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  • Writer's pictureNathan

Fortune's Guide To Blunderful Living

Updated: Jun 15, 2023


Streams of sunset’s light swamped the city hardscape, shaping silhouettes of the shifting pedestrians postured over spindly shadows. On a patch of green, neighboring a busy street, a male cricket studied the sky to chance a glimpse of a faithful speck of starlight that would emerge from the coming darkness.


This little cricket loved to sing. He was a fine performer of expressive song. And there was glory to be had, that in his warble he may find favor in fortuity, his melodious stridulation to perchance bear an encounter with a female companion. To play for a lover was his dearest desire. Yet it was a hard thing in this city, in the midst of all its noise, for crickets to find one another. What’s more, the recent episodes of heavy rains have drowned out his jingle. Nevertheless, he felt in his heart that he would soon find his mate. When the heaviness of the dust settles, when the air becomes crisp, when twilight casts its shadow, his stage will be set.


The city drew still as the movement of people and carriages found their evening’s end. He thought that on this night, an early onset of song could give him an essential boon, being first to chirp at dusk’s finale. When the cricket spotted the first star to emerge from nightfall, he skipped about the ground, bounding in abundant joy before landing on a flat rock that towered above the turf. Quickening his heart, the cricket vowed that the silvery harmonic made by the rest of his fellows this night would not drown out his tune. He stationed himself, readying for a verse that would ring out to overtake the remaining urban soundscape. However, fortune had a divergent destiny this eve.


The moment he made his opening notes, he alerted the attention of an unusual human. It was a portly man in tattered attire, pulling a loaded cart. The man stopped in his going, seemingly by the curious occurrence of this punctual cricket.


“What gave you the idea to sing before sun’s retreat?” said the man, crouching down to inspect the cricket. “Have I just spotted you at the start of your recital?”


“Well, you see…I am expectant…to get lucky on this night—” the cricket’s words were broken by a disturbance. Just round the street corner came an avalanche of hoove clopping as two carriages raced at horse-strain. A barrel bounced from the first carriage and over the man, just missing him in his squat.


The scene was over as quickly as it started, the carriages careening as they got lost in the streets beyond. The man’s face lit, amused by the happening of a narrowly missed collision. “You are quite the lucky cricket!”


“How could I be lucky?” piped the cricket. “Countless attempts at courtship, and I have yet to attract a mate.”


“It is said that the lucky cricket’s luck is not for the cricket, but for the one who carries it.” With a twinkle in his eye, the man cupped his hand over the cricket, closed it into a hollowed gourd, made a small hole to serve as a viewing window, and fastened it by a leather strip to hang around his neck. “I’ve been on the lookout for you. This merchant needs all the help he can get.”


The man—who evidently was a merchant—walked over to the barrel which lay by the cobbled road, to capture the contents that had been pouring out of a splintering in the wood. He filled a glossy bottle until the liquid ran down his hands. “The authorities giving chase by carriage just now will have been trying to catch those moonshiners for years. Where their luck is bad, mine is good.” The bottle went bottom-up before being corked. “We drink tonight, and in the morning, we make coin on these wares.” The merchant, along with his newly acquired companion, swayed down city streets, pulling his cart as the stars faded in.


 

“Chirp! Chirp! Wake up already!” The cricket tried his best to wake the hungover brute.


It was late morning. Sprawled atop his cart on the canvas that covered his wares, the merchant had drunk himself into a prolonged slumber. The marketplace would not wait for him, and lest he wanted to haul his laden cart around until next week’s market day, the merchant had better get moving.


“Let’s get going! Don’t you have a cart to cash out?”


The merchant sprung to his senses. “Couldn’t you have woken me sooner? There is no chance of us making time now.”


“I couldn’t even hear myself over your snoring!”


The merchant slid down, his rump absorbing the impact of the street at the front of his cart. “What bad luck!” He worked up to his feet. “Have I used up all your fortune already?”


“It is not my fault you drank a river of hooch last night.”


The merchant staggered through alleys and side streets with as much hurry as he could muster, all the while dreading that his wares might fetch little coin due to most orders having likely been fulfilled and most market-goers having already emptied their purses.


