December 12, 2017

The Elves and the Shoemaker - December Issue

Happy Holidays to all!
Enchanted Conversation is pleased to present
The Elves and The Shoemaker Issue.
This classic Brothers Grimm tale was the inspiration for eight writers to create the original stories and poems presented here.

What happens when the solution to writer's block may be worse for the writer? Can a worthless girl discover a talent she never expected? Why does an online store make sure all their hats are specially wrapped in a secret? And what is the price to be paid when elves have things stolen from them?...Plus three more tales where elves and shoemakers are not always what they seem. Enjoy!

A. M. Offenwanger

Bill Davidson

Shannon Cuthbert

Amanda Dier

Matthew Wilson

Heather Talty


This issue was edited by Amanda Bergloff, who also created the accompanying art to the stories and poems.

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Magic in the Night by A. M. Offenwanger

By the light of the full moon shining 
through the window, magic was created...

Girls don’t count. Especially not the kind of girl I was, who was no good at doing housework. I burned the porridge, I broke the crockery, and I scorched the ironing. My mistress was kind and patient, but I could tell by the look in her eyes that I was not much help to her. I tried my best for her, but still the dishes slipped out of my hand, and the fire leapt up to burn the food the moment my back was turned. Was that my fault? Matron said that it was; I still have the scar over my ear from where she struck me with a wooden spoon that day the shoemaker came to the orphanage to get a girl to help his wife.

She was delicate, the shoemaker’s wife, a pale, thin woman with eyes as colorless as the sky on a parched summer’s day. She had just lost another babe—a boy, it would have been, just like the two before him—and her heart was broken. Again and again she had broken her heart; then she had got with child again, and lost that one as well. Babe after babe she carried and lost, and each one took another piece of her vitality with her, until she was too weak to do her work herself.

Truth be told, they could not afford to keep me. The shoemaker had no money to even buy his wife the meat and nourishing food she ought to have had to build up her strength; wages for a maid were out of the question.

But they kept me, nonetheless; they shared with me their meagre food, let me have a bed in the garret. I felt wretched that I could do no better work than I did, that I kept breaking the dishes and scorching the porridge. The last time that happened had been because in was in my master’s workshop, watching him at his work. I loved the smell of the leather, its supple feel under my fingers. I was enchanted by the neat, small stitches he set along the seams, in and out with the needle, so even and straight—my fingers itched to try it for myself. But then the master said, “Polly, is that burning I smell?” I raced to the kitchen, and the mistress came from her chamber, where she had been resting, her quilt wrapped about her, and I was ever so sorry.

“At least you’re company for me, Polly,” the mistress said a time or two with that sad smile in her pale eyes. She should have had children, as sweet and kind as she was, and the master should have had boys, apprentices to work the leather for him, to help him make those beautiful shoes he fashioned. But they could barely afford the food they gave me, even with as little as I tried to eat; they could never have afforded to feed a strapping young apprentice who would want wages, too. So the master did the work alone, late into the night—the cutting and stitching and hammering, and the haggling and bargaining with the buyers who came for the shoes, as well.

The longer it went, the less the master needed an apprentice, anyhow. There was no money for food, and then there was no more money for the business. Not even money to buy leather for more shoes.

“One more pair, my sweet,” the master said one day to the mistress, “that’s all I have the leather for. Just one more pair. I pray to God that he send us a buyer, or we shall surely starve.” Then he went back to his workshop to cut out the leather for this last pair of shoes so he could stitch them up in the morning. His shoulders slumped, and his feet dragged on the flagstones, he was so very, very tired.

And even then they did not send me away.

That was when I resolved that I had to do something. There was so little I was able to do, but perhaps I could help him with his work. I finished the washing up—for a wonder, not one plate broke in the sink that day—and I lay on my straw pallet in the garret, listening for the sound of the master coming up the stairs from his workshop. The third step from the turning creaks, if you don’t know exactly where to step, or if you are too tired to care, as the master was that night. I heard the rattle of the curtain rings as he joined the mistress in their bed, the creak of the ropes that held up the mattress, and shortly afterwards his snores as he fell into a sleep of exhaustion.

