by Chris Roberts
There was a small village of brilliant craftsmen sitting in the quiet countryside. It was not difficult to find, but it was away from the path that led between the cities, so few people traveled there. The craftsmen in this village could make anything and everything. For many years they spent their time creating and inventing things of which they were very proud. In the tavern at night, they would share their creations with each other and dream together about how one day patrons would flock to their little village by the hundreds to purchase their wares.
They could not go to the cities themselves, for stories were told of corruption that made them all afraid. Their fathers and grandfathers had been taken advantage of by the cities, and it was only through voluntary seclusion that their little village had now begun to prosper. They knew that there were not enough people in the village to make their crafting worthwhile forever.
After a time, the craftsmen had each shared their best goods with all their neighbors. The village was outfitted with all the most impressive wares created by the village craftsmen, but the craftsmen kept creating and storing their goods. Before long, these incredible things were being piled in extra rooms, stacked in vacant houses and crowded next to animals in barns. Many of the wares even began to rust or rot with time, so no one was able to enjoy them.
"What has happened to our village?" one of the old and skilled craftsmen asked the crowd one night at the tavern. "We have continued to create, we have persevered, we have even improved our crafts, but there is no one to buy our wares." A rabble of agreement rose up from the other craftsmen. He continued, "If we could only sell in the cities, I have heard of markets there that fill with people each day, people that would be happy to buy our goods."
"But we cannot go to the cities!" another craftsman shouted. "Surely some of us will never return, and our wares may be undervalued. You have all heard the stories told by our fathers and grandfathers." The men began to grumble in agreement. "Besides, we have everything we need in our village."
The craftsmen discussed these issues long into the night. Some were worried that their families would not be able to grow. Others feared that their wives would become unhappy. Others still thought the problem would simply solve itself as city folk eventually realized what was available in the small village.
Just before dawn that same sleepless night, a small voice spoke up from the back corner of the room. It was a quiet craftsman who lived alone and rarely spoke about anything. "I will go to the city markets and tell them of this place." Every sleepy eye in the tavern was instantly upon the man, which made him feel very uncomfortable. "I will leave today," he said as the sun began to peek over the hillside, "because there is no time to waste."
There was no parade, there were no cheers, but the craftsmen knew this man was doing a brave thing by going to the cities. He left alone, mid-morning after lending the tools of his own crafting to his neighbor. He hoped to reach the cities by nightfall, when the wolves would come out.
After the quiet man had gone, the problems remained. With nowhere to sell their wares, the brilliant craftsmen began to think less of themselves and their village. Some of them became depressed. The wives of some moved away, not looking back and hoping to earn a simple living in the cities. It was a sad time for the little village. Then the winter came, and many of the village craftsmen stopped producing their wares to focus on survival through the cold.
With the spring thaw came a trickle of visitors. The village had not seen visitors for many years, but these were looking for crafts and wares. They came with gold, wagons, and supplies for trade. The craftsmen who remained could hardly believe it. They dusted off their old wares and sold everything they could to the visitors, who went back to their homes in the cities. Each day more visitors came looking for the work of the village craftsmen, who were thankful that their perseverance was finally being rewarded.
Eventually the visitors had bought everything from the craftsmen, including the wares with which they had once enriched their own lives and the lives of their neighbors. Still more visitors came. Soon the craftsmen were annoyed at the arrival of new guests to whom they had no wares to sell, and the village became less hospitable, a less friendly place. Now people were visiting the village regularly, but there was nothing left to sell. Even worse, more of the wives were leaving with bachelors from the cities who promised them and their children lives free of squalor.
Years later, the quiet man who had found success and great fortune in the cities decided to visit his old village again. The shy craftsman had spent weeks upon his first arrival to the cities telling people and merchants all about the little village. He told as many as would listen of the brilliant craftsmen who lived there and the generosity of his neighbors. Now as a rich man, he decided to visit those old neighbors, who he missed dearly.
When he arrived at the village, he found it nearly deserted. He had expected to find his village prospering, to see the smiling faces of his neighbors and their growing families. He had expected to see his fellow craftsmen inventing new things and selling to the city visitors. He found none of these things. Even the neighbor to whom he had loaned his tools had moved away, leaving his house to be overgrown and untended. He found the tools, but they were no longer useful. They had rusted from years of not being used.
The old man behind the bar of the tavern still wore a smile and greeted the rich craftsman with excitement when he entered. The two had a long conversation about the history of the little ruined village, but the barkeep still did not recognize the craftsman as the man who left for the cities.
At last, the rich craftsman began to cry, suddenly feeling that he was responsible for the fate of the little village that he loved, which was past the point of saving. At that moment the barkeep finally recognized him. With a gentle and neighborly smile, the barkeep put a hand on the crying man's shoulder and said "Do not worry. People rarely want what they ask for."