Once upon a time there was a birthday. It was Mog’s birthday, but he lived in prison, so he didn’t really care. The only reason that he knew it was his birthday was that he’d been scratching the days into the wall and crossing them on every fifth day. He’d gotten to seventy-three sets of five, which was a year.
Last birthday Mog had enjoyed his party too much. It was a giant blowout at the Sop and Spew, his favorite tavern. He’d gotten up on a table, taken someone’s cloak, and started lecturing the crowd like old king Frumptious. It was hilarious, and the crowd loved it, until they all went silent. Mog had just gotten to a part where Frumptious wanted everyone to line up and kiss his royal buttocks when he noticed the royal guard standing around the back of the room. It’s always funny until it becomes traitorous dissention and promotion of insurrection.
Now it had been a year since Mog had a drink. It had also been a year since Mog had eaten his fill. His body had shrunk quite a bit since the arrest. His clothes hung on him, and his shackled leg bounced around in the extra large shackle they’d had to find him. Always had giant calves, Mog had, even as a child. But not anymore. A lifetime of baking and eating what he didn’t sell had made Mog a doughnut of a man, but now he was no more than a crust of his former self.
When he had been brought in, Mog had complained for a long time. They put him down at the end of the cell block, and the half-wit who provided him with food would refuse to give him any if he so much as spoke. So Mog had learned to keep his mouth shut if he wanted to eat. His water bucket was filled once a week, and Mog had long since gotten used to its slimy taste.
A year ago, Mog’s guards had pointed out to him that an ordinary man might slip between this cell’s overly wide bars. They said they would even let him go if he could do it. So Mog had strained and gone purple with the effort, giving the guards some merriment before they went back to ignoring him.
Now Mog looked down at his shackle. It just hung on his poor, scrawny leg. This was the year that he was to be wed, to have finally saved enough to open his own shop in the thieves quarter down by the wharf. But Mog knew his fine bride would have found someone else by now. No chance she’d be waiting around for the king’s justice.
Mog looked around for his chunk of rock to scratch today’s notch into the wall. His rock must have tumbled during the night, because it was resting just outside the cell bars. Mog must have kicked it in his fitful sleep on the mat of filthy straw he called a mattress. Mog reached outside the bars and had to stretch to reach the rock. Without realizing it, he stretched right through the bars so that they hugged him on either side of his ribs.
Down the corridor, Mog heard singing and merrymaking from the guards. He squeezed himself back into the cell as the guards made their way down the cell corridor, shouting into each cell. “Frump is gone! Long live Bumptious!”
When the guards reached his cell, Mog puffed himself up. “Hey, want to see me try to escape through the bars again?” He called to them. The guards laughed and cheered him on, but Mog waited for the words he was looking for. “Sure,” called one of the guards, “if you can get through the bars you can walk out of here. Bumptious doesn’t care.”
Mog wiggled his foot inside his shackle. He spit on his ankle and forced it up through the extra-large hole. While the guards were still staring at his shackle, Mog squeezed himself through the bars. One of the guards started applauding, and the others joined in. “Get out of here,” they waved to Mog.
Back on the streets, Mog made his way back to the bakery of his parents. They were done with the morning rush, and resting before the afternoon onslaught. Mog walked in and his mother immediately shooed him out. “Beggars around back,” she scolded. So Mog walked around to the back of the shop in the alley. There was his mother with three day-old buns. “Here you are, dear. Head over to the public fountain for a wash. Even the river would be an improvement.” Mog took the buns. “Thanks Mom.”
Mog’s mother put both hands to her face and shrieked like she’d seen a mouse in the bakery. She was out the back door and hugging Mog, filth and all. “Sweeting, how are you? Did you escape? You’re tiny and starved. And very smelly! Brot, get out here!” She called to his father. Mog’s father couldn’t believe his eyes, and kept rubbing them like he had flour in them.
Many, Many baths later, and with the removal of most of his hair, Mog presented to his parents in one of his father’s old outfits. “Well, look at you,” said his mother. “Just skin and bones.” But when Mog told them about his escape, they nodded sagely.
Mog’s betrothed couldn’t believe he’d gotten out. She’d broken their engagement and was betrothed to someone else. Since getting out, Mog realized he was not the tavern-going, only happy drunk fellow she’d fallen for in the first place. So he let her go with his blessings.
Not that Mog will have any trouble finding someone else. Lots of girls drop by the bakery for a sight of the escaped convict Mog with his fine high cheekbones. Mog is filling out under his mother’s care, but he never intends to get too large to run. And run Mog does, delivering breads to the doors of the nobles. Mog has figured out a way to get the money he needs for a house in the city without the expense of starting his own bakery.
It doesn’t hurt that Mog doesn’t blow his week’s wages at the tavern every Saturday night.
Moral: Sometimes life’s troubles have something to teach us.
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