Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Tale of the Town Crier

I heard the story once of a small city that employed the services of a town crier. It was this fellow's duty to walk around the city, calling out important news and announcements of interest both general and particular.

​"Quarantine lifted in Ditko Village!"

"Fire in Kirby Square!"

"Traders from Romita Valley arrive tomorrow at the South Gate!"

People didn't always stop what they were doing; but they heard, and they listened, and so important news spread, and everyone praised the wisdom of the king in appointing the crier, so that everyone knew what was going on at all times.

Now the city had enemies to the north, in the Steranko Mountains. Every winter, when the snows fell and the crops died, and food grew scarce, bandits would sweep down from the mountains and roam the plains, attacking settlements and raiding the people's stores. Sometimes, when the bandit hordes were large enough and daring enough, the wealth of the city would call to them, and they would attack it under the cover of darkness.

The city was protected on all sides by stone walls nine feet high and so wide that guards could walk two abreast on them. When the guards spotted bandits on the approach, they would alert the crier and he would raise the alarm. The men of the city would rise from their beds, seize whatever weapon they could, and they would drive the enemy away.

One year this did not happen. Perhaps the town crier was asleep himself, or perhaps he did not hear the guards call him to alert the townfolk, or perhaps the guards themselves failed to tell him. No one really knew, but no one blamed him either. What they did know is that the bandits scaled the walls of the city, slew the soldiers who stood watch. and for three terrible days the brigands ran wild through the streets of the city, looting and killing at will until they finally returned to the Steranko Mountains, their horses laden with all the plunder they had seized.

The survivors left the old crier to his task, because the king had appointed him to that task, and what had happened was not his fault. But he had gone mad. Often he did his job as well as ever, and the city was kept safe by his warnings; but other times, he threw it into needless panic. He would shout that the library was on fire, and men would rush to the scene, buckets in tow, only to find scribes quietly reading and copying the scrolls in peace and safety. Other times he would say nothing, and so a dozen people would die by drinking from a poisoned well for want of a warning that it was no longer safe.

He's still mad to this day, and it's still the devil's game to understand when to trust him and when he should be ignored.

The crier's name was Conscience.

Copyright © 2016 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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