A pedantic little tale in slight homage to Steve Ditko.

       Please note:  This is an apocryphal tale of Simon Pariah, told from a perspective other than that of his Journals.  The veracity of this anecdote in the canonical body of the Journals cannot be verified.

       Beneath a luminous full moon the traveler slept, wrapped loosely in his bedroll beside the small, cheery fire that he had built for his supper and left burning to keep him warm through the night and hold off the forest creatures from his impromptu bedchamber.  Unfortunately, not all the creatures in the forest this night were intimidated by the flame.  Rather, some were actually attracted to its glow in the cold and dark of the night.
    Baldur the Brigand was not known for his courage.  Given an opportunity, he would gladly flee any confrontation and risk the label of coward rather than stand and hold ground against even the weakest of opponents.  "Better a live coward than a dead brave man," he was known to remark on times.  Of course, neither was Baldur the Brigand particularly known for his skill at thieving.  More skilled cutpurses would remark, often in his earshot, that he would very likely get arrested if he tried to pick his own pocket.  The fact that he had acquired the name "Brigand" amongst the criminal community was more a sarcastic joke amongst that brotherhood than it was an assessment of any ability on Baldur's part.
    Because of this lack of essential character roundness, and because of an incident involving three fresh meat pies and a farmer's wife with a rolling pin, Baldur found himself alone in the forest this particular night, peering from behind a tree at the inviting glow of the traveler's fire.

    In the glow of that fire, Baldur could see the fine, supple pair of leather boots that stood on this side of the makeshift hearth.  Baldur glanced down at his own unshod feet, cold and wet since his ragged slippers had fallen off in the stream he had crossed at a run to escape the hard, wooden wrath of the wife of Farmer Lorenzo.  Feeling so acutely the pathetic state of his current affairs emboldened Baldur uncharacteristically, and he grinned broadly to himself, considering what good fortune had crossed his way.  "What a fine pair of boots," he mused.  "Why wit' me poor soakin' feet in the like of them, what I couldn't make of meself!  Why, a pair of boots like them could walk a man a t'ousand miles, and do all kinds of wondrous t'ings.  A man could be king of the world!!  Sure, it'd be nuttin' to get them meat pies from ol' Missus Lorenzo if I had them boots to run in!"

    So far went the philosophical musings of Baldur the Brigand.

    Reasoning that, as tough as the traveler appeared to be, he was asleep and all the way across the fire from the boots, Baldur decided to take advantage of the good fortune offered to him and with a single bold dash across the small clearing, snatched the boots and disappeared again into the ring of trees, large with self-satisfaction.

        Next morning, Simon woke with the sun as it poked its golden eye above the tops of the trees.  Sitting up in his bedroll, he stretched out the kinks earned from his lumpy "mattress" and was in the process of rising to dress when he caught the very noticeable absence of his footwear from the place in which he had left them the preceding evening.  A deep frown crossed his features, as he quickly reached the obvious conclusion and chastised himself silently for being so lax in his alertness.  It would not be so bad, were it not for the fact that he was at the moment in a stage of travelling light, and those boots had been the only footwear he had been carrying.  He had quite a distance to go until the next town, and this would make going a little rough for a while.

    Still, resigned to the facts of the situation, he shouldered up his bag of belongings which constituted the entirety of his current estate and set off along the road to the town, his bare feet prickling from the stony terrain with each step.

    About three hours later, just as the sun was indicating that it was a little too late for breakfast, but if you would hang around for a while it would be getting to lunchtime very shortly, Simon reached the town.  Far from being any place of great size or renown, it would nevertheless serve his current needs.  It did not have a restaurant, nor much of an inn, nor even a proper marketplace.  But, it did have the one thing he required more than any other at present:  a cobbler's.
    Skirting around a child and a dog playing with a hoop in the middle of the street, bidding a good morning to the washerwoman in a doorway who nooded curtly at first, then frowned in disapproving curiosity when she saw his unshod state, Simon proceeded to the shop with the sign of the shoe, pushed open the heavy wooden door and stepped into the dusty gloom of the interior.

    Seated at a low workbench which ran most of the width of the interior was the cobbler, a trim old gentleman in a white shirt and black vest, with a shining, bald pate and leathery face.  He appeared to be evolving into a piece of his own handiwork, a buffed, polished brown shoe of a man.
    He seemed about to speak, perhaps to ask what he could do for Simon, but then his eyes caught the pack on the traveler's back, and then followed a straight line down to the bare feet which disturbed the dust on his floor.  Grasping the situation immediately, he held out his polish-stained hand and said "Four silver pieces".  It was not a price which invited bargaining.  Simon, not being able to meet that price on this present day, thought he would try anyway...nothing to lose, whatever the outcome.  "One silver piece is all I have....can you not find a few scraps of leather to sew together for me?"
    The cobbler lowered his chin and looked up at Simon from under bushy white brows.  "Four silver pieces.  That is my price.  The leather would cost me at least two, and it would take hours to put together something suitable for traveling."  As he spoke, his hand went to his little wooden hammer as if he expected to need to defend himself against a violence.
    "Well, four silver pieces it is then.  I am afraid it is too steep for my purse at present.  I thank you for your time anyway."  And Simon made to exit the shop once again, regretfully but definitely.
    Discovering that no robbery was to be afoot, and that further argument would not hinder his work this day, the cobbler took quick stock of his departing customer.  Noticing the straightness of Simon's back and the cut of muscle in his forearm, he saw that this was a man who was not unaccustomed to work, and so hit upon an idea.
    "Wait," he spoke to Simon's back.  "Perhaps we can come to some kind of agreement after all."  As Simon turned back to face him, the old man held up one bony finger in inspiration and winked knowingly.

