Ah, gather 'round, ye olde companions, gather 'round the dying light and while we imbibe the last of this good ale and say a fond farewell to this day the French Knight will tell you a tale that was told to him whilst he was in a far away land. I remember not the teller of the tale other than he was one who seemed convinced of the account, perhaps one who witnessed the strange events I am about to recount to you. Here is the tale, judge for yourself.
In the third year of the reign of good king Beltheheezar it came to pass that spring at long last sprang upon the countryside and the long, bitter winter which would not be soon forgotten was now a thing of the past. On a bright, sunny day that began like all others the watchman at the east gate of the great city, which stood high upon a mountain plateau, proceeded to herald the approach of a lone traveler on the main thoroughfare. As was the custom, the large gates were opened and Ahad, chief of the guards approached the stranger and asked his business with the city.
"I am a traveler, officer, a wanderer making his way about the world in search of truth, beauty, and the meaning of life." Came the reply.
Ahad regarded the young man before him with a trained eye. That he was a stranger was obvious by his dress. The young man--Ahad judged him to be no more than twenty--carried a leather satchel, fastened tightly with leather laces, across one shoulder. Two wineskins were slung across the other. One would contain water and the other probably wine. The army officer's gaze dropped lower and he regarded the short knife that the young man carried in a finely crafted sheath. His sandals were of good quality but worn and his muscular, bare, legs told him that this one was accustomed to much walking. The young man's skin was deeply tanned and his light hair, uncommon in these parts, seemed bleached by the sun. He carried no weapon save a staff in one hand and a stringed instrument in the other which prompted Ahad to ask:
"Are you a minstrel?"
"Ah, that I am, sire ." Was the brisk reply. "I am no beggar or troublemaker. I wish to work for my meals if that is permitted and trouble no one."
Ahad nodded. "Very well, for the king has no use for either. You may enter and go straight to the square in the center of the city. If there is anyone in need of a minstrel or laborer, he will make it known to you."
The young man thanked him kindly and the army officer watched him walk away. He muttered under his breath his displeasure at having to allow the young man entry into the city. If he had his way he would have thrashed him and sent him along back down the mountain from which he came. The king, however, had different views on hospitality and he grudgingly complied with his majesty's wishes that all strangers be welcomed in the great city. It was the king's contention that the inhabitants of the great city needed to be exposed more the things outside its walls. Ahad--and he was in the majority--believed that was had been good enough for a hundred generations was good enough for him.
The young man had journeyed the better part of the night, climbing the mountain upon which the great city stood. He was tired but it was with the tiredness of youth and was nothing that five minutes of sitting would not remedy. He found the square and seated himself on a weather-worn wooden bench and watched the children play. Merchants and whores called out to the passersby, each one trying to outdo the other in plying their goods. There was the usual array of fruits, vegetables, and meat hanging in the open air with small children shooing away the blowflies. The city had a stench that most cities have, of unwashed human bodies, decaying vegetables and meat, of sheep and asses and what they left in their wake on the streets. Men and women alike could be seen urinating on the side of the structures --unashamed. Occasionally a sweet and innocent aroma like baking bread or the roasting of meat would provide a welcome relief from the heavy stench. He was grateful for the gentle breezes that blew and for a few moments at least, gave him a reprieve from the foul odors. He lay his baggage closely beside him and tuned his instrument. He began a soft ballad about a young lady lamenting the loss of her lover. Soon there was a crowd about him, his strong, resonant voice carried over the turmoil of the square.
He finished and a kindly looking, well-dressed, older man dropped a few coins in his cup. The young man nodded his thanks and began another ballad. This one was a little livelier and he began dancing among the crowd as he sang while being careful not to get too far from his belongings and the cup with the coins. He finished amid enthusiastic applause and his practiced ear heard a few more coins drop into the cup. He thanked them all, collected his earnings and sought a tavern.
He walked past the liveries and blacksmiths, turned a corner and was making his way past the cartmaker and the maker of tents when his keen eye caught a movement down one of the side streets. With all the caution of a stranger in a strange land he carefully made his way down the narrow path between the stone buildings. He stopped at the next corner and carefully peeked around. Two large men were busy tossing a young boy around while one was scavenging through what was apparently the boy's belongings. An inner voice told him: "You have a mission here, go about your business quickly" . Instead of listening to the voice, he dropped all but his staff and then walked around the corner and into plain sight of the two ruffians. One of them let out a grunt of inquiry as he saw the staffed young man walking up boldly to them.
-Say what you mean, mean what you say-