Saturday, June 18, 2011

Would you read more of this?

I've started writing a story and I'd like to know, out of those that read my blog, how many of you would like to read more of the story.  If I can get 10 yes responses I will continue as-is.  If your response is no, could you please give me a brief reason why so that I can learn what I am lacking.  Almost every word is deliberate, so if this is not something you would read, I will not be offended at a negative response - I know that this sort of story will not be to everyone's liking. 

So please respond one of three ways in the comments below (or I'll see if I can set up a poll):

  1. Yes I'd like to read more
  2. I'm undecided (which tells me something about the impact of the story so far)
  3. No, it's not my cup of tea or I just don't like it.

Thanks in advance for your time to read this (don't feel like you have to read it all either - you can skip to the comment after the first little bit if you prefer).  Here we go:

The Stranger walked into town again.
In a different life he had entered a town on a horse, wearing a shiny chain-mail shirt with a heavy metal helmet.  In another, also on a horse, he wore blue jeans and a broad brimmed circular hat.

This time, on foot, he was wrapped up against the damp of a clingy morning mist in a think, dark woolen, hooded cloak.  The Stranger couldn’t help but think back, once again, to the many lives in which he had come for an apprentice.  As always, when taking on this role, he followed the same pattern of life - running away at an early age, ensuring his family believed him to be dead, redeveloping his body and his will before re-entering civilisation as a wise , but mysterious, authority figure of great learning and power.

‘Stranger’ was a name that he gave himself, and how he introduced himself.  This time in any case.  The children of the villages, scattered among the depths of the valley, had taken to calling him ‘The’ Stranger, and the title had stuck with everyone up to and including elders adopting the convention.  He thought it was more than appropriate considering that the longer he lived the less he really knew himself and his own motives, making him a stranger to even himself.  At the same time he knew that, of all who had ever lived, he may have known himself the best.  

Only a man who could understand such paradoxes in human nature could ever hope to accomplish his mission.  But that was not something to dwell upon at this time.  Today he was there to accomplish a key task that would help build towards the whole.  Pausing to take stock of himself, he took a deep breath and let it out, drawing in his will to focus on the day ahead once again.  “A great task must be completed in small steps,” he quietly whispered, “and this step neither of us may enjoy at first.”

He began to walk forward, towards the next ten years of his life, once again.

As The Stranger dew closer to the centre of town, passing through the quieter living quarters of the farming families on the outskirts of this peaceful village, his presence was gradually recognised.  Those who spotted him first were the few that had to keep work going on even this special-of-days.  Many women or already apprenticed children took over the bakeries, the fruit stalls, and even the smithies.  Just for the morning, mind you.  Members of developing civilizations often didn’t feel that they had the luxury of even a proper half day off.  Changes in just the weather could put pressure on vegetable collection or trade.  Combine that with illness in a key family or disease through livestock and the effects could be devastating.  It was an understandable mind-set and nobody in these small communities wanted to be a burden on each others’ limited resources, though everyone knew that their neighbours would do their best to help if needed.  

The Stranger had noted in his long years that the most prosperous and fast-growing civilisations were actually the ones that made time for play and for rest.  He had also never, ever seen these fast growing cultures die out for the lack that these people today seemed to fear.  War through greed, fear, and ignorance however, that was another matter.

Walking along the muddy edge of the main street, approaching the crowd that had gathered from the surrounding villages a day or two distant, the Stranger could see that the proceedings were about to get under way.  Andy the store-keeper, and also the current Chief elder, was just stepping up onto the raised wooden stage to the West of the town square.  The Stranger’s arrival had generated a stir and waves of heads, from the edge towards the stage turning towards him, could be seen by Andy as he paused to observe the gathering from his higher perspective.  Using the silence that was an inevitable consequence of the awe in which the people held for the Stranger, Andy called out loudly to open the event.

“Hi-ho people!”
And as the heads all came around again, Andy began.  In order of increasing importance he recognised the presence of those in attendance, and stated the purpose for their gathering.
“Citizens of Long-Valley, Masters, Elders, Chief Elders, and The Stranger.  Welcome to XXXX [insert town name].  We are pleased to host this Autumn’s Selection.  May the Creator give us wisdom in choosing our apprentices, and may our apprentices appreciate the opportunities they receive here today.”

