The Storyteller (1987–1989): Season 1, Episode 5 - The Soldier and Death - full transcript

An honest soldier receives a ruby whistle, a comparable dance, an unbeatable deck of cards and a magic sack for being kind to three beggars. He defeats a bunch of devils by playing cards and catches them in his sack when they refuse to pay up. Years later, the last devil pays his debt by showing the Soldier a way to tell if sick people have a chance of recovering or not. After a successful career as a miracle doctor, the soldier manages to trick Death itself and trap it in his sack. From then on nobody died. But people were not meant to live forever and soon tired old men and women beg the soldier to set Death free and put things right. However, Death refused to take the soldier, dooming him to roam the Earth forever.

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[Cawing]

[Storyteller]
When people told themselves
their past with stories,

explained their present
with stories,

foretold the future
with stories,

the best place by the fire
was kept for...

[Clinks]

The storyteller.

Hmm.

[Sniffing]

What's in your bag?
I can smell biscuits.

Imagination.



Let me see.

Certainly not.

There are important things
in this bag.

And besides,
I need those biscuits
for my story.

[Growling]

Well, tell your story,
then we can eat them.

Is it an old story?

Ancient. Antique.

Oh, stale biscuits then, ugh.

It begins
a 1000 miles from anywhere,

after 20 years of war,

with a soldier,
an honest soul,

with nothing
but a shilling in his pocket

and 3 dry biscuits
for the long trudge home.



This was his regiment:
The royal hussars.

Oh, yes, a 1000 miles
the soldier marched,

whistling
his tuneless whistle.

And he spent his shilling
and was down
to the 3 dry biscuits,

when one day,
he comes across an old beggar.

ª[whistling tunelessly]

And the soldier stopped
and joined in
with the beggar's fiddle.

The one couldn't fiddle,
the other couldn't whistle,

and quite happy
they both were.

Ha, ha, a merry tune.

Is it worth a farthing?

More, though I can
give you nothing.

I do have a biscuit
you can have.

Then you're
a good man, father,

and I'll thank you.

Go on, eat.

Hmm, you're a good man
who deserves a better whistle.

And off the soldier went
and took up with his
tuneless tune,

but funny peculiar
and strange indeedie,

he had a whistle like...

ª[storyteller whistles]

Well, imagine what rubies
would sound like
if they whistled.

He kept it up all
the way down the road,

until he met another old boy,

down on his luck
and worn at the edges.

And this old man,
he played one, he played
knick-knack on his drum.

And the soldier stood
and whistled his Ruby whistle,

and did a little jig
in his weary boots,

a stumble and a-hopping.

And then he swaps
a 2nd biscuit,

and now look at his dance!

ª[whistling]

Oh, yes, a fine terpsichore,

good as new, a skip
and a hop down the road.

At length he comes
to a 3rd old soak,

worn to a whisper
and playing a game of cards
by the road.

And the soldier looks
as the fellow shuffled
the pack,

and dealt out the cards
one after the other,
a perfect hand,

and gave him a huge clap.

A splendid game.

Worth a farthing?

More, though I have
nothing to give you.

Now, the soldier had
but a single biscuit
in his bag,

and he was hungry as heck,
so he thought on it.

But I have a biscuit
you can share with me.

And the soldier
held out his last dry biscuit
and broke it in 2,

but it didn't feel good,
did it, dearies,

to give the old boy
less than the others,

so he gave him both halves.

You're a good man,

and deserve more luck
than to be
on your last biscuit.

Here, take my cards,
your honor,

and may they never
lose for you.

Take this sack also,

an ugly thing,
but remarkable.

Order a bird in or a beast,

or anything you like,
and it will be there
in a twinkle.

And off he went,
a skip and a whistle

and a light heart,
and an empty sack,

and walked a warm night
and a bright day,
and came to a river.

[Soldier]
Geese!

Hoy!

Get in my sack.

[Honking]

ª[soldier whistling]

That's a nice whistle.

I got it off a poor soul
down on his luck.

Home from the war,
are you?

Aye.

With a sack
full of spoils.

No. Ha.

This is 3 geese
I trapped yesterday.

I want one for my supper.

If you'll cook it
for me and give me a bed,

you can have the other 2
for your trouble.

I like a nice bird.

Be sure to bring back
the sack.

And the landlord
roasted him the goose

in clove and honey,

and brought it back
with a bottle of best wine,

and the soldier ate it all
and sucked the bones,

and drank the wine,
and danced until the morning,

when he sank, swam,

flopped into bed.

3 days later, he woke up
and looked out of the window.

And there on the hill,
he saw a palace.

I thought I heard you.
Slept well, soldier?

Not bad. Not bad.

Whose palace is that?

And why are the windows
all smashed?

That's the tsar's palace.

Was once a place of waltzes
and chandeliers

and fabulous parties.

Now the devils have it
for their card games.

Devils?devils.

