely grunted and shook his head. “Let the old man tell his story; it has held my interest thus far at the very least. And pour me a mug from that pitcher!”
“Thank you… So anywhat, like I said, the music was so beautiful; it was still playing in my head when I came to. It was still dark and the fire hadn’t gone down very far from what I remembered, although I had no sense of how much time had passed. I was strung up by a rope so I reached for my belt knife to cut myself loose, but it was missing.
“Then from the dimness right next to me, not five feet away, I hear someone say ‘looking for this?’ I tell you he was right next to me and I couldn’t see him until he spoke and I finally noticed him in the shadows holding up my knife!
“My only thought was that this man must possess some magic, some sort of trickery was going on… but magic don’t exist no more, no sir, so that’s impossible. So he throws my knife and it sticks into the tree next to my head and he says ‘you need to sharpen that, it wouldn’t skin a rabbit.’ Can you believe that?! Me being a skinner and all… well, naturally I was too flustered to be offended. In fact, I was about to ask him if he had any rabbit to eat when he came at me in a flurry of motion. I didn’t see no weapon, no sword, no knife, no nothing and he cut me down before I could flinch; all I heard was the sound of a sword being drawn and then sheathed again. I hit the ground; pretty hard, ‘course, my old bones don’t move like they once did, but I brushed myself off and joined him by the fire.
“He was, in fact, spitting a rabbit, and boy did it look tasty right about then. I might ‘a even eaten it raw, I hadn’t had a bite in three days. He put it on the fire, ran his knife over it and shook a fist-sized box over it for some reason, with something that looked like sand coming out of it on top of the meat, and then sat down ‘n started turning it. I finally worked up my courage enough to ask him if he had another one that I might humbly partake of. ‘This is for you, I’ve already eaten,’ he said.
“That rabbit was the tastiest meat I’d even eaten, and that night seemed to go on forever; he was a fascinating person. He knew all manner of things, like that I was a skinner from Finglis Mirror and I had lost children in the recent past…. He said that he’d learned how to read people long ago, whatever that means. He told stories places he been and people he’d met and travelled with. They were so vivid it was like I was somehow there in the story as he told it.
“And he showed me things to help me in my craft, ways to skin a beast so as to get the most outta the animal and ways to use the scraps more efficiently. He even taught me how to work the raw leather to make it feel supple and soft when it’s all ready for use. Yep, you boys come to my shop in a month and it’ll be a whole new place, I’ll be twice as successful as I am now!”
“So you mean you’ll actually make money? Perhaps then you can pay me back for all those mugs of ale I bought ya!” Short-and-skinny laughed as he took another drink of his ale.
“Ah shove off, Beldin, and mark my words well, I’ll be providing materials for the King’s tailor! I’ll be rich I tell you!
“Anyway back to my story; it was quite late when he’d finished teaching me these things and I was expressing my gratitude for the hospitality and knowledge that’d he’d so generously shared with me and then I asked his name. It was strange; he said his name didn’t matter, that he couldn’t teach me anymore, and that I’d never see him again, but that knowledge and the proper use of it is the way to achieve great things in one’s lifetime, and knowledge should never be squandered or taken lightly.
“As I laid myself down by the fire he explained how I could return home. When I woke up my knife was sharp as a new blade, and I could hardly tell any camp had been there at all.”
As the skinner’s friends heckled him for being old and addle-brained and he produced the sharpened blade as proof I recalled the words my father had spoken to me over and over as a child:
“Knowledge and the proper use of it is the way to achieve great things in one’s lifetime, and knowledge should never be squandered or taken lightly.”
How was this man in the woods connected with my father? Did he teach him his trade of woodworking? Was he related to me? Did he know where my father had disappeared to? These questions among others raced through my mind and I decided that I would go out and find this wanderer, no matter what it took.