Scene I: At the City's Council

“It seems that this city is plagued by rats.”

With roaring thun
Walter s Piper 1 by jenimal
der the voice almost made the chairs and tables of the council hall tremble, where the aldermen were without words as they looked down—quite literally so—upon the young captain. He had just returned from his last journey, they could guess; his beard and hair more wild and thereby making this man even more imposing than he already was.

“We know this,” the bishop said defiantly, breaking the silence. “We confer daily about the crisis. This council has taken measures to limit the pests that plague it. These rats are, unfortunately, particularly hard to take down. You will have heard, my dear captain, that they defy the poisoned grain that we lure them with. They outsmart the traps we set. They attack our cats and dogs. They are certainly twice as big and twice as vicious as one would expect. It is unfortunate that your pregnant wife has fallen ill, but there are many women, children, and men that have fallen ill because of them. We are being tested.”

“Tested!” The captain laughed, yet unconvincingly so. “If…”

“Whatever your complaint, Thimar, ranting about it won’t serve any purpose,” the Stadholder said, calmly, having found his poise again. “If there is anything you can contribute to our gathering today, kindly do so. If not, it might be better to attend to my eldest daughter. Or should I remind you that your child will be my grandchild, and that your concerns are my concerns?”

“They speak of a man, a forsaker, who possesses great powers. He lives in the deserts north of here, they say.”

“Who say that? I have not heard of this man,” the poet said. As was custom, the council consisted of a poet, a bishop, a philosopher, the bailiff, the high judge, and the Stadholder.

“Baldwin, the potter. He asked me to tell the council. He’d have done it himself, but he was denied entry, because he is no burgher.”

“The deserts, you say?” The Stadholder frowned. The desert was a cursed place. It was where the old Queen was buried after she’d gone insane. With her burial the lush meadows had turned to ash and dust, while sturdy winds filled with sand oftentimes darkened the sky.

“Of course this council will not associate itself with witchcraft and wizardry,” the bishop said sternly, but was interrupted by the philosopher before he could continue.

“Though I understand Anthenias’ concern, let us note that people are dying and will continue to die as long as these pests taunt us with their presence.”

“So you would allow the devil to enter our gates?”

“We do not know if that forsaker of whom Thimar speaks is a man of God or of Satan. What we do know is that our food supply is dramatically lowered because the rats render our stocks inedible and winter has yet to come. Anthenias, if you have a better plan, you might have told us sooner.”

“Let us pray,” Anthenias, the bishop, said.

“Of all the proposals that have been put forward today, this must be the most useless one.” The philosopher raised his voice, as to prevent Thimar, who had opened his mouth, to speak. “Leave prayers to the mob. If our prayers had worked, we would have been relieved of our troubles a thousand fold. No, I say: let us call that forsaker. If he can solve our problems, let him.”

The Stadholder, who saw in the bishop’s eyes hatred kindled by the philosopher, thought it time to make a decision. And so it was that the council decided to send a messenger to the Firelands, where the forsaker was said to live, and as Thimar left the council’s building, he saw the messenger depart.

Though the messenger was of brave nature, his bravery did not withhold him from death; the Firelands being treacherous and full of danger, he died of the hardships that dwelled there. So it was not the messenger that brought the forsaker to Frigdborgh, who only two days after the council’s last gathering—they had refrained from further daily assemblies—stood in front of the Puppet’s Gate, the northern gate of the city. 

Scene II: The Forsaker Arrives

It may well have been gossip that had lead the forsaker to the city, for this news had spread quickly throughout Frigdborgh. This was much to the aid of Anthenias, the bishop, who had urged the burghers and dwellers to desist the dangerous blasphemy that the Stadholder was to bestow upon the city: was it not written in Scripture that one ought not associate oneself with witches and wizards? Had Frigdborgh’s past—of both city and land—not testified of its dangerous consequences? To his annoyance, neither burgher nor dweller, that is to say, citizen and commoner, or poor and rich, took much heed to his warnings. Anthenias instead resorted in taking shelter in his cathedral, leading the boys’ choir.

When the Forsaker arrived, stood in front of the Puppet’s Gate, the people held their breath. Was this their redeemer?

