THE HAPPY ACCIDENT Once upon a time there was a baby who appeared from nowhere.

His new parents were amazed. They gazed in wonder at the boy for a whole day and night. They thought him like one of their piglets, but with bigger feet and no tail. The boy gurgled and gurned and they fell in love with him long before the sun started to warm the earth and rouse the chickens. However the day also brought worries for the parents. They were worried because they were very poor. They needed a sign that all would be well and so went to ask the village elder to see if they had been blessed. The elder entered the hut and squinted at the wrinkly pink child. The boy wriggled and squealed and played with his feet. The elder gave a sigh but smiled and placed his palm against the boy’s sole. The foot and hand were exactly the same size. “Ah!” he proclaimed whilst he tickled the infant’s little pot-belly. The elder looked at the parents with his watery eyes and said, “He shall cause upset wherever he goes”, then took his payment of a fistful of eggs and left. The poor parents hugged each other and sobbed with woe and did not hear the elder as he popped his head back in to say, “However he shall be a cheery child, as happy as a mucky hog”. True to the prophecy, the boy crashed blissfully through his young life. As soon as he could walk there followed a trail of broken doors, carts, barns and bones. As soon as he could talk he could apologise, and always with a smile so genuine that he was quickly forgiven. He would burst like sunshine through the most humdrum days. He had his head rubbed or patted umpteen times a week and was always being given a turnip to take home to his parents. The villagers thought the boy as thick as horse apples, but thought his parent’s more so. They tutted and clucked as they watched the boy’s poor father work hard to fix the broken things. They knew that he could never keep up and would help him out at first, releasing the father from his duty. But time forms shadows and so it was that as the boy grew the father fell in to debt to the whole village. The villagers became dismayed at this mess in their midst. It was time for a gathering. At the folkmoot it was decided to place the boy into the apprenticeship of the Smith. This brought gasps and sobs of horror and woe from the boy’s mother, who imagined all sorts of catastrophes involving fire and molten metal. The Smith would have sobbed too but he thought it unbecoming. When the mother was calmed, the village elder explained the ruling. “The Smith lives on the outskirts of the village so the boy cannot cause too much merryhem. The Smith can forge strong chains to keep the boy in check until he learns… The boy needs something to occupy that wandering mind and those waddling feet of his. He is of the right age now to contribute”. All at the assembly murmured and nodded approval. They looked at the boy, who had been seated serenely throughout the hubbub, and they were filled with a warm glow. They thought themselves wise in their solution and slept soundly on it.

By the age of fourteen the boy had become the best Smith’s striker in the shire. His hammer blows rang out from morning until twilight and farmers came from outlying boroughs to purchase the sharpest ploughshares anywhere. His muscular legs had developed in proportion with the once cumbersome feet that propped them up. His arms were full of knotted power that had older milkmaids yearning over their buckets. His handsome face, once so open and sunny, was dark all day with concentration. His brow was thick with soot and sweat. His mouth was permanently twisted with effort, even in sleep, which was deeper than he had ever known, for now he had no time to dream and he never smiled again.

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