I’ve had this longstanding idea for a fantasy novel that would have its own set of fairy tales told by people and cultures in that world (I guess if you absolutely had to compare, it’s kind of like a Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to the Harry Potter-verse). I’d scribbled down some ideas for a few different stories and then shoved them into the back of my mental drawer as writer’s block and lack of confidence in my writing skills hindered any progress.
I know most writers will tell you that writing should be a consistent practice, where you must write regularly as a discipline regardless of your mood (not so with my favorite author of all time, Louis de Bernières, who only writes when feeling truly inspired). Well. I guess you could say I was lucky enough to feel inspired to sit down and hammer out a complete draft of one of my fairy tales in mostly one, but actually three sittings.
Here it is, if you’re interested:
Once upon a time, there lived a talented shoemaker as famed for his mastery of his craft as for his numerous evening conquests. Many a young lady swooned as the handsome young artist bestowed upon them his much yearned gaze, and there was nary a night he would go to bed alone.
His affections never lasted long, though he was romantic enough in bidding his women farewell. For each lover, he would always craft a beautiful and unique pair of shoes to characterize their love, however brief, together. He would then gift her one and send away the other, telling her, “Find the pair and your true happiness.”
One day, the shoemaker finally met his match. She was a philosopher, bold, inquisitive, and adventurous. From first glance, he knew he would have no other woman. None else would bear that bright twinkle in her eye, that mischievous smile upon her lips, those dark brows that would arch whenever she found something curious.
They fell easily into a passionate love borne of true kindred spirits, she a connoisseur of all things intellectual and worldly, he an artist, with a tenderness for all things achingly lovely. She willingly gave herself to him at night, content to lie in his embrace for as long as the moon shone in the sky. But come dawn, he would find his bed empty, the girl sitting by the window, gazing at the mountains that lay beyond their town.
Not long after, the shoemaker realized his beloved was spending more and more time yearning for the hills than for his company. On the day she finally asked for her freedom, he asked for just one more night with her. During the hours leading up to their last meeting, he poured his heart into one last pair of shoes, more beautiful and exquisite than any other he had ever created or even conceived of.
That night, he placed them gingerly on her feet, kissing them as he did so.
“Now you have feet with wings,” he said.
“I don’t deserve these,” she said.
He shook his head. “I give you these to leave me in. But they are made by my hand and so tied to me, and will bring you back to me one day.”
She frowned, but heard his heavy sigh and shed a tear for him anyway. The next morning, she kissed his forehead and flew away, admiring her new shoes as she did so.
First she explored the cliffs outside of town. Then she traveled past them and down into the neighboring village. From there, she traveled from city to grand city, ogling new sights, dancing to new music, mingling with new people, and experiencing new tastes and smells.
At first, she didn’t register the pain plaguing her feet, so absorbed she was in slaking her thirst for the world. But the needles began pricking her heels the moment she stepped out of the young shoemaker’s cottage, growing in intensity with each step she took away from him. The leather, at first so soft and supple, grated against her skin, causing it to blister and bleed.
But the worst agony came from the way the laces tightened each time she found a new lover, constricting her joints and ankles until even sitting would not ease the stress. And try as she might, she could not remove the shoes from her feet. No amount of wrestling the hide panels or stabbing with tools or even burning could penetrate the infernal articles strangling her lower appendages.
After 3 years of unbearable suffering, the philosopher finally gave up on her explorations and returned to the shoemaker’s abode. When he saw her, he smiled a knowing smile.
Her sat her down gently, relishing her weight in his arms and how he could hold her again. Then he gently stroked her shoes. They fell away like a blooming flower.
“You returned. Our love was meant to be,” he told her, eyes filling with joyful tears.
In response, she picked up one shoe and threw it at his head. “Like Hell,” she spat at him. “You’re sick.”
The shoemaker couldn’t speak for a moment. “B-but… The shoes brought you back to me,” he sputtered.
The philosopher picked up the other shoe and threw this at his head too. “If only I’d had a choice, I’d have never set foot here again.”
“I don’t understand.”
The young woman lifted one foot and pointed at it emphatically. “What more explanation do you need?”
Her former lover sighed, looking relieved. “It’s a symbol of my deep love for you.”
“Bull,” his beloved retorted. “This isn’t love, this is a perversion of love.”
“How could you say that?” The shoemaker said, wringing his hands.
“Do you mean to say you don’t see how selfish you are?”
The shoemaker stared at the philosopher blankly. She sighed.
“You had your fill of your world and learned to recognize your fate when you saw it,” she began. “But you wouldn’t allow me the same freedom to become my own person, thinking only of what you would lose, not me.”
The shoemaker scratched his head. “But you left me. You’re supposed to suffer.”
“Then you’re a hypocrite too, since you don’t seem to recall all the women you’ve slept with. Should I tell them how you’ve forgotten their broken hearts?”
“That was different.”
The shoemaker puffed out his chest just a little bit. “I’m a man. That’s what men do.”
The philosopher raised a brow. “Is that so?” She chewed on his words for a moment. Then she had an idea.
“Let’s make a wager,” she said.
Out came a tweed hat. “Pop this on and see how long you can last,” the philosopher said. “You tolerate never taking it off for one week, and I’ll be yours forever.”
It was a deal so simple the shoemaker just couldn’t it pass up. “So be it.”
It started off easy enough. The hat, perfectly fit to his head and made of fine material, couldn’t lay more comfortably atop his hair. It was almost too easy.
The shoemaker laughed. “She’s mine now,” he thought without a doubt.
But soon enough the hat band began to tighten. And tighten. And tighten. Then the tweed fibers started to fray and scratch, scraping at his skin and causing unbearable itching. The fabric too darkened until its dye seeped into his hair and his scalp swelled and broiled.
With all the blood, pus, and sweat coagulating underneath its ratty exterior, the hat began to give off the most foul, pungent odor, causing even beggars to turn from the young man.
Not three days later, the shoemaker approached his once paramour.
“I’m done,” he said, shoulders hunched. He looked up at her pitifully, beseeching her to reverse his fate.
The philosopher scoffed. Three days he had endured, compared to her years. But the point was that she was free.
She agreed to lift her curse on the shoemaker. Then the philosopher left and never returned to the village again.