The old Foole acknowledged the polite round of applause that was his due and he accepted another full blackjack of the good inn-brewed light nutty ale. He drained it in one long pull down into his thirsty throat and with a twinkling smile returned it to the serving girl to refill. She nervously looked behind across the tap room but Mine Host was absent, in the kitchen loudly berating the spit boy to turn the handle faster on the large joint hung over the roaring kitchen fire. The coast being clear, the young slattern refreshed the story-teller’s leather blackjack twice more in rapid succession before the old man signaled that he’d had enough, for the moment.
Other greater desires pressed upon him, like hunger. Smelling that nearly done roasted haunch of beef dripping its fats into the kitchen fire below had stirred his appetite. The old retired Foole had been promised his drink in return for his tales to the throng of traveler’s stranded here by the winter’s storm ... but there had been no promise of any food, let alone any of that freshly roasting beef by the stingy innkeeper, Mine Host.
After talking one long sniff towards the pleasures from the kitchen that he feared would elude him, the old storyteller adjusted his jerkin jacket and breeches and resumed his seat just by the edge of the tap room fire, with a long and not entirely exaggerated sigh. He’d hoped for a few minutes of peace and quiet, to enjoy a few small tiny pulls at his remaining blackjack of sweet brown ale, but nearly at once he was distracted by a well-dressed young man, perhaps a courtier he thought at first glance, who was holding the largest sized silver coin that he’d ever beheld. Of Flemish pressing, five or ten florins in value he guessed after squinting his old eyes at the large strange coin for a long moment. Easily worth at least six shillings, or a crown or even a bit more, he judged. Not a fortune for a Foole that had been the King’s own gleeman for many long decades, but not a bad day’s earning in his retirement either!
“I see that you are a tailor and perhaps a merchant in Asian cloth as well, and a well-traveled one indeed. You’ve been to the Dutch Indies and perhaps the silk ports of Cathay or Siam as well before your return home to undoubted prosperity. Would this be correct good sir?” The storyteller enquired with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Correct on all accounts. My ship from the Indies indeed only returned to Plymouth but a week ago and my silk cargos are already nearly half sold off, even before they could be stored in my warehouse. It was a hazardous voyage that I’d not care to ever repeat, but one that has already repaid my investment a hundred times over my expenses, with the prospect of greater yields from the rest still to come in the near future. I have fine silk enough left too for my own shop to outfit the finest ladies in London for many long years to come as well. I’ve been fortunate ... but how did you guess the trail of my new prosperity so easily?”
“A Foole, especially an old royal fool in the prior service of our king, must always keep his eyes fully open and read every mood and gesture beyond simple appearance. You bear for me a Dutch coin with casualness, signifying that this currency is both familiar to you and that you bear enough other wealth to not miss this otherwise quite significant weight of coin in your purse. You’re clothes are newly made and of quality and your eyes bear the squint of a tailor, always holding the needle and cloth up to his eyes in usually inadequate lighting ... and your fingertips tell of this trade too. You can always know a man by his fingers. Your ring is of fine silver base with the green jade carved gemstone of a Cathay dragon. Nice quality, and perhaps too well-made for simple export item or found near the wares of any dockside cart peddler in any land I’ve ever travelled. It’s the work of a true craftsman, purchased there in that far-off land, or perhaps rather a gift from the silk merchant you bought your cargo from. Your skin is the true culprit that tells your tale, being well-browned by tropical suns for a significant length of time, as a sailor’s would be, but your tender quick fingers have never hoisted a sail or clutched at a ship’s ropes.”
“You have revealed all!” The rich Tailor laughed and pressed the thick silver coin into the Foole’s palm. Then with a slight theatrical gesture he produced another smaller Dutch coin, but this one made of gold and he held it aloft for all of the traveler’s in the taproom to see. At once the entire thong of stranded guests fell silent.
