That Walding has made a mistake, here. The one pointed out to you is just a boy of perhaps 14 years. He is laughing as he plays a juggling game with a man and woman, catching props they throw to him and trying to return them the same way.
Well, no, your contact is gesturing and nodding -- the boy is the right one. You look more closely. The boy is wearing colourful scarves, and firelight picks out gold at his left ear and the usual Walding profusion of rings on his fingers. Unusually, he wears a sword; you notice that right away. Under his loose, embroidered overshirt are bulky outlines which may be of armour.
Unexpectedly, the boy looks right at you. After a moment, he tosses his juggling rings back to the others and starts walking over. He isn't really as young as you had thought, just slightly built and smooth-faced.
Hi there. You can call me Sparrow. So, you're the one Half-A-Boot was telling me about. With story-tellers' wagons all around us, might I ask why you want to hear a story from a humble juggler?
Aren't Northern names more than one word long?
Sparrow will do, and I take your hint. All right, let me begin.
This story has wizardry in it, and fierce monsters, and brave heroes. It takes place a long way away, in the wild lands north of Carrow Inguard, south of where the dwarven kings make their home.
There was once a great and powerful magician who lived alone in the mountains, so that no one would bother him. His only contact with the world outside was a messenger who came once a year, bringing fabulous magical artifacts from distant places, for which the magician paid handsomely. The messenger had to be very brave and very crafty, because the road to the magician's house passed through the lands of ogres, who would catch and eat anyone they could.
There came a time that the messenger was not quite crafty enough, and fell into a pit-trap such as ogres make. He lost his valuable cargo, and very nearly his life, and had to crawl out of the ogre lands back to town with a broken leg. He laid up in hiding, afraid of the magician's displeasure and out all the money and time it had cost him to acquire the magician's treasures. This was his situation when two heroes came to his town, a swordsman and a wizard, the best of friends.
Now, it's the way of heroes to get involved in these sorts of things, even against their better judgment, and a mutual friend had told them of the messenger's plight, so the wizard talked the swordsman into helping...
"Against their better judgment?" "A mutual friend?" That doesn't sound like heroes in a story.
Ahem. I'm sure Stewart or Half-A-Boot can recommend many fine storytellers here in camp. Sorry to have wasted your time.
Sparrow, or whatever his name is, gives you a stern, green-eyed look. But he is only a little irritated and makes no move to leave. In a moment, he continues.
By the way, that sword of his appears to be made of fine, blued steel. If so, it's worth more than everything you own... Nah, it must be Walding stage-dressing. Isn't copper called "Walding Gold" throughout this part of the world?
Okay, never mind how the heroes got involved, or whether they even got a fair split of the wizard's money. It's just a story.
So, the wizard hero was named Ginnus, and the swordsman hero was named Wulf. They were great friends and had had many adventures together. They resolved to go into the land of ogres, find the lost treasures, and bring them to the magician for payment. The messenger told them to seek a sword and a ring. The sword had two black gems and one red one, and the ring had two red gems and one black one. Beyond the fact that they were powerfully magical the messenger knew nothing about them.
Wulf and Ginnus went forth into the ogre lands. From the messenger's description they found the right place, and followed ogre tracks to the caves where an entire ogre band lived under their chieftain's rule. During the day, while the ogres slept, the only tunnel leading into the caves was kept blocked by a huge rock that it took two ogres to move. At night, when the ogres came out to check their pits and snares, they left the door well-guarded, since the different tribes of ogres were all perpetually at war amongst themselves.
The heroes searched the area carefully, and found a way in that the ogres didn't bother to guard -- the crack that let the smoke from their fire out of the caves. It was much too narrow to fit an ogre, but Wulf was very nimble and could just slide through. They decided that Ginnus would guard his way out while Wulf crept amongst the sleeping ogres searching for the sword and the ring.
In went Wulf, exercising all his stealth and breathing shallowly so as not to cough on the smoke from the fire. Luckily, the sleeping ogres had let it burn down low or Wulf would have been roasted. Squeezing through the nooks and crannies, Wulf found himself high above dozens of ogres, all snoring and muttering in their sleep in the vast cavern below.
Meanwhile, up above, Ginnus was paying far too much attention to his friend's progress, and a returning ogre hunting party found him there, crouched near the smoke-hole. One wizard against two measly ogres would not normally be much of a fight, but Ginnus was caught by surprise. The ogres would bash him before he could recite the words of a magic spell. Fortunately for Ginnus, ogres like their meat live, so they dragged him off, sounding the alarm as they went. Not knowing they had an actual wizard by the arms, they rolled back the huge rock, took him in, and rolled it back, sealing Ginnus in with them.