Out of the garret I crept, stealing down the steps—I knew where to put my foot to avoid the creaking—and into the master’s workshop. There they lay, on the work bench, the leather pieces for the shoes. There was the last, the awl, the needle and thread, clear as clear can be in the light of the full moon shining through the window. I had watched the master often enough, I knew how it was done. I reached for the awl and went to work.

And unlike the crockery, the porridge or the ironing, the leather bent to my will under my fingers. The needle flew in and out of the thick brown material, stitch after stitch, seam after seam lying down in smooth, even rows. The moon shone through the window, the watchman cried the hours—midnight, one o’clock, two o’clock. My needle went in and out of the leather; piece by piece the shoes came together as if by magic.

The cock crew when I set the last stitch, and the first light of dawn was creeping over the roof of the neighbor’s house. My eyes burned and my head ached, but my heart was singing. I laid aside the needle, swept the little snippets of thread into my apron, and put them on the banked fire. They flared up like the tiniest of coals, and were gone.

I heard my master’s tread on the creaking stair, and in the blinking of an eye, I hid behind the mistress’s mantle, which hung on the hook in the corner.

The master lit the candle and carried it to the work bench, ready to begin his day’s work, when his eye fell on the shoes, ready and waiting on the bench. He gasped. The candle shook in his hand and he set it down, rubbing a trembling hand over his eyes. Then he picked up the shoes, one after the other, turning them over in his hands, running his fingers over the seams I had stitched with such care, a look of wonder in his eyes.

“My love!” he called out, “my love, come and see!”

My mistress padded down the stairs in her nightgown, her fair hair falling in a long braid over her shoulder.

“What is it, my dear?”

Behind their backs, I crept from the workshop, stole up the stairs, then walked back down with a heavy step, careful to tread on the third stair to make it creak. Walking into the workshop I rubbed my eyes, as if I had only woken that instant.

“Polly!” cried my mistress, and her voice sounded stronger than I had ever heard it before, “look what happened in the night! Some spirit has come to bless us, to do us good!”

I did not have to feign my joy, but though my astonishment was less than true, my master and mistress were too wrapped in their own wonder to pay me any heed.

Our joy was even greater when one of the aldermen, a fat man with exquisite taste in clothing, set foot into the shop an hour afterwards and paid my master nearly twice the usual price for the shoes—so well did he like it, that first pair of shoes I ever made, which the shoemaker said were done as well as if they were a journeyman’s masterpiece.

My master sent me out to buy food—three eggs for the mistress he told me to fetch, and a small tumbler of wine. The mistress scolded him for spending the money on delicacies for her, but he only laughed and said there was enough left to buy leather for two pairs of shoes.

That night, there was a spring in his step when he walked up the stairs to his bed, leaving the leather for the shoes cut out on the bench.

And again, the magic of the leather and the thread took hold of my fingers. By the time the cock’s crow sounded, four shining shoes stood on the work bench, their toes pointed and their heels squared.

I silently crept to bed to catch a little sleep before my mistress woke me with the joyous news that the helpful spirits had once again been to visit in the night. I struggled to stifle my yawns that day, and my fingers, which were so nimble in the night with needle and thread, were clumsier than ever with the cups and bowls. But my mistress only smiled.

With the money he got for the second and third pair of shoes the master told me to fetch a piece of beef to make a strengthening beef tea for his wife, and then he purchased the finest red leather for a pair of ladies’ slippers, as well as a big piece of stout brown stuff to make three more pairs of shoes for the alderman’s friends, who had asked to have a pair of shoes just like his.

“Polly,” my mistress asked the next day, when my eyes were so heavy I could barely keep them open, “are you sickening for something?” Her own eyes were much brighter, and she sat up in the kitchen shelling the fresh peas we had been able to fetch with the earnings from the shoes.

“No,” I said, biting back a yawn, “it’s only that the moon kept me awake, shining through my window.”

“Then lie down and rest, child,” she said, and gratefully I obeyed.

The next morning—I had made eight pairs of shoes that night, my fingers flying faster than I had imagined possible—my mistress let me be a slug-a-bed. But when I rose at noon, she took me aside.

“Polly, child,” she said, and her look was kind, “there is a secret in your eyes. Will you not tell me what it is?”

“I—I cannot,” I stammered. “Please forgive me.” I could not let her know that it was I who made the shoes—girls do not belong in a workman’s shop; my presumption would have me sent away.

