The Tale of Fluting Joe
by Doug Pugh
part 1 of 2
There stands upon a high plateau
on a threadbare outcrop covered in snow
a monument to the great Fluting Joe.
A man of skill he was indeed,
producing any sound with a vibrating reed,
his breath magical with pin-point speed.
He was born in a distant and arid land
near, they say, fabled Samarkand
amidst a rolling sea and nut-brown sand.
Fluting Joe was not his given name,
he was rechristened to honour his earned fame
and humbly he accepted unexpected acclaim.
Poor and harsh was his upbringing,
at his mother’s knee he learnt his singing.
Her hands wrung red with washing and wringing.
His father, it’s told, was some kind of herd.
Nought to the contrary was ever proferred,
though to think him a mere farmhand was absurd.
Joe came to our region at the age of eighteen.
How he came to stray no-one ever did glean.
His life in the desert was considerably mean.
He appeared as a minstrel in our streets,
eking out crusts with his vocal feats
retelling old fables to musical beats.
He caught the attention of the Baron’s musician,
who offered advice and further tuition
well-suiting Joe and his driving ambition.
He was accepted as a member of the baronial court,
though his apprenticeship was amazingly short,
his woodwind skills surpassing those that taught.
His local fame became larger and greater.
At fetes and celebrations his music would cater
to every strata in town — priest or satyr.
Baron called him a jewel in his crown
and took him to the capital to show him around
where he might gain the King’s favour with his magical sound
The King indeed was highly impressed
and gave to Joe a gem crusted chest,
invited him to be a permanent guest.
Joe, however, was a simple soul
life in the Barony made him feel whole,
the prospect of leaving made him too droll.
‘I’m sorry, my Lord, but I cannot let go
from a place which makes me feel aglow.
I’m terribly afraid my answer is No.’
Now the King was a man whose reputation was dread
in rage and in temper, he wished poor Joe dead
and demanded from the Baron Joe’s simple head.
The Baron in fear began to shake.
He asked for a deal to spare Joe’s sake.
‘My Lord, anything. What deal shall we make?’
The King, though, was not so easily bought,
though a deal was clinched after much thought,
a deal that offered scarcely more than naught.
Returning to his castle, the Baron spelled it out:
the Barbarians to the North must be put to rout,
an impossible task for a mere Barony, no doubt.
Price of failure was heavy, Joe’s head still at risk,
subjected to Barbarian onslaught no doubt fairly brisk,
planning went through the night ‘round a table’s disk.
The Baron feared for his own life, too.
The King’s methods he so thoroughly knew
if he failed to deliver one of the two.
To the North about a hundred miles or so
lay the Barbarian lands of King Inigo
never was there a more fearsome foe.
The troops they were rallied and armed to the teeth,
marshalled in rows upon a big heath,
looking up to the castle from far beneath.
Joe pleaded and pleaded to let him go along.
The Baron declined, saying, ‘You’re not that strong,
your greatest help would be to play us a song.’
So Joe stood on a tower at its greatest height
and played a magical song that no other might,
entrancing them all from dark to light
The song contained all that Joe could give
to those brave men below so that he might live
and when Joe gave all, that was quite massive.
When all was done and farewells made,
off went the troops in a grand parade,
deeply moved by Joe’s parting serenade.
Skullduggery, however, was afoot:
the King and Inigo had a shady deal cut
defenceless to the sword the Barony was put.
From the North along a different route
came Inigo’s army, aiming for loot.
From the South came the King to crush them under his boot
With the Barony smashed, the castle surrounded by arms,
Joe sobbed his grief over black, smoking farms
and offered his life to spare further harms.
The King overcome by spite and by greed
could see no sense in such a deed
and continued to ravage without any heed.
Joe knew no answer to such twisted minds
his only recourse lay in musical kinds
flute in hand, he raced up stair winds.
With a throb in his temples, fire in his veins,
his face all contorted, close to insane,
Joe stood upon the tower lit by flame.
Defenders all saw him at the crest of the rampart,
an eerie demon as his tune he did start,
his fingers flying swift as a dart.
Many went silent at the sound of his notes.
They stood around in their blood-spattered coats
as an unfamiliar chill gripped at their throats.
Strange things were happening at Joe’s behest.
The attackers were about to be put to the test.
Dark stormclouds warned of the coming tempest.
Thunderbolts flew in shattering flames,
attackers calling for help in many gods’ names,
rain falling so hard that it smashes and maims .
Inside the castle all were in awe
from the music of power that upon their ears bore,
yet all there were safe within the storm’s roar.
Joe continued on with his vengeful skirl
all wrapped ‘round with his cloak in a swirl
and the storm beat on its relentless hurl.
‘Attack and fight,’ incited King Inigo,
‘would you bend your knee to a musical foe?
Pray god should we never be shamed so low.’
Thus led, the attackers overcame their shock,
though sodden restarted their attack all amok
and started to shatter the castle keep lock.
But Joe was not done yet and continued anew,
playing fire and emotion that he never knew,
his fingers and lips an ominous hue.
The winds ripped round louder and tore at the foe
taking pennants and barbarians beyond mortals’ know
the onslaught again began to slow.
A cry, a wail — ‘The King is dead !
A flying shield took his head !’
Terror struck but Inigo stood in his stead.
‘Once more, once more, this castle we take,
then this flutist will die for our comrades’ sake.’
He would come to rue such a dreadful mistake.
The keepgate had fallen, the castle undone,
storm clouds parted a peek at the sun.
Onto the battlements the invaders had run.
Joe stood to greet them flute in his hand,
no thought of surrender to this ravaging band,
only sorrow and anger for his adopted land.
Inigo stepped now through to the front,
determined to slay this musical runt,
who had dented the edge of his military brunt.