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CDLXXIX

The Horrible Ogre of Maromero
And The Salt of The Earth.

The Ogre Comes To The Village of Maromero.

Long, long ago, in a time so far in the past
that most of its lessons have been lost to the modern world
and in a deep valley so distant from the rest of the world
that to the people who lived there
it seemed as if it was the only valley on earth
... there was a little village named Maromero.

For many years the little Village of Maromero lived in peace
and quiet, forgotten by the rest of the world,
its peaceful, honest and hard-working villagers
dilligently looking after themselves and trying to make life
happy and prosperous for their families and neighbors.

  Then somehow the Ogre found his way there.

He was truly a sight to behold, this Ogre,
from his oversized head
to a body that looked powerful enough
for him to be able to swing a horse over his shoulders
and carry it off like most normal people might
have done with a bag of onions!

But its horrible-looking face
was what most of the villagers of Maromero couldn't get past;
for the Ogre's eyes burned blood red.
His ears were easily three times the size people's ears should be.
And, as he breathed through his mouth with a snorting growl,
it was possible to see that behind his lips all his dagger-like
teeth were fouled with rotting bits all over them!

No one was ever able to figure out
exactly how the Ogre had managed to find his way
into their remote valley and especially to their little Village.
Nor was anybody ever able to find out where he had come from
(or why he had picked their little village in particular
to settle in). But the fact was that somehow he had.

Of course, no one would have dared to ask
such a question of the Ogre himself,
for he had a monstrously evil temper
which was a horror for the villagers,
who would scramble away in panic
whenever he raised his voice.

However, some villagers were of the opinion
that he had been turned into that evil creature
by a powerful witch he had offended
with that terrible temper of his.

Then there was a legend
that the Ogre had really been born in the Village
of Maromero itself, and had not always been an ogre.

But, naturally, everybody in Maromero knew that
legends always tend towards the incredible
until they actually turn themselves into out-and-out flat lies
(which 'obviously' had to be the case with this
particular legend about the monster).

Still another legend insisted that the Ogre was really a demon
sent to punish the Village of Maromero
for having been born of a tragedy...

The Village of Maromero had been founded
when a tightrope walker
who had been trying to walk on his tightrope across their valley
from one mountain peek to another
couldn't make up his mind half way across
whether to go back or continue, and slipping,
fell on the very spot
where the Village of Maromero was later established.

This was the reason the fountain in the village plaza
was crowned by a most unusual statue:
A couple of legs sticking out of the ground
around which plumes and jets of water splashed
in a wide circle around them.

But however the Ogre had found his way to Maromero,
or from what place he had come,
that place must have surely been a most horrible place,
because that Ogre was a most horrible one.

The Ogre Makes Himself At Home.

In the beginning
the Ogre made a home for himself in one of the caverns
in the mountains just outside Village of Maromero.
Although his evil presence was felt everywhere,
and it quickly spoiled the happy life
which the villagers had grown used to until then:

Where once the honest and peaceful little Village
of Maromero had been overflowing with decorative plants
and lovely wild flowers everywhere (so much so
that they grew around practically every door, window sill
and along every street and alley
without anyone having to look after them), suddenly,
without any warning at all,
one day nothing but evil and decay seemed to spread
everywhere the Ogre walked (even once).

There wasn't a street in the village
through which the Ogre passed
that didn't immediately lose all its flowers,
every one of them shrivelling even as he walked by!
After which never again in the history of the Village of Maromero
did anyone see any lovely plant growing again.

Nor did anyone ever again hear any bird singing:
Almost overnight it was as if all of the songbirds
that the once happy villagers had grown accustomed to
watching greet every dewy evening and every fresh new dawn
with their beautifully quenching songs
... had suddenly been scared away for their very lives,
their voices dried up like dust.

The most terrible thing of all
was how the Ogre delighted in walking every
one of their streets as if he owned the whole Village of Maromero
and the symbol of his ownership
was the very wasteland he left behind everywhere he went!

But fear and terror of the Ogre lived with everyone
every day of their lives, and no one ever even dared
to call anybody's attention to it
fearing they might then be asked:
"Who are you to speak?
Are you yourself brave enough to stand up to the monster?"
And, unfortunately, they all knew that none of them were.

Parents were soon asking their children never to mention
how much they missed the sweet scents of
the now forever vanished flowers,
or to speak about the lovely melodies of the birds
that never again returned,
for an even worse terror had followed after the Ogre's steps
... the seemingly magical way
in which the Ogre seemed to be aware of practically every
word spoken by anyone anywhere in the Village of Maromero--

The Ogre seemed to be able to overhear even
things whispered behind closed doors,
up in locked attics or deep in tightly shut cellars.
And he made no bones about mentioning it to
as many of the stunned villagers as he could:

"Did your aunt ever get over that bad leg of hers?"
He would ask the clock maker
(who knew he had only spoken about it to
his wife behind closed doors).

"Did you find the broach your daughter
lost in her room--last night?"
He would ask that particular girl's horrified mother.

Even worse, he seemed to know things
the villagers hadn't even yet discovered themselves:

"You should add up your receipts again,"
he would tell the baker, who was later amazed to find
that he had indeed added them incorrectly
the first time he had done it earlier that morning!

"But, how did he know!?" They all asked themselves
--and only themselves,
because the only way he could have known
was if he had some secret magical powers
none of them would ever be able to challenge!

The birds never returning, the flowers all dying away
... everyone knew it was the Ogre's doing,
but no one ever said a single word against the Ogre himself
--so afraid did he manage to make them all feel.

The villagers simply kept their mouths shut
and instead dreamt about the birds returning, "Later?"
The flowers being replanted, "Next year?"
(No doubt when the Ogre tired of their little village
and moved somewhere else.)

Only, as time went by
and their horrible Ogre seemed to make himself more at home
in the Village of Maromero,
everyone realized that they were all doomed
to remain in the Ogre's power
--for as long as he wished them so to remain,
perhaps even...

"Forever and forever,"
as the Ogre himself liked to hint at every opportunity.
As in, "Greeting, good neighbor, good greetings
... forever and forever!"

After which he would laugh with such evil relish
that it frightened even the stoutest soul to death just to hear it.

