There’s a pub on the end of a dark lane in a big city not too far from the coast. The bard, looking more vagrant than minstrel, swept into the tavern from the cold. He had expected the customary applause but found indifference. He wore a coat sewn together of various patches that would have marked him as a rare and talented spinner of yarns in ages past. Here, he looked some indigent seeking shelter from the rising winter winds.
Buzzing incandescent lights glowed a sickly orange in the haze of the dark room amid the cacophony of music, conversation, and the clang of glasses and plates all competing with screens showing some contest, the sound muffled by the tavern’s patrons.
On the wall, between screens next to shelves of various spirits, an odd drawing flickered in the shadows, animals and man melded together into a single creature. The bard smiled. There had been a statue near a ghost town he once visited that looked very much like the drawing. Every place had a hint of the tale needed.
“Ale for a tale,” he said to the ruddy barkeep, a fat man who looked a bit too serious at the taps.
“Brrrr…” or something to that effect passed the barkeep’s lips. “This crowd wants music, entertainment, sex, and blood. We’re not tots here looking bedtime stories. I serve hard drink for hard people.”
“My tale will bring you long life. Please, indulge me. One pint for a fable of worth.”
“Cash. Show me cash and I’ll show you the ale,” the barkeep said, not a hint of kindness anywhere in the bitter old drink slinger.
A waitress wearing scarcely a thing whistled for the barkeep’s attention and rattled off a long order of drinks, thumbing toward a crowd in the corner. The barkeep leered at her, unsavory and with ill-intent. The bard shook his head. Perhaps, he would strike the right note tonight and be able to end his wanderings at last.
The instrument on his back came loose at his touch. The patrons saw an old flat-top guitar but it was so much more. The bard ran his fingers over a few choice notes and with a pop and a gasp, all the lights and screens went black, and a hush fell over the room. Candles appeared in a inaudible whirr and flickered gentle light on the tables, on top of the bar, and a soft glow gathered about the bard. He searched the crowd.
Ah, there was the stranger in his customary hooded long jacket, dark clothes, and bare feet. No one ever noticed that. The stranger had followed him through heaven and hell and everywhere in between for time immemorial. That one wanted his name back. The stranger claimed his name was in one of the bard’s tales, one he had once lived. Find that tale and the stranger would let his wanderings end at last.
It was not this story. He told the tale of Wild Girl Meg and the Cursed Statue. In this village, a man and women married by arrangement, but the man was infatuated with a wild girl that lived in the surrounding forest. His wife, jealous, knew of a magic statue, one made of man’s lust, outside the village and made the appropriate offerings and prayed to the demon in the statue to turn her husband’s attentions away from little Meg. Not a fortnight later, the villagers all disappeared. Some said the feral girl was a witch. Others had darker ideas. Whatever the truth, the patrons of this bar listened to the story.
The bard waited for a breath after for the applause. Some brought him drinks but none met the bard’s eyes. He did not notice the waitress putting her tray aside or wrapping herself in a long coat. She tapped him on the shoulder.
“Can I come with you?” she asked, her voice scarce a whisper.
“Aye. Do join me.”
The bard felt half-good about his take. He had wanted an apprentice so that should he die before his quest was completed, there would be one to carry on. He looked for the stranger, but he was gone. The bard had not told the right tale, the one that would give the stranger back his lost name. Perhaps, next time.