By Colin Heintze
It was twenty years ago that Aldo came to this village. It was quite the event.
Usually we don’t get more than five or six travelers passing through our village every year, and not since the oaks were acorns has one been a knight. After Jenny moved in, nobody would visit us.
It was embarrassing knowing what we had become—a blank spot on the map. We had gotten the reputation of a place no traveler wanted to visit, and knew down to our marrow that Jenny was the reason for it. That’s why when Aldo came prancing in on his pretty charger we made a point of putting on our best shirts and coming out to say hullo.
The women were crowding around him like a flock of hens when he took off his helmet. He shook out long, amber locks that fell over shoulders I could have yoked my plough to. He wasn’t a heartbeat past twenty, his face fair as fresh snow.
Aldo dismounted and introduced himself. He bowed and held out a coin to whoever would board him for the night. We told him to put the money away, that we were good courteous folk and wouldn’t hear of accepting payment for our hospitality. Everyone except that scoundrel Ralf, who would have taken Aldo’s coin, and horse, and shirt off his back if given the chance.
I’d an extra room since my two youngest died, so everyone decided Aldo would pass the night at my cottage.
But, before I go on about Aldo, I should back up a bit and tell you about Jenny Green-Teeth.
No one knows how Jenny came to live in Erik’s pond. Most people agree it happened during the flood, that when the river receded it left something behind, something big and green and nasty.
A few weeks after the flood one of the village boys came racing through town. He was wailing and crying, looking white as a sheet and just about as sturdy. When we got him calm enough to speak, he told us that he and his sister had been playing by Erik’s pond when some green lady jumped out of the water and took his sister. Nobody was more shocked than Erik himself, and within minutes we’d grabbed our axes and bills and were marching to his farm.
The pond had taken a bad turn. Before the flood Erik kept it stocked with fish, but nothing lived there anymore, nothing except a crust of slimy pond-scum that bubbled and popped on the surface of the water.
The boy begged Erik not to approach the water, but Erik wouldn’t listen. The moment Erik’s foot fell on the bank, the water surged. A horrible, green woman came lunging out. Her arms were nearly the length of a man and her face had a bloated, fishy look to it. Broad, knobby hands wrapped around Erik’s neck and pulled him under. The pond-scum bubbled a little more than usual until Erik stopped kicking.
That’s when we knew we had a monster in our village. The boy buried his head in his mother’s skirts and sobbed about those horrible green teeth, so that’s what we called her: Jenny Green-teeth.
From then on everyone steered clear of Erik’s pond. Erik’s widow moved in with kin in Mayshire, and soon Erik’s farm had gone to nature. Thistles reached up to a man’s ears. Serpents weaved through their stalks like rabbits through their warrens. Except for a few boys that liked to throw rocks into Erik’s, or now I should say Jenny’s, pond, nobody went near the place.
Still, Jenny got her share of victims. A three-year-old girl got lost and wandered up to the pond. Her mother grabbed her just as Jenny sprang. Both pulled. The mother got her daughter, and Jenny got the girl’s arm. Years after, the girl swore she could feel pain in the missing arm, which we all figured was the times Jenny was gnawing on it somewhere under the water.
Then there was Heneric. Heneric was a mean, coarse fellow that kept the village up all hours with his drinking and carousing. One night he was boasting he could take any man in town. One of his friends suggested he try his luck with Jenny Green-Teeth.
“Ah, shut up, you,” Heneric said.
“Of course, if you think you can’t beat her…”
“Who says I can’t! I’m not afraid of nuthin’, not man or beast or even monster. Let’s go!”
His friend laughed and told Heneric he was merely jesting. But Heneric had made up his mind. In a few minutes he was parading through the streets, his friend begging him to turn back. A crowd of people came out and followed him to Erik’s farm. They held their breath as Heneric dipped a toe into the pond and launched a big glob of spit into the water. Nothing happened. Heneric started pacing around the banks, calling Jenny a coward and a fiend and other things I’ll not be repeating.
He carried on like that for a few hours until he’d shouted himself hoarse. By then, just about everyone in the village was watching. A few even clapped as Heneric put his hands on his knees and wheezed out a few more oaths.
