“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while, he knows something.”

~ Wilson Mizner

The Good Listeners have been traveling the roads for as long as there have been people, and they go everywhere. This is because wherever there are people, there will be children who are alone, overlooked, or abandoned. Despite their difficult circumstances, such children are not alone. Havim comes to them as a voice on the wind. He warns them of danger and helps them to keep from getting lost, and so children alone and in need of help learned to become Good Listeners.

In time, people came to understand the nature of such children, and, as always, saw it as an opportunity. Career travelers learned to hire the Good Listeners to help them make their own way, but not to take them in. A Good Listener who makes a home with others or grows beyond their need for Havim’s guidance will hear from him less and less often until he leaves altogether. On the other side of the coin, bandits and less reputable caravans learned not to target the children unless they were prepared to face the young god’s wrath, and it became common practice to mark Good Listeners with the yellow dye used to decorate the windshrines dedicated to Havim so that others would know they were protected.

Over the years, as with everything, customs arose around the children to navigate the process of benefiting from their insights. Any child guided by the wind god could act as a Good Listener, provided they were at least 5. Travelers could contract their service for a single trip only, under pre-negotiated terms set by the Roadweary: Good Listeners who grew up or put down roots and no longer hear Havim. Towns which see travel often have a room off the guardhouse designated for any Good Listeners who end their terms in that town where they can stay until they contract again.

If a town sees more traffic than usual, as for a festival, sometimes there are as many as 10 Good Listeners in a room together, none with any particular talent for sharing space or socializing. Though many Good Listeners are cheerful and friendly when meeting new people, the tight quarters generally lead to uncomfortable, sullen lodgings. When space is crammed full a Good Listener might find themself sleeping in a cell in the guardhouse simply because there’s nowhere else to put them, though luck may provide a generous innkeeper or a family with a little room to spare from time to time.

While the system is designed to address the children’s needs, it is an isolating way of life, and the caravans and troupes they travel with often keep well-clear of them as much as possible; they don’t want to risk their Good Listener losing their ties to Havim. Listeners under contract generally receive all equipment necessary for the trip as well as meals and a nominal salary, though the equipment is rarely theirs to keep. Groups without the coin to spare will often offer an education in trade, particularly in the case of truly long journeys or very young Listeners just starting out.

By the nature of their living, Listeners have few bonds, but their bond with the wind god is deep. He doesn’t speak often except to intercede before a Good Listener makes the mistake of heading into trouble, but the Listeners always know he’s with them. In times of particular loneliness, they sometimes hear him humming or singing quietly as if to himself. In times of wonder or excitement they hear him laugh. Havim is their best friend, and many Good Listeners look for opportunities to go places or do things that will please or amuse him. Good Listeners are rarely together in one place for any length of time, but when they are, they often trade stories about their moments with Havim. Such conversation usually turns into a contest and the jealousy can make some children vicious.

Most Good Listeners reach the last years of their traveling without gaining much formal education, but their search for new and exciting experiences means that most meet adulthood with a unique and expansive breadth of knowledge and experiences. The Roadweary often have trouble integrating into communities, but they bring new and exciting skills and ideas that prove valuable to the places they call home. Many pursue eclectic career paths as general problem solvers, and they will often receive a small fee for authorizing a Contract of Terms under which a trader or caravan might hire a Good Listener.

The Weariness comes at different ages for everyone. For most it’s 17-20, but children as young as 14 have been known to grow Weary. There was one case of Havim guiding a man well into his 50s before the man died. He was given a sky burial and the peak where he was laid to rest is a pilgrimage site for priests of Havim, many of whom are Roadweary themselves.

Published by

Mal McInnish

Professional public library goblin, hobby-hoarder, and writer, located in Texas, USA.

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