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The Soldier and the Coachman, Part One

The Night Collector gave this story to me, as I had just recently had some dealings with the Coachman.

CHAPTER 1

The beginning

 

            Gather my children!  Come, come to warm fire where I shall tell you a tale that is older than I if you can believe it!  Come sit ye down and I shall begin at the beginning, as that is where one must start, isnt it?  My tale is one of a handsome young man and how he came into fame and how, in the end, his fame turned into his bane!  Look into the fire, young ones!  Look into the warm dancing yellows and oranges.  Do you see how it resembles the sky at dusk just as the sun begins to go to bed?  The warm dusk summer sky

 

watched over our young handsome man as he walked down the well-worn dirt path.  Handsome he was, despite the dirt that clung to his clothes and his young face, and he walked on with a steady determination to make his way home.  See, our young man has just returned from a war and has been walking for some time now.  His shoes are almost worn thin and he is down to his last three scones, which are now stale and flattened.  As this worn man walks along his road he hears the sounds of a fiddle just over the upcoming hill.  This music fills the young man with a bit of joy and he rushed over the hill to find a beggar playing madly at his fiddle.  The soldier looks at him with delight in his eyes as he watches the beggar dance his fingers across the fingerboard and up to the bridge.  Our young soldier is inspired and he takes his crossbow and begins to mime playing the fiddle as the beggar is and all the time attempting to whistle along.  Sadly, our soldier is a bit deaf-of-tone and whistles completely out of key.  When the beggar finishes his merry tune the soldier puts down his bow and claps.

 

That was a splendid tune, my dear man! says the handsome soldier.  The beggar looks into his eyes and smiles.

 

Perhaps worth a sparrow, young man?

 

I am sorry, but I havent a sparrow to give ye, but I do have- The soldier then begins to rummage in his knapsack and pulls out one of his scones.  But I do have a scone you can have.  See, I am a bit down on me luck meself.

 

The soldier holds out the scone to the old beggar man who gently takes it from him.  The beggar holds it to his nose and inhales deeply and smiles bigger than ever.  Thank you young man!  Some one as kind and generous as you deserves a better whistle!  Our handsome soldier shook the beggars hand and they exchanged smiles.  The soldier then takes to the road again and walks until the moon sits high in the sky.  He then finds a nice oak with plenty of soft moss at its base.  It is here that he lies down to sleep and to dream.

 

And dream he does, oh yes!  He dreams of himself whistling the same tune the beggar had been playing, yet his whistle is so refined and perfect now.  One might say that it is the best whistle ever heard!

 

The sun now peeks over the mountains and gently wakes the soldier from his sleep.  As he rises, he looks to his knapsack and takes out yet another of the scones and greedily stuffs it in his mouth.  Stunned by how dry it has become he walks to the stream that is nearby and drinks deeply to wet his whistle, you might say.  And what about that whistle?  The soldier then remembers his dream and wonders.  He puts his lips together and blows and behold, behold the remarkable whistle that came out!  Our soldier is so surprised and merry that he whistles as he walks all the day.

 

On and on the whistling man walks until he finds the sun setting on him again.  As he turns the corner he sees an old man playing at cards on a table next to his small hut.  The soldier walks up and watches the old man intently.  The old man handles the cards with an amazing grace and speed and when the soldier walks up he reaches towards him and flicks out a card from behind the ear.  The young man is amazed and the man goes back to dealing out cards on the table with that same unusual grace.  The young man keeps on looking in wonder and finally the old man looks up at him.

 

Good eve to you, young master.  I hate to ask such a thing of ye, but might ye have a bit o coin to help an old man?  The old mans smile is slowly replaced by a gentle, pleading look.

 

Nay, I havent a bit o coin to me name, old man.  I do have- The soldier once again goes through his knapsack and finds his scone his last scone.  He pulls it free and breaks it in half.  Um, I have a scone that I would gladly half with thee.  He holds out the half of the scone and then a frown takes his face.  It doesnt seem fair to give the old man less than he gave the beggar fiddler so he smiles as places the halves on the table in from of the old man.  The old man smiles and looks at our soldier.

