Magical Boots - Sort Of
The old woman knelt down and lit the fire in the stone hearth. It was very cold and she shivered, but the hut would warm quickly enough she thought. She stood up with a groan and shuffled back towards the bedroom. As she passed the kitchen table she hesitated, not wanting to look down at it. Fearful of what she would see. Would they be there? Most likely, they usually were. With a sigh she glanced over quickly. They were there. She sighed again.
She moved slowly towards the bedroom and the old man there, still asleep. No point in staying up in this cold until the fire did its job. Father was snoring fitfully as she took off her old cloth slippers and pulled the quilt around her chin. She sighed again. Father stopped snoring as Mother’s cold feet found their way between his calves. He thought for a moment. Then the reality of life outside the dream world forced its way into his head.
“Again?” he asked, awake now and mumbling through his old gray beard.
“Again.” Mother replied, rolling onto her side and pulling the covers tighter over her chin. The same question every morning. The same response.
Now it was Father’s turn to sigh and he raised himself up on his elbow and gazed out the window to the yard. A snow had fallen and everything shone with a quiet brilliance, pinkish in the early morning sun. Beautiful. Then another sigh.
He pulled his old faded cardigan over his head, he daren’t use the buttons anymore, they would surely pop off. His leggings were stiff and cold and he shivered himself as he pulled them on and up over his withered old thighs.
He shuffled out into the kitchen, pulled a chair over and sat, staring at the small, blue leather boots placed lovingly in the middle of the table. Exquisite workmanship, every stitch a marvel and the shining blue leather glowed so that he could see his face reflected in them. The bright red laces crisscrossed to the uppers where a yellow band of soft cloth circumvented the opening. The soles were dark and the tongues a slightly different hue than the main boot. Exquisite was the only word you could use to describe them. Exquisite and useless.
Father stood, picked up the boots and walked to the window. He opened the shutter and flung the boots on the pile of other boots flung there every morning. An ever-growing repository of pointless, sapphire footwear.
He had no use for them. They were of a size that fit neither he nor Mother nor young Sethbard. After they first started appearing on the table every morning, Father was initially amazed. Incredulous, in fact. Certainly, nobody in the family ever saw the elves that made them every night and left them there, perfectly fashioned, for the morning. If it was the work of elves, of course. But what other explanation? Anyway, every attempt to spot the creatures at work, or, if they did the work elsewhere and brought them here in secret, had failed. He had even laid a trap for them one night, but took it apart before long. He had no heart to hurt the creatures. They were just bringing useless boots, not stealing his chickens.
After he mentioned to old Jaspar, who lived up the road and had seen or experienced almost everything, about the phenomena, Jaspar had told him he had heard of such things happening before. But usually to more relevant individuals. Shoemakers, for instance. Not woodcutters. So, Father had taken the six pairs of shoes into town on the Saturday and tried to sell them at the market. Two people bought them as oddities after hearing the tale but that novelty soon wore off. Then a man name Lawrence, whom everybody hated bought a pair. After that he couldn’t sell any at all. Even Lawrence quickly disposed of his when he realized that everybody was laughing at him behind his back.
The boots were made in the style known as Elegantary. Perfect replicas in fact. But that style had been left behind twenty years ago and wasn’t going to come back anytime soon. After a couple of weeks of this he had stopped going into town. It cost more energy to pack the mule and ride it the ten miles than he could make even had he managed to sell them.
So now all he could do was pile them up outside the window and, once a week, burn them in a heap. He couldn’t even use them as fuel for their fireplace as the boots stank with an ungodly smell when you set fire to them. He kept the first pair he had ever received up on the mantle. After all, it was somewhat amazing when you thought of it. Beautiful blue boots appearing, magically, every morning on the kitchen table.
Of course, there were some grumblings going on. Every now and then a local farmer would show up at his door and complain of a cow gone missing. It seemed that these magical elves didn’t have a source of magical leather and Father presumed that the missing cows were finding their way into the subterranean tanning sheds of the Little Folk. But what could the farmers do? They had heard of the constantly appearing boots but there was no proof one way or the other of where the leather had come from and certainly nobody suspected Father of stealing the cows. To what end? He just burnt the boots after all.
