He was once a cobbler for cabbage farmers and swine herders.
He had arrived in this village when he was a young cobbler- seeking a place that needed a shoemaker. He and his young wife found the village to be good and honest- and in constant need of boots and shoes and slippers. And they always paid- in pigs and cabbages.
Thus, the cobbler had to go to market with his pigs and cabbages- amongst the other swineherders, cabbage farmers, merchants, pigs, and ripe cabbages- to sell them for the other things they needed besides pork and cabbage. Even though it was a day spent bartering pigs instead of making shoes- it was a small price to pay for a good living and his family never wanted. He smiled as he looked out over the bustling stinky market- kids chasing squealing pigs, wagons of cabbage, yelling and bartering- before scurrying off to find the leather merchant, cord seller, and tack man.
It was known throughout the land that the King was very cruel. Occasionally, a noble from the duchy would appear at market. There was an unwritten rule that should any noble ever ask about a craftsman, that it was to be said that “thus and thus person came from a village in the south and has returned”. For once the town had a very fine blacksmith- who caught the attention of a king’s captain. He was sent to work for the King’s livery. For a time, he worked for the King and was paid in silver coins everyday. Soon, the King went to war, and the blacksmith was required to stay at the armory and stables during these urgent times. For a time, he continued to send money home, but eventually it stopped and the blacksmith was never heard from again. It was said, he displeased the King. The same thing happened to a very fine tailor and coat-maker. So the craftsman and all the villagers would say that the dresses and tools and coats and shoes came from such and such from the south.
One day, the duke himself went to see how it went at the market. As the Duke passed through the market, he began to notice something. How is it that these cabbage farmers and swine herders have better boots than the King’s army? he thought, for he himself loved good boots and knew a good cobbler was rare in the kingdom. He said to one farmer “where is the cobbler?” to which the farmer said “the cobbler is from a village in the south. He passes through by and by”. The Duke asked a swine herder again the same question and was again given the same reply.
As the Duke passed by the cobbler and his wife at their wagon, he noticed their clothes and hands were not dirty and stained. This is no cabbage farmer he thought as he walked up and asked “where is the cobbler?” The cobbler, who was very annoyed at having missed the leather merchant and glue seller- was surprised at the appearance of the Duke and stood silent. “The cobbler comes from a village in the south and passes by from time to time” his wife hurriedly stated as he stood stunned. “Well,” said the Duke “the next time you see this cobbler, you tell him the Duke is a man who appreciates a good cobbler.” He then leaned in very close to the cobbler and said “you tell him that the Duke pays his cobbler in silver coins- not cabbage and swine”
The cobbler, who thought for a moment about how nice it would be to not have to come to this dreadful market, this stinky smelly pig sty, but instead be paid in money and not have to barter and risk missing the leather and cord merchants. He then told the Duke, “this cobbler- he fears the King. Oftentimes, it is said he becomes displeased with his subjects and punishes them.” The Duke said “Sir, I have selfish purposes in this. I appreciate a good cobbler, they are rare. It would be a discreet treasure for my duchy, one that I would not risk the King taking.” Then, against his better judgement and the stare of his wife, the cobbler said, “I am the cobbler.”
For quite awhile, the arrangement worked very well. The cobbler made boots, shoes, and slippers for the Duke and all his family. He made boots for his guard and soldiers. And he was paid in silver coins and did not have to barter pigs and cabbages anymore. His wife was able to obtain fine cloth and jewelry. They were able to buy anything they needed at the market. He was a real cobbler- the Duke’s cobbler.
One day the Duke came to him and asked him to make a special pair of boots, made of exotic leather and fur and studded with jewels. Pleased to display his skills, the cobbler agreed and worked as he never had before to produce the most beautiful boots anyone had ever seen. The Duke paid him well. Pleased to display his extravagant boots, the Duke went to the castle for the King’s banquet.
