The Storyteller (part six)

“That is not how I remember the story,” Ara began after they had reached the fire.

“Perhaps it loses something in my telling,” Aaron replied.  They sat a few feet apart, each on their own bench.  He could not guess what she would do after catching him trying to escape.

“Perhaps,” she said thoughtfully.  “Though I often find a difference in stories is due to the purpose of the teller.”

“And what is my purpose?”

“I am not sure.  Maybe I’m wrong.”  She fell silent again.

Aaron did not want to speak, to interrupt her thoughts.  Trying to escape had been a risk, but now that it had failed, he found himself wondering what it would cost him.

The fire drove away the night chill, making it almost uncomfortably warm.  The rest of the village remained still and quiet.  Whatever was going to happen would be between just the two of them.  However, he had to remind himself that both Ara and the child had snuck up on him earlier, so it was very possible there were a dozen people nearby that he was unaware of.

“So you want to leave?”

Aaron felt his body relax a little.  Until that moment, he hadn’t realized how tense he had become waiting for her to speak.  At least now they could get to wherever this was going.

“Rather than wanting to leave, I’d say I didn’t want to die.”

“Die?” Ara sounded genuinely confused.

“Yes.  I thought you might kill me to protect the village from outsiders.  Isn’t that what you were trying to decide?”

Though she may have intended it to, Ara’s laugh did little to calm his fears.  “You are more paranoid than I am, and I didn’t think that was possible.”

Now it was Aaron’s turn to be confused.  “But Eres said that…”

“Eres?  Oh.  Yes.  I suppose she did.”

“Did what?”

“She told you this?”

“Yes.”  Aaron felt uncertain; there was no solid ground for him to get his footing.

“I wondered why she was so sure you would try to sneak away tonight.”  She was definitely not talking to him now, though he still saw no one else around.

But Aaron was still trying to find something that made sense and didn’t wait for her to come back to him.  “Why would she tell me such a thing if it weren’t true?  Why did she want me to sneak away?”

Ara turned back to him.  “Because I told her to.  I told her to enable your escape somehow, anyway.  I wanted to see what you would do.  When you ran into one of the children, I mean.  And I was impressed.  Mason is good at pretend, but he was actually interested in your story.

“The boy…?”

“Yes.  He was following you.  Told to approach you when it was a good time.  Oh, I suppose if you had tried to hurt him, I may have had you killed.  But if you had just walked away, we would have let you go.”

“So it was…  a test?”

“I suppose you could call it that.  I wanted to see how you’d act when you thought no one was watching.  To get a better sense of who you really are.”

“Did I pass?”


“Your test.”

“Oh.  In those terms, you passed.  But it’s not just a yes or no.  After all, you never answered my question.  Do you want to leave?”

Aaron’s thoughts were racing.  Eres had misled him.  His life was not in danger?  That was still a little unclear, but he felt less threatened now.  Who were these people?  Why had Jonon even brought him here?

“What if I do?  Want to leave.”

“That’s simple enough.  I’d have Jonon take you out of the village, make sure he got you good and turned around, and then drop you off somewhere.”

“So you’d let me go?”

“Of course!  I didn’t ask you to come here.  If you want to depart, I won’t stop you.”

“And if I want to stay?”

Her face grew more serious, more reserved.  Leaving was easy, it seemed.  Staying would be more complicated.  “If you want to stay, we would have much to discuss.  I do not yet know if you fit in here.  Is it worth the resources it would cost?  But your time with Mason speaks well for you.  I am more inclined to say yes than I was earlier.  Do you want to stay?”

Aaron didn’t know the answer to that.  An hour ago, he was certain the people of this village wanted to kill him.  But that had been a trick, a lie.  Still, lying was not a great start to his introduction to the village.  Nor was being tied up and brought here against his will.  And Ara seemed happier to have him go.  Yet there was something appealing about this place.  He could not identify what it was, but his curiosity was roused, and he was not certain he wanted to leave it behind.

“I guess I don’t know.  Do you need an answer right now?”

