There was a storyteller, "once upon a time." But he couldn't tell stories, because he didn't know how to think. Thinking -- it was a careful process. First you imagined, then you pictured, and then what you saw became real, right in front of you, like a projection. All storytellers were artists, who could picture things. But he'd never even been out of his village, or even out of his bed most days...he just sat there, staring at the dirt floor trying to picture things.
Storytellers lived for a very long time and had excellent memories, as if nature had somehow appointed them to be keepers of memoirs for the rest of the world. It's how history was relived and records kept. Some had better memories than others, and they were best with keeping memories safe to tell again and again. Those who didn't were blessed with the best imaginations, and could make whole worlds come alive that had never existed, create magical new breeds of creatures, tell children of little adventurers on fantastical journeys and adults of forbidden romances and dangerous secrets. And everything they saw the others could see, like a play or moving art, right before their eyes. It made their normally mundane, sometimes even hard or unhappy lives worth living.
But this storyteller was unusual; he was blind, and didn’t believe that he could picture anything on his own without having seen it. He tried to picture those things he heard about other storytellers’ tales, or even from minstrels. Still, no matter how he tried, he was certain his images didn't come out the way the others saw. He was born to storytelling, with the ability to make these images. Few were, and thus this ability came as not only a privilege, but an obligation to share it with the world. But because he could never see, he never knew what to picture, and he was too ashamed of himself to try in the outside world.
So instead, he sat almost every day in his room in his hovel of a house, staring at the floor, or the wall, or the ceiling, trying to picture what everyone else pictured, not knowing what came out of it, and not allowing anyone else to see. He was alone and starving, not because he couldn't work -- in fact, the other people in the village were very kind to him, and let him do small jobs he could manage, rinsing vegetables in taverns or counting coins in small shops. They all tried to coax him to tell them stories, because they just knew, with all that time alone, he must have seen amazing things in his mind, even if he couldn't see anything around it. It was a small village, and there hadn’t been a native storyteller born there in centuries. They longed to see what he could show them.
Their wishing was in vain. Time went on, people started giving up on him -- the townsfolk were resigned to living boring grey lives without any color or fantasy.
It wasn't often that people moved in or out of the village, but the weather had been good and the gods had been kind and there were new crops. And with the new crops came new people and new houses, and new things to tell stories about. This was torture to the storyteller, who could no longer bare to hear what he could not tell. So eventually, the storyteller stopped leaving his house altogether.
Soon, as all sorts of creatures were settling down here, the storyteller finally decided he wanted to go out into the village once more. But he had waited too long, and couldn't because there were too many newcomers who did not know him; the old wouldn’t help him anymore, preoccupied with this new growth. As everyone grew older and he became no longer a little boy, it seemed senseless to coddle him. None of the old villagers visited, and the new just poked around this old shoddy house curiously while everything else was being made new and beautiful. A man of twenty now, he was on his own as far as the villagers were concerned.
With these new settlers came a small...it was hard to tell if it was a boy or a girl. They had very pretty little wings, but not big enough to fly, and they had very little gift, not enough to perform miracles. You couldn't really call them an angel or miracle-worker, because they seemed so weak. They were very pretty, but that too was a problem: they couldn't work in the church, because people stared at them and didn't pay attention to the services, or the prayers. They couldn't heal very well, so they couldn't work at the infirmary. No one wanted them working with children, because the creature confused them, and they couldn't explain whether they were a boy or a girl. That raised all sorts of funny questions that parents wouldn't want to answer. No one could figure out what this creature was -- or what they were good for. So they wandered around town, trying to find anyone who wouldn't turn them away.
Edan, this little not-quite-angel, couldn’t find anyone to let them stay, until they came to the broken-down little house at the end of the town, untouched, with everything built around it. At first Edan thought it might have the plague, or that someone terrible or very very poor might have died there. But wouldn't they have knocked it down then? Well, if no one was living there, and no one wanted to go near it, then certainly no one would mind Edan sleeping on the crooked front step for a little bit, because it was getting cold, and if it snowed at least the step would be warmer than the frozen ground. Only, as it got later, the bottom of the doorway got warmer, as if someone had lit a fire in the house. And when Edan peeked under the door, they could see a little bit of light, but not very much. They sat on the step for a little while longer, watching the door carefully -- maybe this was a nocturnal creature of some sort. All night, and still nothing.
So when they woke up the next morning, not too much worse for the wear, Edan wandered to the tavern to stand outside and do what they'd done in their last town -- sing. And when Edan sang, it wasn't necessarily a very pretty sound, nor did it tell any story. Most people didn't take much notice. But a very few passed and had the most lovely thoughts and feelings all of a sudden, and in their sudden cheer left a few coins at Edan's feet. Edan kept doing this until it got dark and the tavern was closing, used the coins to buy the cheapest, stalest bread and flattest drinks, enough for two, maybe even three people if they ate very scarcely. They headed back to the house.
As the air grew cold the doorway got warm again, so Edan knocked. No one answered at first, but they heard creaking, and stood at the door with the bread and the drink and waited. It sounded as if someone had come to the door, but no one opened. Edan knocked again, and called out to see if anyone was there. When the storyteller opened the door, he was thin as death itself, his hair long and knotted, far past his shoulders, and it looked like he could barely stand. But in the dim light Edan couldn't tell that he was blind. The storyteller stood for awhile, wondering if he was finally being told he had to leave, but after a long pause no one said anything. He hadn't used his voice in what might have been years, as he hadn't anyone to talk to, so when he spoke it was hoarse and hesitant. "Are you kicking me out now?"
