The Collector of Tales is a man of middling years who is travelling across a cold and harsh landscape filled with brutish people who find politeness to be offensive. He is on a peregrination in search of a story, his stock in trade, yet he is also on another journey. It is one that he is so much a part of that he doesn't see it and indeed won't see it, until it reaches its end. Along the way, characters come and go. All of them are a part of the chaotic happenchance that represents our seemingly ordered lives .
This is a dark comedy set in a medieval place where books are rare and the currency of learning is the spoken word. The landscape is cold and unforgiving. The people are crude. Life here is nasty brutish and short. It is here that we find our protagonist as he struggles to earn more coin to feed his distant family.
When we first meet the Collector, he is standing at a bifurcation in the way: one path straight and narrow and leading away from humanity, the other long and winding that leads him towards the company of his fellow creatures. He makes what is, of course, another in a life of binary decisions and in this case heads towards humanity and as the road unfolds beneath him so does his tale and the tales of those people that he meets.
After a few enlightening nights in what the Collector takes to be an inn, he moves on to travel further north with a travelling spice trader whose only word in the common tongue appears to be 'Welcome'. They converse in a form of Latin, the scholars tongue - although schoolboy might be a more appropriate term for the Collector. Eventually, after some stilted and ineffectual conversations and after a near death experience with the trader's pet bear they reach the Collector's destination , the northern town of Trellsheim. Here they part. The trader (in an apparently random act of mistake) to be murdered brutally in a marketplace and the Collector to continue his journey as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
In Trellsheim, the influence of randomness steps up a pace and the Collector finds himself moving in and out of a number of events that appear to have little significance to him and yet somehow manage to conspire against his apparent purpose in being there. These events culminate in him being abandoned on a frozen road heading further north, sick and unconscious, after what he believes may have been a night of passion with a young woman that he found washing in the bath in his rented room if only he could remember the actual events.
In another binary act of good fortune, the Collector is rescued by a traveller family as they head towards a festival somewhere north of the town. This act of random kindness holds a suggestion of something more sinister that grows in his delirious mind until by chance he happens to mention where he is from and by mistaken understanding becomes adopted by the family as a distant relative. A consequence of this act is that he is able now to participate in the strange celebrations of these folk as they enact what he believes to be no more than a myth that he was told of at the start of his journey. In participating, he is stripped down, both literally and figuratively, to the simple man that he is and given the opportunity to step beyond himself and take a look back of the creature that after over half a century of treading this sweet earth, that he has become.
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