On the Road 道端にて

The story of a bard and his newly found traveling partners. Original short story penned by author Tennen.

Tennen
Translated by Hamish Smith

It was around the time that I had finally set out on my first adventure that I met them. I thought I knew it all. I would listen to the wisdom of travelers, remember their stories as songs, perform them at taverns and thought myself to be just as experienced. And then I met them. They saved me, her and her friends. I was the kind of guy who knew how to play the “Song of Robbery” without ever having been robbed myself. I really knew nothing. Nothing at all. Not of the sky, not of the mountains. Not of the trees, not of the wind, not of the birds. I knew nothing of the heart nor of love and pain. Not of living with friends. Not of traveling alone. I knew nothing of what the future held in store.

* * *

“Thank you for saving me,” was all I could muster.

“Are you trying to get yourself killed? If you don’t keep your wits about you, this wont be the last time someone tries to get the better of you,” she said to me, pointing at the thugs now lying face down on the ground. “It’s a good thing we were here” she went on, “you could have been killed, or least robbed blind and beaten to a pulp”.

“Really,” I muttered back.

“Are you serious?” she cried, physically taken back with surprise. The man standing next to her, who I could only assume was her travelling partner, cocked an eyebrow.

“Don’t you now about bandits?” he asked.

“Yeah, I know about them,” I nodded confidently and played a few notes on my lute. I started playing a song of what I thought a bandit was, “This is called the Ballad of a Bandit. I do know what a bandit is.” At those words the little boy and girl who were with them both looked at me and said “Idiot” in unison.

I started playing the Melody of a Moron. I continued on with An Ode to Anger once the children started laughing at me. “Are these children yours?” I asked the two, who seemed like they could have been husband and wife. I began playing the Melody of Matrimony. The woman started laughing.

“You really are a fool, aren’t you? If these were my kids, how old would that have made me when they were born?” she teased. “On top of that, this guy isn’t even my boyfriend, let alone my husband,” she finished, heartily laughing off the question. The man standing next to her looked a little disappointed. I started playing the Lullaby of a Loser. “Where are you headed?” she asked.

“That way,” I replied, pointing towards the road leading out of town. “That way?…No, I mean…Oh whatever, we are are headed that way as well. We might as well travel together.” she said.

“Travel where?” I asked.

“You really are difficult, aren’t you. You don’t have to come with us if you don’t want to,” she replied. Her words left me a little lost. I felt like the decision I was about to make would prove to be a big one. After thinking it over for a moment, I nodded in agreement.

That’s how I came to be traveling with them. There would come a day when I would regret that decision. But it wasn’t that day. I was happy, with all my heart.

 

* * *

 

It was our third day traveling together. We passed a small farming village along the road. I began to play the Song of a Small Farming Village.

“Is that the Song of a Farming Village?” my male traveling companion asked as soon as I began to play. The man, who had been able to guess every song I had started to play for the past three days, asked me this as if he already knew that he was right.

“No,” I began to reply, “It’s the Song of a Small Farming Village.” I started playing the Song of a Farming Village. “This is the one you are thinking of,” I told him.

“I see,” he replied, turning and looking the other way while letting slip a sigh of displeasure. I started playing the Harmony of Happiness.

“Isn’t that the Harmony of Happiness?” he asked. I smiled and nodded. “Somehow I just get it, you know. It’s amazing though, Being able to play a stringed instrument I mean. But don’t any of your songs have lyrics?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, “All songs have lyrics.” He looked a little confused.

“Then how come you don’t sing?” he asked. His question brought a bitter smile to my face.

“Because I have a terrible voice, it would ruin the song,” I answered back.

At that our female traveling partner spoke up. “Hey, the kids really want to sing. They don’t care if you have a horrible voice so why don’t you all sing together?” she asked in an offering manner. The children looked happy as they began to grin. She pushed the children towards me with a radiant smile. “Let’s sing!” they called out. Without thinking I let slip a frown.

“Why does everyone have to sing? I mean, songs are made to be played by a single person,” I said. The children looked a little confused, the man a little surprised and the woman a little angry. It was probably the first time they had seen me like that.

“Well you’re no fun. The two of you should get along great,” she said motioning to me and the other man. Her and children began to sing as they walked. The man turned his attention to me.

“It’s not often she gets like that. Maybe you should play something?” I started playing a song. “Is that the Song of Disgust?” he asked.

“No, it’s the Arrangement of Anger,” I replied.

 

* * *

 

Since that little incident, I started to notice everything I didn’t like about her. The Anthem of Arrogance. The Ode to Over Confidence. The Shanty of Short Tempers. I played them all with a grin on my face, teasing her with my music. It seemed like she was starting to figure it out. However I was the one who was getting upset.

“Is that the Song of Sadness?” my male traveling partner asked me.

“You know this one?” I asked casually.

“No, but I could tell just by looking at your face,” he replied.

“But I’m smiling?” I stated quizzically.

“You look like you’re about to cry,” he replied.

“Oh, I see,” was my response. On hearing his words I began to play the Song of a Smile, much like the smile that had grown inside me.

“What are you playing now?” he asked.

