The Straw Maiden (aka Rumpelstiltskin) Part 4

The king has just informed the Straw Maiden that they shall be wed.

Not far from the palace another man was thinking of the upcoming marriage. The matchmaker was glad that his plans had not ended in his death, but his own greed led him on a path to see the king. Although the maid had proved her skill with a loom, he well remembered her warning that she could only spin for those not of her family. He thought it only his duty to give the same warning to the king, and had in fact already secured another maiden who was sure to find royal favor. With a thought to his purse, he arrived at the doors of the palace.

However, he was minutes late and the ceremony had already concluded. Tables were being brought out to begin the celebration, and all were rejoicing. All but one. The newly made queen did not look pleased at her great, good fortune. He assumed she had not told her husband, the king, her secret and it weighed heavily on her. Never one to miss an opportunity to advance his standing, the matchmaker begged an audience. Feeling magnanimous having won himself a queen literally  worth her weight in gold, the king indulged the matchmaker. Explaining in hushed, deferential tones the matchmaker told the king of the queen’s “deficiency” and offered in her place another maiden at the same bride price. The king’s joy receded and was replaced with utter shock.

“Is it true what this man says? You cannot spin for your family?” asked the king of the queen. The matchmaker tried to hide his grin, but his eyes dared the queen to lie. The queen did not try to deny the claim of the matchmaker, but saw an opportunity of her own within her predicament.

“My lord, the ban is to those who share my blood, but our blood has yet to mingle,” she said significantly. “You may never have an heir, but our kingdom will always be prosperous.” She hoped that appealing to the kings avarice would keep her from his bed. She knew him well enough to make this statement and was rewarded by being banned from the king’s chamber. Unwittingly she had also earned the matchmaker’s ire.

Her clever mind had saved her, but even the queen was at a loss as to how to conceal the real reason for shunning the king’s bed. Even now she knew the gift left to her by her night visitor would soon become difficult to conceal. As if thinking of him would bring him to her, he appeared. The look of sadness on his face confirmed her belief that he knew of the wedding that had taken place. She recounted all that had happened since and the two began to plan for her escape. Time wore on and the queen’s condition eluded the notice of the king, so long as the gold continued to fill his coffers. It had not escaped the notice of the matchmaker, however, who had elected to remain at court in order to watch the queen. His patience was rewarded, one day, when is was clear the queen was in some distress and retired to her room early. Peering through a crack in the door he saw the queen bring forth a son.

Amazed at his good fortune, for the downfall of the queen was his current goal, the matchmaker made haste to the king. Upon delivering the news, the king made his way to the queen’s chamber. He demanded an explanation, but the queen had been prepared for this. “We have been rewarded for our sacrifice and given a son,” she said still exhausted from her travail. The king did not want to question the queen further knowing that it might mean losing what he loved so dearly – gold. However, the matchmaker knew of this and he could not be sure of his discretion. Not knowing if he had already told others in the court, the king’s options were few. So he left the decision up to fate.

“My dear, I cannot say whether you have been false to me, but I will give you test. Long ago the fairies gave me a name and said whoever could pronounce it would share kingdom, but whosoever made the attempt and failed would forfeit their life. You must learn my name and say it in three days time or you and the babe will be put to death.” The king thought this was a very clever arrangement. If the queen was able to learn his name he would be no worse off because she was already his queen. If she failed, he would be rid of both she and the child and while he would miss her spinning, he had enough for ten lifetimes.

The queen poured over books and sent to all the surrounding towns for unusual names. On the first day she tried names of kings of old to no avail. On the second day names of plants and animals were off little use. That night, her night visitor came and told her “I have spoken to the queen of the fairies and she has given me the king’s name. As payment, I can no longer be a fairy. All of my magic is gone.” As he said it all the gold spun thread turned back to straw.

The next morning, the king was in a rage because he had awoken on a bed of straw. He now had no reason to spare the queen and went to her room with little thought to his previous challenge to her. Slamming the door open he found the queen with her child and a man he did not know. It dawned on him that he had been tricked and was intent on revenge. However, seeing the anger in his eyes the queen acted swiftly. “Your name is Rumpelstiltskin”, she said clearly.

“The fairies told you, the fairies told you!” he yelled and stamped his feet like a child so hard he made a hole in the floor and was swallowed up. The queen ruled the kingdom fairly with the stranger at her side and their child. No one ever heard from the old king again and though they were a kingdom of straw, they lived happily ever after.

                                                                                                                   THE END

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