The Ogre's Reign of Terror.

The Ogre also developed the very nasty habit
of walking into any merchant's store without warning
and grabbing whatever it pleased him to steal
(for he never paid for anything he took away with him):

"You are so kind," he would tell the poor store owner,
by way of payment,
as if he had been invited to take anything he liked.

None of the merchants had the courage to face up to the Ogre
(it was, in fact, usually enough for them just to
look upon that horrible face of his
to be absolutely certain there was no way
they were going to confront him).

Most of them soon found themselves being
driven deeper into poverty and debt
by the way the Ogre kept stealing
every time he dropped by their stores.
While the Ogre perfectly knew full well
the sheer terror and sense of helplessness
he was able to inflict on the poor villagers
by doing things like that everywhere he went.

Eventually the terrified merchants of Maromero did
send for their even more terrified Mayor,
who rounded up all the bravest villagers he could muster
by pleading, threatening and begging,
and, together with all the leading citizens of Maromero
(he could convince were the leading citizens of Maromero)
they all set out for the cavern into which the Ogre had moved:
There to demand... ask, at least, or
respectfully request that the Ogre
never return to their village again.

Unfortunately, all that happened was that
no one from the Village of Maromero
ever again heard from any of those brave citizens
who left to talk to the Ogre... not ever, ever again
(not so much as a peep from them):
It was as if the earth itself had opened up
and swallowed them, Mayor and all.

When the Ogre showed up on the streets
of their village the following morning,
stealing a bit here and a bit there,
as was his usual way every morning,
and greeting them with his mocking, 'forever and forever,'
laughing like the monster he was
... no one even so much as dared to mention
anything about the people who had gone out to his cavern
the previous day (as if afraid they would be confessing to
the Ogre their own personal involvement in the incident).

And since the people who had vanished had been the bravest
in the entire Village of Maromero,
now there were none left there at all
to do anything else about the monster.

For the Village of Maromero, it was as if
their horrible Ogre himself had swallowed
not only their bravest citizens (those who had
gone to his cavern on their behalf)
but also the entire village itself, because,
from that moment on it was almost possible to say that
the Village of Maromero belonged to the horrible Ogre,
body and soul.

Terror spread throughout the village as never before,
for now there really was no hope for anyone in it.
Certainly no second group of brave citizens would ever
dare to stand up to the Ogre again in the lifetime of those living
(and not even to ask the Ogre if he 'might'
know what had happened to the first group of brave villagers
that had gone to visit him on that tragic day).

"Somebody should rid us of this horrible Ogre,"
a poor soul once whispered in the village inn
after he'd had too much to drink,
and next thing anybody knew
... that was the last anyone ever saw or heard of that poor man.
He simply vanished off the face of the earth
while on his way home from that very inn
that very same evening
(and he had but whispered
something against the horrible Ogre of Maromero while drunk).

So impossible to escape became the Ogre's influence
over the Village of Maromero
that from then on soon everyone made it a point to
forget everything which might offend the Ogre
in the least manner... things like flowers and singing birds
(although the Ogre did own a foul-looking vulture
that sometimes perched upon his warty shoulder
as he ambled about --now-- 'his' village).

They also forgot about electing another Mayor.
(What use would it be?) And most especially of all
forgot the name of any person who dared to so much as
whisper anything against the Ogre
... forgetting even that there had been a time
when the Ogre had not lived in Maromero
(although some did keep that memory alive in the most secret
parts of their hearts... where the Ogre could not read it).

Eventually the villagers resigned themselves
to wait for the Ogre to just grow old and die away
like all living things are supposed to.

But even in this
the poor citizens of Maromero were to be disappointed:
As the years passed
and generations of Maromero villagers were born
and grew old themselves (waiting for the Ogre to go away),
it became apparent that the Ogre never aged at all.
Not even by so much as a single day
in a hundred of their years!

Even after two hundred years
of terrorizing the villagers
the horrible Ogre was as young and strong as he had been
on the first day he had made his way to the village
(even if he did grow ghastlier-looking and more repulsive
in the way he behaved towards them).

The Legend of Alfred The Blacksmith.

But every village, even the smallest one,
posts at least one grand and glorious hero to its name,
and the Village of Maromero's great hero was Alfred the Blacksmith,
a brave (if perhaps a bit too loud) young lad,
a quite righteous and upstanding roustabout
and good-for-nothing (some said)
... in whose swaggering self-confidence many saw
proof of the hero they had all been waiting
and praying for.

Born about fifty years into the enslavement of the Village
of Maromero by the Ogre,
Alfred the Blacksmith spent most of his youth
toughening himself up for the very task of becoming the liberator
of his village, devoting almost as much time as
he gave over to toughening up his body
to forging the mighty sword with which he would one day
sally forth against the Ogre
to rid his village of the monster once and for all.

Much to the villagers' surprise, when the great day finally came
that Alfred the Blacksmith at last thought himself ready
to battle the monster,
the Ogre himself (who naturally knew all about
the making of Alfred's great sword, and his plan to slay him),
the Ogre himself appeared in their village
and actually invited all the startled villagers to come out
to the field of battle in front of his cavern
to witness the grand battle between him and
their blacksmith would-be liberator!

Because the Ogre's invitations were
more in the nature of a command appearances,
all the villagers attended the battle
that was to be fought between Alfred the would-be
Ogre-slayer and the monster.

Everybody went with heavy hearts, of course,
for it was obvious that the Ogre thought very little of
Alfred the Blacksmith's chances of slaying him,
and wished them to witness how easily he would defeat him
... perhaps to teach them to fear him even more in the future.

Yet they also turned out hoping against hope that
through some miracle Alfred the Blacksmith would
somehow find a way to come out of the hopeless battle
victorious over the monster.

The Great Battle.

The legend of Alfred the Blacksmith
spoke of a splendid battle, too.
For in spite of his bluster, so good and vigorous a
warrior did he prove himself against the Ogre
(surprising everyone) that in no time at all
he had all the villagers cheering every blow he managed to score
against the Ogre.
And for the first time it even seemed to the villagers as if
they could finally see a glint of fear in the monster's face:

The ferocious battle went on for quite a long time,
with both combatants seeming to have an equal chance
at winning, until finally Alfred the Blacksmith saw his chance
and managed to drive his great sword
straight through the heart of the Ogre.

