Wandering Stranger

I love winter. I especially love it when the snow comes down, blanketing the world. But when I stumbled upon the picture prompt for today’s narrative, it made me think would I love the snow if I truly was in the middle of a blizzard. Now while I’ve lived through a couple of serious snowstorms, they don’t have the same resonance as this prompt brings to mind. In this image we see a single man wandering about a town at the onset of a blizzard. What would you do if you wandered into an insignificant town as the storm begins?

A wandering stranger stumbles into town during a snowstorm…

A wanderer adjusted his position against the tree as he lifted his palm. When a snowflake landed against it, he shook it from his hand and climbed to his feet. The man dragged his hair from his face and pulled his spare cloak from his pack and wrapped it around his shoulders. He gripped his bag under his mantle as he strode toward the road. As he neared it, the drifter checked both sides of the path before easing out from the underbrush.

As the snow clung to him, the man tugged the outer garment tighter about his neck and forced his legs to slog through the growing mounds. After walking for what felt like an eternity, the traveler noticed a structure hugging the horizon, and his steps quickened. When he reached the building, his trembling hand touched its rough stone.

A grin erupted as his fingers traced the chiseled rock. He cocked his head, and his smile widened when he inventoried the surrounding buildings. He ignored the blacksmith and various merchants. When his eyes landed upon the inn, he dashed toward its entrance and uselessly yanked the door. With a grimace, the traveler’s fist slammed against the sturdy wood. “Is anyone there!”

The panel creaked as a set of fierce eyes appeared in the crack. “There aren’t any rooms available. You must look elsewhere.”

“Please,” the traveler cried as he wedged his foot into the doorway. “No one could survive this snowstorm.”

“I cannot allow you to enter,” the innkeeper replied.

The man pulled a stone from his pack, flashing the brilliant green gem to the owner. “I can pay.”

The innkeeper shook his head as he shoved the door. “Money isn’t the problem, this storm thunders through every year, and my storeroom isn’t endless. If you stay here, my supplies won’t keep us all fed during this storm, and that jewel in your fist will feed none of my patrons.”

“When’s this snowstorm going to blow itself out?”

“Based on previous years, it’s likely to last days.”

The drifter pocketed the gem, wedging his boot further into the opening. “Please, I’ll take a quarter of what you give everyone else.” He glanced down both sides of the path, adding, “There’s not another inn in view.”

“Do you want me to go hungry?”

The wanderer shouldered the door open and barged inside. “I’ll perform any task you require, just don’t make me leave.”

The innkeeper hauled the drifter to his feet and threw him against the wall. “There are Dwarven holds scattered throughout this mountain range, you’ll find one eventually, but I’m not risking my patrons for you!”

As a slender hand touched the innkeeper’s shoulder, its owner leaned in and asked, “Alper, does the gem exist?”

The innkeeper’s arm slid towards the wanderer’s throat. “He may have a gemstone as big as your fist, Juliana. But I don’t have the extra supplies for him.”

Another person gripped Alper’s wrist and eased it away from the wanderer. “Juliana and I will come to an arrangement with him for a stone of that size if he’s willing to part with it.”

The drifter rubbed at his throat and tossed the jewel at the man.

Juliana’s hand darted out, plucking it out of the air. She raised it toward the torch and scrutinized it. “Thomas, this gem is flawless.”

Alper’s fingers gripped his neck. “I won’t let my patrons eat less to feed a vagabond.”

Julianna handed the stone to Thomas and squeezed his arm. “It’s not a sacrifice to split our meals with him for that gemstone.”

The slender man clapped the innkeeper’s back and turned him away from the wanderer. “I believe Juliana explained our conviction to share with this unfortunate traveler. And since we are voluntarily trading a portion of our food, you don’t have to worry.”

Alper stared at the drifter and cursed, “It’s on your heads!”

“Enough! Those two have made their choice,” a man decreed as he entered the foyer. “If they die because of Julianna’s greed, it’s not your fault, so wash your hands of their desires for the gemstone. However, I’d like to receive my evening meal.”

The innkeeper nodded and scowled at the wanderer. “I’ll see you get your food, Kincade.” He turned and shoved the intruder’s chest, muttering, “Keep out of my way, because you should be tossed back into that snowstorm to suffer the consequences of your actions.”

The intruder bobbed his head as he swallowed a lump in his throat.

When the innkeeper vanished, Thomas nudged the man’s side. “Don’t worry about Alper. He has plenty of supplies to handle another person.”

“He always overestimates the amount of food he’ll require during this yearly event,” Juliana added.

The wanderer dropped his pack to the floor, rubbing his bicep as he curled his arm. “Thank you for helping me.”

“You gave us the gem,” Juliana replied, stealing the rock from Thomas. “We should thank you.”

Thomas retrieved the stone and tossed it between his hands. “For someone to surrender this, they must possess something even more valuable.”

“That’s a valid point,” Juliana answered. She cocked her head and stared at the jewel. “What could you possibly have that makes surrendering that gem worthwhile?”

The mystery man looked at the pair before him and waved them closer. When they eased closer, the drifter wrapped his arms around their shoulders. “I have a map that promises a treasure worth a thousand times the price of that pebble.”

Thomas grinned as he tossed the jewel into the air and snatched it. He glanced at Juliana, and as soon as she nodded, he nudged the wanderer’s arm. “That’s something that piques our interest, would you need any aid tracking that treasure?”

“I’ll never turn away freely offered help,” the man replied.

“Excellent,” Julianna squealed as she grabbed the gem and shoved it into her pocket. “What’s your name?”

“My name’s Daylen,” the drifter answered, offering his hand to Thomas. “Making friends is wonderful.”