She grabbed the leash from the hook by the door and stepped outside. “Buddy, come on, boy”, Rose called. It was late and the dog needed his walk. She smiled as the bassethound came careening around the corner of the farmhouse.
She clasped the leash to his collar and started down the dusty road leading to the village. She’d often imagine herself in fairytales when taking Buddy for his evening walk. Evening walks were something special to her. They had been ever since she’d started meeting the old man. He’d always be there, on the bench by the pond, cane resting by his side. The stories he told her were filled with adventure and excitement. One time he even tried to convince her that he was a wizard, plucking a gleaming red light from behind her ear and putting it in his pocket. “For safe keeping”, he’d said.
As she walked past Stevensons apple orchard she remembered a story he’d told her. About a young Knight on a quest to save a beautiful Princess. The Princess had fallen terribly ill, and all the doctors of the land had tried to save her. The Princess was dying and the Knight, loving her dearly, had vowed to do all he could to prevent that from happening. The Knight had travelled far and wide on his quest for something that could save the Princess. During his travels the Knight had heard stories of an ancient jewel, that possessed magical healing powers. Believing it to be the only way of saving the Princess the Knight set out in search of the stone.
Rose loved that story. It was full of fantastic adventures and magic. The old man hadn’t finished it yet, but she very much looked forward to hearing more of it.
She crossed the small town square, and remembered another of the old man’s stories. It was one of the scary ones, and she didn’t like this one as much, even though she found it very exciting. It was about a band of heroes. Beset on all sides by monsters and villains, they fought a desperate battle. In the end they’d won, but suffered greatly along the way. They’d been trying to do right, but being young and scared, they chose poorly and ended up causing more harm than good.
Rose had remarked once that the old man’s stories never ended as fairy tales normally ended. He’d asked what she meant by that, and she said “They’re all so sad”. The old man had thought about that for a while before replying.
“You don’t need half a kingdom when you have great friends standing by your side”, he’d said.
She remembered another of his stories as she crossed main street. A story of a brother and sister trapped in old catacombs beneath an even older city. They’d been on a quest for the Book of Knowledge and fallen into the hands of brigangs. The sister had been kind and caring, the boy scared and reckless. The bond had been what kept them from succumbing. The boy’s fury had almost been their undoing, but she had pulled them from the Darkness, and brought them into the light. She thought of herself that way, guiding her little brother, holding his hand.
She crossed out into the park, and felt a surge of warmth as she saw him sitting where he always sat. The light from the streetlamp made him cast a long shadow, but it was him.
She walked the path around the pond, with Buddy going this way and that, sniffing out squirrels and marking his territory. It was a clear night, the moon shining brightly in the sky. His cane was resting on the ground in front of his feet.
She sat down next to him. He looked at her and smiled, a gleam in his eye. “So, Rose, another night, another story”, he said.
“Yea”, she said, “I was hoping you’d finish the story about the Knight and the Princess”.
He smiled warmly and said “Well, it’s your lucky night”.
“Really? Does he save her”, she asked.
The old man put his hand in his pocket, and said “It’s not one of those stories, young one”.
“So … he doesn’t save her?”, she asked, feeling fear grip her.
“Not in the way you would think of it, but it does have a happy ending”, the old man replied, with a wink of his eye.
A wind rustled the trees and Buddy barked somewhere across the pond.
“No, the Knight’s story will be a sad one”, the old man said. “You see, once he found the Jewel and returned to the kingdom, the Princess had died”.
Rose gasped, and felt a tightness in her chest. She had wished so badly for the Princess to be saved. “So … the Knight failed?”, she asked.
“Yes, he did. Some times no matter how hard you try, things don’t turn out the way you imagine”, the old man said. He looked out across the pond at Buddy chasing the ducks.
He pulled his clenched fist from his pocket, drew a deep breath, exhaled and relaxed his grip. Hundreds of tiny red motes sprang into the air and danced away into the evening sky. The old man sat there. Still.