The cruel King was in his usual haughty jovial acrid mood at the banquet. He alternatively joked with and then derided all the Counts and Dukes at various points. He would praise and then insult, laugh and then threaten. When he inevitably arrived at our Duke, he berated him, asking “how many cabbages did you bring the Queen this time, Duke Swine?” As the chamber roared the Duke smiled and laughed along. Then the King grew serious and said, “when are you going to bring something useful to the kingdom? if you cannot find any talent in your duchy, perhaps I should give it to someone else?” The Duke stared back uncomfortably. “Sir Connor!” the King said addressing a knight at the table, “perhaps you are ready for a duchy?”
“My Lord!” the Duke jumped up and yelled. “I have found talent in my duchy, in fact, a cobbler like none I have ever known have I found. Look at these boots!” He walked to the kings’ chair and pulled up his cloak to reveal the ruby-studded, fur lined boots the cobbler had made. “Oh my!” said the King, who also appreciated good footwear, “let me try them.” The Duke handed them over to the King who walked up and back with the boots on. “These are indeed the best boots!” The Duke smiled and agreed to which the King said “bring me this cobbler!” The Duke then frowned and said, “my King. This cobbler comes from the south and travels to and fro. When he comes by tell me what your highness wants and I will have him make it for you. Do you want boots like these?”
“I want this cobbler!” bellowed the King. “If you do not bring me him, Sir Connor will be Duke of your duchy!”
He was now the King’s Cobbler.
The King was pleased with all the boots and shoes he made. He gave him assistants, that he taught how to cut -out and sew the best boots for the King’s army. He enjoyed designing all the extravagant boots and slippers, and being given all the exotic materials to work with. The King paid him in gold coins, he and his wife were becoming rich.
One day the King said to him, “I have a celebrated banquet I am hosting. There will be many kings and royals from far lands friendly with us. I want them to see that I have the best boots that are. That I have talent in my kingdom that is not exceeded.” The cobbler told him how he could make boots studded with diamonds, sewn with silver thread, made of black leather. The King was pleased when he was done and proudly wore them to the great banquet. Many were stunned and marveled at the splendor of the boots.
One old rival, a king from the eastern realm, complimented his footwear. “Indeed, I have the best cobbler in the known world!” the King said. “Well,” the other king said, pulling back his robe, “I do not know if you should go that far!” He had boots that were overlaid with intricate gold sheets all over, encrusted with sapphires, diamonds, and rubies. “Well” our King said, dismayed, “my boots are exquisitely comfortable. Those look rather sharp and rigid.”
“Oh, not at all.” He let our King try them and it was like placing your foot in a cloud. The King sent and told his cobbler that by the end of the week, before the guests departed the last banquet, that he would have have gold-plated boots that exceeded anything this king from the east could possibly produce.
The cobbler and his assistants, no matter how they tried, could not work the gold plates onto the boots. The plates would have to be beaten very thin, and then would crack, bend, and break. In despair, the cobbler returned to his old shop to get some of his old tools. A little boy, a son of one of the cabbage farmers, walked in carrying a shoe in one hand, and two small cabbages in the other. “I’m closed!” he growled to the boy. “Oh” said the lad sadly, as he dropped his head and turned and walked away. The cobbler could see his barefoot was bleeding.
“Come back, come back!” the cobbler sobbed and he knelt down and took the shoe from the boy. “I only have this many cabbage” said the boy. “Is that enough?” he asked. “Yes” said the cobbler, thinking he had not eaten cabbage in what seemed like a long time now. He missed it.
As the King bid his guests farewell, the king from the east said to him “send your cobbler over to my kingdom. Working the gold is a skill that must be taught. I had to send my cobbler to a master in the isles to learn the skill.”
“Pity” said the King. “I had him hanged this morning. He was a bad man. He lied to me and said he was a good cobbler.”
He was once a cobbler for cabbage farmers and swine herders.
First published March 14, 2018