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!”
That tailor had heard of the baron and his ambitions, it was the talk of every tavern and marketplace, but he had not heard that the baron had a grown-up illegitimate son that he’d acknowledged and was quite fond and protective of. A boy whose mother was a seamstress and he had grown to take over the family business, and with the authority of his father, had created a virtual monopoly for the sale of finer garments throughout most of southern Cornwall! It was law in his barony that none might purchase clothing worn for any official appearance, save through his son!
The Baron had a great many soldiers, and a willingness to use them to meet his ends. Any nearby competition to his favored but illegitimate son was driven off. The regional minor nobles, the gentry and the families of the senior craftsmen soon learned that if they wanted preference, patronage or even the least of commercial contracts, then their attire must be purchased from his son.
In truth ... those garments, just like these three now before the young tailor, were of rather inferior style, materials and construction. Duncan the Tailor enjoyed wealth and the patronage of his father, but his technical skills were quite lacking and he allowed his own pitifully trained and virtually unpaid apprentices to do the fast majority of his work for him.
The guild master’s wife needed to wear these garments in attendance to the Baron ... but as bought they ill-fit and already the seams were becoming loose and unstitched. Could our young tailor fix these? Quickly and very privately. He could – and did!
Repairing the garments required re-stitching every seam anew and the tailor even took the time to properly take her measurements so that the new fit would be an exact one. He worked all night by candlelight to carefully burst the old thread seams out and then by the better light of day he carefully trimmed the cloth edges to a smooth fit and hand-sewed the garment back whole once more. Far better than its original construction!
The guild master’s wife came again the next evening after dark and was delighted with the repairs and pressed a small purse of coins into the tailor’s hand. More importantly, she quietly spoke his praises to other guild wives and soon a slow but steady stream of new clients came to visit the tailor. Invariable under cover of darkness and with much secrecy as well.
Finally our tailor began to prosper, but it was a forlorn hope that news of his enterprises wouldn’t reach his rival in Falmouth, who wasted little time before complaining to his father the Baron about running off that interloper!
At first, the pressures were subtle. The local town reeve came by to suggest that the tailor ought to move to a town a day or two further away. Perhaps even to Plymouth in Devon, it was suggested, along with an obvious bribe of a small purse bearing mostly old worn copper pence for moving expenses. The tailor refused to be pushed away from his home, but he could already see that his future here would be bleak. In truth, this village was not within the rights of the Barony at all, these lands belonging to another minor lord living in another county, far away.
Soldiers of the Baron came next, and upon their first visit they merely menaced and threatened the tailor. The next day they came again and tossed the contents of the entire small shop into the floors and trod up his linen and wool cloth. Forewarned, the tailor that night buried in a chest on a nearby hill all of his most treasured personal possessions, his small collection of good coins and all of his tools of trade, along with the best bits of cloth that he still possessed.
These precautions bore fruit when late on the next day the soldiers came a third time and clasped him into irons, also managing somehow to accidently burn down his shop with all of his remaining fabric and materials as they marched him away to the dungeon at the Baron’s castle at St. Maws, across the river from Falmouth.
In truth, no legitimate charges could honestly be laid against the young tailor. The Baron undoubtedly thought that after a week or two spent in a dark cell along with the rats this would encourage the lad to move on elsewhere, especially since his shop and all of his possessions had been destroyed, it was hoped, by fire. The tailor had a firmer backbone ... but in fact he was none too eager to have his neck and spine stretched on a gibbet either. Perhaps a move to Plymouth was the wiser recourse after all; he started to believe after many long dark days and darker nights spent in his dungeon cell.
Surprising, the guild’s men and women of Falmouth also began quietly speaking on behalf of the unfortunate tailor. He was a paid guildsman, like them and they realized that they too could be arbitrarily separated from their fellows and suffer a near identical fate in the not too far future, at the wicked Baron’s whim. The baron’s taxes, just like his ambitions, were becoming excessive. While the guild could not act decisively, they could speak their council as they best could.
Duncan the Tailor might have wanted our unfortunate tailor’s head swinging from a rope, but his father rather slowly realized that the mood of his subjects was shifting against some of his more random excesses. Grumbling tradesmen today would likely mean grumbling soldiers tomorrow, and the goal of his ambitions was yet further in the future. There would need to be at least a show pretense of justice in his handling of this craftsman, he grudgingly decided, lest all of the rest of his sheep became too greatly unsettled ... and his lucrative tax revenue accordingly becoming reduced.