The man was, both men and women agreed, handsome in his kind. He was not a tall man, but well build: sturdy and firm, his eyes hazel brown, as was his hair, while his nose was slightly flattened, yet in a flattering manner. He was still young, but age was beginning to catch up with him, testified by the onset of the laugh lines at the corners of his eyes. On his head he wore a felt hat, adorned with a rooster’s feather, and his cape was a colourful patchwork of cloth stitched together. While he walked through the city’s streets and allies, he played his flute (which, incidentally, distracted the attention from his rather large birthmark under his bottom lip), the tune repeating itself, while from somewhere a verse was uttered:

Hark! Through my tune

You will be soon

Relieved of your doom

Wildly I’ll play

So long as you pay

To me my due

And thence you may

Throw your cares away.

As the man walked through Frigdborgh, he was followed by onlookers, who together with him halted at the Market’s Square, where he met the Stadholder. The man stood proudly in front of the castle gate, his arms folded defensively above his prominent belly. The Stadholder started to speak, but he was interrupted by the forsaker, who had ceased his play:

“It seems that this city is plagued by rats.” That it were the exact words the captain had spoken went unnoticed by the Stadholder, who replied:

“It also seems that you are the one who can do something about it.”

“So it seems,” the Piper concurred. “But for all arts and crafts that one desires to be performed, a price must, of course, be paid. And for this particular craft there is only one price: that of the clinking coin. What, Stadholder, is your offer?”

“Fifty golden guilders,” came the answer, and swiftly so.

“My dear Bertrand! Fifty pieces of gold for all the thousands of rats that torment your once fair city! Such modesty does not suit you. You have been tormented by this nasty infestation of little gnawers for months, and this is your offer? That simply will not do. My price: one guilder for each had – a goldguilder, that is. This is my only offer; take it, and tomorrow you will be relieved.”

That the Piper knew the Stadholder’s name was of little surprise to anyone. Frigdborgh was a place of which people in the Three Kingdoms spoke frequently, if only because of its once glorious and famed history, which still sparked many an inspiring tale told by poets and troubadours. Not equally but certainly well-spoken of was the city’s current Stadholder: his rise to richness and power through industry, greed, and deception and trickery. Not a single man took credence to the deal Bertrand made with the Piper: one goldguilder per head, to be paid the following day, provided that the rats had gone, and affirmed by the shaking of their hands.

The Stadholder noticed the Piper’s curiously cold hands.

Scene III: The Pied Piper Plays his Tune

It was agreed that the Piper would return, that night, to do his work, and warned the Stadholder that the people should remain inside, their curtains and window hatchets closed. With the warning that they would certainly die were they to go or look outside, the Stadholder had ordered a curfew for that night; this order had spread swiftly throughout the city, by means of heralds, troubadours, the city guard, the clerics and priests (as ordered by the bishop). If anyone had not heard of the events that happened earlier that day from formal channels, hearsay did an equally well job at spreading the news.

As far as the borough’s youth was concerned, their mischievous or at least stubborn nature might, under different circumstances, have proven difficult to suppress by authority; tonight husbands and wives stood united and, more importantly, ever wakeful. Besides, who could sleep this night, other than the youngest of children? So as the city’s many tower bells rang, the Piper stood, alone, at the city’s market square, the crescent moon rising steadily in a somewhat clouded sky. And as the bells halted their ringing, the man began to play a miraculous flute play sounded from all the corners and streets of the borough, luring the rats of their hiding places, outside, where they followed the Piper to the River Joy that flowed through the city.

Contently the Piper looked down upon his followers, the rodents treading on the rhythm of the tune he played. It was a different tune than before, more strange, perhaps, but it was well received by the city’s inhabitants. Had there been a show, they’d certainly applauded at its end. This they did not; that it was not a show was made clear as the rats hasted themselves out of the kitchen cabinets, the stoves, the sacks of grain and bread boxes, towards the pure tones that the flute play carried over the borough, nay, the flute play that was breathed by the city.

The rats’ journey ended at the great bridge that crossed the river, the river that divided the city into its northern and southern halves. It was there, where the rats threw themselves in the churning waters; the waters of a river that flowed faster and churned stronger than it normally did. When all the rats but one had drowned, the Piper ceased his play, turned towards the foul creature and lifted it up in his hand, up to his face, and spoke.

