With a Worn Map and a Weary Voice | Teen Ink

With a Worn Map and a Weary Voice

March 24, 2022
By bookmage SILVER, Montreal, Quebec
bookmage SILVER, Montreal, Quebec
6 articles 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Nobody said it had to be a story with an ending all neatly tied up like some ridiculous fairytale. This story's true, and true stories don't have endings, because things just keep going."
-Kate Milford

As the barkeep was shelving bottles of drinks and liquors, the light shone through the rows of carefully lined receptacles in all shapes and sizes. Some were pale, gleaming, fine figures of clear glass; others were thick stone jugs with cork stoppers. The sun was setting swiftly over the hills, and the golden light trickling through the windows danced with the shadows of the barkeep’s carefully curated collection: drinks of all kinds, from across kingdoms, gifted by forest-dwelling creatures, won over the counters of grimy pubs, or brewed by his own clever hands. This was the barkeep’s favourite time of the day, when the customers were clearing out and the orders had ceased, when he finally took out the meticulously kept financial record-book and blackened its cream-coloured, spotted pages with rows upon rows of numbers, passing observations, and business predictions. Soon he would be able to sit on the roof with a steaming cup of tea, watching the passing merchants, and-

Just then, the bell rang and the door opened.

The barkeep’s head whirled towards the entrance. The newcomer couldn’t have been much older than his own children, yet by the way they carried themselves, they had clearly come from far and seen much. The barkeep knew he would not soon forget that face, not that it was an extraordinary face, with its darkish complexion and loosely tied chestnut-coloured hair. In fact, the stranger would have blended in perfectly well with the usual travellers the tavern on the side of the road catered to, if it weren’t for those eyes. One was a deep, vivid emerald, flecked with darker spots, seemingly staring right through him. The other was a clouded, milky-pale green. The contrast nearly split the face in two.

He let out a huff of annoyance. Even though he could technically refuse to serve anyone at anytime, business was business, and he had to live off something. Sighing, he set aside his dishrag and got out a glass. He must’ve been staring, because the customer grinned. “Nothing happened, eye was always this way.” It occurred to the barkeep that they might have meant I. He briefly wondered if the strange wording had been intentional before deciding it didn’t matter.

“A rather fine evening, Mr...” Like the peculiarly worded information about the eyes, the comment about the weather set him off more than it should have. Yes, it had been a fine evening in the making before the interruption of his beloved routine. He frowned. Suspecting some trickery to be involved, he decided against giving his name out of fear that this stranger might not be wholly human. Dryly, he responded: “Call me barkeep.” If the stranger understood the accusation in his response, or rather lack thereof, they didn’t comment.

“Where’re you from, Wanderer?”, asked the barkeep, using the informal title to indicate he recognized his guest as one who dared to wander off the beaten paths and move in the shadows, who was therefore entitled to certain cautious respect. The wanderer tilted their head in a curious manner and paused before answering. “At the foot of the hills, there is a pine forest. That is my birthplace.” This caused the barkeep to scowl, as since he had asked and been answered, and he himself was from that very place, he now owed his kin of the woodlands asylum and a table to eat at if they so requested.

“Just tell me what you want.” He felt out of place and awkward in his own house and wanted this encounter to be over with as soon as possible. Strangely enough, the customer now looked slightly uncomfortable. “I came to your tavern because I was told you had one of the last stockpiles of a certain drink. I believe you’ll know what I’m talking about.”

The air itself seemed to still. Time seemed to come to a halt. One could have heard a pin drop, even over the sound of the glass shattering as it slipped out of the barkeep’s suddenly loose grip. Yes, he knew exactly what they meant. His mind raced as he thought of the implications. Only a select few knew of his stashed away treasure, a drink so old and rare that it had no name. It was said that just one sip could allow the daring drinker to see the moment of their death. If this stranger knew, how many others would too? Who had spread the word? An awkward silence hung in the air. He shivered. How had it suddenly gotten so dark out?

Scrambling to gather his thoughts, the barkeep looked at the stranger, weighing his options. Trying play dumb would be a lost cause. If the traveller wasn’t sure before if they had come to the right place, his reaction had irrevocably confirmed it. Of course, he could always refuse, but then he might never find out how a stranger had come across the information.

“How do you know?”

Before he knew it, the words had already slipped out. His guest shrugged, looking at him with an appraising eye. The two faced each other, not speaking, for a long moment. Then, as the host, the barkeep decided it was up to him to break the tension.

“Did your source tell you what the usual price is?”

No curse had been uttered, yet the effect was immediate. The traveller’s face closed, they stepped back, their shoulders rose defensively.

“I have no stories to tell.”

“But you are a wanderer.”


“I am deciding whether to give you two valuable resources of mine, those which cannot be bought or claimed. The first is the drink. The second is my trust. If you will not at least return half of that which is offered, you will leave empty-handed.”

“I will tell you how I came across the information, but only if you promise to not write my tale.”

“In that case, the price just went up.”

“My story has value to those who know how to listen.”

Grudgingly, the barkeep gave a nod of assent. He didn’t like this wanderer, coming to him and telling him how to run his business. If the story wasn’t good enough, he decided, he would ask the visitor to leave and never return.

Then, his peculiar guest took a deep breath and sat down. The story started in a log cabin among pine trees. With a worn map and a weary voice, the storyteller left a dazzling trail of highly personal anecdotes, thrilling encounters, marvellous experiences, and fateful discoveries. It was a tale unlike any ever written, meant only for the spoken voice. The telling made the story come alive, bringing seemingly unrelated episodes together to weave a thick, rich, tapestry. I cannot tell any more, for that is all the barkeep wrote in his logs, save for the ending:

“Some say the written word is like a tapestry or a window to another world, painting pictures, showing places. I prefer another comparison, for a setting, characters, and plot are all but vehicles for the greater purpose of getting a point across. A well-written tale is more like this knife I am holding. It can slash through one’s skin, burrow under the surface, reach the tender and vulnerable parts we tend to shy away from. The spoken word, however, is more akin to a tapestry. The teller must know how to pick threads, how to weave, how to entrance an audience. Some stories were meant to be written, while others, meant to exist only for a brief moment in the overall fabric of time, to entrance, but then to leave, and only the ones whose ears were meant for the tale can know it’s true worth. I have said all that is meant to be said tonight, it is now in your power to decide what worth to grant my tapestry.”

Without another word, as if anything he might say would chase away the glow from the lingering wisps of the glorious moment, the barkeep went to get a bottle so thin it looked as if a slight disturbance would cause it to shatter. It’s gleam troubled the customer deeply, their clouded eye now watching his every move intently. Startled, the barkeep realized that eye could see thing he could never even imagine. Swiftly, as if he though he might regret the decision any minute, he poured half of it’s contents into a metallic travel flask, closed it, and handed the invaluable drink to the customer. They smiled and left without another word.

The man ran to the window, and sure enough, his mysterious guest had opened the flask and taken a sip. Shaking, the barkeep neared even closer, his breath fogging the glass. A minute later, they wandered strolled down the hill as if nothing had happened, whistling merrily. They had seen nothing at all; there had been no demise to witness, after all.

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