Here's your next love letter (and it's not even Valentine's Day, yet!).
I will tell you a secret: When living THE DREAM, every day is not in service of THE DREAM. Often, there are side quests and side hustles, spin offs and supplementary volumes. I’ve never minded because I love stories so much - the thrill of all I do not know and might happen upon - and every experience can be elevated through attention. Long before the “everything is content” of Instagram or TikTok, I subscribed to the idea that everything was a story. In Japanese, the word gaiden refers to "outside legends,” departures from our central narrative, and today’s (fairy) tale takes us into a recent one of mine.
Today’s 2-Minute Tale
As the chill of winter crept in, our minstrel decided it best to hibernate a season, waiting out the sicknesses slowly slinking from the land. She bid farewell to the shimmering ballrooms and stages of summer, graciously declined the late autumn invitations, and promised only a few trips a month into town to sing for especially delectable suppers in the snow.
In her solitude, the minstrel would Compose! Practice! Plan! She stated her great designs aloud as if speaking them made them flesh. But her own stomach growled.
“Ah,” she thought. “What to do about money?”
The balladeer consulted a crystal ball she’d brought along (so she might yet peek into the outside world from her retreat). A perilous thing, it contained all knowledge, but not all truth. Still, the device suggested a faery place where one might make a trade. With trepidation, the minstrel mounted her aging black steed. His pitiful whinnies reminded: too long since he’d seen a farrier, and she had best be brave for them both.
A ways into the wood, other peasants were already waiting to see white-robed beings. These benevolent fae are known to help those in need, she thought. Still, she noticed an arsenal of slender daggers and blades at the ready. Deeming it as safe as any faery place can be, she approached the first gatekeeper.
“I’ve come to make the trade.”
“Second enchantress on the left,” muttered the gnome.
The enchantress examined the minstrel a long while. “Which claw need thee least for thine lute?” the woman asked, before pricking the minstrel’s most unskilled finger. After consulting her cauldron, mage and minstrel strolled deeper into the forest until they reached the final gate alongside a stream.
“In the land beyond, there is a great famine ... A strange drought,” said the enchantress. “Though this very water runs throughout … none can drink it. Everything we have tried has failed: Every potion. Every vessel - except a human one. You must drink from this stream, as much of it as you can. Within you, it will mingle with your magic. This changed water must be left with us.”
“How … how will you get the changed water … out?” the minstrel stammered, but she knew all too well. All those slender daggers …
“Yes,” the enchantress said, kindly. “By the time you finish humming your fifth hymn or so, it will be over. Your blood will be returned to you - that you may keep. Along with the coin you came for. As many times as you wish.”
The balladeer had come too far to turn back. Bolstered by the sight of other peasants recovering nearby and the tale of the thirsty towns, she bent to the stream to drink her fill. She closed her eyes, and the dagger was quick and true. And true, too, five hymns later her wound was tended and silver jingled in the minstrel’s pocket. The fae held up their prize: A vessel of petal-pink nectar for the lands beyond.
Having survived the first trial, the minstrel returned again and again that winter. She learned that no one likes the dagger, but everyone appreciates a skilled swordsman. And she grew to love the dance: How the same enchantress would cradle her hands every time and remark on how cold they were from the journey. “Cold hands, warm heart!” the minstrel would always sing back. “Which is the unskilled finger again?” Prick. The handing of a bandage. A handful of hymns to pass the time. “Habit, dressed up, becomes ritual,” the minstrel thought, “Which is much sexier than routine.”
And with her horse shoed and her heart full, the minstrel looked forward to spring, and singing for her supper once more.
In the name of fewer and better shows, I've been donating plasma twice a week (and hope I packaged this story well for the squeamish reader). As Terry Pratchett said, “Most people forgot that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood.” In this case, its 90% water and 10% proteins that science can't synthesize. To my Dune-reading friends, I am a Bene Gesserit, converting the water of life. There's a fairy tale in everything - if you dare to look for it (my favorite Japanese one is about a badger tea kettle!). Similarly, the Bon Iver song, "Blood Bank," finds love in the unlikeliest of places. So, have a little late-night bedroom demo from me (and a peek at my fairy tale collection) for making it this far into the "quest."
Join me at one of the next “especially delectable suppers” I plan to sing for. As luck would have it, one of them actually DOES involve a LUTE!
Come here me sing in old Scots?
Write me. Add me to your mailing list. Come to a show. Let’s live happily ever after.
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