The Cobbler and the Brownies

by Stultus

Tags: Romantic, Magic, Fiction,

Desc: Romantic Story: How can a poor Cobbler find his Luck and win the hand of a Lady fair? Spend an evening with the local Brownies! (but don't let them catch you!)

Thanks to Dragonsweb for the cleanup help with this old revised story!


The old storyteller rested his eyes for a moment and took a deep pull from the blackjack of ale that the young cobbler had brought him. Outside the wintry storm still raged, but for the moment he was warmed inside and out and he relaxed for another moment and enjoyed the roaring fire of the inn.

"Story telling is always quite thirsty work" he cackled and then drained his blackjack dry and gestured to Mine Host for a prompt refill.

"Tell me, Master Tale-Spinner", the young lad earnestly asked. "What do you know of Luck and of how a young man might find his?"

A most worthy question, he thought and after a brief pause, and an even briefer sip of his now refreshed ale, he exclaimed, "Why, young sir, I shall do even better than that! Let me tell you all a tale of how another young cobbler found his Luck!"

After a last quick gulp of refreshing ale, he cleared his voice and began...


Once upon a time in a kingdom not too terribly far from here there was a most unfortunate young cobbler who seemed to have no Luck at all. Everything always seemed somehow to be just a little 'wrong'. When his customers came into his shop to buy boots, all he could seem to find were house slippers, but if a lady came in search of fancy slippers to match a gown then nothing but work boots could be located. Needless to say his business did not thrive, and if it were not for his pitiful small garden he undoubtedly would have been reduced to eating his own shoe leather. A most unappetizing thought!

In fact, the entire village he lived in suffered much the same malaise. The plows always seemed to break, newly repaired fences fell down within a few days, fresh whitewash would wear off within a week, and even the watermill spent more time being broken than grinding grain. The fields, once abundant with wheat, oats and rye now grew more weeds than crops. Even peddlers, gleemen and other traveling folk now seemed to avoid or bypass their village. Woe to this poor village and its poor Luck!

Now the Reeve of this poor village was a very hard minded and rather greedy man who most certainly did not believe in any such thing as Luck - good, bad, or otherwise. The poorer the villagers became, the harder the Reeve tried to make them work. His taxes and demands on the villagers continued to increase and he cared not a fig that each day they were a little poorer and more miserable than the day before. He also complained unceasingly that his villagers were all lazy thieves who stole his hard-earned tax monies once he'd gathered them. This was obviously utter nonsense since there wasn't a single villager who had more than a few worn coins to their name.

This particular summer had been no better than recent years past. The spring rains had come late, and then much too hard and had flooded much of the seed away. Then no rains had come since Easter and now the pitiful remains of the grain crop seemed ready to dry up into dust. Come harvest time there would be little indeed to reap, and perhaps not even enough to set aside for seed next spring.

Accordingly, it was a most somber Mid-Summer's Day Festival, as no one in the village felt much like celebration. The forthcoming harvest appeared to be non-existent and the likely prospect of famine that winter loomed. Our poor cobbler, normally a man who enjoyed a good many light hearted japes and humorous tales, found little pleasure to be had. He soon made his excuses and left the gloomy feast table early.

Lost in melancholy, the young cobbler set out to take a very long walk in the forest. As he was very much distracted by his own thoughts, he walked briskly and with little mind to where he was heading. After some great time when the afternoon was nearly spent, he realized with some annoyance that he had no idea at all of where he was. He was, he admitted some time later, quite lost indeed!

He tried to retrace his steps to the village, but as the shadows of evening grew longer nothing seemed at all familiar to him. He decided that he would need to climb a tree to see if he could see any smoke from his village or else he would be stuck sleeping in the woods overnight. But where could he find an easy to climb tall tree?

It was almost dark when he found just the right one. It was a great splendid oak tree, possibly the mightiest and tallest in the entire forest. It sat right in the center of a small clearing and had an unusually dense carpet of flowers and mushrooms going all the way around it. Without a moment of thought, the young cobbler climbed up the tree as far as he could go, but the time he reached near the top, it was now too dark to see even to the edge of the clearing, let alone the edge of the forest near his village.

