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Library: A Twice Told Tale

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Author: Aaleji
Date:Feb 22 1996

     As the tide of time ebbs and flows, so to does the fortune
of man.  It has always been thus; as a great man rises from the 
midst of his peers, another man falls from greatness in folly.  
Such a tale might be told thousand-fold and never once repeated.  
Such is the tale I now relate to you.
     In a time now long past, faded from legend to myth and then
less than that, a great man lived.  A man of humble roots and poor 
pockets, he was given the name Mjoelner.  Do not doubt that this 
man was real, for I knew him.  And consider myself blessed for the 
knowing.
     As a boy, Mjoelner was a stubborn sort; yea, an ox in a
boy's skin.  He would set himself to work but ignore his assigned 
chores.  He would frolic when called and loiter when unwanted.  He 
would play in his Feastday clothes and go unwashed to the church 
square.  He never cried when beaten and never laughed when 
tickled.  He was a stubborn, stubborn boy.
     As the moons rolled past and Mjoelner grew to be a man, his
nature came to serve him.  In a storm he would stay until the last 
sheep was herded.  He would never settle for less than the best a 
merchant had to offer--and he always got the best price.  He was 
steadfast when called to arms and a diligent diplomat in times of 
peace.  Men now thought him determined; Mjoelner was loved by all.
     His twenty-third year marked his ascension to greatness.
Fire swept the hamlet he had long called home; burning, devouring, 
spread by the brisk autumn wind.  Rain had not come to his village 
for several moons.  Water was scarce and reserved for drinking.  
Not to be deterred, Mjoelner fought the roiling inferno.  Heaving 
great piles of earth, he toiled from dawn until dusk, digging a 
trench between the village and the pastures beyond.  When he could 
do no more, he sat atop a hill and wept for what was lost.
     As his tears rolled from his cheek, splattering to the
ground, lightning split the sky and thunder roared.  The wind 
stilled and the air grew heavy with smoke.  Lightning again, and 
more thunder.  And then came the rain.  By the bucket it fell, 
driving down to smother the flames in the hamlet and soak the 
earth.  Mjoelner's grief too was washed away by the saving rain; 
he was filled with newfound wonder at the power of nature.
     The rain fell an hour for each tear Mjoelner shed,
saturating the land with its life-giving kiss.  As the sun rose on 
the next day, it shone over lush fields of greens and yellows.  It 
was as if the drought had never been.  The remnants of the small 
village gathered around Mjoelner as he moved through the ashen 
heaps that had been homes.  They saw a power within him; they knew 
his tears had brought the rain.  Several fell to their knees 
before him and proclaimed him divine.
     Through all this Mjoelner was silent.  He surveyed the
damage to his home and others; he solemnly pulled blackened bodies 
from the ruins.  And that evening, at dusk, he buried those that 
had been lost.  He buried the smith and his family, the cobbler's 
wife and the innkeeper's youngest daughter.  He buried his
neighbor's eldest son, who had died to save a sheep.  And he 
buried his mother and father.  He did not cry for them.
     He marked the graves with stones; they formed a perfect
circle in the pasture he used to keep his sheep.  When the last 
stone was laid, he spoke to the gathered crowd.  He spoke of love 
and devotion, of faith and happiness.  He spoke of the coming 
harvest and how bountiful it would be, of the prosperity it would 
bring.  Always of life he spoke, of things that were joyful.  
Somehow it seemed a fitting eulogy.  When at last he was done and 
the moon hung well in the sky, he said his good-byes.  No one said 
he should stay.
     He gathered some few days' food and water and took his
leave; he walked east across the pastures to the forest beyond.  
Here too the rain had brought life; the undergrowth was full and 
tangled over the paths that had been.  Above, the canopy was so 
dense as to actually block much of the sun's light.  This forest 
he made his home.
     For twelve moons, a full turn of the seasons, he took refuge
in the trees.  The fox and bear became his friends; the hawk his 
sentry and the owl his counsel.  He grew wise in the ways of 
nature and the workings of its power.  The owl gave him a new 
name.  The owl called him Druid.
     On the last day of the twelfth moon, three centaurs came to
him.  They told him of the others that had been Druid before him, 
of the need to temper calm with storm, of the folly of war and the 
troubles brought by peace. They spoke of balance.  And they gave 
him a quest.  They bade him harvest mistletoe.  They spoke not of
how, or why.  When he had found the mistletoe, he was to travel to 
the twice-risen sun; there to await a warming wind to carry him 
home.  Mjoelner was compelled to take on the quest; it suited him.
     He asked the owl where he might find mistletoe; the owl did