The slightest of smiles tugged at the corners of Ara’s mouth.  “No.  No need to make long-lasting decisions tonight.  Sleep sounds like a welcome end to a very full day.  Will you stay in your room tonight?”

“You aren’t going to kill me?”

That prompted a chuckle.  “I promise, as long as you harbor no ill will towards the people of this village, you have nothing to fear here.”

“I suppose that will have to do.  And sleep does sound very appealing right now.”


The end, for now.

The Storyteller (part five)

Aaron slipped through the darkness, trying to remember the way out of the village.  The cloudy sky was a mixed blessing, as it made it easier to stay hidden and also harder for him to see his way.  What he could see he did not recognize, but he reasoned that if he kept going in one direction, he would eventually reach the wall.  Then he could follow that to the gate.  As long as he wasn’t discovered.

Jonon seemed nice enough, despite tying him up.  Eres, too, though he had only just met her.  But even if Ara was a good person, he did not want to risk her judgment.  He was not ready to give up on his life just yet, however difficult it might be.  So as soon as he could after nightfall, he snuck out.

The guard was distracted.  Or asleep.  Perhaps it was not a usual duty for him.  Whether because of that or something else, it had been a simple enough matter for Aaron to avoid him on his way from his hut.

In addition to the darkness, the silence around also cut both ways, though he suspected it worked against him more than for him.  He had to keep moving and do so quietly.  Others in the dark may be still, not giving him any clues as to their presence.  Yet he listened for sounds, and went slowly as he walked along unfamiliar paths.

He stayed near walls of buildings, touching them to help guide his steps.  After some time, he did hear sounds and began to drift in their direction.  As he drew closer, the sounds grew into the clear snap and pop of a fire.

Even more cautious now, he backed away from the noise to continue on his way.  Keeping the sounds on his left served as a guide to keep his bearings.  The village was bigger than he thought, but it couldn’t be much further.  Wishing for a bit more light, he kept moving.

“Who are you?”

Aaron’s heart stopped.  Behind him, he could just make out a child looking at him.  The boy was rubbing one eye as if he had just woken.  Aaron was grateful he was alone, but what should he do?  So many options spun through his head, most of which he quickly dismissed.  But he also could not let this child give him away.

The boy perked up a bit.  “Are you the storyteller Jonon brought back?”

“I guess I am.”

“Are you going somewhere?”

If only he could guess what the boy would do, Aaron might have had some idea how to react.  Were the children as fearful of outsiders as the adults?  Yet the boy seemed excited by the prospect of a storyteller.  Perhaps that was a way out of this.

“Do you like stories?”

The boy nodded, a big smile on his face.

Aaron sat down and gestured that the boy should follow suit.  This was a risk, staying in one place, but so was every other option.  “We need to stay quiet, so we don’t wake anyone else, but I can tell you a story.”

An even bigger smile.

“Many years ago, long before you were born, human beings wanted to unite the moon and Earth.”


“There are many reasons that have been given.  Some suggest that one village sought a weapon to defeat another.  Others believe one man was trying to win the love of a woman.  I like to think it was curiosity and a desire to learn.”


“Whatever the reason, one man set out to reach the moon.  He tried many times to make the journey, but each time ended in failure.  He had nearly given up when he was approached by a woman who said she could get him to his destination.”

“She could?  What did she want?”

“Very good.  There is always a price, and there was this time, too.  It was small enough.  She simply required that nothing be brought back.  The moon was to be left intact.  He agreed.  She showed him how to use a special fire to launch himself away from the Earth.  The trip was spectacular, as the ground grew small below, and the moon loomed large ahead.  Finally on the moon, he explored for a day and a night, amazed at everything he saw.  When it was time to leave, he picked up a rock and put it in his pocket.  Upon his return, the woman knew immediately that he had broken his promise.  She took the rock from him, and forbade any human beings from ever visiting the moon again.”

“But why did he take the rock?”

