Once upon a time there lived a poor miller with a beautiful daughter. He was known by the townsfolk to be fond of the drink. One day, on his way home late at night after a few too many goblets of especially potent gin, he bumped into the King.
Under the influence of the liquid djinns, to impress his King, he boasted about how his beautiful daughter could spin straw into gold using only a spinning wheel. Intrigued, the King decreed that she would attend his castle where she would have to prove her father’s outlandish claim in one day and one night.
Success would bestow her royal favour beyond her wildest imagination – she would become his Queen.
Failure, in diametric opposition, would cost her life.
The miller’s daughter was brought to the King’s castle and locked away in a chamber with only a spinning wheel and mounds of the finest straw. As she sat there on a stool in front of the immobile spinning wheel, the hours ticking by, she knew that she couldn’t complete this impossible task. She was doomed. Her fate was sealed. Her own father had condemned her to death.
She bowed down, the realization weighing heavy, put her head in her hands, and sobbed.
Suddenly, a funny little man appeared out of nowhere after hearing her pitiful cries. He made a bargain with her, a fair exchange. He would spin the straw to gold but at a cost. The price would be her necklace. The one which used to belong to her long-ago deceased mother. Her hands automatically went up to the piece of jewelry and touched it. The only connection they had left. It was an easy choice. She didn’t hesitate. Life for the necklace.
When the King arrived at dawn and saw the spindles full of gold thread, his seeds of greed grew into full forests of avarice – he commanded that she repeat it again under the same condition but with even more straw to make even more gold.
The poor miller’s daughter was again locked in a chamber with the spinning wheel and now even more straw. And again she grew despondent as the sun began to set and dawn drew nearer, knowing that the luck that had touched upon her the night before was nowhere to be found, and that this time it was the end of line. She could not spin straw to gold.
As she once again bowed her head and began to sob her wretched sobs, she heard the familiar voice of the funny little man. As she looked up at him through tear soaked eyes, he offered her another bargain. This time it would cost her ring, the only other item of value she possessed. And again, the poor miller’s daughter realized that her life was worth more than the ring. She slipped it off her trembling finger and gave it to the funny little man. He took her place on the stool and spun all night, his deft pointy fingers working magically, transforming the mounds of straw into the finest gold thread.
As on the first dawn, the King unlocked the door on the second one, his eyes met with the reflections and glinting of spindle upon spindle of dazzling gold thread. Seeing the incredible wealth in front of him, the King’s greed became all consuming. He demanded a third and final day of gold spinning.
The miller’s daughter was once again placed in a sealed chamber, this one bigger than the previous two, with mounds and mounds of straw as far as the eyes could see, piled up to the lofted ceilings, enough to feed an army of horses, a kingdom of horses, all the horses in the land.
On this, the third and final day, the sun began to set. The familiar dread and despondency began to course through the miller’s daughter’s body. Her life again on the line, she knew her only hope was that funny little man who had now helped spare her life twice over.
The darkness deepened and he was nowhere to be found. With dawn steadily approaching, her head dropped, her shoulders slumped, pregnant tears and sobs echoed in the giant straw filled room.
She heard him behind her, on this, the third night, with only hours to go.
She has nothing left to offer, nothing left to give.
She pleded with him. Begged him. Entreated him. Anything. She would do anything. Give anything. If he could help her, she would become Queen and she would be able to give him anything.
He asked for her first born child.
Because there was no way out, she agreed, her only pressing thought was to survive past the awakening dawn.
The sun broke the horizon bringing with it dawn and the King. He strode into the room, now a veritable treasury of gold, making him the wealthiest King to have ever lived.
Happy with the miller’s daughter’s gold spinning, they were married in an opulent affair. She began to lead a fairy tale life, one so far removed from her humble beginnings. Soon thereafter she had a child. The funny little man appeared to collect on her final promise.
The Queen begged him to take anything else but he only wanted the child. His 8 pounds of flesh. A deal is a deal. However, feeling sorry for the Queen, he agreed to give her three days to guess his name. If she could do so, he would rescind the deal.
She sent spies all over the kingdom to find his name. After two days of failure, a spy overheard a funny little man singing a song using his name in the forest. It was the same funny little man. The spy returned to the castle and informed the Queen about what he’d heard.
On the third day, the funny little man returned. He again asked the Queen to guess his name. As the Queen said his name correctly, he stomped his foot into the ground then ripped himself apart in rage.
You’ve likely heard my name. It rolls off the tongue in a manner both pleasing and terrifying at once.
Over the centuries, I have been vilified, my story manipulated by those subverting the truth to assuage their own guilt and complicity in my demise.
This is my story. You can choose to believe it or not, but know that the truth is immutable and history will prove this.
I lived in a hut, hidden in the enchanted forest, on the edge of the kingdom. The nearby stream often carried with it the echoes of voices and stories and laughter that I longed for, drifting from within those castle walls.
