Ruscany was a strange town. Nestled amongst rolling green valleys of Ridalia it was really ideal. The breeze constantly blew the rustling grasses, the birds and crickets played sonata’s to the sun in never-ending rotation. In the distance the waves of the seas crashed upon th eshore, and the birds played loud games of tag. While this scenario seems more perfect than odd, there was a blotch on the beauty of the valley. The valley itself was dreamy, the strange part about the place was really only the town itself Ruscany was not peaceful, it was dirty, and loathsome. The residents were filthy, they constantly threw their garbage everywhere. One would naturally assume then that the streets should be littered with garbage. Yet they were not. There was no garbage anywhere because there were rats everywhere who ate the garbage as quickly as it fell. Millions of fat rats on the floors, tables, beds, and chairs; in the sinks, and bathrooms. The town was literally crawling with awful disease ridden rats! The townspeople didn’t know what to do.
The town elders held a conference in the hall, trying desperately to find a solution. The eldest elder stood in the piazza and spoke to the people. This was the elder who most loved to speak. He said, “Citizens of Ruscany! I believe you know why we are met here this afternoon. It is because of the torturous, and afflictive nature of the rats who infest our town. We cannot continue to share our existence with the pestilential, the base, the unsanitary rats. I, and my brethren of the council, therefore propose to you my people. You must gather your belongings, and we will build a new town, in the meadow to the West. We believe that in this way we will outsmart these foolish pests, and free ourselves from their gluttony.” He rambled on in this manner for another half hour, not really adding anything else of import. The people looked to the lovely swaying grasses in the nearby fields; they cheered! Of course, if they moved then the rats would stay, and they could exist somewhere new. They found this proposition highly agreeable. The next day the people of the town packed their belongings, trying desperately to do so without bringing the rats along. Then they fled to the safety of the nearby meadow. They began constructing their town immediately. The towns architects designed a city better than the one they had left. The women set up tents, and the men gathered the horses to take to the quarry a few miles away. Life was blissful as they spent their first days away from the rats. This peace lasted only four sunrises however. On the fifth day the men were setting foundations for the new town hall. One of the workers set his trowel with mortar, and the mortar on the furry stone. FURRY STONE! It was in fact not stone, but a rather lazy slate colored rat. The man screamed, and raised his trowel to strike the lethargic creature; who, alarmed, showed remarkable vigor by leaping quickly from the stone before the sharp tool struck him. The men threw down their tools, and gathered quietly together. They could hear a very faint rustling. The people looked to the east, and saw the grasses buzzing with motion. Then they saw them, waves of huge black, grey, and brown rats washed upon them. They covered every inch of the new village, They ate scraps that people left behind in the few days since their move. The rats nestled in nooks and crannies of unset rock. The people ran to the fields northward, and shook themselves free of the rodents. They sank to the ground, and wept. What were they to do now?
The town elders, gathered on a hill near the valley. They huddled in a close circle for several minutes before addressing the villagers. An eery breeze whistled from the south as the eldest elder spoke, “My people it has become abundantly clear to the village elders and myself, that this place is not suitable for our habitations either. We must flee the rats completely, and entirely. I advise you to therefore find refuge in other parts of the country with family or kinsfolk where possible; because there is no escape can be found here in our little. . .” He would have continued, quite liking the sound of his own voice, but among the people at the rear there was a small commotion. People were jostling, and shoving one another to make space for a very oddly dressed little boy. He wore trousers that looked large enough to fit a much older man, and a clean blue coat with smart brass buttons. The strangest aspect of his dress was a white sash about his shoulders, from which dangled a case for a wind instrument. He made his way to the front of the crowd and stood upon a stone. This is what he said to the villagers,. . .
“Dear villagers heed ye well,
the tale of a country which nearby fell.
The worst of blights their plague was deemed,
a problem without a solution, or so it seemed.
I came to their aid, for I had the talent
and asked that they find me not abhorrent.
Yet when their curse I cured they lost all fear,
So I exacted a price far more dear.
Will ye heed this message and choose ye then wisdom,
For I can rid this curse from thy poor kingdom.
Then all will be well, for all involved,
And peace will reign as the problem is solved.
The rats I will chase to the very extremity,
Yet one thing only will I ask of thee,
To do this thing, give me dwelling and feed.
