August 30, 2017

THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES 2017 Issue - Table of Contents

Enchanted Conversation is excited to present 
This issue offers stories and poems by authors who took this classic fairy tale in new directions with their unique ideas. 

What happened to the Emperor after he took his infamous walk through the town? 
How does a cunning Empress inform her subjects on the "real" fate of the Emperor? 
Is a son bound to follow in his father's rusty footsteps even though he knows it would be wrong?...
and just why is nude the new black…
plus four other tales and poems for our EC readers. 

Kiyomi Appleton Gaines

Deborah L.E. Beauchamp

Erin Wyble Newcomb

Rebecca Buchanan

Gerri Leen

Sarah Deeming

Amelia Gorman

Nancy Brewka-Clark

Note: All of the accompanying art in this issue was created 
by Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff, 
contributing editor and art director here at EC.

Re-Covered, by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines

The king had stood naked and vulnerable before his people. The only person who acknowledged the exposure was a small child, and he was quickly hushed. There were rumors that to directly look upon a member of the noble family would render one a fool, or blind, or unfit for service; it would cause one's deepest shame to be revealed, would cost one's inheritance, or render one sterile and heirless. He exposed himself to them all.

The experiment in vulnerability was not considered a success. He wanted to convey that these rumors were not true, were unfounded, yet only prevailed in terrorizing his entire kingdom. He was only a man like any other, he wanted to say. But no, his wise sister insisted, he was not like any other man. He was a ruler, and thus, he must rule. The people did not want to serve and follow a man like themselves; in fact it would be dangerous folly to do so. Common men were built for common matters, equipped for planting and harvesting, for managing crops and animals, or buying and selling and crafting goods. A king had to be above all of that, in order to oversee all of that.

"He is only a man," the child cried out in the middle of the procession, and the king had smiled at that, expecting the people to slowly acknowledge and accept this. He was a man. A man of privilege, who bore great responsibility. A man who would do everything that a man could do for them, and would uphold his duty. But a man, not a god, not one who could heal and guarantee peace and good crop yields and fertility and prosperity. He didn't control all that.

"You must learn to," his sister advised him. "If you can't, they will kill you."

That was what he was trying to avoid. Revolution had come to the next kingdom, and the entire noble house had lost their heads. Their economy had faltered, followed by a drought, and it required kingsblood to remedy. They didn't say so - the executions were secular matters of state nowadays - yet the formula held. The old ways demanded that the gods be given kingsblood when things got bad, and in return, things would get good again. After the executions, the rains had returned to the neighboring kingdom. It was hard to argue with results like that.

So the king devised a plan. He would show himself to be a mortal, frail and limited and human, just like they were. His sister advised against it. But he was king, and surely that meant something, so he did what he had decided.  

The reports trickled in over the following days. Reports of people struck blind and falling into madness. Reports of secrets revealed and the peoples' justice being meted out for social infractions, mobs descending on homes and shops.

What had he unleashed?

He sent his soldiers out to quell the riots. Even their numbers seemed diminished over the past few days, he noticed.

He called for his sister. "It can't be undone," she said.

"How do I move forward?" he asked.

She told him, "I have a robe crafted by the three spinners of old, made of golden thread, and stitched by our wisest seamstresses. It will let you pass unseen. We can go into exile and return after this has all settled down."

"Leaving won't help our people."

"Let the people help themselves. They aren't yours anymore. They don't want you except as an offering to their own fears."

There was a shift in the demeanor of his household guard as the days went by. They still watched over him, followed him as he moved from place to place, stood guard at doors and windows. Now, rather than a protective presence, he began to feel they were keeping him in.

In the council room, as he passed by, he heard the accent of the neighboring kingdom. "The time to act is now," the voice said. "The wealth of this land has been bled away, and it becomes more wasted with every day that passes. It is time for the common man to take his place before god and destiny, to be the true master of his own -"

One of his guards stepped in front of him, blocking the council chamber, and pulled the door closed. "My lord, we should continue on." The king was ushered into his audience chamber, as he was each morning. No one had come to seek audience with him since the procession.

