(Literary version, as published in The Healing Heart: Families, 2003. My oral retellings are always a little different.) For a video, scroll to the end.

copyright 2003 By Leslie Slape

Long, long ago, in the time of lords and ladies, castles and kings, monsters and dragons and magical rings, there was one who told, to young and old, tales of all these things.

The Tale-Teller traveled from village to village with his leather satchel over his shoulder, telling tales in exchange for a hot meal or a place to sleep … and perhaps a new tale or two to take with him when he left. For stories are meant to be shared. If they’re not told, they crumble into dust.

On the night my story takes place, the townspeople were rejoicing at the news that the Tale-Teller was coming. The lord of the manor had opened the Great Hall and declared a feast day, and all the people from miles around came to eat and drink and listen.

Among the listeners was a young maiden — a peasant girl — who was collecting food in her apron for her sister lying sick in bed at home. They lived alone, their parents having died.

When the Tale-Teller entered the room, the people cheered. “Tell us a story! Tell us a story!”

The old man smiled and set his leather satchel down on a table. He opened it, and those who were nearest could see it was filled to the brim with polished stones.

“I’ve prepared a new one for you,” he said, and picked up a stone from the top. Grasping it in his right hand, he pressed it against his heart, closed his eyes, and took a long, slow breath. He opened his eyes.

“Once upon a time there dwelt a father and three sons,” he began. His hand never left his heart.

The listeners leaned forward, hardly breathing, not wanting to miss a word. It was a story of a thrilling adventure, and when the Tale-Teller finished, his listeners cheered. The Tale-Teller took the stone away from his heart and replaced it in his satchel.

“Another! Another!” the people shouted. “A funny one!”

“Here’s one you’ll like,” said the Tale-Teller, choosing a small red stone from the satchel. He placed it over his heart as before. “One day in the forest a fox met a bear …”

Soon the listeners were weak with laughter. When the Tale-Teller finished, they shouted, “Another!”

“Do you have a love story?” asked a young couple nearby. The Tale-Teller smiled and said, “Of course.” He reached into his satchel and pulled out a silver stone shaped like a teardrop.

“A long time ago there lived three sisters …”

As he told this tale, tears formed in the eyes of his listeners, for the lovers had to undergo many trials to test their love. But there was one listener whose eyes were not wet.

This man was a thief, and he had come to the feast for the free food, not the stories. But when he saw the silver stone, his interest in the Tale-Teller grew.

Easily, like a snake, he slithered through the crowd until he stood beside the table where the satchel lay. His practiced eyes scanned the stones within.

These were no ordinary stones!

He would have to have a jeweler appraise them, of course, but he’d be willing to wager he was looking at carnelians, opals, jade, amber, lapis lazuli, and other semi-precious stones.

He hadn’t even noticed that the Tale-Teller had finished his tale. The old man set the teardrop-shaped stone in the satchel right before the thief’s eyes.

It was solid silver!

A stone like that would bring a good price, thought the thief, and he waited for his chance. Suddenly it came.

“My friends, I must go slake my thirst … but I will return shortly,” said the Tale-Teller. He left his satchel, still open, on the table.

The thief snatched the silver stone and slipped it into the leather bag that hung from his belt. He glanced around, grabbed a handful of other stones, and slithered into the night.

The Tale-Teller, returning with a frosty tankard, saw him go. He stroked his beard and sighed.

Soon the thief arrived at the home of a jeweler.

“What would you give me for this?” he asked, reaching into his pouch. Feeling the largest stone, he pulled it out.

“Nothing,” said the jeweler. “Common stones such as this can be found alongside any road.”

“What?!” said the thief. He peered at the stone in the candlelight. He could have sworn it was silver, but now it looked like an ordinary rock.

He turned the pouch over and dumped out all the stones. Every one was a common pebble.

“I don’t understand,” said the thief. “In the Tale-Teller’s hands, these were quite different!”

“Ah, so that’s what happened,” said the jeweler. “These are story-stones. They can’t be sold. Did you listen to the stories?”

The thief shook his head.

“Without the stories, they’re completely worthless,” said the jeweler. “Be on your way. I’m going to bed.”

Back at the hall, the Tale-Teller had returned and his listeners were again begging for a tale. What to tell? His eyes scanned the room and met the eyes of a young maiden with an apron full of food. I know what she needs to hear, he thought. Ah, here’s the perfect stone … a heart-healing tale.

“In a certain time, in a certain place, there lived a peasant girl …”

His eyes never left those of the maiden.

She needs this story, he realized. She needs this story even more than I do.

When the tale was done, the girl moved through the crowd until she stood before him.

“Would you come to my house and tell my sister that story?” she begged.

He looked at her a moment, then picked up the stone again and place it in her hand.

“I think you need to be the one to tell it,” he said.

The girl hurried home, with her apron full of food and the stone clutched tightly in her hand. Her sister was lying in bed, feverish and weak.

“I’ve brought you something wonderful,” said the girl, opening her hand.

Oh no! This was a plain, ordinary rock!

Quickly she closed her hand to hide it. She would have to pretend. She placed her hand over her heart and took a deep breath.

Suddenly her mind was flooded with images, feelings … everything that had been in the story.

“In a certain time, in a certain place, there lived a peasant girl …”

She stumbled over some of the words, but the images remained, and she found new words. Her eyes never left her sister.

When she finished, her sister’s face was radiant. “Oh, what a beautiful story. Could you tell it again?”

“Of course.” The girl put the stone over her heart again, and again the images washed over her. The words came easier this time

“This is better nourishment than food,” said her sister. “Again … please?”

Through the night, the story was told again and again, each time more smoothly. When the morning sun came through their window, it shone on two sleeping girls.

And in the hand of one of them was a stone of bright, shining gold.

To request permission to tell this, send an email to leslie.slape@gmail.com

The Tale-Teller, part 1, on YouTube

The Tale-Teller part 2

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