Vanwillam was a tailor with a shop by the river. He made cloaks and capes, skirts and shirts, while his friends laughed at him for the dull life he led. “Surely you can find a more interesting line of work,” they said. “Tailoring is so dull.”
“True,” Vanwillam replied. “But it’s a job that needs doing, and when there’s a job that needs doing, I’m willing to do it.”
One day, as Vanwillam was about to take his first snip of black velvet, he heard the town crier outside. Curious, Vanwillam opened his window.
The town crier unrolled an impressive-looking scroll. “King Blander issues the following proclamation,” he announced. “A box containing the deed to the kingdom was stolen by his beautiful but wicked stepsister, Zelda. Whoever retrieves the deed from Zelda’s home in Peligro Swamp will be royally rewarded.”
He rolled up the scroll and hurried to the next corner.
Vanwillam slowly withdrew his head from the window. So Zelda had stolen the deed to the kingdom. It was hardly a surprise. She believed the kingdom was rightfully hers. With the deed, she might claim the right to rule, and nobody wanted her as queen.
Vanwillam looked at the velvet on his table. He’d promised to make a cloak for the Earl of Thomble. Still, how could he work when the kingdom was at risk? He was only a humble tailor, but he wasn’t the sort to sit idly by when danger threatened. So he packed the tools of his trade—the black velvet, scissors, a tape measure, buttons, and a needle and thread. Then he strode down the road to Peligro Swamp.
On the way he met several who had already tried to retrieve the deed. They laughed at his shortness and lack of weapons, warned of quicksand and alligators, and doubted that a tailor could succeed where knights had failed.
Nevertheless, he pressed on, determined to do what he could.
Peligro Swamp appeared ahead. It was dark and dank. Spanish moss hung like thick gray spiderwebs.
Mindful of the warnings he had received, he tied the scissors to his tape measure, then swung them over his head and let them fly. They landed in the swamp and sank—quicksand!
He pulled them back and hurled them again and again until he found solid ground. He stepped there, dropped a button, and swung again. Thus he made his way through the swamp to dry earth bordering a slimy green pond where a dozen ominous green shapes bobbed in the water.
Quickly he pulled out his needle and threaded it with sturdy button thread. As each of the alligators pulled itself to shore, drawn by the thought of a tailor lunch, Vanwillam grabbed its jaws and, with a few quick stitches, sewed each mouth shut. Soon there were a dozen angry alligators on the shore, thrashing their heads around.
A path led away from the pond. Shouldering his bag, Vanwillam followed it. Night was settling in when he found Zelda’s home. His knees quivered, but he straightened his back and knocked.
“My name’s Vanwillam,” he said when Zelda opened the door. “Word of your beauty reached me from afar.”
Zelda was suspicious, but it had been years since anyone had entertained her with such honeyed words.
“Why are you here?” she asked, letting him enter.
Vanwillam smiled modestly. “I’m a tailor, but I have yet to prove my skill in these parts. I need a beautiful woman for whom to sew an elegant cloak. Then, as people see her beauty, they also see my cloak. My reputation would be assured.”
“I won’t pay for a new cloak,” Zelda said.
“Pay?” Vanwillam put his hand to his heart. “You wound me! This would be a gift, naturally.”
Zelda hesitated, but greed overcame distrust. “Very well, but tomorrow you must be on your way. Don’t try to escape, for my alligators know my scent and will attack anyone else. I wonder that you made it here alive.”
Vanwillam measured Zelda, then cut the black velvet and sewed late into the night. At last he yawned, and Zelda sent him to sleep in the attic.
In the middle of the night Vanwillam crept downstairs. He hoped to find the box with the deed and escape while Zelda slept. He searched and searched, but the box wasn’t to be found. The only place he couldn’t search was Zelda’s bedroom. He tiptoed back upstairs to formulate a new plan.
The next day Vanwillam stitched and sewed, hemmed and tucked. Beneath his fingers appeared a cloak fit for a queen. Finally he called Zelda over. “Try it on,” he urged. “Nothing could enhance your beauty, but I hope that my cloak will at least not detract from it.”
He draped it over her shoulders. It fit perfectly, sweeping the floor in flowing darkness.
Vanwillam stroked his chin. “It still needs something,” he said. “Perhaps a silver brooch to hold it together at the neck?”
Zelda twirled, watching the cloak flare around her ankles.
“Fetch one from my bedroom at once,” she commanded.
Vanwillam darted to her room. On the dresser lay a clutter of jewelry and a wooden box. Inside the box was the missing deed. Quickly he tucked it under his hat, then hurried back with a stunning silver brooch. Zelda fastened it to the cloak, with nary a word of thanks.
“I must be going,” Vanwillam said. “I would be honored if you would wear the cloak soon and let it be known that I made it for you.” With that, he hurriedly gathered his things and headed out the door.
Zelda was too busy admiring herself to stop him. Or perhaps she was depending on the alligators. Vanwillam was approaching the slimy green pond when Zelda’s scream announced that she had discovered her loss.
Twelve miserable alligators slumped nearby. Quickly he cut the stitches holding their mouths closed, then ran.
He reached the quicksand as Zelda came into view. Jumping to the first button—solid ground—he turned to see what would happen.
“Attack!” Zelda screamed.
The alligators followed her instructions, but not as she had expected. She was wearing her new cloak, which still smelled strongly of the tailor, whom the alligators had reason to despise. She came to her senses just in time to flee back up the path.
Once safely through the quicksand, Vanwillam headed to the palace. He wasn’t an impressive sight, this short tailor with the muddy shoes, as he walked up to the throne. Still, he was well-received when he took off his hat and handed the king the deed to the kingdom.
“You’ve saved us from disaster,” the king said. “What would you have as your reward?”
Vanwillam bowed. “I didn’t do it for the reward, Your Highness. I did it for the kingdom. It was a job that needed doing, and when there’s a job that needs doing, I’m willing to do it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” the king said, shaking Vanwillam’s hand. “You may be hearing from me again.”
So Vanwillam returned to his tailor shop by the river and took out some velvet for the Earl of Thomble’s cloak. His friends still laughed at the dull life he led, but he just smiled.
“A tailor’s life isn’t often exciting,” he agreed. “But it’s a job that needs doing. And when there’s a job that needs doing, I’m willing to do it.”