“You can’t tell?” I asked, laughing at my own frustration. As I played, I looked to the skies above and saw a bird, carrying itself far away on a breeze.

 

* * *

 

Little by little her anger seemed to subside, and about three days later she was talking to me again, just like she had when we first started traveling together. I started playing the Rhapsody of Relief as I began to feel more at ease. The man started laughing when he heard it. On the sixth day we we arrived in the next town.

“So where are you headed?” she asked me. I turned my head to face her and pointed down the road leading out of town.

“That way.”

She started laughing. “Of course. That way. I guess we will still be traveling together then.”

Still together. Meaning that one day we will part ways. I felt a pain in my chest. I started playing the Song of Uncertainty.

“Well, we’ll be leaving at the same time, so why don’t you go down to the tavern and try to earn some gold? We’ll all be out trying to make some money as well,” she explained.

“What? Make money?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she started, “Go down to the tavern and play. You’ve done it before haven’t you?” I gave her a nod. I did play in taverns, but I had never made any money. “You can do it. Just give it your best. It’s kind of a waste if you don’t at least try to make some money,” she told me before we split up. I had never made any money from my music and was not sure how it would play out. ‘Good luck’. Her words echoed in my head and I decided to give it a go. I went to the tavern to perform, to see if I could even do it at all.

 

* * *

 

“What song is that?” someone asked me.

“The Song of Enjoyment,” I replied.

“Well,” he went on “We’re enjoying it!” It didn’t even annoy me that much when the patrons at the bar started to add their own lyrics haphazardly to the music at the top of their lungs. “Hey, play us the Ballad of Friendship!” one of the drunkards called out. I played the song that they requested. Halfway through the song, the reception turned cold. It was then that I realized. My Ballad of Friendship was no good.

 

* * *

 

We left town on the seventh day and again began making our way down the road. I had been feeling depressed all evening.

“What’s the matter?” the man asked me.

“Nothing,” I replied.

“Did something happen at the tavern?” he asked.

“No,” I replied. He put his hand on my shoulder. The guy was trying to cheer me up but I wasn’t able to say anything back.

“Well, I don’t know what happened back there, but cheer up, OK?” he said before heading off in the opposite direction. I sighed and played the Tune of Thanks to his back as we walked away. Friendship. That was the big change that was happening inside of me. I had played the Ballad of Friendship before, but I no longer had the energy. Not enough. It wasn’t enough. Feelings of loneliness overcame my body. ‘We’re still together then’. Yeah, we’re still together. But one day we won’t be. The Song of Loneliness seemed like it too may change. I still didn’t understand anything.

 

* * *

 

“What are you playing?” she called over to me during a short rest. I had separated myself a little from the group and was

trying to play the Ballad of Friendship.

“It’s a work in progress,” I responded.

“What does that mean?” she called back.

“It means that it’s not finished yet. The song I mean,” I replied.

“What’s the song?” she asked. I turned my head away. I didn’t want to say. “Well whatever. Let us hear it once you’ve finished. I like your songs,” she said. Her words made me happy.

“…Thanks,” I said. I wondered if she heard those words as I said them softly to her back as she walked away.

 

* * *

 

I grew more and more upset with each passing day. I wondered how long we had been traveling together. I started to regret the day I had nodded in agreement to go along with them. Then one day something happened. We were taking a break on a mountain path. I had sat away from the group, sighing.

“Come here for a minute.”

“Come on,” the man and woman both said as they grabbed me by the fore arms and pulled me to my feet.

“W-Wait a moment,” I started.

“Just come on!” the children replied as they started pushing me from behind. If they kept pushing me in the same direction we would come to a cliff edge looking out to the horizon. Were they trying to kill me? I am boring. They probably don’t want me around. I just get in the way so maybe they will just throw me of the cliff and be done with me. It’s horrible. Not so much the fear of death, but the fear of not being wanted. I didn’t want to be rejected by the first people I had ever come to care about. I held my lute close and turned my teary eyes away. That’s when she gave me an unexpected look.

“Oh, do you have a fear of heights?” she asked. I kept looking the other way.

“Are…you going to…kill me?” I asked. My question was met with dead silence.

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

“Why would you think that?” the man continued.

“Don’t be silly,” the children laughed. I had no idea what was going on. The woman looked a little perplexed and

apologized before pointing out over the cliff into the horizon.

“Take a look,” she said “It’s beautiful.” I did as she said. I turned my head, looked out from the cliff face and gasped.

Spreading out before my eyes was a lake at the foot of a mountain. The water was taking in the sun and shimmering, responding to it’s baptism of light. Looking straight into it, the lake reflected the brilliant light of the sun as small fragments, like tiny jewels of light, one by one. The light was strangely beautiful. I squinted as I looked out over the lake. It was a beautiful clear blue. Naturally I wound up writing a song about it. But at that moment in time, all I could think about was the gorgeous creation right before me. The shimmering, sparkling water. Tears began to well up in my eyes.

“You’ve been depressed for ages, I thought this might cheer you up a little.”

“You haven’t been playing your songs lately, I was a little worried.”