“That’s enough, Mason,” another voice interjected.  Aaron turned to find Moth Ara standing behind him.  “Off to bed with you.  I need to speak with the storyteller now.”

“Yes, Moth.”  The child quickly stood and hurried off into the night.

“Aaron, please follow me.”

He moved slowly.  The thought of running tugged at him, but he shoved it away.  He doubted she would be alone.  Resigned, he walked behind her back towards the fire.

The Storyteller (part four)

Eres knocked on the door.  “May I come in?”

“Yes.”  Aaron’s voice came from the other side.

Inside the room there were remnants of a meal on the table.  He sat on one of the chairs.

“Did you get some rest?”

“No.  Too many questions on my mind.”

“Was the food okay at least?”

“It was fine.”

Eres walked over to one of the empty chairs and sat down.  “Would you like to talk here, or see more of the village.  In either case, I promise not to yell at you again.”

Aaron gave her a weak smile.  “It’s okay.  Let’s sit here for now.  I am a bit tired, and more sightseeing is likely to raise more questions.  I’d like to process what I’ve already seen and heard before dealing with more.”

“Very well.  What would you like to talk about?”

“How big is this village?”

Eres felt her mistrust rise again.  That was the sort of information that would be useful to someone planning an attack.  But she had meant it when she had said she wouldn’t yell at him again.  She wanted to get to know this man better, if only to discover whether he was actually a threat.  She needed to gain his trust, which meant showing a little trust of her own.  “There are several families here.  Some single adults as well.  Nearly everyone here comes from a family that has been here for generations.”

“Really?  How old is this village?”

Eres had to think for a moment.  “It was established in the early days after the great calamity.  At least that is what I was taught.”

“To have survived so long.  It must be quite a story.”

“Indeed.  That’s actually why Jonon brought you here.  Some among us are worried those stories may disappear.  Jonon hoped you might help us saved them.”

“Me?  Why?  Surely there are some here who can help remember your stories.  Why bring in an outsider?”

“That is the Moth’s position, but some others are less certain, believing we need a real storyteller here.  Jonon thinks that’s what you are, and by bringing you here, the Moth would have no choice but to accept you.”

“It sounds like a story itself.”

“I suppose it is, but not one the Moth would want me to speak of, so please, let’s change the topic.”

“Of course.  I’m sorry.”

“No need to apologize.  You couldn’t know.”  Eres did feel relieved that he was willing to move on, though.  Ara would not want a newcomer to hear that tale.

Aaron was quiet for a few moments, lost in his own thoughts apparently.  As someone she had met only today, what might be on his mind was hidden from her.  She remained quiet so as not to interrupt, but it did feel awkward to sit in silence with someone she didn’t know.

Eventually, he brought his attention back to her.  “Do you have any contact with other villages?”

Grateful that the silence was broken, Eres shook her head.  “Not anymore.  The last village we had dealings with was destroyed before I was born.  To spare us a similar fate, the Moth at that time decided not to seek out others, reasoning that if no one knew about us, no one could attack us.”

“So that’s why your Moth is so resistant to having me here.”

“Indeed.  And the Moth isn’t the only one.  Many of us have learned to mistrust outsiders.  This is part of the reason you must not wander without me.  I protect the village from you, and I also protect you from them.”

“I see.”

“May I ask you a question?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“You said you traveled a lot.  What is it like in other places?”

“I guess it’s pretty much the same everywhere.  People surviving however they can.  I haven’t been anywhere as isolated as this before, but suspicions are always high when it comes to someone from elsewhere.  I don’t think it is as dangerous as you seem to think it is, but there are dangers.  Not everyone means well.  Like I said, that’s true everywhere.”

Eres had a hard time believing him.  What he said did not fit with what she knew.  But he didn’t seem to be lying either.

“I do have one more question myself.  I know your Moth is going to decide whether I can stay, but what happens if I don’t want to?  As I said, I don’t generally like staying in one place very long.”

Eres stared at him for a long moment, searching for words.  “I can’t say for certain.  If you don’t want to stay, she may let you leave.  Or she may take that as evidence that you are planning to take your knowledge of us to others who will attack us.  If so, that would not be good for you.”

