This is my first attempt at a short story, and one a few friends have been generous enough to say good things about. I hope they were truthful, but if not I appreciate the kindness all the same. It’s based on my favourite work of literature, Tolkien’s ‘Smith of Wooton Major’, and although the character’s name is the same, I hope for anyone who’s read both it’s sufficiently individual to be credible. Thanks for reading, or at the very least getting to the end of this introduction.
Smith always walked through the forest in the mornings. He loved the clean, quiet air that seemed to whisper with the wind, the green canopy of trees like interlaced fingers above and the floor with its seasonal carpets of earth, mud, leaves and water below. He knew the woods so well, he could close his eyes any time and walk through them without taking a step.
The forest was, for Smith, a place of peace and solitude. He was never interested in parties or large gatherings, and preferred to spend time wandering outside, even in winter. As much as he loved exploring new places, he also delighted in travelling old, well known paths and following the small changes day to day and week to week that are so easily missed: a new bird’s nest in the rafters of a tree’s upper reaches, a trickling stream fresh with water after an evening’s rain, or a missing branch blown off by an angry gust of wind. They were all part of the living, breathing world that existed quite apart from the hustle and bustle of the towns, or the more intermittent babble and chatter of the village.
At school when he was growing up they recited the Lord’s Prayer. When first learning it, he’d mistaken a word on the blackboard, writing: ‘lead us not into ambition’. He and his friend Tom tested each other the next day. Noticing the difference, he checked with another friend and changed the verse in his head.
When asked he recited it perfectly, winning a gold star, which he kept. Later, Smith found himself thinking that temptation could just as easily have been ambition, and it seemed to him a better fit. He didn’t like ambition, and felt that when some people used it they just wanted a nice sounding way to be greedy. Smith also thought ambition sometimes led people to twist the truth to impress others, and this was something he always took care not to do. This meant he wasn’t as popular as he might have been, nor as impressive, but that never seemed important.
He never had trouble remembering things, except music, which he’d very honestly accepted he was awful at. It was nice to listen to, but Smith thought it was better for everyone if nobody had to listen to him! He liked to hum to himself from time to time when walking in the forest, but even then it was very quiet. Partly he didn’t want to disturb all that he shared the forest with, the birds and woodland creatures, but also he liked listening to the sounds of the trees themselves as the wind whistled and fluttered through the layers of leaves and evergreen bristles. For Smith, no sound a mouth of skin or brass could produce made him feel more at home.
For the most part, life went on very happily in the village, there weren’t a lot of visitors from outside, and people rarely travelled too far away. Then one day an old man arrived and told of a fallen star that had dropped somewhere in the woods the night before. He told people if they ran to seek it, they would have what their heart wanted most.
People assumed it was a magic star that would grant a wish to the first to capture it, or would provide fabulous wealth or a beautiful bride to the one who brought it home.
They called their friends, and soon all the nearby towns had heard of the magical star and its rapturous reward. They ran in a hurry, all over the wood, kicking up the leaves and shouting loudly to each other, scaring the animals and shattering the quiet of the place. After a few weeks of frantic activity, they gave up, and moved on to other things, forgetting the star and what had once been their great quest.
Smith travelled the forest every day, but slowly and carefully, looking in all the corners of the wood, high and low, day and night, seeking to track down the star. He loved mysteries and puzzles, and something in his heart told him that the old man had been telling the truth. He was not sad when he could not find it, for he loved being in the wood, and journeying through it had given him a sense of freedom and of peace that seemed in keeping with its character. He didn’t disturb the animals, kick up the leaves or make any sound other than the flow of his breath and the light, nimble padding of his footsteps.
He found that he loved to travel across the land in this way, and often went many miles to see how far his legs would carry him. Sometimes, he would come to distant villages, and strange lands, and people would wonder how he had travelled there. All the old roads were lost, and the townsfolk weren’t used to people from far away coming there at all. Smith simply said that he had been carried by the wind, and though they were always kind he never overstayed his welcome in these new places.
After a time, Smith grew braver and more adventurous, and explored different lands and was bolder in his ventures out into the unknown, enjoying the feeling of being lost and the process of learning new places. He could never stop his mind wondering what had become of the star, but was not troubled by these concerns. They came and went like clouds across the sky, and were a companion to his solitary wanderings. Despite never knowing, he always had a feeling that the answer would become clear in time.
One day, after many years and many new and different forests, he came to the top of a mountain, and saw the old man again. The figure motioned him to approach, a warm smile on his face. “If I may ask, sir, where was the star?” he enquired, assuming that someone else had found it, that it had disappeared, or was still waiting somewhere among the trees.
“The star wasn’t hidden away, nor was it something that would suddenly appear” the old man replied. “It was something anyone who worked hard and patiently enough to find it would already have”.
“What do you mean?”, Smith asked, perplexed.
“The star came to you in time, as you were the only one mindful enough to keep searching, but not to be consumed by it. You always kept it in your heart, but would never lose hope when it would not appear. It is nothing more than your happiness and contentment, for that was and is all your heart desires.” came the answer.
The old man smiled, and a warmth grew out from his bright eyes, a gratitude that filled Smith once again with a sense of peace. Smith smiled too, and after thanking the man for his explanation, let his feet carry him away once more.