A Tale from the White Liar Tavern
"The Emperor's Old Clothes"
A Flintloque Short Story by Tony Harwood
Artwork Conceived and Created by Tony Harwood and Edward Jackson
Throughout the realms of Valon the White Liar Tavern in Broomcoat has a very special reputation for the quality of the ales sold and the tales told. During the cold winter months the landlord brings comfort to his regulars by offering hot mulled brews and spiced pies. With steam rising from their flagons it is customary for patrons to recount their stories...
This particular evening was slow and uneventful with few stories being told and many bored patrons nursing their drinks. The long-suffering landlord was busying himself with cleaning tankards and disposing of the slops when suddenly the door opened and in shuffled a poorly dressed stranger, seemingly a market trader judging by the huge bundle on his back. It was roughly wrapped in burlap and held together with string, rope and gut. As the stranger came further into the tavern all could see in one hand he clutched a wizen old staff, on which he leaned heavily, and in the other a second bundle, neater than the first but still rough and unkempt.
As if he were the only customer in the whole tavern the Orc barged past a number of regulars and upturned at least two tables before collapsing into a corner booth, dropping the two bundles and allowing himself a load long groan as he sat on the wooden bench.
“A tankard of your best brew and a plate of broth.” he bellowed. Then, with much mumbling and moaning, he settled himself down in preparation for his meal. The ale came quickly and he drank it heartily. Before too long the broth came and he consumed it noisily. It was only then he looked around at the other patrons of the White Liar.
“Is this the famous White Liar – the tavern renowned for its tall tales and storytelling?” he sneered.
“Aye.” came the contemptuous response from the few who were listening.
“Well I’ve no story to tell, no made up adventures. I’m just a poor tinker, a purveyor of cloth.” He apaused. “Very fine cloth mind you.” At this he pointed to the two bundles and stroked the larger of the two bundles in a strangely familiar and affectionate manner.
“These two bundles could tell a tale though – one that would make a fine story, but I’m no storyteller, just a poor trader plucked from his life as a respected farmer and forced to make his way in this cruel world.” With this he called for a fresh tankard of ale and as he waited he noted with satisfaction that there were many in the tap room that were now looking with some wonder at the two bundles.
“What’s so special about those plain bundles?” Was just one of the many mutterings that came from the bar room.
The Tinker was a master at maintaining the intrigue, just as interest was waning he would stroke one or other of the bundles and even talk to them!
“Now, Now my lovelies, be calm. It won’t be long now.” was one of many muttering that were distinctly heard!
A brazen voice called through the chatter of the open room.
“So what is so special about those two moth ridden bundles?”
With this the tinker took offence and looking around the now gloomy room, he tried to find the face of the one that had uttered this latest remark.
After a short pause the tinker began a tale of wonder from the four corners of the World of Valon.
“In this, the larger bundle I have a sample of the very best blue serge and in this some of the finest purest, white linen. I am transporting it to the monastic market and plan on selling it to the arch-Orcdeacon himself, so fine are these samples. But I’m getting too old for tramping across country, much too old” and looking around continued “I just want to return home, my Muther, you see is very ill and in need of much care and attention. If I could find a buyer I would cut my losses and return home this very evening and be rid of this burden, but alas…..?
There was much interest from the other clients concerning this turn of events and as is the custom in these parts many asked for more. After all is this not the home of tale telling and good stories?
With another sup on his tankard the tinker continued.
“Some time ago as I was travelling between Urop and Albion I chanced upon a merchant who’s wagon had suffered the unfortunate occurrence of having a broken wheel. I offered my help and being from a farming background was well used to repairing wheels and equipment. When the wheel was once again working the merchant gave me these two bundles, saying that rarely had he ever come across such fine cloths, sturdy deep blue serge and pure snow white linen.
He said that I could have both in recognition of the good deed I had done him. As his wagon creaked forward and I accompanied him, he swore that both these bundles were in fact once destined for the Emperor Mordred himself!”
At this statement all of the occupants of The White Liar were now intently listening to the stranger who once again stroked the larger bundle and occasionally prodded back a tantalising piece of dark blue cloth.
“The Emperor Mordred himself?”
The Tinker continued.
“As we rode on the repaired wagon the merchant recounted the tale of how a Ferach ship had been intercepted and then boarded by a Revenue Cutter. The goods impounded and then sorted for sale or dispatch to various depositories across Albion. It was decided that this and other bundles were to be sent to Londinium and there either sold or taken as booty.
But the Ferach Captain was not willing for these two packages to leave his sight saying that both had been selected for Le Emperor.
Customs officials were unsure how to proceed and decided that the Captain and the two bundles would be sent to the local Magistrate for him to decide on what to do next.
The Magistrate was called for and also the local Abbott who by now had got to hear of the find. A meeting was convened and it was decided after much arguing and discussion that the two bundles and the Captain would be sent under armed guard to Londinium – as there others would decide on the fate of this precious cargo.”
From the gathered crowd in the White Liar there was some mutterings.
“Revenue Bounty! How come the merchant came to transport it and what of the Ferach Captain.”