So, after a few weeks of instructional incarceration, our young tailor was brought before the baronial court at noon for judgement, more than a bit the worse for his ordeals. The charge was a fairly simple one, practicing a guild craft without a baronial license. A patent abuse of power, since the town where the tailor lived was not one of the baron’s properties, which privately nearly everyone present in the Baron’s hall was quite aware of.
Unfortunately, since this document proving the tailor’s claim had been burned in flames along with shop at the hands of the baron’s soldiers, this right to justice from another lord would be difficult to prove. Still the jist of the entire matter seemed clear and the Baron was clearly quite in the wrong, and soon a few voices from the back of the baron’s hall could be heard muttering. The Baron himself was perplexed; the man was ambitious but admitted not a deep thinker and tended to trust his impulses and not restrain them. He’d assume the lad would just accept a very minor punishment and agree to become banished from Cornwall. The idea of a legal fight against his authority had been quite unexpected and in a panic he looked to his chief counselor for advice. That worthy was already in discussion with the baron’s son, Duncan the Tailor, and it appeared that between them some sort of scheme had been hatched to right the proper course of justice. The Baron agreed immediately with a smile, once the plan was suggested.
“You claim to be tailor and now, today, despite from where to claim to have come from, you are now under my rightful authority here in my hall. If you are a tailor, skilled enough they claim to rival the work of my son, then demonstrate it! From this very hour, I give you three days and nights, 72 hours in which to produce for me a summer gown of the best India cotton, fit for my wife. It is so commanded!
Indian cotton, then as now, was a rare and precious trade item. Brought by Arab trade ships across the Indian Ocean to Egypt and to the west or across the thousands of miles of desert that Alexander the Great had once rode, endless trails of goods for the merchants in Constantinople. It was even then nearly as dear and costly as silk ... and far beyond what our tailor could have afforded. Even should he have had the money, no merchant locally would have dared to openly defy the Baron by selling this rare trade good from their stores or warehouses, had they possessed it, which none did.
No one stopped the unfortunate tailor from leaving the baronial castle as he headed back to what had been his home. Even the soldiers laughed at him to run away, to leave Cornwall as fast as he could because their horsemen would be after him in but three days! As he dug back up his buried chest with all of his precious possessions and the last of his best linen and wool fabric, the youth was struck by despair. It was impossible to complete the baron’s command, yet he didn’t want to flee like a fugitive into the east either!
At a loss as to what to do next, the most unhappy and unfortunate tailor took an old cow path that the thought ran east on that cloudy afternoon, but which instead took him south past the village of Verian and to the sea. The path continued along the coast to the northeast and our lad choice this path. The coastal cliff along the pathway was steep and a good height about the surf crashing on the rocky shore below. Famously, this part of the coast south of Dead Man’s Point was renowned for its rocky shoals and miles of sharp black rocks both submerged and along the shore edge that made landing any boat suicidal. The local fisherman all kept well off-shore for several miles, lest they and their all-too fragile craft would join the hundreds or thousands of wrecks along this dangerous and fiercely storm battered shores.
Somewhere near the village and church of St. Gorran’s, the tailor found a steep pathway down to the shore, where above the low but rising tide a bit of a sand beach could be found along with a few rather large rocks that could be climbed for a bit of shelter with a view. It was late in the afternoon now and he was bone tired and weary in body and soul. No one would look for him here and perhaps along the shoreline he could find driftwood for a fire and perhaps a careless lobster or crab caught in a shallows tidal pool. Some useful flotsam or jetsam, washed up on these hazardous shores could be nice to find too! In a few minutes of careful treading upon the steep sandy path he found himself down upon the sea sand and he took a few long minutes to search the length of this small protected cove beach to find something, anything worth the effort to pick up as salvage, or a potential meal, but he found neither.
There was no comfort of a cave or even a bit of ground shelter that wouldn’t be covered by the high tide, so the tailor settled for climbing up on top of the largest of the three main shoreline rocks. Even at high tide, the top of this rock stayed dry and received only small amount of spray as the waves crashed into this rock at highest tide at about only half of its height. Here he’d be safe during the night, albeit quite surrounded by water at the high tide. Since he needed rest and more time to think, this was as safe and sound a place as he knew of to do both.
Unknownst to our tailor who had never traveled in this region, this secret smuggling cove was much in use by several bands of local smugglers bringing in illicit untaxed cargos here through a small little known gap in between the great reefs of sharp stone, and also by pirates, wreckers and salvage men, who preyed upon passing ships and plundering the cargo wrecked upon these many miles of hazardous shores south of Dead Man’s Point.
Tonight, those wicked men were enjoying other pleasures with their ill-gotten wealth and no one came to disturb our exhausted tailor! Otherwise surely he would have been swift prey to their long sharp knives.
