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An Ordinary Life

In the corner of a quiet street in the City of Medievia worked a cobbler.

He was an ordinary man, and he spent all his days and nights working at making footwear for other people. Those who came to him for footwear were the heroes and heroines, the lords and ladies, the princes and princesses, the wise and powerful, the bravest and fiercest, the skilled and the stalwart. He made ordinary shoes, slippers, and boots for them all.

"Do you not sell magical slippers?" a princess asked, waving her wand.

"I'm sorry, but I know not magic," the cobbler replied.

"Do you sell armoured boots?" a warrior demanded, brandishing his sword.

"I work only in leather," the cobbler replied.

"Hast thou footwear blessed by the gods?" a priest inquired, his holy symbol glowing softly.

"I fear I have naught but ordinary leather," the cobbler replied.

"Do you have elven clloth to enable me to sneak most silently?" a rogue asked, twirling his dagger.

"I craft these myself to the best of my ability," the cobbler said. "I use ordinary coth, though I am not able to come close to the skill that the elven craftsmen put into their wares."

Each one bought ordinary footwear for ordinary occasions, but all seemed to be disappointed in some small way.

For many moons, the cobbler toiled in his shop, stitching and sewing his ordinary shoes, slippers, and boots. Barons, earls, abbots, archmages - all came to his shop for ordinary footwear.

"None of them are ordinary," the cobbler thought to himself, watching a group of adventurers inspecting and discussing his wares.

"Do you really make all these boots yourself?" one of them asked him.

The cobbler nodded slowly. "I measure, cut, stitch, and sew them myself," he said.

"There's nothing special about them at all?" the adventurer asked. "It's just that there's a rumour going around saying that gnomes or pixies make the shoes for you during the night.

The cobbler blinked. "I'm afraid not," he said, displaying the calluses on his hands.

"These boots truly are ordinary!" the adventurer declared. "I must have a pair!"

The cobbler closed his shop the next day and walked around the city. Something the adventurer had said the day before had disturbed him. What was so special about being ordinary? He'd never really had much time away from his workshop, what with the constant flow of customers and the work involved in making his footwear.

What he saw astonished him. Janitors swept the streets, yet some used the power of their minds to move their brooms. Many magically created imps wandered the streets, some on errands and others begging for gold. Arrogant wizards and tinkering artificers roamed at random. Where a shop had once been stood a gaping rend in the fabric of time and space.

"Perhaps I should not have looked for ordinary things in the Mage's Quarter," the cobbler mused, and on he walked.

The Poor Quarter had janitors, but they all seemed to be poorly disguised spies. Shadows moved, and illegitimate goods exchanged hands on every corner. Rowdy taverns and shops selling dubious equipment attracted a steady flow of customers. Nothing here was ordinary.

The Cleric's Quarter boasted shops selling fine potions and wands, and many of the patrons were powerful members of the clergy. Paladins watched over the streets, and even the altar boys and girls carried healing artifacts. Nothing the cobbler saw was ordinary.

As the cobbler had expected, the same happened in the Warrior's Quarter. At every corner, on every street, the cobbler saw incredible feats of arms. The strongest and most skilled fighters traded blows, parrying and riposting in the blink of an eye. There was nothing ordinary for the cobbler to find.

In time, the cobbler made his way to Castle Square, directly at the heart of the City of Medievia. He watched as people casually walked through portals, summoned dragons, cast spells, bartered, traded, walked up the stairs to the floating castle above - nothing appeared even close to being ordinary. He sat down on the edge of the fountain and sighed.

"That was a heavy sigh."

The cobbler looked around in surprise. Next to him on the fountain's edge sat an old man, his grey beard nearly long enough to reach his belt. Travel-stained robes covered what the beard didn't obscure. The old man smiled at him, a kindly smile the cobbler thought.

"Care to share your problems?" the old man asked.

The cobbler shrugged. "It's going to sound stupid," he said, "but I'm ordinary."

The old man blinked. "Ordinary?" he asked. "I have traveled the length and breadth of Medievia, and it is rare that I have spotted an ordinary person. Just what do you mean by ordinary?"

For some reason, the cobbler felt himself wanting to explain. "I make shoes - not by the weaving of magic or prayer, but by my hands and tools. They're nothing special. People wear them and they keep their feet warm, as well as keeping themselves safe from sharp stones." He sighed and gave a wide gesture with a hand, indicating the inhabitants of Castle Square. "Look around you. There are heroes of note, heroes who have yet to be, those whose ascendancy is foretold in the stars, and all manner of skillful adventurers. Even the other artisans play a role in their escapades, but I have no such talent. I'm ordinary."

The old man nodded slowly, his bushy eyebrows bunching together. "You've had no desire to inform an adventurer of where to find a special item?" he asked. "No instinctive offering of a reward to one who fetches you special fabric?"

"None at all," the cobbler said. "I wouldn't know what to do with it if they brought such to me."

"This is a rare day," the old man said. "It is seldom that I have met such as you."

"You appear to have many years upon your shoulders," the cobbler noted. "That suggests I am indeed an uncommonly scarce person. You ... don't happen to be ordinary as well, do you?" A flicker of hope swelled within him.

"Me?" the old man asked, throwing his head back and laughing. "Oh, I should wish I were." He slapped his thigh as if this was a great joke. "Nay, young cobbler. I have the distinction of being one who has seen much and learned the lore that entertains, as well as dispensing the occasional morsel of necessary wisdom. I am a storyteller of note, and these people around us are my bread and butter. They are the tales, and I make my coin by telling others of their deeds. Everyone around us is a story, my young friend, and even I have been at the heart of a tale from time to time."

"Morsel of wisdom?" the cobbler asked, his eyebrows raising. "I think you have given me one such piece. Everyone about me for leagues is special in some way, but I am not. Is it actually the case that I am special because I am ordinary?" He smiled, as if he had worked out the answer to a puzzling riddle.

Again, the storyteller laughed, a rich sound that carried with it the wisdom of ages. "No!" he cried, his eyes full of mirth. "Not for that reason," he said. "You will not scale the mightiest peaks in search of a rare egg, nor will you be the crux of a mission to save Medievia. You'll beat none of these fine people in a feat of arms, and your name shall not be writ large in legend. You are not special for that reason - you are ordinary."

"Oh," said the cobbler. He slowly stood, his limbs and heart feeling like lead. "I'll be getting off back to my ordinary life and ordinary boots, then," he added, beginning to trudge away.

"Hold hard there, young fellow," the storyteller called out, and the cobbler paused. "I said 'not for that reason', and I meant it. Look about you, boy," he said, pointing at various people in turn. "They're all tales, legends, and stories. I am a storyteller of skill. What are you?"

"Ordinary," the cobbler said. He felt the tears close behind his eyes.

"Ah," said the storyteller. "But what are we without an audience?" He let the words sink in for a moment. "What are we without you?"

January 21, 2006

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