Name Calling at the Tall Tales Tavern

What a heavy burden is a name that has become too famous.” -Voltaire

**********

Public Domain in the US (created prior to 1923)

Public Domain in the US (created prior to 1923)

The Briar Patch was undergoing yet another normal day. Well, normal for the clientele. Sitting at the bar was Little Miss Muffet. She sat with her curds and protein whey, keeping an eye on her spoon. The last time she had dined at the tavern the spoon had smooth-talked the dish into running off with it; complete with Muffet’s dinner. Still, Muffet never felt that she could complain because Br’er Rabbit stocked curds and left it on the menu just for her.

Br’er Rabbit sniffed the air, noted its perfect balance of wood, beer, and that undefinable “old” quality. Across the room a dog stood up on a chair, its hind legs standing on the seat while the front paws rested firmly on the tabletop. The dog had been growling at its cup of water for over half an hour. The dog was convinced that the mongrel that stared back at him from the glass was the same mutt that had stolen his bone when they had last met at a lone pond. But as Br’er looked on from behind the bar, one eyebrow raised; all he saw was a crazy canine snarling at its reflection. Br’er grabbed a carrot from under the counter, knowing that neither of the patrons was likely to order more anytime soon.

Just then, the heavy wood door swung open and an unmistakable figure shuffled hurriedly in the door. His short and gnarly legs struggled to keep up with his temper. The little fellow was hardly any bigger than the stools that were scattered along the bar. Br’er Rabbit sighed and waved the arrival closer.

“Alright Rumpelstiltskin. I can see that you’re wound up about something. Let’s remember the last time you were this antsy, okay? I had to have Geppetto come in and patch that hole in the floor. There’ll be no stomping your foot today.”

“Yes, yes; fine”, Rumpelstiltskin replied. He pulled of his long cap and held it by the balled-top as he took in the tavern. “Have you seen a woman looking for me?”

Br’er turned his head to one side and considered the question. “Do you mean a human woman?” The idea of a non-grotesque creature making a date with this odd little man was a hard tidbit for Br’er to swallow.

“Oh shut your furry yap. Have you seen one or not?”

“No, not unless you’re here for Miss Muffet. I kind of think you’d scare her worse than that spider ever did, though.”

“Next time you come out from behind that counter; remind me to stomp on those big feet of yours. I’m going to wait at that table over there.”

Br’er started to shout that customers in his establishment usually ordered something, but he then realized that would involve greater effort than he was willing to dole out. He had his carrot, the place had plenty of open seats; why raise a fuss. Also, Rumpelstiltskin had chosen the darkest seat that he could have, the corner table by the entrance; the one that often gets a customer hit by the door opening if they scoot their chair back too far.

For the next ten or so minutes things continued as they had. The dog stopped growling at its glass for a moment. Br’er was beginning to think that maybe the crazy pooch had finally figured it out. But then the growling came back, now with intermittent pauses. Br’er listened and after a bit, figured it out. The dog had the hiccups. He didn’t think it was possible for the growling to have gotten any more annoying. But, in one of those rare moments, the rabbit had been proven wrong.

Slowly, almost perceptibly, a new noise echoed through the tavern. Br’er lifted his ears to their full height and tuned them in. Sure enough, the new thump thump thump sound was coming from the corner. Br’er looked to Rumpelstiltskin and saw him tapping his foot impatiently.

“What did I say about stomping?”

“I wasn’t stomping, I was tapping. A guy can’t have a nervous tick anymore?”

“How about you control your feet, unless you want to crush some grapes for me?”

“I’m waiting for the woman”, he replied in a clearly irritated tone.

“I mean, you’d have to take your shoes off”, the bartender said as he scratched under his furry chin with one ear and looked at Rumpelstiltskin’s feet.

“Not now. I’m busy”, he growled.

“And let’s be honest, you’d have to wash your feet first. I can smell those things from here.”

“Listen Br’er, if you don’t ease off—“

“I can’t exactly have whatever it is growing between your toes as part of my wine. Although, it might add a certain flavor.”

“Look—“

“Help me out here, would you describe the stench of your feet as pairing well with fish? Or maybe there’s a cedar-y or oak-y smell we could sell to the rubes?”