 

Young Master, it looks like ye run down on your luck a bit; someone as kind as you deserves better luck.  Here, have my lucky cards, may they never let you down.  And with that the aged man puts the worn cards into a box and hands them to the soldier.  The soldier thanks him graciously and shakes his hands and turns to walk down the road again when the old man calls out again.  Master, here take this sack, I know it looks old and ragged, but this is no orginary sack!  This is a special sack and whatever you tell to get into the sack will obey your command!  It is the least I can give ye after your kindness.

 

The old man hands over the rough blue sack to the soldier who stares at it in wonder.  The soldier thanks the man again and they exchange smiles.

 

Once again on the road is the soldier.  Once again he finds it is time to sleep.  This time he finds a lake, one on which a gaggle of geese have decided to sleep as well. He looks at the geese and then remembers the sack.  Our soldier takes the sack off his shoulder and holds it open at the banks of the lake.  Ahoy geese! he calls.  Ahoy there and get in my sack!  And behold how the geese flock to the sack my young ones!  One goose.  Two geese.  Three geese, and then four waddle into the sack.  The soldier quickly draws the sack closed and knots the rope.  Over his shoulder it goes, and boack on the road goes he, too excited to sleep.  He walks for a while and then spies a small village ahead.  Once in the village he finds an Inn and walks in, bag on his shoulder, whistling a jolly tune.

 

Well there me lad, thats a fine whistle ye got there!  Let me guess, youre a soldier come from the war with a bag o spoils eh?  The voice belonged to a greasy, fat barkeep and he seemed to be practically wedged behind the bar.

 

Our soldier smiled at the compliment and made his way to a nearby table.  Aye, returned from the war am I, but not with a bag of spoils as ye think.  These are four geese that I trapped this evening.  If youll cook one up for me and allow me a bed for the night, you may have the other three.  The soldier cocked an eyebrow at the barkeep.

 

Aye there lad, Ill take that offer!  Nothin better than a roast goose if I do say so myself!  You may have the first room on the right, upstairs.  And with that the round barkeep made his way from behind the bar and over to the soldier where he took up the soldiers blue sack and made his way to the kitchen.  The way he waddled made the soldier think of the geese waddling into his sack.  This thought made him laugh and when he did, the barkeep turned around and glanced at the young soldier.  Be sure to return my sack! the soldier said with a grin stretching from ear to ear.  The barkeep nodded and disappeared into the kitchen.  In the meantime the soldier went to the first room on the right upstairs, and drew himself a hot bath.  Lack-a-day, nothing had ever felt so good to him as that hot bath.

 

The smell of the roast goose pulled him gently down the stairs and he sat himself at a table and waited for the barkeep.  He soon entered and placed the roast goose down in front of the soldier.  The barkeep had roasted it with rosemary, thyme, and garlic.  He served it up with toasted bread with fresh meadow cream to spread upon it, and poured the soldier a glass of rich dandelion wine.  The soldiers eyes grew wide and he looked at the barkeep and gestured to the table.  Please, join me, he said.  You should partake of this excellent dinner as well!  And so the barkeep did.  And so they ate and so they drank far into the night until the soldier could take no more.  Somehow he dragged himself upstairs and slept and slept and slept.

 

He awoke the next day, well next afternoon really, and as he looked out his window he saw there a castle.  A castle he had not managed to see before.  There was a knock at the door and the barkeep came in holding a tray of the best smelling bacon, toast, and eggs you can imagine, and underneath it all was the young soldiers blue sack.

 

Who is the lord of yon castle? the soldier asked.

 

Eh, no one, replied the Barkeep, joining him at the window.

 

Cry your pardon, but what do you mean, no one?

 

I mean no one, soldier.  Not for some time now.  See, a bunch of Fair Folk took over yon castle a good many years ago.  They come there every night to play at cards and have their fun.  None of the towns folk will go near and thats wise advice there!  A few have tried to go play cards with em and they have either never come back, or they have come back and wish they hadnt if you take my meaning sir.  Sir?  Sir?  The old barkeep was so caught up in his story that he had not noticed the soldier take out his deck of cards given him by the old man, nor had he noticed the soldier take his blue sack.  The next thing he did notice was the soldier walking down the road toward the castle with a rather large grin on his face.

 

Good luck, lad, the barkeep said.  Youll need all of it ye can get!

 

Chapter Two

Wagers

 

Continue Reading: The Soldier and the Coachman, Part Two