I am known by many names in the Kingdom of El. Some call me the Gypsy Song, others the Invisible Whistler. But the most common is the Piper of Pied. Some have thought that this title referred to my clothing—which they mistakenly believed to be made of many different colors of cloth. But this name actually refers to the older meaning of “pied,” which is “foot” or “feet.” For you see, it is only the footprints of my followers that are left behind after I visit a village.
I discovered my gift when I was just a child. I was given a small flute as a birthday gift one year, sent by an anonymous giver. For weeks on end, I did nothing but practice that flute. I took it with me everywhere I went. Then, one day, when I had finally become quite good at playing it, I noticed that some of the other children in my village were following me around. I thought they liked my playing, so I began to play louder, making my way throughout the village streets. Soon other children and even adults began to join in the parade. By the time I’d finished my song, the entire village had come out and begun to follow me. When I finally took the flute from my lips, they all seemed to shake themselves and look around. They seemed surprised to find themselves in the village green, where I had stopped, as if they did not remember following me there.
At first, I didn’t know what to make of this strange phenomenon. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that every time I played my flute, the people who heard me immediately stopped whatever they were doing and began to follow. It was fun for awhile. Then it became frightening. More than once, a fire was set or a baby temporarily abandoned because someone followed the sound of my music, leaving the task they had been engaged in.
No one ever discovered how or why these things were happening, for after I stopped playing, no one could remember why they had left their home or their work or what had made them walk to some other place in the village. The people in my village, including my own family, thought that they were subject to some kind of strange illness or a curse of some sort. Eventually, they sent to the City to ask for help.
In the meantime, I had learned to use my talent for my own gain. I began sneaking away to other nearby villages and settlements. Once there, I would play my flute loud enough for all to hear, then lead them far from their homes, out into the wilderness. Then, as they were “waking” from their trance, I would run back to their houses and barns and gather their belongings—anything valuable and small enough to carry easily. I would carry these spoils back to my own village, where I hid them in small cave I had discovered not far from my family’s home. I had no specific plans for all my laid-up treasure. I just enjoyed collecting it. I thought that someday perhaps I would take a great, long journey and would use my trove to fund my trip. But mostly, it just made me happy to think that I had tricked so many people out of their belongings and no one was the wiser.
I continued my “raids” for several months, while more and more people began to send messages to the City to ask for help. They had begun to believe that a very dark magic had taken hold in the area and that only an emissary from the king himself could solve the riddle of their strange behavior and missing possessions.
Meanwhile, I had discovered something interesting about my gift and its limitations—although my music would immediately weave its spell over most people, there were some who were unaffected. These were always children—usually the younger ones. I came to the conclusion that the reason people followed my music was because, for awhile, it made them forget their sorrows. When they heard my music, people got a look of dreamy contentment on their faces. Even people who I had never seen smile before seemed happy and peaceful when they followed me. My music somehow made them forget the deep sorrows that they never talked about but that lived deep in their souls and weighed their hearts down from day to day. But children, especially the youngest of them, had no such sorrows to forget. It was disconcerting for me to return to a village now emptied of its people and to see a tiny child toddling about, wondering where everyone had gone. Fortunately for me, there was rarely a child left behind that was old enough to talk—so no one gave away my identity when the adults returned.
Then, one day, just as I was stashing my latest haul in the cave, I heard the sound of trumpets coming from the village green. Quickly crawling out of the cave, I ran to see what was happening. To my great surprise, standing in the middle of the green, surrounded by my family and the other villagers, stood the King.
He had heard of the troubles in this part of the kingdom and, rather than sending an emissary, had decided to come himself to see if he could help. He said he would stay in the village while he and his attendants attempted to get to the bottom of things.
Fear gripped me. What if the king discovered that it was me that was causing the trance-like wanderings and the disappearing possessions? What if he found my cave of booty? Would he punish me? Take me back to the City and throw me in a dungeon for the rest of my life? Or would he tell everyone what I had done and leave me at their mercy as they beat or pilloried me for all the trouble I’d caused?
I decided that I would do everything I could to stay out of the king’s way while he was there. If he never met me, then he couldn’t suspect me. And I would take a break from my pillaging for awhile. Maybe if things calmed down for a few months, if there were no more complaints, then I could resume my activities more subtly in the future. But for now, I would lay low.
