“Gather round, crowd! I have a story to tell!" So were the words of the bard Steerpike as he came to village square. The people came in curiosity. What could this strange young man have to say? What tale did this stranger wish to weave? He spoke of a long and wondrous journey he went on.
“Gather Ye Wild
," he proclaimed to the woods as the bagpipes and strings of the highlands surrounded him on the morn that his journey began. It wasn’t long at all before the wanderlust and allure of adventure gripped him and he sang to himself.
A sunbeam heats my chest; it's time to rise again
The leaves above whisper to me
I feel the land. I feel the air
Blowing through my hair
Yes, for the traveler, he knows The Road Goes Ever On
. He heard the strings calling to him with their melodic jig. And so he traveled over hill and dale, singing again and again the song of wanderlust to the tune of that elusive music in the wilds.
“But wait!" he proclaimed to the growing crowd of listeners. “It was after days of wandering that I came to my first great site! A Tree
! A tree greater than any that I had ever seen!" Its boughs reached toward the heavens and the grain of its bark seemed to contain the writing of eons of history.
As the bard approached this monolith of nature, it spoke to him. He heard the tales of eons gone by, and in his heart he felt humbled by this deitic tree which had witnessed the beginning of Mankind, but never once moved from the soil its sacred roots and taken hold in. He witnessed the visions of the Tree. He witnessed the peaceful times of observing humanity, and the violence of how its great body was used to execute history’s villains. He felt dwarfed by the proclamation that this giant had seen that our exile from paradise was in fact a willing departure. How in our pride we tried to claim it was not our own choice, but rather the hand of another who disapproved of us.
How fragile are your lives
How fragile your dreams
In that moment, the bard suddenly felt very small, but he did not back down. He sat in the shadow of this verdant titan and rested his weary body and mind in the presence of the oldest, wisest living thing in our world.
The bard awoke that night to hear the strings of the highland throbbing and echoing in the wind like the pulse of his own blood in his ears. He was aware of creatures moving about him, but could not discern them. The sounds about him were so provocative, and in his heart he felt a deep stirring, a Longing for the Woods
. He turned to the Tree under which he had slept, imploring it for answers to his unspoken questions. And the Tree answered him. About them were The Wild Children
In the shade I stand and watch them
Like a scene from an ancient dream
Trying hard to awaken the Gods
In the hour of the fall
But it was long ago and it was far away
Will anyone hear the wild children's call
It was a magnificent sight to behold, and all through the night, the bard joined them in their revelries. It was an experience he would never forget.
As the night became a blur, he awoke that morning to find himself beneath the old Tree, and the Wild Children gone. Feeling the wanderlust once more, the bard gathered up his possessions and continued down the road.
The days became weeks until one day, he found himself in a land he had never known before. The beauty of nature was all around him, and it seemed to welcome him with open arms. At last, he felt closer than ever to the mysterious strings of the highlands. He followed the Highland Winds
further into the valley, awed by what he saw. Time became a blur there, and he felt that he would never grow old and die.
But immortality is not meant for the likes of man. And despite the heaviness of his heart, the bard was forced to leave. Still, he had tasted the bounty of this beautiful land, he told the crowd through the tears in his eyes.
But in my mind this land's forever clear
And in my thoughts I will travel there
To ease all pain and calm my fear... Under open sky
A piece of me remains... Under open sky
I left my heart... Under open sky
He would always remember those lands, and it gave him the strength to continue.
The bard continued his travels, but it wasn’t long before the familiar stirrings came. Once again, he felt the Longing for the Woods
. The grief of leaving those immortal highlands weighed heavily on his heart, and he knew not where he would go, or if any place was even worth going to anymore. Was this yearning in his heart to return to that place? Or merely the feeling of being doomed to never know a place to rest his weary soul, letting it forever burn in The Ring of Fire
I believe if I found the lost road back
I would see myself in that ring of fire
Maybe that's what I fear the most
For then I am now only a ghost
When his grief seemed the worst, the strings of the highlands came anew, this time bringing his heart a joy he had not known since coming upon that wondrous valley. His doubts still attacked him, but he shouldered his resolve and continued on his path. Though his demons had determined not to leave him, he now had the strength to triumph one battle at a time.
The strings of the highlands were joined by flutes, which whispered a ballad to the bard’s ears as he came to his first town in months. He looked among their faces as he slowly made his way to the shore. He rowed a boat to the other side and a tree there severed as The Bollard
which he lashed the raft to.
That night, he watched their festivities on the beach.
And they all sang a song called the bottle of smoke
They blew their whistles... Their drums they stroke
And the fair young ladies thay danced in the night
To the sound of the band in the flickering light
Though the sun did not give him the warmth it once did, their spirit could. The bard smiled for the first time in a long time that night.
As he once more set off on his journey, mind full of adventure, the strings of the highlands were weaving a song of great strength and power. Never had he heard them in such a wild state. For some peculiar reason, these melodies reminded him of an old saying he’d picked up in his journeys across Middle Earth: Bad Hobbits Die Hard
For a third time, the bard felt the Longing for the Woods
in his heart, and that was the night he learned of Herne’s Prophecy
. As he wandered the roads and woods, he came across an old man, a hunter who offered to tell him the future. The highland music seemed to become anxious and awaiting the old man’s words along with the bard.
The old man spoke in riddles, all of which seemed to suggest darker futures ahead. The bard was given pause, but his curiosity forbade him from back away. Still he pressed the old man. And that was the night that he learned that there was more to his wanderlust than he had before thought. Said the hunter:
"Not all the future is equally clear
It may be the end that you feel drawing near
Search in your hearts
If they still hold the truth
The voice from the past is the future
The longing for the woods"
The crowd was spellbound as the bard told them how the old hunter disappeared into the woods as silently as he came, leaving the young man only to his new understanding. The lesson he told the crowd from this understanding was the moral of his tale thus far, the very self discovery he had learned that night for himself. He left the Land of Olden Glory
to see the world, and witnessed the greatest splendors and dangers it had to offer. And for that, the young boy who first left home so long ago had become a man.
The crowd began to murmur as they soon heard the highland music themselves that had called the bard from the beginning. In the fading light of the day, he smiled softly and told them…
Life is a road that is twisted and turned
Children of the sun grow up and get burned
We should treasure our past but still travel light
And beware on who's doors we knock in the night
I know I have friends, I am never alone
But i'm a wanderer, the road is my home
The bard sighed as he prepared to tell the final chapter of his story. And now the villagers knew that they too could now hear the strings and flutes of the highland. The bard told them all how his travels eventually led him to Lorien. The golden wood where the elves once lived was now timeless and quiet, only the creatures of the wood dwelling there now.
How he longed to stay there as he had in the Land of Olden Fair. But it was not meant to be. He had tasted the splendors of Middle Earth, but that was not all there was to life. He gave his Lament for Lorian
and set off once more, but with another memory of beauty in his heart and mine.
I set my sails and leave this world
To me all seemed bare
For neverafter shall I walk
In Lorien the fair... Lorien the fair
It was several months later that he came to this village. And this eve that he told his tale. Those who had gathered to listen stood in awed silence, not quite sure what to do or say in reaction to this fantastic tale.
The bard stepped down from the fountain where he had stood to raise himself above the crowd. He said nothing. He merely smiled and began to walk toward the nearest inn. No one made a move to stop him. They merely parted to allow him passage.
He began to whistle the tune of an old folk song, The Tapdancer
and the highland strings echoed him in the winds.
One by one, the villagers went back to their homes, but in their dreams they heard the songs of Middle Earth, and a voice calling out to them, Gather Ye Wild