This story begins, as all good stories do, with once upon a time.

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This story begins, as all good stories do, with once upon a time. This story follows, as all good stories must, a noble hero from a humble upbringing. This story will not end, as no good story shall, until the hero stands triumphant against all odds.

Once upon a time, there was a Boy. This was a poor farm boy from a town with no name in the middle of nowhere. This Boy was not educated. This Boy was not respected. In fact, the life of this Boy was quite pitiful. The one gifts that had been given to this Boy were a wonderful imagination and unrelenting ambition. With these, he created such wonderful stories. In whatever free time he had, he would spin the tales for all of his friends. However, his farm work did not grant him any free time, and he had no true friends. As such, the stories lay dormant inside him, waiting for a chance at freedom. However, the Boy never got to tell a single story. For after working day in and day out in all that the elements submitted him to, one day he fell over and died at the ripe old age of thirteen.

But no good story ends with a thirteen year old Boy dead after an utterly pitiful and unfulfilling life. And so this Boy was not done. He did not know it, and he did not show it, but it was true. So this Boy reached out to the only things that never left him: stories, myths, fables, lies, and half-truths. And so, just as his thread was being cut, he spun himself a new one. One of his own design. The life of the Boy was cut short, and in its place was woven the life of the Hero.

Once upon a time, there was a Hero. This Hero was tragically born lacking father or mother in a barren field under the scorching noonday sun. He was not the kind to leave a job half finished, so he proceeded to weed, plow, and seed the entire field. By the end of the day, he had a fine bushel of fresh fruits and vegetables of every color of the rainbow. With this veritable cornucopia, he decided that a feast was in order, and so he invited every member of his village to his home. There were not enough seats for everyone, and so the Hero chose to sit in the field. The villagers, not wanting to sit without their gracious host, followed suit. And thus the Feast of the Empty Chairs began.

No one expected a feast, and therefore shock was the emotion in the air. Silence hung over the field as the food was served. Not a single soul ate. They had never met the Hero before, and therefore he was trusted by no one. The Hero had grown and harvested this food for his community, and now they would not even touch it. So, as a final chance at kinship, he stood up and spoke as such.

“Look before you. Most people would see plates and bowls of the most exquisite produce. A gift from Mother Nature herself. I myself see the fruits of my labor. The sole reason I spent the day toiling under the brightest sun. But it appears all you see is evil. Is there a worm in your apple? Is there some toxin hiding under the surface? Is there an enchantment of the most wicked magics, woven to bewitch or ensorcel you? If there is, I beg of you to inform me. If there is a grain or seed out of place, please tell me and I will make it right! But if there is not, then why do you turn up your nose and starve yourselves? Do not squander your life with pettiness and mistrust. But instead reach out your hand with trust and friendship and savor your first bite.”

And with that final line said, he lifted and broke the bread in front of him. This was the rallying call that the crowd needed, and so they indulged themselves on the meal placed before them. No member of the feast ended the night with an empty stomach. And after they gorged themselves on this food, the entire village went to sleep under the stars.

When they woke, their gracious host was nowhere to be found. In fact, that is the last any of them would see of the Hero. For every good hero must leave home. One day, however, he may be seen again. Many, many generations later. For every hero must also return home, changed by a grand journey.

And the Hero’s journey is not done yet. The next stop on it was the City With Many Names. It was the center of the world. Throughout time, it had been called Uruk, Babylon, Beijing, New York, and any number of other locations. In it was the Girl. She was a princess, heiress, preacher’s daughter, or schoolteacher. Her beauty astounded the world around her. The birds sang her awake and the crickets chirped her to sleep. Every young, wide-eyed, citizen of the city wanted her. However, their midnight prayers were in vain. For the Girl’s Father was the most powerful man in the City. Marriage was out of the question. At least, for anyone who didn’t meet his standards.

With this in mind, the Hero had a new goal set for him. But he could not decide how to win over the Father. And so, he decided that the only true answer was to win over the Girl first. And for that, he needed to speak with her. In the dead of night, when the birds and even the crickets were sleeping, the Hero crept over the threshold of the Father’s house. At the Girl’s window, he spoke in the softest voice, so as to not wake her Father. Despite this subtlety, the Girl stirred awake, and spoke to the Hero.

“What brings you here, muttering at my window?”

“I have come to ask, no, beg for your hand in marriage.”

“You poor fool. My suitors are numerous, my father is strict. What do you believe places you above the rest of the world?”

“Nothing but faith. Faith in the world. Faith in my luck. And faith in you. I have faith that you will make the right decision and choose me.”

“Even so, you would have to convince my father. He is not a generous man.”

“I also have faith in myself. Just choose me when the time is right.”