He enjoyed the summer early evening breezes for a few minutes, and then started to slowly and carefully make his way down the tree. Before he could reach the bottom, he was startled to hear laughter from many merry voices and could now just make out some strange lights twinkling down below him. Something felt 'odd' to him however, and he didn't call out but instead carefully stretched out on a tree branch where he could observe the strangers.

The cobbler was astonished to see that his visitors were in fact 'Wee Folk' or Brownies, as his old Granny had told of them in bedtime tales. In fact, our cobbler had accidentally found the forest clearing that all of the Brownies for nearly a hundred leagues around used for their annual Mid-Summer's Night meeting.

Although utterly astonished to see the Wee Folk, the cobbler was determined to be brave and remain hidden not uttering a single sound until they left. He knew that if he was discovered spying on them at their gathering, it would surely mean his death, because they are a private and mysterious folk ... and like to keep it that way! So, he made himself as secure and safe on the branch as he could and settled in for a long night's wait.

At first he could hear little of their talk as much of the early evening events consisted of songs and dances around their small fairy fires and of much general merry making. They seemed in all, a most sociable and agreeable lot of fellows (and wee damsels too) and more than once our poor trapped cobbler felt a near overwhelming urge to join them in their revels, but he knew that to do so would mean his life, as the Wee Folk would undoubtedly never tolerate the discovery of their secret meeting and trysting place.

At moonrise a few hours into the night, the reveling began to die down and all of the Wee Folk seated themselves into a meeting circle around the great oak tree and the chieftain of the Brownies arose and began to establish order and shushed up the final few merry-makers (with the goodly use of a stout cudgel that didn't appear to harm the offending Brownies too much — they're a sturdy folk!).

"Quiet, Quiet! I want quiet!" The chief Brownie exclaimed in a strong clear voice that the cobbler could clearly hear without difficulty as the wee leader took out a small roll of parchment.

"First, let's call the roll. I'll call your name and the village or town and you'll cry out, 'Here' or 'Present', and then we can commence this year's business." The chieftain called out a good many names and places both nearby and quite far away until the cobbler heard his village named — but with none of the Wee Folk answering for it.

"Rollo Roundbottom of Muddlewick Village! Where is that lazy good for nothing Brownie? Has anyone seen him? He missed last year's meeting and the one the year before that too! I've a mind to give his drunken worthless hide another good drubbing that he won't forget for another twenty years!"

Apparently, from the whispers that reached the cobbler's ears, Rollo (the lazy Brownie of the cobbler's village) had long been a ne'er-do-well and lay-about. Overly fond of strong drink, this lazy Brownie rarely did his proper job of rewarding the industrious and hard-working and punishing the slovenly and lazy. No wonder his whole village was facing starvation and collapse!

Fascination began to overcome his fear and nervousness and the cobbler stretched his ear downwards as far as he dared, afraid to miss even a single whispered utterance from below. He listened for hours as each Brownie in turn listed his deeds and accomplishments and passed on each and every new tale, story and rumor that they had heard. Being Brownies, capable of being invisible to the eyes of mankind when they wished (which is a good most of the time — Brownies are very shy folk!), there was very little that they had not seen or heard! The state secrets of lords and kings and the indiscretions of both priests and fishwives were all relayed with equal amusement and levity. Often the cobbler had to bite his fingers to keep from laughing at the antics of his fellow men.

He learned of the hidden locations of buried treasures, where bandits and misers had hidden their vast wealth only to be foiled by a Brownie magically switching all of the landmarks around so that dig as they might the wicked would never again reclaim their ill-gotten loot. One such location was not many days travel from his village and from the description given he had little doubt that he could find this hidden cache of treasure.

When the night was almost done and the moon about to set, the Chief Brownie (who seems to have had the name of 'Simon Twinkle-Toes — so called apparently because he was much the dancer in his youth) arose and told of his own events for the last year.