Inside the caves, hearing the shouting, the ogres began to stir. Wulf hugged the wall and worked his way towards the high end of the cave where the ogre chieftain, horrible in his furs and with a gold ring through his nose, roused with his barbaric wife, for Wulf's sharp eyes had spotted a golden sword on the chief's belt and a begemmed ring on the smallest of the wife's horny fingers.
Hearing the distant cries of: "A human, a human!" the chieftain's wife complained. "How can we sleep with those creatures stirring all day long? I wish they were ogres, so we could all go back to sleep." And then an astonishing thing happened!
Wulf felt his feet scrape on rock as the wall seemed to push him out into the room. The muttered speech of the ogres suddenly sounded clear as a bell, and his nose ceased to complain of the stench of thirty unwashed ogres. His eyes seemed to look down from higher in the room, and his body felt heavy and awkward. It was a most peculiar feeling.
Now, you will perhaps have guessed what happened, but Wulf was concerned with the distant cries of "A human!", and also with the sword and the ring, now outlined clearly in a fast-fading glow. Seizing the moment, he darted forward and yanked the ring from the ogress's finger and the sword from her husband's belt. With their cries behind him, Wulf sprinted out into the tunnel as if thirty ogres were exchanging puzzlement for anger hot on his heels, which indeed they were.
In the meantime, there was considerable confusion amongst the ogres who were bringing in their prisoner at the other end of the tunnel. The human had somehow escaped,and there was a strangely-garbed ogre in their midst. Minus a meal but now with an enemy for questioning, the ogres pressed on, until yet another strange ogre burst into their midst. There were a few moments of furious action, which ended with Wulf having recognized his friend's cloak on one ogre and Ginnus having recognized his friend's sword dwarfed in an ogre's fist, and with the two of them fleeing for the outside, leaving dazed and bleeding ogre guards behind. When they reached the rock sealing shut the tunnel they had no trouble moving it aside, being not just ogre-shaped but ogre-strong as well. Although the light hurt their eyes, they ran up the road toward the great and mighty magician's house and didn't stop even to stare at each other until the cave and the shouts of the ogres were lost in the distance.
At last, the two heroes came to the magician's house. Calling their story out before them, they made him understand what had happened before he could turn his unexpected ogre visitors to stone, or worse. Looking at the treasures taken from the ogres, they saw that both sword and ring had two black stones and one red one. Each red stone was charged with the power to grant a wish; the ogress's sleepy wish that the humans be ogres had been granted by the ring on her finger. Even heroes and magicians must shudder at the thought of such magic in use by ogres, and be grateful that they had no idea what power lay in their hands.
In gratitude for their efforts, the magician reluctantly allowed one more magic wish to be expended from his treasure, to turn Ginnus and Wulf back to their usual selves, and honourably paid them the messenger's fee in full, although the original three wishes had been reduced to a single one. The heroes made their way out through the ogre lands by brightest light of day, gave the messenger his fee, and journeyed on richer in experience if not in gold.
Well, you say, that's quite a story. It doesn't have any beautiful princesses, though, and the heroes don't do any monster-slaying. And why didn't they keep the magic ring and sword for themselves? Or wish to have all the original magic wishes back, and then wish for enough gold for themselves and their messenger friend?
I told you I wasn't really a storyteller. And heroes have to act honourably, or they're not really heroes, are they? As for wishing for more magic wishes... well, maybe they ask themselves that, but it might be that magic just doesn't work that way. If they wasted the wishes they had, they'd still be ogres, and with a great and powerful magician very annoyed with them.
Sparrow gets up to leave. On impulse, you ask: Aren't you curious about why I wanted to hear your story? He laughs.
Well, let's see. You have a bit of the look of the treasure-hunter about you. Thanks to my story, you might think that you know where to seek a great and powerful magician, a long way away, in the wilds north of Inguard, across the lands of ogres... a magician who pays in gold for enchanted items. You can't believe everything you hear in a Walding camp, but Half-A-Boot seems to think you can be trusted. Good luck!
By the way, when Wulf crawled down the smoke-hole, why didn't he land in the ogres' fire? you ask.
He used his climbing-rope, of course. He eased down it, swinging in larger and larger circles to stay out from over the embers, judging his speed just right so he could drop onto the stone between two ogres.
At least, that's what I would have done.
The slender man who calls himself Sparrow bounces gracefully to his feet, makes a small salute to you, and heads off into the crowds. In your last sight of him, he's juggling again.