The King’s Birthday Suit

In the town of Goldrich, there was a king who loved all his people. But above all else, he loved himself. He liked to dress in the finest clothes and parade through the town to hear what people would say about his latest outfits. His people loved him, and they admired his fashions. For days after his parades, people would talk about his style. When the men were supposed to be working down the mines, they would instead be idly chatting about the king’s latest hat and glove ensemble. When the women gathered at the river to do their families’ washing, they would while away hours chatting about the fantastic colours of his summer coat, returning home that evening with bags full of unwashed clothes. Even the children, when they should have been working silently in their classrooms, would pass notes around about their leader’s attire. They would imagine themselves growing up to be as fashionable and talked about as the king himself.

Of course, more than anything else, the subjects would have liked to dress like the king. And occasionally, very subtly, they tried to imitate they king, lacing their shoes in the same way as him, or combing the same parting into their hair. But they had to be careful with their attempts at imitation: they all knew the consequence of trying to copy the king.

A year previously, after a particularly glorious parade at which the king had sported an exotic leopard print hat, the townspeople had scrimped and saved to buy leopard print hats of their own. Even the king’s own servants had served the king wearing leopard print hats just like his. In the streets, the children had thrown stones at the people who couldn’t afford hats of their own, or who had cheap, imitation ones.

When eventually the king’s pet leopard had gone missing from the castle zoo one night, only to turn up as a set of luxury feline hats on the market the next morning, the king had decided that he had had enough. So he issued a decree, and ordered his servants to pin a copy to every door in town. It said.

Your gracious leader, the ruler of the kingdom of Goldrich, hereby declares it unlawful for subjects to imitate in any way his garments, his millinery or his style. The penalty for transgressors shall be severe.

The villagers were shocked and immediately hid their leopard skin hats, and the king was happy. But one morning, a week after the decree was posted, the bakers son, a young boy named Cai, was seen skipping through the streets, bold as brass, wearing an imitation leopard skin hat . All around the town square he skipped, singing as he went:

 ‘See my hat, it’s the skin of a cat!

 I’m the king, hear me sing!’

The king was outraged, and decided that he needed to make an example of Cai. The next day, as people were coming home from work and the square was at its busiest, the king’s soldier’s dragged Cai into the centre of the square. He was naked, and held up by a soldier at each of his arms. He was shivering and frightened as the towns people gathered to look. Then he began to sing. It was very quiet at first, until one of the soldiers poked him in the ribs. He sang: ‘People of Goldrich beware, the King’s spies are everywhere. If you try to copy the king, you’ll end up wearing…NOTHING.’

The people gasped, and shielded their eyes from the sight of the embarrassed, shivering baker’s boy. Each of them resolved privately never to make the same mistake as him.

It was about this time, that the king began to plan his annual birthday parade. It was the highlight of his year and he always chose the finest robe available for the parade. He was especially looking forward to it, safe in the knowledge that this year, no one would try to steal his style.

A month before the parade, escorted by a group of servants, the king left his castle and went to Goldrich market to look for a cloth fine enough for the event. The townspeople watched his face for clues as he perused their stalls. But the king looked dissatisfied.

                ‘None of these peasant wares are fit for a king’ he declared. ‘If we are to make a beautiful robe, we need beautiful cloth. If Goldrich cannot meet my needs, I will use a tailor from another town.’ He turned to one of his assistants. ‘Find a boy who can ride quickly, and send him to my cousin’s kingdom, Leadpit, to spread the word that the King of Goldrich needs a master tailor with the finest cloths.’

Two days later, two young men rode into town. They were dressed in finery and spoke with haughty accents. They asked for directions to the castle.

The king was delighted to see them, and welcomed them into his home.  They explained to the king that no one would be able to make or imitate the clothing that they could create.  They showed him furs and silks from China, jewels from India and cloths of goldthread. The king clapped his hands in glee. ‘I’ll take it all!’ he exclaimed.

But it was at this point that the king’s chief advisor, Melchiot, stepped forward.

‘Sire, if I may, I have my doubts. Although what we see here is great, none of it is new or different. A style icon like you needs something unique.’

There was a silence, as everyone waited for the king’s reaction. Then one of the tailors spoke.

‘Every other ruler we have served has been satisfied with these garments. But you, your highness, are a man of such exquisite style that you require something  very, very special. We do have something, back in Leadpit. It is a cloth that we have never sold to anyone before. No one has been fit to wear it, until now. We have been waiting for a customer like you.’