The door opened, ending Br’er’s taunting inquiries. In walked a woman with a traveling cloak. She doffed the hood, letting her auburn hair breathe in the atmosphere. Standing in the middle of the room, she exuded a confidence that showed she was entirely comfortable in this place that she’d never before set foot in. She looked around and took everyone’s measure, even the tar baby display near the back. The woman finished her surveillance sweep by turning slowly to examine the area behind her. As soon as she saw Rumpelstiltskin, she started towards him.

“Rumpelstiltskin, I take it”, she said as she removed her cloak and draped it over her arm. She looked at the seat in front of her and was less than pleased. Removing a few napkins from the middle of the table, she unfolded them placed them on the seat, and nodded in satisfaction. She made a move to lay her cloak over the back of the chair, but changed her mind. The woman sat down, her cloak folded neatly in her lap.

“You the one I’m supposed to meet?”

“It would appear so”, she said. “Why don’t you call me Lizzie?”

“What sort of name is Lizzie?”

“It’s one that’ll do”, Lizzie replied; “at least for today.”

“Wait, haven’t I heard of you?”

“I rather doubt that”, Lizzie replied.

“No, I have. That Mother Goose lady told me all about you.”

Lizzie groaned. “You know that old busybody? She really does love to share everyone’s stories, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah”, Rumpelstiltskin said, becoming more confident. “I’m sure of it now. I remember.

‘Elizabeth, Elspeth, Betsy, and Bess,

They all went together to seek a bird’s nest;

They found a bird’s nest with five eggs in,

They all took one and left four in.’

That’s you, ain’t it?”

“In the flesh”, Lizzie replied. “Let’s not spread that around, hmm? After all, a lady must have her secrets.”

“Well why didn’t you take all the eggs? Why only make off with one?”

“You don’t get it, do you little gnome? Stealing all the eggs would have been thievery. And the knights around here simply adore punishing thieves. However, if only one egg disappears? Why, no thief would leave all those eggs behind. One egg missing is a miscalculation; a misunderstanding. Even if they had caught me, no one would press charges against me for a misunderstanding.”

“I guess that makes sense”, Rumpelstiltskin admitted.

“What you should really focus on are all the names. Who would be the main culprit? Who’s the master thief and who are the accomplices? That’s where I really shine; identities. No one can catch you if they don’t know who they’re looking for.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear. I don’t want anybody to know who I am.”

“Yes, that whole miller’s-daughter affair.”

rumpelstiltskin-anne-aderson“Yeah”, the little fellow said with a growl. “Somebody must have snitched, that’s all I can think. I didn’t think anybody knew my name outside of this turf. One of these days I’m going to find out who talked and they’re going to answer to me”, Rumpelstiltskin said as he punctuated his point by pounding the table with his fist.

“Hey!”

Rumpelstiltskin and Lizzie turned towards Br’er Rabbit.

“What’d I tell you about stomping?”

“That wasn’t a stomp, ya oversized keychain. That was a punch. Like my fist’ll do to you if ya don’t ease off.”

“You keep telling yourself that”, Br’er replied. The rabbit was quite confident that his powerful legs would be more than a match for Rumpelstiltskin, but he’d give the little man one last outburst before he tossed him out. He almost felt sorry for the insufferable grouch. Almost. Not to mention it was almost time for The Titans to come in for their weekly Brag-a-Bout Beerfest Gathering. Any of those powerful figures would happily smite Rumpelstiltskin for free. Br’er thought he might have to offer them a few dishes of dragonwings (served extra spicy) and barbeque sauce, but that would only be to show his gratitude. Br’er looked back at Rumpelstiltskin and smiled, his front teeth showing even more than usual.

“So”, Rumpelstiltskin continued. “What sort of proof can you offer? Word is that your services are a little pricey.”

“That’s because I’m the best. I can’t really discuss my previous clients in too much detail. It isn’t likely that I’d have you meet with them. However, I can offer up some samplings of truth.”

“Like?”

“Surely you’ve heard of Prince Charming.”

“Yeah, I guess. Not really in my crowd though. Word is he’s one of them high-falutin’ types.”

“Have you seen him lately?”