Then, she sprang. See, Jenny was smart, or at least had a sense of humor. Heneric was a big, strong wight, and she waited until he had tired himself out before dragging him under. It’s a tragedy and all that, though I can’t say anyone misses him.
A month later, Aldo visited our town.
We were in my cottage eating dinner. I had invited all my friends to entertain our guest, everyone except Ralf. That snubbing is where people say my feud with Ralf started, but that’s a different story altogether.
Everyone was impressed with Aldo. He had manners, real manners, not the kind people use to spin gold out of lies. He was the picture of graciousness and courtesy, listening to our stories without interruption. He never pitied us for our poverty, nor did he pretend that we shared something in common. There was nothing false about him and even some of the rougher, coarser townsmen didn’t snicker at his pretty face or fancy way of talking.
The candles were guttering on the table and we’d all had quite a bit to drink when I asked, “So, Sir Aldo, might I inquire why you are passing through this village?”
The young man’s face flushed like a plum.
“You may, though I am no ‘Sir’. I am not yet a knight, but a mere squire.”
Everyone cried out at such an injustice, which Aldo silenced with a raising of his hand.
“As to your question,” he said. “I am traveling the realm seeking adventure. If am to find a just and able lord to take me into his service, I must make a name for myself. Which, reminds me: you people have been so civilized and hospitable. Surely, there must be some service I can do for you? Perhaps you have some bandits that need cowing, or a cruel magistrate that requires justice?”
“There’s a dragon,” one of my neighbors slurred. “Up yonder mountain.”
“Nay,” said another. “Tis’ a basilisk. One glance from that fiend will turn a man straight to stone.”
“Let him alone and stop teasing!” I shouted. The table fell silent. After a moment, Eadwyn the Miller said, “There’s Jenny Green-Teeth.”
It was too late. A chorus went up around the table. I kept protesting, and they kept talking over me. By the time it was over they had lifted Aldo onto their shoulders and were carrying him towards the village.
I was there for the preparations. Aldo listened as they told him about everyone Jenny had killed in the past couple of years.
He nodded and fell into thought, breaking the long silence with, “Why do you suppose she waited so long to take Heneric?”
Some of us shrugged, others scratched our heads.
“Because,” he said, thrusting up a finger. “He was drunk. She waited for him to sober up before taking him under. She must not like alcohol.”
Everyone thought that was a right good explanation. He became very excited and turned to us, saying, “I’m going to need some of your carpenters, and as much wine and ale as you can spare.”
A roar went up and everyone ran to get the things Aldo asked for. Even Ralf pitched in a cask of wine, though he insisted Aldo pay for it until we threatened to wring it out of his scrawny neck instead.
The next day we went to Jenny’s pond. With us we had six casks of wine, three of brandy, and fourteen barrels of ale. The carpenters had worked through the night making the long chutes that Aldo had specified.
Groups of our strongest men picked up the chutes and placed the ends in the pond, keeping well away from the banks as they worked. From thirty feet away, we were able to pour all the beer and wine into the water. Within a few minutes, some of us had noticed that the level of the pond had risen.
We noticed something else, too: the water was bubbling. The more we poured in, the more the water boiled.
“Grappling-hooks, now!” Aldo cried.
Our men rushed forward and cast their hooks into the pond. When they didn’t catch on anything, we reeled them in and threw again.
“I’ve got something!” Eadwyn the Miller shouted. The other men threw their hooks at the same spot as his. The ropes snapped taught. Our fellas threw all their weight into pulling. After a good ten minutes of struggle, the pond-scrum broke to show a sickly, green thing being dragged out of the water. The women screamed. The men cheered.
Jenny was the color of mushy peas. Ropey arms hung well past her knees. Her legs were long and folded-up like a frog’s. Her fingers and toes were webbed, and by the way her ribs showed she hadn’t had a good meal since dining on Heneric.
She was drooling and hiccupping, drunker than a friar. The men cheered and swarmed her, kicking and spitting as they cast their nets.
