If you’re unfamiliar, I’m part of The Deceptionists, a creative writing podcast that covers a number of different aspects of the craft of writing. While I wasn’t part of the recently recorded “Fantasy” episode of The Deceptionists genre writing series, and I hadn’t selected “Fantasy” as one of my writing prompts, but a funny thing happened during my daily commute. I had written a rough piece for my Sci-Fi prompt, and I started to think: “What would I have done with Fantasy?” That’s the way things go for me sometimes—inspiration hits when I’m done with another deadline. It’s that curiosity without the pressure, the what would I have done if…?
And it unspooled from there; a fully formed fairy tale about a tailor and a knight who meet in a bar. It’s one of the easiest things I’ve written recently—and I’m not talking about quality here, that’s another (ahem) story. I’m just talking about the ease with which the words tumbled out.
I’m not sure exactly why this is, but I think it may be due to my decision to write a fairy tale. Fairy tales are often the stories with which we are most familiar, having been inundated since childhood. In fact, in my case, I think a large part of this is due to the fact that my mom was an elementary school teacher.
My sister and I had a lot of children’s books growing up—many used in classes my mom taught before having kids. Once I learned to read, one of my absolute favorites, however, was a massive, hardbound, turquoise-colored tome that my mom had assigned as a textbook in college. I don’t recall the name of it, but it was a dictionary-sized anthology of myths and fairy tales and children’s stories. These stories ranged from Norse myths to Grimm’s fairy tales to segments of books like Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
I think I indirectly attribute this story to my fascination and familiarity with the many stories in that volume.
Enough preamble? Okay, let’s go.
by David Accampo
Once there was a very small town, which had been named after a river or a large rock or the sound the wind makes as it blows through the trees in October. The town was very secluded, and having no reason to refer to the town as anything other than “home,” the inhabitants had long since forgotten its name.
The townsfolk did remember the name of the bar, as it was the only place to spend Saturday nights. It was called “The Bar,” which is what was written in large black letters on the wooden sign that hung over the door in case anyone forgot.
There was a tailor who lived in the town. He mended and sewed, and he was quite good at his job, though unremarkable in every other respect. He was of average height, average weight, his eyes were colorless, and his hair never quite needed a haircut (but was always just on the verge). He had a wife of whom he was fond, and a son upon whom he doted.
He had always assumed his business, which was appropriately called “The Tailor,” would one day be handed over to his son, and he had thus taught his son the tailor’s art from the moment he could hold a line of thread between his chubby thumb and forefinger.
But alas, the tailor’s son, whose name was Needle, had grown into a young man pained by a deep ache in his chest that suggested that life must have importance. He spent long hours staring out at the dense green trees that framed the single road leading in and out of town. The townsfolk hadn’t actually traveled very far down the road in as long as anyone could remember. The eldest (and therefore wisest) man in town recalled that the road lead to a bridge that crossed over a river, but after that his memory faded, and he stopped speaking, his gaze landing upon a ladybug that was at that moment traversing his fencepost. He decided to reflect upon the journey of the ladybug for a time, and the townsfolk understood that this was what wise old men were wont to do.
Thus, it came as quite a shock the day that the Knight arrived in town. Needle spied him first, the gleam of polished armor reflecting the dappled sunlight beneath the low-hanging elm trees.
“Someone’s coming!” he said, though no one believed him until they heard the horse whinny and saw the shining, metal-plated man emerge at the edge of town.
“In the name of the king,” shouted the Knight, lifting his visor with a clank, “I demand your attendance!”
“Do we have a king?” asked the butcher, who had emerged from his shop, bloody shank still in hand.
Everyone looked to the wise man, who sulked in his chair, the ladybug having flown away, leaving him with nothing upon which to contemplate. “I seem to recall something about a king,” he muttered. “I believe his name was Brick.”
“There is no king called Brick,” said the knight sharply. “Your king’s name is Edmund.”
“I thought the river was called Edmund,” said the farmer, scratching his sun-beaten brow.
“When did they name the river?” asked the tailor, who liked to think he would have remembered such an event.
“Look,” said the knight, dismounting from his horse with a series of stiff clanging motions. “Could I get a little help here?”
Needle rushed to the Knight’s side and helped him.
Being a Saturday night, Needle took the knight to The Bar, which is where everyone was headed anyway. There they discovered that the knight quite liked the local ale, and that he was called Sir Mallory. They also learned the king was, in fact, called Edmund, and the king’s army had been fighting a war of Great Importance somewhere to the south of the town.
“I’ve never met anyone called ‘Sir’ before,” said Albert, the dour-faced barkeep.
“A war. Of all the luck,” said Alice, who was the miller’s daughter.
“A very important war,” said Needle. “Can you imagine it? Fighting for a noble cause!”
“The noblest,” said Sir Mallory.
‘What cause is that?” asked the tailor.
“Land,” said Sir Mallory.
“But we’ve got land,” said the tailor. It’s all around us.”
“Exactly,” said Sir Mallory. “That’s the king’s land, and he is happily allowing you use it.”
“We should send him a thank-you note,” said Alice.
“Can you tell us about fighting?” asked Needle.
“Nasty business,” said Sir Mallory, sucking ale from his large red mustache. “But it is in service to the greater good.”
