Well, folks, this would definitely fall into the category of “something different”, and I thought I should give a bit of an explanation. This is my first foray into posting fiction on “Great” Thoughts. Why now? Well, I’m getting ready to run a new character in a role-playing game and this is his origin story, actually an adaptation thereof. I’m likely to carry this story in a direction that is completely different in tone and setting from the game. But the starting point is the same.
I want to thank Jeff Dickman for creating the campaign that spawned Strum, and for helping me tease out the snippets of ideas that became a detailed story. I also want to acknowledge that I was a Dragonlance fan back in the day, and I feel like I should give a shout out to Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman for creating an awesome character in the person of the knight Sturm Brightblade and giving him a name that practically begged gamers the world over to create bards named Strum. On that note (pun completely intended), I bring you:
The Tale of Strum Nimblefingers, Chapter I:
Strum Nimblefingers was a young man not unlike many of his peers in the village of Everfeld. He hunted. He wrestled. He ran through the woods, with his friends. He loved aggravating his parents and teasing his sister and her friends. His great size and strength were assets around the village, and he was a well-liked. He was outwardly horrified, but secretly happy when his sister took up with his best friend, Rand and saddened and mystified by the strange events that ended their engagement.
But there was something unique about Strum. He had a great love. No, it was not one of the village girls, though he was not immune to their charms, nor they to his. He loved music. He could frequently be found picking out a melody on his lute or playing a wood flute, and he was good at it. He was actually something of a showman, as the same fingers that made such pleasing music, the same fingers that gave him his name gave him a talent for sleight of hand. He could make a Shinyshell vanish from his closed palm (to the dismay of the shell’s owner) only to reappear behind an ear to the delight of onlooker (and the relief of the shell’s owner). But mostly, Strum enjoyed going off into the woods, to sit by a stream and play his music, blending his songs with the sounds of the forest.
And so it was that one fine spring day, Strum found himself doing just that. The day’s work was done and he was lounging on a large tree branch in a sun-dappled glade plucking out an accompanying melody to the calls of the songbirds. But the sun was warm and the morning’s labors had been taxing. He was seated just right, and soon he found himself relaxing into sleep’s warm embrace, his lute cradled in the crook of his arm.
He dreamt, but upon waking, all he could remember of the dream was a pair of beautiful emerald eyes and melodious laughter. That and…he took up his lute, positioning his hands while trying desperately to hold onto the dream…a song?
His hand was poised to pluck the first note when he heard it.
He stopped and listened. There it was again.
He moved his hand up the neck of his instrument to make the right note and plucked.
It seemed to be coming from upstream.
The answer was immediate.
Swinging himself down from the branch, Strum plucked out three notes.
Ting ting ting
Ting ting ting.
Slowly he crept a few paces up stream, adding a fourth, a fifth, a sixth note to the musical sentence, and each time he was reward with an echo.
Could it be only an echo? He tried an experiment, plucking out the first four notes in the sequence, and then hesitating for a moment. No echo came back, so he added the next three notes. That did it. The notes came back to him, complete with the pause.
The notes were still coming from upstream, but they were almost definitely across the stream, which was becoming more treacherous as the land steepened. The snow-fed stream had carved a respectable chasm on its way down from its headwaters high on glacier-topped Evermount. The string of boulders before him was the last place that was safe to cross, if only arguably so.
Slinging his lute onto his back, Strum slowly, with practiced ease stepped out onto the slick boulders. The westering sun penetrating the forest canopy cast rainbows about in the icy spray that kissed his skin as he stood atop a table of moss-covered granite at midstream. It had been a few minutes since his last exchange with his unknown partner, so he stopped and listened.
The first note he had heard upon waking had seemed tentative, almost timid. In each subsequent exchange, the answers had seemed increasingly bold, so much so that the response to his experimental pause had bordered on playful. However, the last note seemed to have reverted back to the timidity of the earlier exchanges. Smiling, he reached back, found his instrument and plucked out one note in response.
As he completed the crossing of the creek, the sequence began again, this time with Strum responding to the tonal calls of his unseen band mate.
And so it continued. Lute in hand, playing further and further into the song from his waking dream, Strum chased the music farther and farther up the mountain. He trod foot paths and animal trails through evergreen forests and grassy meadows, always playing, always responding to the ever present song.
The song’s volume never changed, but Strum knew deep in his being, in a way he could never put to words, that he was getting closer. The song was just over that rise, just across this meadow, just through yon thicket, right inside that small cave.
The song was nearly complete, and the player’s earlier timidity had vanished. Each exchange was playful, joyous, bursting with excitement.
Then it stopped. The song was complete. Strum stood outside the cave, lute in hand.