“So…  What will happen if she doesn’t let me stay?”

“The same.”


She stood.  “Try not to worry about it too much.  Moth Ara is a reasonable person who just wants to protect her people.  Get some rest tonight.  Tomorrow I will show you the rest of the village.  Okay?”

Aaron nodded dumbly.

“Aaron, look at me.”

He did so.

“Get some rest.  I was honest with you.  And I am being honest now.  That is the worst case.  I don’t believe Moth Ara will treat you so harshly.  Okay?”

He nodded again, a bit more convincingly this time.

“Good.  Now get some sleep.  This has been a long day for you.  Do you need anything?”

His head had dropped and he appeared to be staring at his hands.  “I didn’t ask to come here.”

“I know.  Jonon was foolish.  And Moth Ara knows that, too.  She just wants to be sure the village is safe.  I want to be honest with you, but I am sorry I was so blunt.  You ought to know what you are facing.  Work with me, and I will make sure you get through this.”


“Why what?”

“Why help me?”

Eres took a deep breath.  “We are a good people, Aaron.  I hope you will see that.  And I hope you will prove to be a good person, too.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“Just let us get to know you.  If you’re a good person, we’ll see it.”

Aaron looked uncertain.

“Get some sleep.  It won’t do you any good to fret.  Good night.”

“Good night,” he muttered after her as she left.

The Storyteller (part three)

Eres tried decide if she was annoyed.  She had agreed to be responsible for Jonon’s stray puppy, so Ara’s instructions were not a surprise.  Yet she found herself resenting it anyway.

“So is ‘Sis’ a title like ‘Moth’?”

She looked back at the storyteller who had caught up with her.  “Yes.”

“What does it mean?”

“Don’t they have a Moth and a Sis in your village?”  Was he really this ignorant, or was it an act?

“I’m not really from anywhere.  Something of a wanderer, I guess.”

“So you really don’t have your own people?  How have you survived?”

“It’s really not that difficult.  I travel from place to place.  Trading news from other villages for a little food and shelter.”

“That sounds difficult.  Don’t you get tired of always moving?”  She didn’t believe him.  The one thing she knew was that the outside world was dangerous.  Surviving on your own was nearly impossible.

“Not really, I’ve been doing it for so long that staying anywhere for longer than a few days makes me restless.”

“So you don’t want to stay here?”

Aaron shrugged at her.  “Do I have a choice?”

Eres did not answer him.  She wasn’t sure herself.  Would Ara make him leave?  Would she let him leave?  The answer to either of those questions eluded her for now.

They arrived at a small wooden structure, little more than a hut.  Eres opened the door, lit a lantern just inside the entrance, and gestured for Aaron to follow her.  There were a few chairs at a table in one corner and two beds against the wall.

“We recently cleaned this place, preparing to move a couple of the older children in here.  It should serve to give you a little bit of privacy until we figure out a more permanent situation.  You have the Moth’s permission to go anywhere in the village, but I must accompany you.  And there will be a guard outside while you are here.  Ask them if you want to leave and wait until I arrive.  Do you understand?”

Aaron nodded.  “If I may ask, why so much trouble just for me?  If I’m that much of a burden, why not just throw me out?  It’s not as though I asked to be here.”

“Letting you leave means letting you tell others about this village.  We cannot afford to take that risk.  Not until we know more about you.”

“Who am I going to tell?  I already told you, and Jonon, that I don’t have anybody I’m with.  Why would I lie?”

Eres rolled her eyes.  “How stupid do you think I am?  Why would you lie?  So that you can leave and go tell someone.  And you just told me you visit places and trade information.  Even if you don’t have anyone to tell, you might tell someone about us for a meal.”

