The Cobbler and the Brownies
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 d...