The Story Teller
by Silvia Hartmann
Once upon a time, in a far away kingdom, there lived a very special young girl.
She had a keen intelligence and a fine desire to live right and help people, but it wasn’t always easy, for most of the time, she was told to be quiet, sit still, do as you’re told, it’s none of your business, and many other cutting, painful words to that effect.
She did the best she could to please those around her, although, it is fair to say, that sometimes it was very hard, and sometimes she lost her temper, and sometimes she cried because it was unfair and she felt no-one listened to her at all, or even saw her properly.
One day, she had to take a large cart of vegetables to the market. It was hard work and the cart was heavy; the road she walked on was muddy and rutted and the wheels of the cart were old and worn out wood.
When she got to the market, she noticed a story teller standing by the fountain. Around him was a crowd of people, and they all looked at him and although he spoke softly, sometimes their eyes would widen, and sometimes, they would all burst out laughing all as one, and yet at other times, they would cry and weep.
The girl stood and listened and watched all day as the story teller wove his magic spell across the people, old and young, man and women, rich people and poor; and it was not so much the stories themselves she listen to but how and what he said, and she marvelled at his art and at his power.
When the evening came and all the stall holders packed up their remaining wares to go home again, and all the buyers and lookers had long gone home, the story teller came over to the girl just as she was about to start dragging the heavy cart back out into the road.
“I have been watching you watching me all day,” he said in his soft but resonant voice which went right through the young girls body and she had to stop and look at him.
He was middle aged, dark haired and didn’t look so special yet the young girl knew that this was a deceiving thing for she had seen what he could do with the people of the town.
She thought she didn’t know what to say to him in return, but from nowhere, words came to her and she heard herself say: “I would know what you know, I would do the magic that you can do.”
And then she gasped because she didn’t think that she could want such a thing at all, never mind speak such a want out loud to this stranger.
But he smiled at her and said, “It is true and right. I go amongst the markets for one purpose only – to find the one that stands and sees with more than their eyes, that hears with more than their ears, and understands with their heart. I would offer you, special one, to become my apprentice and to come away with me to learn the art of the magic of the spoken word.”
The young girl thought she didn’t believe what he had said, what he had offered her, and yet she also understood that she only thought this, for indeed, she knew that she saw with more than her eyes, listened with more than her ears and understood in her heart that it was true, and it was right, and that it was for her.
So she smiled and turned her back on the muddy cart and followed the story teller to that special place where the ones go that understand such things, and where they learn to unlearn all the teachings that got in their way of speaking the truth so that those who heard it would know, and not only know, but feel it in their own hearts, too.
Many years had passed since the Master Story Teller had met the young girl in the market place.
She had learned and experienced so much in that time, heard and listened and tried out things, worked on stock stories with the guidance of the masters at the Guild’s halls of learning and laughed and joked with the other apprentices.
Then, the day had come when she had been called before the Master, and he had smiled at her, a little sadly, and said that she was ready to leave, to go out into the world and begin her real training.
She was shocked and surprised and although she knew well enough what he meant, there was still this part of her that thought, “But I’m not ready – I’ve still got so much to learn, there is still so much I don’t understand.”
The Master heard her thought and his smile deepened, for every single apprentice that had ever stood before him always thought the same at this point.
Indeed, if there was one who did not think it, they would not be invited to stand before him at all for they would not be ready, could not be ready without such a knowing that there was, indeed, so much they did not yet understand.
So he said very gently in his beautiful resonant voice that carried his pride, his love and admiration for the girl who now was a young woman,
“There is only so much I can teach you. There is a limit to what can be taught – it is true, I can not teach you anything at all and I never could. It was my task to get you to a place where true learning could begin, and this is the place, and it is the time.
“Only the world can teach you what you need to learn – your true apprenticeship, that to the Universe itself, is beginning tomorrow.
“This is an apprenticeship that will never end, and although men and women call the likes of me a master, it is but a secret codeword for in the ancient languages, it means, The Learner.