Dozing off in a fitful sleep, our unfortunate tailor was awakened by the cries of a woman calling for help, her voice seemingly somewhere nearby in the dying gloom of the last few minutes before sunset in the west. She sounded close, but coming apparently from the water, somewhere lost in the growing darkness and rising waves. Once again she cried out, perhaps nearer but much fainter too, definitely coming from the water that was already just touching the base of his rock shelter.
It speaks much of the character of the tailor and to his credit as a goodly man that without thinking of the certain dangers below, he jumped down at once from his rocky perch and began flailing his way into the rising surf deeper into the water, first to his knees and then up to his very shoulders as the sandy beach began to turn into rock beneath his feet. The first of many shoals was soon before him and surely if he crossed over this first one the waves would begin to bash him up against these seemingly limitless miles of the very rocks that had torn out the bottoms from countless boats over hundreds of years.
Still he pressed on, over this first small shoal and then over the next, until he was certain that with the last weak light of that autumn day that he could see something thrashing in waves in front of him. A weak gasp confirmed that the woman was still yet alive and as the tailor swam to her side and grasped onto the ropes that restrained her, together they were cast by a great wave hard against some group of submerged rocks and then yet again by a second greater wave that quite carried them both over all of the shallow reefs of sharp stone and back onto the safer sandy beachhead. Feeling the hard sand below his feet again, the tailor could now stand and grasp the ropes with both hands towards the small bits of dry sand that still remained, and then to the safety of his large rocky refuge.
It was there with the last echoes of daylight fading into shadow against the cliff side to his east, that he saw that the young woman had been bound up in a fishing net, her arms completely entwined so that she could not use her hands. More curiously, she was quite naked ... and once the last of the fishing net had been cut away from her trapped body he could also see that she had a tail ... a great flowing tail that could have come from one of the great fishes instead of a woman.
The creature he had rescued was a mermaid, one of the rare all too elusive mer-folk who live in waters both shallow and deep near our shores and in a great many other seas as well!
Now our tailor had never heard of mermaids, or of the countless tales that fisherman and sailors both tell of that secretive race. Local fishermen could tell stories, if asked, that to even glimpse one was to bring the worst kind of luck, at best. They had magic to charm and entice mortals to their watery doom. That they deliberately cut nets and even sunk the ships of humans that crossed their paths. A malevolent and evil race, so went nearly all of the tales. Some wise men say that they are of the race of elves; others believe that they are instead a cursed race of men that had rejected the one true God back in the days of Noah and the flood. What the truth of that is, this storyteller cannot say.
In my own opinion, the merfolk are no worse - nor any better than your average townsman and they possess all of the same virtues and sins that our race does. They’re a secretive race, true, but they’d learned to be wary of our fishermen’s ire ... just as the men who work the sea have learned to beware of theirs. Let’s call it a healthy mutual mistrust and blame both sides about evenly.
In this instance some fisherman had unwisely cast out a floating long gillnet to ensnare passing fish overnight, so that the harvest could be collected in the morning, with but little cost of time or effort to the fisherman. This hazard had ensnared the passing mermaid and while she wouldn’t have drowned, being able to breath both air and underwater, once bound in the net and helpless the currents had sent her to certain doom upon the rocky shoals along this coast. Indeed, the young mermaid had been quite close to death before she was rescued, she told the tailor as she thanked him.
In a wondrous display of her race’s latent magic, she even stepped out of the water upon sand with two normal appearing human legs and she climbed up on the great rock with the tailor and shelter. For several hours afterwards she expressed her gratitude for her rescue in other, more personal ways.
Together in each other’s arms they talked of their quite entirely different lives until the sun began to rise the next morning. She told of her simple life as a sea-shepherdess, minding her schools of fish as a herder on land would his sheep. A simple quiet existence far from strife or adventure, usually. He in turn told her of his craft, creating clothing and spoke in near despair of his dilemma, to appease the local Baron and create for him this impossible garment, else his very life might become forfeit!
The young mermaid with reluctance climbed down the rock that had given them such comfort and shelter during the night and she reentered the water, her legs becoming once again a sturdy tail. She waved and turned to swim off, safely through the underwater gap in the shoal reefs to her homeland, but she stopped and swam right back to call out to him, but remaining in deep enough water in the gentle surf to about her waist deep.
“My love,” she called out, “what of all the treasures of the earth, lost upon these terrible rocky shores might I bring you? You have but to ask and that which I can provide shall be yours, as but a token of my thanks for your saving me from certain death.”