He called for his sister again. A servant was dispatched, but she never came. He waited, he felt he was patient, and then he stopped a maid in the hall. She ducked her head, but he saw her stealing glances at his face. Her cheeks were flushed. Did she still think she shouldn't look on him? "Where is my sister?"

"My lord, she can't be found," the young woman answered. She looked over his shoulder at the guard, and then hurried along her way.

His sister must have made good on her escape, he thought. He should have gone with her when he had the chance. He needed to get some air, to sort out what all of this meant. He knew exactly what it meant, of course, but he couldn't bring himself to accept it, to even acknowledge it. At the doorway, the man guarding the door looked to the man guarding the king. They shared a wordless exchange, nodded, and then the guard at the door stepped aside, and the king stepped out into his walled garden. His sister had always loved this space, and he felt calmer here, as though he might gain the benefit of her advice simply from being in the place she had passed so many hours.

What to do? What to do? He paced and kicked a pebble along before him as he went. He had made a gamble, he had trusted in his people, and he had lost. He stretched, looked up, and over the wall he saw the upright planks of a scaffold being built. His stomach turned.  "What's being built over there?" he asked his guard.

The guard looked for a long moment, then shrugged. "We should go back inside."

The king was not allowed to return to the garden.

Walking up and down the halls of the palace made him feel caged, and so he began to take meals in his rooms. He watched out the window as the scaffold went up and when it was completed, his fears were confirmed.

The morning came when the house seemed alive with a strange new kind of energy. People walked with quickened steps. His breakfast was pushed in with a hurried lack of ceremony, and his dresser never followed. He heard the crowd gathering outside, beyond the garden walls. He could see the tops of the peoples heads and saw his ministers seated on chairs along the platform. There were also strangers there, in places of honor. One of the ministers was speaking, but he couldn't hear the words. And then a woman was led up onto the platform. The minister's voice raised. The people cheered. His sister's face was pale as the executioner lowered the noose around her neck. He saw her speak, heard her voice, but he couldn't make out the words. Then a black cloth was lowered over her face, and the trapdoor opened, and she fell. The people cheered. Though every other sound came to him muffled and distorted, he clearly heard the crack when the rope reached its limit.

A day and a night passed. No one came. He barely noticed. He couldn't tell if the pain in his gut was hunger or loss or fear. Finally someone came and cleared away the remains of his breakfast from that terrible morning. His guard came soon after that, stood just inside the door, silent.

"My sister?" the king asked.

"Gone," the guard said. He already knew the answer, he wanted to hear it though, to gauge some reaction in these people who had until so recently been his people.

"What did she say?" he asked.

"My lord..." The guard hesitated. "I don't remember..."

"Please. What did she say?"

At last the guard spoke, quietly, slowly. "I die guilty only of the name I was born to. May these gods my life is given to appease bring justice on this land. And..."  He hesitated. "And, long live the king."

The king bowed his head.

"She asked that you be given this." The guard set a bundle on the edge of the dressing table.  

"How long do I have?" the king asked.

"Tomorrow. Mid-morning," the guard answered, and stepped out of the room.

The king opened the bundle and unwrapped a finely woven cloak.
Kiyomi Appleton Gaines loves folklore and fairy tales for what they teach us about what it means to be human. This is her second story in Enchanted Conversation. She lives in New Orleans with her husband and pet fish.

An Illusion, by Deborah L.E. Beauchamp

She was a stunningly beautiful girl
dripping in gold and pearls
and clothing from the finest collections;
her name on everything, like an infection.

When she spoke, they gathered around,
listening to every word, to every sound,
What she says must be true,
what she wants we must do.

She had everything that they sought-after,
so they copied every move, even her laughter.

How she talked,
how she walked,
how she dressed,
how she obsessed
but they weren't any happier
perhaps less.

Nothing had changed
it was all just a game.

So be happy about who 'you' are,
it may be tragic
but that's the only magic.

Deborah L.E. Beauchamp is well past the age of a ‘new’ writer but her experience plays an integral role in her work, shaping her thoughts that she paints on the paper. Deborah writes poetry, children’s books and is a photographer.