We tied her up and dragged her to the village. Aldo led, his sword held aloft and his armor glinting like a whole other sun.
Everyone came out to see Jenny Green-Teeth. Mans the butcher got a meat-hook from his shop and suggested we hang her from the post in the square. It took a good six men to lift her. Her mouth was hanging open, so we didn’t have much trouble getting the hook in. It pierced the roof of her mouth and came out just below her eye. She started thrashing and gurgling as blood ran down her throat.
Jenny was dazed until she got the oil. One of the women had been frying cakes when Jenny was dragged past her window. She ran out and threw the oil on Jenny’s face. That woke her up. She screamed like the Devil and everyone threw up their hands and applauded.
A few boys cut birch-branches and ran up to Jenny. They lashed her body until the flesh had been flayed off. Some men approached with knives and sawed off her breasts, holding them over their heads and displaying them to the cheering crowd. The whole time, Jenny screamed.
The crowd encouraged the men further, so they took their knives and cut Jenny open at the belly. One of the fellas reached in and began piling her guts around her feet. She wasn’t screaming anymore, just kind of moaning and tossing her head.
Two women ran up, one with a handful of manure, the other with a kettle of hot coals. They almost beat each other senseless arguing over who got there first until the crowd started chanting “Both! Both!” The women obliged and stuffed both coals and dung into Jenny’s body. Jenny howled, tears streaming out of her cloudy, fishy eyes. Everyone pointed at her and nearly fell over laughing.
By now, Aldo’s face looked about as green as Jenny’s. I went up and put an arm around his shoulders.
“We can’t thank you enough! You made all of this possible. You’ll be a knight in no time, just wait an’ see! If you don’t, then there’s no God in Heaven!”
He probably had too much to drink, because he only shook his head and muttered something to himself.
Eadwyn came up with a pair of pliers he’d gotten from the smith and twisted off pieces of Jenny’s flesh. She was barely responding anymore, so we decided we’d had our fun and would put an end to her. We piled straw and faggots under her feet and set them alight.
I suppose Jenny had a little more fight in her, because when those flames licked her feet she jerked and let out a wail like Death itself. The skin of her feet crackled, rose, and turned white like parchment. Fat was dripping off her and sizzling on the ground.
Then, Jenny stopped thrashing. Her face showed a sudden calm. She looked through the crowd right at Aldo. Aldo hadn’t moved a muscle since we’d hung Jenny up. Now, I can’t be sure, but those cloudy, fishy eyes seemed to be asking Aldo something, almost begging him.
Aldo nodded and got up. The crowd quieted. He drew his sword and struck off her head with a single blow.
Everybody cheered as the body flopped onto the pyre. Everybody but Aldo, who just sheathed his sword and walked away. We found that a little odd, but all agreed he was simply too modest to stay for an ovation.
The only thing Aldo said to me was that he was sacking-in early. I begged him to join the celebrations, but he put up his hand and sulked away.
I didn’t see him when he left in the morning. Nobody did. He must have mounted that pretty charger and left while the moon was still out.
We still celebrate Aldo’s victory over Jenny Green-Teeth. Every year we make a Jenny out of straw and rags and hang her from the post in the square, lashing it with birch branches and cutting it open with knives. Only our finest boy gets to play the part of Aldo and deliver the killing blow. It’s considered quite an honor.
Still, I wonder what happened to the young knight. I don’t presume to know a knight’s business, but I can say there was something very peculiar about the way he left. When I woke up I saw what he had left behind: his sword and armor. What could he have been thinking when he slunk away, not even a parting word, without the tools of his trade? I’ve nearly driven myself mad wondering about that.
That’s why I have the things you see in my cottage, why I polish them every day until he returns. I hope he does, too. Everyone would love him to be here on the day we celebrate in his honor. That’s my one regret about the whole episode, I suppose—that we never got to show him proper gratitude. Showing gratitude is damned important to us. After all, we’re good, civilized people here.
Colin Heintze is a lifelong science fiction and fantasy fan whose work can be found in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Lore, and Fictionvale. Along with W.H. Minor, he also co-authored the epic space opera “Demon’s Bounty,” which will be available this spring.