“My good old friend. My dear Ab’aham—with how many were you? How large was your number?”

“Six thousand six hundred and sixty-seven,” the rat king replied, grey of age, his whiskers thick and white.

“Thank you, old friend, and forgive me your death. We will meet again, I promise you. Now, go.”

And with that, the Piper threw his friend into the River Joy.

A tear rolled over his cheek.

Scene IV: The Morning After

By the time the sun had begun to rise, the Piper still sat motionless on the bridge from where the rats had plunged themselves into the river. Despite the tear he had shed, he now had a self-satisfied smile on his face. As many of the inhabitants had sought out to find the Piper when they woke (insofar as anyone had slept at all that night), so had the Stadholder, who approached the Piper as the crowd made room for the city’s first citizen. At the sight of him, the Piper rose and spoke:

“Your rats have drowned, and your plague has come to an end. It is time for payment, Bertrand. A golden Guilder a head, it was, wasn’t it—and there were six thousand six hundred and sixty-seven heads.”

“Indeed,” the Stadholder replied. “That we agreed. Let us count them. Where are the heads?”

But the Piper was hardly impressed: “In the river. You can count them if you’d jump into it. You might catch up with them. Now you listen carefully,’’ the Piper added, his voice threatening. “I will spend the remainder of the morning in your fair borough, to prepare for my journey. You will find me at the tavern until the noon; this is the time you have to collect the fee.’’

“Yes, well, my dear man, if you’d hold to your end of the bargain, then surely I would to mine. But no heads, no money.”

“Come, my dearest Bertrand. Surely you are a man of honour? You know very well what we agreed. If you do not pay in golden coins, I will find another way to receive my payment.”

But the Stadholder stood his ground. Fifty goldguilders the Piper could receive, for his expenses, journey, and trouble. But no more without the heads. And with that message, the Stadholder left the scene.


“Do you trust me?”

Thimar, the captain, looked at the handsome young man in the pied cloak. Though the Piper was a full headlength shorter than him, Thimar thought the man threatening and dangerous—and he had seen many a man more imposing than this one. He had not witnessed the events of the early morning, but news travels fast, especially so in the city of poets and story-tellers that was Frigdborgh. 

“No,” Thimar said.

“Then why this request?”

“She is very ill, and I fear for both her life and that of our child. If you can do anything to heal her, I ask that you do so.”

“Frigdborgh has not proven itself honourable to its agreements—today as it has in the past. What makes you think that I am willing to make a deal with you?”

“Sir! The Stadholder has no honour! But his daughter is nothing like him, and I would give you my life for the sake of her, if that is what it will cost me.”

The Piper looked at Thimar, his brows frowned.

“I am afraid, Thimar,” the Piper said, as he took a long, clay pipe out of his bag, which was hidden under his pied cloak, “that your wife is very much like her father.” The Piper sighed, and looked away from Thimar, down the street, where there sat a child shivering in the autumn cold, begging for money. “I can heal your wife, but there is no need. Your wife will recover and your child will be a healthy boy.” The Piper began to struggle with his tinderbox, which took long enough time for Thimar to think that their talk had come to an end. As he began to leave, the Piper stopped him, ceasing his attempt to light his pipe.

“Before you go, Thimar, be warned. There lies a dark future over your family. Rixt is kind, gentle, and caring, but the integrity and decency of any man—and thus any woman—can be broken.”

At that the Piper, who had not looked at Thimar but instead, continued to look at the shivering young boy, walked away. As he walked down the street, Thimar’s eyes followed him as he saw the Piper stop at the boy, tore his cloak in half, and gave one half of it to the child. It scurried of gratefully, if not perhaps with some fear, but Thimar was not sure whether that was because of the Piper or the guards that had just come from around the corner and were not known for their kindness towards beggars and vagrants.


Scene I: The Journey

In front of a cave, in the dimness that is twilight, a caped, hooded figure sat on a large stone. His appearance had not changed, ever still handsome in his kind. But his hazel eyes, then calm and peaceful, were now filled with rage and anger. As he sat there, it was clear that he was waiting for something, all the while caressing his flute and smoking his long, clay pipe. From the forest that began at the foot of the hilltop on which he sat, he heard the calling of a wolf, followed by the howls of others. At the sound of that, the man chuckled slightly. Tonight was the night that the inhabitants of Frigdborgh would receive their due.