His own household was the castle of a great Duke of the Kingdom, a brave and proud man who generally ruled his lands and people fairly and with reasonable compassion and good humor. He had a daughter who was claimed to be the fairest and most beautiful lady in the entire kingdom, but she had yet to select a husband.

"I bet she's really as ugly as a toad then!" One of the Wee Folk in the circle laughed, but 'No', the Brown Chief stated, her beauty was in fact indisputable — the finest flower of the entire kingdom he declared.

"Well then, she must have the temperament of a Sandoran fishwife then!" Another Brownie replied, but again the Chieftain disagreed, "Her temperament is very mild and her manner is usually most pleasing, and until recently in all of her one score and four years she's never been known to utter a word in anger. Her annoyance at present is solely due to the great discomfort she feels from wearing a new pair of most ill-fitting slippers that do pinch and bind her most mercilessly."

At this statement the Cobbler was so started that he nearly slipped off of his tree branch. Now this was a problem that a good cobbler such as himself could rectify! But why had this most worthy lady not selected a husband? Three reasons, as the Brownie Chief soon related:

1. The Duke, knowing his daughters sunny temperament, had decreed that the husband to be must be of good humor, as well as having the usual noble traits of either good family (or good fortune), and must be able to tell a joke or comedic song or story that the Duke himself had never once heard before. The Duke, a man most fond of a good laugh himself, had heard virtually every comedic tale possible — except for a good many of the stories told earlier that night by the Brownies to each other, the Chief Brownie laughed!

2. The Duchess, in a fit of pique after some rich cheese had upset her digestion, had ordered the castle's prize winning milk cow 'Bessie' sold off. This had greatly annoyed the Chief Brownie, who loved drinking her cream, and now in 'revenge' he was subtly sabotaging the smooth running of the castle household. The laundry now always came back muddy, and dust was accumulating in the halls and rooms of the castle faster than the maids could sweep and dust. This greatly upset her, and she was demanding the successful suitor be able to "Put the castle aright".

3. Lastly, the young lady herself had declared that she could only marry for 'Love' and that her suitor must do something worthy to win her affection.

Fair enough.

The cobbler had never thought before about the idea of taking a wife. He had always been too poor and could barely manage to keep his own mouth fed, but now he felt the stirrings of something different. His Luck was now about to change, and he felt somehow that he most go for it all, and not just take the first few offered small pieces of it.

Their business completed, the Wee Folk had one last joyful dance around the great oak and when the first dawn rays of light hit the clearing they seemed to just fadeout and disappear as they returned by magic to their homes. Within moments the cobbler was all alone up in his tree, but he waited a good quarter hour more before he finally climbed sore and very tired down from his perch.

Ready and determined to make a fresh new start of his fortunes, the cobbler made his way back out of the forest and home to his village hut where he thought long and hard about his plans for the future. His first goal he decided was to see to the proper punishment of the lazy-bones Brownie, Rollobottom, and he worked out the best way to accomplish this!

Taking his last few hoarded coins, the cobbler traveled to the village tavern and bought a skin of strong Falerian brandy. Powerful stuff, certain to be able to incapacitate one of the Wee Folk, regardless of its endless thirst for ale or strong spirits!

Taking up the flask, the cobbler left the inn and talking in a loud voice, he let it be known all over the village that he had come upon this very rare and exotic liqueur that he was going to hide and let age a bit longer before serving at the later Harvest Feast celebrations. This talk he was sure would get the lazy Brownie's attention and when he later 'hid' the skin inside a large burlap sack in a nearby barn just before dusk, he just knew that he was being invisibly watched.

The cobbler waited a good hour and maybe a wee bit more until he could stand the suspense no longer and crept out of his house and into the barn. Sure enough his trap had caught something as there was giggling and some small movements inside the burlap sack!

He quickly seized the sack and made it secure, thinking that if the Brownie had indeed drunk all of the brandy then it would probably be too pickled to use its magic to escape. Throwing a rope over the barn rafters, he tied the sack to it and taking up a sturdy hoe, the cobbler then began to beat the sack and the captured Brownie with all of his might!

What a thrashing the Brownie took! Soon the Brownie began loudly crying and pleading for mercy but the cobbler continued his onslaught until the cries became just whimpers.