“There are many of us, and for each of us, it is a unique path that we travel alone. The young ones don’t know this, and we don’t tell them for they need to believe that the path is ready and waiting, laid out for them by another so they can come to this point in clarity and without fear.
“I know that you have the courage it takes to know this, to understand this, and this is why on this day, I will give you my blessing for your road ahead.”
The young woman stood in his voice and in his meanings and she, too, was smiling because she knew that he was right, that there was a part of her that was so very ready to go out and find her own special path, a path like no other, that would lead her to her own destiny in all ways.
She bowed deeply before him and went to say goodbye to her teachers and fellow students, and to have her travelling clothes ready for the next morning.
It was the tradition for any new journeyman to go to Pertineri Market and tell their very first story beneath the ancient statue of the Master Sorey, the most famous story teller of them all, the one who saved the kingdoms with a single tale told one night to the conqueror which turned his heart from destruction to balance, in a time so long ago that no-one quite remembered now how long ago it had been.
It was quite a few days’ travel across the roads, but it was springtime and most pleasant to be out and to see, hear, feel and experience what lay beyond the marble halls of learning and that universe she had left behind.
As she walked on her road, clad in the jade robes of the Story Teller, people stepped aside and gave her much respect. She found this a little strange but there was also a sense that it was right and proper, so she accepted the bows and curtseys with a gentle smile.
It was coming up for sundown when she reached Pertineri.
All the way, she had thought of what story she might be telling as her very first one, although she remembered well enough that the Master had told many times that you cannot know just what you will say right until the moment you stand on the platform beneath the Statue of Sorey and you start to speak.
She went through many of her favourite stories in her head and finally, with her heart beating high, she walked into Pertineri Market and saw the statue for the first time by herself, all alone, and all the stories went right out of her head in an instance.
For a moment she stood and could not move, but then she clearly heard the Masters’ voice from her memory and once again, he said,
“You cannot tell stories with your head. Your head isn’t big enough. It has to be your head and your heart and then all the other parts of you coming together to make it right, to make it real.”
It gave her the courage to go forward.
It was late, and there weren’t that many people left in the market. Mostly, there were traders and their families, street children, tired entertainers and a few soldiers lounging around in the golden red glow of the setting sun that cast long sharp black shadows from the houses, and the fountains, and the statues.
Slowly and most self consciously, she walked up to the statue of Sorey, feeling such a fraud in her jade robes, thinking to herself, what if the Master was wrong about me? What if I’m not ready, if nothing will come to me, what if I just stand there and nothing happens and I find out I wasn’t good enough after all, that I AM NOT ENOUGH?
Yet she knew that the time was now. There was no turning back.
Slowly, step by step, she ascended the five circular stairs that led to the base of the statue, age worn, smooth marble, lit by the setting sun near red now.
She turned and looked at the sun over the rooftops of Pertineri, flooding the city and its spires and setting the entire view on fire, so glorious and magnificent that there would be no words for it.
Below, people started to gather. They whispered to each other – the traders who were here every day knew well enough that she was here for the first time, that she was about to tell her very first true story and this was always a most special occasion for everyone.
The young woman stood quietly and never saw the people drifting towards her, the giggling street urchins and the unkempt soldiers with their wine flasks, winking and nudging each other and pointing to the pretty young thing entirely dwarfed by the statue of Sorey, beggars, townsfolk on their way home stopping and putting their burdens down, and the traders and their families.
She never noticed in the back, half hidden behind a fountain, a hooded man in a brown, simple traveller’s garment and never knew that the Master was there, as he could not be anywhere else on this evening, at this time.
Above, on the pedestal, the young woman, with her eyes to sun, took a deep breath. She didn’t know what she would say but somehow, that was alright.
When she began to speak, her clear and reaching voice made everyone straighten up.
The people fell silent. They saw her in a whole new way and they listened as they heard her say,
“Once upon a time, in a far away kingdom, there lived a very special young girl.”
Story By Silvia Hartmann, 2000
The first part opened the Story Teller Course,
the second part closed it.