The next day in the same pub, William the storyteller had taken his seat at the bar and four or five glasses were next to the manâs own drink, at least three of them empty.
The Stranger once again strode into the pub and took his seat next to the storyteller.
âYouâve already started, isnât it a bit early?â
âItâs never too early to have a drink, if you think itâs too early then why the bloody hell are you here?â his language got a bit stronger but his tone hadnât changed, The Stranger wondered if he could be joking.
âI am spending a few days in the area and because you seem to be the most interesting person around here I decided to ask the locals of your whereabouts, they didnât know so I came here because I left you here last night.â
âYou payed for me to stay here, thanks, that means a lot to me but why did you bother?â
âYou said you had no home so I got you a bed for the night.â
âHow much do I owe you then?â
âNothing, you were doing me a service by giving me some entertainment. If you wish to know the cost then Iâm not going to tell you, you shall have to accept that it was my gift to you out of the generosity of my heart.â
âThatâs a bit soppy isnât it. If Iâm staying in that room, where are you staying because the only other room is where The Barman sleeps?â
âI am sleeping in a wagon.â
âA wagon?â not fully understanding what The Stranger meant because a wagon was a thing, not a place.
âYou know, one of those wagons that the travellers use, they pull them with horses.â
âWhere were you? A wagon isnât a place, what is the place that you are staying at?â William asked, trying to make his question clear to The Stranger who wasnât giving him the answer that he wanted.
âI travel all around the world, wherever the work is. I often sleep in a travellerâs wagon. This particular one is behind the pub.â He sounded sad as he spoke as if he had regrets.
âAll around the world, whereâve you been?â Now that his new friend had offered new information, William was trying to extract as much as he could.
âCan we get onto something different?â The Stranger was getting uncomfortable, he had realised his error and was trying to force the conversation away from himself.
âDonât want to talk about it, not all people like telling stories, I understand. Wait a minute, there is no way you would give me all this drink and lodgings for the night without wanting real payment.â
âThe Barman was the one letting them out and we were spending so much on drink that he decided to be generous with his pricing, with entertainment and cheap prices I can be very generous indeed.â
âOh, ok then. So you want to hear more of my story, eh?â
âYes I would very much appreciate it if you would finish your tale.â The Strangerâs tone had lifted and he didnât sound as sad when speaking.
âUm, yeah, ok, soâŚâ William hummed to fill the silence, the asked ââŚ where was I?â
âWith your father in the garden.â
âWas he sat down or stood up?â said with an expression of confusion coming onto his face.
âHe was sitting.â Every word The Stranger spoke was perfectly blunt with no expression at all, whatever it was making him sad had clearly passed.
âRight, wellâŚ My father was an old man, going bald but had the biggest and bushiest eyebrows you can imagine with a ring of hair going around his head but what hair he had was grey and looked about ready to drop off, he was sat in his rocking chair with his straw hat covering the top half of his face and you couldnât see his eyes to see whether he was asleep or not. I gave him a prod, just an attempt to get his attention but he started flailing wildly like a madman or even a man possessed, truth was that he couldnât see under the hat but once heâd got his bearings he calmed down a little and the first thing he said was âOh, William my boy, is it time?â to which my answer was âno bu- ââ
âTime for what?â
âIf you would let me continue then you may be able to find out.â Expressing his annoyance William had taken on a harsher tone as he told The Stranger that he would prefer silence. He went on, once again speaking with a calm and gentle tone but confused by the distraction. âNow what happened next?… er, ah, right. I asked him what he thought about Margaret and Keith, whether I should worry or not and he seemed to think that it was harmless, told me to stop worrying and that they were just plotting together, doing something to make me happy, a big secret which would have gone towards explaining the issue with the bedroom. The rest of the day was fairly normal and insignificant, you know just pottering around the house doing little jobs like washing clothes, washing plates, cutting grass and giving Solomon a bath in the river but nighttime was the next good bit. You want to know why? Well Iâll tell you why, me and Father you see, we realised that we needed food to eat and that we could only get food with money or trade and that neither of these were available during the slow times so every few nights we would go out and break cart wheels whether it was active vandalism like hitting them with hammers or just weakening the spokes so that any weight would make them fall to bits or just digging holes in the road, not very deep but deep enough for the cart to fall down and knock the wheels out of position, this helped because I would also fit them onto carts for the right price of course. I know, it wasnât exactly what you would call legal but it kept up demand and kept us with food on the table.â
âYou spent your nights with your father committing sabotage to drum up some work. What happened when you got caught?â
âWe didnât. We knew the area and how to escape plus father was in no danger, he could really run, even at his age. What does sabotage mean?â
âItâs just another word for breaking things, comes from a French word because of people throwing their footwear at things, the footwear was clogs and the translation to French is sabot. This doesnât matter now, it will in future though.â
âOk then but Iâve never heard of it.â William laughed loudly, this was probably the happiest heâd been all night, his little trips with his father must have been fun The Stranger thought and he knew that he was teaching him things to do with the destruction. âHang on a minute, isnât it time you bought me a drink?â William stated, still smiling from his cheerful outburst.
