The Emperor’s New Clothes
The fire popped, showering sparks unheeded against the stone. Cloth of gold burned surprisingly quickly, it turned out. Burned – melted? Mira stared at the remains at the edge of the hearth. A little of both? There did seem to be some gold left.
“This is not happening.”
That did not, strictly speaking, seem to be true. She tried to come up with something to say. “Why did you leave it so close to the fire?”
Var’s head whipped up, stung. They’d had other things on their minds when he’d taken them off. “You said you were cold!”
“I meant for you to keep me warm, idiot!”
“It wasn’t in the fire until you kicked it.”
“I can’t help being ticklish.” He probably hadn’t meant to tickle her, but… So they were a little awkward still. They were figuring it out.
Silence fell. They stared at the pile of glimmering ashes some more. It was his pants. His jacket – even his shirt – they could have faked or done without. But how was he supposed to get back to the palace without pants? Even if there’d been a man in the house (there wasn’t), nothing in this entire part of town was appropriate for the emperor.
“I could give you one of my dresses?”
He buried his face in his hands. “I’m going to have you executed.”
“That’ll solve the problem of figuring out how we can get married.”
If they weren’t going to – well, that clearly wasn’t going to happen now, with little bits of golden braid twinkling at them from the fireplace – then they needed to figure out how to get him out of here. Gran wouldn’t be back until nearly suppertime, but heaven knew when Liese might show up. A smart-mouthed ten-year-old was the last thing they needed right now.
They sat. Finally, “I have an idea.” Not a good idea, but at least it was an idea.
His eyes shifted to hers. They had grown up together, and he recognized that tone of voice. “Mira.” She plastered a bright smile on her face and kissed him. “Mira!”
“His imperial majesty, Edvard IX!” A voice bellowed from the crowd. A hush fell, the hush of people who had no idea how to react to what they were seeing. Var was pacing down the center of the street, head high, fully on his dignity – in his braies, shirt, and jacket. And shoes. He had been particularly colorful about the ridiculousness of the shoes.
Nearby, a voice cut through the noise. Kurt, the tailor’s son. “Aren’t his new pants beautiful? But you haven’t heard the most amazing thing. The cloth’s invisible to fools.” She heard a surprised murmur, and then a hasty agreement. Beautiful, it was beautiful cloth. Mira could hear the whisper starting to move through the crowd.
Mira let out her breath slowly and scanned the crowd. Was it working? She couldn’t believe it was working, this was the stupidest idea she’d ever had, but no one was pointing or laughing, at least. She couldn’t decide if it was because they actually believed the business about the cloth or because they just liked Var enough to pretend, but she didn’t care. Maybe they were just too stunned to speak. As long as they stayed that way until after Var made it to the palace, she’d take it.
Kurt, now busy selling the story to the grocer, winked at her. She nodded gratefully. She was going to owe Kurt for the rest of her life. It had taken fifteen minutes after she and Var had shown up for Kurt to stop laughing long enough to listen to her (Var wouldn’t let her kick him), and another twenty to get him to agree to press his friends into service. There were going to be a lot of favors to pay back.
Var was nearing the end of the street, an arrogant tilt to his head that she didn’t think he could have mustered if he’d actually had pants on. Years of familiarity with his expressions under pressure told her that he was swearing at her in his head. He had said a lot of things before she’d convinced him (shoved him out the door), and he was probably going to have a whole bunch of things saved up to say the next time he saw her. If they got away with this, he could say all the things he liked.
Across the street, a face surfaced, all brown braids, bright blue eyes, and inquisitive indiscretion. Oh, no. Liese.
Mira started frantically thrashing her way through the crowd, intent on clapping a hand over Liese’s mouth and dragging her back to the house. The problem was, everyone in town seemed to have come out to take a look at the emperor’s new pants. Or maybe his legs. They were nice legs. Mira let out a hysterical giggle.
Liese caught sight of Var and her mouth dropped open. Too many, there were too many people between them. Liese’s eyes shot to Mira. The moment Liese figured it out was obvious. An expression of unholy glee came over her face, and she opened her mouth, to say God only knew what horrifically inconvenient thing.
NO! Mira mouthed frantically. She stabbed a furious finger at Liese across the crowd, attempting to convey in one brain-burning glare all the appalling things nineteen could come up with to do to ten, sisterhood notwithstanding.
The world balanced on a spindle as the two sisters stared at each other. Then Liese rolled her eyes and closed her mouth, and the world started to move again. Up the street, Var rounded the corner. With a grin born of sheer relief, Mira took one last look at his butt – that was nice too – then went to collar Liese and take her to the bakery for pastries. With sisters, a little bribery went a long way.
This week, I’m participating in the flash-writing contest hosted by Write On Edge and Bannerwing Books. The prompt asked us for up to 1000 words either using or inspired by the following F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “It takes two to make an accident.” Since I haven’t done a retold fairy tale in a while, I was inspired to bring you the story above. For more fairy tales, click here or see the full listing under the Fiction tab at the top of the page. Thanks for reading!