Short story

The Story

It was the middle of a long, harsh winter when the stranger came. The snow was deep, and he looked cold and hungry, so the villagers offered him a bed for the night, and asked him to join them beside the fire for the feast that evening. Supplies were running low and no-one in the village had any gold to buy more, but they shared what they had with him.

After the feast, the stranger put down his plate and smiled, “I do not know how to repay you for your hospitality, nothing I can offer would be enough. But perhaps you might allow me to entertain you with a story… as a small token of my appreciation.”

Everyone readily agreed to his suggestion… after all, the long, winter nights could sap a person’s soul and a story was a welcome diversion. The villagers swiftly gathered around the fire to hear him. As he began to speak, everyone sat, listening… mesmerised by the soft, steady flow of his voice as his story unfolded: from the little children, to the old folks, he held each of them enraptured.

His tale spoke to all who listened in their own way. The younger children thought it was funny, they laughed and giggled, delighted by the storyteller’s inventive sense of fun. The older children found it thrilling, and a little risqué: just enough to excite them, give them a glimpse of the adult world to come, but not so much as to make them fear their parents would send them to their beds before the story was done.

The women of the village enjoyed the passion, the romance, they took the hero to their very hearts and secretly longed to take him to their beds. Yet their husbands admired the same man, enthralled by his adventures, sharing them for this brief hour in the firelight… as if they were their own. They aspired to be as noble, to give their wives the same consideration and respect, to love them all the more… as they deserved.

Tears fell from the old folks’ eyes as they felt the poignancy of the tragic tale, so reminiscent of all the joys and triumphs, sadness and regret, of their own lives. They listened intently to the storyteller and nodded in sage agreement at his piercingly accurate observations on the very nature of life.

When, at last, the storyteller finished his tale, there were tears and laughter in equal measure. Everyone clapped in delight, and many among them begged the stranger for another story.

“No,” he softly shook his head, “there is only one story, my friends… and it has been my pleasure to share it with you this night.”

A young man named Peter, who had only last summer become the village scribe, asked, “Who wrote this story, was it you?”

The stranger smiled, “The story is not for writing, it is for telling.” With that, he stood up bid everyone a good night, then made his way to the bed they had prepared for him.

The villagers sat by the fire until long into the night. They retold parts of the story to each other, revelling in the excitement, the thrills, the romance, the pathos, the sheer hilarity of the wondrous tale the storyteller had spun. Each of them felt enriched, strengthened, renewed… as if the story had told them everything they needed to know about their life: what was important, what was not, why they should feel humble, and yet why, at the same time, they should feel proud to be who they were, that their lives were something precious to be treasured… every one of them.

They all went to bed with a smile on their face that night.


In the morning, the stranger had gone. On the table next to the bed where he had rested was a bag of gold coins: enough to feed the whole village for the rest of the winter.

Recalling how marvellous the story had been, Peter decided he would write it down. He remembered it had been funny, exciting, romantic, and tragic; it spoke of life and love, and the meaning of both. Yet, as he sat, quill in hand, he found he couldn’t remember any of the details. What had been the hero’s name, what had he done?

Perhaps he had drunk too much ale, Peter concluded. But it didn’t matter; he would ask the others what they had heard, he could piece the story together from the villagers’ recollections: everyone had listened intently, among them would be enough memory to put the story back together. He went to see Samuel, the village elder, and asked what he could recall.

“It was amazing,” said Samuel, “so funny, romantic, and exciting, yet tragic and poignant too; I never heard anything like it.”

“Yes, but what actually happened; what was the story?”

Samuel laughed, “You know, I cannot remember. But I know it made me feel very happy, very content, very… fulfilled.”

Peter spent the whole day trying to find someone who could remember the story… but no-one could.

In fact, no-one ever remembered what the story was. But that feeling of contentment, of knowing their life had meaning, of knowing they mattered… that was something every one of them remembered for the rest of their life.