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He felt a tingle at the back of his neck. He was being watched. He glanced around and tried to shake it off. Of course people were looking at him. He was the storyteller, after all. But this was different. Not the rapt attention of admirers but something…

There! In the corner, a figure in a hooded cloak. The features were concealed, but the cloak itself was familiar – that patch, the loose stitching, the threadbare shoulder.

He turned and gestured to the barkeep. When two mugs were placed in front of him he took them and strolled nonchalantly over to the corner.

“You’ve been following me, friend,” he said, sitting down and pushing one of the mugs across the table.

There was a moment’s hesitation, then the figure sighed and pushed back her hood. She was a youngish woman, a little gaunt but with a spark in her eye. He’d seen that kind of spark before.

“I have,” she said, accepting the drink. “I’ve been listening to your story.”

He laughed. “Stories,” he said, “I tell a damn sight more than one.”

She leaned forward. “It’s only ever the one that anybody really wants to hear, though, isn’t it? The one about her.”

He took a drink and looked at her in silence.

“I must have heard you tell it a hundred times by now,” she said. “And it’s different every time.”

He grinned. “What can I say? I give the audience what they want.”

“I’m your audience now,” she said, “I want the truth.”

He shook his head. “No, sweetheart, you don’t.”

He moved to pick up his drink and leave, but she reached out and grabbed his arm. She was quick, and her fingers were strong.

“Don’t tell me what I want or don’t want,” she hissed. “I already know, anyway. I just want your confirmation.”

Slowly, he settled back into his seat. “Okay. Well, now I’m your audience,” he told her. “Tell me what you think you know.”

She took a deep breath and let go of his arm.

“Like I said, I’ve heard you tell her story a hundred times and it’s always different. One night she’s a noble, honest woman and the next night she’s a scoundrel. One night she’s sleeping with a pirate queen, the next she’s sworn off love because you rejected her.”

He smirked a little.

“There’s only one thing that never changes. Regardless of what you say she did, regardless of whose side you say she was on… she always lives. She always gets up, dusts herself off and walks off into the sunset.”

The smile faded from his face, and she saw it.

“It’s true, isn’t it? She died that day. That’s why you always say she survived, that’s why it’s the one thing that you never change. Because it’s the one thing you wish you could change.”

He picked up his mug and looked at it. It was half empty and nowhere deep enough. He drank it down in one go and considered his answer.

“Honey,” he said slowly, “One thing you learn as a storyteller. A dead hero doesn’t give anybody hope. Look around you. What do you think these people need most?”

 

© Kari Fay

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