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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1495108-Squire-Korbes
by Seuzz
Rated: E · Short Story · Fantasy · #1495108
A retelling of a classic Grimm fairy tale.
The following is, mostly, unoriginal; I found my inspiration in M. R. James's brief summary of the original Grimm fairy tale in "The Malice of Inanimate Objects." James's treatment was allusive and fragmentary, but it led me to try reconstructing a story I had never previously read or even heard of. A later Google search gave me the original; you can find a link to an online reprint at the end of this story.

It was a hot day, and a dusty one. One would hardly have believed that it was already late October, but for the fields that were newly mown of hay, and a certain watery look to the sunlight. It had not rained for many weeks, and off the narrow country lane there drifted faint clouds of dust, to mix with sharp bits of cut grass and set to sneezing suddenly any who might have found their business leading them down that track. But for all that you would not have found it unpleasant to walk there, provided that you had your coat off, for the sky was blue, and the bird were singing, and it was not yet winter.

(But you weren't there, were you? That is why this isn't your story, but someone else's. And a good thing it is, too, you will probably agree when you get to the end of this tale.)

Instead, we find that the road belonged to a rooster.

He was a large, fine, black thing, with a vivid red comb and a confident swagger as he strutted along in a stately way. He looked neither to the left nor to the right, and neither did he let anything hurry or slacken his pace. Occasionally he would cluck meaningfully to himself as a thought escaped his beak, but no other noise did he make. There was also a gleam in his eye, of determination and anticipation.

He had been walking for many miles from a place you have never heard of, and had seen no other living being along the road, but on rounding a bend he came upon a cat. She was a long and sinewy thing, as dark as coal ash. But he paid no more attention to her than if she had been a hollow place by the side of the road

She, however, was struck by his appearance. "Come," she murmured to herself. "This is a fine fellow, and no mistake! By his manner, too, I'd warrant, he is not walking for his health. Brother Rooster!" she called out as he walked by. "Where are you meaning this fine afternoon?"

The rooster neither looked at her nor paused. Instead, he simply replied

         To Squire Korbes' I am going
         For a visit has long been owing.

The cat's eye's widened. "Ah," she purred. "So that is the way it is, then. I will come with you." And with that she fell alongside him, and the two passed down the road without speaking to each other as they went.

They had not gone far when they passed over the crest of a small hill, at the top of which was laying a needle-with-one-good-eye. This needle looked at them narrowly as they approached. "An odd pairing," it thought to itself. "A prince of the barnyard and a vagabond cat. Into this I must inquire, in case a report needs to be made.

"Ho!" he called as they stepped past. "Turn aside and state your business! What, so wrapped in yourselves you will not give an account? I'll mend your business for you!"

The cat and the rooster would not pause, however, and instead merely chanted

         To Squire Korbes' we are going
         For a visit has long been owing.

The needle blinked when it heard this. "Ho ho!" it chortled. "I see! I see! This road can stand sentry over itself for a little while, no doubt. I will come with you!"

And so saying the needle-with-one-good-eye leaped upon the back of the cat and nestled within her fur.

They passed down the other side of the hill and around a copse of tree, on the other side of which they saw a duck coming toward them. He was smiling and laughing to himself as he walked, for he was a cheerful fellow full of amusing stories and jokes, which, lacking an audience, he delighted in repeating to himself. His eyes lit up when he saw the three companions, and he waggled his tail feathers expectantly.

"Heh heh," he laughed hoarsely as he hurried up. "A fine day for a walk, is it not, neighbors? It puts me in mind of the story of the Irishman who—"

His story need not detain us, for it did not detain his listeners. He fell in beside them and walked with them back the way he had come, for he was not out for any purpose. He never noticed their silence as he repeated more stories and jokes, and it was purely out of friendly interest that he finally asked them what business they were about. They replied:

         To Squire Korbes' we are going
         For a visit has long been owing.

"Ah hah hah hah!" the duck laughed long and loudly. "I set out today intending no adventure, but here is one indeed! And wrapped in a fine joke too! I will come with you."

