Every noontime, the bell of Barla boomed and the banter began. Trade and teasing trembled in the air for two hours of joviality. These Barlians were a tender, quiet people, and they could only handle so much expressive energy. The second that two hours of banter had passed, the bellboy or bellgirl struck the bell twice, activity ceased, and people went home or to the fields. Before the Barlians established this tradition, the people mingled throughout the day and they felt heavy with small talk and meaningless conversation. They were a productive but introverted people. Cordoning off the banter to the time within the bellstrikes was a means to make meaning of gossip and commerce alike.
To be a bellperson was an honor. Citizens who weren’t quite children but weren’t quite adults were the ones typically chosen by the Bell Council. The council thought the duty a rite of passage, though some held the honor longer than others. A poorly timed bellstrike was grounds for a immediate dismissal and often harmed the bellperson’s reputation for their whole life if they stayed in the town. If someone damaged the bell, severe punishment awaited them.
One year, Martyl the Hammer was chosen to strike the bell everyday for a month. The townfolk expected him to perform flawlessly, given his name and genius in the two hours of school he attended daily. He was well liked by everyone in the town. Yet, the duty made him restless, for a bellboy was not allowed to enjoy activities from the morning until after the day’s banter had ended, to make sure no distractions disrupted the strict time for socialization. What’s more, Martyl harbored a secret resentment of this tradition. He felt arbitrarily limiting the time for bantering harmed the town intellectually. With only a two hour window of debate, social education, and commerce, how would brilliance emerge at anything but the slowest pace? He believed inquiry fared best in social settings, and while alone time was also useful for increasing knowledge, social learning beget the fastest progress.
However, Martyl did not wish to lose respect for failing to maintain the tradition, so he endured the boredom while imagining how he could increase the amount of time for banter, or demolish the limit entirely. On the fifth day, after initiating the social time, he slumped into the corner of the tower and lost himself in the sands of the hourglass while unintelligible conversation wafted in from the window. In the waterfall of grains, he saw a pair of eyes, and suddenly a man sat crosslegged before him.
“Yes, I am the one and only Delgen the Dare, and I can help you with your little predicament,” the man said in a frisky, dramatic tone. “Personally I find this town and its traditions most fascinating, but I know you wish things were different. That there was more time to talk and learn. I can help you, offer more time to talk, and shorten those boring hours of lonesomeness.”
Martyl had read about Delgen. Fear drowned him, but he realized this was a profound opportunity, for this was one of the most powerful and dangerous demons in all the realms. He didn’t think Delgen was so evil, but only a chaotic being who’d deceive someone for amusement, but not to torture them. He had heard he’d done good things, but bad things did often come of his antics.
“Very well,” Martyl finally decided. “How will you accomplish this?”
“I’ll bless your bell,” Delgen said with a smirk. “When it rings once, the town’s time will slow, and within the town you’ll have many more hours of perceived time to talk and trade. When the bell is rang again, time will return to normal pace. A very powerful enchantment, but one I’m willing to bless this town with.”
“And the catch? The trade? You want my soul?” Martyl asked.
“No catch,” said Delgen, “You’ll have a great time, if you know what I mean. Bring a gal up and ring the bell, that’d be some fun.”
Martyl knew he shouldn’t make a deal with Delgen. He knew demonic promises were fragile things that disintegrate into deceit. And yet, his addiction to conversation was so great, he had to agree for the opportunity to philosophize endlessly with his friends. He assumed there would be consequences, that he might have to explain a little manipulation of time to people, but he thought he could manage the change, and that it would really make life better. “Bless the bell then. And begone before someone comes up here.”
Delgen smiled, and tapped on the bell. He seemed to have struck a harmonic, as the bell “The magic will start tomorrow,” and with a wink, he was gone in a puff of dust.
The next day, Martyl smacked the bell and immediately sensed a difference. The bell seemed to ring out for several minutes. Martyl’s mistake was immediately apparent. The change in the sense of time was significant, and he would be bellboy for the rest of the month, so he’d have to endure the boredom of this job for even longer. The day stretched on, and he could hardly bear hearing the muffled conversation for what seemed the whole day. He struck the bell twice at two O’clock, and rushed down to catch a hint of conversation. But everyone had gone back to the fields and homes to play out the rest of the day in a dead silence. Usually people snuck in a bit of conversation after banter hours, but when Martyl sat down for dinner with his parents, not a word leap from anyone’s mouth. At the end of the meal when everyone was about to depart the table to work on household tasks, Martyl tried to talk about being a bellboy (without mentioning Delgen of course), but his mother shot him an insane look that shut Maryl up right quick.
Martyl returned to the tower next morning, and the same anguish struck him as he could hear profuse dialogs crashing into the walls of the tower, unable to achieve clarity. He thought he heard someone say “morality” and “progress,” but nothing else was intelligible. Once again, Martyl ran down after striking the bell twice, but all he saw were the doors slamming. A trader from another town looked around confused, and Martyl tried to start a conversation with him. The trader looked at the ground and mumbled something about having sold in the day what he normally sold in a month, and sort of stumbled with his wagon away, like was drunk on words.
When Martyl came home, his parents had many new baskets, cooking ware, clothing, and brand new items. His parents had spent their life savings on all these things, and were immensely guilty. Martyl couldn’t talk to them, as they just retired to their room and didn’t even come out for dinner. Naturally Martyl was worried and extremely guilty himself for causing this, because normally his parents were incredibly frugal. Martyl walked into his room and stained his brand new toys with tears.
The night passed, and Martyl decided to not ring the bell. He stayed in his room and languished in bed until two. His parents did not seem upset about Martyl not ringing the bell. They were relieved, in fact. No one came to Martyl’s home to dishonor him. No one else rang the bell. Martyl stayed at home, and enjoyed a smidgeon of small talk with his brother, though he seemed unwilling to talk for very long. Martyl read books and worked in the garden until he slept.
But Martyl knew he would have to ring the bell again, or explain to the elders what he had done. The town would not function without discourse for very long. So he decided to ring the bell at noon and then ring the the bell twice only fifteen minutes later. He took the sand from the hourglass, halved it three times, and placed one sixth of the original amount back in the hourglass.
The time passed, though it still felt like a couple hours to Martyl, and then he stepped outside of the tower. People seemed to be meandering around, not instantly returning home like before. Martyl thought perhaps he had solved the predicament, and was about to return home, when Paeda the oldest woman of the village sauntered up to Martyl and declared that he had besmirched his duties. Like the rest of the town, she had been recovering the previous day from the many hours of conversation, and so had not sought him out the previous day even when she knew something was wrong. Paeda demanded Martyl explain what had happened, and Martyl lugubriously confessed. She told Martyl he would be punished severely. The Bell Guards came and Martyl was put in chains; that night, the Bell Council was brought together.
Martyl was found guilty of the greatest disruption of the relationship of the bell and the banter in the history of the town, and awarded the worst punishment, only granted one other time in the past: removal of the tongue. In his attempt to speak his heart and mind out, he lost his own ability to banter for good. What’s more, the Bell Council determined the ideal amount of time of perceived banter, a mere ten minutes of actual time, and so the council had almost two more hours available to do other things when the small amount of objective banter time was over. In this way, the council almost regretted punishing Martyl, since he actually made the town more productive and prosperous. Hence, “Martyl the Martyr” is the man’s new name.