“I’ve come to inspect your daughter. If she proves as impressive as you claimed in the tavern I am to take her to the king,” he said with severity. His tone was brought on by fear and the memory of his meeting with the king. With eyes full of avarice, he told the matchmaker to bring the girl and he would give Conall twice the bride price. If the report was false, Conall, the girl and her boastful father would pay with their lives.

He dismounted and knew at once he had made a grave error. If the miller’s daughter had this ability, why would they live in a mill performing back-breaking labor? He walked into the dwelling of which there was only one room. The girl he saw was indeed beautiful, but her clothes were shabby. Hardly the kind of clothes someone with such a gift for spinning would wear!

“Your father claims you can spin straw into gold. My king wishes to know you and test your skills. If he is displeased, it will mean all out lives are forfeit,” he said without preamble. He had no time for being kind, and this mistake would cost him more than a commission. At least her beauty would give the king pause.

For her part, she was livid. She saw the truth of the rumor on her father’s stricken face. Being clever, she played for time.

“It is not something of which I boast. Although I want to be of use to your king, can I not merely send him my efforts if he is in need of more wealth?” She kept her eyes downcast for fear he would see the anger in her eyes. He took it for modesty.

“Then you do claim this ability? If that is so, why do you live and toil here?” he said sweeping his gaze across the small space. He was more than incredulous, but hoped he could use being taken in by her lies as a way to save his own neck.

“As part of my gift, I cannot spin for myself or my family – only for others. And only under the light of the full moon.” She said this to hope she would have more time. The next full moon was four days away, and just enough time for her father and her to go into hiding. The matchmaker was unsure what to think, but decided to take no chances.

“You will come with us to meet the king. Your father shall stay here under guard. Say your farewells quickly.” Abruptly, he stepped outside, pushing his way passed the stricken miller.

“I’m sorry seems a small thing to offer, but I am. All I can give you is your dowry – your mother’s ring and necklace. Perhaps, with your cleverness, you can pay a guard for your freedom.” The hug she gave him was for the man he had been when her mother had been alive, and to keep from lashing out at him for his stupidity. With dry eyes, but a heavy heart she left with the matchmaker. Unbeknownst to her, at a discreet distance followed the fairy.

At the castle, the maiden was kept in a room three times the size of her home, but it was most certainly a prison. It was a pretty dungeon, but a dungeon nonetheless. As she paced the floor, tested the door, and pushed at the windows, she plotted and rejected countless ideas. She knew more than her life was at stake if she could not impress the king. Her meeting would be soon.

She was brought before the king and the court the evening of the full moon. Seeing him did nothing to ally her fears. His mouth looked as though it seldom smiled, and his eyes had a hard glint that only softened when looking at the many jewels on his hands and clothes. He looked her up and down as she approached. She sensed he preferred meekness and looked down to appear so. He was not untouched by her beauty, but his bigger concern at hand was gold.

“Is is true you can spin straw into gold as the matchmaker claims? Only for others and not for yourself?” She noted the impatience in his voice and the exclusion of not being able to spin for her family, but now she knew why. The man who had come for her was not a courtier, but a matchmaker! This king was looking for a bride and being told that a woman who could spin straw into gold, but would cease once they were wed would make her less desirable. It was little consolation.

“Yes your majesty,” she said to the floor. She almost said no, but hoped one more night would give her an idea. However, her luck came to an end.

“Then you shall follow this guard. He will take you to a room where you will spin straw into gold. If you don’t you and your father shall die for lying to the king.” She was led away to a small room full of straw to the ceiling, except for a spinning wheel. Even she was hard pressed to look undaunted. Soon the guard left and the door was closed. She finally gave into despair, and indulged in something she hadn’t done since her mother had died – she cried. She cried so hard in fact that she didn’t hear the little man enter her straw cell…

…To be continued…

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