...and then I woke up. It had all been just another heart-wrenching dream. I looked around the clearing, and found all as I had left it when I went to sleep. My harp case lay beside me, securing my lady from the chill morning. Mistress Night had left, and the fire was banked low. I rolled out of the bedroll and thought about the new day just dawned. Once again, I was waking up cold and alone, and it looked like the day ahead would not bring much change from the day just past.

I fixed a simple traveller's breakfast of trail bread and cheese, washing it down with a couple swallows of wine. I warmed my hands by the fire, then covered it, erasing all evidence of my presence there as I broke camp. I opened my harp case, and removed the harp. Slinging the case onto my back, I carefully tune her, warming her up for the long day ahead. When the strings were set, I commenced my journey. Strumming an old ballad, I tried to remind myself of the joys I had found in my wanderings, to banish the cold frost of loneliness that haunts my waking hours. Almost, I am successful. Almost, the mask I wear could come off and reveal the same smile beneath. But the cold runs deep, and the warmth of last night's dream has turned into a rimy sheath that will not likely thaw in just one day. So the mask stays on, and the song plays, and the day continues. I come across a small hamlet -- only a few small houses, clustered around a central square, in which stand the common house and the smithy. A quick look at the sky reveals it is nearly time for the noon meal, so I decide to try and barter my news and stories for a meal, and perhaps some fresh supplies.

Entering the pub, I approach the proprietor, a kindly-looking chap behind the bar, noticing several tables full of people who appear to be locals, although one or two may have been travellers like myself. I speak to the barkeep briefly, then take a stool to my customary place near the fire, and begin my recitation. First, news of the kingdom -- what the high and mighty have been doing since the last news came through this place. Then, I retell the news of the places I have been on this journey, answering an occasional question whenever I mention a place where a member of my audience has an acquaintance or two. Lastly, I ask for local news to take with me down the road, because I have already seen that this is not where I will be able to stay. After the news is exchanged, I begin the songs which will carry these good folk through the days or weeks that will pass before the next bard comes through.

I envy these people their lives, hard though they may be. I long for the day when I will be able, as they are, to return to hearth and home at the end of the day, knowing that the hearth will be warm, and the home bright enough to keep the rime from e'er again finding its way into my day-to-day life.

I finish my songs, split the tips with Master Johnson, and take my meal to a table. After eating my fill, I refresh my water and trail bread supplies, and head back out to the road.

The day has passed, and night is closing in again when I find shelter beneath an ancient pine -- a dry place to sleep in case it rains tonight. I loosen the strings on my harp, and stow her safely in her case for the night. Then, rolling over to look up at the stars, I cry softly, wondering if I will ever find a place or a person that I can call home. It didn't happen today, but maybe tomorrow. Sometimes, it is the dream of tomorrow that is the only reason I wake in the morning -- the hope that, if I can wake up for this one more day it will be the day that I find home. With this fervent prayer on my lips, I gently slip from tears into sleep...

--The Wandering Bard--