“I wouldn’t…”

“Maybe not.  But we don’t know that.  We don’t know you.  Moth Ara has extended a kindness when she has plenty of reason not to….”  Eres stopped herself from berating the man further.  Her resentment hadn’t been with Ara after all.  It was with this newcomer.  That he was here.  That Jonon had brought him here.  That he posed some sort of threat she didn’t yet understand.  Maybe he deserved her ire, but it wasn’t doing her any good.

Aaron appeared cowed by her.  Fearing she might begin yelling at him, she headed toward the door.  “Rest.  I’m sure being tied to the wagon was not an easy way to travel.  Take some time to relax, perhaps sleep.  With the supplies you and Jonon brought back, I’ll send a bit of food over.  We can look around the rest of the village this afternoon.”  Before he could say anything, she walked through the doorway and closed it behind her.

The Storyteller (part two)

Aaron sat in the back of the cart still tied up with the rope that Jonon had used to keep him from leaving.  The man seemed friendly, but his insistence on bringing Aaron back to his village was a bit unsettling.  Still, Aaron didn’t feel threatened.  Not yet, anyway.

After some time had passed, Jonon reappeared accompanied by two women.  The older one had silver hair and stood more than a head shorter than the man.  She had an air of authority about her.  The younger one had longer hair, brown, tied behind her head, and she was nearly as tall as Jonon.  She, too, projected authority, but not as confidently as the other.

As they got close, Jonon turned to the other woman.  “Moth, this is the storyteller, Aaron.  Aaron, this is Moth Ara and her second, Sis Eres.

“Aaron?”  The older woman stared intently at him.  “Strange name for a man.”

“Well, what sort of name is Moth?”  Upon seeing Jonon’s face flush, Aaron regretted his words, but his patience had been worn thin.

“Moth is my title, not my name.”  A hint on condescension came through her voice.  How should he have known that?

Moth Ara turned back to Jonon.  “Why is he tied up?”

“Well…  I wanted to be sure he was safe.”

“You just finished reassuring me he was.  Now you are uncertain?”

“Moth, I just wanted to be sure, until I could talk with you.  And I wanted to be certain he would come back here with me.  After Matten left…”

“Don’t!  Do not mention him.  You really are convinced we need a storyteller, aren’t you?

“Yes, Moth.”

She looked to Aaron once more.  “Why should I trust you?”

Aaron took a moment to think about his response this time.  “To be honest, I’m not even clear why I’m here.  I helped Jonon, and he offered me a meal and some company.  We spoke well into the night.  When I woke the next morning, I was bound, then he brought me back here.”

“You are a storyteller?”

“I suppose, but…”

“If I allow you to stay in this village, will you harm anyone here?”

“I have no reason to, but…”

“Will anyone be looking for you?”

“I very much doubt that; still, I should…”

“One more thing.  I am responsible for the safety of everyone here.  You will do as I say.  Agreed?”

It felt as though he were swearing some oath.  “I agree.”

Moth Ara did not look convinced.  “Very well.  Sis Eres?”

“Yes, Moth?”

“You are responsible for him.  Find him a place to stay.  Explain the village, as much as you deem appropriate.  And above all, make sure you watch him.  Let us see if this storyteller belongs here.”

Aaron could not read the expression on Sis Eres’ face, but she quickly acknowledged the instructions.  “Yes, Moth.  Jonon, untie him.”

“After you do that,” Moth Ara spoke again, “Find a couple of men and unload these supplies.  Provide an inventory to Sis…  No, that won’t do.  Give the inventory to Pru.  We need to figure out how best to utilize all of this.  When you’re done, come find me.”

“Yes, Moth.  Yes, Sis.”

The pace with which everything happened left Aaron feeling bewildered.  His wrists were grateful to be freed, though.  What was this place?  Who were these people?  Maybe Sis Eres would give him some answers.  For now, he was glad just not to be tied up any longer.

Sis Eres was watching him expectantly.  “Let’s go, Aaron.  We need to get you settled in.”  She turned and began walking away.  He nodded and began jogging to catch up to her.

The Storyteller (part one)

“Has he come back yet?”

Moth Ara’s silver hair glinted orange as she looked up from the fire at Sis Eres.  “No, not yet.  I expect him soon.”

