Friday, June 15, 2012

Story of the Week: The Traveling Fair

Flemish Fair, Pieter Brueghel the Younger
Alex Shvartsman's "The Traveling Fair" at Every Day Fiction is about learning to respect the past and understand that your elders are not as "dumb" as they may seem. Following the early and unexpected death of his father, Elan inherits the office of Lord Protector of the town of Raethe. Educated at the best modern schools, he finds the old customs of his ancestors annoying and the "oversized metal throne" on which he sits to hear petitions exceedingly uncomfortable. After another uncomfortable day of hearing petitions, Elans complains to Trey, an elder adviser to Elan's father.

“It’s the accursed throne. An afternoon of holding court and my body feels as though I’ve been trampled by horses.”

“Ah, but your ancestors were wise,” smiled Trey. “A Lord needs to be both attentive and expeditious when presiding over the fate of his subjects.”

Trey then explains that Elan's father died before passing on all the secrets of the office and that denying the travelling Fair's petition is unwise. Elan considers the Fair a party of charlatans after his subjects' coins, but Trey counters that the Fair's real purpose is to ward off the Cloud Dragon, which Elan dismisses as a myth.

[Trey responds:] “I assure you, it’s real; an enormous beast that hides above clouds to mask its approach. I once visited a town devastated by the Cloud Dragon — it lay in ruins and there were no survivors. The Fair didn’t make it there in time, delayed by heavy rains and a flooded river.”

Elan is unconvinced and sets about reforming the government. He replaces "his father’s geriatric advisors with young capital-educated men of modern thinking and sharp wit." A soft and comfortable throne replaces the metal contraption of his father's day.

In the midst of a petition hearing, a messenger arrives to report that the Fair is setting up just outside of town. (One suspects that Trey and the old advisers have a hand in this.) Elan summons his constables and storms off to send the Fair packing.

I know what you're thinking at this point. It's probably what I was thinking as I read this story for the first time. Elan will drive the Fair away and he and his smart young courtiers will learn firsthand that the Cloud Dragon is not so mythical after all as it destroys the town in a an awesome display of pyrotechnics. That would be a plausible and fitting end to the story, but that's not what happens in Shvartsman's tale. Part of me wants to see Elan receive a rude awakening, but Shvartsman's conclusion is satisfying in a quiet way. Trey finds a way to save the town on a technicality despite Elan's ignorance and Elan reveals that while he may be ignorant, he is not obstinate.

Shvartsman successfully compresses his story into a flash-length narrative. I did not immediately connect Elan with the Lord Protector in the story's opening paragraphs, which caused some brief confusion, and I wish Trey would have made a personal appearance at the Fair to more tightly bind the story's threads, but these are minor quibbles. "The Traveling Fair" is well worth your time.

To read more about Shvartsman and his writing, check out his blog at


  1. Sounds like a good one, Jeff. I'll have to check it out. Have you heard about the anthology Alex is putting together?

    1. Yes, I read about his UFO anthology when researching the post on "The Traveling Fair." Don't have any truly funny story ideas at the moment.