And so he fell into their company but spoke no more, though he smiled a great deal and could be heard chuckling to himself all the way.

The road now passed through a gate and vanished into a trackless field, but the company kept on, in something like a straight line, over brown earth; the dry, newly cut stalks of flax whispered meaninglessly as they passed. They were deep in the field when they chanced upon an egg.

It was very young and shy, of course, and couldn't bring itself to speak as they passed, but after a moment's hesitation it rolled after them eagerly. "Please, sirs, I do beg your pardon," it said very humbly. "But you seem to be such fine lords and ladies, and I am a poor egg who has seen nothing of the world. And yet I would beg to hear what news you see fit to share. If I might just go a little ways with you, then, I would be most grateful, and will not interrupt your fine talk."

The companions merely replied

         To Squire Korbes' we are going
         For a visit has long been owing.

The egg stumbled and stopped and turned very white. "This is a great matter," it said with a tremble in its voice, "far too great for such a one as I. And yet, if I may, might I be permitted to go with you?" They said nothing, but the duck quacked in a way that seemed encouraging. The egg fairly leaped for happiness and rolled along joyfully with them.

On the other side of the field they found another fence with a gate, beside which stood a table-with-very-sharp-corners. "The farmer will set his dogs on you," it muttered darkly as they passed. "You have left tracks all over his field." This table was not, in fact, a bad sort, but it was in a foul mood for no longer being wanted, and for being left out by the road to be collected by any who would take it.

The companions said nothing as they passed, which irritated the table even more. "And what right had you to pass through his field in the first place?" it called angrily after them. "Trespassers will be shot," it added, recalling the words of a sign that had once stood near the gate but had long since fallen during a rainstorm.

         To Squire Korbes' we are going
         For a visit has long been owing.

said the companions.

The table's legs nearly buckled beneath it. "Oh. Well. I see," it stuttered. It was, as I said, not a bad sort, and was abashed at having spoken so rudely, only to earn that mighty reply. "That puts a different light on matters. We mustn't stand on our dignity, must we?" It coughed. "I have nothing to keep me here. I will go with you." So saying, the table-with-very-sharp-corners wobbled along stiffly behind them.

They came to a deep and cold river, but the ferryman would only take people who were passing the other way, so the table stepped into the flood and carried them all across, except for the duck, who, momentarily forgetting himself, delighted in paddling circles around the make-shift mariners and laughing as they struggled to the other side. When they came out of the water again they found a very thick law book sitting on a fencepost.

"Lex tremendae majestatis!" it bellowed at them.

None of the companions understood these words, but so awful was the law book's demeanor that they dared not fail to acknowledge them. So

         To Squire Korbes' we are going
         For a visit has long been owing.

they replied.

"That is what I said," retorted the law book, sounding very pleased with itself. With that, it threw itself with a tremendous thump onto the table and rode along with them, encouraging them all the way with a lot of fine Latin phrases.

The road straightened out at this point, and from very far away the companions watched an old mill stone that was laying athwart their path; it too watched them. As they stepped over it, it sighed. "Long have I dreamed of this day. You have finally come. Let us go together." With a great and heavy rumble, it raised itself from the dust and rolled along with them.

No one else did they meet before they came to gate in a high wall. It swung open as they approached, and let them pass up a path to the door of a very fine looking house. Without pausing to knock or await admittance, they passed within: all but the rooster, who leaped onto the high-pitched roof to watch the road.

The last hours of the day passed in silence under the phlegmatic sun; the wind was still. And then, if you had stood at a particular point on the side of a small hill, you would have seen a distant figure tramping down the road and stirring the dust as he came. His name was Squire Korbes.

The squire was in a foul temper. Business had taken him into town, where he expected to collect some substantial sums of money. But he had found few of them he intended to collect from, and those that he found pleaded poverty and would pay him nothing, and even the constables he complained to were surly and refused to lend him aid. So he was returning to his house in a rage, and kicking stones as he went.

