The Emperor’s New Beth

by Anta Baku

Part 7 of The Cell Phone Towers of Elfland (Read Part 1)

 

Once you get into politics, even a little bit, people start to think you’re qualified for political jobs. Beth had only led her kingdom for a week, and it was a week that started with a revolution and ended with her being deposed, but in Fairyland political circles that counted as a hot resume item. Sure, nobody wanted to make her leader of anything, but once word got around, she had her pick of junior advisor positions.

That’s how she ended up in the court of this Empire, doing basic data analysis at the bottom rung of a baroque structure of advisors, viziers, ministers, officers, and secretaries. In addition to the tasks set to her she was working on figuring out how they all fit together. The recruiter had promised her opportunities for fast advancement, and she knew she could only hold them to it if she knew which direction advancement was really in.

There seemed to be two directions of power in the Empire. The bureaucracy ran the economy, the government, the infrastructure, and the military. But policy was made by the Emperor, and power around the emperor, unlikely as it seemed, ran through the managers of the Imperial Wardrobe. The top man next to the Emperor wasn’t a Grand Vizier, a Chief Officer, or a Prime Minister, but the High Haberdasher, and all the Emperor’s advisors reported to him. And thus so did Beth, albeit at several levels of remove. The High Haberdasher was her boss’s boss’s boss, inasmuch as she has a consistent boss within the complicated structure of the Imperial Court. 

So far what she had was tasks, which could be assigned to her by anyone who was technically her superior. And however convoluted the Court’s organizational chart was, Beth knew that she was at the bottom of it. Unfortunately, so did everyone else. Suddenly there was someone new to dump the administrative tasks on, and Beth was quickly swamped with a wide variety of work to do. Her first lesson in the Court was in figuring out which things were unwanted but crucially important, and which were nothing but busywork. It wasn’t too unlike leading a brand new republic. Maybe she was truly qualified for this job after all.

She quickly learned that anything involving the Emperor’s clothes had to be completed immediately, or risk disapproval from the highest levels. Dressing the Court, the Army, and the populace were only slightly less important. She could let plans for road construction sit forever, and even tax administration, which she expected to be urgent, went mostly unrewarded when she completed it with diligence and style. Clothes were the key to appreciation here, and also the risk of criticism. 

Beth had never paid all that much attention to her own clothes. As a household servant she’d worn hand-me-downs from her step-sisters and anything else she could scrounge, prioritizing comfort and easiness to clean. The only fancy dress she had ever worn was provided by a woman pretending to be her fairy godmother, in a scheme to con her into marrying a repulsive prince. When that didn’t work out, Beth was too busy trying to learn to run a kingdom to think much about her clothes. And after that week she just wore what the counter-revolutionaries had allowed her to take with her when they drove her out.

In the Empire, that was obviously unacceptable. Even the lowest advisor position here came with a substantial hiring bonus, and the vizier in charge of her employment paperwork strongly hinted that she ought to spend it on the high street making sure she had something special to wear to work. Beth might not encounter the Emperor very often, he implied, but when she did she must not look in any way ordinary.

So Beth had taken a wad of cash larger than all the money she’d ever spent on herself, and went out to learn about Imperial Style. She told herself it was just like money spent for the benefit of the kingdom, no different really than the large sums she’d put into welfare programs and a new public health service during her week-long reign. It almost worked. It kept her from being afraid of the large numbers, but didn’t really help with the part where she had to try things on.

Even so, she was determined, and ended up with a professional wardrobe that would have been the envy of any high-style fashionista except the dozens of advisors who outranked her. She got used to passing through the Palace interacting with people whose style would have struck the rest of the world as more architectural than sartorial. This was Imperial High Culture, and blending into it was part of her new job. 

She quickly determined that the first rung on her ladder to power in the Court would have to be the Bedside Dresser, who sounded like a piece of furniture but was actually a fussy little man responsible for the first and last outfits the Emperor put on every day. He was the sort of man you would have called mousy if you hadn’t briefly reigned over a kingdom populated by small rodents. Beth just thought of him as timid and obsessive. Or respectful and detail-oriented if she was anywhere someone could overhear. After all, he outranked her.

It was easy to get into his good graces; after all, Beth knew a pyjama dealer who would be happy to help her with anything she liked. Soon she had been put in charge of the Imperial Nightclothes entirely, and was working her way to being the advisor mentioned whenever anyone in the Court needed advice on unmentionables. Her friend the pig wasn’t unhappy to be doing all this business with the Imperial Treasury, either, even if some of the orders were distinctly unusual. 

