It used to be so easy.
I would find the women. I would discover their closely-guarded secret. Then I would weave a story around that one thing they desired more than anything else.
I would tell them the story I’d made for them. They would show their gratitude, happy someone had come along into their lives and shown them something beyond their small world.
It was easy travelling from village to village, making up stories to tell to those who needed to hear them.
Being a mere storyteller meant that the outlaws ignored me, at least until they needed someone to tell the world of their exploits. I had no money. I had no wares. Nothing worth stealing except the clothes I stood up in. As my clothes and belongings were often in worse wear than those of the outlaws, I was not much of a prize.
No-one would pay any ransom for me and no-one – except perhaps a few suspicious and mystified husbands – wanted me dead, at least not enough to pay for the deed to be done. So I walked the roads between the villages with little worry for my safety.
There even came a time when I knew some of the outlaws along some of the busier roads between towns and villages. Some of them were grateful too, for any bit of news I could give them about wealthy travellers, merchants and tax collectors I’d seen in the inn as I told the barmaid a tale that would get me a hot supper and a place in her warm bed for the night.
It was not much of a life.
As I said, it used to be easy.
I could always find a story to tell.
At least until I met Maria.
It was the coldest winter I could remember. There were no travellers in the inns to beguile with my tales and no barmaid willing to share a meagre supper in return for a tale of a disguised prince falling in love with an innkeeper’s daughter.
I was out on the road through the Torside forest. There were wolves howling in the darkness and a blizzard blowing. I could see less that a couple of strides in front of me through the swirling snow.
I must have wandered off the road.
When she found me, Maria said, I was almost dead.
‘Now I believe in angels.’ That was what Maria told me I’d said as she dragged me back to her cottage in the woods.
It was a long time before I spoke again. Maria said she was wondering how to dig a grave in the snow covered frozen earth. But she knew plants, she knew herbs. She knew how to dance the dances of healing I had only ever heard of in the stories I told.
She knew other things too. Things that only ever happened in stories I told to seduce those women who had unrealisable dreams.
When Maria gave me those concoctions of hers to drink made of herbs gathered by moonlight, I too had dreams and Maria was in every one.
Then she gave me one more potion to drink. I took it gladly, wanting to dream of her again. Then when I handed her back the empty wooden mug, she said ‘that was for all the women you’ve fooled and lied to over the years.’
Then the world faded, turning black… slipping away.
I knew then there would be no more stories for me to tell.