Art by: Amanda Bergloff

Nude is the New Black, by Erin Wyble Newcomb

The Emperor is always in fashion
Because he tells us what’s new, what’s now.
This season, skin is in.
We’re naked as the day we were born, but
That’s not a simile.
It’s a statement
About where we stand between the lines
The spring and fall collections.

The Emperor is always fashioning
A new collection of lines. What’s new now?
This season’s skin is so last season,
So next season we’ll all be stripped bare, which
Is just another metaphor,
A statement regarding transparency
And reading between the lines.
Each collection embodies a new line.

Spring and fall, the Emperor is fashion,
Because he tells us so. The new and the now
Make way for next season.
We’ve got skin in this game.
That’s just a colloquialism,
A statement piece to remind us of the dangers
Springing and falling
For another collection of lines.

The Emperor fashions himself an emperor.
He’s what’s new and now and next
Because seasons are cyclical.
We always circle back to naked, which
Sounds dirty,
Except for the existential dread about the
Line between vintage and avant-garde,
Past and future, life and death.

The Emperor’s fashion is cutting edge.
It’s not new to be cloaked in power, but it’s now.
Fashion is frivolous, but—no—
Clothes make the man.
That’s an expression,
A lesson about men with cutting edges
Slicing up the lines
That clothe our fallen bodies.

The Emperor didn’t spring up out of nowhere.
He’s now. He’s next. He’s not new.
He’s a made man in a parade of sycophants.
He makes fashion, but we made the man.
That’s a warning,
Echoing through the ages about
What lines we’ll cross
Between truth and lies.

The Emperor fashions the lines because
He tells us and we listen and we want to believe
Nude is the new black.
Whose nude? And who’s nude? There is no neutral.
The naked truth is not the truth.
It’s a collection of questions.
When we will spring up? How will we fall down?
Where will we draw the line?

Erin Wyble Newcomb reads, writes, and teaches in the Hudson Valley, and she records her adventures in homeschooling at; you can follow her on Twitter @ErinWyble. She is pleased for her work to appear again in Enchanted Conversation.

"But he is naked," the child chanted, by Rebecca Buchanan

Glamour shredded,
he stood exposed,
pale in his vanity,
feet bare and bloodied on the stones.

Sated, satisfied, 
the tailors slipped into fae,
to the sharp smile of their queen,
needle bright
as she sewed her tattered heart 
whole again.

Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. When she is not writing, she likes to sit on her front porch and listen to the mad rantings of ravens.

Art by: Amanda Bergloff

My Husband, the Emperor, by Gerri Leen

"My husband, our Emperor was a good man. A fine man. A...well-dressed man. Of all the accolades I could heap upon him—and there are many names I could call him at this juncture—being considered the height of fashion would be the attribute that counted the most to him."

Darling, come to bed. We'll never get an heir if you stand there all night mesmerized by your reflection. You care about an heir, don't you? Or do you wish for me to rule? Of course, I'm only joking. Please come to bed. 

"He was a generous man—and forward leaning. Although some of his ministers tried to pressure him into making it impossible for a woman to ascend to the throne, he preferred to favor equality. He knew I would have the empire's best interests at heart."

I'm terribly sorry, my lords, but the Emperor is in his closet. Yes, of course you can leave that bill here. I'll let him know he needs to sign it. Thank you—it means the world that you see me as humble and dutiful.

What did you say, my husband? Oh--who was that at the door? Just the Lord Chamberlain asking if we needed anything for the night. Yes, yes he is indeed the most considerate man.

"And the Emperor trusted me so fully. Loved me so completely. He said I was everything he ever needed, and I believe he meant that. One of his last acts was commissioning a fine dress for me from the tailors who dressed him last."

Come, my darling, the Emperor is bewitched by his mirror again. He won't miss his Lord Chamberlain if we want to slip away to my stillroom. You always know just what I like.

That box? Why it holds my astounding dress from the new tailors. The Emperor is far too good to me—having one made for me now that he is so finely attired. Why are you looking at it that way? Are you so low-born you cannot see it? Yes, yes, it is beautiful, isn't it? 

