“Once upon a time began a tale,” Said the Storyteller.
“Pah!” Said the dog. He pawed the ground, disconsolate. “Enough of your stories! They're always about old people, same old. One about Sapsorrow and her dresses... another about that True Bride, and hers...”
The Storyteller tutted at him. The dog felt he should stop, but somehow his words fell over themselves to push out of his mouth. He felt a great dread rise deep in his gut. There would be little, if any, tasty food tonight.
“And those men,” The dog felt his tonuge stumble on, tripping on the words, “th-those men, always questing about. For once, I'd like a story that didn't end in victory, or happiness, or true romance!”
The Storyteller raised a bushy old eyebrow, and took a deep, calming breath in. He let a long, slow, breath out.
“Fine. I don't want to argue tonight. We don't have the audience of listeners that we used to have, anyway. Oh, what's a Storyteller with nobody to tell a story to?”
The old man shifted in his chair, his knees creaking almost as much as its' wooden legs did. He pulled it closer to the low fire, and set his feet resolutely down with two heavy thuds before it, stretching his sore, sock-covered toes out towards the warmth.
The dog shuffled along, and sniffed around the room. Still no food, and just as boring. The Storyteller dozed off.
“Oi!” The dog protested, snuffling around his feet. The old man couldn't fall asleep. It was dark and cold, and there was a fire. Maybe there would be soup, later. You couldn't have a cold, dark night by a fire – especially when there might be a soup or a stew – without a story.
“Oh? Oh. Yes.” The Storyteller stared glumly into the fire. The stones felt silent, and empty. His voice didn't echo out into the world like it used to. And they never had visitors, anymore.
And, like the dog had said, after a while, all of the stories were, more or less, the same.
The dog was headbutting his leg, now. The Storyteller turned his head to look into those small, beady eyes.
“I listen,” The dog began. He let his voice trail off into the dark night. He shifted closer to the warmer stones beside the fire.
“Ah. Well, then,” The Storyteller began, “You want a tale where there is no real happy ending. Or, at least, no True Romance, or Fated Love. No princes, or lords, or wars, or victories. Hmm.”
The dog waited patiently for quite some time.
“Hmm,” The Storyteller said again. It was harsher, louder, gaining confidence. The dog could feel a good tale coming on, as if it was vibrating the very stones that their home was built with.
“Well, then,” The Storyteller began, “Once upon a time, there was a young girl. She thought, as young girls often do, much more of herself than she was. She had a stepmother,”
The dog groaned. Because oh, did he know where this one was going. A nudge in his side from the Storyteller's foot shut him up, though. He knew the dog would behave himself, for a story.
“who often had her care for her young half-brother. In this land, it was quite common for children to be useful, which is a change from a lot of our other stories. But the girl felt beset upon, and began to whisper in her brother's ear, about the hordes of goblins that would take him away, if she wished it...”
The dog whuffled the Storyteller's toes, socks and all, appreciatively. The shadows cast by the low flickering fire began to cackle and whisper and dance. Goblins were always fun, the dog remembered.
The Storyteller's voice became surer and stronger as he spoke. He began to gesticulate, and move with energy. He stood from his chair, and slipped his feet into a pair of boots. The dog rose. They would be moving about, walking, seeing things happen soon.
Like any good story, it would take them away from their small cold room and into a world of unimaginable wonders. This time, into a world where there was no True Love, and no sure victory.
The dog shivered with excitement, and loped beside his master. The Storyteller smiled, winked out at the audience, who seemed suddenly much closer and more real than before, and took as wide a step as he could. He needed it, to bridge the gap between his stone floor and a very different stone floor.
The dog didn't even pay attention to the words anymore, he just watched the girl run about in the Labyrinth, and sniffed all the exciting new scents. This was it, just like the good old days.
This was how you really told a story, proper.