When they arrived, the market was nearly empty. All but one noteworthy buyer lingered still, who the merchant knew to be a well-funded wholesale goods dealer. “Do you have time for one more gander at a cache for the benefit of an impoverished man and his cricket?” The wholesaler agreed and tallied the contents as the merchant nervously stroked his sleeves. “Oh, I fear I’m too late to earn the favor of a fair price.”


“On the contrary. You are all but impoverished. And also fortunate to have come by articles of high demand. I will buy all your wares at market rate and then some. To think I almost missed the chance to acquire all this from you at my convenience. My clients will be as pleased as I am!”


The merchant’s carefree pace had not counted against him this time. Turns out, the wares he had unhurriedly collected on his cart had become the sort that turned up in short supply for months now. By some luck, he had bought low and sold high.


“My luck has returned, dear one! I knew you had it in you!” cheered the merchant.


“Don’t spend it all in one place.”


“No.” His eyes wiled down to slits. “I have a surprise for us.”


The cricket was made to wait with the cart, for what the merchant had in store was meant to be theater. Strolling proudly, the merchant, now donning fine dress, returned with a donkey at his side.


“This is your surprise? New clothes and an old ass.”


“Isn’t it wondrous?” He slapped the donkey’s hind as it tiredly ruminated on curd. “A finer beast has not been matched to front a caravan by even the wealthiest merchants.”


In all his time hawking goods, the merchant never before made enough profit to hire an animal to pull his cart. He lugged around his own livelihood for too long, and the other merchants looked down on him for this misfortune.


The cricket inspected the donkey. “It has a lazy eye! Are we expecting this animal to keep to the road?”


The merchant beamed with pride. “Come! We need to restock and prepare for the trek. We have a long day ahead of us.”


They visited shops to acquire housewares, trinkets, implements, and devices of a variety not commonly found in smaller towns. When loaded, the band made its way to the city’s perimeter.


The merchant bade farewell to the city that delivered his riches. The donkey too looked back fondly at his departure, one that entailed freedom from the stalls where none till now gave consideration to his purchase. But most pronounced of all was cricket’s parting with the city. Unlike the other two, his leaving was not a cheerful one. For he felt it had borne the forfeit of hope in a meeting of love.


The wetlands that boarded the city were supplied by the river that crossed this territory. Though not an immense expanse, the only road that wove through the marshes was made rough by erosion. The preferential flow of swelling water from recent rain cut channels and deposited detritus to collect on the edges of ephemeral pools that lined the road. Though the road was elevated above the water, the flooding had been great enough. Deep divots remained as a record of the precipitation, warranting need of repair to the track’s surface.


“I couldn’t have acquired you at a better time.” The merchant turned to the donkey. “You have hard work ahead.” The donkey shook its head as if to oppose.


They got going anyhow as best they could, riding one swale after another. The cart lurched and clunked over each dip as the donkey exerted to keep the pace set by the merchant. Following a particularly large bump, the strapping that held the yoke slipped loose. The donkey freed itself from the cart and trotted ahead, following a bend where the road ahead was hidden by tall grass.


“Whoa! Halt! Heal!” No amount of the merchant’s ineffectual yelps persuaded the donkey.


“Fortune strikes again.” The cricket chortled in his gourd. “Looks like you’ll be pulling now.”


“It’s too heavy for me to tow on this road. Best we run ahead to catch the animal.”


The two caught up to the donkey after the bend. There the donkey stood nosing at something beside the road in the tall grass. To their surprise, the donkey lifted its head, chewing what appeared to be large dried leaves—not the sort of thing one finds in marshes.


The merchant went in for a closer look. “It’s found cured tobacco. A whole bundled sack here at the road’s edge.” The merchant bent down to hoist the bag and, with an inhalation, inspected its contents. “Still fresh. Must have fallen from another merchant’s caravan.” The merchant scanned the reeds ahead. His expression uncovered a smile. “There could be more.”


The merchant was right. The uneven road surface sent dozens of bundles and sacks of goods tumbling off wagons—likely from merchants whose departure came just after market this morning. After some searching, the bulk of these goods were found hiding in the tall grasses at turns in the road.


