Long ago, before they sold the air, a shoemaker by the name of Elsir lived on the outskirts of Stupi, a small town in the mountain kingdom of the north. He was a small, humble man with deep eyes, and everyone agreed that he had a rare and peculiar talent for rectifying all kinds of disease and disorder.

The gift had come upon him when a stranger who was passing through the town was knocked over by one of the local buses outside his cobblers shop. The doctor was out of town, and Elsir was moved by compassion for the victim, who was in great pain from a leg, that was quite obviously broken. He was also moved with shame that the local bus had caused the accident, for it had been speeding along at more than 10 miles to the hour in a street crowded with walkers. Acting on impulse, Elsir laid his cobblers hands on the top and bottom of the twisted leg and pulled it straight while calling on the Great Spirit of the mountains to undo the wrong that had been done. The onlookers were surprised to see the injured man smile, move his leg, testing it, and then climb to his feet, beaming gratefully at Elsir.

The cobblers life was never the same again. An ever increasing stream of people came to him for his touch. Always Elsir would simply lay his leathery hands on the injured part, or if no-one was sure of the site of the problem, on limbs, body and head in turn, and always ask the God of the high mountains to undo the wrong. The experiences of the sufferers varied: sometimes they felt warmth, sometimes cold, sometimes nothing. Sometimes cure came instantly, sometimes days even weeks afterwards. Always though the cure came. Elsirs touch, or his God, never failed: fevers, injuries, malformations, cancers and haemorrhages all responded. He never attempted to undo death, even the most tragic, holding that it was not for him to meddle with affairs that concerned the decisions of the spiritual authorities. Equally, he never turned away any ill person, although he often gave a gentle rebuke to those who had brought their illness upon themselves.

After not many months the inhabitants of the town of Stupi were the wealthiest people in the mountains. They prospered from providing food and lodgings to the people who came from far and wide, even from the great towns on the plains, to seek healing at Elsir's hands.

But Elsir did not prosper. He bad neither time nor space to carry on his shoemaking and mending. He could not cross his legs or thread his needle for the press of bodies who sought him out. Naturally he never sought a fee for his services, for how could he charge for something that did not belong to him? Instead, he left a small box by the back door with a notice that said 'The body must eat'. At first, donations filled the box, and his income went up, although the excess tended to find its way onto the dinner plates of the poor. But time passed, and people found that healing occurred regardless of whether or not they put a donation in the box. To be sure, the poor continued to give generously, to the maximum of what they could afford, but they also had to eat, and even a months wage for a poor man is unable to keep one in food for a week, as everyone knows. So as the years passed, the cobblers shop grew more shabby, and the cobbler grew thinner, although his eyes shone brighter in his bony face, like stars on a clear night in the mountains.

Gradually Elsir slipped down: he couldn't afford soap, and his richer clients made disparaging remarks about the smell under their breath as they entered the door of his house to be healed. Eventually, Elsirs stomach, lacking food to eat, began to eat itself. He grew thinner and thinner and he was barely able to open the door to visitors although his healing touch became stronger as his body grew weaker.

One morning his door remained shut, although it was well past five in the morning. The door was forced open, and the people found only the shell of Elsir lying still and cold on his bed, his spirit being well away in the brightness above the mountains. It was clear that he was completely dead.

Much discussion ensued in the town about the great healer's inability to keep himself healthy, or to cure himself, although the poor tended to take Elsir's side, agreeing with his decision to leave. The merchants and innkeepers shook their heads ruefully, knowing full well that his absence would hit their profits hard. The town council put up a fine statue to Elsir and spent much money in preserving the old shoe shop as a shrine and a museum, in order to try to attract the tourists, but despite their best efforts the number of visitors to Stupi fell away, and with it the prosperity of the town.
The only group to be satisfied with the out turn of events were the medical and pharmaceutical guilds: they reopened smart clinics all over the town, and once again supplied nauseous, ineffective and dangerous medicine to all who could afford it.

© Richard Lawson

© 2001 R. Lawson This page was last updated on January 19, 2002