not know.  The hawk had not seen it; the fox and bear had neither 
smelled nor heard of it.  Undaunted, Mjoelner left the forest for 
his year-gone home.  His eyes could not hide what had happened 
there.
     The hamlet was mostly deserted.  A few small structures
still stood; a small flock of sheep gathered outside a ramshackle 
hut.  Knocking at the door to the hovel, Mjoelner was invited 
inside.  A haggard old hermit awaited him within.  A leg of mutton 
roasted over a small fire.
     The hermit was quite mad, and insisted on his ownership of
the mutton.  The smell in the place was heavy with the stench of 
the unwashed man.  Mjoelner did not recognize the twisted figure 
nor did he linger long.  As he took his leave, the hermit began to 
wail.  He screamed of a wolf and a silver scimitar needed to slay 
it, of an island where the wolf lived.  And of the last mistletoe 
bush, from which a sprig could only be properly harvested during 
the full of the moon.  Soon after his outburst, the man died.  
Mjoelner took the mutton.
     A ruined shop gave him shelter for the night; he slept
poorly, mind bent on the words the hermit had died speaking.  He 
rose with the sun, its bright light filtering through the wrecked 
roof.  The light shone across his eyes, then to the muddy floor 
beneath him.  It carried over the floor to a dusty corner. There 
it glinted off a bright, silvery sickle. Mjoelner did not remember 
seeing the sickle upon his arrival; he took it for his own.
     He left the hamlet behind him; scrambling down a steep slope
toward a lake that jutted out to the North.  As he went, he walked 
through the pastures that had once been his.  At the circle of 
stones that marked his family's grave, he stopped.  He lingered
there, grieving as he had never before been able.  He shed twelve 
times twelve tears there, and twelve times that again.  He sobbed 
for a full day and into the next.  When at long last his grief was 
expunged, Mjoelner continued his quest.  The fields he left behind 
him were in bloom; every type of flower that had ever been grew 
there now.
     A small jetty reached out into the lake, anchored to it a
rickety skiff.  Seeing no owner of the vessel, Mjoelner took it 
for his own.  Hidden under the prow he found some hooks and line, 
the remnants of a net and an ordinary copper bowl, presumably used 
for cooking the day's catch.  He took those items that were
salvageable and dined well upon fish each evening.  And he rowed.
     Each day, Mjoelner rowed out onto the lake.  There was
serenity there, in the middle of his private pond, and he was at
peace with himself.  He had not abandoned his quest, he could not.  
Rather, the time he spent there was in quiet contemplation of the 
task he had set himself upon.  Still he knew not whither to find 
mistletoe.  Still he knew not how to properly reap it.  These 
things and more filled the void of his mind while he sat alone out 
upon the lake.
     The eve of the first full moon since his coming found
Mjoelner once again in the skiff, alone in his thoughts, out upon 
that same serene lake.  A dense fog rolled in, covering the land 
and water alike, obscuring Mjoelner's sight of the shore.  He was
not alarmed at the sight of the sudden fog.  He had been awaiting 
its arrival.  Closing his eyes, for they were without use 
regardless, he let nature take him where it would.  
     The skiff took ground shortly after nightfall, the fog
glowing softly in the silvery moonlight.  Mjoelner knew the land 
he now walked was not his own -- expected that it would not be.  
He pulled the small vessel onto the shore, gathered his meager 
possessions from its prow, and set off into the misty darkness.
     He came upon a stand of trees and took his rest against one.
There were few of the sounds Mjoelner was accustomed to here; no 
owl hooting or foxes scurrying.  The only sound he heard as he 
fell into uneasy sleep was the nearby howling of a wolf -- the 
wolf.  Mjoelner dreamed of the beast that night; a magnificent 
creature.  It stood as a man might, proclaiming its rage by 
shouting at the moon.  Mjoelner had never before known fear, but 
it tore at his heart now.  He awoke in a cold sweat several hours 
before dawn.
     Seeing little use in struggling to find sleep, Mjoelner set
out into the still-dark wood.  The fog had dispersed, and the 
small light of the moon guided him through the twisted oaks.  At 
last, he came upon a grove.  At first he thought he must still be 
dreaming, for at the center of the grove was the object of his 
searching.  Mistletoe!  The bush was there, its lush, green leaves 
and small, white berries shining in the moonlight.  He very nearly 
pinched himself to assure himself awake.
     And would have, had not he seen the wolf.  The man-beast
half-slumbered at the far end of the grove, its twitching nose 
betraying its closed eyes.  The wolf must have caught Mjoelner's
scent upon the air, for it was quickly upon him.  Razor sharp 
claws tore the druid's flesh; the beast's maw closed upon his
neck.  Mjoelner struggled only a few moments before passing into 
the brilliant light of oblivion.
 