It may not have been a glamorous position, but it was secure, it showed her organizational abilities, and the pay from a government that wanted a steady supply of interesting pyjamas more than a functional economy was more than sufficient. Beth had started to relax a little bit and think about building a life for herself here in the capital when a pair of foreign fashion designers upended the whole order of things.

The Emperor’s clothes were designed in the Empire, and only in the Empire. Everyone knew that this place was Fairyland’s center of everything fashion, and everything fashion flowed from this place. There was a whole platoon of viziers who did nothing but design clothes. More and more of the production was being outsourced to the World of Chaos, but they didn’t know anything about clothes there, not compared to the Imperial standard. 

So every advisor, whatever their rank, was startled when the Emperor agreed to receive two fashion designers from the World of Chaos. Surely they could have nothing to offer. Though Beth was still near the bottom of the palace gossip hierarchy, she heard that the High Haberdasher had fainted at the news and required medical attention.

Whatever they were presenting, it probably wasn’t pyjamas, so Beth stuck to her work and didn’t worry about it too much. Surely there wasn’t anything she could deal with that the High Haberdasher wasn’t prepared to handle. She just kept expanding her little nightclothes empire, and doing the random tasks her superiors dumped on her, and kept the foreign fashion designers to the realm of palace gossip, something she enjoyed but didn’t feel a personal connection to.

At least, until she ran into one of them in the hallway and recognized her. The plump, middle-aged woman had a sculptural hairdo and was dressed in a pantsuit that wouldn’t admit to being in the same universe as a sparkly pink gown, but even so Beth knew her right away. You didn’t forget the face of your fairy godmother, even if she turned out not to really be anyone’s fairy godmother after all.

Angie’s eyes widened, dashing any hope on Beth’s part that she could just blend into the cadres of design officials and pretend none of this had happened. She supposed, if you weren’t a real fairy godmother, you’d probably remember the one person you tried to con into thinking she was your fairy godchild. But what was she doing here? She was a private detective, not a fashion designer. Beth only had a loose idea what a private detective did, but it didn’t seem like those were professions someone could easily move between. 

But pretending to be a fashion designer, that was very much the sort of thing she could imagine Angie doing. And while the other one, the man, wasn’t with her at the moment, one fake fashion designer certainly implied that the other wouldn’t be legitimate, either. There was something fishy about the whole thing, and Beth was going to have to find out what. Not from Angie herself, though. The two women exchanged polite greetings, followed by the older one inventing an urgent errand that required her to leave immediately. If Beth hadn’t known who she really was, it might not have been extremely obvious. 

Beth decided that she didn’t need to follow the purported fashion designers around and spy on them to learn what they were really up to. She was an Imperial Advisor now, even if one of the most junior, and she had access to records. Money flowed out of the Imperial Treasury to these charlatans, and from them to material suppliers, and she should be able to guess what was going on just by examining the books.

That was more comfortable than talking with people, anyway. During the week she’d been running her own kingdom, Beth always had an easier time dealing with numbers and logistics than she did with people. Even when those people were small rodents, you had to spend all your time figuring out what they actually wanted, which was never what they said they wanted. And that was a lot easier if they wrote it down and she could take her time with it, even if it was written in numbers.

Every political agenda in the Empire was recorded somewhere in the financial records of the Imperial Haberdashery, and she was beginning to learn to read them. Year-over-year expenditure at the Empire’s various milliners was an excellent proxy for the waxing and waning fortunes of the Chancellor of Hats. She was always ascendant in the winter, of course, but adjusting for seasonality could indicate her true power at any particular moment. It wasn’t the total money spent on spats that told the story of the Second Haberdasher’s influence, but the sheer number of purchases. Every summer the High Haberdasher took a holiday in the South, a month when the spat-makers made the majority of their annual income as his right-hand-man tried to push them into fashion again.

Beth knew how to see those patterns, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find out what the foreign fashion designers were really doing. They’d put themselves into the records as Keith and Veronica Mars, which had to be fake names, both because Beth knew the woman’s real name was Angie and because they were pretending to be a married couple. The thought of Angie marrying a man was amusing, but not likely. 