âBarman, another whiskey here for my friend and a beer for myself, keep them coming and I will pay extra for good service.â
âSo the next day dawned and a few hours later Keith showed up to collect Solomon and take him to the crop fields, as expected. The day itself, well once again not much happened, hardly worth mentioning really. Margaret cleaned some clothes for me to look smart for when Cooper arrived to go for that drink but the evening was when it started to get really interesting because Keith returned, without Solomon. When we asked him, he told us that he had left him with Wendy, the local medicine woman, he said the boy was probably fine, just tired even so we pressed him for more detailsâŚâŚâ
âWhat happened to him?â
âAm I not allowed to pause for tension, I canât be a good storyteller if my audience wonât let me.â The fury coming back into his voice. Once he had taken a drink and calmed down he carried on with his story âAnyway, what Keith had said was that he had left Solomon sat behind him as he worked, turning around every now and then to check that he was safe and comfortable and that once he had convinced himself that this was so he just carried on through the field until it was time for dinner which was when he went back to get Solomon. Apparently Solomon seemed to have fallen asleep, resting on the crop so he was probably comfy but after some increasingly forceful attempts to wake him, he still couldnât wake my boy up so he took him to Wendy and left her to look after him, he had told Wendy to wait for either me or Margaret to collect him and that was that really. We thanked Keith for trying to help after which he left. I went into the village to find Wendy and take Solomon home but before I reached her house a runner came up to me to deliver a message, he told me that Cooper had got some important work to do, something about a dodgy road causing one of the local lordâs carts to crash.â At that moment a soft chuckle left his lips.
âWas that because of- â
Still chuckling, William answered the question before it was asked âYes, it was, but look on the bright side, I had four more wheels to make and with the standard and style that The Lord would want, you know with livery and stuff, I could raise the prices and really fill my pockets.â Isnât anticipation a wonderful thing he thought to himself â or he would have if heâd have known the word anticipation. âRight then, back to Wendy. When I did get to her house and open the door I found Solomon laid on her table, still asleep and when I touched him, he was cold. I was worried, but that goes without saying, I asked Wendy what was wrong with him, I was probably more aggressive than I should have been but her reply managed to calm me.â
A few hours later William regained consciousness and returned to his seat at the bar where there was a glass of whiskey waiting for him, he took a sip then spoke.
âIâm sorry for lashing out, I shouldnât have done it.â
âI probably shouldnât have provoked you, I could have just let you continue the telling of your story. Do you want to carry on?â
âAlright, you know the deal, I get drinks, you get a story. When Keith went quiet, that was when I walked, not even looking at him on my way out but I knew that he had seen me because I heard him swear under his breath then he called out âWilliam, please let me explainâ but I just kept walking. So then, on the farm with the pig, on the floor, in the mud with a pounding headache. The smell, worse than anything you can imagine, well not anything, I mean unless you can accurately imagine the smell of a pigsty forced up your nose and covering you as a mucky, sweaty, smelly, fat, pink, hairy thing stood so close that it might as well have been sat on you.â
âPigs donât sweat.â
âWhat do you mean pigs donât sweat, where do you think the expression sweating like a pig comes from?â
âI have no idea where the expression comes from but it is inaccurate, pigs donât have any sweat glands therefore they are unable to sweat meaning pigs donât sweat, instead of sweating they cover themselves in water or mud to cool down.â
âAlright then, I didnât know that but the pig did smell. Once I had come to my senses and recovered from the nightmare that was last night I strolled down to the river, on my way people kept giving me funny looks, were going out of their way to avoid me and I think one woman even threw up because of the smell, a smell that was so bad that it wasnât just a strong sillage like you may get with a fine perfume but was instead an unholy mist that followed you and attacked and devoured anything or anyone it went near.â
âEnough about the smell, please stop telling me about it, I understand that it was so bad that it is memorable but I donât want to hear it. Now what happened at the river? Barman!â The Stranger didnât like hearing about the smell but the level of detail that the smell was being described in was interesting, almost like William enjoyed remembering it which was understandable with a sick child and an unfaithful wife.
âI stripped off, washed myself in what was, when I got in an almost clear blue, it came from a fresh spring up in the mountains somewhere, but when I had finished washing myself and using rocks to beat the muck out of my clothes, it had become a sloppy brown mess heading down river with the beautiful clear stuff rushing down to replace it, well the river wasnât rushing that much, proof of that was the fact that I could stand in it, it was more like gently sweeping.â
âAnd after your wash?â
âI laid myself and my clothes out on some rocks on the bank to dry, then fell asleep for a bit.â
âYou were tired, why? You had just woken up!â
âThere is a difference between sleeping and drinking yourself to unconsciousness Iâll have you know. Yes, I was tired so I went to sleep. When I woke up I did the sensible thing and got dressed then took the scenic route down through the wheat and corn fields and past Cooperâs workshop to Wendyâs place. As I was passing Cooperâs he called out to me to tell me that he needed some wheels for The Lordâs cart by the end of the week, I asked him if that was all he needed, it was. Then I carried on down the path to see Wendy. I got there and found Solomon still laid on the table with his eyes closed and he felt even colder than before. At that moment Wendy came charging through the room, brandishing a chamber pot full of yellowish-green liquid, we both know what that was. As she ran into the room she bellowed in a strong voice, so strong it was intimidating âget the bloody hell out of my house or Iâll make you wish- â, then she slowed down because she had realised who I was, she softened her tone, put down the bedpan and said in a tone usually reserved for delicate situations âoh William, your boy is not well, Iâm sorry but he has not recovered at the rate I expected, Iâll keep him as long as he needs and do all in my power to get him back to full health-ââ Another outburst of laughter for no obvious reason came from William who then carried on telling what Wendy had said ââ-you go back to Margaret and pray for him.â My response to her saying that was rather rash.â
âWhy, what did you do?â
âWalked out and slammed the door. Could you put me up for the night again? The same room as before will do fine, that is if youâre willing to pay.â
âThereâs still an hour until closing time.â
âI know but Iâm tired.â