“Is it to do with what happens in the night?” the mistress asked.

“Yes.” My eyes were on the floor; I could not meet her gaze. “But more than that I cannot say.”

“Very well,” she said. “I trust it is not wickedness.”

“No!” I cried. “No indeed!”

She let me be then.

Every night I made more shoes, until it was a dozen pairs a night, and I slept most of the day, my mistress being so much stronger with the good food the master bought for her she had barely any need of my help.

They prospered, and their wealth grew.

Then, a fortnight before Christmas, over a fine dinner of mutton and stewed cabbage, my master and mistress fell to talking of the good fortune that had been visited on them.

“But I do wish we knew,” the mistress said, “what those spirits are that have blessed us so. Oh, my dear, let us stay awake tonight after you cut the leather for the shoes, and hide ourselves behind the cloaks on the pegs—and we will watch for the spirits to see what like they are!”

I dropped my cup of ale, and it shattered on the table. “No!”

My master and mistress gazed at me in astonishment

“Polly, child,” my mistress said, “what is it?”

“You—you mustn’t!” I said, desperate to prevent their knowing. “Spirits do not wish to be seen! You will drive them away with such spying!”

“Is that so?” The mistress said no more then, but when the washing up was done and the shoemaker in his shop, preparing the leather for that night’s shoes, she took me to task.

“Child,” she said, “I know you know what these spirits are. Is there ought of wickedness, ought that you must tell?”

I hung my head. “I am sorry, Mistress. It is not wickedness, but…” I burst out with the first thought that came into my mind. “They are small men,” I said, “two of them, no taller than my hand—but they are mother-naked!”

Her eyes opened wide at that. “Mother-naked, you say?”

I nodded eagerly, relieved that she believed me. “Utterly naked. Not one stitch of clothing on them, nor hats, nor shoes. They dance and caper about, singing while they make the shoes, and at break of day, they vanish. I heard their singing the very first night, and cannot find sleep now for listening for them.”

“Is that so,” she said. Then she turned back to her knitting.

I believed myself safe then, and as I turned to my work that night, I lost myself in the joys of fashioning shoe after shoe, knowing that in the morning they would fetch great prices to grow my master and mistress’s wealth. But when I laid down the awl and put the last thread snippets on the fire, I caught a movement from the corner of my eye. I turned, and there was my mistress, gazing at me from behind the cloaks in the corner.

I turned and fled back to my garret.

“My dear,” my mistress said to my master in the morning, “my dear, I rose in the night, and I have seen the spirits who have aided us so.”

My heart felt like a stone in my breast.

But a little smile played around my mistress’s mouth. “They are little elves,” she said, “no bigger than your hand.”

“Is that so?” the master said, amazement in his voice.

“Yes, indeed,” the mistress said. “And I have been thinking. Those little elves are mother-naked—not one stitch of clothes, let alone shoes. They have brought us such prosperity, and here they are, naked and freezing in this cold winter. What do you say, my dear, to us giving them something to wear? I will make them little hose and shirts and coats, and you make each a pair of shoes.”

My master readily agreed.

And so that night, when I crept down into the shop, there on the bench in place of tomorrow’s shoe leather lay two tiny, dainty suits for the smallest of gentlemen. The shoes my master had fashioned of the finest wash-leather, stitched with colored silks across the saddle; the vests my mistress had embroidered with flowers, into the tiny stockings she had knit a pattern of braids. I ran my hand over them—such lovingly fashioned suits for sprites who never were.

I heard a sound behind me, and when I turned, there was my mistress, a smile on her kind face.

“When the elves saw the suits,” she said, “they were so overjoyed, they danced around the table, singing ‘Such fine gentlemen are we! No longer cobblers we need to be!’ Then they donned their new breeches and shirts,”—she picked up the little suits—“and they danced out the window, never to come back.” She took a small wooden box, opened it and laid the little outfits inside. “Even elves need to sleep in the night from now on.”

That was the story she told the shoemaker. He took her word for it, as he took her word in everything.

And so, when she told him to take me to work with him in the shoemaker’s shop—she could no longer bear to have me break the crockery, she said with a smile—he took her word on that, too.