        An hour later, Simon found himself up to his neck in chores.  Wood needed cutting, the old man had explained to him, and floors needed mopping.  It seems the boy contracted to be his apprentice had decided to pursue an easier, more popular line of work, perhaps something involving sheep.  Rather than keep an unwilling servant, the cobbler had let him go, with the result that he now found his home and shop "falling down around his ears", as he had put it.  As he worked to keep up with his steady flow of orders from this and the surrounding townships, his daily chores and worse, his diet had begun to suffer.  In exchange for a good days work, he would stitch a pair of boots that would be adequate to Simon's needs.
    So, Simon mopped, and chopped, and swept and hammered and sawed and mended and even cooked.  For the better part of the day, until the sun was settling down to evening, he labored at the duties of the cobbler's home and business.  By the time he finished, the property looked as good at it had for many a day.  Certainly better than when that shiftless shepherd boy had tended it.  Simon would not be any gentry's first choice for butler or master carpenter, but he was as good a handyman as ever was, and was never afraid of the work or of getting dirt on his palms.
    When the sun lit the sky with the day's last explosions of crimson, he brought the evening stew to the cobbler, along with a bowl the craftsman had told him he could claim for himself.  For a short time, they ate in silence.  Simon shared some of the old man's beer, but refused the offered pipe....tobacco was never much to his liking.  With the meal done and the cooking area cleaned once again, the cobbler produced to Simon the boots he had spent a fair part of the day working on.  They were nothing fancy, no silver buckles for a gentleman, nor silk brocades or supple suedes to display while prancing one's pony through the township.  They were dusty gray, stiff, thick and heavy, with most of the weight coming from the soles.  They were oiled to keep out the moisture, and the heels were solid and sturdy.  Simon knew that they could slosh their way through bogs if they had to, and would not permit the stones of the road to cut his feet anytime soon.  The heavy rough leather would keep his feet warm in winter, and the stiff soles would give him good purchase in awkward terrain.  They were a good pair of boots, and his thanks to their maker was genuine.

    Their bargain concluded, Simon shouldered his pack, and set off on the road again.  The cobbler had offered a bed for the night, but Simon thought that to accept would be to take unfair advantage of the man's good nature.  Instead, nightfall found him again in the forest, spreading his bedroll before a cheery fire to warm him through the night.  His new boots, barely marked and little dusty from the few miles he had walked in them, stood nearby in his line of sight.  Tired and content with his day's lot, Simon lay down to sleep.

    Baldur the Brigand could not believe his good fortune.  This traveler was simply asking for it, offering up his goods to be plucked.  From his vantage point in the trees, he watched as Simon lay down several yards away from his new boots.  With his own feet shod in the ill-gotten gains of the night before (they were a little tight, but didn't they look good!), he had gained a temporary measure of self-confidence, and his presence this night was due to his quick theft of a round of cooked sausage from Stanley the butcher, with which he had hurried off to this forest clearing to make his supper.  His banquet complete, he had been relieving his bladder in the trees when Simon had come into the clearing and begun to set up camp.  Recognizing his pigeon of the night before, and seeing the fresh new pair of boots that Simon had placed by the fire, greed welled up strong in Baldur's fiendish mind, and he stayed hidden until Simon fell asleep.  What a fine new pair of boots!  Maybe even better than the ones he was now wearing!  If he had those, he could keep the better of the two, and sell the other pair!  What luck!  What fortune!!

    Made bold and perhaps a little careless by his recent feats of bravery, Baldur stole towards the fire, paying little attention to the sleeping figure a few feet away.  Snatching the new boots under one arm, he straightened, then froze as he felt a point at his neck.  The traveler had awakened, and was holding a wicked looking dagger at a point just beneath Baldur's chins, having obviously stolen up to the thief while he was preoccupied with his treasures.  Baldur knew that there was no way to hide from his guilt in this situation....no explanation or excuse could get him out of this fix, and he felt the pork sausage rumble uncomfortably in his stomach.  Putting on his meekest face, trying to look small, harmless and penitent all at the same time, he held up the boots to Simon as if he had just finished polishing them and was now presenting them back to the owner.  Simon only frowned, an expression that was made all the more sinister by the deep shadows the firelight cast on his features.  His was not a merry face at the best of times, and now not a hint of forgiveness or mercy showed in his ancient eyes.  Glancing down at the thief's feet and recognizing his own lost boots of the night before, he fixed the thief's eye again and grinned in a way that could only be called "hungry".  Baldur tried to reswallow his innards as he contemplated the horrible tortures this person had in mind for him that would make him smile so.  Too fat to run, too guilty to lie, and too scared to faint, he simply cringed, closed his eyes, and waited.....

    Shortly after, the wood creatures were disturbed from their sleep by hoarse panting, and the sound of running feet, as Baldur fought his way through the woods to find a hiding place for the night.  The ground was cool, and the pine needles and acorns were sharp; roots seemed to wait to trip the fleeing thief.  This observation was brought painfully home to him by the fact that his feet were bare as a babe's, and he was not the sort used to either the exertion or the exposure.

    Back at the fire, Simon lay back again in his bedroll, fairly sure that he would have no further interruptions this night.  Before he closed his eyes to sleep, he took one last, fond look at the two pairs of boots, one new, one slightly used, standing within easy reach between him and the fire.


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