When the life in his pipe had ended, he decided that it was time to put thought into deed. He stood up, removed the hood from his face, put the flute to his mouth and whistled a few simple notes after which he safely hung the instrument to his belt. As he waited, he looked into the sky, and it did not take long for a momentous bird to appear in the night sky, elegantly landing in front of the Piper, its feathers rushing as they came to rest. Even in the darkness its yellow-brown, golden-tipped feathers sparkled.

“Come, my friend,” the Piper said in a whispering voice, as he tapped the roc gently on its neck, “you know our destination. Let us go.”

The bird bowed its head and allowed the man to mount him. When the Piper had seated himself, the bird rushed off into the sky, requiring no direction but instead knowing instinctively where his rider wanted them to go.

A silvered tinder box sparkled in the pale moonlight, left behind forgotten.

Scene II: The Cellar

The floor was cold, Burkhard noticed, as he woke up in an unfamiliar room. He did not know how he had gotten here, so he felt somewhat disturbed by his surroundings. As he stood up, he saw that the light originated from a hearth in the floor, the wood in it burning, the flames pleasantly flickering.  In one corner, there was a small table with a single chair; on top of it there lay a ring with keys. In another corner, there was a door, slightly ajar. Burkhard stood up, too fast and thus momentarily bedazzled. He took the keys off the table, walked to the door, and opened it.

It showed a corridor with four doors: two on the left side, one on the right side, and the fourth one at its end. As Burkhard walked through the torch-lit corridor, he opened the first door on the left. Behind it was a room, its walls mouldy, the air stale, but in the middle of it stood an impressive looking glass, its frame apparently made from silver, adorned with little figurines. On its top was the shape of a man, holding a cane larger than the man himself and which held a spherical object in its top.

While Burkhard was somewhat impressed by the mirror, he saw no exit, and so decided to try the second door.

The room behind this door was the same, but instead of a mirror there stood a stool in the middle of it. Above it, there hung a noose. Slightly disturbed by the sight of the noose, the boy quickly closed the door and tried the third one.

The room behind it was distinctively different.

It was twice as large as the previous ones, and as in the other two the air was stale. In the middle stood a potter’s wheel, but mounted on the mouldy walls were shelves that carried little clay figurines in various sizes, all human-like. Some had extra limbs, others extra heads, some missed either limb or head; there were also those that lacked a torso. On the floor, against the walls, was a large collection of pots and vases, again in various sizes. But most striking was the life-sized female figure of clay that was formed by a bearded man, mounting the figure’s womanhood on its place, while singing a verse.

In one room a mirror stands

In the other, a noose and stool

In the third, I am at work

Pottering with clay and dung


Through the mirror they all went,

From the noose they were all hung

He said they’d be alive again

If only I would know the song.


Now from above did I descent

Through the mirror did I go

And now from clay I make these men

And women too, that to life they grow;

That I may see once more alive

My precious son and dearest wife.

Burkhard tried to call for the man’s attention, but the potter ignored him, instead continuing his work while incessantly repeating the verse. Not willing to waste his time, Burkhard left the workshop and went through the final door, the verse still echoing in his head.

The fourth door led to a staircase, at the top of which there was another door. Burkhard opened the door, but found that the bars behind it prevented him to move onward. Yet strangely, behind those bars there was a church, and in the church there was the bishop Burkhard knew too well, and as he heard the onset of a warble, the bishop stumbled, the crucifix fell, and Burkhard woke up. 

Scene III: Anthenias’ Dream

Christmas Eve had passed, and the city of Frigdborgh slowly went to rest, as the great many people left the churches for their homes after the midnight service. Anthenias the bishop had, too, gone to bed, and had fallen into a deep and deeply pleasant dream of a young boy with blue eyes (such bluest of eyes!) whom he dearly craved for when he was awake. And unlike when he was awake, in his dream the boy did not struggle when their lips touched and had no fear in his eyes as Anthenias undressed him. Anthenias dreamt he did what he longed for; in his fantasies as in his bed his member grew steadily.