My fingers no longer flew over the stitching--the magic had gone when the little elves' suits went into the box. Like every apprentice must, I had to learn and stitch slowly to begin with. But my master soon came to praise me.

"Almost as good as the elves," he said with a twinkle in his eyes, "almost as good!"

My mistress smiled at me over his shoulder, and her hand rested on her womb, growing big with child.

"Yes, the elves have been very good to us," she said, "very good indeed."


Angelika M. Offenwanger has loved books ever since she was six years old and first picked up a copy of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Some decades later, she discovered that she could write stories herself. Her favorite tales are those set in other worlds - whether they are fantastical worlds full of magic, or long-gone times and places. In her off-screen life, she lives in Western Canada with her family, two cats, numerous dust bunnies, and a small stuffed bear named Steve.

Check out her blog: www.amovitam.ca,
and follow her on Twitter @AMOffenwanger

STORY Art by Amanda Bergloff
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The Elf and the Writer by Bill Davidson

Of writer's block, a last ream of paper,
and a blinking cursor on a blank screen...

A writer, for reasons that have been forgotten, ceased to be able to write and became so poor that he only had cash for one last ream of paper. That night, he went sadly to bed, leaving the cursor blinking on a screen which held not a single word.
In the morning, he awoke to find a complete short story sitting before the printer. He was astounded and knew not what to think of it. He read the story through and found it better than anything he had ever written. It was a strange story about a lost elf and how through years on years he had become forgotten and even forgot himself.
The writer submitted the story and almost at once it was accepted, the editor offering a substantial royalty.
Now, the writer knew full well that the story was not his and that night went to bed with a troubled conscience. But in the morning, he awoke to find another story concerning the same elf and his brother and how they first went out into the world, full of hope and generosity, to give help and succor to those in need.
This story too was quickly accepted, and the writer went to bed that night in great excitement.
The next morning, the writer found yet another story. This was a darker tale, telling how the brothers were misused and how ingenious people could be in service to their own greed, forever trying to enslave the benevolent elves. It told how a lantern maker trapped the elf’s beloved brother inside one of his lamps, forcing wishes from him till the desperate elf enchanted his captor so that he became the very lamp itself. As for that good elf, he was no more, and his brother was alone in all the world.
The editor was very pleased and told the writer these tales would surely make his name and fortune. That night, the writer only pretended to go to bed.
The following day, the editor was pleased to see that another story had arrived from the writer. This was a tale of a lazy and wicked author, who was offered a great gift from a kind elf. The foolish man tried to enslave the elf but was instead trapped inside the lines of his story, doomed to spend eternity telling of his own wickedness and deceit.
That was the last time the editor ever heard from the writer. Indeed, no one ever heard a word from him, save for anyone who reads these lines.

Bill Davidson is a Scottish horror and fantasy writer who got the short story bug about a year ago. Since then, his credits include such publications as Flame Tree Publishing, Storyteller, Dark Lane Books, Under the Bed, Emerging Worlds, Metamorphose, Tigershark publishing, and Storgy Magazine.

Check out his website: billdavidsonwriting.com

STORY Art by Amanda Bergloff

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Shoemaker's Wife by Shannon Cuthbert

I sat by the fire countless nights,
stitching shoes as you slept
and dreaming of home...

Nights like this,
I stay up just to watch you sleep,
to watch the flecks of flame that
scatter on your skin.
You, a leather man,
with soft dreams you buried
under layers of stone,
until even I,
a child still with long hair and silk scarves
could not set you free.
For a while I couldn’t find you at all,
upturning chairs
and peering through glass to get to you,
your mind trapped deep,
a winged bird locked
somewhere behind your eyes.
Nothing to lose, I grew a new skin,
let my hands harden,
back knobbed as a birch.
I sat by the fire countless nights,
stitching shoes as you slept
and dreaming of home.
Silver-heeled shoes I’d never wear,
built for those free to leave life behind.
Slowly, we shifted into place,
morning bringing its own escape:
silver-heeled shoes,
the promise of elves,
each let you wake with a new kind of hope,
carried you back to me piece by piece.
Asleep, you glow now,
all see-through skin,
your stone face smoothed by shifting tides.
I touch my own, let its crags sing
of my travels,
of rivers and gorges unknown.
Shannon Cuthbert's poems have appeared in Red Booth Review, The Montucky Review, Poetry Quarterly, and Emerge Literary Journal, among others. Based in Brooklyn, she loves cats, folklore, and rainy days, and any situation that combines all three.

