|Willow's Magpie Tale no. 30|
Many many moons ago, in a far distant land, there lived an evil tyrant called Gessler, who ruled over the people of the mountains with a rod of iron. In the name of the Emperor who had newly appointed him, he demanded absolute obedience from young and old. His word was law, he exacted cruel taxes and punished those who were unable to pay; no matter how much the townsfolk begged and pleaded with him, he stayed deaf and blind to their suffering.
One day he had a large pole erected in the market place and hung his hat on it. Any woman passing it had to curtsey to the hat and any man had to bow to it. The townsfolk did as they were bid, punishment for noncompliance was severe, nobody was brave enough to risk being flogged or worse, lose their life.
It so happened that a famous marksman, by the name of William Tell came into the town, bringing his young son Walter with him. William was a proud man, used to the hard life of the mountains, where it was easy to risk life and limb almost daily in the pursuit of survival.
William, being headstrong and a rebel to boot, ignored the pole with its ridiculous hat on the top and passed by without bowing.
Gessler heard of it, and immediately had William and Walter arrested. Gessler knew all about William's reputation as the finest marksman for miles around. He also knew that William was a troublemaker who could and probably would incite the townsfolk to rise up and rebel against his overlordship.
He therefore devised a cunning plan to stop William and, at the same time, appear as a fair arbiter of justice. He decreed that an apple be placed on Walter's head and that William should split the apple with an arrow from his crossbow. He would have one shot and one shot only. If he hit the apple they would both go free.
William and Walter were brought to the market place. The townspeople gathered, muttering darkly, until Gessler's soldiers roughly herded them into an enclosure formed by their lances and pikestaffs.
William stood, crossbow at the ready. There were two arrows in his quiver. Only William knew that the second arrow was meant for Gessler, should he be so unlucky as to hit his child with the first.
Gessler stepped up to little Walter, who was at a loss to understand the meaning of the drama unfolding.
He was too young to know about tyrants and the cruelty they inflicted. He quite liked being the centre of everyone's attention. His Dad had told him to stand absolutely still, which was a little unusual and Walter shuffled his feet a bit. When Gessler came closer, all Walter saw was the rosy-cheeked apple in his outstretched hand, red and round and juicy. Walter hadn't had anything to eat since early in the morning when they left their farm to come into the town. He was hungry. The apple looked very inviting.
Being a polite little boy, not yet given to rebelling, he thanked Gessler nicely, accepted the apple and took a big bite out of it.
A hundred voices gave a sharp cry.
Walter looked round the assembled townsfolk, soldiers, his father and the man with the funny hat, who had given him the apple.
"What ?", he said.