"And finally, the Emperor was a competitive man. We all know he excelled at the lists, if not in athletic ability than by the fact that his armor was the most beautiful that could be procured. I think he would be happy that this is how he was taken. Dressed to the nines—or so he thought—on the horse that carried him everywhere, downed in the joust by someone dear to him.

Hello, gentlemen. No, please, don't scurry to measure me. I'm on to you and your swindling ways.

Don't even think about running—I have guards posted around the house. But there's no need for panic; I think we can help each other. 

"It was just unfortunate that the Lord Chamberlain was taken, too. So young and handsome to be lost that way. Both the Emperor and I trusted him with some of our deepest secrets. He was clearly heartbroken that his lance had pierced the Emperor's armor, which of course we've since realized was nonexistent. Then falling as he did—saddles can slip so easily, can't they?—and with him also in the sham armor. Nothing to break his fall, poor boy.

So gentleman, how are you at making suits of armor? Two of them, to be precise. 

"As your Empress, I will make it my mission to track down the scoundrels who perpetrated this fraud on our good Emperor and our empire. They will find no welcome anywhere, and they will pay for what they've done. You know me to be a good and loyal wife, and I shall endeavor to be a moral and beneficent Empress."

Thank you, gentleman, for your service. Shall we drink to our continued partnership? What? Why am I not drinking? The question to ask yourself is why are you? There, there. I'm told it only hurts for a moment. So considerate of you to meet me in this cave. No one ever comes here, and if they do, one will care if you're found dead. The infamous swindlers who killed an Emperor.

Untrustworthy? Me? Hmmm, coming from you gentleman, I think I consider that a great compliment. 

Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. In addition to being an avid reader and an at-times sporadic writer, she's passionate about horse racing (the racing part, not betting), tea, whiskey, handbags, and art. Her work has appeared in: Nature, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, Grievous Angel, Grimdark, and others, and she has edited several anthologies for independent presses. See more at  