Check out her Medium poetry blog: https://medium.com/@shannoncuthbert

POEM Art by Amanda Bergloff
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The Stolen Shoes by Jacey Bedford

Never steal from the elves...

A poor shoemaker kissed his wife and went out one night to snare a brace of rabbits for the pot to feed his seven hungry sons. He walked from the edge of the town by the Silverwood, a haunted place often linked with strange stories. In the lee of a grassy hill he saw lights and heard music that captured his heart. Forgetting all thoughts of rabbits and the rumblings in his belly, he dropped to his knees and crawled forward. In the dell he saw a sight of such unearthly beauty that it stole his commonsense away.
Elven Lords and Ladies danced in the moonlight, dressed in diamond-dewed cobwebs finer than silk, and decorated with leaves, all the colours of spring, and sparkling brighter than emeralds. The graceful forms and figures of the dance were like nothing the shoemaker had ever seen before. The fairy folk danced so lightly that they left not one footprint on the dew-drenched grass.
The shoemaker watched in wonder, and as he watched he thought that if he could just steal a pair of elven shoes and take a pattern from them that he'd be able to fashion footwear that would make the finest dancer out of anyone who wore them. So with all thought for his wife or his sons flown out of his head, the shoemaker followed the elves back under the hill—and that was the last anyone saw of him.
His family searched, but found no sign of him and time passed.
Seven years later he returned home triumphantly, looking just as he had when he disappeared, and carrying a pair of the finest shoes ever seen. He thought he'd only been gone for seven hours, but to his amazement he found his sons all grown to men, and all in the cobbling trade; though, alas, his poor dear wife was three years in her grave.
What happened in his time in the elven glades he was never able to say, but making the best of what he couldn't change, he showed his sons the delicate elven shoes and there was great celebrating and much shoemaking. Sure enough, from that day, the shoes that the family firm crafted were not only the finest in the land, but also anyone who wore them could dance as graceful a measure as the Lords and Ladies themselves. Word spread, and soon all the proud mamas were buying new dancing shoes for their daughters, and the sons of dukes and earls queued up to have their feet measured and fitted for the next royal ball.
For seven good years the shoemaker and his sons prospered. His sons married and had, between them, seven sons of their own.
But at the end of seven years a strange mist settled on the town. Through that mist the Lords and Ladies appeared, processing to unearthly music, though there were no musicians. They stood outside the cobbler's shop, and one stepped forward, saying that the shoemaker had stolen from them, so now it was time to claim something of his in return. They took back the original elven shoes together with his patterns and lasts, then they demanded a payment that broke the cobbler's heart and the hearts of all his sons and daughters-in-law. They claimed his seven grandsons, and in an eye-blink spirited them from their beds, away back under the hill to make their dancing shoes.
Every seven years the mist descended again, and the shoemaker and his sons were permitted to visit the elven glades. The children never aged though they all became master cobblers, their tiny fingers working with tiny hammers and tiny awls to produce the finest work ever seen.
The shoemaker, whose shoes were no longer the best in the land, aged and died. His sons tried to carry on the business, but no one wanted to buy shoes from a family who had dealt with fairy folk. The sons' wives all ran away, maddened by sorrow and fear, and the sons drank away what little money remained from their good years. One by one they died before their time.
When the last son sickened and died of grief and drink, his coffin was carried as far as the churchyard gate, but no further, by seven infants with eyes as old as the hills, all wearing shoemakers' aprons around their waists.

Jacey Bedford is a British author published by DAW in the USA. She writes science fiction and fantasy. Her Psi-Tech SF trilogy began with Empire of Dust and Crossways and is concluded by Nimbus. There are two books out in her Rowankind trilogy---Winterwood and Silverwolf--and she's working on the third. She's agented by Donald Maass of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. STORY Art by Amanda Bergloff

Find out more about Jacey here:
Blog - Tales from the Typeface: https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/

Follow her on
and Twitter: @jaceybedford

STORY Art by Amanda Bergloff
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