Lone Star Stories
Speculative Fiction and Poetry
The Tailor and the Fairy
by Samantha Henderson
Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom there lived a hard-working tailor named Albert. Albert was a conscientious craftsman: his hems were precisely stitched with the best silken threads, and the silver buttons on his waistcoats lined up with mathematical precision. His tailcoats were, quite simply, masterpieces of the haberdasher’s art, and his trouser legs made atheists believe in divine perfection.
I am sorry to say that Albert’s wife, whose name was Euridice, was not at all a nice woman. In fact, she had the soul and manners of a three-week’s-dead geoduck.
(What is a geoduck, you ask, my dears? Best not to know. It is a creature of unspeakable evil. It lives in a wet land, and when good little girls and boys meet it, they run mad from the horror.
Bad little girl and boys take it home to scare their mothers.)
Like most of his fellow villagers, Albert was rather shabby. You see, he could never afford to wear any of his creations: just like the baker would never eat one of his own sugar-silvered wedding cakes, and the mason would never live in one of his own tastefully appointed Craftsman-style river rock houses, and the seamstress would never don one of her own high-necked, ruby-sequined ball gowns.
These things were for the rich alone, and most of the villagers learned to accept that cold, immutable fact.
But in his heart of hearts, Albert never did.
When he touched the bespoken suits and stitched the collar of a lordling’s shirt, he couldn’t help but dream of life in fine marble halls, of glamour and intrigue, of assignations in the courtyard at midnight. The glint of diamonds around a woman’s neck in the moonlight, the delicious menace of an assassin’s blade poised behind a curtain.
He wondered if the seamstress had similar thoughts as she stitched at cloth-of-gold. He thought he caught a glimpse of it, sometimes, in her eyes. But she never said anything, and he never asked her.
Although his love for Euridice (his wife—were you paying attention, pets?) was a pale, timid thing compared to his flights of fancy, the tailor couldn’t help but notice that the sharp edge of her tongue was blunted and that she was becoming sullen and morose rather than sarcastic and acid. In fact, the virago was suffering from a severe case of ennui: less a fishwife and more a limp fish.
So concerned was Albert that he called in the village wizard, a cut-rate mage who moonlighted as a leech-.
(No, not that kind of leech, my darlings. It’s an old word for a doctor.
Because they put bloodsucking leeches on people. Almost as bad as geoducks.
Yes, I’m sure your doctor will. Some time.)
-whose fee he could ill-afford. The wizard peered down Euridice’s throat, took her pulse, and checked between her toes.
“All she needs is a change of pace,” he told Albert. “Send her to the Palace Ball.” And he pocketed the tailor’s last silver coin and left.
Now, the Palace Ball was a glitzy international affair, a feast for the eyes and senses that piled excess on excess. All the year long the villagers made the wine and grew exotic fruits and raised the fat geese and kine that the highborn guests of good King Duncan and fair Queen Winifred would devour in a single night.
(K-i-n-e, my pumpkins. Cows.
Yes, people eat cows. Your hamburger was a cow. A pretty one, all white with black spots.
Stop crying, Cecily. It makes your nose red and unattractive.)
No sooner were the floors swept and the marble waxed and the tapestries mended after each year’s festivities than the Royal Stenographers would begin addressing the invitations, in gold ink on paper impregnated with crushed lapis, for the next year’s ball: summons to the Courts of Veronka and Tulie; the Lord of Zelaitra; the cloistered Damsels off the Sacred Wells; the Mad King of Eurapple; the Beekeepers of the distant Summerlands. All would come, bearing rich gifts and gossip, for the pleasures of the Royal Ball were legendary, and each year’s outdid the last.
Our poor tailor, Alfred, was sorely puzzled at the wizard’s instructions-
(No, his name was Alfred, not Albert. I never said Albert.)
-because no commoner could dream of going or had any hope of being invited.
But it happened that one of the Palace butlers was the son of his favorite aunt, a cousin he had pulled from a dangerous quagmire when both were boys. After much pleading on Alfred’s part, this cousin agreed to see that Euridice was admitted.
Emboldened, Albert set to work.
(Yes, Albert. Nonsense. Alfred, indeed!)
With much effort, the seamstress was persuaded to lend a gown, a green and gold confection that wasn’t due to be delivered to Lady Aubergine until the following week. A niece in beautician school did Euridice’s hair and nails. If you stood back and squinted a bit she looked quite presentable.
Albert pawned his father’s golden cufflinks to hire a limo; his wife stepped into it with a martyr’s air and not a word of thanks.
“Have a ball!” said Albert as he closed the door behind her.
An icy glare was the only response.
