The streets of the city were alive with music and colourful banners and cheering crowds. War had been declared against a nearby kingdom and the people of the city were happy. They loved war. They loved it, that is, as long as the messy, bloody part took place somewhere else.
And now the latest host of young men and women, shining and beautiful in their bright new armour, were riding off to fight for the honour and glory of their city. One of them was a young man named Nicholas Pendrake.
As a boy Nicholas had learned woodcarving from the old man who looked after his family’s garden. Nicholas became very skilled at carving wonderfully detailed figures of animals and birds out of unlikely scraps of wood, but of course such a talent was of no use to one who was being groomed for knighthood.
Like most of his friends Nicholas had caught war fever early in life, and when he was old enough he put away his carving tools and learned to wield a sword. And now, on his seventeenth birthday, war had been declared and he and his friends were riding at last to glory.
The battle was brief but savage. Hundreds of young men and women were injured. Many lost their lives. The stream that lazily trickled through the valley ran foaming and red. Nicholas took an arrow in the side and lay on the battlefield through the night, thirsty, cold, and in agony. He screamed for someone to help him, screamed until his voice went hoarse, but it was well after dawn before he was found by his comrades and taken home.
The war ended and little changed, except for the rows of fresh mounds in the graveyard on the hill. The people of the city were already dreaming and planning for the next war. Nicholas was young and strong and his body healed quickly, but his former brightness of spirit did not return. He avoided his friends and took to wandering the woods and hills around the city.
One day his father’s mother, whom he had never met, came to see him. All that Nicholas knew about her was that she lived in some small, far-off, unimportant place called Fable, and that his parents seldom spoke about her. On the rare occasions they mentioned Nicholas’s grandmother they seemed afraid of her, and he had never known why.
The old woman was a surprise to Nicholas. She was cheery and quick-witted and laughed a lot. One day she took Nicholas for a walk and asked him what he hoped to do with his life. To his own surprise Nicholas found himself confessing his feelings to this woman he hardly knew.
“I thought I knew what I wanted in life,” he said. “Everyone told me I was meant to be a soldier, a fighter, and I believed it. But it was what they wanted, not what I really wanted. I just didn’t see it.”
“You were told a story,” his grandmother said, “and you believed it was the only one. That happens to a lot of people.”
Then she told him a story of her own. A story about another war, one that had happened so long ago few remembered it. That war, Nicholas’s grandmother told him, was not over some trumped-up grievance between one city and another. It was not an excuse to steal another nation’s wealth. It was not about glory. It was a war to keep the world from losing its stories.
“Why haven’t I heard about this?” Nicholas asked when his grandmother had finished. “How do you know about it?”
“I know because I have tended the weave of stories that is our world, as loremasters have for many ages.”
“Loremasters?” Nicholas asked. “What are they?”
“You are one yourself,” the old woman said cryptically. “Only you don’t know it. There have been loremasters in our family for many generations. Your parents feared that you would follow in the craft, and so they left Fable and hid the truth from you. I cannot blame them, for they did it out of love. The life of a master of lore is a dangerous one, even more dangerous than that of a soldier.”
When it was time for his grandmother to return home, Nicholas asked to go with her.
And so began the apprenticeship of Nicholas Pendrake the loremaster. But it was also the apprenticeship of Pendrake the toymaker. Like many a keeper of stories before him, he found that he needed another trade to earn his daily bread. And so he took up carving again, and made wonderful toys for the children of Fable.
When he was older Nicholas returned to his native city and brought his old rusted armour back with him to Fable. He kept it on display in the library of his toyshop, as a reminder of the folly of believing that only one story can be true.