Every night they tumble in
and scream and shout

and play at cards.

No decent folk go near,
they are so devilish.

That's a nice palace.

Someone should deal
with those devils.

An army tried.

In the morning,
there was nothing left
but shadows.

And that's the truth.

These are devilish devils
and gamblers too.

I think I'll take
a closer look.

That's folly.

Folly or not,
the soldier goes,

sack on his shoulder,
whistle on his lips,

into the palace.

ª[soldier whistling]

And inside it's
very quiet,

as if the walls were
holding their breath...

And waiting.

[Rattling]

[Chiming]

[Fluttering]

[Wind howling]

[Hissing]

[Devil Richard]
We have a visitor.

[Devil John]
A guest.

[Devil Marcus]
And he's whistling.

[Devil Mike]
That's a nice whistle.

I want to have it.

Hello.

[All]
Hello!

[All laughing]

I hear you like
a game of cards.

[Devils cackling]

So...

What shall we play for?

His soul?

His whistle.

His teeth.

I collect teeth.

Fair enough.
And what will you stake?

We've got 40 barrels of gold.

Any good?

Very good.

[Devils laughing]

Fetch the coffers.

[Devils chattering]

Good.

Let's play then.

And with that
they settled down to business.

The soldier dealt the cards,

and won.

[Laughing]

My round, I think.

[Grunting]

And won again.

[Devils groaning]

Is he cheating?

Well, I am.
And I'm still losing.

Me, too.

Deal again.

Certainly.

And he did, and he won,

and the devils got
into the kind of fume

only devils can get in.

Fume. Fume. Fume.

He won game after game,

while the devils cheated
to high heaven and low hell,
to no avail.

By the first bells of morning,

the 40 barrels
of gold were stacked

behind the chair
of the soldier

who whistled as he won.

[Bell chiming]

Well, my friends,

I suppose we'd better
call it a day.

No, we will not.

We will call it a breakfast
and you the meal!

First make sure
who eats whom.

[Devils exclaim]

What do you call this?

[Devils]
It's a sack.

It's a sack.
Just a sack.

Is it?

Then by the grace of god,
get in it!

[Devils roaring]

[Devils chattering]

[Devils groaning]

[Devils screaming]

More?

[Devils]
No, no, no!

Have mercy!
Let us out and we promise
never to come back.

Will that be the end
of your mischief
in these parts?

Let us out, please.
We're bashed to bits.

[Devils shouting]

Hey! Let me go!

Let me go!

I won't let you go,
my boy,

until you swear
to serve me faithfully.

I swear, I swear.

I'll hold you
to your promise.

[Devil grunts]

Hey! My foot's come off!

That's right.
Now off you go

and remember
where you left it.

The devils rushed to hell

and slammed shut the doors
for fear of being followed

by the soldier and his sack.

And they trembled
and quivered

and fumed,
fumed, fumed.

But the soldier had
no time for devils,

he was the toast of the town
and the star of the tsar.

Howsoever life smiles on us,

the last laugh
is reserved for death.

Oh, yes,

everything is dandy
with our friend,

the good soldier
and his magic sack.

Rewarded by the tsar,
he's a rich gentleman now,

a husband and a father.
Lives in the castle.

Blessed, caressed
and couldn't be better,

until one day,

because fate is fickle,

one day,
because fortune is cruel,

his son falls
into a terrible fever.

He's worse.

And they calls for quacks
and apothecaries and healers,

and soon the boy's room
is full with grey beards

and shaking of heads.

But still the fever rages

and the boy passes
into a swoon.

And, oh, dear, the grey beards
are replaced by priests,

mumbling and praying.

And a man in black
comes to measure a coffin.

Oh, what shall we do?

My lips are sore
with praying

and my knees
are weary of kneeling.

And I have lost
my whistle from worrying.

It's the very devil, I say.

The very devil.

Now where the devil's
that devil of mine?

I'm here,
your excellency.

Where've you
sprung from?

Not so much sprung,
as hopped, sir.

You have my foot.

Cure my son
and you can have it back.

This is my good wife,
by the way,
and this is my devil.

Mmm, how do you do?

How do you do?

Yes, I saw
your son was ill.

Let me have a look at him.

[Mumbling]

Look in here,
your excellency.

[Soldier]
I see a small creature.

[Devil]
That's death, excellency.
Where does he stand?

At my son's feet.

Ah, good.
He will recover.

It's when he comes
to the head you must worry.

Now, sprinkle some
of the water from the glass
on your child.

[Gasps]

[Wife laughing]

You're a marvel.

Well, we do our best.

Could I have
my foot back then?

Most certainly.

Oh, thank you,
thank you, thank you.

Uh, will there be
anything else, sir?

Give me that glass
and I will release
you from your promise.

Really? Oh, thank you.

Hmm, quite nice,
black flowers.