For an instant all the villagers held their breaths
as the monster struggled for a second or two
trying to pull out Alfred the Blacksmith's great sword.
But to no avail: He finally gave up and lurched up
to his full height
--There was a great gasp from all the villagers
when he fell back at last stiff as a board
and struck down as dead as a slit viper!

For a moment or two the villagers were frozen in shock
--It hardly seem possible to believe
that they were finally rid of the terrible beast
which had terrorized them for fifty years
... or that anyone, let alone their own burly roustabout Alfred,
could have finally freed them from the monster.

Yet there stood Alfred before them:
victorious over the body of the slain monster,
in his raised hand again the very sword with
which he had just slain the Ogre!

Their moment of silence and disbelief
was instantly followed by a storm of cheers
for their great hero and deliverer Alfred the Blacksmith,
Mighty Slayer of Ogres!

And they were all still cheering him
(and even trying to proclaim him their new village leader)
when suddenly Alfred dropped his sword
as if he had been seized by a great pain.

His entire body started to shake.
His skin began to turn dark and leathery.
His ears became like those of a wolf.
Even his clothes slowly turned moldy and ghastly
like those the Ogre always wore...

The villagers were horrified
as they watched Alfred's body slowly turning
from head to feet
into the body of the Ogre he had just slain
moments before.

Screams and shouts of horror came from the crowd
as they realized what was happening:

Where seconds before their victorious hero Alfred
the Blacksmith had stood
now the Ogre was standing instead
in all his monstrous glory. If anything,
even fiercer and meaner looking than ever before!

What of poor Alfred the Blacksmith?
With a sweep of the arm with which he now held
Alfred's great sword, the victorious Ogre pointed
to where his own slain body had fallen
... and there in its place now lay the slain body of Alfred
the Blacksmith, run through the heart
by his own sword!

It was almost as if Alfred had slain himself,
and it made the Ogre laugh
as none of them had ever heard him laugh before
at the cruel trick he had played
on the poor villagers of Maromero.

The Ogre King.

"With your own eyes,"
the newly born Ogre now told them,
"you have witnessed that nothing harms me,
for I am immortal and have been sent to rule over you
howsoever it be my pleasure to do it!"

Then he called upon the crowd to proclaim him forever after
their King
--Which they could hardly refuse at such a moment
(perhaps his purpose all along).

From that day on they were to address him as 'Your Majesty,'
and treat him with all the regal pomp and splendor
reserved for a true king.

"Last but not least," the Ogre also ordered:
"A great castle shall be built before my cavern,
splendid enough for my new kingly state!"

To which the villagers were also forced to agree.

"From this day forth," the Ogre told them,
"never again shall I live under the earth
like the lowly creature I have been!
Now, leave me!
I shall be dropping by your homes tomorrow
to collect the new royal taxes, which
from this day on you shall pay to me
... that I may live as a proper king over you!"

The sad crowd returned to their houses in a shocked panic
when the Ogre began to laugh at them in his usual crude way.

And once in their homes they all locked their doors behind them
in case the Ogre got it into his ugly head to punish them further
for having cheered against him
in his great battle with Alfred the Blacksmith.

But apparently this was exactly what the Ogre had planned
all along: to force the villagers of Maromero
to see with their own eyes that it was useless
for them to waste their energies
trying to rid themselves of him.

For a long time afterwards, whenever the breeze blew
from the direction of the Ogre's cavern,
the terrified villagers of Maromero could hear the Ogre laughing
at them all the way from the battlefield in front of his cavern
as he celebrated his victory over Alfred the Blacksmith,
as well as over all their own dead hopes.

It wasn't long after that that
the Ogre had himself crowned King of Maromero
and all adjacent lands in a splendid ceremony
which all the villagers were forced to attend.

Then, over the next awful year,
 the worst ever in the history of Maromero,
the Ogre forced the poor and now truly enslaved villagers
not only to build him the castle in which to live
in all the royal splendor of a king,
but also to make for him the finest garments
and hats and boots, and every other sort of personal apparel
fit for a king (and even if they themselves were left without
enough thread or cloth to make clothes for themselves).

The Ogre forced them to serve him the finest,
richest foods that could be served a king
(even if there wasn't enough food left over
for the villagers to feed their own children).

And everyone had to call him, "Your Majesty,"
of course. Smiling while they bowed to him.

When he walked into any of their homes
and grabbed whatever might catch fancy
the poor villagers he robbed actually had to give him thanks
... that whatever he stole was all he took
(and the monster was 'kind enough to his subjects'
to leave them with their lives
so they could slave even more for his benefit).

But what could they do?

Nothing except to hope and to pray
(although never quite out loud)
pray that some truer hero than the brave but
(in the end) foolish Alfred the Blacksmith
might rescue them someday
from the horrible Ogre of Maromero.

George The Blacksmith And Rachel.

That was the state of affairs
when George the Blacksmith (a far-removed descendant
of Alfred the would-be hero) was growing into manhood
in the unlucky Village or Maromero a hundred years later,
earning a living mostly by shoeing the Ogre's horses,
for the Ogre only allowed the owning of riding horses by himself
(or the owning of practically everything else for that matter).

Only, by the time George had grown up
and taken over the job of village blacksmith from his father
it was, sadly, quite apparent to everybody
he was no great and daring hero
like the heroic Alfred of the legend.

George was shy and quiet.
He never raised his voice or was ever involved in a fight
in his life. While
everybody was waiting for a second Alfred the Blacksmith:
another boastfully brave and swaggering fellow.

But instead of being boastful and outgoing,
as the villagers thought all true self-confident heroes should be,
George the Blacksmith was more of a peace-maker,
a man whose first (and sometimes only) advice to anyone
... was that everybody should mind their own businesses
and obey the Ogre, who had by sheer length of rule by then
become something of their rightful king...

George the Blacksmith loved Rachel
the daughter of the village baker, and planned to marry her.

Only, in the age of George the Blacksmith
the Ogre had acquired so much say over the lives of the villagers
that no one was even allowed to marry
without his expressed permission.