He paused to look around the people, stopping his gaze on the figure of The Stranger and waiting for his go-ahead.  The Stranger lifted his hooded head so that a little of the morning light could penetrate into the shade of his cowl.  Those nearest, and with the clearest line of sight, gasped a little at the weathered, olive skinned face, that glowed with a health and energy beyond that of anyone else they had ever seen.  

Youthful in appearance, perhaps having seen thirty Summers, he was known to be far older than most here today. Upon his sudden arrival in the valley about two decades ago, The Stranger had shared wisdom and demonstrated a will that had stunned even the most experienced of Chief Elders.  His presence here today was an exciting sign that he might be ready to take an apprentice.  Only once before had this occurred, and the apprentice he had taken was now one of the wisest and most respected men in the valley.

Raising his left hand high for all to see, and giving a small shake to clear the cloak-sleeve from his hand, The Stranger displayed a small leather bag that clinked with the sound of coins.  An excited burble ran through through the crowd and then died down again quickly as they turned once again to get started.  They all wanted to see who would receive his advance, the traditional first month’s pay, from the mysterious Stranger.

The Stranger, fully aware of his impact on the excitement of the minds of those present, gave a small nod and an equally small smile to Andy with whom he shared a knowing look.  The ceremony this morning would proceed at a record pace so that everyone could find out who The Stranger would choose.  Andy took the nod as his sign to continue, giving his own small nod in return.

Taking a lungful of the cool, still valley air, Andy let it out again to help him focus also, giving away with a subtle sign who his Master had been. He then called up the first and, once again, least esteemed of Masters.

“Farming Masters!  Come forward and draw lots to find who gets first choice.  Line up to my right,” and he waved his right hand to indicate the steps on the right of the stage.  
“Farming hopefuls, come up on display to my left so that the Masters can take stock of you.”

Already anticipating, those called were at the front and stepped up without haste.  This ceremony was just that, a ceremony.  The selection was incredibly complex and deals were often made in the weeks preceding.  Masters who were ready to choose an apprentice spent weeks gathering reports and sending runners with offers to other Masters, seeking to gain priority for the most promising hopefuls.  There was also regular input from The Stranger to ensure certain individuals were paired with the right Master to make the best gains according to personalities and skill level.

The hopefuls were blissfully unaware of this, though today they waited with excitement and nervousness, considering their potential Masters.  They were not at all concerned that they were the first of those called, as the esteem of their position was not based on a lack of desire for their prospective careers.  It was based on the numbers of people that could perform that role in society.  Every role was necessary, but those roles that were scarce had to be more highly esteemed in order to create the support for those rarer of trades to be learned and developed.  A black-smith needed many more years to become good at his trade than a farmer, and not everyone was big enough to wield the hammer.  Farmers included anyone from fruit gatherers and planters to shepherds and milkers, providing a place for even the smallest and simplest youth.

Because of the ground-work performed, the selection went swiftly with Farming Masters walking across the stage one at a time to hand the advance to one new apprentice.  Then, they would return across the stage, new apprentice in tow, and descend the stairs together to re-join the crowd.  Each apprentice selected was honoured with a brief burst of applause from the crowd.

After the farmers, each of the usual trades took their turn decreasing numbers of hopefuls for that year giving the order of importance.  Scribes, Roofers, Bakers, Healers, Blacksmiths, and so on.  As the later groups appeared, there were often one or two hopefuls left at the end of the selection for that group.  These hopefuls were the only ones that remained unhappy at the end of the day, having to wait a full year for the next selection of their chosen trade.  Some, who were involved in earlier selections would try for later selections also.  These hopefuls were usually older, and more desperate for a chance at an esteemed position in society.  As they grew too old, they would eventually drop down into the farming group one year, their hopes for glory shattered.  It was to one of these hopefuls that the Stranger looked, though the rejection was not because of age or inability. Far from it...