The Tinker looked up and said. “It seems that there were some in the church who coveted the cloth and as the Ferach Captain and two bundles were transported to Londinium, a second batch of similarly wrapped bundles were labelled up for ‘special delivery’ to the Arch Orc of Canteringbury! The blue Serge and fine linen were now on their way South and not to our fine capital.”
“So the cloth is stolen – how else would your merchant have come to possess such fine fabric?” Was a comment from the Landlord.
“Ah.” Said the tinker, taking yet another sip from his ale tankard to hide a grin and taking some pride in the comment Fine Fabric! “The two bundles of fine fabric (reinforcing the term couldn’t harm) were later mixed up with other parcels that were destined for Oxbridge. A simple mishap and one that meant that these fine cloths were now in the hands of a different church faction. Our unfortunate Merchant a purveyor of fine clothing who had been fortunate enough to see the fabric for what it undoubtedly was – The Emperors New Clothes was tasked with accompanying it to Oxbridge where he would be paid handsomely for the deed.
On his journey the merchant was double-crossed by a rogue caravan foreman and the Magistrate, who finding that the original package had been swapped arranged for the Captain to have an untimely accident. Similar accidents were being arranged for the caravan carrying the real bundles of cloth, however when the wheel was damaged – left the merchant to fend for himself. It turned out this was very fortuitous as the caravan, its foreman and all evidence of it has disappeared. It was at this point that the merchant decided that he would not deliver the parcels and make his way (quietly) home.
Many of the White Liar staff and clients were openly in awe of the still unseen fabrics, some were talking of the monetary worth of such a rare find, one that had so mych intrigue connected with it. While the more practical, were already counting and recounting how much profit could be made from this fortunate turn of events. All the time, the tinker stroked the two bundles, playfully allowing brief glances of either blue or white cloth to show through the rough sacking that wrapped the bundles.
At the back of the tavern two Orcs huddled together and schemed a plot to buy the bundles and sell them at the local cloth market later that week, Dicky (Tricky-Dickie to his friends) and Chas the Grey counted out their ill-gotten coins and trinkets in a hope that they had enough to purchase the loot.
“How much would you take for those two bundles.” Was a murmur from somewhere in the tavern. A murmur that took on a chant and cry.
“How Much, How Much, How Much.”
The tinker was in no rush, realising that he now had the whole group of drinkers ‘eating out of his hands.’
“How much, for this fine Ferach Serge, how much for this fine Egupt cotton? Why a kings ransom, more that anyone here could possibly have – but maybe together and as a group you could afford them. After all I am weary and as I said earlier I am longing to return home and see my Ma.”
“So, how much?” Said Dickie. His voice saying what all were thinking.
The tinker played with a strip of bright blue cloth, pushed it back into the bundle and sat back.
“This cloth is easily worth over 500 guineas, it is after all the choice of Emperors. I could not part with it for less than 250 guineas, and even then it would be like stealing for it is the finest Serge and purest linen. Schemed over by Church and Magistrates alike.”
“Done.” Said Trickie as he summoned all the occupants to the back of the tavern.
“Done.” Whispered the tinker “Well and truly done.”
The coins were counted, they were placed into a large leather bag and the tinker said that such ‘good and honest’ people were a credit to this village – he would not insult them by counting the coins. However he must rush as his Ma was very ill and he wanted to be away as soon as possible. As he left, there was the sound of horses and a quick ‘gee-up’. The clip clop of hooves leaving the village at some pace.
But no one paid any attention to the sounds as they were all intent on seeing and feeling this fine serge and pure linen.
Trickie Dickie licked his lips and carefully opened the larger of the two bundles. As he pealed back the burlap sacking there were Oh’s and Ah’s from all around – the royal blue cloth was indeed fine. The second bundle was unwrapped and the brilliant white linen was unveiled. Laughter and cheering was heard throughout the tavern and all were wondering just how much the cloth would sell for at the local market.
The young serving wench, pulled at the blue serge and an old soldier who sat at the side of the fireplace watched as the cloth toppled from the table on to the floor. There was some recognition in the soldier’s eyes. He had seen blue cloth like this before. But where?
The serving wench bent to pick up the valuable material and shuddered as her fingers found something moist, something sticky and brown. As she lifted her finger to her face the soldier recalled where he had last see such blue cloth, before – and covered in blood stains. This was not fine blue serge but the blue coloured uniforms of Ferach soldier’s. He moved forward and surveyed the white cloth – more Ferach uniforms, the white waistcoats and fine breeches of Ferach infantry.
“This is not fine cloth.” The old soldier spluttered out – “These are the uniforms of Ferach, Ferach Guard by the look it.” And as he placed a finger through a gunshot hole. “Dead Ferach Guard uniforms.”
The White Liar was silent and many turned to check out the piles of blue uniforms and white waistcoats. As the penny dropped some of the quicker thinkers bolted for the door, but there was no sign of the tinker or their money.
The whole tavern taken-in by a simple rouse. All their money gone on some Emperor Mordreds (Old) clothes.
Now it's Your Turn...
This article was originally published on Alternative Armies' content portal, Barking Irons, and is reproduced here with permission.