But she already knew there was some sort of a scam here. The fake names confirmed it, but Beth didn’t have a way to prove they were fake to anyone else. She had to figure out what it was they were trying to do. The actual commissions paperwork looked authentic enough. She compared it to three prior seasons’ worth of single-designer commissions by the Emperor, and all the numbers added up. Whatever they were designing, it wasn’t any more wildly expensive than anything else the Emperor wore, and it used standard materials, at least according to the receipts. They all came from the Empire’s standard suppliers, and when she compared the foreign designers’ receipts to older ones from within the Empire, they matched up styles and signatures exactly. 

Whatever was going on, it wasn’t here. She needed to find someone who had seen the foreign designers’ presentations of their experimental designs. As much as designers liked to work by themselves and only show off the final product, that wasn’t how an Imperial Commission worked. Proposed and intermediate designs from commissioned designers were presented to the Court as premier social occasions of the season. There was always at least one in progress for the Court to gossip over, imitate in their own clothing choices, and find reasons to backstab each other. 

Of course, somebody had to work while the social events were going on, and as the new low advisor on the Imperial organizational chart, that was always Beth. Until this moment she hadn’t regretted it. Still, she hadn’t seen any wildly new styles in the previous few weeks that could indicate a new wave of imitations. Whatever was going on, it either wasn’t intriguing enough to go running through the Court, or it wasn’t where she could see it. She was pretty sure her boss would know, though. He always made a point of being at every event, even if he never seemed to enjoy them or make any social contacts.

He was in his office when she went to look for him, of course. Punctuality was one of the Bedside Dresser’s highest values, which was one of the reasons he was so nervous all the time. The Emperor had no interest in a bedtime or morning routine. He slept and woke as he saw fit, and the Bedside Dresser had to predict when that would be and be present with an appropriate outfit. Beth knew well enough by now to approach him in the middle of the afternoon, when his immediate Imperial responsibilities were far enough away for him to have relaxed a little bit. So he welcomed her into his office and served her a cup of tea, and even gave the impression he might have been glad to see her.

“You’ve been doing good work on the pyjamas,” he said. “The Emperor is pleased, and more importantly he’s sleeping an extra twenty minutes a night, on average.”

“I’m sorry if that interferes with your schedule,” said Beth.

“Not at all,” said her boss. “It means I can get an extra ten minutes a night.”

“I hope you won’t mind helping me with something that’s not strictly our business, then,” she said. “Have you been to the foreign designers’ events? I need to know what they’re working on.”

“Oh, that’s entirely our business,” said the Bedside Dresser. “I’m surprised you haven’t been following it. Their project isn’t, perhaps, precisely lingerie. I’m not sure what use they intend it for. But it’s definitely nightwear-adjacent.” 

“Lingerie? For the Emperor?”

“Well, like I said, not exactly lingerie. It’s sheer, and gauzy, and it walks the border between translucent and transparent in the most intriguing ways. But it’s not, you know.” He leaned toward her and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Sexual.”

That wasn’t Beth’s area of expertise, but she was less embarrassed by the idea than he was. However and whenever the Emperor might be engaging in such activities, when he went to bed what he wanted was pyjamas that were comfortable and warm. Gauzy and transparent was way out of his usual range, at least for pyjamas.

“What is it, then?” she said.

“I’m not sure,” said her boss, relaxing back into his chair at the turn of conversation. “They’ve been showing off their skills, more than the intended use, so far. Every week the new prototype looks smaller and smaller, but they say it’s still a complete garment. I hear they’re having difficulty finding a willing model for this week’s presentation. The visual part of whatever it is must practically be down to nothing by now.”

“I wish I could attend the next one,” said Beth.

“Why haven’t you been?”

“I’m always the advisor on duty.”

“Oh. Well, maybe I can do something about that. Eli has mis-coordinated the Emperor’s breakfast clothes with the Emperor’s breakfasts twice this week.  He needs something to get his mind back on his job. I’ll give him your next few watch rotations, and you can go to the events.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“My pleasure,” said the Bedside Dresser. “And don’t think he doesn’t deserve it. A navy robe with strawberries and cream!”

Beth didn’t quite see what was wrong with that, and was glad she was only in charge of pyjamas. And dressing herself, of course, but while it was important to show your best at court, she’d never had to worry about coordinating with what she was eating. At least, until the foreign designers’ presentation. Was she supposed to know in advance what the canapes would be? 