But my plans to avoid the king failed.
The next morning, as I was attempting to sneak out of the village, planning to spend the day hiding among the tall grasses of the surrounding fields, I heard footsteps behind me. I turned to find myself face-to-face with the king himself.
“Y—Your Majesty,” I spluttered, dropping to one knee.
“Rise, Patrice, I have something I wish to speak to you about.”
Surpised that the king knew my name, I had no choice but to do as he bid, and I stood shakily. I tried to appear calm, but inwardly I was trembling in fear, sure that the king was going to condemn me to some terrible fate for my actions.
“I know that you are the one who has been putting the people into trances and stealing their goods,” said the king. I started to protest, but then fell silent. The look in his eyes, while not angry, was stern, and I could tell he would brook no argument.
“Yes, your majesty,” I said quietly, bowing my head. My fate was sealed. There was no escaping it. My actions had caught up with me and now I was going to pay for them—with death, perhaps, or something even worse.
“Patrice,” said the king, beckoning me to walk with him into the field. “Do you know who sent you that flute when you were younger?”
“No, sir,” I said. “It came with no note.” Inwardly I wondered if some dark sorcerer or other purveyor of evil had sent it, to lead me astray and cause chaos among the villagers. Perhaps it was part of some larger nefarious plan.
“I sent it,” said the king.
“You? But why?” How had the king even known of my existence? And why would he send me something that would lead me into a life of evil, when he himself was renowned for his goodness?
“Because I knew that you had a special gift—the ability to lead people with your music. And I knew that you might never realize your talent, unless someone provided you with an instrument upon which to play and thus learn of it.”
“But I don’t understand,” I said, still waiting for him to proclaim my punishment. “I have only done harm with my music. Why, if you knew what I was capable of, would you want to help me along that path?”
“I had hoped that you would choose to use your gift to benefit others, not to hurt them. I am still hoping that you will make that choice.”
“You—you mean, you’re giving me another chance?”
“Yes, on one condition. You must return all that you have stolen and work to make amends to those whose property was damaged by fire and other consequences of your actions.”
Stunned that I was not being sentenced to death or dungeon, I quickly agreed. “Yes, yes, I’ll make amends. And I’ll never play music again. I’ll never lead people away from their homes or their children. I’ll destroy the flute. Here, I’ll do it right now!” And I pulled the flute from my pocket, ready to crush it with my heel.
“Don’t destroy it,” the king said, putting his hand on mine to keep me from throwing the flute to the ground. “There will come a day when your talent will be put to good use, when people will need you to lead them where they would not otherwise follow. Your flute, and your talent, will be needed one day.”
“But how will I know when that is?” I was worried that if I kept the flute, I would be tempted to use it again for harm. Better to destroy it now and never again face the desire to entrance and steal with it.
“You will know,” he said confidently, “if you learn to listen to your heart and not your selfish inclinations. For it was I who gave you this talent, when your parents brought you to the City as a tiny baby and asked that I christen you. I gave you your name, and I gave you your gift. And if you listen closely to your heart, you will know when it is time to use it again.”
Many children in El are given their names by the king. But I had not know that I was one of them. For some reason, my parents had never told me this. Now that I knew that my talent and my name were gifts from the king, I wanted to keep them unsullied. In the future, I wanted to be untainted by greedy and rebellious actions.
When the king left that day, I thought I had been released from a terrible punishment. I returned the things I had stolen, and attempted to make right the other harm I had done—both in my own village and in the others nearby. But what I hadn’t realized is how heavy a punishment it would be simply to live among those who had come to distrust and even hate me. Most of them, once they found out what I’d done, didn’t want anything to do with me. They ceased to call me by my name, “Patrice,” and began to call me “Pied.” The avoided my eye and kept their distance when I was about.
Eventually, I decided that I had to leave. I had only sixteen summers at this point, and was not technically old enough to leave home. But staying in the village had become too painful for me. The looks of disdain, fear, and anger were too much for me to bear day after day. Though my family told me I should stay, I could tell that they were ashamed of me and wished me gone as well. I thought I would be better off in some distant place where people did not know my past, the things I had done, where maybe I could begin anew. And so, with my flute in my pocket, I left Braed permanently. Or so I thought.