Fic Prompts: Folklore Friday
There once was a poor shoemaker who lived with his wife. Business was poor, and they had no money with which to pay their rent, for the shoemaker’s wife had used it to feed a starving woman she’d met on the street, and the shoemaker could hardly fault her for that. Worried, he laid out the pieces of leather left and saw that it would make one last pair of shoes. If he could sell that, perhaps they would pay the rent after all.
He went to bed with a heavy heart.
Morning found what seemed to be a miracle on the workshop table: the most exquisitely crafted shoes he’d ever seen, polished and gleaming in the middle of the bench. The leather he’d set out the night before was gone. As soon as he opened shop, a stranger appeared and insisted on buying the shoes for twice the usual asking price. It was enough for rent and leather for two more pairs besides!
The shoemaker and his wife were thankful for their good fortune, but mystified.
As he set out leather for two pairs of shoes, half expecting no change and half hoping for another miracle, the shoemaker felt as though he were being watched. A chill ran through his blood and something his grandmother had once said rose unbidden to his mind. Favors for favors, boy. Nothing is ever done for free.
The next day, as he had half hoped and half feared, two beautiful pairs of shoes lay on the work table. As before, the shoes sold well and left the shoemaker and his wife with more than they needed. A sense of deep foreboding fell over them, and they recognized that someone was making the shoes in the night, and it was folly to suppose they were doing it for free. So after purchasing just enough leather for three pairs, and no more, the shoemaker and his wife locked up the remaining money in a wooden box, in case whoever was making the shoes should want their pay.
That night, the shoemaker’s wife stayed awake, intending to catch whoever their mysterious benefactor might be while they were busy. Upon the stroke of three o'clock in the morning, the busy snip of shears and murmur of voices drew her attention to the workshop. Hunched over the table were two figures no taller than her waist. Slender and graceful, both had long, silvery hair and delicate faces so beautiful that the shoemaker’s wife almost felt she couldn’t look at them.
Yet look she did. And the longer she stared, the more she saw little cruel lines at the corners of their mouths, and long, long nails industriously slicing away at leather with a sound she had taken for shears.
Their backs, she realized with a start, were hollow as bread pans beneath the tatters of their shirts, and their ears twisted back into points like leaves.
Elves, she thought, and held her breath.
“A favor done, a favor won,” said one.
“And what owes the shoemaker this night?” said the other.
“The first night, his health,” said the first with a cackle, “Last night, his time. This night, his service unto the Court.”
With a dawning horror, the shoemaker’s wife did her best to slip away from the door in silence.
“Oh oh oh!” One of the elves laughed, “what fools these mortals be! And to think he mutters all the while and doles out his money to beggars, never knowing that each day puts him more firmly in our debt!”
The shoemaker’s wife hastened back to her room and shook her husband awake. “Listen well and do exactly as I say,” she commanded, “Go out and bring me your mother’s mourning veil, needle and thread, and two flagons of wine.”
“What is this about?” The shoemaker asked, bewildered.
“Favors for favors,” his wife answered , little mysteriously.