Tale of the Traveler

The legend of the man in blue... (Written for K.)

Once upon a time, in a land long forgotten, there was a small town on a quiet trade route. One year, as the winds were starting to blow cold from the South, a traveler came upon the town. He spoke not a word, and was dressed in a long blue cloak, with a hood that concealed his face.

The traveler quickly found the town's solitary inn, since it was close to the main street, and was identified by a rudimentary sign on the wall next to the door. It was a modest place, serving as the town's social center as well as a place for visitors to obtain lodging.

As he entered, the towns-people within stopped their talking for a while and looked at the stranger, but were quickly drawn back into their conversations. The inn-keeper however was eager to make a good impression with any new guest and attempted to talk to the strangely dressed visitor. The traveler did not say anything, but when the inn-keeper asked if he was seeking a room, he nodded and held up three fingers. The inn-keeper asked if he meant he wished to stay three nights, and the traveler nodded in confirmation.

The traveler then pointed through an open door into the kitchens, where there lay a plate piled high with food. He then gestured by sweeping his arm around the room. The inn-keeper asked quietly if the stranger was offering to feed everyone in the inn, being sure that nobody else would hear in case his interpretation of the stranger's actions was wrong. However the stranger nodded, took his key from the inn-keeper and placed three gold coins into the inn-keeper's hand.

Staring at the coins, the inn-keeper was taken aback, for this was far more than was necessary to cover the room and food. He looked up, about to tell the traveler of his error, but by then the end of the traveler's cloak was all he could see going up the rickety stairs to his room.

Word of the traveler spread throughout the small town. Everyone wondered why someone would be so generous, and people wondered what the man was in town to do. But no-one saw the traveler during the day, he remained in his room in the Inn, undisturbed. Each evening however, he would come down from his room, and gesture that the inn-keeper should feed everyone present, and return to his room. The inn-keeper obliged, having not even used up one of the traveler's coins yet. Of course, the inn became more full each night, as everyone wanted to share in the traveler's hospitality, but the traveler seemed not to notice, in fact, the traveler appeared to be somehow pleased that this was happening.

On the morning following the third night, the traveler departed, having not spoken a single word during his stay, and leaving no trace of his identity in the small room he had stayed in. In fact, the room was left so tidy that if he didn't know otherwise, the inn-keeper would have sworn nobody stayed there.

The tale of the traveler had become a legend almost overnight, the towns-people were disappointed to hear that he had left, and wondered if they would ever see the stranger again. Three years passed, and once again, as the cold winds began to creep across the plains, the traveler returned, wearing the same blue cloak, his face hidden from view.

He once again went to the inn, which had become somewhat grander over the past three years, the inn-keeper had obviously chosen to spend some of the money he had been paid on improvements. The former sign had been replaced by a masterfully painted work of art, the interior of the inn was warmer and larger and more refined. The inn-keeper instantly recognized the stranger, but being wary of a trick, was simply courteous and polite.

Once again, the traveler requested three nights' stay, and food for all of the occupants of the inn. Once again he paid in gold, far more than the room and meals were worth.

News of the traveler's return spread fast around the town. The second night the inn was packed as the traveler came down from his room, the inn-keeper looked frustrated and was trying to keep a group of beggars from entering his establishment, afraid that their presence would offend the traveler. However the traveler shook his head at the inn-keeper and indicated that the beggars would be welcome inside. Reluctantly the inn-keeper let them enter and sit at a table, and once again everyone at the inn ate well thanks to the mysterious man in blue.

The next night, when the traveler came down, he noticed that the beggars had been allowed in, and seemed pleased, since he nodded to the inn-keeper before heading back to his room.

When the traveler left the next day, the inn-keeper found in the room a pile of coins, and a note which indicated that at this time each year, the inn-keeper should provide food for all that seek it for three days. The note promised that the inn-keeper would live a good life if he were to do this, and the coins would certainly cover the cost of a great many meals.

So, for the next two years, the inn-keeper dutifully set aside three days to feed the hungry with his best food, for he wished that the traveler would return once again and be pleased with what he saw. Just as the traveler had promised, the inn-keeper lived well, for his reputation for hospitality grew throughout the land and many visitors would stay in his inn so that they would be the envy of their friends.

The third year came and went, and nobody saw the traveler, but the inn-keeper once again provided a feast for all. By this time, the ritual had become a celebration within the town, and people flocked there to participate. The inn-keeper and his family prospered, but he silently wished that the traveler would return. The traveler did not appear.

Several years passed. The inn-keeper became older and began to resent his "duty" to feed everyone who came on those three days of the year. His supply of gold was waning, for he had begun to become lavish in his tastes, drinking only the finest wines, wearing only the finest silks. In order to avoid sacrificing his lifestyle, he began to cut back on the foods he would serve, on the shelter he would offer the needy, and he turned away those who he felt would upset his paying guests.

Although the inn-keeper felt this was fair, each night when he went to bed he would begin to see the faces of those he had turned away, pleading faces of the weak and the hungry. Convinced he was not being unreasonable, he would force himself to sleep, he felt he had done 'right' enough years and that he should be allowed to profit for himself. By the time the snows had cleared in the new year, the faces would be gone at night, and the inn-keeper was once again able to sleep soundly.

Thirty years had passed since the traveler last came to the town, and the people were preparing for the upcoming festival. Amidst the crowds of people heading to the town for the celebrations were many people dressed in the legendary blue garb of the traveler. Costumes had become a regular part of the celebration, and there were many competitions to see who could best emulate the legendary figure.

Many of the costumed visitors would go into the inn and act out the familiar ritual with the inn-keeper, except that they would lift their hoods and smile when the inn-keeper passed them the key, to pay him only for their room and head upstairs to prepare themselves for the activities of the holiday. The inn-keeper naturally enjoyed this since it made him a celebrity, and would jokingly play along with all who came.

So he was not at all surprised when someone entered his establishment in what he considered to be the best costume he had ever seen, he played along with the familiar routine. waiting for the stranger to lift his hood so he could compliment his costume. Indeed, at the appropriate point, the stranger lifted his hood so that the inn-keeper could see underneath, and the inn-keeper eagerly looked with a grin upon his face, but the grin slowly turned to fear as he saw the faces that haunted him every night changing within the hood.

Silently, the stranger lowered the hood back over his face, turned, and left the town.

Three years later, a figure dressed in a simple blue cloak walks down a deserted trade road. His cloak blows around him in the cold winds as he moves towards the remains of a once-prosperous town.

They say that the life of the town just went away, as if it had been snuffed like the flame of a candle.

The strange figure stops outside a tattered and deserted building, and lifts a sign out of the dust. The sign is cheaply carved from a piece of wood, and indicates that the building was once an inn. The cloaked figure shakes his head, and sadly lowers the sign back to the ground before walking on, stopping to hand food to a beggar in a ramshackle building at the edge of the former town.

The beggar does not react, but stares blankly after the man in blue as he walks away down the road, into the distance.

The stories say that the beggar was once a wealthy inn-keeper, who had the world, and lost it.. Who knows.. they may be true...