Father had tried to make a deal with Viktor, the actual shoemaker to the town, who lived only a few miles away. The thought was that if they traded houses perhaps the elves would adapt and manufacture more readily purveyed footwear in a more recent style. Viktor could leave drawings out for instance. Viktor had agreed, being a little greedy and also addled by years of breathing in toxic shoe dye. The two families had exchanged locations even though Viktor’s house was by far the better of the two and Viktor’s wife complained mightily.
But it didn’t work out in the end. After the first night of trans-migration, Father and Mother awoke to find the familiar blue boots laid out on the table but in Viktor’s kitchen. No boots appeared in the original house, so the deal was off and things went on as they had before. Apparently the elves would only deal with Father.
One thing came out of it though. Or soon would. Sethbard was starting to grow into a young man and at least one pair of the boots would get some use eventually. Besides, Sethbard had unusually small feet, even for a prepubescent.
That self-same Sethbard came out of his room rubbing at his eyes. He went over to the fireplace where the cauldron of soup that lived there was now happily hissing away over the open flames. He ladled some soup into a wooden bowl and sat at the table. Father came and sat across from him with his own bowl. He rolled some bread towards Sethbard. As the bread rolled, something extricated itself from the soft dough and scurried over the edge of the table landing with a small thump on the warped boards of the pinewood floor.
Sethbard tore off a chunk and munched at it thoughtfully. He didn’t mention the boots. No point, really. Everyone knew that they had probably appeared and that they would now be sitting atop the boot pile. A boot pile that would soon be white with the new-fallen snow. White but for a bright blue topping provided by the recently tossed pair.
“I thought’, Father said,” that we would start out by the pasture today. Get a cord or two by night fall. The river elms are ready to be felled.”
“Great’, Sethbard replied, trying to sound enthusiastic. It wasn’t easy to be the son of the local woodcutter. Even though he was twelve going on thirteen. He went to school every other week and every other week had to catch up with the rest of his classmates with what he had missed. He missed half of everything. He knew what two plus two and four plus four added up to, for example, but was totally lost with three plus three. Anyway, Father needed him; he was too old to do the work by himself now. Woodcutting took its toll, Father was only forty-three but looked seventy. Mother would tend to the house and took in sewing work, which she completed in the evening, rubbing at her eyes repeatedly in the glow of the candles until the work was done.
Father looked at Sethbard affectionately. He knew how tedious this work could be and that, sooner or later, his son would want to flee this life and start out on his own. After all, chopping down trees day after day and piling them into the wagon wasn’t very satisfying as mind-numbing chores went. So, passing down the work of a woodcutter on to your son wasn’t an easy sell. He had no illusions that the day would come when Sethbard would go. He only hoped that he had enough coins put by to last his wife and he until they slept together in the warm earth. He had eleven so far.
Sethbard was smart as a whip and strong and agile. There was no limit to what he might do, the places he could go and the things he would achieve. Perhaps that would happen quickly and then he would send Father and Mother some coins every now and then, perhaps. But it was winter coming on now and they had to get the stock piles high before the snow made it all but impossible, even with the old mule, Dotty, to help.
The castle had needs and those needs had to be met. There were plenty of woodcutters around waiting for a spot on the royal charter to open up. There were twenty woodcutters on the payroll and of them all, Father was the oldest, the most respected and would surely be the first to be replaced. Young Joppy was the youngest and most aggressive of the aspiring woodcutters and would sometimes leer at them as he trundled by on his cart with his fine mare leading the way. The mare could travel twice as fast as Dotty under load and therefore Joppy, and his dolt of a brother, Langford, could more than double the production rate of Father and Sethbard. Sethbard hated Joppy. More on this later.
But Father had seniority and the quartermaster of the castle, Sir Billingsly, was a just and equitable procurer and admired Father’s longevity and persistence at his grueling life’s work. No, Father’s job was quite safe if he reliably showed up every other day with a load.
Sethbard set about his duties. He pulled his gray coat over his shoulders and trundled through the rapidly accumulating snow to the shed. He pulled out the axes and saws and set about sharpening them for the days work. The broad-axes were old but workable. The cross-cut saw however had long ago seen its day. Every fourth or fifth tooth was missing and made the job of pulling the blade back and forth through a tree almost impossible. When he, Sethbard, had made his fortune he would replace this saw he thought. That would make it much easier for Father to tend to his back-breaking labour. Sethbard hadn’t really thought it through that much.