Friday, 16 May 2008
Death and the General
There was once a small town near the foothills of the Pyrenees as there is today. This town once had a mayor who in turn had a lovely daughter. She was a maiden of great beauty and kindness. It seems that one day an invading army entered the small town and the general of this army went directly to the mayor. At the mayor's house he saw the beautiful maiden and told the mayor that if he would give the general his daughter to wed, the army would leave the small town alone and continue into France. The mayor consulted his daughter with tears in his eyes. He recognised the general for a bully and a brute and feared for his daughter.
But the daughter's great grandmother had been a witch and had taught the daughter a thing or two. She agreed that for the sake of the town she would wed the general. But only on one condition - that the general would dance with Death for her hand in marriage. The mayor was horrified believing that the general would never agree to such a thing. But the general desired the maiden so much that he agreed to her conditions if only death would come.
"He will come," the maiden assured the general.
That night she took a hair from her head and burned it in the fire. As she did so, she chanted,
Sweet Death, Gentle Death,
I call upon you to come and dance
You take sorrow and a last breath,
The night is young and does advance.
The room went cold and the fire flickered and by the window stood Death in his long black robes, his scythe by his side. The maiden told Death how the general wished to dance with Death that night and the next two nights.
"Well," Death answered, "I am very busy with the general's bloody work so I could do with letting off some steam in a jig or two. But mark me. If I but once gain the general's hand, he must come with me."
"That doesn't seem entirely fair," the maiden answered politely, "when all his men are with him. Why not take the entire army and have a holiday?"
Death agreed to this and they went downstairs, the maiden taking care that Death did not touch her. The general and his men were drinking in the tavern when the maiden entered with Death behind her. These battle-hardened soldiers had seen such horrors but to see Death standing in the doorway was more than they could stand. They threw down their drinks and ran out the back of the tavern into the street and fled back to their country. Many of them went mad.
The general however was of a different sort. He had supped full with horrors too, but he had caused a lot of pain and anguish also. Fear, pain and sorrow were nothing to him. He arose and bowed asking if Death would care to dance. Death gladly agreed for he had longed to meet the general. While he had come close to it, occasional attempts at assassination having been made on the general, he had never met him until now. The maiden took up a violin and began to play a gavotte.
Death and the General danced about the floor, not touching each other, almost as if they were circling each other before a fight. Still, the General was a good dancer and Death was impressed that an apparently cultured man could be such a brute. The General was no fool however, he guessed what the maiden had in mind and decided to cheat Death. When the gavotte finished, he bowed to Death and asked if he would like to dance with the maiden. Death grinned morbidly and turning to her he agreed. The maiden had the grace to pale with what appeared to be fear, but she curtsied and handed the violin to the General.
Now the General did not care for the gavotte, he played a waltz which requires close contact. But the maiden had put on a silk under-dress that had been blessed at her mother's wedding. She wore a long-sleeved elegant gown of the finest, most supple leather over it and fine kid gloves that went up to her elbows. In other words she was dressed in the skins of beings already dead. Death put his bony hand about her waist and another in her gloved hand. So - the General began to play the waltz and Death whirled the maiden around the floor, the skirts of her leather dress whirling. On her feet she wore the loveliest red boots of kid leather. In all of this dance, the fresh bloom of her youth contrasted with Death's proud musty elegance. The General played until he could play no longer and finally the dancers stopped. The maiden's exertions had made her breathless and brought the rosiness to her pretty face. She placed her gloved hand on her breast and reached for the violin.
The General in shock handed her the instrument and Death grinned. This was now his chance. The maiden began to play a slower waltz and Death took the General by the hand. The General glanced briefly at his leather gloves upon the table and screamed. The maiden continued to play and Death whirled around until he disappeared taking the General with him. In her shock, the maiden fainted and collapsed upon the floor of the tavern. Bruno the barkeeper had hidden behind the bar at Death's fatal entrance. When he hear silence, he peeped over the top of the bar and slowly stood up. Of Death and the General there was no sign, but the maiden lay unconscious upon the floor. Bruno took a bottle of brandy and took a large gulp of it. Then he sighed and came out from behind the bar to clean up the place. First thing he did was place his hand on the maiden's brow and was relieved to find her warm and to notice the rise and fall of her chest. She lived!
The invading army suddenly vanished that night and nobody knew where they went. Only their clothes and weapons were left behind. All that anyone knew was that there had been terrible screaming that night followed by a long silence.
In the small Pyreneean town a monument was built to those who lost their lives defending their town. On the top of it, the sculptor placed a skull and bones in gratitude to Death who had protected their town. Even if sooner or later he would show up for everyone living. They had still their lives to live out.