The young tailor knew that great untold amounts of treasures surely lay under these waters, lost but for the taking somewhere on the sea floor. There would be great coin chests from countless wrecks from dozens of nations, merchantmen and great warships alike. Gold, silver, pearls and gemstones of a hundred colors could be his, just by stretching forth his hands. Enough to flee this county forever and start a new more prosperous life elsewhere!
Alas, not. Our tailor thought such a gift for his services greatly excessive and unworthy of the equal esteem that he too now felt for the young mermaid. Besides, she’d more than repaid her small debt with her body last night! With only a little reluctance in his heart, he instead asked if some merchant ship had recently succumb to its watery grave bearing any India cotton cloth? Now the mermaid didn’t have the knowledge to tell cotton fabric from other sorts of material, such as wool or even silk, but she knew of just that sort of recent shipwreck and in less than an hour she returned swimming back to the tailor bearing three different bolts of foreign cloth that she thought were each different in type from each other, and indeed all had come from some far distant port in or near India, from the end markings on the bolts.
Examining the three bolts of fabric, the tailor could confirm that the middle one was indeed of good quality cotton and that a few weeks or month or so in the salty sea hadn’t hurt the cloth much. After several washings in good clean cold water, it would quite nearly be as good as new. Perhaps even softer. The color was fine too, an orange-yellow shade that would make for an excellent summer woman’s dress!
He thanked his mermaid lover many times and hugged and kissed her a great many more times as well until they parted for now, both with tears in their eyes. The tailor said that with this cloth he should fulfil his bond-oath to the baron and he could then regain his freedom, then perhaps they could be again together. He swore to return within a week and they made their last farewells.
Since the tailor had rescued the tools of his trade, he could now prepare the garment, but by the time he returned to the castle, greatly to the surprise and wonder of everyone, he had a bit less than two days left to complete his task. He received an audience with the baroness and determined her measure, then in the small hired room of a local tavern he worked day and night burning dozens of candles until his task was complete, but a mere hour before his noon deadline.
With a few minutes to spare before the time-master declared the fateful hour of noon, the most fortunate tailor was present before the baron’s court to present his judgement-piece, the skilled labor of his craft.
Astonishment was the least of the baron’s reactions and indeed his entire court was abuzz with wonderment at the fulfilment of this seemingly impossible task. Duncan the Tailor was visibly so angry that it was a wonder that his heart hadn’t burst with both fury and envy! The fit of the garment upon the middle-aged baroness was perfect and the summer colors most suited her, every courtier and guildsman present was quick to admit.
The Baron was trapped by his own cleverness and clearly the workmanship of the garment was far superior to that of his son’s. Still he could find no direct means to show fault, to declare the demonstration unsuccessful and declare a demonstratively unjust verdict. Such a declaration would be blatantly petty and could result in no lasting benefit to him that he could think of ... save one. Perhaps there was a way, he now considered, that he could win ... even by seemingly losing this rather unimportant judicial challenge.
Yes ... the ambitious baron now had an idea.
“Quite decent,” the baron stated, giving a moderate but seemingly fair appraisal of the tailor’s craftsmanship, “and I suppose it meets local rural guild standards of work, for the lower and town classes at least, or so I would presume. Certainly it’s only barely worthy for the higher standards of nobles, such as our dearly beloved Countess, who will be paying us all a visit in but five days’ time. Her daughter, a lovely but ... challenging, young lady to dress will be in attendance, to be certain. It is for her that had hoped to prepare a gift of a dress suitable for such an august personage, but alas my young son here, the most skilled tailor of Cornwall, has been much involved with other pressing duties. Perhaps you, young tailor could assist him? We’ll require a dress of the finest red Cathay silk, adjusted most cleverly to meet with the rather singular standards of the noble young lady! There can be no excuse for any failure on your part!” The wicked Baron smiled as he commanded this new fresh task.
Clearly there was no option for the tailor to refuse. He’d be forced to do all of the work but the baron’s illegitimate son could claim all of the credit! If he declined or if he failed in this task, it would be back to the dungeons, at the very least. A fate of either broken and forever crippled fingers with the future life as a beggar, or else the fate of a stretched neck would eventually await him.
He had no choice and he accepted this new challenge, with as much dignity and confidence as he could muster, but his heart felt ill at ease.
Duncan the Tailor, was naturally of no practical assistance to his hated rival, but had to permit the interloper the use of his shop at least temporarily for this hopeless task. He merely strutted his authority over our young tailor in dozen or more petty and unworthy ways, declining even to provide the Countess’s daughter’s rather unique body measurements. Being lord over his shop and tyrannizing over his crew of young and largely ill-trained apprentices was thirsty work though and Duncan never kept long business hours himself. Arriving to work late, well after the sun was fully in the sky and also leaving early not long after luncheon to his regular chair at a fine winebar.