It had been centuries since I’d had any friends and even longer since I’d had any family. I had only myself. Oh, how I desired to have family again – to be part of something, to belong, to care and be cared for!
My people were hunted and enslaved because of our rare ability to spin straw into gold. My kin were forced into servitude by greedy nobility seeking to maintain their station.
Only I remained, having survived the genocide – my parents, my siblings – gone. The loves of my life – my darling wife and beautiful child – gone. My old life, snuffed out like a candle in the wind.
One day, I heard mournful wailing along the babbling creek. It was the sound of a young woman in despair that carried the same timbre as my wife’s cry as she was taken from me. I was compelled to follow it, against my better judgement.
The sound took me through the castle to a locked chamber. Opening the door, I entered to see a young woman sitting on a stool, her head bowed into her palms, crying the most pitiful cry, surrounded by mounds of straw piled high.
Her father, a poor miller fond of gin, had made boastful promises to win the King’s favour, and had sworn that she could spin straw into gold. And so it was decreed that she would do just that or face untimely death for failure.
It was just her luck that I had such an ability.
As is customary for this type of magic, a price must be paid. Everything has a cost. I explained that she must offer me something of value in order for the straw to turn to gold. Without hesitation, she offered her necklace in gratitude.
I worked the spindle feverishly through the night, filling spool after spool full of luminous golden thread. By dawn, I had emptied the room of straw before the King arrived, leaving only untold riches behind.
The next night, I heard that wailing again. I followed the sound through the castle tunnels and found myself before another locked chamber, bigger than the previous one. Upon entering, I noticed more straw piled up, with that poor young woman crying amongst it in front of a spinning wheel.
Through her tears, she told me that the King wished for her to again prove her ability, believing the first offering to have been luck of some sort. I offered to complete her task, to help spare her life, and in requisite payment she offered her ring.
As she slipped off her ring and dropped it into my bony palms, I could feel the magic coursing through me. I would now be able to spin all that straw into gold.
I spun the spindle all night and turned the straw into the finest golden thread. As the sun crested, I left her in the straw-free chamber, her life once again her own, the King richer but no wiser.
For the third night in a row, thinking of my missing family as I sat beside that creek, I heard her wails pierce the quiet dusk.
I made my way back to her, knowing she needed my help and knowing that I could help her. She was locked in an even bigger chamber, bigger than the previous two, with mounds and mounds of straw as far as the eye could see, piled up to the lofted ceilings, enough to feed an army of horses, a kingdom of horses, all the horses in the land.
She was beside herself with sorrow, facing imminent death if she couldn’t complete the task.
I again made my offer, reminding her that this magic has a price to pay and could not be completed without payment. She had nothing more to offer. Nothing of value to make the magic work. No more jewels adorned her. She no longer possessed anything of meaning.
If this straw was not spun to gold, she would be dead at dawn.
A child. Her first born.
As the thought came to me, I knew it was a heavy cost. For both herself and myself. But it was the only way to keep her alive. I told her I could spin the straw to gold but the price would be her first born when she was Queen.
She didn’t hesitate; whether she intended to remain childless or was caught in her own peril, she agreed immediately.
I spent the night working at a madman’s pace. Spinning away, spool after spool. Success at dawn. Her life was spared and she became Queen. The King had accumulated incredible wealth. The poor miller’s daughter had earned a crown. And I had gained a promise of a family.
Soon after, news came that the Queen had delivered a baby. I went to collect. A deal’s a deal, and the magical debt must be paid, the universal cost.
In the time since the Queen had made her promise, I had built up my hut to house a young babe. I had removed the sharps and rounded all the edges. I had stocked up on all the items that a young baby would need to grow and thrive.
It took me back to the time when my own child was alive. My little baby. I had so much love to give.
The Queen, upon seeing me, knew why I had returned. She refused to hand over her child, offering me vast fortunes instead. Unfortunately, that’s not how the magic works. It had to be the child.
She began to cry, that same cry that reminded me of my wife. I broke inside and took pity on her. I offered her an impossible task – to find my name in three days. If she could do so, she could keep her baby. If she failed, I would have a child of my own to love and care for. A family again. And a magical debt repaid.
I knew the risk I was taking, the magic had to be paid. There are consequences for not keeping the cosmic balance, but I was sure she would not find my name and in those three days, the debt would be made whole.
I underestimated her cunning. She had no intention of paying her debt. As Queen, she had resources to send spies all across the land and one of them happened upon my hut while I was away. He broke in and went through my affairs. He saw the only image I had of my family and upon it my family name.
With this information, on the third day, she spoke my name.
And as all magical debts must be paid, it was my life that was offered for hers.
She reneged on her promise.
As the bolt of searing pain shot through me, my leg smashed into the ground breaking through to my hip. My hand shot out and grabbed my other foot and I pulled myself in two.
“Rumpelstiltskin” Illustration by Anne Anderson. Public Domain