“I am indeed a rather fortunate tailor,” he stated, “and I would offer up this gold coin ... and further pay the fare for your meal this evening as well, all of the juicy hot meat that you can hold, should you be able to tell me a tale about some other fortunate tailor that my ears have never heard before. I’ve heard many, dozens of such fables before ... but I challenge you to tell me such a tale of wonder that is all new to me. Shall you meet my challenge good Foole?”
“I shall ... and I know just the tale to tell you. A rare almost never heard tale of wonder indeed about an extremely fortunate tailor who lived quite long ago, but not so many miles from this very inn. A tale I heard from the knees of my grand-ma and she from hers, and a fable that has never even once graced the ears of my former master the King! Now, if my blackjack could be refilled in haste yet once more before Mine Host returns to our otherwise splendid company, I shall then tell you the tale of the Fortunate Tailor!”
Once upon a time many years ago there was a tailor who plied his craft diligently in a small village in Cornwall, very near the small city of Tregony, then as now about a good day’s walk to either the city of Truroe or the most worthy town port of Falmouth. Then as also now, the King’s eldest son was the Duke of Cornwall, but being young and finding London a livelier and much merrier place, he rarely visited his ducal castles in the county. This absence gave the local Earls, Countesses, Viscounts and pretty Barons and Baronesses rather a bit too much independent authority than was perhaps good for them. Indeed, most of them were a very prideful lot both here and elsewhere in the kingdom and as a result the kingdom was much set upon with chaos and petty struggles for yet more power. Even the King himself was not then as strong or commanding as he ought to have been to keep proper order and the land well-governed and prosperous for all.
This tailor, a young man of good character and many admirable qualities, however failed to prosper – despite being a true master of his craft, and for quite some time he was at a complete loss to account for his misfortune. The crux of his problem was this, that despite being the finest tailor in the county, he could not attract a single customer from the various minor lords and ladies of the region, or even from the local town or village burgesses or guild members!”
“Ah! I’ve heard this story,” the tailor interrupted, “then he swats nine flies with his belt, killing ‘Nine with One Blow’ and proclaims himself a hero!”
“That a very different story that’s told across the sea in Europe,” the Storyteller snapped with annoyance. No good teller of tales likes being interrupted in mid-performance and besides, his hunger and anticipation of a feast of roast beef was already much in his mind. “Besides, that tailor killed twenty with one blow.”
“No! It was seven ... I’ve heard that story too.” The young girl sitting by his knee helpfully interjected.
“And that’s another entirely different story, that one too as well! None of those three tales, or the dozens of other variations of that theme, have any bearing or similarity with this one. Now, let us continue with this tale!”
As the months and years passed, our tailor become poorer, as his primary customers the local townsfolk and rural peasantry couldn’t really afford the prices that his skill and material quality deserved. All of his garments were carefully adjusted for proper fit with no details skimped on. Fine for Sunday clothes, but too dear for daily wear, even at reduced prices.
One dark and stormy autumn day, just as the tailor was about to put the bolt to the door for the night, a woman came bursting through the front door and unclasped her soaking wet wool coat, bearing a large bundle which she thrust into the tailors surprised hands.
“Quick, if you would, bring down the window shutters too, for I’d have no man or woman see us here this evening!” This surprised the tailor greatly, but he did as she bade him, and then when no one from outside could possible see into his small shop, he could open up the rag bound parcel and examine the three garments within. Each was shoddily cut and the stitch work was abominable. The tailor’s old master would never have accepted such work even from a raw apprentice!
“These are ... not at all well made,” the tailor admitted, uncertain yet as to what this woman wanted of him, “and certainly never of my own fabrication.”
“I bear no such accusation,” she admitted, “but rather I myself had bought these in Falmouth but a few weeks ago, from the noted Duncan the Tailor there. My husband is a guild master there and must often attend the Baron at his castle, near the town. He’s a very powerful man and in truth he may own or control more lands here in this county than the Countess in Truroe does. He’s also a rather ruthless man whose avowed ambition is become Earl over all of Cornwall ... and he just may yet achieve this!”
.... There is more of this story ...