One day a young hunter walked through the gates of the town, a bow slung over his shoulder. For some time the townspeople had speculated after about the thin chimney of smoke from the mountain, and here was the keeper of that fire. In the tavern the hunter drank and told of his travels. He had traversed a desert on a camel, crossed a sea in a creaking ship, and in a city that stretched to the horizon he had walked through a library with marble halls and balustrades and plants hanging from inner balconies. On the shelves were all the books of the world. As he told his stories, the patrons of the tavern hushed and gathered.
As the evening neared, the hunter prepared to return to his camp. No, the townspeople said, you should stay. It’s cold at night and there are wolves. I’m not afraid of wolves, he said. I’ve shot lions, bears, bandits. Even so, they insisted, one of us will put you up and we will feed you. The townspeople whispered amongst themselves, arguing who would take the hunter in. You can stay with me, a farmer offered. He was a man of some influence and did not want to be outshone by his fellows.
The hunter rode back with the farmer and met the farmer’s wife, his son, and his daughter. They lived in a sturdy wood house. At dinner the hunter ate and drank a great deal and continued to tell his stories, repeating some of the tales the farmer had already heard at the tavern, albeit occasionally altering characters and events and descriptions. I’ve found the people of the world to be different but unified in their kindness, the hunter said. Every time I have needed they have provided. As he said this his eyes met the daughter’s eyes and each smiled. The daughter’s name was Lotte.
The next day the hunter ate a large breakfast and seemed to not make any movement towards leaving. The farmer was already tired of being hospitable and hated the hunter’s starry-eyed boasting, but his wife had been taken with the man. It’s good for our children to know a citizen of the world, she argued. If he stays longer, we’ll be the better for it. He’s a vagabond and nothing more, the farmer said. After tonight he’ll leave and for good.
In the day the hunter set out for the town, telling the farmer that he wished to meet more of the townspeople. He met Lotte in the piney woods instead, their rendezvous arranged through passing notes the previous night. They walked amongst the trees and Lotte spoke of the many books she had read, and some of their worlds were not unlike those of the hunter’s stories. When they came upon a waterfall they held hands. The hunter said the valley was wondrous but there were other places even more so. He was happy there with her, holding her hand, but he would be even happier if she left with him the next morning. Together they would see the world. I should love to go, Lotte said. I should love to see the sea and the great library. She walked back through the forest to her home, watching birds flit between the branches.
The hunter went on to his camp. As he gathered his blankets and a few trinkets the farmer appeared from the between the trees and cut the hunter’s throat. He buried the body and took the hunter’s things to a forge and burned them to dust. The night fell and the rest of the family fretted about the hunter. That’s what happens with those types, the farmer said. They come and go as they please. In the morning Lotte walked to the waterfall where she had stood with the hunter and watched the silvered water and wept.
The farmer proved too consumed by jealousy to approve any suitors for Lotte. When he died suddenly from a tumor, Lotte was not old but far from young. She was courted by a wealthy farmer, a widower and the second son of an old rival of her father. One of his first gifts to her was a necklace made from gold and pieces of blown blue-green glass. For your love of the sea, he said, for she was drawn to sea-themed poetry and had recited some to this elderly suitor. It was a heavy, grand piece, warm to the touch. Lotte wore it everywhere. Her marriage was comfortable and placid. As newlyweds the couple traveled to the coast and picked their way along a beach. She thought it surprisingly foul smelling and unpleasant. Faraway she could see little lumps of land. She wished she wanted to explore those islands but she did not. She just wanted to go home. In the years to follow, Lotte busied herself with helping to raise her daughter Inge with the help of two servants. She continued to read.
One spring it was Inge’s first dance. Lotte helped her daughter dress and primp. When the girl was ready to leave for town, Lotte gave her the necklace. Her forehead knotted as her fingers fumbled with the clasp. She took her daughter’s hands. I wish you the best, she said. I wish you love. I wish you the world. The loose skin under her chin trembled and she could say no more. The girl looked at her doubtfully. She was often rather stern with Inge. Lotte stood in the road watching Inge and the servants disappear into the trees. The place on her neck where the necklace had rested was bare and cold. She pictured Inge at the dance, regarding it all: the music troupe, gaily playing, the children in their finery, standing shyly but also excited, her friends, whispering, eyes darting, the boys, daring each other to cross the empty floor as the music swelled, her life before her like the plane of some unknown land.
Mikael Kelly grew up in Oakland, CA. He lived in New York and Argentina, and now lives in his home city again with his lovely girlfriend. He has new fiction forthcoming in Whiskey Island and is working on a novel.