“There is no luckier cricket than you. Look at this cart!” After the final bundle was loaded, the merchant stepped back to gaze at his cart, its contents a towering heap. “It’s never been this full. I’ll have to help the old ass. Think we can move it?”


“I don’t know what will fall apart first…you, or the cart.”


“Let’s see if we can get it going.” The merchant stood at the back of his cart, turned one shoulder, and leaned with all his weight. The donkey merely stood munching on carrots, raising his head from the freshly placed vegetable bag hanging at the front of the cart.


As the merchant wrestled with the cart, round the bend came a sound of whistling. A wizened, vigorous man with a peak of snow approached the group atop his cart loaded with many wooden things. “Heigh-ho, traveler!” The man gave a salute as he closed in. “Looks like a heavy load.” His horse brayed as they passed. “Good luck to you on the road ahead!” Dust followed their tracks.


“Same to you!” The merchant reset his footing and took a deep breath to give another thrust. “See that you don’t lose your wares to this road!” He heaved again. “Aren’t you going to help, donkey?”


After some persuasion, the donkey began pulling. Together they had the cart rolling, but the mountain of things that sat upon the wood forced its moaning under the strain. The movement was turbulent. Cracks in the road’s surface were amplified. Advancing forward meant suffering collisions with the road. Their progress ended with a wheel splintering in a boom.


“Just my luck.”


“What do we do now?”


“I was worried I was asking too much of it,” said the merchant patting the cart. “I’ll load what I can onto our backs. We’ll have to leave the cart. It’s the best we can do for a hot meal and night’s sleep at the next respite.”


The three made their way through the marsh until stopping at the bridge where the river crossed. Here they found a familiar face, the old man with his horse and cart who had passed just before.


“What happened to you?” The old man looked puzzled by the group's new configuration.


“Greed,” piped the cricket.


“Nonsense. Our cart was simply too heavy for its wheels.” The merchant looked over the old man’s cart. “Where have your wares gone?”


“Stolen by bandits poised on this bridge.”


“Snakes!” The merchant rubbed his belly. “Seems we are both in plight.” It then occurred to him that he would have instead suffered by the bandits had he not stopped to gather what was dropped by other merchants as the old man passed on the road.


“Leastways they were kind enough to leave my horse, cart, and tools. Only half scoundrels trying to make a living like the rest of us.” The old man was a woodworker. He sold decor and furniture as well as bowls, cups, cutlery, dolls and other children's toys—all assortments one might find in one’s home—all of his own making. “You know, I could easily patch that wheel of yours.”


“Could you? That would be a good start, but I fear it only does me good until the next wheel gives way.” His eyes brightened with an idea. “What do you say you also help me transport my goods to the next market in exchange for half the sale?”


The carpenter couldn’t help but show how big a smile he had, teeth as white as his hair. “I’d say yes to that deal.”


With the merchant’s wheel repaired and both carts loaded, the group crossed over the river and through the rest of the wetland, coming upon a small town just as the sun was starting to set. The two men found rest for their animals at stables outside of an inn.


The merchant removed the gourd from his neck to speak to the cricket face-to-face. His gaze revealed a certain kindness. “All this talk of luck today, be it good or bad, and I’m not sure if such a thing really exists.” He looked to the sky. “Truth is, only the stars really know.” He paused for a moment before turning back to the cricket. His tranquil manner expressed a kinship between them. “Despite these years of trying, I have yet to show that I am much good at anything. But I think I’ve learned one thing right. It’s best to make the most of what you have.” He breathed a heavy sigh. “For this reason, I must let you go.” He bent down to release the cricket from his gourd. “I think you will find that this town is much quieter than the big city. More suitable for an extraordinary cricket like you.”


The cricket looked around. The tall grass swayed in the clean air. He sensed the calm that accompanies the quiet of rural living. “I guess, thanks for the ride.” Thinking back on their eventful day, the two couldn’t help but chuckle a relief. “I wish you good lu—I mean…farewell in your travels.”


“Likewise, little one. Now go about your singing. Find that love of yours.”


They parted ways on that night. The merchant continued in his merry, haphazard way—only now a little more well-to-do. The cricket’s exquisite song was fitting for the beautiful countryside, and it was well received. Not long, he met his mate, and the two were swept up in the sweetest kind of love.


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