This is the first chapter of a story I started writing called “The Cobbler of Belfalls”–It’s not something I made it very far into, really only scratching the surface of a second chapter, but it was inspired a bit by Tolkien’s “Farmer Giles of Ham.” I thought I’d share what little I have, though. ~A.L.
The Cobbler and the King
Long ago, in the southern part of what is now Britain, there was a town known as Belfalls. You shan’t find the town on any modern maps, for it was long since been destroyed and built over, though the history books are scant in details as to how it was destroyed, be it in some long-forgotten battle or the decay of time, but it was located near where Bristol is now. In any event, the town was not large by any means, nor noteworthy in any fashion, except that it had a cobbler.
Cobblers, you see, made shoes. It wasn’t like today where you could simply go to the store and buy a pair of athletic shoes that had come off of an assembly line. Someone needed to make them by hand. Why it was noteworthy is, in those days, very few people in the world wore proper shoes, except for the royalty because of the expense to have them made. Most went barefoot in the summer and wrapped burlap around their feet in the winter. The cobbler of Belfalls made the shoes for anyone who asked, and was willing to barter for prices that were reasonable for even the lowliest serf. And they were comfortable, much more so than the shoes you might buy today, and they lasted longer, but it should come as no surprise, as they were much better made.
Though his name’s been lost to history, the cobbler of Belfalls was renowned for his shoemaking, and although most of his work was done for the local peasantry, one cold October day a king was travelling with his courtiers through the town of Belfalls, when he noticed the curious nature of the peasants – they all wore finely crafted shoes, and not the burlap wraps on their feet that he had seen in the many towns before. And the shoes were of such quality that, though the king would never have admitted it, his looked old and worn.
“You there, peasant!” the king called to a passing villager. “Where did you get such shoes?”
“From the cobbler of Belfalls, your majesty,” the villager replied. He turned and pointed to the signpost in front of the cobbler’s humble shop. It was a small cottage, with a thatched roof and an aloof hound tied up next to the door, laying with his paws in the air, napping. The king rode his horse to the front of the shop, and called out from the back of his horse.
“I say there, cobbler!” he shouted. “I require shoes!” The king, rather stupidly, assumed that simply because he was a king that there was no need for him to get off of his horse to do business with the cobbler. His assumption is much the same as if you were to go to a shoe store and expect that the salesperson to bring the shoes out to you, and was received by the cobbler in much the same way, for the cobbler, with his back to the king, merely called back from his workbench inside while continuing to work:
“If you wish to buy shoes, sir, I suggest you get off your high horse and buy them.” It is a little known thing, but in fact, this was the first use of the expression “Get off your high horse.” Neither the cobbler nor the king would realize the historical significance of such a remark, nor did they realize that its use at this time would spread like wildfire when referring to someone being pompous or arrogant. However, the king was hardly amused with the situation as it stood.
“I said, I require shoes, cobbler! Know you not who I am?” The king called back abruptly.
“Nay, I’ve no idea who you are, sir,” the cobbler called back. “But it’s apparent you know who I am, else you’d not be standing at my storefront, demanding shoes. I can only venture that you’re some kind of highwayman, wishing to rob me of my wares, and I must warn you that my hound is part wolf, and does not take kindly to thieves and robbers.” The hound rolled over, looked up at the king, snorted abruptly, then put his head back down and returned to his nap.
“I say, your wolf-hound is as menacing as a sparrow,” the king called back. This coaxed a chuckle out of the gathered courtiers. “I’ve not come to rob you, cobbler, I require shoes and the peasants have guided me to your storefront.”
“Indeed?” the cobbler retorted. “Did they also tell you I have little patience for arrogant fools who make airs and expect to be waited on like some sort of king?”
“Blast it all, cobbler, I AM a king!” the king cried out.
“And did your mother raise you to have such poor manners as a king?” the cobbler asked. At this point, the king became livid, drawing his sword.
“I demand satisfaction, cobbler!” the king shouted. “You may retort at me all you like, but to speak so brashly of my mother…”
“Sire, if it is satisfaction you have come looking for, I have none of it here,” the cobbler replied. “If you wish to purchase shoes, however, I have many, and you need only come in and I can fit you for them right quick.”
