It was my job to carry the stories from town to town. In each village, the people would gather at my approach. It was an event. Not quite a festival or a feast, but something to look forward to. A young man or woman would run up to me and take my traveling bag and show me to my host. I would be fed, my clothes mended, and other needs attended to with whatever means the townsfolk had available. In the highlands, it was opulent steak and finest wines and a warm bed in a room of my own. In the lows, it was bread and water and a straw mat in an old barn. I took these gifts in the spirit they were offered.
In return, I brought them the stories.
“There once was a woman with three wicked stepsisters . . . “ I said.
“Ah, we’ve heard this one before,” said a young man.
The rest of the crowd hushed him, but I held up my hand and nodded for him to speak up.
“It’s an old story,” he said.
“I’m an old woman,” I replied. “Perhaps I’ve simply run out of stories.”
A murmur ran through the crowd. None of them cared. They would have been happy for me to tell the same story again. And again. And again. But not this boy.
“You can’t run out of stories,” he said.
“Then tell me, how does this one go?”
The crowd turned to him, that hunger across each of their faces. I’d seen in a thousand times in a thousand villages.
He said, “What if her sisters are only wicked because she put a curse on them?”
The crowd had mixed reactions to this idea. Some found it intriguing. Others disturbing. And still others wondered why they should care.
“What if?” I asked. “And why would she do such a thing?”
The boy thought about this a moment. “Because she knew the prince was riding through town, and she wanted everyone to tell him how nasty they were so that he would feel sorry for her.”
“So she’s the villain then?”
There were those who were aghast at such a thought. They were old comfortable folks in their old comfortable ways. They would never like a change like this. But for the others…it was something new. Something to be discovered.
“Did the prince fall for her scheme?” I asked.
“Yes. He took her off and married her.”
The audience said nothing, but their dissatisfaction was obvious.
“But on the way to the castle, the carriage broke down,” he said. “And a monster appeared and told her it was there to eat her for her scheming ways.”
“And did it?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No, because she was too smart. The monster couldn’t touch the pure of heart, and the good prince, beguiled by her beauty, stood in its way.”
It was my job to bring the stories from town to town, but I was getting old and the road was getting longer.
“Go on,” I said.
The boy told his tale. It was not the most original, nor the most subtle, but both were often overrated virtues to spinning a tale. All that mattered was that the people listened.
And listen they did, as did I.
There would always be a storybringer.