The result of which was that George the Blacksmith
and Rachel the baker's daughter had to visit the Ogre's castle
to get his permission before they could marry.

"Do not go, my son!"
George's mother warned him, in a whisper
(for she was certain the Ogre could hear every word
spoken anywhere in the Village of Maromero).

"Do not go, my daughter!"
The baker and his wife also whispered to their daughter Rachel:
"If the Ogre does not kill you both,
he will surely kill George
and take you for his own wife!"

But the two young people were in love,
and determined to win the Ogre king's permission to marry.

So, taking leave of their parents
they left their homes and
hand in hand went to the Ogre's castle.

"Enter!" Said the Ogre
as soon as they had come up to his castle's gate.

They did, placing in the table before the Ogre king
two silver beakers, one for salt and one for sugar
which they had brought along as gifts
to help win the approval of the Ogre.

But when George was about to ask the Ogre's permission
to marry Rachel the baker's daughter
the Ogre raised his hand to keep him from saying another word.

"Go, young man!" Said the Ogre,
who, just as George's mother had feared,
could indeed hear every word spoken
in the entire Village of Maromero.

"Go and tell your mother that I will not kill
the only blacksmith in the village--if I do not have to,"
he told George, "for I need a good blacksmith indeed
to shoe my horses.
But tell the baker and his wife
that they were also right, for I will
make their daughter my bride and queen!"

The Salt of The Earth.

George's bride Rachel fainted upon hearing this.

And, seeing her fall to the ground,
the Ogre attempted to jump over the table
to rush to her side.

George would have tried to kill the Ogre
the instant the monster proposed his horrible plan,
and even if all it would have accomplished would have been
to force the Ogre to kill him.

Only, it was such a pitiful-looking monster already
that, George being the man he was,
he could only find it in his heart to pity the terrible loneliness
the Ogre king must have been living with
... to have to force a woman to marry him.

Suddenly, as he was going over the table,
the Ogre place his hand in the wrong place
and stabbed himself with one of the knives on the table
at the same time that he knocked over
the salt beaker George the Blacksmith and Rachel had brought
to him as a gift... spilling its contents over his wound!

"Arrgh!" The monster cried out in a frightful manner,
as awful a roar as George had ever heard in his life
from any living creature.

The Ogre grabbed the wounded right hand with his left one
and threw himself wriggling in agony all over the floor
like the small wound would kill him then and there,
even as he cried out to George: "Do not pity me!"

Naturally, George was horrified at the sight of
such a great beast thrashing about in such pain.

But even as horrible a monster as the Ogre was,
and in spite of the monster's own pleas,
its cries of agony yet stirred George to a pity
greater even than his loathing,
for the Ogre's desperate pain reminded George
of a horse which had once backed into
a great wooden splinter at his blacksmith shop
... and how terribly pained that other poor animal had been.

The strangest thing of all
was that the more pity George felt for the monster
the greater the Ogre's suffering seemed to grow
and the more desperately the monster begged George
not to pity him!

However, overcoming both his loathing and pity
George rushed to the Ogre's side
and with a quick flick of his strong blacksmith's hand,
pulled the knife out of the Ogre's hand
and then bound the terrible wound with his own shirt
... without thinking more about it
(for that was always the way with George's good deeds).

Only then, as George got more and more used to
the terrible situation himself, only then
did the Ogre's uncontrollable pain die away.

And it was then that George discovered the reason
the monster had cried out so terribly:
His wounded hand was dissolving right in front of their eyes!

It seemed as if everywhere the salt had touched the Ogre's scaly skin
its flesh was melting away like sugar stirred in water!

"Salt!" Said George out loud in spite of himself,
even as he finished bandaging the whimpering Ogre's stump
(amazed that the simple salt of the earth
could hurt the Ogre that much).

After all, like all the other villagers of Maromero,
he too had always believed that the Ogre was immortal
and immune to any and all weapons
which might be raised against him!

"Salt?!" Cried the Ogre
as soon as he heard George's comment.

And George suddenly realized
that the Ogre would now have to kill him for sure
(in order to keep secret
the one element that could do him so much harm)...

And yet, "Salt!?" The Ogre asked again.
Only this time he didn't sound angry at all:
"Hatred or gratitude--Anything but pity!"

George thought the monster was simply playing dumb:
"You need not test me, Sire," he confessed to the Ogre:
"Even a fool can see how much harm the salt has done you."

But, no matter what George might have been expecting
from the beast: "The salt!?" Was all the Ogre kept repeating.
And this time the Ogre even laughed
as if he had been laughing at a child!

"Yes, sire," insisted George:
"The salt of the earth. But you needn't fear--"

"No?" The Ogre interrupted George:
"I need not fear?"

"No, Sire," said George:
"Your Majesty's secret is safe with me.
Grant me but permission to marry Rachel
the baker's daughter," (who had not yet revived
from her fainting spell), "and I will never reveal to anyone
how much you can be hurt by the salt of the earth!"

"The salt of the earth!?"

The Ogre laughed in spite of his great pain:
"Lad!" He finally said to the young man
(who was by then helping his bride-to-be to her feet)
after he had composed himself:
"You do not hate me!" Sounding quite surprised.

Then suddenly: "I have changed my mind,
for the sake of the loyalty you have shown me
I shall grant you permission to marry Rachel
the baker's daughter, whom you love.
And, in fact, I thank you kindly for your gifts
of sugar and salt. If I cannot have your hatred
perhaps I can enjoy your gratitude."

The two young people looked at each other mystified,
but happy. And it was the first real happiness
that had ever visited anyone from the Village of Maromero
since the Ogre had moved there.

It was strange, but it felt wonderful:

"Indeed," the Ogre told George, "keep your word,
tell no one, not even your bride, the baker's daughter
(for if you tell anyone, even in the softest whisper--I will hear of it),
and for the sake of the loyalty and kindness you have shown me
here, I will grant you a boon so great
that it shall make life in the Village of Maromero a Paradise
for you and for your whole family from this day forward!"

The Boon.

"What kindness?"
George's future wife was curious to know.
But, true to his word,
George immediately told her that if she really loved him
she would never again ask him what had happened
between him and the Ogre
while she had been unconscious.