Yet fear duly if ye pay this warning no heed.
Shed thy hospitality liberally, refuse not a favor
Or joy will disappear with the morning vapor.
The boy stepped down and sat on a rock nearby. The alarmed townspeople mused on the rhyme. The council huddled close again. Could this boy really keep his promise? Could he truly deliver them from this evil? All he asked was for meals, and a bed. Were these not a meager price to pay. What of the penalty for disobedience, should they really engage this dangerous fellow? Having reasoned the matter out they agreed that their need was dire. They accepted the young fifes’ terms. The town leader got upon his pedestal and announced their decision, “We will bargain with this boy, on his terms, and deliver as he has asked the meal, and lodging.” Not wanting to waste any more time he looked to the boy, who walked from their midst and sat himself upon the stones of the now abandoned construction.
The townspeople anxiously watched the stranger. He sat with his arms folded over his crossed legs. His fingers gently stroked the case where his fife rested. Bewildered the villagers watched him. One hour, two, three. . . the hours poured by, and yet he sat. He sat long after the villagers lost interest. The boy sat for nearly three days, allowing the rats to climb upon him, and around him. He did not move an inch; he didn’t brush the rodents off, or twitch as they climbed over his slender fingers. The villagers began mumbling to themselves that the council had once again led them to a dead-end. They argued and complained that they would lose everything. They began packing their belongings. Yet the boy still sat.
On the morning of the fourth day the boy sat up a little straighter. He uncrossed his legs, and he stood bolt upright all in one movement. The rats scattered from him, and ran to the corners of the square, as if they felt something terrific was about to happen. He slowly drew his fife from its sleeve, and put the small instrument to his lips. He played a tune that was high, crisp yet lilting and hesitant. The song seemed unsure of itself, and rats began poking their heads curiously out of their hovels. The music intoxicated the villagers. Then the slow melody became smoother, softer. It was like a flowing river and the townspeople noticed that the rats too were suddenly gliding through the streets in front of him. His music captured them, and pulled them from their hiding places. Millions of rats were there; circling in the square, and running all around him. He raised the tempo and pitch of the music a bit, and the rats circled faster. The music rolled higher and faster now, and the rodents responded. The villagers became dizzied watching the frenzy. Yet the pace never slowed a bit, it went faster and higher; then faster, and higher.
Then the music stopped altogether, and the rats scurrying, scraping feet stopped. The piper waited, . . . then he played one long solitary low note. The rats scattered in every direction, running over houses, and villagers. For five minutes the entire village was matted in a wave of fur. Horses and carts, markets, roofs were all covered. The pitter-patter of tiny feet on stone became a rustling of grasses in the meadows. It was as if a mighty wind was blowing through the reeds. The gale faded to a gust. Which became a breeze, and then a breath which let itself slowly out into silence. Each citizen looked at the other in amazement. Each wondered if their ears had deceived them. No one felt the strength to speak, for no one was sure that the torrent was complete.
The fife lay himself upon a bench in the center of the square and gazed up into the pristine blue sky. He softly played a sweet and familiar tune. The villagers slowly disappeared into their homes once again. Ignoring the small magician on his pedestal.
When everyone realized that the rats fled for good, the elders ran out to meet the boy. They eldest shook his hand vigorously and congratulated him on a job well done. They took him by the shoulders and led him into the town hall. They rang the bells to call a meeting of the residents. When all had gathered the eldest elder began, “My dear fellows we truly owe this child a great debt. Surely he has rendered us a service too great to be ignored. We must then commence our repayment of our debt, and grant his meager terms as we have promised him. If we fail in our duty I fear we face dire consequences. . .” There is much more to the speech with little variation, so we will cut to the end. “So, who among you has the strength of character to fulfil our promise to the boy?” The town elder looked around at the crowd, who were all very busy avoiding his gaze. After several seconds silence a thin, bony hand raised in the back of the crowd who parted to let him through. It was a tall skinny man, with ragged clothing. He was Paolo the laborer. He had little money, and less food. The crowd laughed. The fifes eyes warmed and he held his hand out to Paolo. Together they walked to Paolo’s small home on the outskirts of the town. Paolo and his wife had no children of their own, and they loved the boy as their own. They found him bright and industrious. In the evenings he would play his pipe for them, and they would laugh merrily. With the boys help Paolo was able to open a cobbling shop. The little family got a nicer home, and had plenty of food to eat. The years seemed to age Paolo, and his wife Nicoletta quickly. The boy however stayed youthful, indeed, he seemed not to age at all. In the blink of an eye Nicoletta had gone, and Paolo was on his death-bed. He called for the priest, and the town elders. His young son sat at his bedside, and he stroked his face. When the elder arrived he placed the boy’s hand in the elders, and died.