"Bad! Lazy! Good-for-Nothing Brownie!" The cobbler growled, trying to imitate the voice of the Brownie Chief the best he could.

"Rollo, didn't I warn you what would happen if you disobeyed my orders again? Since you've forgotten your last lesson it's time to give you a better one that you'll remember longer this time."

Whack, whack, whack went the hoe again on the sack with the lazy Brownie inside until his begging and pleading for mercy showed some slight signs of sincerity. Again and again over several hours the cobbler pretended to the be the Brownie Chief and gave poor miserable Rollo a good trashing while instructing him to drink and be lazy no more, and give the villagers better Luck in the future or this beating would pale in comparison to the one he'd get the next time!

About Midnight the cobbler thought the Brownie had taken enough punishment and would remember his lesson this time, but decided it was time to gather a few last pieces of useful information.

"Lazy, stupid Brownie! You always promise but you never remember my orders ... I bet you forget everything when you've been drinking. Ha! I bet you can't even remember how to locate treasures later that you've magically hidden."

"Oh, but Sir, my Lord Twinkle-Toes, but I do! The same way other everyone else does - by tossing morning dew from a flower into the air and ordering the treasure to become found again, and seeing where a mushroom then sprouts — that's where the treasure's under! I've hidden many a sack of coins all around the nasty Reeve's house. I remember how to find them, and I'll remember your orders this time — I will!" The poor chastised Brownie exclaimed weakly but sincerely.

"Good, that is correct, but also now tell me what cure you will use to soothe your bruised bones and flesh once I deem you chastised enough to release from this sack?"

"Oh, but Sir, I'll use the usual potion of powdered sable bush root, all-brite flower pedals and nectar from the yellow lotus pond lily. It's simple to make with no enchantments and you can be sure that I'll do it correctly." The pitiful Brownie muttered.

"Very well! I think you've learned your lesson this time, but remember! Good Luck only from now on for the villagers to make up for all of the poor Luck you've given them recently! If I don't see those grain fields looking lush and ripe by harvest, I'll be planting your head in those fields instead and they'll be a new brownie here! " The smiling cobbler instructed, and then added as an afterthought...

"But closely examine the Reeve of this village — don't give him any undeserved Luck, good or bad. Watch him close and give him what he truly deserves, to the best of your talents! Now, stay here in this sack for the rest of the night and think on your misbehavior and how you will properly do your duties from now on!"

With that the sly cobbler tiptoed quietly from the barn and snatched a few quick hours of sleep because he had more great plans for the next few days!

Each morning at the break of sunrise now, the cobbler arose with the first crack of light and walked the grounds of the Reeves house, scattering the morning dew from the flowers and carefully digging where the fairy mushrooms indicated the caches of treasure were. Each horde only contained a handful of coins — it was after all a very poor village, but there were a great many caches. Clearly Rollo had been taking and hiding the Reeve's money for many years!

The Reeve, being a man much a kindred spirit to lazy Rollo, was oft to drink late into the night, and as he had no wife, to also sleep late until nearly lunch time. Thus the cobbler's explorations were never suspected nor observed. After a few days of searching and unearthing these numerous small caches, the cobbler divided all of the spoils into even stacks, one for each of the families in the village, with a few extra coins for the large Tyler family with their 9 children. He only selected a few coins for his own stack. He didn't need much after all being a 'family' of one, and he wouldn't need much money to enact the next part of his plan.

That night he placed each one of the stacks of coins into a small individual sack and left one hanging from the doorknob of each of the villagers' homes, forgetting no one. With his own smaller purse in hand, he gathered his few important belongings and his work tools into a traveling bag and quietly left the village where he had lived so much of his life, but a new adventurous life of great fortune was awaiting him just ahead down the road, or so he hoped!