"No more questions!" The Ogre told her
(hiding his wounded hand from Rachel,
that she would not be tempted to ask
how he had come by such bandages
while she lay unconscious): "It is enough
that you shall marry the man you love."

"We thank Your Majesty!" The young couple said
as they bowed to their king the Ogre, who,
although not entirely happy himself, yet bowed back
to them and commanded them to marry at once
(before he changed his mind).

"I shall see to it," he then told them,
"that from this moment on
you shall have everything and lack nothing
in the Village of Maromero.
To that I give you all my word!"

Although it remained a great mystery to Rachel
exactly what kindness her future husband might have shown
the Ogre, she still loved and trusted George enough
never again to ask about anything that might have happened
at the Ogre's castle that day.

"This very evening I will hold a great feast
in celebration of your marriage,"
the Ogre then announced: "At which I will yet grant you
further and greater favors!
Now--Go! Leave me at once!"

The two young people immediately left the Ogre's castle
feeling very happy indeed.

Once in the village they invited all of their neighbors to
the great feast the Ogre had ordered for their wedding.

And since no one could refuse the Ogre king's invitations,
the entire Village of Maromero was present
when the monster came to announce in person
that from that moment on, he would never again
make any demands whatsoever on any property belonging to
George the Blacksmith and his wife, or any of
their children, or any of their children's children.

Then he promised to keep his word
as long as George could keep his
(which the villagers took merely as
no more than proof of George's honesty).

No one thought to ask how come the Ogre was now
wearing a hook where his right hand had been,
or dared, of course. But everyone was happy
for George and his new bride,
for no matter what the Ogre did to the rest of them,
they all wished George and his family
as much happiness and joy as it was possible
for anyone to have in the sad Village of Maromero,
knowing they were a kind and upstanding young couple
who certainly deserved their good luck
... no matter what the reason for it
(which they were not told, and told never to ask about).

That Day the villagers wept with joy,
thankful that they had lived long enough to see
one of their own escape at last the Ogre's terrible oppression.

Everyone congratulated George and his bride.
Then they all headed home
and back to their own lives as the Ogre's slaves.

The Great Aristocrats.

The Ogre kept his word to George
and his (now) wife Rachel just as he had promised, too:

He never took anything from any of George's family
without paying for it (and very generously).

It made George's family the wealthiest in the Village
of Maromero, for he still shoed
all the Ogre's many riding horses.

Better still, the Ogre spared George
and all the members of his family
from having to pay him the terrible taxes
everyone else in the Village had to pay their 'king.'

Whenever he passed by George's house
and saw any of George's family
he even bowed to them and took off his hat
quite courteously, calling them Sir or Madam with respect,
just as if they'd been great ladies and gentlemen.

It made life for George's family as easy and happy
as if they themselves had really been
the aristocracy of the Village of Maromero.

Soon even the other villagers
who had once called him by his first name
were addressing him and every member of his family
(down to even the youngest children)
with the same respect they reserved for
the Ogre himself...

The Ogre never allowed the rest of the villagers any rest
from his terrible oppression.
Some even thought he had made things worse for them
in order to make things better for George's family
(without doing himself any the worse in the bargain).

Although, as always, no one dared to even hint at this
with so much as a look or a bowed head
... especially in front of George himself, who, they were sure
would immediately ask what the matter was.

(Only, as you will see, their own children
were not as good at this play-acting.)

The villagers of Maromero
(with the very glaring exception of George and his family)
continued to suffer as horrible a life
as it was happy and good for George, his wife Rachel,
and all the children they were soon bringing into the world.

But there was something gnawing at George's heart
in spite of the great wealth and happiness
the Ogre's gift had brought to him and his family:

Whereas George could spread out a magnificent feast
every night for his family, and buy the finest clothes
for everyone in his family to wear
... it was difficult for him to continue looking on the terror
his neighbors were still living under
(for this was quite obvious
no matter how much they all tried to hide it from him).

George could never put aside
the knowledge that in all the other houses in the Village
every other family had very little to eat
or was going hungry altogether.

He watched his children playing happily
in the grand courtyard of his own splendid house,
and then had to watch in great sorrow
as the children of the other villagers passed along the street
almost dressed in rags, and with such sad looks in their eyes
that it brought tears to George's own eyes.

The very fact that his own family's life was as good as it was
made the wretched lives of his neighbors
seem even more wretched to George,
for when he had been as miserable as they
he had never taken as much notice of
the great difference between misery and joy.

The Golden Helmet.

Finally George could not take any more of it,
not one more of the many neighbors asking his wife if she
might find it in her heart to spare a crumb
for their starving families,
not one more wretched child's soulful looks,
not one more having to stand by helplessly
as the Ogre came and went stealing from everybody
whatever he wished, or
as he violently pushed people out of his way
when they did not move fast enough,
even children and older villagers!

When George's wife saw tears in his eyes,
thinking them tears of joy because of how happy they were
in contrast to all the misery around them,
she wondered whether one day she too
might feel happy enough to weep with such joy
--For George never dared to discuss with her
the real cause of his sad tears,
remembering how the Ogre could hear every word
spoken in the entire Village of Maromero.
Nor could he reveal to her that it had become his intention to
someday find a way to rid their village of its horrible Ogre.

George knew exactly what he had to do
--Oh, how he regretted now
that he had not poured the rest of the salt in that beaker
over the Ogre's head that day in the Ogre's castle
(and he would have regretted it even more
were it not for the fact that George knew perfectly well
that there hadn't been enough salt left in it
to have even covered one of the Ogre's arm,
let alone his whole body).

But now, knowing that the Ogre was
listening to his every word, "Wife," he said to Rachel:
"The King has been so good to our family
that I believe we ought to show him our thanks!"

"What do you mean, my husband?"
George's wife asked him.

"I intend to give His Majesty a great helmet
woven from strands of the purest gold!" Said George:
"It will surely make His Majesty very happy,
and perhaps even happy enough
that he might also share his happiness with our entire village,
just as he has shared it with our own family."

"Solid gold?" Said his wife:
"Will that not cost a great amount of money?"

