Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | March 7, 2013

The Hero and the Horseshoe

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Heroes fight dragons and rescue poor souls in distress. They gallop in on white stallions with smiles on their rugged faces and swords raised high in victory. True heroes never ask a reward — they do their work purely out of honor and a love for humanity. And maybe they like the attention.

Fergus was not a hero. In fact, he wasn’t even a sidekick. He had a sword, but that was about it. The sword was old and dented, the handle gave him blisters, and he had an aching bruise on his thigh from the scabbard banging against his leg.

Fergus also had a big nose and a pile of wild orange hair. When people talked about him, which wasn’t often, they would say, “You know, Fergus with the nose and the carrot-top.”

He wished they would mention the sword. Swords just weren’t things most people carried nowadays. You’d see the occasional dagger, maybe a pouch of sleeping powder, but no swords. They were too awkward and uncomfortable and there was nothing around to fight off with a sword.

The country of Uborg hadn’t fought a war or even a battle in 100 years. The last true hero was Terrence the Magnificent, who united Uborg into one nation, defeated the last dragon, and married the princess Bonnie. They had thirty children, and Fergus’ father’s sister’s husband’s cousin’s mother was one of them. Number twenty-seven or twenty-eight.

A statue of Terrence stood in the city square right outside Fergus’ house. Every day, he walked past that statue on his way to work as a dishwasher at the palace. “A distant cousin of Terrence the Magnificent shouldn’t be a dishwasher,” said Fergus’ mother. He agreed, but knew it best not to say anything. His meager earnings were enough to buy his mother a few pieces of fresh fruit once a week, and the occasional new hat.

Fergus was thinking about the latest hat his mother had her eyes set on — a veritable fountain of blue and purple feathers festooned with real dried berries and plums — when he passed the statue one spring morning. He was imagining birds landing on his mother’s head to eat the plums, and it made him giggle. The giggle made him hiccup, and he almost tripped over something lying at the statue’s feet. His scabbard swung around and jabbed him in the hip, but he managed to keep his balance and pick up… a horseshoe.

It was huge – much too big for a real horse, but just the right size for the horse in the statue. Fergus walked around and looked at all four hooves, but none of them had horseshoes. Certainly none of the hooves seemed to be missing any pieces. Where did it come from? He felt a creeping discomfort, and almost put the horseshoe back on the ground.

But someone else might trip on it, he thought. He took off his jacket and wrapped it around the thing, tying the sleeves to make a bundle he could carry.

And then he went to work.

And he didn’t think about the horseshoe again until that night, when he realized that through the entire day at work — a beet soup and roast lamb day, where the plates are all stained cherry red – his boss hadn’t yelled or slapped him even once. No one teased him about his big nose, his hair, or his sword. He hadn’t dropped a single tea cup and his stack of washed dishes was higher than everyone else’s. In fact, it had been his very best day of work ever.

Fergus took out the horseshoe and set it on his bedside table. Coincidence? Perhaps. But he thought the shoe seemed a little shinier than it had this morning. A little more… heroic.

To be continued…

Photo by Brocken Inaglory [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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