                             * * *
 
     Mjoelner awoke with a start; the dream had been so real.  He
vividly recalled the pain of the beasts claws raking across his 
breast.  He remembered his helplessness as the last of his 
lifeblood spilled from his ravaged body.  He could still smell the 
hot breath of the manwolf.  Mjoelner had never before had such a 
lingering dream.
     Scrambling to his feet, Mjoelner set off towards a nearby
brook.  He paused briefly at the stream to cleanse the sweat from 
his body and then made his way up the bank.  He followed the brook 
until midday, when at last he came upon a cave.  The cave was a 
monumental maw in the earth; so much larger than the stream that 
flowed from it as to make the rivulet insignificant.  Fashioning a 
torch from a fallen tree branch, Mjoelner made his way into the 
waiting darkness.
     The caverns were labyrinthine--a maze of twisting passages,
some narrow, some wide.  All were dark and damp.  The echoes of 
his footsteps resounded through the cave, amplified as if by 
purpose by the form of the walls.  The sound of water dripping was 
made eerie by the way it carried; once again, Mjoelner knew fear.  
Steadfast still, the Druid swallowed his fear--even as the 
darkness swallowed his light.
     Nearly blind, Mjoelner felt more than saw his way through
the vast cavern.  He stumbled about for hours, occasionally 
pausing to regain his bearings.  More than once he fell, having 
tripped over a small but sturdy stalagmite or a pile of loose 
stone.  At last a twinkling of light reached his starving eyes; 
Mjoelner pressed on with renewed vigor.
     The passages had so turned him about that Mjoelner did not
know, as he made his way towards the light, whether he was coming 
or going.  He did not know whether that saintly beacon marked his 
destination or his beginning.  It was enough that it signaled 
change from the oppressive darkness.  He quickened his pace as he 
drew nearer--within him swelled a desire to leave the close 
confines of the caverns behind.  The Druid could see now what was 
shedding the light he sought:  a single ray of the sun shone down 
upon a shining silver scimitar.
     The sword rested gently in a cradle upon a pedestal.
Mjoelner was amazed at the intricacy of the blade.  The flat of 
the blade was etched in precise detail, depicting the wolf that 
haunted his memory.  The hilt was equally impressive; masterfully 
sculpted as a snake coiled about itself and swallowing its own 
tail.  This, he knew, was the weapon of the Druid.  This, he knew, 
was the scimitar the hermit had proclaimed would slay the wolf.  
This, he knew, was his destiny.
     With trepidation, Mjoelner reached out to grasp the
scimitar.  As he lifted it from the cradle, the cavern about him 
began to shake.  Rock came crashing in from above, crushing the 
Druid under its massive weight, snapping his sturdy bones like 
twigs.  Mjoelner went once again into the shining light of 
oblivion.
 
                             * * *
 
     Mjoelner stood alone in the pasture he and his family used
to keep their sheep.  The circle of stones he himself had laid was 
nearby.  In the center of the circle grew a small bush, its leaves
the darkest green and its berries snowy white.  A summer breeze
rustled his dark hair.  Spreading his arms as a bird would its wings,
the Druid waited as the warming wind carried him home.
 
//Aaleji, 22.2.96
//Wow, this one took a long time to write.  I hope you've enjoyed
//it; this is sort of a new style for me.  I would appreciate hearing
//what you have to say about this story -- constructive criticism/
//praise should be sent by tell or MudMail.
 
//The story is based on a one-time archwiz here at Bat.  Mjoelner's
//druid guild was one of the first brought online, and still remains
//my personal favorite.  Before you could join the guild, you had
//to harvest mistletoe.  There was also a kill the werewolf quest
//there (this was when you had to quest to wiz ;).  I hope my story
//does his memory justice.


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