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THE TILL EULENSPIEGEL SERIES: TALE 21
The 21st story tells of how Eulenspiegel was employed as a trumpeter by the Earl of Anhalt and did not warn of enemies
but sounded the alarm when there were none.
In Eulenspiegel's time, near the end of the feudal age, every overlord had his fortified residence, usually some form of castle. Since
these not-so-noblemen were at each others throats quite often, they also had guards and sentries watching out for their enemies' presence. One of these guard positions was in a watchtower. This lookout was supposed to blow a trumpet, like in this story, or otherwise raise the alarm upon sighting hostile forces in the distance. Naturally, we can trust Eulenspiegel to perform somewhat below par in this tedious job.
This is one of the stories in which there is some wordplay, this time around the German composite verb heranblasen which, depending on the context, means to announce or summon by means of a wind instrument. We can trust Eulenspiegel to make the best of this ambiguity. "Announce" and "summon" as they appear in the text should be considered interchangeable.
Not long thereafter, Eulenspiegel went to the Earl of Anhalt and found employment as a watchtower trumpeter. The Earl had not few enemies and, for that reason, kept many servants, horsemen and soldiers in the castle and the small town, all of whom had to be fed daily.
With all that going on, they forgot Eulenspiegel in his tower and sent him no food. And on the same day it happened that the Earl's enemies rode before the castle and the town, and rustled all the cattle. Eulenspiegel lay at the top of the tower, watched through the window and made no noise whatsoever, neither by trumpeting nor by screaming. When the Earl heard the news of the enemies' raid and he went to chase them with his people, some of them noticed that Eulenspiegel was lying in the window laughing. So the Earl called out to him: "Why are you silently lying in the window?" Eulenspiegel yelled back at him: "I don't like to sing or dance on an empty stomach." The Earl shouted: "Won't you blow that trumpet to announce the enemy?" Eulenspiegel called back: "I can't summon any enemies, the place would fill with them and part of them is already off with the cows. If I summoned even more they'd beat you to death!" For now, only words were exchanged.
The Earl hastened to catch up with the foes and fought with them. And Eulenspiegel was once again forgotten on the tower with no food. The Earl returned; he had recaptured a large number of cattle. So they slaughtered some, cut it up, boiled and roasted it. Eulenspiegel up
there on the tower pondered how to get a share of the loot and watched to see when it was time for the meal. Then he started shouting and trumpeting: "Enemies! Enemies!" The Earl and his folk hastily left the table which was already decked with food. They put on their armour, took their weapons in their hands and hurried towards the gate so they could watch for enemies in the field. Meantimes, Eulenspiegel quickly and smartly climbed down from the tower, went to the Earl's table and helped himself to the boiled, the roasted and anything else that caught his fancy. Then he snuck back up onto the watchtower. When the horsemen and foot soldiers went out they saw no foes at all, so they said to each other: "That rascal lookout did this as a prank," and made their way home towards the gate.
The Earl called to Eulenspiegel: "Have you gone entirely mad and out of your mind?" Eulenspiegel said: "I am not a sneaky man. But hunger and necessity make a man inventive." The Earl said: "Why did you shout "Enemy" even though there was none?" Eulenspiegel replied: "Because there were no enemies I had to summon some." So the Earl said to him: "You're playing on words to make your point. When there are enemies you don't announce them and when there are none you do. That could well become treason!" And he made him come down and replaced him with another trumpeter. Now Eulenspiegel was forced to run out with the rest as a foot soldier. This displeased him immensely and he'd have loved to leave but instead just made the best of it. When they rode out against the foes, he always stayed behind and was the last man out the gate. After the skirmish was over he was always the first back in through the gate. So the Earl asked him how he should take it that he was always the last out then leaving and always the first in when they came home. Eulenspiegel said: "You should not be angry about it. Because when you and your people were eating I sat in the tower and went hungry and that's made me weak. Were I the first to meet the foe, I should have to exert myself more in order to catch up and hurry to be the first at the table and the last to get up so that I'll be strong again. Once I'm strong I will indeed be the first and the last to meet the enemy."
"So I hear rightly," said the Earl, "that you only wanted to bear with me as long as you could sit in the tower?" Eulenspiegel then said: "It pleases some to take away one's rights." And the Earl replied: "You shall no longer be my servant," and sent him packing, which was perfectly fine with Eulenspiegel since he really didn't feel like fighting with the earl's enemies day in and day out.
Translated for E2 from public domain text.