A short story encompassing politics, philosophy and life.
|A Tale of Two Tailors
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a beautiful princess. She was a happy child, although given to occasional moods when she became quiet and thoughtful. Her parents, the king and queen, did not worry too much about these moods, considering that they were the natural outcome of her approaching the glorious coming out ball, when she would be presented to the people as the darling of the nation. This ball, too, was the traditional setting for princely suitors to appear and put their case forward as the most suitable prospective husband for the princess. So it was natural that the princess should be bending her thoughts towards her rapidly approaching future.
The truth is, however, that these were not the thoughts occupying the mind of Princess Arachnophilia (for that was her name). At an early age, Arachnophilia had noticed that there were people who dressed as though they were butterflies, with wonderful garments of colorful, shining cloth shot through with gold or silver thread and decorated with jewels and bright ribbons. There were others, however, who seemed to prefer much simpler clothing made of rough and harsh materials of somber, drab coloring. Much of Arachnophilia's time was spent in wondering about this strange state of affairs and many were the theories she considered but had to shelve for lack of definite data. She did not ask her parents about the problem because she had noticed that they, like herself indeed, seemed to be of the butterfly persuasion and therefore might have no information on the opinions of the plain clothes group.
This, then, was the state of mind of the princess as the date of the great ball approached. As a result, she took little interest in decisions of how she should be clothed for the event and the matter of choosing a tailor for the gown she should wear fell to her mother, the queen. Now, the queen knew that the finest tailors in the kingdom dwelt in a village near the edge of the Eastern Forest and they were sent for and instructed to make for the princess a gown such as had never before been seen in the land, a gown so different that the princess would shine like the sun amongst the glittering guests. The tailors, whose names were Euripides and Eumenides, were given a room in the palace where they could ply their trade uninterrupted and the servants were instructed that whatever they required in the way of materials, jewels or precious metals should be supplied to them. After taking the princess's measurements they set to.
The first thing they had to agree on was a suitable design for the gown. This required considerable thought and careful choosing for they were well aware that this was to be the greatest achievement of their lives, the crowning glory to their skill and artistry. The princess, too, made occasional visits, ostensibly to consult with them and be informed of progress, but really because she had noticed that the tailors seemed to be of the plain clothes devotees, their attire being of drab and dreary hue, the materials coarse and simple. She was hoping that she might hear of the reasons for this preference in their choice of garb and considered herself most fortunate to have been given the chance to learn more of this puzzling matter.
So it chanced one morning, while Eumenides was holding forth upon the virtues of silk over velvet, that Arachnophilia was able to say quietly as he paused for breath, "But Eumenides, if both of these materials are so desirable, why is it that you choose to dress in a cloth that bears no resemblance to them at all?"
Eumenides was somewhat surprised to have his thoughts interrupted by so strange a question and, in his unpreparedness, he answered with the truth.
"Your Highness, it is because I cannot afford for myself clothes so expensive."
This merely served to increase Arachnophilia's puzzlement. "Afford? What do you mean by that?" she asked.
"Well, your Highness, I mean that neither Euripides nor I have enough money to be able to spend such large amounts on what we wear."
The princess pondered this interesting information. She felt that she was approaching a much fuller understanding of the matter and resolved to pursue her enquiries further.
"So tell me, Eumenides, are you saying that those who wear clothes similar to yours do so because they have less money than the ones that I call the Butterfly People, the people who wear bright colors and shining raiment?"
"Yes, your Highness, that is so."
"But then, how is it that some have enough money to..." she paused and then decided to attempt the new word she had learned. "How is it that some can afford to buy pretty clothes and others cannot? Why do some have lots of money while others have so little?"
There was silence for a moment and Eumenides glanced at Euripides, hoping that he would rescue the situation with a careful and diplomatic answer. Euripides, however, seemed to be fascinated by a butterfly that had flown in through the window and was taking no apparent interest in the conversation. Eumenides returned to his uncomfortable task.
"Your Highness, it is all according to what we do in our lives. I, for instance, am a tailor and tailors do not receive much money for what they do. A princess, however, is given a great deal of money for the work that she does."
Arachnophilia laughed sweetly. "Work?" she said, "I do not work. And, certainly, I am paid no money for anything that I do."
Eumenides' embarrassment increased another notch. "Umm, your Highness, you do not see the money that you earn because your father, the king, takes care of that. He receives all the money and then allocates it wherever he will." He added quickly, "In his wisdom, of course."
The princess had noticed that he ignored a part of her question, however, and she pressed the point. "But you have not said how I work. What work do I do that I should earn so much?"
Here at last Eumenides found himself unable to answer. No matter how he searched his mind for a reasonable response to the question, he could think of nothing. The silence stretched and became uncomfortable.
Just as Eumenides was about to run from the room in abject fear, Euripides entered the discussion.
"Your Highness is the hope of the kingdom," he said. "The work you do may not be apparent to all but it is very important. You give us security in the future, the knowledge that all our lives will not be torn apart and disrupted when our beloved king dies."
"And how do I do that?"
"Merely by being who you are, your Highness. You ensure that this kingdom will continue, that we can trust in our government continuing without break or internal strife should our present king pass on. And you do more than that as well. You are the most beautiful representation of how excellent is our government and country. You are the symbol of all that is best in us."