Then a strange warble distracted him, uncomfortable as it was, for though the tunes were composed only of random notes its rhythm came with an eerie feel. It evoked in the bishop a strong sense of dread, and in his dream he felt his blood retract, his member no longer erect. He shuddered, intensely, lost his balance and fell while reaching for the large crucifix that stood next to the pair. It moved and toppled down, thereby dismounting the Messiah that it bore and which fell upon the boy. As the demigod’s wooden face crushed the boy’s head, he fell through his knees and moved no more.

With that, the bishop woke up, gasping for breath as he felt a heavy weight on his chest. He tried to move, but couldn’t. It took him some time to realise that the warble was not merely an echo of his dream, nor that his blood had not retracted. As he felt his climax drawing near, he finally found himself able to open his eyes and looked straight into the face of a handsome young woman, her arms on his chest pulling him down as she rode him. Immobilised as he still was, he allowed himself to take pleasure in this moment, found himself able to take a gulp of air and came moaningly. The young woman smiled contently. Then her face changed.

Her blonde-golden hair turned grey and greasy; her eyes old and red, her face blackened and withered. Anthenias screamed, but the sound was muffled by the hag’s wrinkled, decayed hands that had swiftly covered his mouth. A pair of black-feathered wings appeared from her back and she took a firm hold of the bishop, dragged him to the window, after which she jumped out of it. Together they flew into the darkness of the night, unnoticed by the inhabitants but for a single vagrant who had found shelter in a porch, already having been woken by the incessant warble that had steadily spread over the entire city—its houses, streets, and alleyways.

As the succubus and Anthenias disappeared into the night, the city’s many bells had begun to sound the alarm.

Scene IV: Arrival The journey to Frigdborgh should have taken about four days, but it took the roc bird only five hours of flight. The roc landed on the Puppet’s Hill (so called, because it was the place where the borough's criminals were hanged and left to rot), from where the Piper had a clear view of the city: the moon cast a light over its ramparts and the houses that lay, so it was presumed by the inhabitants, safely behind it. The city was at rest—only the watchmen, patrolling the ramparts, and perhaps a troublesome sleeper, were awake. It was already far past the Christmas mass, which meant that the night bells had rung, indicating that all fires were to be quenched. Had it been day, then the watchmen would have seen the figure of a man standing on the top of the execution hill. As it was, it was quite dark despite the full moon, and especially so on the hill. The Piper carried the darkness of the night with him. Motionless he stood amidst the stench of the decomposing bodies of the hanged.

The roc took off, leaving the Piper alone. He walked down the hill towards the city’s gate. He did not bother to stay hidden, as he knew that none of the Frigdborghers posed him any danger. When he arrived at the gate, he took the flute from his belt and put it to his lips. As before, he played his tunes, yet a different one this time; and not only did the sounds come from his flute but again the city’s buildings and streets and alleyways seemed to breath it, beginning at the gate and steadily spreading from there. The watchmen of the night watch heard it, too, and though the warble was different then before they immediately recognised its distinct character. As the bailiff, who was on duty this night, reached to sound the alarm, he and his guards found themselves paralysed by the flute’s play.

Scene V: Sub Luna Saltamus

As the city of Frigdborgh became hurled in the strange melody, the city’s children left their parents’ houses and shacks to follow the tune. Those too young to walk were carried by the older children; as they came outside they started to dance, their faces smiling but their eyes filled with tears and fear. The dance peculiar and unnatural, it followed the rhythm of the warble that was in itself an impressively strange tune, enhanced by the humming of the children. Their humming, at first, did follow the Piper’s tune but not simultaneously so, thereby increasing the warble and muddiness of the flute’s concomitant sounds, mixed with the shouting of the parents and the city’s alarm bells. But then the children’s hum turned into a song, clear and vibrant, and the bells followed the flute’s lead, changing the Christmas night into an orchestra-and-choir of a mad man’s nightmare, the tune having found its final melody, the verse its final words:

Hear, the flute tells

Hark, how the bells

All seem to say

You did not pay

Now he is here

Bringing you fear

To young and old

Frigdborgh turns cold…

The children’s parents, having woken up at the sound of the alarm, soon realised what was happening to their young and did indeed try to hold their children back, but they failed in their attempts as their offspring struggled to loosen themselves from their parent’s grip with immense strength. Others anticipated the children’s destination and ran to the Puppet’s Gate, which had opened itself yet the entrance was blocked by a sea of purple-blue flames.

