Years ago, at this time of day he would have been found carousing, chasing women, or loudly playing music for all to hear. But now, the bard’s dark hair had faded to white and his pristine skin was worn with wrinkles. His clothes were tattered and he had hairs sprouting from inside his ears and nose that flowed into his ragged beard. Now, he spent most nights sitting in a remote corner of the tavern alone. He would sometimes perform songs or tell stories of his adventuring days to anyone who was willing to listen.
However, the other customers talked noisily and drank deeply, not paying the bard any mind as he sipped his ale at a reclusive table. He didn’t mind though. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to sit alone. The locals had heard most of his tales and ballads and had grown tired of the old man’s repetitive stories. As the night slipped by, he reminisced in thought alone and a watchful eye would have seen him smile and scowl and laugh.
When the bard was about to retire, four new characters entered the pub. One was wearing robes that hid their face and another bore a breastplate across her torso with a bastard sword resting on her back. Each had an equally unique arsenal of weapons, armor, tomes, and scrolls on their person. The old bard’s gaze fixated on them. He was hopeful and a bit anxious, but he didn’t move from his spot of isolation. The other patrons didn’t seem to notice. The newcomers spoke to the barkeep who pointed to the remote corner in the back of the room, directly at the bard. The group obeyed the direction, walking in his direction.
As they occupied the empty seats, the young, sturdy woman in the breastplate spoke evenly, “Are you the storyteller we’ve heard of? The one who once fought the red dragon in the nearby mountains? We would like to know more about your encounter.”
Her companions nodded, each young visible face held a look of anticipation.
The old bard smiled wide and said, “Why yes, I am.”
The youth exchanged excited glances as grins crept onto their faces that they attempted to stifle. The bard smirked again at their awkwardness.
“Tonight,” he casually stated, “I will tell the tale of my adventuring group’s battle with the crimson dragon.”
Each face around the table was now centered on the bard, hardened with determination and focus.
The bard began, “The tale takes place in a local town deep in the mountains, somewhat similar to this very village. The people there had been under siege by a large winged leviathan. It would set fire to the church and claw at the tavern, swallow horses whole and smash shops in one blow. It was lucky for the inhabitants that the adventurers of our story happened across this settlement in their time of need. Our team quickly sprang to action in aid of the civilians. The devout and mighty paladin helped them to rebuild their dwellings while the studious and knowledgeable wizard looked through the annals of the town to determine if this beast had been seen before. The ranger took trips out into the wilderness to learn of the local flora and fauna and searched for the dragon’s home. While the others worked tirelessly, I, the bard, tried to get in bed with every sentient townsfolk while drinking the tavern dry.”
A few confused, almost troubled, glances were exchanged among the listeners. Because of the known eccentricity of bards, they were able to rationalize the odd actions of the old man’s past. After all, it’s quite possible that he had raised the town’s morale by celebrating with the villagers who had fallen on hard times.
The candle flickered, revealing a glimpse of the hooded figure’s face to be that of a light-haired elven male. He said in an anxious tone, “Tell us more of the dragon. That is why we have come to you.”
The speaker nodded. He was used to the impatience of youth, so he skipped ahead in his story. “The ranger’s efforts weren’t for naught. The party decided they needed to venture out to the dragon’s lair. The location had been narrowed down to an area high up on the mountain that was cleared of trees. It was a long and arduous journey up to the space. We travelled through rushing rivers, dense forests, and deep snow drifts. The higher we got, the less signs of wildlife there were. My responsibility as the bard was to keep my allies motivated, so I attempted to lift their spirits by playing the same song continuously on my lute. I only ever stopped to sleep or eat.” The old man chuckled. “For some reason, that only made my comrades angry.”
He laughed again and more glances were exchanged across the table.
The bard composed himself and continued his story, “When anyone complained about the song, I would insult them into silence and demoralize them. My favorite affront at the time was calling people ‘Mr. Idiot Dummy’.” Remembering the verbal jab prompted a fit of guffawing from the old bard and not anyone else.
The barkeep brought over a round of ale for the table. Before scampering away, she told the listeners, “This one’s on me. You’ll need it.”
They laughed uncomfortably and sipped their free drinks. Some of them winced at the taste of the bitter brew.
“Eventually, they told me-” The bard stifled another giggle and collected himself once more. “They told me, ‘If you keep doing shit like that, we will kick you out of the party’,” he mocked in a crude, high-pitched voice, “‘We won’t let you play with us anymore. You always do shit like this!’”
Suddenly, the bard became somber. “And then a booming voice from the heavens came, ‘You know what, don’t even bother showing up to next week’s session! Actually, don’t show up ever again!’”
He paused and stared into the mug in front of him. “After that confusing message from a god, the others left me in the tree line where we had made camp.”
His audience seemed interested in what he said for the first time since the story began. Each member had a similar thought, Was he wrong about the speaker? Was the dragon capable of speech?
The old man heaved a sigh, his face still serious. “All alone with nowhere to go, I made my way back down the mountain. Through the deep snow fields. Past the dense forests. Over the rushing rivers. I arrived back in this very town without a sense of direction. In that altercation on the mountain, my purpose had somehow been stripped of me. I no longer wished for the exciting and uncertain. I couldn’t even bring myself to engage in debauchery. Instead, I’m resigned to reside here under the mountain of the Crimson Dragon with no idea if my cohorts lived or not.” He stared off behind the young faces and after a short pause said, “Your presence makes me believe they did not.”
“So you have no experience with the dragon?” A third member, who was wearing leather armor and a cloak, immediately blurted.
“No, none at all. I haven’t even seen the thing.”
The last member who wore linen clothes and carried an axe spoke up, “This guy’s a waste, let’s get out of here.”
The listeners got up from the table. They walked out of the tavern, leaving the bard alone once again.
Henry Felerski is a failed Esports Journalist turned Software Engineer out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has been published in MAJOR. His little free time is spent attempting to win over the affection of his girlfriend's cats and pining over his days in amateur Esports.