Eventually she decided that was too much trouble, and just wore her gaudiest and most expensive outfit, which let her blend into the crowd. The more senior advisors were far gaudier and more expensive, and even the junior ones who had been here longer had personal affectations to their fashion that Beth couldn’t yet match. She felt sure she’d get there after a few years of Court experience. 

Angie and her male companion were there, of course, and the centers of attention. Beth didn’t try to interact with them at all, just watched from afar and used her relatively low status and relatively uninteresting dress to avoid their attention. There were plenty of people for them to talk to, people who were willing to seek them out. Beth just nursed her drink and observed. They didn’t seem to be doing anything particularly out of the ordinary, but as far as she knew they could be recruiting investors for a new design studio they had no intention of ever operating. There had to be some sort of fraud here, or Angie wouldn’t be involved. But whatever their plan was, they were good at not making it so obvious that Beth could see it from across the room.

Then it was time for the presentation, and they broke off their conversations as the lights lowered in most of the room and focused on the door. When it opened, there was a model in it, as they must have been able to find one after all. A male model, confirming that whatever they were working on, it wasn’t a form of lingerie. At least not in this kingdom. 

What they were working on was also very, very small, or else most of it was transparent. The male model had fewer clothes on than any man Beth had ever seen, or at least he appeared to. He was also wearing a powerful scent, and between them it was a serious sensory experience for her. While the clothes were theoretically meant for the Emperor, who was middle-aged and plump, convention allowed the presentations to be made using less-than-accurate models. And this one was a great deal less than accurate. He could hardly have time to do anything other than work out and model new clothes. Beth had a hard time focusing on the garment she was here to investigate.

Partly this was because that garment was very, very small. It barely qualified as a swatch. Somehow it managed to cover all the bits of male model that were still something of a mystery to Beth, despite her stepsisters’ gossip. But it didn’t cover anything else, and she was embarrassed to look at it, even though that was the whole purpose of the event. It didn’t matter, anyway. The courtiers would surely be fascinated by what it was made of, how it stayed attached, what it felt like when you wore it. But for Beth’s purposes the only thing that really matters was how large it wasn’t. The foreign designers were still sucking enough money out of the budget every week for a full-sized outfit, and if they were producing this tiny scrap, most of that money must be ending up in their pockets somehow. 

Not the pockets of their showpiece, though. There wasn’t room. 

The High Haberdasher was across the room, talking to Angie. Presumably he was getting technical details on how the showpiece worked. He seemed very interested, and Beth decided that this would be a terrible time to interrupt him. She didn’t want to make a scene in front of the whole Court, anyway. Surely this could be handled more quietly if she had a chance to meet with him in private. She finished her drink and left the presentation event quietly. She wanted to do this right, and doing it right meant doing it slow. She’d make an appointment to show him the books.

Even with the Bedside Dresser’s support, it was three days before she could get an appointment to meet with the High Haberdasher, and Beth had time to regret doing it slow. She spent her free time obsessing over getting the numbers exactly right, and fantasizing about things she could do to make it all go faster. But following Angie around was surely a bad idea, and so was lighting up the Court gossip network with news that the foreign designers were frauds. That could get her fired even if it were true. She just had to wait, and check the books six and seven times to make sure that her case would be airtight. 

By the time she got in to see the High Haberdasher, it had been announced that the foreign designers had completed their task, and their final showpiece would be exhibited, not on a model, but on the person of the Emperor himself. Nor would it be restricted to the Court; he planned a public parade to show off this marvel of art and technology from the World of Chaos. Beth wasn’t sure if she should try to stop the parade or not; if it was only an embezzlement scheme, the important thing was to stop Angie and her companion, not to prevent the Emperor from getting enjoyment out of his new toy. 

She resolved that the High Haberdasher could handle that decision. She’d just present the evidence and let him decide what to do about it, like the good junior Advisor she wanted everyone to think she was. So she came to his office with the books and a humble attitude appropriate to her position. 

The books were accurate, the case was strong, and the High Haberdasher didn’t care. Beth felt that she had presented the numbers as well as she possibly could, and he just agreed with her all the way up until the conclusion. Yes, they were taking more money for materials than they could possibly be using. Yes, they weren’t describing their purchases accurately for the Imperial Records. He was even willing to believe her about the assumed names. But none of it mattered.

“The Emperor is satisfied,” he said when she finally ran out of arguments. “And if the Emperor is satisfied, the work is legitimate.”

“But they’re stealing,” said Beth.

“I don’t see here that they’ve spent any more money than any previous designers.”