And with that final line said, the Hero crept back from where he came. He did not lie when he said that all he had was faith. He did not, in fact, have any plan at all. But he was as confident as ever. The Hero lay awake that night waiting for a miracle.

What good story would deprive a brave Hero of a miracle? And so, the very next day, as the Girl was awoken by soothing chirps and the Hero rose from restlessness, the Girl’s Father announced that he would allow her to marry. However, only to the most suitable spouse. And so, he announced that a contest was in order. All of the most eligible suitors were stepping over each other to compete. At the back of this parade of decadence and pride was the humble Hero. So meek and unassuming that he was almost not counted by the Father. As the gates were closing, he stepped in. Leading to a stunned silence among all the other contestants, followed by deafening laughter. But the Hero was not shaken. And he spoke the following phrase without a second of hesitation.

“I am here to marry the Girl.”

The first trial was a trial of might. A tournament of physical combat. Knights, soldiers, and mercenaries came prepared. They brandished weapons that they had been trained with their whole lives. The Hero was armed with nothing. He had no plan, he had no weapon, in short, he had no chance. But he did have was hope. For hope springs eternal, especially in the most dire circumstances.

And in a way, hope was all he needed. For there is no good story in which the brave, yet humble Hero fails to achieve his one goal in life. So the Hero stood his ground. Even against the imposing figure of a fully armored knight. And, as is only proper in a good story, his courage paid off. As the knight swung his sword, the Hero, unflinching, caught the blade with his bare hand. He then proceeded to rip it from the gauntlets of the knight. Taking a long look at its jewel encrusted hilt, he threw it to the side and declared he had no need to spill blood on this day. The knight, stunned by the Hero’s compassion, chose to surrender from the competition.

For the second trial, the Father announced with woven laurels on his head “take my crown.” A wave of suitors lunged forward. Each grasping at his head. But as any individual got close enough, they were pulled back by the obsessive crowd. However, while the Father stood still as a statue, not a drop of blood was shed.

The Hero could not bare to watch this pandemonium. He looked for an alternate path. While the Hero did not know it, this was the perfect answer. For this was secretly the trial of cunning, and the Father did not expect any of the clamoring horde to succeed. Instead the Hero, in his brilliant ignorance, crept into the Father’s house. His only intention was to see the Girl one more time. However, in the main hall, he saw the true treasure. For the Father’s laurels are not his crown. His crown is a much more dazzling sight. Pure gold and lined with many-faceted black gemstones, it was the kind of crown one would dream of. The Hero took it in his hand and stared, intoxicated by its luxury, forgetting his true goal. Until he was stirred by the voice of the Girl in his ear.

“What do you see in that crown that is not in me?”

Like a splash of cold water, the Hero was stirred to his senses. He remembered the voice of beauty itself, the one he had been starved of since the prior night. But he would have to fast from it even longer to achieve his true purpose. He dashed out of the decadent home to its decadent owner. To whom he presented the fruits of his labor. The crowd of suitors, now fatigued and exhausted stood with their mouths agape as the Father gave the Hero a round of applause.

The third and final trial was a trial of love. This was the domain of the Girl herself. Every suitor was to present her with a gift to show their love. She would have the final choice. They had one day. The princes and merchants used this time to purchase luxuries beyond any other. Beds of flowers the size of the City and carved statues that one could see a slight spark of life in. However, the Girl was impressed by none of these.

The Hero needed no time, but he took it anyway. For absence makes the heart grow fonder. And heart was all that was needed for this trial. So he was the last to present a gift. This was not one that cost extravagant wealth or needed great labor, instead he arrived alone. This led to scoffs from the crowds around him. But he did not flinch. Instead, he began to speak.

“I have not come here with a grand gift. It is not that I believe you are unworthy of such things, I only believe that any material gift brought to you cheapens your beauty and grace. To assume you can be bought with some quantity of wealth is arrogance to the highest extent. Instead, I bring you nothing except for my faith. I have listed many things in the past that I have faith in. But I neglected to mention my faith in you. And above all, my faith that you will know when the time is right and my faith that you will make the right choice.”

And with that final line said, the Girl made her choice, the Father respected it, and while the suitors were envious, none of them could deny the Hero’s legitimacy.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Then, seven days later, the Hero awoke to find himself without a spouse. Where the Girl had been the day before, was nothing. He knew something had happened to her, and he did not know what. He did not even know where to start.

But that is not how a good story ends. How could it be? The Hero had his victory snatched away from him at the final moment. That is deeply, deeply unsatisfying. But this is a good story, and as such, it is not over yet. For just as no good story ends at a low point, no story, good or not, ends until the final page of the book.

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