"Damn that sun!" he muttered as he stomped along with his head low. "Damn them that I should have been delayed and forced to return home with her in my eyes. I am quite dazzled and can hardly see where I am going. And oh! my head aches from her and from this blasted dust! And the noise of that cock has set my skull ringing!" For the rooster, high on his perch, had sent up a great cry when it saw the squire, and continued to scream loudly with every step that he took to his porch.

The squire shaded his eyes when he came to his door and glared up at the cock. "I shall have to fetch a ladder to chase it down! But not now. I only want a cool drink and a place to rest my feet." So saying he passed inside.

All was black after the dazzle of the setting sun, and the squire cursed as he felt rather than looked for a lantern or candle. "Where did I set my matches? I thought I put them on the mantle— Yeargh!" With a great cry he pitched over and onto his face and broke his nose, for the cat, invisible in the darkness, had brushed by his feet and tripped him.

"Blast!" he cursed through the pain. "Who let a damned feline in here? Well, at least I've found the matches." He had, in fact, put his hand into the fireplace itself; fortunately, it was cold, and in the hearth he found the box. He continued to mutter as he scratched a match and lit a candle. "I must bandage my face, but let me just sit for a moment and— Yow!"

The squire leaped back to his feet and hopped in place while rubbing the seat of his pants; by the light of the candle he saw the needle-with-one-good-eye gleaming in the cushion. "I will have the hide of the seamstress who repaired that chair," he roared. "Her carelessness has drawn yet more blood from me today. Now I will have to bathe."

He passed into the kitchen, where a sink of tepid water was already waiting. He had just bent over it when, with a jolly quacking, the duck dropped from the top of a cabinet and merrily splashed most of the sink's contents into his face.

"Great Stars of Zoroaster!" the squire exclaimed. "I was blinded by the sun, and then by the dark, and now by the water. Where did that duck come from?" His head was dripping, with water and with blood, so he grabbed a towel and put it to his face.

Crack! The egg had nestled in its folds. Now truly sightless, the squire tried feeling his way out of the kitchen, but the cat, as she passed, had taken care to untie his boots, and he tripped on their laces. This time he put out his hand to catch himself, and cracked it directly on the sharpest corner of the table with very sharp corners.

His howls now contained no words—unless, indeed, they were new blasphemies he was inventing on the spot. He stumbled backwards, clutching his hand, and bumped into a tall bookcase; the very thick law book fell and smote him on the crown. "Oof!" he said as all the air blew from his lungs.

"The house is bewitched!" he cried when he had his breath back. "Or I am!" A sudden terror enveloped his heart, and he ran out the back door, only to dash himself senseless against the millstone that was standing patiently there.

A short time passed, and his neighbors, who had heard his cries and curses, came to investigate. They found the squire, bleeding copiously and bruised as though he had been set upon by robbers and left for dead, flat on his back in his own yard. They lifted him up and took him to the hospital, where the doctors bandaged him up and set his fractures in splints.

When the squire was awake again, his neighbors came to inquire after his story, and he told them of his adventure with the rooster and the cat and the needle and the duck and the egg and the table with very sharp corners and the law book and the millstone. And when he was finished, his neighbors looked one to the other and said nothing, but begged him to tell the story again. And with his face very red (for he suspected they thought he was delirious) he told it, and again they looked at each other with pale faces. But when they asked him a third time, he cursed them all and told them to leave him in peace.

Many days later, when he was well, the squire left the hospital but moved into an inn rather than return home. He sold his house—for much less money than he and everyone knew it was worth—and moved to a distant city, where he lived and died in obscurity. But the story of Squire Korbes remained behind, and was the subject of much discussion and puzzlement. No one in his native country could quite decide what it meant, but they all agreed that only a very wicked man—or a very unlucky one—deserved the kind of visitors that had descended upon him that day.

* * * * *

"The Malice of Inanimate Objects": "The Malice of Inanimate Objects"  

"Squire Korbes (Grimm)"  
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