“It’s hard to pay the piper when you don’t know what it costs”
“Pay the piper,” for those of you who are unfamiliar, is an expression reserved for when we reap negative consequences from short-term glories. Did you wake up hungover a block away from your house with a slice of pizza melting on your head? You’re paying the piper. Did you finally cuss out that asshole who cuts you in line at the coffee shop only to find that now the baristas respect you just a little less? You’re paying the piper. If we’re being real, we realize we are probably in debt to the piper.
Although there are controversial origins for this expression, for our purposes, let’s stick to the the myth of the “Pied Piper of Hamelin.” The pied piper lured rats away from the German town of Hamelin with his songs. But the citizens paid him for his efforts. If not, he would abduct their children with the same magic song that attracted the rats and bring them far, far away. Wherever they ended up, they would never be seen again.
But the quote I cited at the beginning of the prompt asks a different question. It’s from a poem I found in a theater program with no author (I tried Googling its origins to no avail). The poem asks us: how do we pay the piper when we don’t know what it costs?
What if you have done something so astronomically terrible in size but you didn’t know it? What happens when a character has done something perhaps long ago that they enjoyed, but didn’t know there would be consequences waiting for them at this moment? Do they still think it was worth it? Are you, or a character you’re working on, figuring out what a fair sum for the piper is? And are you or they prepared to pay it?