"All that we have we owe him," George insisted:
"A great king like him deserves a great helmet,
and the greatest king in the world certainly deserves
the greatest helmet in the world.
Even if we must sell our house and all we own,
we must yet give him a helmet woven from the thinnest
strands of the purest gold, with lots and lots of chambers
and hollows to be filled with precious jewels;
for anything less would be an insult to such a great king."

Then George went out to arrange for
the weaving of just such a golden helmet.

The helmet indeed cost George a great sum of money;
so much so that he had to borrow almost as much
as his entire house and everything else he owned
was worth to put it all together.

But finally he managed it,
and, surrounding the Ogre king's great golden helmet
with jewels set in its many chambers and hollows
he packed it in a silken gift box
... and kissing his wife goodbye, he set off
for the Ogre's castle to present it to him.

The Ogre's End.

Like every other day in the Village of Maromero
ever since the Ogre had moved there,
that particular day had been a day of hardship and misery.

Except that, in a sudden flash,
something quite marvelous happened,
and without any warning
or anybody having to tell any of the villagers anything,
everyone in the Village of Maromero
was suddenly filled with a feeling like none of them had ever felt
before... a strange feeling of relief and joy as powerful as if
they had at last been freed from the Ogre!

"How do you suppose this has come about?"
They all asked one another.

"Look!" Cried out the woodcutter's wife,
pointing to a flower which was beginning to bloom
by the door of the doll maker's house.

They all stared in awe,
because no one in the Village of Maromero
could remember ever having seen a flower growing in the village
in all their lives until that very moment!

Then, "Hush! Everybody hush!"
Cried some of the women in the crowd.

And, "Listen!"

Suddenly everyone became aware
of something no living villager had ever heard before
... for there was a bird singing somewhere
within their little village!

"What could it mean?"

Something indeed strange
seemed to be swirling about them.

One thing they all understood from the very start of
this new and strange thing swirling around them:
The Ogre would never permit things like these
... as long as he was still breathing.

So, did this mean--?

But although they were all thinking and hoping that
somehow the monster had finally died,
they were all still so afraid of him
that none of the villagers dared to
speak of this hope out loud.

And that's when George's wife came among them,
weeping, seeking somebody brave enough to
go after her husband, who had gone to speak to the Ogre
at the monster's castle.

"True," said the street sweeper, "I saw him
earlier this morning, carrying a large silken box.
And he was headed in the direction of the Ogre's castle!"

There were no brave people left
anywhere in the Village of Maromero, of course,
so everybody simply stood milling around
and shaking with fear while they prayed
that the Ogre had not harmed George,
whom they all still loved
even if he was the richest person in the whole village.

Still, no one volunteered to go up to the Ogre's castle
to inquire of the monster if he knew what had happened
to George, for they all remembered the legend of
what had happened to those who had gone to ask the Ogre
questions like those...

But they did wonder indeed what might have happened
at the Ogre's castle that day.
Although many of them already suspected
that George and the Ogre had probably fought each other
to the death--But, the death of which one?!

Questions like these were soon murmuring through the crowd:

"Had George killed the Ogre?" And,
"Had George been able to escape with his life?"

Although no one knew what to do.

They were certainly happy that the Ogre might finally be dead,
and sad that George should have had to sacrifice his own life
to free them from the monster.

And that's when George himself was spotted
returning from the Ogre's castle!

The Salt of The Earth.

Naturally there was a great deal of rejoicing,
especially from George's wife,
although with a bit of caution to it, since they still didn't know
just what it was that had happened...

"George, are you not dead?"
The jeweler was the first to ask him.

    "No," said George: "I am not dead."

    "And the Ogre?" they all wanted to know.

"Yes," said George: "The Ogre IS dead."

At which a sudden cheer arose among the villagers,
followed by much rejoicing.

   "Did you kill the Ogre, George?"
His wife asked him.

"And, how is it that you are not dead as well, George?"

All the villagers wanted to know:
"Was it a ferocious battle?"

"I will tell you," said George
as everybody gathered around him.

Then George told them how he had started out
for the Ogre's castle that morning with a plan to rid the Village
of its horrible Ogre once and for all.

A plan which he could not reveal to anyone until now,
and not even to his own wife, because,
as they all knew or suspected,
the Ogre would have been able to hear it all.

He told them how he had discovered
that the only way to kill the Ogre was
with the salt of the earth,
which by accident he had discovered was deadly to the monster
... and how he had seen that
even the slightest brush with salt would destroy him
(which also made the villagers think that they finally understood
why it was that the Ogre had been wearing a hook for a right hand
ever since the day of George's wedding).

George revealed to them how he had arranged
his marvelous trap to destroy the Ogre,
having designed a great helmet of gold
hollowed out everywhere with chambers
capped with precious jewels as a gift for the Ogre
... chambers which only looked like
they had been constructed to hold jewels,
but which in reality were especially made to
conceal a great-enough amount of salt
so when the Ogre placed it on his head
a spring would release the salt over him
and kill him!

George then took this helmet of gold with him
to the Ogre's castle to present it to the monster.

And only on his way there, without having even
told the jewelers who had made the helmet
why the chambers, why the secret spring
... George filled every one of those chambers
with salt of the earth himself... enough salt of the earth
(he picked up along the way) to kill the Ogre:
Filling every chamber and hollow of it
until every last one of them was topped.

After which he continued on to the Ogre's castle--

Only, so eager seemed the Ogre to behold
with his own eyes the great golden helmet George was bringing him
that he didn't even wait for George to knock at the door:

"Enter," said the Ogre as soon as George came close enough
to the castle's gate for him to be able to hear the
terrible voice of the monster within it.

Oh what horrors crossed George's mind as he entered the castle
and began to make his way through the cold and darkened hallways
that led to the Ogre's splendid throne room...

Just how much did the monster know?

And, what to read in its terrible rumbling voice
--it certainly wasn't joy; but was it greed... or anger?

Such were the terrors running through George's mind
as he made his way to the Ogre's throne room.

Would he be able to go through with his plan to kill the Ogre?

He already felt a great regret
that he might have to murder such a magnificent monster...

But it was a very unexpected sight that greeted George
when he finally made his way into the Ogre's throne room,
for there, sitting on his lonely throne
he found the monster already... dying!