…you all now hear

Words filled with fear

From everywhere

They fill the air

On, on we’re sent

To meet our end

Gaily bells ring

While we all sing…

As the children passed through the flaming wall, some parents tried to follow them through the flames but those who did try their luck would burst into flames, squealing in pain and were quickly reduced to nothing more but piles of ash, to be blown away by the flaming wind.

…gaily bells pound

Hear the flute’s sound

Gaily we dance

As we advance

Gaily we sing

While shivering

Dismal our song

Frigdborgh forlorn

All did betray

Now all will pay

Goodbye we say.

When the last child had passed through the gate, the bells stopped pounding, the children ceased their song, the flute’s play ended, and the flames perished. At the other side of the gate, the pied Piper stood, with an expression of intent pleasure on his face.

When the last child had passed through the gate, the bells stopped pounding, the children ceased their song, the flute’s play ended, and the flames perished. At the other side of the gate, the pied Piper stood, with an expression of intent pleasure on his face.

“Citizens of Frigdborgh!” he said silently, but this did not matter—like his play, his words could be heard throughout the city. “Tonight, I have taken your children. I have taken them, for you denied me my due. For this, you have now been punished. You will never see your children again.” The Piper paused for a moment. Then he turned to the Stadholder, who had been standing on the ramparts, looking down while calling for his daughter.

“Bertrand! You tried to outsmart me. For this, you have now been punished,” the Piper continued, as he grasped the Stadholder’s daughter by her hair, her head pulled backward, thereby showing her tearful, frightened face now void of the fake smile it had born before.

Again, the Piper reached for his flute, and played his tunes. The darkness that had surrounded him had already vanished, and he was now clearly visible in the pale moonlight, his flaming, hazel eyes once again visible for the Frigdborghers to see. The flute's play was different once more; the hill on which the Piper had arrived with the roc opened up, showing a cavern reddened by the glow of what appeared to be more flames. The children, the Stadholder’s daughter at the front, now silently walked into the cavern and disappeared one after another. The Piper, ceasing his play, turned one last glance at the Stadholder, smiling mockingly as he walked backward into the cavern, which slowly but thunderously closed itself.


Scene I: The Child Returned

When the people of Frigdborgh woke up the next morning, they recalled their dreams of the night before and, frightened as they realised their spouses had had the same dream, they ran to their children’s box-beds, only to find them empty. Realising, finally, that they had all dreamt the same dream, and that this dream had been no dream at all, they ran to the Puppet’s Hill, where the men dug wildly and endlessly. All they found was rock and dirt—no passage way, no trace of their children—while the women, now angered by the Stadholder’s decision three months prior, headed towards Bertrand’s mansion. They found he had already hung himself, depriving them of that particular pleasure. Seeking nevertheless their vengeance, they turned to Baldwin, the potter, of whom they had heard he had suggested seeking the aid of the forsaker, and for that they banished the foreigner from the city’s lands.

Yet it was Burkhard, the potters eldest son, who returned to the city on New Year’s Day, only to find his mother dead; grief-stricken, she had killed herself over the loss of her children and her husband. Summoned by the aldermen, the boy could not tell the council what had happened to the children; he had no memory of that fateful night other than the dream of the mirror, the noose, and the workshop. 

Scene II: The Cellar

Elsewhere, in the darkness, a scream echoed.

“Come, Anthenias,” the Piper said, chuckling, to the bishop, who stood nakedly bound in front of him, “it is time to play.” The bishop shivered, making the stool on which he stood totter. “Careful now. You do not want to fall,” the Piper said, as he played with the noose that hung around the bishop’s neck. “That’s for later.” The Piper handed a knife to the child that stood next to him. “There you go, m’boy.”

Smiling, the boy with the blue eyes (such bluest of eyes) took the knife in his hand, and cut off the bishop’s member. As the man was screaming of pain, his phallus swiftly grew back.

“You deserve this.” It was not clear whether the Piper talked to the boy or the bishop. It did not matter. As he chuckled, the Piper walked away, leaving the boy at it and the door ajar. A verse was heard, softly and muffled by the bishop’s agonising screams.

In one room a mirror stands

In the other, a noose and stool

In the third, I am at work

Written by Hearven.Eräman
Content is available under CC BY-SA