A poor shoemaker went out one night to snare a rabbit for the pot. He walked by the Silverwood and in the lee of a grassy hill he saw lights and heard music. Dropping to his knees and crawling forward he saw a sight of such unearthly beauty that it stole his commonsense away.
The Fae danced in the moonlight, dressed in diamond-dewed cobwebs and golden leaves. They danced so lightly that they left no footprints on the grass.
The shoemaker thought that if he could steal a pair of fae shoes and take a pattern from them that he’d be able to fashion shoes that would make the finest dancer out of anyone who wore them. So with no thought for his wife or three strong sons the shoemaker followed the Fae back under the hill–and that was the last anyone saw of him for seven years.
When he returned home triumphantly carrying a pair of the finest shoes ever seen he thought he’d only been gone for seven hours, but he found his sons all grown to men and all taken up the cobbling trade; and alas, his poor dear wife three years in her grave. But making the best of what he couldn’t change, he showed his sons the fae shoes and there was great celebrating and much shoemaking. Sure enough the shoes that the family firm crafted after that were not only the finest in the land, but also anyone who wore them could dance as graceful a measure as the Shining Ones themselves.
For seven years the shoemaker and his sons prospered. His sons married and had, between them, seven sons of their own.
But at the end of seven years the Shining Ones appeared outside the cobbler’s shop, saying that the shoemaker had stolen from them and now it was time to claim something of his in return. They demanded a payment that broke the family’s heart. They claimed his seven grandsons, and in an eye-blink spirited them away back under the hill to make their dancing shoes.
Once in every seven years the shoemaker and his sons were permitted to visit the land under the hill. The children never aged though they all became master cobblers, their tiny fingers working with tiny hammers and tiny awls to produce the finest work ever seen.
The shoemaker, whose shoes were no longer the best in the land, aged and died. His sons tried to carry on the family business, but no one wanted to buy their shoes any more. The sons’ wives all ran away, maddened by sorrow and fear, and the sons drank away what little money remained from the good years. One by one they died before their time. When the last son sickened and died of grief and drink, his coffin was carried as far as the churchyard gate, but no further, by seven infants wearing shoemakers’ aprons around their waists and with eyes as ancient as the earth.
Jacey Bedford writes fantasy and science fiction and is published by DAW in the USA. She also maintains this blog.
Her new book, The Amber Crown, is due out on 11th January 2022