“They haven’t,” said Beth. “But they’re keeping the money. They’re fabricating their expenses.”

“Perhaps their real expenses would give away a trade secret,” said the High Haberdasher. “It’s happened before. If they’re charging just as much as their peers, and they’re satisfying the Emperor at least as much as their peers, then where the money goes doesn’t really matter, does it?”

“I… guess not,” said Beth.

“If they can provide an outfit the Emperor wants to show off to the whole Empire, and do it for less money than anyone else, perhaps they deserve a personal profit.”

Beth could wrap her head around that perspective if she tried hard enough. “I just wish they were reporting it honestly,” she said.

“I understand,” said the High Haberdasher. “And you’ve done good work. I’m glad you’re watching for these things. Just try to understand that what’s important is what we spend and what we get. If you find somewhere those are out of line, please don’t hesitate to report it to me.”

“All right,” said Beth.

“In the meantime, please go back to thinking about pyjamas,” said the High Haberdasher. “I hear you’re doing excellent work there. Even the Emperor has mentioned how pleased he is with his nightwear since you arrived. Don’t get so caught up in investigations that you get distracted from your primary job.”

Beth knew that was a dismissal, so exchanged parting pleasantries with the Empire’s most powerful man before returning to her own office in frustration. He’d been quite nice to her in amongst his devotion to not listening at all. Perhaps she should consider herself lucky. 

Eli’s punishment assignment to on-call duties was still active on the day of the parade, so Beth was able to attend. If she couldn’t do anything about this, at least she would get a chance to see how it all turned out. The Court all gathered before the gates of the Palace to meet the Emperor as he emerged for the beginning of the parade, and gossip was flowing freely. Word was that the final version of the commissioned garment was even smaller than the last prototype had been. Beth wasn’t sure how that could even work. 

Then the Emperor emerged, and she found out. Her mental image of the first time she would see a man fully nude had never included a pot belly and a bald spot. Unlike the male model, the Emperor’s body wasn’t one she expected anyone would want to show off. And yet there he was, in front of the whole Court, soon to be in front of all the people of the Empire, wearing absolutely nothing. She wasn’t sure if she was more embarrassed for him or for herself. But he didn’t look embarrassed at all.

No one from the Court seemed to be embarrassed either. The discussion around her was fierce, but not shocked at the Emperor’s nudity. Instead they were all marveling at the bold statement made by the foreign fashion designers, as if they had designed something that the Emperor was wearing. Beth heard words like “diaphanous” and “subtle” and “gossamer” make their way through the crowd, even though she was pretty sure those words were supposed to describe things that were, in fact, there at all. 

The consensus among the Court seemed to be that the commissioned garment was absolutely brilliant, and that the people would be as wowed as they were. Beth was convinced it would be a disaster to let the Emperor out of the gates in this state at all. She dashed up to him, completely in defiance of protocol, and even put a hand on his upper arm just to make absolutely sure that there wasn’t some invisible piece of clothing there. All she contacted was skin. Guards moved in on her, but the Emperor waved them away. 

“What’s wrong, child?” he said.

“Sire, you’re not wearing any clothes.” She looked him right in the eyes when she said it, which was also a violation of protocol, but under the circumstances bowing was completely out of the question. 

“It will be all right,” said the Emperor. 

He pushed her away, into the hands of the waiting guards. They were gentle with her, but they did not let her follow when the gates were opened and the naked Emperor led the Court in procession out into the city. The last she saw of him was his bare bottom, vanishing into the crowd.

The guards escorted her, not to a cell, but back to her own office. They left her there, as if nothing unusual had happened, as if there were nothing more important for her to do in the whole Empire than manage pyjamas. And maybe they were right. Whatever happened to the Emperor out there, if he survived, he would need pyjamas that very night, just like any other.

In fact he needed them more than any other. Beth was just getting ready to pack up her things and return home when she got a message from the Bedside Dresser, indicating that the Emperor wished her to attend him with his pyjamas, personally. While Beth was getting good at managing the logistics of pyjamas, she had never been called upon to provide them in person before.

To her relief, the Emperor was fully dressed when she arrived in his bedroom. Whatever had happened with the parade, he hadn’t chosen to wear the commissioned garment for the rest of the day. He had her lay the pyjamas down on the bed, and then he sat down next to them. 

“I didn’t call you here for pyjamas, I called you to talk,” he said.

“I apologize for my impertinence today, sire,” she said.