"Come in, my friend!" Said the Ogre,
crumbling in wretched decay.
And he even pulled out a small chair for the young man
although he was already in an awful state
and appeared to be near death.

"Tell me, what can I do for you?"
The Ogre asked George: "Perhaps some small (or even
great) favor... for you, for your family?" He said,
mocking George: "I can be very generous
with my friends, as you know!"

"Yes," George told him:
"I and my family can attest to the truth of that!"

Then George placed the gift box
with the golden helmet woven from the finest gold strands
(and the concealed chambers filled with salt)
on the Ogre's table.

"What's this?" The Ogre asked,
pretending it was all a surprise to him:

"A gift?"

"A gift, Your Majesty," said George,
his whole body shaking with fear,
for even a monster as sick-looking as the Ogre
was more than anybody could bear to be all that close to
--Although he was also filled with pity for
the obviously suffering beast (knowing he was about to die):

"A small token of my gratitude, and the great esteem
with which we hold you," said George,
his voice shaking.

And, "Your gratitude?" The Ogre asked:
"Not your pity?"

Suddenly sounding a lot more like he was well aware of
it being the death trap it really was: "I am touched!"
He said mockingly. "You are pitying me again--I can feel it.
Where is your gratitude?... May I open the box?"

"Of course, Your Majesty!" George replied,
not really knowing what to make of the Ogre's words
and even though the Ogre had already begun to tear away at
the silken wrappings of the gift box
with his razor-sharp hook.

In no time the Ogre had produced the magnificent golden helmet
woven out of strands of the purest gold
and was holding it high over his head with his good hand,
staring at its splendidly sparkling beauty.

Then he laughed like the monster he was,
with a terrible roar, as if he had finally conquered the whole Village
of Maromero heart and soul:

"Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!"

It was also an very ironic-sounding laughter,
at the end of which the Ogre let out a horrible cry of agony
and fell to the floor dying
without having even come in contact
with the salt in the golden helmet:

He let go of it and it fell to the floor
... rolling to a stop almost exactly at George's feet!

"You?!" The Ogre accused George:
"You would kill me so treacherously!?"

Pointing to the golden helmet at George's feet:
"Say yes--If you cannot be grateful to me
at least hate me!"

Then the Ogre bade him to come closer.

George obeyed, resigned
to the fact that the monster knew all about his plan,
and would surely inflict upon him the worse punishments
such a beast was capable of
(because George had finally realized that
he could not have gone ahead with his plan to kill the monster
and he would have warned him at the last moment).

But, "Bring it to me!" The Ogre ordered George suddenly,
and George picked up the golden helmet and took it
to the Ogre at the foot of his throne,
as even in the throes of what was surely his quickly approaching death
the Ogre was still quite monstrous.

"Look!" He then told George,
taking it away from the young man with a violent
sweep of his good hand: "I will place it over my head
myself!" Raising it over his own head...

    "No, do not--" George tried to warn him.

But, "Only you can save me now!"
The Ogre told the quite amazed George
as if preparing to place the helmet on his own head:

"You MUST hate me that much!"

(While George had no idea what to make of
what the Ogre was telling him, or what to expect next.)

"Will you grant me this!?"
The Ogre yet asked George, a hint of sadness
in that terrible voice of his:

"Will you ask me to place it on my head?"

"I cannot, Your Majesty?" Said George,
who did not really know what he ought to do next:
"I don't have that much hate in me."

"Will you not change you mind!?" Cried the Ogre
in a mixture of pain and anger. And then,
almost like he was actually begging:
"Not even if I were to ask you to hate me?"

"I beg Your Majesty," George tried to stammer out a reply.

"Will you not ask me to wear it!?"
The Ogre cried out furiously
with every last shred of strength still left him.

"Absolutely not, Your Majesty!" George cried back
in shock and horror at that awful voice,
but also filled with more pity than ever
at the pain he could hear in it.

It was apparent to George that the Ogre knew perfectly well
the helmet would be the instrument of his own death
... And still:

"Say but the word," the Ogre yet asked him,
"and I will place it on my head," in a harsh whisper now,
for he had used a great deal of what little strength he still had left
--He even begged George: "Say but the word and I live!"

But George knew he could not utter the words
that would kill the monster, so he remained silent
and did not answer the Ogre.

Slowly, begging George all the way
to ask him to place the golden helmet on his head
the Ogre did this himself as if compelled to do so
by a force more powerful than even his own will to live...

"And, did the salt of the helmet kill him?"
Some of the people in the crowd asked George.

"Strange, most strange!" said George.
"And stranger still!"

 "Did the Ogre put on the helmet?" They asked.

   "Yes," said George...

The Ogre placed the helmet on his own head,
and exactly as George had designed it,
as soon as the Ogre did so
the salt in the chambers poured out over him
... all over his entire body this time,
for George had made certain that there was enough salt
in the chambers behind the jewels to do so...

Yet the Ogre did not melt away at the touch of the salt
--which actually pleased George,
although even as he marvelled at how mistaken he had been
all this time in his belief that the simple salt of the earth
was the thing that would destroy the Ogre
he was sure he would now reap the monster's revenge...

For George the worst part was that
the Ogre knew all about the golden helmet
even before he had even brought it out of
the beautiful silken gift box George had wrapped it in.

The Ogre even seemed to know all about
the chambers and hollows which George had had built
throughout the golden helmet behind its precious jewels
(and which were filled with salt)
... something George had only done moments earlier
on his way there!

"The salt of the earth!" Said George.

And the Ogre laughed at him when he heard the phrase
even as the salt kept pouring out of it and over him
... without seeming to harm him at all!

He even grabbed a handful of the salt and offered it to George
in a mocking gesture with no apparent harm to himself.

"You to whom I have given so much!?" He told George.

And then the monster fell back
like a mortally wounded beast.

  George did not know what to make of it.

"I have made a living paradise for you and your family
in that village!" It cried out with almost its last breath:
"Why must you pity me?!"

"Traitor!" The Ogre finally spat out at George,
even as it died:

"Why couldn't you remain grateful to me?
Why can't you hate me?"

The Noblest King.

