The Tailor and the Queen
I met the queen of Ilefrisa when I was seventeen and I loved her the moment I saw her. Of course nothing is ever that easy, and I was no one, a travelling merchant, a tailor, a step above a pauper, maybe two. And she was rich and proud and beautiful, and I knew she had to have me.
I offered to make her a dress, the finest dress the world had ever seen, to wear at the wedding of her brother in the next kingdom over. A real, honest dress, not like that business with the emperor last year. The queen was perfect, and she deserved something better, something real. Something better than me, certainly, but I meant to offer myself to her, all the same.
She accepted the offer of the dress, though I had not yet dared to offer her myself. It was not until the dress was finished and all laced up around her that she asked me the price.
“Only that you take me as your escort to the ball where you wear this dress.”
The queen did not wear my dress to her brother’s wedding. Nor did she wear it to the next ball, although she did let me design that one as well, and I accepted money for it. We had a deal, the queen and I, that she would not wear the finest dress in all the world until she went out with me in her company.
I knew from the beginning how long I would wait. But surely it would be worth it. I wooed her with ball gowns and sashes and elaborate head dresses, with dainty golden shoes, and cloaks, and everything she asked for. I designed the curtains and the couch covers in her sitting room. With every dress I stitched I told her how I loved her, and she never answered.
We played card games in her sitting room. We played chess in my sewing room, and abandoned the rules quickly, for I could never keep track of them. I was always the pawn, in the games we played, and she was my queen.
She was always my queen.
I thought that she was fond of me at least. She was so strong and proud in public. When I laced up her dresses she giggled, and she yelled at me sometimes, seldom serious, but she yelled and laughed, and even just her smallest smiles were something incredible. She was always so calm and cold in public, often kind, but so utterly unflappable.
I flapped her. It was a start, surely, that I could flap her.
I was court tailor for years. I saw others court her, of course. Great grand dukes and counts and knights and princes. She never saw any kings—they would only detract from her own power, and of course that would never do. She was so strong.
Somehow I never thought they would have her. Oh, perhaps I would not have her, either. I was not nearly worthy of her. But none of them had ever made her smile. She always smiled at my dresses. I paid very little attention to the surrounding politics. All I knew was that my queen was untouchable.
And it was for this reason that I was so surprised the day she walked into my workroom, in one of the finest everyday gowns I had created for her the year before, smiling nervously, clenching and unclenching her hands in the fabric at her sides. Her smiles were never nervous. She never clenched her hands, and she would never wrinkle fabric this way. Not my fabric.
“What can I do for you, my Queen?”
“I know that we had a deal, concerning that first gown.”
I nodded slowly, thinking, foolishly, that perhaps my time had finally come.
“And I am so grateful for all you have done for me since that time. But I was hoping that perhaps we might make a new deal, that perhaps you might allow me to wear the dress to my own wedding.”
She smiled again, even more nervously this time, and it occurred to me that I had not seen her so much in recent weeks. She must have been occupied with this new suitor. This new suitor that she was going to marry, instead of me.
“Of course you’ll have to design a very fine suit for yourself,” she went on, “and be presented to the court before the wedding ceremony, as the finest tailor the whole wide world.”
I nodded again, and tried to smile. She only ever talked like that for me, with alliterations like the whole wide world.
I wondered if her husband-to-be had seen her nervous smile. I wondered if he had heard her alliterations.
Selfishly, I hoped he hadn’t, and generously, I permitted her to wear my dress. It still fit perfectly—she had not grown a hair in all of these long years.
I had no desire to be presented to the court, especially on this, the saddest day of my life, but she insisted, and I had never been able to deny anything to my queen, not since the deal for the finest dress was first struck. I left her to her suitor for many days, and began to create my suit. She did not seek me out, and I told myself that it was all for the best, anyway, that she would never have been able to choose me, a tailor, even had she wanted to, and that she should never have to be alone.
She sent maids to tell me all the plans. She did not ask me to design her husband’s suit. I tried to make a habit of not caring—it was all over, anyway. A married queen could not play chess in the tailor’s quarters. It was hardly appropriate for an unmarried one to do so.
I never even bothered to ask the name of the groom. It was nothing to me. I would be gone, I supposed, when the wedding was over, off to offer my services in some other kingdom.
Perhaps she had heard of the trick I pulled on the emperor. Perhaps that was why she did not ask me to dress the groom. Perhaps she knew I would be jealous—I hoped she knew I would be jealous—and thought it unwise to put me, with the history I had, in charge of something so very important.
I would not have ruined her wedding that way. I loved her far too much to do so, strong though the inclination to humiliate her intended might be.
The court was all gathered, the music all playing, when finally a girl was sent to drag me from my chambers. I would rather not have seen these particular festivities.
The queen dashed over to see me, utterly undignified. Her happiness, then, could be set free by someone besides myself. This man had pulled off her mask not only in private, but in front of the entire court.
Good. He was better for her than me, then, in every possible way. She could be happy, as she deserved.
“Finally,” she said, slipping her hands into mine as she had never done before. “You’re dreadfully late, you know.”
She was incredible, in all the wedding finery, made for another wedding so long ago. In all the years since then I had never made a better gown, although it was the queen herself, I thought, that made it truly wonderful.
“I hardly think I matter much, in the midst of all of these festivities.”
“Of course you do. You matter more than anyone else here. Except for myself, perhaps.”
“And what about your groom?”
“My groom? I’m marrying you, darling.”
She had been tugging me slowly across the room. I stopped abruptly, and she leaned closer, peering anxiously into my face.
“That is, if you’ll still have me, of course. Though it would be embarrassing to call things off so very late as this.”
“You don’t think perhaps you should have told me who you were marrying?”
“It was meant to be a surprise. You love surprises. Like that horse I got you in the fall. And you don’t think I buy horses for just anyone, do you?”
“You never pay attention to anything, all locked up in your room with your fabrics and threads.
The city has been a nightmare for weeks. And you are absolutely marvelous, and haven’t a drop of noble blood in you, and there’s a history, already, of tension with the emperor. We’re on the brink of revolt, you know. Marrying you is the boldest political move I could make.”
“So it’s all about the politics, is it?”
“Well, that and that I love you, of course.”
“Of course. And now I wish I’d made myself a finer suit.”