He traveled for several days until he reach a hilly region near a large town that had been mentioned by one of the Brownies in their report. Near here, a large group of bandits a great many years ago had terrorized a wide area around here and had seized a immense amount of plunder during their heyday — said to be nearly equal to a king's ransom. Pursued by the Duke's soldiers (not the current Duke, but when his father was the Duke), they cunning but hastily hid their loot to make faster time in order to escape but fell into an ambush that only a few survived. It was years before any of the remaining bandits could return to search for their treasure, but it had long been hidden where only the Brownies or someone with great Luck could find it.

Our cobbler had both directions from a Brownie and Luck! It wasn't long after sunrise the next morning before he had discovered where this great cache was hidden, and soon had in his the hands the top-most of several chests packed to overfilling with ill-gotten gold and silver. The cobbler for now just took a few handfuls into his pockets, enough to travel into town to buy better clothes, supplies and start a new more promising identify as a younger son of a minor, but well-to-do family.

Within weeks, the cobbler had established nearly all of his goals! He now had good clothes and a small but nice house in town and his name was on nearly everyone's lips as a young nobleman of good manners and extreme generosity. No beggar, orphan or widow ever passed him but that they would receive a coin or two from his hand and a wish for their well-being. It didn't take long for him to become the most popular young man in town, invited to every party and social function and with the pick of the town's finest maidens to choose from and select to be his wife. But our cobbler had other thoughts for his future bride-to-be.

Arrangements had been enacted to immediately purchase the wilderness hills where the majority of his treasure horde remained safely secured and with these lands a modest title was entailed. That Lord in question was quite land rich, but had no heirs and was very cash poor and was readily willing to sell off his lands and title so that he could live his remaining years in relative comfort in town.

With a newly sealed charter to his holdings and his new title validated and legal, our young cobbler (or should we now say young Lord?) gathered up a few heavy purses of coins into his saddlebags and selected a few choice pieces of jewelry from his treasury (much now in the keeping of the reputable town goldsmith and strictly accounted for to the pence in a ledger book), he then selected his finest horse for the week long ride to the Duke's castle.

He didn't rush his trip and took his time making the journey. He bought a round of refreshment in every village tavern he passed by and regaled the old gaffers with his seemingly endless collections of amusing stories and intrigued the dames of the village with his tongue-in-cheek tales of gossip and scandal from the both the ranks of the mighty to the very lowest, but with amusement not malice towards either. By the time he reached the City of Bartlett near the Duke's castle and checked into its finest inn, advance rumors of his coming were already spreading in the street and gangs of urchins cheered him (and the pennies he tossed to them).

It wasn't long before messengers with dining invitations to the finest households in the city appeared, and before the week was over he had what he had so hoped for — an invitation to dine the following week with the Duke and his family!

By this time, our young former cobbler, now a most promising young lordling, was reckoned to be the kindest hearted and most good natured, handsomest and richest young nobleman of marriageable status in the city or the Duchy — perhaps even the entire kingdom! Our young lad certainly was most of those things, but replied invariably with a laugh that he could think of at least a dozen or so gentlemen that were much more handsome than he was. Oh, how women (and prospective mothers-in-law) love a modest gentleman! This only seemed to make him even more desirable and now he had to politely (but firmly) decline numerous ladies of beauty, achievement and property offering to propose to him!

At last the long awaited evening arrived and our young man rode out to the Duke's great castle where he was welcomed along with a number of other notable guests. Several other young lordlings made no secret of the fact that they were present to bring their own suit for the hand of the Duke and Duchess's reluctant daughter. The former cobbler laughed in good humor and wished each of the would-be suitors' luck saying that he himself had only come for the good wine, fine food and delightful company the Duke's banquet table offered. It came as no surprise that none of those young men held much interest for the young Lady, whose beauty and grace had not in any way been over-valued. Possessing a good head on her shoulders, she recognized the fortune hunters at once for what they were and she was quite plainly resolved to resist their advances.

Our hero enjoyed his meal and made understated but witty conversation as best he might, but took no great pains to draw any attention to himself. Particularly since he had been seated near the end of his table, farthest way from the ducal family central table. He drank sparingly and kept his eyes and ears open and alert, so that he could best judge the currents of his Luck and fortune to await his best opportunity to make a lasting favorable impression, and correctly sensed that it might not occur on this particular evening.

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