For a long time, George stood there, frozen,
ever mindful of the legend of Alfred the Blacksmith
(and how in it the 'apparently' dead Ogre had 'come back to life'
by taking over the body of the seemingly victorious Alfred).

But after a while, when it looked as if
the legend of Alfred the Blacksmith was not going to repeat itself,
at last George found the courage
and came closer to the dead monster...

He knelt before it and said a brief prayer.
Then he begged forgiveness of the dead beast,
for even if he had not killed it (unless pity alone could kill)
it was true, just as the Ogre had said,
that George had indeed betrayed a being who
had done many kind and beneficial things for him and his family
... and so now George had to bow his head in shame
in the face of the dead Ogre's accusing last words.

"I cannot deny that you were indeed more than kind and generous
with me and my family," George spoke with regret
over the body of the monster: "And yet,
were I the most privileged person in the world
... I could not live filled with gratitude in a paradise made
just for me
watching all my neighbors suffering so much!"

     *  *  *

"But, if not the salt of the earth," the villagers wondered,
"What killed the monster then?"

"Who cares!" said others:

"Perhaps it was just his time to die!"
For it was true that the Ogre had lived a lot longer
than most people there had wanted him to.

"The important thing is that the Ogre is dead at last!"
They all cried happily: "Spread the word:
The Ogre is dead! And never to rise again!"

Well, no sooner had the crowd taken up that chant
than the news that George had somehow managed to slay
the horrible Ogre
spread across the Village of Maromero
and everybody poured out of their houses and began celebrating
as merrily as if the entire village had been reborn that day.

So grateful were they all to George,
not only for having rid them of the Ogre
but for so selflessly risking his own life for their sakes
... that the villagers even proclaimed him their next king
right there on the spot
with a single shout of acclaim.

"Oh, George," said his wife joyously:
"I mean, Your Majesty!"

And she vowed to him absolutely delighted that
he would now be a king (and she his queen, of course).

Only, "Wait!" George told the crowd,
trying to get the merrily shouting and dancing villagers to calm down
long enough for them to listen to what he wanted to say to them:

"I now know where the Ogre came from,"
George was finally forced to shout at the rejoicing villagers
--Something which startled them into a stunned silence.

Every one of them slowly came up closer to him
... certain their brand new future king
had also been blessed with the greatest wisdom
(since, naturally, every last one of them wanted to know the
answer to a question every villager of Maromero had been asking
himself and herself
since the very first day their Ogre had appeared there)...

But, "He came from right here," George told them:
"In the beginning he must have been just like the rest of us:
Poor and hard-working," which was a most shocking bit of news
to the villagers--hardly even possible at all.

And yet, "That is precisely why he was the Ogre of Maromero,"
George insisted, "instead of the Ogre of... someplace else."

Everyone was numb.

Even George's wife:
No one could really understand exactly what it was
George was trying to tell them
by saying such impossible things.

Some in the crowd even went so far as to suggest that
George was sick somehow, maybe still groggy
from the great shock of just having
come back from his battle with the Ogre.

After all, his skin was beginning to look a little leathery
--almost like that of the Ogre himself!

In the crowd, old people were already
reciting the well known legends about the Ogre
(which had always come down to them as
the Ogre having entered the village from somewhere outside it,
that was clear)
... so even to the elders of Maromero
George's words sounded quite unbelievable
and unacceptable, to say the least.

In a word, "Impossible!" Seemed to be the word
heard most from one end of the crowd to the other.

But George still insisted that he knew
what he was talking about: "Listen to me," he said:
"Just listen for a moment: Didn't you hear me before?
THERE WAS NO BATTLE!"

Out of respect for George,
whom they still very much wanted as their king,
they all calmed down and listened
as George told them:

"The Ogre was a lot more than just only himself
the Ogre," said George: "He was also his castle, his evil,
his abuse, his oppression of our village
... our fear of him, especially our hatred of him,
as well as our acceptance of him
(the ease with which we allowed him to be our bully,
then our master, and finally our king)."
Which sounded true enough to the villagers
of Maromero who had lived through it.

"He was our fear of him," said George.
"And he was our respect for and obedience of him
--Those and many more things like that
are what made the Ogre what he really was
--all that he was (and made him
more than what he was just by himself)
... it made him everything we ourselves created."

"Yes, the Ogre is dead," George concluded,
"for I myself saw him die.
But many others besides me have also seen the Ogre die
before, long ago, when Alfred the Blacksmith slew him
in mortal combat--Does not the legend say so?"

All the elders agreed.

"If we do not rid ourselves of all that he was
--in our own hearts--
it will be as if we were to hatch an egg
the dead-again Ogre had left with us:
Before we'd know it
we would again have yet another Ogre in our midst
... as horrible as the old one, and perhaps even worse!"

"Don't you see, don't you understand now,"
George cried out to the villagers: "That's what
the legend of Alfred the Blacksmith has been telling us
all this time: Alfred was not killed by the Ogre
--Alfred the Blacksmith became the Ogre he had just slain!"

"That is why we have never been able to 'kill' the Ogre
for all these centuries until this day
when I could not hate him or feel anything for him
other than pity."

Suddenly all the villagers, from the youngest to the oldest,
understood what George had been trying to tell them.

And they all agreed that 'their' Ogre
had not just happened into the Village of Maromero
(as their ancient legends had tried to tell them)
but had most probably indeed been hatched by the villagers
of Maromero themselves... for it was indeed true
that it was in the Village of Maromero that
the horrible Ogre had happened
and nowhere else in the world.

"Yes," said George the Blacksmith:
"And it is time now for all of us to make up our minds
here and now
never again to give rise to another Ogre in our midst
--ever again!"

Tearfully, everyone present then asked George to forgive them
for having proclaimed him their next king (as,
without really realizing it, they had almost made an Ogre
out of their very own hero).

Even George's wife, who had imagined herself
the next Ogre's queen --for an instant--
was ashamed of her selfishness
before so pure and selfless a husband
... although so very much more proud of him now
than ever before in all her life.

And, tearfully indeed did all the newly freed villagers
of Maromero finally made for their homes
... to give thanks in private that such a noble and true hero
as George, their once and future village blacksmith,
the very salt of the earth really,
had rid them once and for all of the horrible Ogre.

 

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