Edan was very confused. "Is that how that works here? I wouldn't take your home from you. but...I was wondering if..." They held out the bread and drink hopefully. "I have nowhere to stay, and no one else will take me in." The storyteller had to think on it for a moment, but only because he couldn't think of anyone who would be strange enough to want to stay here. Even robbers wouldn't have bothered with him. But he stood aside slowly and held open the door, waiting until he heard the other step inside to let it close. Edan was overjoyed. They beamed happiness, and quickly set the bread and drink out on the rickety wooden table. "You're such a kind-hearted person! No one else would even speak to me!"
The storyteller followed slowly, so that he wouldn't bump into this stranger by mistake or trip, or do something otherwise foolish in the presence of another person. He couldn't tell what they were from their voice, but he could tell that they were kind. A person who made up other people for a living -- or who was supposed to, anyway -- knew how good people and bad people sounded. He considered asking who they were, but thought it might be too gruff, so instead he tried to make conversation the best that he could as he sat down; Edan wouldn't sit until after the host had. Maybe it was a child? "Are you new to the village?"
"Village? This is very large to be called a village -- you must be very well-traveled to think of this as so small." Edan smiled, and didn't think anything of speaking so freely to this stranger, especially because he hadn't had anyone to speak to in a long time.
"You speak a lot." It wasn't necessarily mean, it was just an amazed sort of statement. Actually, the person's voice, as odd as it was, was very nice to listen to. "What do you do here?"
Edan paused. What could they say? They didn't really do anything. "I sing," Edan said, "outside of the tavern."
"So you're a minstrel then."
"No, I just sing." Edan was afraid they would be kicked out right then and there, but the storyteller had imagined these things before, so it was only fascinating to him, not the least bit unsettling.
"What do you sing?"
“Nothing." Edan's little wings fluttered with nerves.
"How can you sing nothing?"
"I'm sorry that the bread is so stale." The storyteller hadn't touched his food, but he hadn't even looked at it. Did he eat at all? Edan tried to stall, but couldn’t think of anything else to say, so they relented after a moment’s thought. "I sing whatever comes to my head."
"Like a storyteller," he asked.
"Oh no, I don't have nearly the skill of a storyteller."
He didn't respond for a moment, instead putting his hands awkwardly on the edge of the table, then folding them slowly. "Sing, then. Let me be the judge."
There was another long, almost uncomfortable pause, and then the scratching of a stool against the floor, and the storyteller thought he'd said something wrong and prepared to be alone again until he died. But then, Edan's wings fluttered again, and the little not-quite-angel started to sing. It wasn't the same kind of singing Edan had done at the tavern, a pretty nothing song about whatever passed by. This singing was still lighthearted, but the words weren't -- a song about a long journey with no one but the wind and the songs in the wind that came from everywhere. And something incredible happened while the little not-quite-angel was singing -- the storyteller could see everything Edan sang, just as clearly, he was sure, as Edan had seen it. It was all very lonely-looking, deserts and harsh breezes and Edan with the little wings that weren't big enough to do anything with, and he thought that the creature was very pretty.
When Edan stopped singing, they looked up and saw that the other person was crying. At first they were afraid that they would be kicked out for doing something horrible -- no one had ever cried before like that! But when Edan leaned forward they saw that the man didn't look sad at all, only amazed. At what, he wondered? Edan only sang as they always sang.
"Are you alright?"
"No, I'm blind, and very sick."
Edan was shocked, and horrified -- how could they not have noticed?
"But," he continued, "I saw what you sang, and that you have wings. Can you make me see again, are you a miracle-worker?"
Edan was quiet for a little while, and then responded quietly, guilty. "I'm not a miracle-worker, sir. I'm very sorry. If I could heal you I would, but the wings that you saw are too small for any real angel, and I can't do anything of any use."
"But a blind storyteller is very useless, and you made him see. So aren't you of some good?" He realized, belatedly, how badly it had sounded, but if he could see for just that moment, didn't that make him a whole person for just that moment, worthy of being important?
Edan sat back down, dazed. Had they really done something so...good? His wings fluttered, and felt heavier. Perhaps Edan was getting lightheaded. "...people sometimes pay me for a song, but you have as much to give as I do. So perhaps you could tell me a story in return." It was a very hesitant request; they'd seen some storytellers before, in passing, but not for a very long time, and longed to see another. This one was…special.
At first, the storyteller wanted to tell this creature that he could not tell stories, because he was blind. Surely, any fool could see that. But instead, he started speaking, telling a tale of a little angel who wandered through a desert all alone, fighting dragons, saving chidren, doing good works. And it was the most beautiful story Edan had ever seen. Edan let him speak until early in the morning, when he had little voice left, the drink and bread were gone, and the storyteller was falling asleep as he told them tale after tale, everything he'd ever imagined. And it all appeared for them, more vibrant and exciting and filled with emotion than any story any other storyteller had ever told.
When they woke up that afternoon, their heads on the table, Edan's wings were no longer tiny, awkwardly fluttering little bird's wings, but at least twice the size and just as lovely as any angel’s wings. The storyteller washed and changed into the robe he should have worn to tell his stories, and stepped outside that evening. The old townspeople were shocked and the new delighted at his appearance, but even more so by his companion, a very rare sight indeed; muses didn't often wander around the planet, after all.