The king hesitated, unsure as to how he should respond. You see, on the one hand, he also came to the same realization that you and I had much earlier, that to demand the cobbler bring him the wares instead of going in to ensure they were properly fitted was quite arrogant, but on the other hand he was a king, and never once had anyone spoken so abruptly with him, save perhaps his father, and he did not much care for the feeling. Dumbfounded, the king sheathed his sword and began to dismount, however while he was dismounting he became entangled in the stirrup, and without warning fell flat on his back, soiling his favorite cloak on the muddy road in front of the cobbler’s shop. Two of his knights quickly dismounted and helped him back to his feet. The king was visibly flustered, but putting on his best air of kingliness, he strode into the cobblers shop.
The shop itself was not much bigger than a stall in the king’s stable, and although the stalls in the king’s stable were actually quite generous in size, to the king’s eyes it actually looked rather small. There were racks of every shape and kind lining the walls, and each rack contained pair after pair of the most unique shoes you had ever seen, in every size imaginable. Towards the back of the shop was a workbench covered with tools, with the cobbler of Belfalls sitting at work. He turned to the king, looked him up and down, and spoke.
“Begging your pardon, majesty,” said the cobbler, bowing quickly. “It would appear that you have something on your royal robes.” The cobbler appeared genuine in his concern, which surprised the king after their initial exchange.
“Yes, well, as I prepared to come in I stumbled.” the king replied, doing his best to not pin blame on the cobbler for making him get off of his horse.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, sire,” the cobbler said. “After all, the good Lord said that ‘Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall,’ and I very much expect He even means it literally from time to time.” This was not what the king had expected of the cobbler. He wasn’t a terribly old man, though clearly not young, either. His voice exuded certain wisdom beyond his life years, however. He was fitter than the king had expected, with blazing green eyes and a full head of reddish-brown hair. Had he not known the man’s trade, he would expect such words to come from a priest, not mocking in tone, but truthfully spoken.
“You are a curious one, cobbler,” the king said. “I see you are a master at your craft, and yet you seem to be a fair learned man beside.”
“I do my best to learn something new by the sun’s setting, majesty. I find it makes life most interesting knowing that I have not attained all knowledge and likely never shall.” The cobbler dusted his apron and walked to the king. “Now, what shoes do you require?”
“I am in need of boots,” said the king, looking at the cobbler’s shelves. “Mine have become rather worn from long travels across the kingdom.”
“I see, I see…” said the cobbler.” Let me have a look.” the cobbler knelt before the king, eying his current boots carefully. “Mmhmm… Oh, yes… Most interesting…”
“What is?” The king asked, curious what the cobbler saw that he himself did not.
“Does this foot bother you after wearing these for a long period, sire?” the cobbler asked, pointing to the king’s right boot.
“Yes, as a matter of fact,” replied the king. “How on earth could you tell?”
“Because of the unusual wear on the outside edge,” replied the cobbler, pointing at a worn seam near the sole. “It appears that the maker of these made them too wide in the center and too narrow for your toes. I imagine you have a blister on your heel as well?”
“Both, actually,” the king replied, astonished that the cobbler could derive so much from worn leather.
“It’s apparent that these boots were made on a form and not for your foot,” the cobbler replied. “They are tighter than they should be, but are just loose enough that they’ll rub and cause your ailment.” The cobbler went to his workbench and brought forth a length of leather, with many small notches marked on the edge. The king could only imagine it was used for measurements.
“Now then, sire, if I may be so bold as the burning bush, as it were, and ask that you remove your boots. This isn’t no holy ground, to be certain, but it makes the measuring of your feet much easier.” The king loosened the straps on his boots, and removed them, and immediately the cobbler went straight to work, measuring what seemed to be the length, breadth, circumference, and just about every other angle imaginable, eagerly jotting down all of his notes on a small pad of parchment he kept in his apron, while he occasionally spoke under his breath between measurements.
“Yes… ah yes…. I expected as much… Hmmm… Ah, there we are…” And almost as quickly as he had begun, the cobbler had completed his measurements.
“Very good, sire,” The cobbler said. “If you return in three days, I will have your boots prepared, and at that time we can discuss compensation.”
“Only three days?” the king enquired, puzzled. You see, when his royal cobblers made shoes for him, whom he considered to be the experts of the land, they were notorious for taking weeks to complete them, working out every minute detail by hand.
“Your ears don’t deceive you, m’lord,” the cobbler said. “The good Lord could raise himself from the dead in that amount of time, I’ve always fancied I shouldn’t take any longer to make a pair of boots.”
“Very good, cobbler,” the king said. “In three days I shall return, and I shall bring a price for the boots at that time.” And with that, the king returned to his horse outside, and the cobbler returned to his work.