Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Old Soldier and the Fletcher

And so the soldier returned from war.

He felt the sharp edges of broken stone through his sandal. The wind carried stench of famine and pestilence.

The old soldier walked past barrels upon barrels of foul-smelling black liquid - the wealth of the city.

Walking past an ale-house, he saw merchants drinking wine and taking opium.

He went to the Senate and heard a loud snore from outside its gates of horn.

One man came out. The fletcher who did not fletch arrows. The armorer.

"You-you came back," said the fletcher. He scratched his round head, and then his belly, and his balls.

"Aye," said the old soldier, the dried blood caked and fell off his forehead as he furrowed his brows.

"I came back. Was I not supposed to?"

The fletcher looked down at his fingernails. The old soldier followed his gaze and saw those were not the hands of a fletcher, not the fingers of a man who would pluck ripe feathers and affix them on the back of arrows. There were no scars. This was no fletcher.

As the ones who died beside the old soldier, they were no soldiers.

"We shall have a parade-" The old soldier's palm halted the words of the fletcher.

"I have no need of parades. Had no need of them, have no need of them, and will not have any need for an excuse to drink."

"We sent several legions your way. And my arrows. I sent you ten thousand arrows. Did you - did you receive them?"

"Yes. I received your arrows."

The old soldier squinted at the sun, as he squinted when the quiver upon quiver of the fletcher's arrows flew off target - too high, too low or simply veered to either side of the enemy. He never saw so much blood as he had that day.

"The budget. We were -"

The old soldier's hands were not raised up with palms facing outward. No. They held a bow, with one of the fletcher's arrows fixed on the string. The old soldier stared along the shaft, towards the ball of fire on the arrowhead.

"No! No! There is tar and pitch all over the city! You will burn it to the ground!"

"A city of rubble, filled with fat, round men who send us to war with false arrows and thin leather. A city that  slaughters goats and cattle for food inside these walls and send its sons outside, so the cannibals won't develop a taste for mutton and beef."

The fletcher swallowed.

"Why, old fletcher? For what reason would I remain a sacrifice for you, as you sacrifice the animals inside the city?"

"I will pay you."

The old soldier laughed.

"What good is money to a dead man?"

A small, yellow stain grew on the fletcher's tunic as the arrow flew from the old soldier's bow. The arrow did travel off several yards to the right, but it did not matter. It landed on a pile of barrels, with thick, black, foul-smelling liquid - the riches of the city.

It took two weeks for the fire to burn through everything.

The fletcher's robes were in tatters as he fought for a scrap of meat, amidst the rubble. He saw the old soldier walk past, skipping the embers and the ashes with his sandals to the side.

The fletcher cowered in fear, but the old soldier simply held a scroll in front of him, offering it to the fletcher.

"Next time," said the old soldier, "for a city filled with flammable material, you should have purchased my insurance policy. Old Soldier Insurance, protecting you from fires caused by disgruntled soldiers returning from war."

"What the fuck?" Said the fletcher.

And they rode off into the sunset on a camel.

Remember, kids! Purchase insurance.