They say that history is written by the winners, but sometimes it is simply written by the embarrassed.
When the people of Sharovia tell the story of their emperor’s new clothes, a tale which has been picked up and gleefully re-told around the world in mockery of the stupidity of the rich and pompous, there is an important part that they leave out.
It is the fact that between the emperor first appearing in his birthday suit (the suit had been commissioned for his birthday) and his subsequent outing, in every meaning of that phrase, at his ceremonial parade, over seven months elapsed, seven months which are as invisible in Sharovian history as an emperor’s codpiece….
“This isn’t going to work,” muttered Marx.
“I know,” whispered Spenzer, his brother, “I don’t know how we thought we’d get away with it.”
When the Tux Brothers, Tailors to the Royal Family, had first realised that the material they had ordered had been shipped to neighbouring Sharabia by mistake, they had been seized by panic, then by terror, then by desperate inventiveness.
Only the vest had been due for delivery that first morning, and since they had promised the emperor one made of the finest, sheerest, lightest silk ever seen, they had come up with the pretend vest, simply to buy themselves time. They had mimed holding it up for him to see, mimed pulling it down over his up-stretched arms, and had refrained from miming tucking it into his trousers, because they hadn’t wanted to treat him like a gobshite.
Now, standing behind him as he gazed into his mirror, they could see the futility of the pretence. They looked over his shoulder at his reflection, and could see his paunch, his chest-hair, his moobs.
The emperor, looking at the same reflection, could see only the ridiculously high price he had been quoted.
“It’s magnificent,” he breathed.
“Er, what?” said Marx.
“Magnificent,” sighed the Grand Vizier.
“Truly wonderful,” said the Court Jester. “No, seriously,” he said, as the emperor glared at him.
The rest of the courtiers broke into applause. One of the Ladies-in-Waiting burst into tears of joy, then fainted.
“Let’s get out of here,” said Marx, “before they come to their senses.”
“Good idea,” muttered Spenzer. “Your majesty,” he said more loudly, “we shall return soon with the rest of the outfit.”
“I want it made of the same material as this vest,” said the emperor.
“All of it?” gasped Marx.
“Every stitch,” said the emperor. “I can feel my skin breathe on my chest. I want to feel that all over.”
The brothers bowed, and backed away towards the door of the throne-room. Just as they reached it, however, the Captain of the Palace Guard grabbed Spenzer’s arm, and his heart sank.
“When you’ve made the outfit,” said the Captain, “I’ll give you two hundred crowns for one just like it.”
“So will I,” said the Lord Chamberlain.
“Me too,” said the Master of the Hunt.
Back at the showrooms of Tux Brothers, the two argued long into the night. Marx said it would be immoral. Spenzer said it was what the customer wanted, and the customer was always right. Marx said the Royal Household couldn’t all be that deluded, and Spenzer pointed out that even though cars hadn’t been invented yet, they had a Master of the Rolls. Marx said that they would never get away with it, and Spenzer said imagine the craic if they could. Marx said you wouldn’t have to imagine it, and they both started to giggle.
The material actually arrived the following morning. They sent it back.
The next day they delivered the underpants. The day after that they delivered the shirt, and the following day they delivered the trousers, the stockings, the ermine robes (no animals were harmed during the making of this suit, an unexpected side benefit), seven pairs of gloves, a hunting jacket, a smoking jacket, a hacking jacket, a range of colourful ties, and a pair of Spider-Man pyjamas, because it’s amazing how quickly you can weave when what you’re weaving is a story.
They then fitted out all of the courtiers, and the courtesans too, who found themselves surprisingly more alluring when they wore their new outfit.
The whole thing took less than a week.
“Thank God that’s over,” said Marx. “Can we flee the country now?”
“We’re only starting,” said Spenzer. “There’s a whole population out there just waiting to be fleeced, though not in the exact sense of that word.”
“No way,” said Marx. “The public won’t pay out huge sums just to look like the rich and famous.”
Marx was a little naïve here, though in fairness he had never heard of the Rachel hair-do, the Beckham football boot or the Paisley tie.
They opened a shop, called it after themselves (no, Tux Bros) and watched both the customers and the money pour in. Whatever you wanted, they always had it in stock, and always in your size.
You might think that once everyone had bought one complete outfit, sales would dry up, but Spenzer was a marketing genius. Each week he would announce new ranges, and people would come back again. He held sales (all stock must go) and people would buy twice as many items as they had intended to. He invented the invisible hat, or fascinator as it’s now known, and women needed a different one for each wedding they attended.
He brought out a winter collection, and there was a queue all night outside the shop.
Besides, people were always losing clothes, leaving their jacket in the tavern, their scarf in the hair-dressers, their underwear at their mistress’s house. They would go swimming and be unable to find their clothes on the beach, necessitating a complete new wardrobe.
Others would spill red wine down the front of their chest and buy a new shirt, convinced that they would never be able to get the stain out of the old one.
But all good things come to an end, and so too do bad ones, and one morning six-year old Samm was putting on his birthday present.
“These aren’t Nikke trainers,” he growled. His parents blushed, they hadn’t been able to afford them and so had gone for a cheaper brand, but before they had time to explain that Samm, who was a bad-tempered little brat, ran over and kicked his bedroom wall in frustration. This was a mistake.
“In fact,” he howled, “they aren’t trainers at all.”
The words hovered almost visibly in the air, glowing, slowly melting the mist that had veiled the land for the past seven months.
His father, Friderik, looked down at himself, then across at his wife.
“For God’s sake, woman,” he said, “put some clothes on.”
Friderik went next door and told his friend Johunn, then the two of them went to the town square, where the emperor was just passing in his carraige.
“Oy, Emp,” yelled Johunn, “I can see the Royal Sceptre.”
Soon there was a mob on its way to the door of Tux Bros.
Perhaps it had been premonition that had warned them, perhaps it had been the sound of fifty pairs of bare feet slapping their way up the street, but in any event Marx and Spenzer were gone.
“There’s nothing here,” said Johunn.
“There never was,” said Friderik bitterly.
The rest is history, or rather it isn’t, because the people of Sharovia agreed never to speak of it again. So while news of the emperor’s folly did break out, because people love to expose celebrities, no mention was ever made of the part played by the public, of the undignified scramble over the next few days at the few clothes shops that were still in business, of the gradual recovery of the health of the population, all of whom had mysteriously had colds for the past seven months.
It was the ultimate cover-up.