‘A customer like me?’ snapped the king. ‘Whatever do you mean?’

The other tailor spoke. ‘Someone of such intelligence and wisdom. Someone who will really appreciate its beauty.’

‘Well, come on then, let’s see it!’ blurted the king, who was now excited

‘We do not have it with us today. But, if you pay us now, we can come back in a few days with a robe made from the cloth. But remember: it is only the truly intelligent and wise who will be able to see its beauty.’

The tailors set off for their hometown carrying three pouches of gold, and leaving the king smiling with pride.

The following day, the king found that he was feeling impatient to see how the robe was coming along. He called for his most senior and respected advisor, Melchiot, and instructed him to ride to Leadpit to visit the tailors’ workshop.

That evening, Melchiot arrived in Leadpit and found the tailors’ workshop. He entered, but found the workshop empty. The tailors came out to meet him.


‘Where is the king’s robe?’ asked Melchiot. ‘He is impatient and wants to know how it is getting along.’

‘But can’t you see?’ said the tailor, sounding surprised, ‘It is coming along just fine!’ In one hand, the tailor held a needle without any thread. He seemed to be stitching the thin air.

Melchiot suddenly remembered what the tailors had said to the king: that only the truly wise and intelligent could see the cloth’s beauty.

‘Would you like to try it on?’ asked the second tailor ‘we won’t tell the king!’

Melchiot, who could not imagine any honour greater than wearing the king’s robe, flushed with

pride. ‘Why, yes! I’d be delighted’ Melchiot turned his back to the tailors and held out his arms. The tailors picked up the robe, and between them draped it over Melchiot, helping him put his arms into the sleeves.

‘Would you mind buttoning it up yourself?’ asked one of the tailors.

Melchiot looked down at himself, but, of course, saw no robe over his ordinary clothes. The tailors were waiting expectantly. ‘Go on then!’ said one of them, ‘Or don’t you like it? Of course, it is only the really clever who can see this garment.’

And so Melchiot pretended to button the robe. When the tailors asked him for more money and time to complete the robe, he quickly agreed.

A week later, it was time for the tailors to bring the robe to the castle. Melchiot went down to meet them. They were carrying a large case containing the robe. They entered the king’s chamber where all of his advisors were gathered, nervous and excited.

Gently, the tailors lifted the robe out of the case. A stony silence fell over the room as the King and his advisors saw that there was nothing in the tailor’s hands.  But then Melchiot spoke.

‘Do you like it, Sire? I knew you would – because you, after all, are the most intelligent and wise of all Goldrichians.’

Slowly, the king began to smile as the tailors dressed him in the robe, complementing him all the time on how well it suited him. One by one, the other advisors stepped forward to say how good it looked. With each complement, it seemed that the king grew a little taller.

‘This is all I need for my birthday parade!’ he exclaimed. ‘I will wear this robe and nothing else to the birthday parade. How delighted my people will be to see me in the best robe yet!’

The day of the parade arrived. The king’s carriage was prepared and the king climbed in, wearing the new robe. In the town square, people had gathered  to catch a glimpse of their fashionable monarch and wish him happy birthday. The women had left their washing, the men had come up from the mine and the children had left their classrooms. Above all, they could not wait to see what he would be wearing this year. As his carriage entered the town square, and the people  saw the king they  fell silent.

‘Behold!’ shouted one of the advisors ‘your king, wearing his greatest robe yet! A robe so exquisite that it is only visible to the wise and the intelligent!’

The tailors began to clap, then they were joined in their applause by Melchiot and the other advisors. The soldiers began to cheer, and then finally the people of Goldrich too, began to clap wildly.

Only one Goldrichian remained silent. This annoyed the king, who stood up in his carriage and called down. ‘Aren’t you the baker’s boy? Tell me, why don’t you clap like the others?’

The boy spoke, with certainty in his voice. ‘Because, Your Majesty, you are not wearing a robe. You are naked!’

Someone in the crowd began to laugh, and then another, until soon everyone in the square was laughing.

‘It is funny, isn’t it,’ said the king to one of the tailors, ‘that there should be somebody so foolish that he cannot see the robe?’

‘Yes’ said the tailor. ‘It is funny, Your Majesty.’