The town elder led the boy to the center of town, This was a new elder, who was far less eloquent. This is what he said, “This boy needs a home, who will take him?” This time a wealthy merchant took him in. The merchant had a large family already, but they welcomed the boy warmly. Here he had the time to play during the days, still at night he entertained his brothers and sisters with his lively tunes. The years again danced along. When his merchant father died, he turned stewardship of the boy to one of his sons, Luccio.
Luccio loved his brother dearly, but his wife Costanza couldn’t understand why the boy never grew? Why couldn’t he care for himself if he was obviously not as young as he appeared?Why were they charged with the boy? She complained to her husband until he could stand it no longer. In favor of marital peace he returned the boy to the town elders. The boy stood before a crowd of strangers, his face showed the anxiety of a much older man. From the crowd came Enzo, the wine merchant, who was in fact his own best customer. The town elders searched for another willing to bear the boy, but none other volunteered. So the boy went to live at the wine merchants house.
Enzo was a cruel person, he cared for little besides his wine. As a “connoisseur” he felt is his duty to constantly try out the latest vintages, and he did so with a rather heavy hand. The boy was never allowed to play, only to help in the merchants shop. One night while the boy was playing a childish tune Enzo took the flute and locked it away saying, “There is no place in life for childishness!” From that moment on there was a change in the boy. He began to age rapidly, In a matter of only two years the boy went from a young ten-year old, to a handsome solemn young man. The merchant congratulated himself on raising such a strapping son. While he was delivering wine to a far port the wine merchants ship was lost at sea. No one ever heard of the merchant again. The boy took his flute from the box where it lay hidden, and tucked it safely in its case.
The boy, now a strong man, once again stood in front of the crowd of townspeople. His uniform no longer seemed clownish and oversized, but fit him well. The elders asked who would keep the boy. “He’s all grown now, with the wine business to support him! Why must we feed him!” said a man from the back of the crowd. The town elders answered that they had promised the boy to sustain him, yet they couldn’t really remember why. “He’s grown, let him feed himself!” a younger woman called. The rest of the crowd joined in shouting. The town elder looked at the boy and shrugged his shoulders helplessly. He walked from the . . . and the boy was left alone. alone he stood while the crowd chanted. He watched as they tired of chanting and dispersed to their homes. He watched as they commenced their daily duties. He watched as they had great feasts and merry festivities. He watched for three days from his perch in the square
On the dawn of the fourth day he got down from his stool, and took his flute from its case. he looked about the square. Housewives were beating their rugs, husbands were leaving for work, and children were pulling out marbles, and balls to play in the square. He thought for a moment, then placed the flute to his lips. his melody carried through the entire village, it was sweet and lilting. The children giggled, and came running. He picked up the pace a bit, and began dancing in circles around the cobblestones of the street. The children joined hands and followed him. Weaving in and out, ducking under the others hands they danced and romped. The pipers eyes glinted, and a glow rose in his cheeks. The melody skipped and leaped, and his feet followed right along. What he did, the children gladly followed. More children cam streaming in from side streets and alleys. There must have been hundreds of children flooding the plaza. The parents watched from their windows and doors, clapping along in merriment. The music rolled faster and faster. Each child had another’s hand, they dipped and bobbed. The piper was at the front of the pack now his outfit growing bigger, and his features shrinking. Soon he blended wonderfully with the rest of the children. He led them into the main concourse through town. The parents now frightened, reached for their children, but could not grab them from the swirling masses. On through the town the mob flowed. Tripping lightly they reached the gates of the town and passed through like a breeze. The flowed into the grasses laughing and twirling, their voices getting farther and farther away. Then there was no more laughter or singing. There was only the chirrup of the crickets, the buzzing of the cicadas, and the rustling of the grasses.