Paying the piper November 19, 2011Posted by Ezra Resnick in Superstition.
For generations, the town of Hamelin had been divided unto itself: two rival clans were locked in perpetual conflict over power and honor and land. The Lion clan were farmers and herders, while the Eagle clan were hunters and fishermen — and each detested the other. When the town was struck by disease, the Eagles told their children it was the fault of the evil Lions; and when there was a drought, the Lions told their children it was caused by the wicked Eagles. Both clans spoke wistfully of a long-foretold Day of Reckoning, when the great lions/eagles of old would return, and all wrongs would be righted.
After many years of tense stalemate between the two clans, a time came when the Lions grew more numerous and more powerful, and seemed on the verge of controlling the entire town. In their desperation, the Eagles sent word far and wide promising a handsome reward to anyone who could drive the Lion vermin out of Hamelin. Months went by and the Eagle leaders had nearly lost all hope, when one day they were called upon by a tall, funny-looking stranger, with a pied cloak and a flute around his neck. The stranger offered to solve their Lion problem that very night — if only all the Eagles would stay inside their homes and shut their doors and windows. The Eagle leaders were doubtful, but they had nothing to lose; so they agreed.
As the Lion children were playing in the streets of Hamelin that evening, they were startled by a strange melody the likes of which they had never heard before. Looking up, they saw a tall man with a flute — dressed in lion skin from head to toe. The man in the lion skin beckoned for the children to come closer, and they did; whereupon he put down his flute and spoke loudly:
“Children of the Lion, listen to me! Your town and your people are in grave danger, and only you can save them. Surely your parents have told you about the great and terrible Day of Reckoning, when the wicked Eagles will be destroyed and the noble Lions will be rewarded. Well, the Day of Reckoning is upon us! An army of great lions is just outside town, but they are in need of riders — and only a child can ride a lion. The army of eagles approaches as we speak, and if we do not hurry, I fear they will prevail. So if you are true Lions, and if you love your clan and your town, follow me!”
The man’s words resonated deeply in the children’s minds: it seemed that the venerable stories of old were finally coming true. When the man in the lion skin roared and turned toward the town gates, the children followed.
The next morning, none of the Lion children could be found. Their parents searched every inch of the town, including the Eagle houses, but to no avail. Finally, frantic with worry, all the Lion men and women set out in search of their lost children. Days turned into weeks, and yet they did not return. The Eagles rejoiced, and took over the Lion lands and property.
By and by, the tall stranger in the pied cloak returned to Hamelin. He presented himself to the Eagle leaders, and demanded his reward. The leaders exchanged glances, then said to the stranger:
“You claim that you are responsible for driving out the Lion vermin, but can you prove it? After all, none of us saw you do anything at all. Perhaps the Lion children vanished for reasons that had nothing to do with you.”
The stranger stood there for a moment, his fingers dancing silently over the grooves of his flute; then he turned around and left without a word. The Eagle leaders laughed.
The next morning, none of the Eagle children could be found. Their parents searched every inch of the town, but to no avail: apart from some eagle feathers lining the streets, there was not a clue as to what had happened. The Eagle leaders sent out frantic messages far and wide calling for the stranger in the pied cloak to return to Hamelin, and promising him a vast reward.
Days turned into weeks and months into years, but the stranger did not come back. As the forlorn Eagle men and women grew old in their dying town, they comforted themselves with thoughts of the long-foretold Day of Reckoning, when the great eagles of old would return, and all wrongs would be righted.