“No. But he’s gotta be around.”

“Really? When was the last time you heard a maiden say, “I’ve found Prince Charming.” Or, “Isn’t he just the best; a regular Prince Charming!”

“Not recently, but I don’t see your point.”

“If you did venture out into such circles, you would find that Prince Charming is no more. I have taken care of him.”

“Where’s the ol’ prince at now?”

Aerial_Hollywood_Sign“Oh, we set him up in Hollywood. He makes a killing with each movie.”

“Wait, you gave him a new identity but let him be famous?”

“Plastic surgery does wonders. I highly recommend it if you’re open to the idea.”

“Sounds painful.”

“It’s worth it. Charming found it worked great for escaping all those women that kept looking for him. Now he’s only hounded by the agents and media. Much less emotional mess involved.”

“Okay, fine. You got one guy off the hook. Where’s that get me?”

“What are you looking for? That’s the question, isn’t it? You obviously don’t need money. Apparently you can create gold whenever you like. This, by the way, is the only reason I agreed to meet. In addition, it is the only reason I allowed for a conversation in this… place.”

Br’er Rabbit overhead the comment but said nothing. That Lizzie person had essentially called his fine establishment a hole in the wall. And not the good kind. Maybe he’d toss in plenty of beer nuts with those dragonwings; really get them in a party mood…

“I want respect”, Rumpelstiltskin answered.

“Respect? And your name is Rumpelstiltskin?”

“What’s wrong with that name? It’s the name my mother gave me.”

“Let’s break it down, shall we? Rumpel, or rumple means crumpled, crushed, or wrinkled. And often the Brits refer to a stilt as a cane. So really you’re a wrinkled man with wrinkled skin who walks funny. Why not just call yourself Uglyhobblesleg?”

“Yeah, well doesn’t ‘Elizabeth’ mean something about oaths and God? Why should I believe you when your name is all about promises and oaths and you’re all about deception and lies?”

“You’ve done some reading. I’m impressed.”

“Names are a specialty of mine. Besides, I’m older than I look.”

“Somehow I doubt that”, Lizzie said as she took in his drooping ears, long nose, and prune-like flesh. “Look, the thing is to create a name that is easy for you to remember but still different enough that nobody guesses it.”

“Exactly, that’s why I already have a name in mind. I only needed you to advise me, maybe move the paperwork along.”

“Uh huh. And what sort of identity change of greatness did you have in mind?”

“Festerskulklout.”

Lizzie thanked whoever was in charge up above that she hadn’t had a drink in her mouth to spit out. “I’m sorry…, what?”

“Festerskulklout. I think it has that certain amount of temerity to it while still feeling like that’s the name of a standup kinda guy. C’mon, tell me the name Festerskulklout won’t make the ladies swoon.”

“I’m sure it will have a very powerful effect on them, yes. Rumpelstiltskin, I’m the expert. Maybe you should hear my ideas. I was thinking Richard Stillman.”

“What?!?!” Rumpelstiltskin tried to leap onto the table in a rage, but his efforts produced only scrambling as he huffed and clamored to climb. “Hey now missy”, he said exhaling with frustration and sitting back down. “No one in my family has ever had two names. That’s…. well, that’s now how things are done. The idea is crazy. Who do you think you are?”

“That’s the brilliance of it. Who would ever suspect that you’d have such a name? Richard; or go by Dick if you still want to be an off-color little man, I don’t care. It’s a solid ID, easy to remember, and who’s going to guess it?”

“No. Not going to happen. Festerskulkabout or nothing.”

“Fine”, Lizzie said as she felt her forehead tighten. The dog growling at the other side of the room was not helping her newfound headache. She needed some encouragement to continue this consultation. “Tell me one thing though; you can make gold out of anything, right?”

“Oh sure. Gold, diamonds, opals, amethyst; whatever you want.”

“Okay”, Lizzie replied. “I’m going to go get a drink and we can work out the details.” She walked to the bar, feeling much less chipper than when she first entered The Briar Patch. This was going to be a very long day.

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About anecdotaltales
He's a simple enough fellow. He likes movies, comics, radio shows from the 40's, and books. He likes to write and wishes his cat wouldn't shed on his laptop.

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