Story no. 29. Some of my friends are doing a 30/30 poem-a-day challenge for April. As I am not a poet, I am going to try to update this blog every day for this month.
Clunk. Clunk clunk clunk. Splash. Clunk.
Tamarla peeked out of the third-story window of the crag house built on the stone in the middle of the river. A dark figure stood on the bank at the end of the chain bridge. It paced back and forth over the dirty quay, pulling bricks and stones loose from the wall to hurl across the river at his door.
“Tamarla, come out,” a voice like honey and the view from a lion’s stomach called. “I want to talk to you. I need you to make me a vest.”
Tamarla the tailor eased the window open a finger’s-width. “Come over the bridge, and I’ll measure you,” he said over the water. Another stone arched through the air before chocking against the wood of the door below him.
“I can’t,” snarled the figure.
“Why not?” asked Tamarla, though he already knew.
The figure pulled off its cloak, and Tamarla saw that it was a goblin, with golden eyes and tusks protruding from his massive jaw. He was, as many goblins are, lovely in the way that something profoundly of the earth is lovely; scarred and burnished. Four other figures solidified next to him and took off their cloaks as well. They each had the tattoos of high goblin houses.
“Come out, Tamarla,” the Goblin King said, and he sounded angry.
“Neither can I; do you think I chose to work from a warren between two currents of fast-running water, reached only by an iron bridge?” the tailor said. “The King and the Queen put me here.”
The goblins snarled at each other, until one pulled a curled horn from his belt and carefully blew. The sound was low and beautiful, like the King’s voice, and it echoed away through the city walls bracketing the river to the south. Minutes passed, until a great wooden barge appeared from behind the curve of the Prior’s house in the bend of the river. It moved silkily to a stop before the Goblin King, who stepped on it.
They surrounded Tamarla in his stone house in the middle of the river, and tied his hands with a rope made of silver.
The doors of the Seelie King’s castle unlatched, ka-chunk ka-chunk wham, at midnight as the year rolled under midwinter.
Tamarla strode through them and across the courtyard to the keep without breaking the new snow. His black eyes licked over every stone; his black locks hid half his face.
He knelt before the king in the hall, where the winter wind was stronger than it was outside, and all the king’s train was dressed in ice and gold.
“I have been sent by the Unseelie Queen,” Tamarla said.
“Give me your sword and your knife,” said the King. “I have heard of you, Tamarla the Tailor. Will you make a suit finer than the one you sewed for the Queen at Midsummer?”
Tamarla bowed. “My king, I will try.”
The king sat straight on his throne of ancient wood. His hair was white, his fingers were thin and jointed like spiders’ legs, his eyes were gold, and his wings very long. Next to him stood his son, thinner and taller yet, his white hair sweeping the floor. “And me,” his son said, gold flashing in the veins under his skin, “make me a hunting vest of dragon scales.”
Tamarla and the Prince hunted a dragon together in deep January for the scales to make the vest; they spent many dark nights walking the high cold hills in the human country where a dragon had been seen ripping apart sheep and horses and old men. They spoke much, of things they never spoke of to another, and spent just as many dark nights staring into each other.
They returned in February with a dragonskin, and Tamarla spent the summer pulling scales from it and sewing them with a diamond needle to cloth-of-gold. In the day he collected webs and silk from clams’ shells that he spun and wove for the king’s garment; in the night he spread the glittering dragonskin around him in his room in a tower in the Seelie hold. Using a pair of dwarven tongs he slowly denuded the skin, and when all the scales were gone he made a sort of bag of the nubby skin and hid it under his bed.
He presented the king with a gown of silk, woven with a thousand words that no one in the Seelie court but for Tamarla could read, at noon on Midsummer.
At dusk, when he went to bed with the Prince for the four hours of dark, as he had for all the nights hunting the dragon and every night after that, Tamarla gave him the golden vest covered in dragonscales. The prince smiled, and they said more words to each other that no one ever heard.
The sun rose three hours after midnight in the high mountains. Five minutes before sunrise, while the exhausted Prince slept, Tamarla took his tailor’s scissors and cut off his lover’s head. He put it in the dragonskin bag, and no one had found it since that day. The Seelie King imprisoned him and sent for the Unseelie Queen: how could she had sent this wicked fairy into his court? The Queen, her hair and her eyes as black as Tamarla’s, walked over the bridge to the hold the next day. The King’s train flittered their wings and murmured: not in the last thousand years had she come out from her raft under the dark and warm soil in the south.
Tamarla had left her court after becoming the love of her son, she said, and cutting off his head. But though her knights had searched her whole realm, the head was not to be found, and so the body lay limp and lifeless in her chamber, day after day.
The King and the Queen, in their morass of fury, exiled the tailor from all the fairy lands, carrying him to a tiny island made of iron-laced stone in the middle of a river that crossed a dense human city. Some crafty human had long before built a house on the rock, one room per story, three stories, that occupied the whole surface, with the nub of stone left to the south side occupied by a great iron hook. This iron hook was the source of Tamarla’s punishment in exile, for it anchored a chain that stretched to the shore. Every day humans, with their mundane, petty mending and their ugly, foolish garments, crossed the bridge, and the Queen’s geas compelled him to tend to all their needs. He could not cross running water; he could not cross the iron bridge; and no human in the city wanted to lose their best and most inexpensive tailor.
The Goblin King frowned and rubbed the lines in his forehead. “But what about the princes with their heads cut off? Where’d you even put the heads?”
Tamarla shrugged. “In a safe place. A story will happen to them, and they will be looked after, one way or another.”
“I need you to come with me on a journey, Tamarla the Tailor,” the Goblin King said.
“In the human kingdom, the fairy, or the goblin?” the tailor asked, examining the rope around his wrists. The four high-born soldiers of the King jabbed the hilts of their knives into his ribs, and he stopped.
“Probably all of them,” said the King.
“You oughtn’t trust me, after what I did to the princes,” said Tamarla calmly.
“You oughtn’t trust me,” said the King, with a smile that showed all his very sharp teeth.
There are a great many other stories about Tamarla the Tailor; why he cut off the princes’ heads; what he did with the Goblin King in the realm of the trolls; how he was saved from the great and hungry fire in the depths of the mountains by the King; how he in turned snatched the King from the mouth of the Kraken. There are stories that tell of things that happened after Tamarla passed out of them; how the princes retrieved their heads, and who came to rest in the house on the rock in the middle of the river.