Johan the Fiddler was one of the most legendary patrons of the Stag and Dragon, greatest of the inns along the Forest Road. Heroes and villains alike could be found under its wide eaves, but from time to time this aged musician seated himself by the fire and ordered hot mulled wine. He would produce his lap fiddle, and weave a sad song over the heads of all in the room.
He pulled his hood down, and without fail he said “Once, when I was a younger man, I traveled far from paths and roads. I sought the Blackwood, and the things within it. During my travels through the southern mountains, I met a man who showed me the sublime truth of music, and I turned myself to its study forever after.
“It was high in a mountain pass, with the mountain’s firs hung heavy about me, where I met him. I had lost my way, and stumbled blindly upward. I found a stream trickling down, so I traced it to its source. I climbed a waterfall and skirted a pair of trolls to do it, but I came to a great and beautiful lake. Like a hound, it was wrapped around the feet of the mountains beyond, which rose into the morning mist and left sight. The lake was still as the forest around it, and quiet settled over all.
“That’s when I saw him, a man of noble dress seated on a stump at the water’s edge. He held a lap fiddle in his arms, and he looked out on the water in equal stillness. I approached him, blade bare, but never did he glance at me or move one inch. He merely picked up the bow of his fiddle, and began to play.
“The fog pressed in around us in those first, mournful notes. I felt the burden of a heavy heart, the kind that only lost love can create. I seemed to see her in the mist, and hear her melancholy in the lap fiddle’s song. She cried, but no solace came, for her light, my light, had left. It left her in a world of rain and misery as she walked, jostled by every passerby, beaten but unbowed.
“Then the song changed, and the abiding sadness was swept up into a fiddler’s passion. I felt all the thrill of life from every leaf and branch, the lake cleared like air and I saw its every depth, and the call of every bird seemed to be held in the fiddle’s vital playing. It was sturdy music, timeless as the trees themselves, and I saw the frivolity of the lives of men.
“But finally, a third movement arrived. This one combined the first two, with a third theme that was forever transfixed between them. I felt the need to choose, to reach out and grab hold of something, anything, but my own nature would not let me. Lacking this, I wanted to make my life a monumental bridge between two worlds, to sway between them until the world’s end.”
The music would stop, and the patrons would be spellbound by the song he had played for them.
“With his last chord,” he would say, and only then would the patrons realize he had not spoken for some time. “I understood the power of music, when before I had only heard its beauty. I cast my sword into the lake, fell at his feet, and from that day these hands have held nothing but this lap fiddle.”
And then he would drink his wine and watch the patrons from a snug corner. From time to time he would play a new song on his lap fiddle, but never did they have the same effect on patrons as the Tale of Lake Echo.