Exercise #53: The Unfortunate

Exercise 53 Instructions

Chosen Character: a sea captain who is the son of a poet

Chosen Item: a broken lamp

Liam Gunthersson was the least fortunate person in the world, or so he believed. His father, Gunther Thorsson, a well-known poet and storyteller back home, had been devastated when Liam, then only twelve years old and the youngest of his three sons, had decided he’d rather be a sailor than a poet. Apart from pointing out Liam’s failures as a sailor, the man rarely spoke to his youngest son at all beyond the occasional grunt. What was more, Liam’s failures were so many and widespread it would take years to name them all.

Liam’s elder brothers, Harald and Brokk, had also rejected the life of the poet storyteller. They, however, were both successful in their chosen fields. Harald was a blacksmith and all the townsfolk in Liam’s home village relied on him and his quality metalworking skills. Brokk, on the other hand, was a farmer. His farm could be counted on to produce a surplus each and every year, to the extent that he could afford to feed many of those in town who couldn’t feed themselves.

Liam, on the other hand, didn’t even own his boat, such as it was. The thing leaked horribly, even with Liam’s makeshift patches, there was always water lying in the bilges and he had to bail it out every hour just to stay afloat. He rarely caught any fish in his boat and what fish he caught were always too small. His usual catches involved the trash that careless people threw out into the sea. Because Liam’s boat was so rickety, he couldn’t usually convince anyone but the most desperate to take ship with him. The result, of course, was that he was very poor. He’d even had poor luck finding himself a wife. No woman seemed interested in marrying a poor luckless sea captain. The one girl who had agreed to marry him had taken sick and died a month before the wedding. Liam would have been tempted to beg for food when he wasn’t busy sorting the junk his fraying nets had caught and trying to fix his ramshackle boat, except he was pretty sure he’d mess that up, too.

That is, until one day, as he was sorting through the flotsam his nets had brought in that afternoon, he uncovered a battered, bronze oil lamp. The lamp was badly dented in several spots and the handle was hanging loose from the bottom of the vessel. Not really thinking about it, Liam put the lamp into the canvas bag he kept at the bottom of his boat for things he retrieved that he thought might be salvageable. It was by the repair and sale of many of these things that Liam made the bulk of the money he lived on. It earned him no respect, however. Children in the street called him Liam the Trash Man.

Back in the safety of his ramshackle hut by the beach, Liam drew out the broken lamp and had a look at it. At first glance, it became obvious what the problem was. A small bolt and nut held the handle on at the bottom, but these had rusted and come loose. The matching bolt and nut at the top was completely missing.  Liam removed the remaining fasteners with some difficulty and lay the handle to one side. Then, taking a handful of sand from the floor of his hut, Liam carefully polished away the rust. When the lamp gleamed, he took up the handle and did the same for that. It was laborious work and took Liam hours, but when he was finished, apart from the dents, the lamp looked almost new. A few taps with a hammer dealt with the dents, though not as well, perhaps, as Harald might have done. It still looked battered, but the dents were smaller, now. Once the handle was back in place, the lamp would hold oil again, as it was meant to do. A handful of sand and some oil took care of the rust on the nut and bolt Liam had removed. Then a quick search of the ceramic pot in which he kept other recovered fasteners revealed a second nut and bolt that easily fitted the hole meant to receive the top part of the handle.

Just as he was giving the last bolt a final tightening, there was a sudden explosion and standing in the middle of the room was the most peculiarly dressed man Liam had ever seen. Rather than a tunic, the man wore nothing but a thin vest. His hose were strangely billowy, like a sail with no wind in it. His feet were shod with strange shoes that had curly toes. On top of it all, he wore what looked like a towel or a curtain that was wrapped so many times around his head that it looked about twice as big.

“Greetings, effendi,” said the stranger in an accent Liam didn’t recognize, bowing as he crossed his muscular arms over his equally muscular chest. “How may I serve you?”

“What?” Liam blinked, confused. He glanced at the hut’s only door. The bar was still in place. “How did you get in here?”

“You brought me in, sahib,” the stranger smiled, “with the lamp, there.” He gestured at the table.

Liam glanced uncertainly at the lamp. “Really?”

“Of course, sahib,” the stranger replied. “It is my home.”

“It’s pretty small for such a large man,” Liam frowned, glancing back at the stranger.

“Not for a djinn, it isn’t,” the stranger smiled. “Now, please, tell me how I may repay your kindness.”

“I don’t understand,” Liam replied, wondering what a “jin” could possibly be.

“You have done me a service by repairing my lamp,” the stranger replied. “Now, I desire to use my magic to pay you in kind.”

“Magic?” Liam said, thinking idly about the local druids and wondering if they would think him insane for telling them about this.

“Of course,” the jin replied. “You can ask me for any one thing you like, as long as it is not something you already possess, such as more wishes.”

“W-wishes?” Liam stammered, thinking now about some of the stories his mother used to tell him when he was still a boy.

“That is what I said, sahib,” the jin smiled again amiably, “I will grant you a single wish in return for the kindness you have done me in repairing my home.”

“Okay, then,” Liam smiled, hardly able to believe it, “I’d like to be blessed with good fortune.”

“I cannot grant you that, sahib,” the jin replied sadly.

“What?” Liam shouted, angry now. “But you said…”

“I said I can grant you any wish,” the jin replied, “as long as it is not something you already possess.”

“What do you mean, I already possess it,” Liam growled. “I don’t have good fortune. I mean, look at this place!”

“Yes, sahib,” the jin replied, gesturing to the hut. “Look. You have four walls, a roof, a door. You have food to eat and a place in which to sleep. You have money and clothing and work and health. You are most fortunate.”

Liam blinked, thinking about what the jin had just said. Now that he thought about it, there were several people in town that lived in the streets, begging for money or just bread. Many of them were naked, some were sick and some often died of hunger or thirst. The jin was right. He was fortunate. Why hadn’t he seen it before?

“So, sahib,” the jin repeated, smiling, “how may I serve you.”

“Well,” Liam said, seating himself in his rickety wooden chair, still thinking about those who were less fortunate than he was, “I barely make enough money to feed and clothe myself. I sure wish I made enough to be able to help others.”

“That, I can grant you,” said the jin and, with a twinkle in his eye, he spread his hands, then brought them together above his head in a loud clap. There was a blinding flash of light and Liam was alone again. Looking down, Liam noticed a small tag made of parchment attached to the newly repaired lamp. The message written on it read “Sell me.”

The next day, Liam sold the lamp to one of the more well-to-do townspeople, along with a fair number of other things he had salvaged and repaired. The money from the lamp alone was enough for him to buy a new boat and new nets. After that, Liam’s fortunes seemed to change, if only a little, for the better. During the months that passed, he became well-known around town as a man with a big heart for, rather than spending the money he was now able to make selling fish, along with the flotsam he gathered from the sea, to make his own life better, he used it to help the town’s downtrodden and depressed as well as he was able.

Of course, Liam’s life didn’t improve completely. His father still belittled him. His brothers were still much more successful than he was. He remained unmarried. Still, to this day, he has never been heard to complain about his luck. In fact, if you ask him, he will tell you he feels extraordinarily fortunate.


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