He waved her apology away. “No. You… well, you did well. You did better than any of the others. Better than the whole Empire.”

“What happened, sire?”

“They all thought it was the most brilliant sartorial experiment ever made,” he said. There was no triumph in his voice. “There was nothing but praise for the quality of my dress. From the Court, from the people. From everyone but you.”

“A great success, sire?” Beth couldn’t keep the question out of her voice.

“But I was wearing nothing at all!” he said. “You were right. I was wearing nothing at all.” There was a deep sadness in his voice when he repeated the statement.

“I don’t understand,” said Beth.

“You ran a kingdom once,” said the Emperor. “Or so I’ve been told.”

“For one week,” said Beth. 

“Long enough,” he said. “Long enough to know that the needs of the Kingdom rule the King. The customs of the Empire rule the Emperor.”

“Sire?” she asked. She knew what he meant, but not where he was going with it.

“All these clothes,” he said. “We do nothing but clothes. The Empire used to build things, learn things, make things. Now all we make is clothes, and all we learn is to make fancier clothes. It’s not just exclusive to Imperial culture, it’s the only thing left of Imperial culture.”

Beth thought she could see the outline of where he was going, now. “You thought you could change that?”

“I thought, if I could wear no clothes, if I could show them the value of wearing absolutely no clothes at all, maybe it would inspire them to change. No country wants to be in an arms race, and this was just as bad, somehow, even if there were no weapons.”

“A sleeves race,” said Beth.

“Exactly!” said the Emperor. “Very well put. We put more money and more effort into clothes every year. I thought I had a way to escape from it.”

“So you hired people from the World of Chaos.”

“They’re not fashion designers,” said the Emperor. “Though you probably know that already. You’re the one person who could find out what was going on. It’s because you haven’t lived here very long.”

“You hired them to pretend they were fashion designers?” asked Beth.

“I hired them to convince the Court that they were making a real costume,” said the Emperor. “They did their job too well. I wanted everyone to see that I was naked, and instead no one but you saw me naked.”

“I think they all saw you naked,” said Beth. 

“Only in the most literal sense. None of them think they saw me naked. They think it was some amazing new design from the World of Chaos. They’re probably all in their rooms right now trying to order some for themselves.”

“What does that mean to you?” asked Beth. 

“It means I failed,” said the Emperor. “It means we’re just going to continue the sleeves race. That really is a very good term. There’s nothing I can do about it now.”

“You are the Emperor, sire,” said Beth.

“And you, alone of all the people here, know exactly what that means. You’re dismissed. I can put on my own pyjamas.”

She left him there, to try to sleep with his failure and his loss of hope. She wished there was something she could do for him, but he was right. The Emperor was the servant of the Empire, despite all the conventional wisdom that had it the other way around. 

When she got back to her office to finish packing up her things for the night, there was another messenger there, this one from the High Haberdasher. She had been waiting for Beth for a while, and suggested that the High Haberdasher was not going to be happy that she was late. But he had the same kindly but inconsiderate attitude from her earlier interview.

“I’m afraid we can’t employ you here anymore,” he said.

“I thought I was doing a good job with the pyjamas,” said Beth. 

“You are,” said the High Haberdasher. “But there are more things to being an Imperial advisor than simply pyjamas. We can’t have you saying unfortunate things to the Emperor.”

“I only told him the truth,” said Beth.

“You told him that he wasn’t wearing any clothes.”

“He wasn’t wearing any clothes,” she said. “Whatever you think happened, he was truly naked today.”

“Of course he was,” said the High Haberdasher. “We all know that he was naked. And he knows that he was naked. But he doesn’t know that we know that he was naked, and it nearly ruined everything when you went and told him.”

“You planned all this?”

“No, the Emperor did. We just couldn’t let him get what he wanted.”

“But he’s the Emperor,” said Beth.

“Yes,” said the High Haberdasher. “And we can’t let the Emperor run things. That’s our job.”

“And so you’re going to fire me, even though I’m good at pyjamas?”

“You’re good at pyjamas, but you’re no good at empire. Besides, we can’t have someone working here who doesn’t believe in clothes.”

Beth decided she was better off being somewhere she only had to believe in clothes that really existed. Surely she could find some place like that. She left most of her new wardrobe in the Empire for the next pyjama warden, and set off into Fairyland with only what she could carry.


Part 8 of The Cell Phone Towers of Elfland is Ian and the Briar Patch.
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