That night the tailor was putting the final touches on a fancy waistcoat by the light of a single candle. Through the grimy windowpane he could see the bright lights of the palace on the hilltop. He let his work drop from his numbed fingers and gazed at the distant sparkle. He fancied he could hear the music of the orchestra and the laughter of that merry, cosmopolitan crowd. And a voice in his head, shy at first, then bolder, whispered that he might venture among them, might see those glittering fantasies and taste those fantastic fruits, might sip nectar from crystal goblets and feel the scented velvet of women’s gowns brushing against his skin.
(Your Uncle McDougal heard voices in his head too, my cabbages? That must have been exciting. You don’t see him anymore, do you, my plum puddings? I thought not.)
He found he was clutching the waistcoat tight in damp, trembling hands. He smoothed the crumpled silk, then paused. A tuxedo of the very latest style was hanging neatly in the corner, pressed and ready, begging to be worn. All your fantasies, it seemed to say, all your daydreams can come true, if you will but dare.
A stitch there and a tuck here and it fit perfectly. Quickly he shaved, nicking himself in the process and blotting up the blood with a scrap of toilet paper. He found a few drops of brilliantine in a bottle under the sink and smoothed back his hair. “Why,” he thought, as he straightened his bowtie. “I am almost handsome.” And, to give him credit, he was almost right.
All the guests had arrived, and the ball was in full swing, so he easily slipped past the guards. Joining the perfumed crowd, he looked about him with slack-jawed wonder. Jugglers with improbably-plumed birds on their shoulders wandered about, making bright balls of silver and bronze dance above their heads. Gem-encrusted fountains spurted the finest wines. Golden platters filled with the rarest delicacies and borne by bare-chested servants with silk trousers and impassive expressions were quickly decimated, only to reappear as brimming as they were before. Musicians wove melodies between the velvet tapestries, the voices of viols and flutes battling sweetly for precedence. Courtesans with painted eyes-
(Well, perhaps I had better not mention the courtesans.)
And the people! Fantastically attired, some masked and some with naked faces, they danced, bowed, curtsied, chatted, laughed, ate, drank, preened, created dynasties and destroyed alliances with the sweep of a tailcoat or the flutter of a fan. And amongst them, beneficent King Duncan and gracious Queen Winifred passed, nodding to the highborn and smiling condescendingly to the lower nobility. Alfred stood dumbfounded.
(Didn’t your mummy tell you it was rude to interrupt, Rupert, my little potpie, my fruit salad, my duck a l’orange?
Don’t do it again.)
Then, through the crowd, he saw a woman that made his heart flutter in his chest like an imprisoned sparrow. Her hair was as black as a crow’s wing, her eyes as green as the heart of envy, and her lips as red as frozen rubies. The throng parted for her as she came towards him, her draperies, light as air, caressing her and filling the air with a heady fragrance. A smile played about her lips as she stopped before him and placed her hand, soft as a feather, upon his arm.
“Won’t you ask me to dance?” she whispered. Her voice was enchantment.
He was about to protest that he couldn’t dance, never danced a step in his life, wouldn’t know where to begin, certainly couldn’t begin with a woman he’d never seen before, when suddenly he found she was in his arms, and the two of them were whirling about the polished marble floor as if they’d never done anything else. The faces of the watching nobility twirled by in a blur of pink and white and brown, and once he saw the pinched and astonished features of his wife, which did his heart much good.
(Did you remember his wife’s name was Euridice, my little caramel flans, my roast tenderloins of pork, my sautéed spinach almondine?)
As the great clock of the palace struck midnight, the fairy in his arms—for she must have been a fairy—leaned across his shoulder and whispered, in a voice that made the aether seem clunky by comparison: “Will you be mine, mine forever more?”
He looked deep in her fathomless eyes.
“Yes,” he said, without hesitation.
She grinned and raised her elegant hand with its sharp fingernails. His last sight was of that little claw burrowing into his flesh.
The glittering crowd stood riveted as the beautiful fairy split the tailor’s ribcage apart, removing his still-beating heart with a deft twist. With a deep, triumphant laugh, she vanished in a clap of thunder and a cloud of acrid smoke.
The husk of the tailor remained upright for a few seconds, swaying gently to and fro. Some swear it gave a slight, philosophical shrug before it crumpled to the ground.
(And the moral, for there always is a moral, my little peach cobblers, is never to trust a fairy. Especially of the genus Peri Semper Carnivorii. No matter how entrancing, no matter how amusing. Because, eventually, one of them will become hungry, and turn on you.
About the Author:
Samantha Henderson lives in Southern California
with mysteriously increasing numbers of corgis and rabbits. Her work can be seen
online at Strange Horizons, The Fortean Bureau, Ideomancer,
Abyss and Apex, Neverary, Would That It Were,
Bloodlust-UK, and the archives of Lone Star Stories.
Home | Current Issue | Past Issues | Staff | Submissions | Contact | Links