And so the soldier set up

in his new trade
as miracle man,

and traveled the world
on a camel

with his magic glass.

Show him a sick man

and he would hold up
the glass.

If death sat
at the foot of the bed,

a quick splish-splash
and up the invalid would sit
pouring out blessings.

If death stood staring,
at the other end,

the soldier would shake
his head solemnly and depart.

And the relatives
would mutter "what a pity
he came too late"

and pay him all the same.

But as often as not

he left with all happy
and amazed and praising him.

And it went well
for the soldier until one day,

far from anywhere,
he gets a message from home

to say the old tsar
has fallen ill

and sends for him.

I've come too late.

You save beggars and thieves
and cats and dogs.

Yet you won't save
your master.

If death needs
a new friend...

I cannot fight him.

Then let me go
in his place.

No.

The tsar has been
my friend and father.

If anyone should go,
it should be me.

Sir,

take me and spare the tsar,

I beg you.

Praise be!

[Attendants]
Praise be, praise be.

[Bell chiming]

Oh, husband,
is it all up with you?

[Soldier]
Do you know what this is?

A sack.

Well, if this is a sack,

then get in it!

[Screaming]

I caught death
in my sack!

Wife! Do you see?

I've caught death
in my sack!

What about that, eh?

Good, eh?

Death, a prisoner.

The news, whispered from one
of the tsar's 50 wives
to the other,

spread through the town
as fast as gossip,

which is what it was
and nothing spreads faster,

and within
4 and a half minutes

the whole town knew,

and within 17 minutes
the whole country knew,

and by the following morning,

it was the talking point
of a 1,000 languages.

Death, a prisoner.

Morte UN prigionero.

Tod ein gefanger!

Smird ooznitzen!

I forgot the Greek.

Ekhmalotisame ton thanato!

Exactly.

And the soldier,
to be on the safe side,

set off with death
in his sack

and found the thickest forest
and the highest tree,

and clambered up it
and hung death
from the longest branch

and promptly fell off.

But there's nothing
like death off-duty
to cushion a fall.

So nothing died?

Nothing.

The oddest battles!

There were wars
going on in most places

and they were very strange.

At the end of a day's carnage,

flashing swords
and explosions,

the air thick with arrows
and the savage swoosh of axes,

nobody had died.

The armies would look
at each other, exhausted

and intact.

Duels at dawn
went on till midnight

when the rivals
would go home confused.

Crossed lovers would throw
themselves off cliffs

and have a long climb back.

And my friend the soldier
was the most famous man
in the world

because suddenly,
everyone could live for ever.

He sat in his palace
and whistled his Ruby whistle.

ª[soldier whistling]

And then, one day,
looking down from his window,

he sees his courtyard
full of poor souls wandering,

old scrags of folk
barely held together.

They were waiting,
waiting for death,

for death's release
and it would not come.

And the soldier
could not bear their sorrow.

Back he went to the forest.

[Birds chirping]

Death?

I've led you a merry dance,

but now you must have me
and set the world to rights.

[Wind howling]

Death,

come back.

But death had fear
of the soldier and his sack

and would not come back.

He was condemned to watch
while others aged and died,

but death
would not come for him.

No, the soldier,

old kipper,
dried beef,

lived on and on and on,
until he could stand it
no longer,

and dragged his dust
and fragments

across to the edge
of the earth

and slowly down to hell.

[Knocking on door]

Yes?

A sinful soul comes
to surrender his life.

Yes. What's that
you're carrying?

Nothing, an old sack.

A sack?

[Screams]

Let me in.
I beg you.

Go away! Go on!

And take that
horrible sack with you!

But where can I go?

We don't care,
just jigger off.

I won't go

unless you give me a map
to heaven and a way in.

And 200 souls
you have no further use for.

[Devil muttering]

150.

Do you know what this is?

Don't wave that sack around!

All right, 200. Yuck!

Follow the map
until you can go no further

and then go directly up

until you get the sensation
of standing on your head.

That's the edge of heaven.

After that,
follow the church music.

ª[organ playing]

Who approaches
the gates of heaven?

I am the soldier
who took death prisoner,

and I have brought
200 souls from hell

in the hope that
god will forgive me,

and let me in with them.

The souls may enter,
but alone.

Go then and be blessed.

Take this, friend,

and once inside,
call me into the sack.

Remember, I delivered you
from the furnace.

But you see,
there is no memory in heaven.

Souls forget.

The soldier waited and waited,
an inch from paradise.

Until after a long time,

forgotten, he turned
and walked slowly
back to earth.

And for all I know,
he wanders still.

So sad.

No, he is a rare boy,
my friend the soldier.

He's somewhere,
about his business.

You sure?

Come on, you can have
your biscuit.

[Sighs]

[Sniffing]

Do you know what this is?

A sack.

Well, if it's a sack,
then get in it!

Just checking.

[Mumbling]

Hmm?

[Grunts]

[Sighs]