When last we saw our heroine, a small man had entered her chamber filled with straw unnoticed.
“Can I help?” ventured the visitor. Startled, the crying maiden failed to respond. Wiping her face and smoothing her rumpled hair she looked at the man who had just entered. He was no bigger than an adolescent, but had the eyes of an old soul. Despite her shock, she found nothing threatening about him.
“Unless you can spin straw into gold, I fear, I can only ask you for a handkerchief,” she said with a wry smile.
“Lucky for you I can do both,” he said as he handed her a crisp handkerchief. She looked at him and finally took in his whole appearance. He was not as small as she first thought, just slight of build. His face was kind, but guarded as though he was unsure of his welcome. But he quickly warmed when at his task. The straw became gold filigree before her eyes.
“What can I give you in return?” she asked fearful of his demands. She was not naive to the ways of the world and knew some men would press an advantage.
“Your company. Tell me about yourself and I’ll tell you as much as I can about myself,” he replied. They talked for hours, hesitantly at first and then as old friends, laughing and sharing. When dawn broke the work was done and, fearing they would never meet again, she pressed the small bracelet into his hand. Before either could say more, the door was being unlocked and he vanished.
The king swept in and barely noticed the look of contempt on the maiden’s face. He was hungry for the sight of so much gold it blinded him to all else. He finally acknowledged her with a cursory nod.
“Come with me,” he said with a smile that was not for her. He kept her with him all day although he made no attempt at conversation. For her part, she kept her eyes downcast partly to continue her show of modesty, but also giving herself the opportunity to think about her night visitor. At the end of the day, she was exhausted and assumed the guard would return her to her room. Instead a turn down a new corridor brought her to another room with enough straw to dwarf last night’s offering. The same spinning wheel stood in the middle of the straw mountain. After a sleepless night and a day of being observed yet ignored, despair gave way to sleep.
She awoke to the familiar sound of the spinning wheel and her friend in quiet concentration addressing the task at hand.
“I brought you something to remember me by,” he said over his shoulder. “Look in my satchel.”
Inside she found a book of herb lore and healing. She smiled her first real smile since last seeing him and its warmth reached him. She was touched that he remembered her speaking of her wish to learn more about healing to help others. The spinning took most of the night to finish this time, but they passed it as pleasantly as the night before. Before leaving he was emboldened to kiss her. She pressed her mother’s ring into his hand and asked him to return for her.
That day was much like the last except the king smiled at her more. Perhaps it was to put her at ease, but it had the opposite effect. On this night the king himself led her away. She didn’t know whether to fear another room of straw or his bedchamber, but neither choice would have been welcomed. Nevertheless he opened the door to an unfathomable amount of straw, and with a look of pure arrogance said “If you finish this by morning, not only will I spare you and your father, but I shall make you my queen.”
He did not stay for her reaction, so sure was he of her gratitude and the honor she must feel. She dropped to the ground and with such incentive as marriage to this odious man started calculating how she could save herself and her father. It was at this point that her spinning friend appeared from the shadows.
“I have tried in vain to rescue your father, but he knows of the kings plans. He hopes to see you married to him and knows you will be well provided for,” he said with a heavy heart. Her hand had found its way to him and they stood for a moment regarding each other. Then he set to work.
He was like a man possessed working furiously and silently. He finished well before sunrise and in a rush of words, tears and the thought of never seeing each other again, were soon entwined on a bed of gold thread. He promised to return for her with her father to escape. He left then, but the memory of their shared gift stayed with her.
The king arrived as always and was awed by the golden glow “Now we shall be wed,” he said looking at the gold. For her part, she looked to the shadows and hoped her spinner would return in time. It was at that moment, she realized she never asked his name…
…To Be Continued…