Arachnophilia pondered this answer while the tailors waited to see whether she was satisfied and they might return to more important and less dangerous matters. But the princess was an intelligent woman and her mind had been trained in logic by the great philosopher, Rhetorides. She discerned a flaw in Euripides' argument and decided to test him further.
"But, if we who are the government of this land have brought about the situation where one person is paid much for what they do, while another is paid little, surely that is evidence that our government is unfair, that we are not succeeding in making this a happy land where all can share in the wealth of the nation? Would it not be better if everyone had a part to play in government and we could all have a say in whatever decisions need to be made?"
Euripides shook his head. "Your Highness, it is the way of the world that there are those who are paid much for their work and others who earn much less. There are other lands where the government is exactly as you propose but, even in these countries, there are rich and poor, the highly paid and the low. This is not an accurate measure of the success or otherwise of a government. It is far better to consider whether the people are happy in their arrangements for government, for unhappiness leads ultimately to rebellion and disruption."
"And are the people happy?"
"Well, your Highness," replied Euripides, "I cannot speak for everyone but I know that I am happy enough. I earn enough to feed and clothe myself and I have a roof over my head. I am allowed to pursue my trade in peace and quiet and I find great satisfaction in that. No-one comes bothering me to learn my opinion on things that do not concern me. And I am assured that this happiness will endure, for you are here to continue wherever your father leaves off."
Arachnophilia considered these words for a moment, then turned to the other tailor, who had been listening with growing amazement at his colleague's daring.
"And you, Eumenides, are you happy?"
Eumenides had seen this question coming and had prepared a truthful answer and yet a means to return to their primary task. "Yes, your Highness," he replied quickly, "I am happy and contented. Especially, I am happy in my tailoring for it is my joy to create the finest clothes that ever anyone laid eyes upon. And I think it may be time that we returned to our task."
Once again Arachnophilia laughed, not only at the tailor's diplomacy, but also because she had learned something that helped her to understand the world around her. And, as a celebration of that new knowledge, she decided that her new gown should be a reflection of what she knew now, that it should indeed be the most distinctive and original gown ever seen at a coming out ball. She began at once to outline her ideas to the tailors.
In the next few days the princess spent most of her time with the tailors and her mother smiled, thinking that, at last, Arachnophilia was taking a proper interest in the forthcoming ball. Now her daughter would be presented as the beautiful repository of all the kingdom's hopes for the future; now a suitable consort would be found to lead the land to prosperity and peace.
On the day of the ball, the palace became a ferment of preparation. The tailors' room was closed to all for Arachnophilia had declared that none should see the wondrous gown until she made her grand entrance to the ball. Even the queen was barred from entering, her daughter standing at the door and insisting that her mother share in the awe and wonder of all at her crowning moment. The queen acquiesced, secretly pleased that the princess was taking the matter so seriously.
That evening the guests assembled in the Great Hall and the very atmosphere sparkled with the reflection of a thousand jewels, a myriad glowing and gorgeous gowns. As the hour of the princess' entrance approached, the crowd hushed in anticipation and impatience for this was the moment when all the preparations and panoply would attain their fulfillment. For hundreds of years this ceremony of the unveiling of the crown princess to her people had been the finest tradition in the land and every princess had been revealed as more gracious, beautiful and magnificent than the last. The excitement and curiosity mounted to a fever pitch until at, last, the moment came.
The guests were not disappointed. When the princess entered and came sailing down the grand staircase like an angel descending to earth, there was an audible sigh as everyone drew breath at the sight that met their eyes. In silence the princess floated down until she stood before them, a vision so unexpected and incredible that none could utter a sound. It seemed an age before that silence was broken. But broken it was and by the shrill voice of the queen, tearing and rending the stillness.
"Arachnophilia! What is the meaning of this?"
Arachnophilia was clothed in a gown of simple hessian. It was drab brown in color and adorned only with a flower, an orchid, white with golden tips to its petals, pinned to her shoulder. On her head she wore no tiara and on her feet, no shoes, and her arms and hands were bare. In that glittering company she appeared, indeed, as an angel, a glorious and wonderful picture of simple and honest beauty, without need of adornment to be the most striking and delectable creature in that vast, hushed hall.
As the shocked tones of her mother's astonishment faded into the emptiness of the vaulted ceiling, Arachnophilia curtseyed to the assembled guests, then turned to the queen. In a voice pure and sweet, she answered her mother's question.
"Mother, you required of this night that I be so far beyond all other princesses that none will ever forget my beauty. Well, tonight I have chosen to be as I am and not a butterfly made up to be something that I am not. Tonight my beauty stands alone, without assistance, and the land may judge whether I am truly fit to be its princess. Tonight I stand with my people, the ones who put their trust in me, and I declare to them all that this is me, I am not some gorgeous gown sewn by master tailors to awe and dazzle. Tonight I am as I am and let the people decide whether they will have me or shun me. I can be no other."
It is said that the princess Arachnophilia lived to a grand old age as the most dearly beloved of all queens of that land. And the tailors? Well, I heard that they were allowed to return to their village by the forest and live out their days in quiet and contented obscurity. And so I must conclude that they all lived happily ever after.
Word Count: 2,399