Edel and the beggar-who-was-once-a-wizard
By: David Berger
The ragged beggar, squatting at the edge of the busy street, had once been a wizard. Some knew his past; other folks could just tell. And they had two ways with him. Most avoided him, avoiding his eyes, nearly blind from cataracts. But many stopped for a moment to give him a small coin, a piece of bread, even an apple. These were more offerings than alms. So it was in the village of Gark.
Now Edel was a young and stupid lad of perhaps seventeen. He’d seen his mother drop something for the beggar. But he, being young and stupid and perhaps seventeen, sought to skip by the beggar with neither a notice nor a care. But suddenly a hand strong as a blacksmith’s tongs grabbed Edel by the ankle and then let go, so the lad nearly tripped. Edel turned to the beggar, quick to anger as are all those who are young and stupid and perhaps seventeen.
“What was that, beggar?” Edel snapped out.
“Stop a minute.”
“And why should I do that?”
“I have something to say to you that you’ll want to hear.”
“And what’s that?” Edel asked.
“First give me a coin. I know you have several in your purse. Then I’ll tell you what you’ll want to hear.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Edel stood up and fished a stone, the smallest coin there was, and gave it to the beggar. Edel bent down to listen and the beggar began to whisper. A small bunch of people gathered ’round to watch.
“What do you have to say to me?” Edel asked.
Bend down closer so I can whisper it in your ear.”
Edel bent further and put his ear near the beggar’s mouth and nearly jumped back from the man’s breath.
“Can you hear me?” the beggar asked.
“Yes,” Edel said.
“You’re in grave peril.”
“Yes you, young fool.”
“I’m not certain. But run home to your mother by the shortest way.”
“Is that all? Edel asked. “For a stone?”
The beggar nodded and seemed to melt back into his rags and blankets. The lad stood up and turned round and saw the small crowd that had gathered.
“This beggar says I’m in danger, and I should run home to my mother and safety,”
“Then do that,” a market woman said to him. “That beggar is more than a beggar. He was once a wizard. Run home, young fool!”
“But I’m meeting my friends at the fountain. We’re going to match some fellows from Weel-Across-the-River in tug o’ war. It’ll be great fun and the loser buys the ale.”
“Go home,” a lad a little older than Edel said. “I’ve never heard of the beggar prophesying like this.”
But Edel, being young and stupid and perhaps seventeen, laughed and ran away towards the fountain and the tug. But as he rushed into the tiny square where the fountain was, he passed in front of a barrel set up for archery practice. And an arrow pierced his neck. And he died choking on his blood a few minutes later.
This is a true tale.