Eres sat down across from her.  She was younger than Ara, but she recognized concern quickly enough.  “Do you think he got into some trouble?”

Ara shook her head.  “No.  I cannot think that.  Not yet.  We will hold out some hope.  Did you see the younger ones off to bed?”

“Yes.  Mora and Pru helped me corral them.  We gave them some soup to quiet their bellies, but we’ve stretched what ingredients we had about as far as they will go.”

“Good.  For now that will have to be enough.”

“Tomorrow I could take a couple of the other women out foraging.  Or we could send Bern and Simot out to try and catch some meat.  The children are doing okay so far, but the adults are quite hungry.”

Ara shook her head once more.  “No.  Until we know what happened to Jonon, we cannot afford to send more people out.  It is too dangerous.”

“But how will we find out what happened to him if no one is allowed to leave?”

“He will come back.  Trust me.”


Ara held up her hand to stop her.  “Sis Eres, when you become Moth, you will be free to do things your way.  For now, my job is to make sure you get to see that time.  Go get some rest, and leave me with my thoughts and the fire.”

“Yes, Moth.  I apologize.  Goodnight.”

Ara nodded as the younger woman walked away toward her small dwelling.  She did not intend to be so harsh with her, but Jonon’s lengthy absence had made her unease grow with each day that went by.  She knew Eres was right; they needed more food.  But Ara was unwilling to give up just yet.

*     *     *

The next morning, she woke to Eres’ voice outside of her own dwelling.  “Ara!  He’s back!”

She did not know what time she had gone to bed, but she was very much awake now.  In her chest, relief mixed with the desire to yell at Jonon.  Hurriedly, she went outside.  “Where?”

“The central firepit, but…”

She did not wait for Eres to plead for kindness on his behalf, instead striding quickly to the center of the village.  She found Jonon standing there.

“Where have you been?”

“Moth, I’m…”

“We have been worried.  And the food situation has become quite difficult.”

“I’m sorry, Moth.”

“Tell me you managed to bring something back.”

“I did.  I found a cache of supplies that had been abandoned.  We may even be able to go back for more.  I also managed to bring down a couple of deer.”

“Good.”  More relief.  “But it still shouldn’t have taken you…”

“What else did you bring back?”  Eres had come up behind her.  Ara shot her a questioning look, but Eres shrugged it off.  “Let him tell you.”

Ara turned back to Jonon.  “What is she talking about?”

Jonon had fixed his eyes on the ground in front of him.  “I found someone, Moth.”

“Who?  Where did you find this person?”

“He helped with the deer.  In the woods.  Managed to get them into the wagon.”


“I brought him back with me.”

“What?!  Why did you do that?”

“Moth, he’s a storyteller.  I thought…”

“I don’t care what he is.  We can barely feed the mouths we have.  And how do you know he won’t bring back some of his own people here to raid us?”

“He doesn’t have any people.”

“So he says.”

“And he helped me.”

“Part of the ruse.”

“Moth,” Jonon pleaded, “I know I should have asked you, but there wasn’t a chance.  And we need a storyteller.”

“We need no such thing.”

“The children…”

“Have been doing fine without.  We need food, not more people.”

“Well, he’s here.  We can’t just turn him out.”

“We most certainly…”

Eres put a hand on her forearm.  “Ara.  I know this was foolish.  I gave him a good talking to before I even woke you.  But if you’re right, we don’t want him running back to his people knowing where we are.  And if Jonon’s right, well, it would do us some good to have a storyteller.  Maybe we should give him a chance?”

“Sis Eres, that is…”  Ara stopped herself when she saw the look on Eres’ face.  Jonon had been foolish, but maybe she was being rash as well.

“Very well, Eres.  But I will hold both you and Jonon responsible for him.  Any harm that he brings to us will be upon your heads.  Clear?”

Eres nodded, smiling.  “Yes, Moth.”

“Alright, Jonon.  Let’s see this storyteller of yours.”