From Various Accounts and General Legend
It befell in the days of Ivan Nostram, when he was King of all the lands of Rethany and so reigned, that there was a boy who lived on a farm. That boy was born the son of farmers and his elder brothers were each farmers, and in truth, he knew only two people who were not farmers—his aunt and uncle who lived in a village two days south. From birth, it seemed that his destiny was to remain in such a condition for all of his life, just as his father had done before him, and his father before him. However, upon reaching his fifteenth or sixteenth summer, his destiny was begun anew.
His family had just finished taking in their harvest, and he, being the oldest son still in the house of the parents, was charged with helping his father to take the harvest to the nearby town for market. Their first day at market was routine; they sold many of their crops, and stocked up on the things they would need for the coming winter. As a celebration for their success, the boy’s father decided to take his son to the local tavern. As the night progressed, they drank progressively more and more. It was in the height of their inebriation that the thief entered the tavern. The thief was a professional, and had timed his entrance perfectly. Everyone in the tavern was just afflicted enough to not notice a swift change of weight in their coin purse.
The thief made a great show of drinking his fill, and visited every table to carouse with the patrons. At each table, he would pick someone’s pocket, and then buy them a drink to set them off their guard. The whole tavern loved him. He finally made his way over to where the boy and his father were but, just as he arrived at their table, a man at the bar found his coin purse devoid of all its coin.
“I’ve been robbed!” the man shouted.
The thief knew that he had not a moment to lose, so he quickly planted the stolen coins on the boy. The tavern went into an uproar to find out who had been stealing from them. Immediately the thief fell under question, as he was the only one anyone remembered visiting all of the tables. However, after searching him as thoroughly as possible and failing to find anywhere near the correct amount of coins, they began to fear that they would never find the money. It was at this point that the boy and his father felt it was time to leave for the night. The boy, upon standing up, tripped and fell to the floor. His fall caused the money to fly from his tunic and crash to the floor. Suddenly everyone was looking at him.
“Count it,” the bartender said.
They added it up, and it was the exact amount that had been stolen. The boy tried to protest, but no one would listen, and they threw him in the stocks to be hung at the end of the week.
The thief was not at all happy with the night’s outcome. Not only had he not made any money, an innocent boy was soon to be hung on his account. He was a simple pickpocket for a reason—he abhorred violent crime. He could not let another man die for his sake. He devised a plan to pick the lock on the stocks at night, and free the boy.
When the following night fell, the thief snuck down to the stockade with all of the stealth and skill he possessed. However, as luck would have it, just before he arrived at the stocks, the guards both went to relieve themselves. Thus it was that when he arrived, he found an unguarded prisoner before his eyes. He could not believe his luck, and quickly began to work on the locks binding the boy. Quiet as he was, he still woke the boy, who asked a bit loudly, “Why are you helping me?”
The thief was silent for a moment before saying, “I was the true thief, and cannot allow another man to die for my crimes.”
The boy did not take kindly to this revelation. He became very angry and began shouting for the guards to come and arrest the true thief. The guards did come, and did as the boy demanded. Unfortunately, they did not replace the boy with the thief, but instead set him to the stocks next to the boy.
“Will you not free me now?” cried the confused boy.
“You have been caught stealing, and your accomplice has been caught attempting the release of a prisoner. Why ever should we free you?” the guards asked.
“Because I am innocent! He is the true thief!” the boy argued.
However, the guards would not listen, and soon the boy fell again into despair.
Three days passed, and the father grew increasingly saddened at the fate of his son. However, on the fourth day, there arrived in town a recruiting party for the army of the King of Rethany. The King’s wars during the summer had come to a close, and the ranks of his army needed much refilling. The father, desperate for any way to save his son, came to the head recruiter and explained the situation of his son.
“I am sorry for your loss, but what on earth can I, a recruiter for the King, do about it? I am not a magistrate,” explained the recruiter.
“The King’s army has a unit for criminals, yes?” asked the father.
“And, a sentence to that unit is nearly a death sentence, right?”
“Perhaps you could talk to the magistrate and tell him that the King demands the prisoners of this town to be used in his army. Surely he will not deny you the request.”
“It is highly irregular,” said the recruiter, “I do not deal in additions to that unit. I am a recruiter of peasants only.”
“Please, sir, I beg of you. I will pay you five gold coins if you could help me so.”
“Peh. Five gold coins is nothing.”
At this the father, who could not truly even afford the five gold coins, began to shudder as he attempted to hold back his tears. The recruiter looked upon the man, and thought of his own sons. His heart began to soften, and at last he said, “Alright sir, I shall speak to the magistrate, and you can keep your coins.”
“Oh thank you very much, good sir, I am forever in your debt!” declared the father.
And so it was that on the day of the execution, the prisoners were brought forth to be hanged, only to be given the option of joining the King’s army and serving five terms of war in the Black Cradle—the convict’s unit of the army. Both the thief and the boy accepted the deal, for though five terms was the longest length any man had ever survived in that unit, at least they had better chances of life than should they face the hangman’s noose. For those readers interested in the facts of this account, The Lists of the Enlisted of the Black Cradle show in the year of the Dying Swan that two men were recruited in the town of Salisburg whose names were “Jeremiah Cobbler” and “James Thresher” and that each of the men was sentenced to “Five Termes of Ware for the Kynge.”