“The greater good!” said Needle.
“Indeed,” said Sir Mallory, eyeing Needle. “You’re a fit young lad. Have you considered fighting for the honor of the king?”
“I’m the tailor’s son,” said Needle.
“I know young knights who are the sons of butchers and shop clerks and carpenters! Your youth is wasted here.”
A murmur ran through the crowd as the townsfolk, who had gathered close around Sir Mallory, contemplated the knight’s words.
The tailor coughed, and the crowd went silent. He said quietly and into his mug of ale, “A tailor’s work is never a waste.”
“Spoken like a peasant!” roared Sir Mallory. “You’d dare equate the importance of his majesty’s service with the sewing of needle and thread?”
“You’re wearing pants, ” said the tailor, still keeping his gaze focused on the white froth at the lip of his mug.
“And you work your craft in the safety of the king’s land,” snorted the knight, pounding his empty flagon on the table to punctuate his statement.
“It’s true we’re very safe,” said Alice, smiling at Needle.
Needle didn’t seem to notice Alice or her smile or the way she leaned toward him and ran her fingers through the thick curls of her red hair.
“And how did this land come to be the king’s land?” asked the tailor, emptying his own mug and setting it gently on the table.
The knight rose up in his chair, pulling down his leather tunic and puffing out his chest. “A tailor questioning the right and will of a king?” he stretched his arm out and wagged his index finger back and forth through the air, addressing the occupants of the tavern, “This is the talk that begins the wars… wars fought by knights!”
The townspeople gasped in unison, and all murmurs fell quiet.
“Oh father!” said Needle, shaking his head back and forth. Alice put her hand on his shoulder and patted it gently.
The tailor, seeing his son’s despair, stood up to his full, average height and stared across at the knight’s chin. “And you would go into battle naked if not for tailors and the blacksmiths!”
The knight paused for a moment, and then roared with laughter. The townsfolk began to softly chuckle along in relief. The knight stopped laughing. The townsfolk fell quiet again.
“I will not prattle on, arguing like a woman! Let us settle this as men do!” shouted Sir Mallory. “Tailor, I challenge you to a duel! Sword-arm to thimble-finger! Surely, in such a contest, you will acknowledge the importance and nobility of war!”
Needle looked at Sir Mallory. Then he looked at his father. His father met his gaze, and Needle, swallowed and looked down at the table.
“I accept,” murmured the tailor, and stepped aside to let the knight march out of The Bar.
The townsfolk gathered at the square at the center of town, which was focused around a fountain covered in grass and wildflowers. The wisest (and therefore eldest) man briefly recalled the creation of the fountain, which was supposed to be topped by a statue of the king. Unfortunately, no one knew what the king looked like, and the fountain was left unfinished. It looked quite beautiful in the spring, covered with orange, blue, and yellow blooms.
The tailor met the knight in the town square, surrounded by his townspeople, including his son, the miller’s daughter clinging to him in exaggerated fright.
The knight swaggered forward in leather tunic and leggings, his sword buckled around his waist. With a slow, metallic rasp, the knight drew his sword from its scabbard and raised it in the lantern light, where it gleamed with purpose. A hush ran through the assembly.
The tailor stepped to the knight. He reached into his pocket and retrieved his needle and a spool of thread. He raised his needle, which was too small to catch the light of the lanterns. The crowd remained silent.
The knight laughed once more swiveling around, trying to encourage the laughter of his audience. No one laughed.
“He is a very good tailor,” said the butcher.
The knight roared with laughter and was about to further insult the tailor, but the words never made it from his mouth as he tripped over his own boots, collapsing to the ground and losing his wind on the hard cobblestones of the town square. He looked at his feet; his boots had been sewn together.
The knight grunted in anger and cleaved the boots in two. He stood up.
“Clever,” said the knight, and then ran his sword through the tailor’s middle.
Needle gasped. The miller’s daughter cried out. The tailor stumbled back and away from the knight’s blade and fell to his knees.
“Very sorry, old chap,” said the knight, raising his sword.
“Quite all right,” mumbled the tailor, and when he looked up, the knight could see the tailor had sewn up the wound so tight it was as if the flesh had never been parted. Surprised, the knight took a half step backward, only to find his leggings had dropped to his ankles.
The crowd roared with laughter at the sight of the knight’s pale, exposed backside.
The knight grew red and began to howl, white spittle catching in his red mustache. He charged wildly and in a swooping arc, lopped off the tailor’s right arm, only to watch as the tailor stitched the limb back just as quickly as it had left.
The knight continued to attack for the better part of the next hour. He hacked, he cleaved, he thrust, and he swung – and with each cut, the tailor quickly sewed the wound tight again, as if nothing had happened at all.
Finally the knight collapsed, heaving, half-naked and slick with perspiration. “I yield,” he said softly, and then fell asleep.
The next day, the knight left town, as lonely as he had arrived and rather more sullen. The tailor awoke to a clamor that rattled the walls. He threw on his clothes and tiptoed down the stairs. Someone was banging on the outside of the shop. He cautiously threw open the door, nearly knocking Needle from the ladder leaning just to the left of the door frame. The tailor peered upward, blinking in the bright morning light. Needle had hammered an additional plank of wood below the sign hanging above the front door.
It now read: “Tailor & Son.”