by Emma R. Robinson



Idle at the edge of the endless plain

Night comes to Naucum, the noiseless forest,

Where broken bells lie in bits on the ground

And the branches are laden with tarnished windchimes.


Suddenly, something unsettles the darkness,

A person appears at the plain’s southern edge.

Wearied from walking, his wide shoulders slumped,

He looks up a moment, then enters the woods.


A bough, a branch, a bit of leaf

He searches for something to start a fire

But the foray is fruitless, the forest is barren

He covers his eyes and slumps in despair.


“Salutations, stranger! Stuck in the cold?”

A man emerges from the misty woodlands.

He waves to the wanderer, warmly smiling,

“If it’s kindling you need, I’ve a fire nearby.”


“How generous!” The journeyer jumps to his feet.

“And how strange to see you in this silent place!

I’d take up your tender in a trice but for this —

I can’t think how I’ll repay your kindness.”


“Your fears are unfounded, my friend,” he’s assured.

“I’d rather be riven than write you a bill.

In addition, it’s dull to dine by oneself,

Your company’s all the payment I need.”


So the journeyer joins his genteel host

And the two of them tramp through tangled debris

Till they come to a clearing, the camp of the guide,

Warm from a fire ringed by smooth stones.


“Rest on a rock and I’ll roast you some food,”

The owner offers his itinerant guest.

For a stint, they sit in solitary thought,

Then the host, in politeness, strikes up in speech.


“Why do you wander these wilds, good guest?

Few now foray this forested place.

Searching for secrets? Or songs? Or glory?

What brings you to Naucum? What do you seek?”


“I’d help you, my host, if I had an idea.

I’m seeking for something to seek,” says the guest.

“My life, I’ve felt listless, lacking in meaning,

I travel in hopes of finding a purpose.


“But enough. What’s this ‘Naucum’ you know all about?

I haven’t heard the history of this land.

You can tell me the tale as we take our meals

For stories are lovely for passing the time.”


“Happy to help,” says the host with a smile.

“The story is something I’ve studied for years.

So relax and listen to the lore of Naucum,

The tale that I’ve carried for four decades now.


“Naucum is now the noiseless forest,

But once it was the wondrous Woodland of Song,

Where the branches bloomed with bells, not flowers,

And instruments grew from the fruits of the trees.


“The Woodland! The wind, as it wove through the trees,

Would set them to singing. The songs that they made!

Lofty yet lively, melodious and bright,

A hearer could weep and dance in one beat.


“And the birds! From the boughs, they’d blend their songs

With the tunes of the trees and the tone of the wind.

And the sound of sleet when it struck the bells!

And the rain! And the chimes! And the glory of song!


“Such bounty… and the blessing wasn’t bound to the flora

For the folk of the forest were friendly and wise.

Just yet generous, gentle while steadfast,

Unrivaled in insight or will to do good.


“They held hospitality highest of virtues

And welcomed all wanderers that went through their land.

And despite doing so for decades on end

Their blessing meant their kindness was never abused.


“Such is the story of the song-land of old,

But its luster was lost millennia ago

In the tale that is tragic, and terribly strange,

Of the man named Fidicen and his small-seeming choice.


“The Fidicens were the foremost family in the woods,

Sought for their skill in stringing violins.

Courtiers came from countries around

To dine with and learn from the Fidicen folk.


“And with every entry of some eminent caller,

The guest would give some gift to his host,

And the Fidicen father, front of his house,

Would repay each offering with a gift of his own.


“So the Fidicen family flourished in wealth,

And were honored by all in that auditory wood

Till an evening early in autumn one day

When an elderly man came to their door.


“It was the close of a calm and comfortable day

When he knocked, almost noiseless, on the enameled wood,

And though the head of house was half-asleep,

He hastened to greet this unforeseen guest.


“‘Hail! How can I help you?’ he asked.

‘I see you’ve been strolling for scores of years.

Care to keep our company this night

Before you leave for your next destination?’


“‘I’m honored,’ said the elder, ‘and accept with my thanks.