“Look! A pretty flower! You can have it,” The kind words from the man, the woman and the children made tears well up even more in my eyes, so much that my vision went blurry. The sound of the breeze carrying the smell of the lake shook me to my core. I understood. I could finally finish my song. The Ballad of Friendship would finally be complete.

“Th-Thank you,” was all I could cough up before I began strumming my lute. Everyone fell silent and listened.

“That’s the same song as before. What’s it called?” she asked me.

“The Ballad of Friendship,” I replied, laughing.

 

* * *

I closed my eyes, filled my voice with affection, spun the words on tongue with meaning, put feeling into the fingers that were strumming my lute and sang. But it still wasn’t enough. That’s when I thought about giving up. She was sitting right next to me when she started singing in a key higher then myself. I was surprised and stopped playing.

“Just…Just play a little more. I wasn’t singing off key was I?” she asked, peering at me sideways with a look of disappointment on her face. I thought she had a wonderful voice. I continued playing. I closed my eyes and felt her voice warming my heart. I felt at ease. I joined in with her and began singing as well. And then I got it. Then I understood. It was finally complete. No, it was going to be even better than before. It was a first for me. The first time I had sung with another person. I had thought that people always sing alone as I had always been alone. For the first time I knew. I knew how wonderful a song could be when sung together with another person. I realized how lonely it is to be alone. Putting two voices together with a song and showing off all the emotions that can be put into words. Even the birds flying above seemed to be singing along.

* * *

The five of us all sang the Ballad of Friendship over and over again, all the way to the next town. Feelings were overflowing and the song was getting even better. I hadn’t used up all my heart in that song, rather I had deepened it. Then we arrived in town. The town in which we would go our separate ways. The man and his children seemed like they had some things to do. I guessed that the man and the woman were on separate journeys. It’s didn’t look like they were going to the same way.

“It’s too bad, we were having a lot of fun,” she started.

“I’m sure we’ll meet again one day,” the man replied.

“Bye Bye! See you!” she children said together.

“Stay safe,” she said back to the children.

“We will!” they replied. All I could do was nod my head. No, more like hang my head. I didn’t think that parting ways would be so difficult. I began to wave when the little girl grabbed at my legs.

“Don’t cry,” she said.

“Ok.” was all I could muster as I patted her on the head and moved away. ‘See you’. I don’t think the words made it out of my mouth.

We turned to face each other after we had finished saying goodbye to the man and his children. “…so, where are you going from here?” she asked me with a smile on her face. I had no reply. I wanted to travel down the same roads as her. But, with a smile on my face, I pointed down the road leading out of town.

“That way,” I said.

“I see,” she replied. She then pointed down a different road, “I’m going that way.”

“Well then,” I started, “I guess this is it.”

“I’m sure we will meet again,” she assured me.

“I really do hope so,” I said back.

“Goodbye.”

“…Goodbye.”

She then turned away and started walking down the path leading out of town.

 

* * *

 

Later that night, alone in my room at the inn, I started to cry. Why did we have to meet? She had become a close friend of mine. I didn’t want to part ways. I had finally understood what it means to have friends. Parting ways was so painful I thought I might die. I wondered how they were coping. Or was I the only one that cared this much? Why did we have to meet. I could have died peacefully without knowing this kind of pain. A world without friendship, without her, seemed so bleak. Friendship is precious. I feel even more love for her now. For everyone. The man who helped me understand my songs, the children who picked me those beautiful flowers and the woman who thought of me as a dear friend. I really loved them all. The feelings I was able to experience during our short time together are precious. I guess it was good that I got to meet everyone. It was good that I was able to be with her. It was a good thing. The tears stopped around dawn. I had to keep traveling down the road. My journey was not yet over.

 

* * *

 

I continued on down the road in silence and slowly stopped feeling so sorry for myself. I had become more of traveler than before. My songs had changed a lot, too. But even so, the Ballad of Friendship hadn’t changed. I haven’t had any traveling partners since her and her friends so I hadn’t been able to improve the song any further. I let out a sigh of relief when I finally reached the next town and made my way to the nearest inn.

I went into the dining hall, relaxed a little and took a look around. The dining hall looked at lot like the last tavern and made me remember trying to play for money. I felt a slight pain in my chest. Then, out of nowhere, my heart skipped a beat. I saw someone sitting at the bar. Despite only being able to see the side of their face, I had the strangest feeling that it was someone I knew. No, I couldn’t have been my imagination. Without thinking I stood up and started to run across the room. She saw me too and let out a gasp of surprise. We called out to each other. We had met again, her and I.

“Where are you headed?” she asked me.

“That way,” I replied.

“Really? I’m going that way too! Lets go together. Maybe we could sing some songs.”

I nodded at her invitation.

* * *

 

My journey is still far from over. As much as I have changed as a person, my wanting to go out and see what lies at the end of the road hasn’t changed. How I feel about my friends hasn’t changed either. The time I spent with them meant everything to me. I have never been as happy as I was when I met her. But even now, just like then, I’m still on the road.

 

Original work Copyright ‐ 2011 tennen. All rights reserved
Original text can be found at Tennens' home page sodefuri.web.fc2.com/
English translation © 2013 Hamish Smith. All rights reserved

Laute