The Empire's New Emperor, by Sarah Deeming

Father’s body lies in the crypt, observing the traditional three days wait to ensure he is dead and not in an enchanted sleep. He isn’t. I was there when he keeled head first into his turnip soup. I watched him for a long time just in case he needed saving, but there were no air bubbles.
So, there is no need to wait before his interment, but it doesn’t hurt me to observe this tradition, nor the one about the amount of incense that should be burnt to mask the smell of decay. Also, it gives me time to think while the capital holds its breath to see what sort of emperor I will be.
I’m not sure, if I’m honest. Father expected me to rule as he did. A change of management, not management style. He had been a stern emperor, formidable, cold, heartless. I believe it wasn’t always so, but then The Event happened, and everything changed.
Father was the only person who openly spoke of The Event. He told me he was young and foolish, listened to other people too often, and allowed them to influence his behavior too many times. Two men tried to take advantage of the situation, but Father turned their trick on them, went along with it to show that his advisers were shiftless sycophants only interested in advancing themselves.
I have my doubts. Father was not the sort of man to suffer fools. He was more likely to send them for re-education in the dungeons than parade naked through the street. Plus, no one else can speak about The Event. If anyone does, particularly in the capital, Father’s soldiers round them up. Any man, woman or child who even mentions The Event in any way other than a cunning plan by my father is re-educated in the dungeons. Except those who talk about the size of his . . . ahem, empire. They’re never seen again.
"It was a damned cold day, my boy. Takes a real man to do what I did. A real man," he would say.
My brother always agrees, nodding like his head’s loose. I don’t, but then my brother was taught to lead an army based on the emperor’s orders. I had other lessons.
A good ruler never listens to lesser men. They give petty advice because they have only petty concerns. They cannot think beyond their own gain to the good of the empire.
A good ruler has a strong army. Without a loyal armed force, a ruler is a puppet at the mercy of his court.
Do not waste time or finances on frivolous purchases. Fine clothes and good food are for weak men.
No one slanders the Emperor. To do so is to undermine the foundation of authority the empire is built on and punishable by re-education.
All small children are banned from public events.
Those were the lessons I have received since birth. My younger brother learned warfare, re-education, and to say “yes" to the emperor a lot, which is sycophantic behavior according to Father. Expressing that opinion almost got me sent for re-education. I learned to think for myself within reason. I still needed to agree with Father which is hard when you’re taught to think for yourself. I often worry that Father was more successful with my brother than me. He was never threatened with re-education.
I fidget with the stiff collar of my shirt. Father is in his armor. He never took it off except to go to bed and then he wore mail. His skin was rust-red. I have no idea how he produced children. My brother wants a continuation of Father’s style of rule because he can’t see another way. Perhaps he is the only person who doesn’t hope I will be different to Father. Father tried hard to make me another version of himself, but I don’t think I am.
Will I be sort of ruler who bans my subjects from public events because they are not afraid to speak the truth?
Am I so insecure that I torture people so they “forget” my questionable decisions?
Will I hide behind soldiers because I feel impotent in front of my own subjects?
Is there a place somewhere between taking everyone’s advice and no one’s that I should strive for?
When I was little, I crept into the forbidden room in the tallest tower. It was full of clothes, the finest I have ever seen, made of materials so soft I thought I was touching heaven. So soft, so luxurious. There are only two types of clothing in the capital, soldiers in their armor and civilians in suits like mine, black high-collared jacket and formal trousers with white shirt or blouse. There is one design for men and another for women. Don’t come here if you want a job in tailoring.
I asked my nanny about them. She said they belonged to Father. That was all. I didn’t see her again. I am sorry I never knew the man who wore those clothes, that I only knew the man who banished a woman from saying they belonged to him. I hope she was only banished.
I didn’t understand Father’s single-minded desire to rewrite history then, but I do now. He never got over the shame of being fooled into walking around the capital naked, or the realization that he meant so little to his people, they valued their jobs over his dignity. I understand why he didn’t want to be The Naked Emperor but from what I’ve seen, The Armored Emperor is no better.
I undo my top button and take the deepest breath of my life. Strange, I never realized how suffocated I was until this moment. With the weight of an empire settling on my shoulders, I feel free. There is no more fear. No heavy expectations of an iron-fisted rule. No one looking over my shoulder. Whatever I do now will be compared against a tyrant. I can’t fail.
The impulse grips me to remove all my clothes and run through the palace, screaming. I throw off my black jacket and fumble with the buttons to my shirt. I throw my shirt, and it flies like a bird. I laugh as it lands on Father’s face. Next, I grab my belt buckle. Even in our rooms, nakedness was permitted only for the briefest time while we changed into our bed clothes. I am emperor now and can do whatever I want.
In the wildness of freedom and the urge to rebel against a lifetime of oppression and repression, a voice warns me against overreacting. Doing whatever he wanted and not keeping his trousers on is what led Father to wear armor until he died. There is danger in ultimate freedom. Father learned that the hard way. I don’t want to become him, either side of him. There must be a line in the middle where respect and fear are separate, and laughter doesn’t send people to torture chambers.  
I retrieve my shirt and my jacket, fold them, and leave them covering Father’s clasped hands on his chest.
"I cannot be the emperor you wanted me to be, but I will try to be the emperor you wanted to be," I say.
I leave the crypt and find my brother outside, dressed in armor, ready to obey me. He raises an eyebrow at my state of underdress, but says nothing. Behind him, one-time advisers stare at me. I run my fingers through my hair, freeing my natural curls from the gloop used to matt them down.
"The day of Father’s interment, there will be a parade," I say. "Take the clothes from the tower and all the unused black material in the capital, and turn them into bunting, alternating color and black. I want children front and center so they can see their history. Empty the dungeons, there is no further need for re-education of my subjects. The past is the past. And someone fetch me a tailor. This suit has many qualities but I want to make a few changes. Black just isn’t my color."
My advisers are running to obey before I’ve finished speaking. Only my brother remains. This will be hardest on him.
"Go on," I say smiling, "fetch me a tailor."

Sarah Deeming is a fantasy writer who has recently been published in Timeless Tales: Arthurian Legend edition and Three Drops a Cauldron. She has loved stories since she was old enough to pick up a book and has been writing them since she could hold a pen. Follow her on Twitter @SarahLDeeming.