I’d hoped you would help; you’re a host of renown.

Alas, I lack the lucre to repay

Your kindness with a gift, as guests always should…’


“But the patriarch imposed on his pondering thoughts,

‘No source of concern! You’ll still be my guest.’

And he aided the elder into his house

Where his family took him as welcoming hosts.


“That evening, they ate with the elderly man

And learned of his life and his livelihood: fishing.

He said, to their sorrow, he was skill-less in music,

But he cheered when they played their fiddles that night.


“And their hearts were all high… till it happened that night

That the sage was sorting through his sack of goods

And the head of the house happened to see

That one of his objects was a bar of rosin.


“Ah, Fidicen! The fire that flared in his heart

At the sight of that substance in the possession of the man

Who’d alleged he was lacking in loot he could share

With his hosts, as a guest, ‘as guests always should.’


“‘Music-less man! What motive has he

To hoard all for him this handy good?

I am the artist, I know its use,

This dainty should have been given to me!’


“So Fidicen fumed as his family left

To nap for the night, not knowing his rage.

For hours he agonized, unable to sleep,

Consumed by his fury at the traveling man.


“‘That pig has no purpose for a piece of rosin,

He’s scarcely seen a string in his life!

Yet he knows that I need it to “nock” my bow.

I get much more use out of it than he.


“‘And the burdens I’ve borne, in the bargain, for him!

I’ve toiled to treat the tramp so well.

And etiquette asks an exchange of gifts…

Aren’t I owed this trifle by right?’


And hence, it happened that the host that night

Snuck to the cell of his sleeping guest

And quickly and quietly crouching to the floor

Stole the rosin out of his pack.


“But the moment the man emerged from the room

Keepsake clutched in a clenching fist

The earth itself gave an eerie shudder

And the end of the forest of music arrived.


“The bells on the boughs burst and fell

With a tone like the tearing of titanium sheets.

Strings snapped, cymbals shattered,

A hundred years’ rust grew in a moment,


“The trees were toppled and tore through the air,

Hundreds of houses were hewn to their roots,

And the citizens that were spared from being slain outright

All had to leave their once-beloved home.


“Naucum has never been renewed since then,

The forest is fallow and fruitless now.

Such terribly tragedy… For a trifle…” He pauses,

Silent for a moment before starting again.


“And Fidicen? He found that the fruit of his theft

Was less sweet than it seemed that incensing night.

The pitch was depleted in a paltry week

And its quality worse than his professional rosin.


“But he stuck to his decision, and said he’d been right,

To take the trinket from his traveler-guest.

He rebuffed the blame for the breaking of the woods

And said he’d been wronged, changed his name to ‘Maligned’…”


“Maligned!” The man who’d been met near the plain

Suddenly startles and springs to his feet.

Through the entirety of the tale he’d attentively listened,

But now he breaks in with impassioned speech.


“I haven’t heard this history before,

And the story you speak is strange to me.

But the name — I know it, though never its origin.

This man is my ancestor. I am Maligned.”


“Ahhhh…” The orator arches his brows,

Calmly reclining on a casual hand.

“How funny to find you. But friend, I assure,

Your manners are better than his by a tenfold.”


But the heir interrupts with anguish again.

“It’s the fault of my forebear this forest is dead!

I owe it to all to expiate this crime.

Tell me, what must I do to atone?”


“Do what you’ve done at this dinner, my guest,”

The speaker says simply, a smile half-present.

“I’ve seldom seen one so polite,

A better guest at a stranger’s hearth.


“For nobody knows how to renew the woods,

Or what will unwind the web of the past.

But since our sight is too small to foretell,

Act as if every trifle is great.”


“I see,” says the stranger, slowly in thought.

“The taking of the trinket seemed a trivial thing.

But if such ‘smallness’ can sunder a forest,

Perhaps it’s a trifle that will raise it again.”


The pair parted in peace that night,

Both made better by the ballad they’d shared,

To have honor in everything, though the act seem small,

The purpose the traveler had found at last.


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