Tea, Empathy and an Opportunity
The recent economic downturn had meant that Ulrich had lost his job. Work in his field, as a master blacksmith and swordsmith, was scarce. He worried ceaselessly about how he was going to provide for his young family. Ulrich’s responsibilities weighed heavily upon him, making his shoulders hunched and his face look worry worn. Insomnia made his thoughts slow and fuzzy.
Anxiety set Ulrich’s nerves aflame. Every inch of his skin prickled and itched. A million fire ants crawling all over his body, would feel more pleasant than how he felt. His breath was short, and his heart beat a staccato rhythm in his chest. The black dog of depression stalked his heels. Today it wasn’t a small terrier. Today it was a monster that was certain to give Cerberus nightmares.
His ever-loving wife had encouraged him to seek help. On her advice, Ulrich had gone to see Esmé the sorceress. Which was how he found himself sitting in the front room of her little cottage.
On the table was a pitcher of iced tea, two glasses, and a plate of sandwiches and sweet rolls.
‘Help yourself to some afternoon tea’, said Esmé as the regarded him closely. She took note of his worn appearance, threadbare but well maintained clothes, and the scars on his hands and arms from his work.
‘How can I help you today?’ she asked.
Ulrich cautiously took a sip of tea, the glass of tea felt small and fragile in his large hands, and hesitantly launched into his tale. He was a proud man, and talking about his worries and troubles did not come easily. He spoke hesitantly at first. The afternoon tea helped him relax as Esmé listened attentively, asking questions occasionally and letting Ulrich unburden himself.
At the end of his tale, Ulrich felt embarrassment as he noticed that there was no more tea, and only a few crumbs left on the plate.
‘Can you help me?’, asked Ulrich, ‘I don’t know what else to do, or where to go. Do you have a spell, potion or good luck charm that can help my family and I?’.
Esmé shook her head sadly. ‘Magic is not a cure-all and always comes with a hefty price.’
‘Please, there must be something that you can do’, pleaded Ulrich, ‘I’ll do anything that will help my family, and pay any price!’.
Esmé raised her hand to forestall any further argument.
‘I believe I have a promising opportunity. It’s not guaranteed, and will be challenging.’ she warned. ‘Wait here a moment’, she said as she stood up and left the room. Ulrich waited patiently and looked curiously around the neat and tidy room.
Esmé returned after a few moments and put a map, a small amber talisman, on the table and a heavy-looking pack on the floor.
‘See this place here’, she said as she pointed to a place marked on the map. ‘There is a willow grove here that is deep in the forest. If you need to talk to someone or need some time alone, the willow tree spirits are patient listeners, and won’t judge.’
She told Ulrich that she went there often herself, to meditate and reflect on the nature of things. ‘You can always come and visit me, but I’m often away helping others. The tree spirits are always willing to listen’.
‘This second place is where a friend of mine lives’, Esmé said pointing to a place marked at the end of a valley in the mountains to the south of the village. ‘This friend of mine wants to learn a trade, and I believe is uniquely suited to your line of work, and they are willing to pay.’ she added with a small smile.
Ulrich knew everyone in his village by sight, if not by name. He had never heard of anyone living in that part of the mountains.
Esmé could see that he was curious. ‘Why are they living all the way out there?’ he asked, ‘Are they new to the area?’.
‘In a manner of speaking’, she replied ‘They don’t like company very much, and they’ve had a hard time lately, similar to you’ she added.
‘All I ask is that you go out and visit my friend, and see if you can work together. Will you go?’ she asked.
Ulrich considered his options, and decided he had nothing to lose. ‘Yes’, he said with a nod. ‘I admit I am curious to see you friend, and this opportunity gives me hope’.
‘I’m glad’, said Esmé with a small smile of her own, ‘But don’t get too excited my burly friend’, she admonished, ‘Nothing is guaranteed’.
Esmé then went on to explain that Ulrich was to visit her friend early tomorrow morning. He was to take the amber talisman to show that Esmé had sent him, and she’d consider it a kindness if he could take the heavy pack with him as well. It contained medicines for her friend.
Lastly she gave him a sack that contained some bread, cheese, ham and some fresh vegetables from her garden.
‘I can’t take this!’, protested Ulrich with a flush of embarrassment.
‘Consider it advanced payment for delivering the medicine to my friend’, said Esmé.
Ulrich thanked her for the help and opportunity. He took the map and talisman, putting them securely in his pocket. Shouldering the heavy pack he said his goodbyes and took his leave.
Esmé felt pleasure as she saw a lightness in his step, as he made his way down her garden path. It felt good to use her skills and be able to help those in need.
She wondered what he would make of her friend, but felt that Ulrich and Adelina would work well together. If Ulrich could get over his prejudices.