Our tailor was now left muchly alone with the junior staff and quickly he befriended these abused young lads and girls by bringing them a substantial late luncheon for all to enjoy at his expense, with his rather few remaining coins from his limited purse. He also helped to instruct them as he could in their other duties, as they prepared much more mundane garments for Duncan’s other customers.
In secret, one rather thin young teenaged girl apprentice pushed into his hand a few well folded bits of parchment that had the latest measurements of the most noble daughter, and the tailor’s heart sank some more. The measurements were seemingly for a hunchback rather than the daughter of a Countess!
In haste, he asked a few of the guilds-wives of the town here and across the river in Falmouth there as well, to solicit their advice from these women who had been his secretive customers, whom also might indeed know of the ailments of this most noble young lady. Most having met the noble young woman before in the past on several occasions.
Gradually, an accurate explanation of the facts was agreed upon by all, that the unfortunate young lady had perhaps a very minor spine disfigurement, a minor unnatural curvature which caused her great pain and discomfort. Early in the day after rising, her shoulders stooped but a little, but as the day progressed to evening, the pain ... and her stoop increased. Wearing a tightly wound cloth binding around her ribs and back helped her condition a little, it was thought, but wasn’t beneficial to her figure, which was said to be otherwise good. The guild-wives also related that this disfiguring pain acted much to the detriment of her otherwise decent disposition. She’d be pleasant enough to speak with in the mornings, but as her pain grew, so did her temper. By dinner, even at important banquets, her mood could rival that of a fishmonger’s surly wife!
Now the tailor could see that the measurements he had been given in secret were true and all too correct. He needed something that could provide structure to her gown, to bind it internally with great firmness and strength, and yet also with flexibility and comfort. Something like bone perhaps, but what little he found here in the shop supplies would not fit his needs. A bone from a large fish or even a whale he wondered? No, the fish bones he found at the harbor market provided from the eldest and most knowledgeable fishermen and mongers both were too slight or inadequate, all snapping at the slightest bend.
That night he bedded down with the apprentices upon a mat of woven rushes on the floor, as he had too little coin in his purse left to spend at an inn. Duncan had a fine house a few blocks away and never returned to the shop at night. He was prone to having a great many cups of rich French wine each and every night and would sleep well and late. The bulk of the tailor’s small monetary resources had been kept in his strongbox, once again buried quite near the smuggling cove, in fear that all that he owned could be seized by the Baron or his soldiers.
Sleep eluded him and by the growing light of the moon passing above outside of the shop window the tailor’s hands began to idly fondle the bound sets of rushs. Willow reeds from the local river he presumed, well dried now but hard, especially to his back, but yet also quite flexible. With effort he could bend one section of the reed mat nearly in half, the willows twisting upon themselves with increasing difficulty but also without cracking or splitting. Much like a yew bow would bend when strung and pulled by an archer!
At once the idea came to him, and with the aid of a few short candles burnt in the quiet secrecy of Duncan’s own private work area, the doorway closed by a pair of hung blankets to block the light and give privacy, our tailor worked all though the night working bundles of fresher unwoven reeds plentifully found in a basket by the rear door. He tried different ideas for how the reeds could be woven together in short strips and then covered with cloth and the sections stitched tightly together, much like a brace. Using the strongest white linen he could find, he worked all night feverishly, enclosing the strips of clean dry willow into the emerging garment, an underbrace of sorts, which would encircle the young woman’s entire waist from just below her breasts (and giving them a not insignificant amount of lifting support) to just above her hips. Bound with sturdy smooth white flaxen cords from the rear, top to bottom that would synch the brace into position when pulled and tied tightly by an assisting maid.
Deep breaths for the young lady might be restricted he admitted, as he admired his completed under-garment brace just after the first light of dawn, but she’d stand tall now and walk upright and even sit without slouching now. Her shoulders and bosom thrust upwards in a manner that nature had never allowed her before. It was a bold and risky gamble, he admitted. An entirely new garment that had never before been created or worn by a woman. It was too different, far too extreme to ever become fashion, he decided, but for a young lady with a bad back, this bit of firm bodily support just might be the answer to her prayers!
Using the last of his ready coins to purchase a large pot of hot oat porridge from a nearby cook shop, the tailor secreted his completed brace under a lower bottom shelf in a corner of the apprentice work area, placing other fabric both in front and on top of the now hidden garment. Duncan, who rarely paid any meaningful attention to his abused apprentices, would never care enough to look or likely notice it if he did.