I’d been watching her for so long, wanting her, but I had no idea how much I could truly long for someone until she offered me, of all things, a ring.
I’d offered to spin a room full of straw into gold for her, and she offered me a bauble in payment. She was so naïve, and that only made me want her more. The next day, she offered her necklace, as if someone who could spin straw into gold couldn’t buy a hundred necklaces–a million.
I can spin straw, grass, even the steely, delicate silk of a spiderweb into gold, if I wish. I’ve got no use for trinkets. But the girl, with all the honesty in her heart, thought that might be what I was after. I’d never known anything quite so endearing.
I went into that room with the intention of asking for what I desired, knowing I’d get it unless the sweet girl truly wished to die. I’d even practiced my plea, in a way I’d hoped wouldn’t make her hate me as most do the moment they set their eyes upon me.
I’d planned to say: “Sweet maiden, offer yourself to me and I’ll spin all this straw into the finest gold you’ve ever seen. And I may just spin a golden thread around your heart.”
I thought myself rather charming, but I suppose it was a hideous request, after all. The fact that I never made it should speak to how I felt. I waited for an offer that never came. But the way she looked at me, so innocent, with those big, brown eyes–eyes with flecks of the gold I would spin–I couldn’t bring myself to say it.
On the third day, when she was out of sparklies, I thought surely she’d look into her heart and see what might have the most value to me. And while I don’t deny that I hoped she’d offer herself to me completely, if the sweet maiden had but offered to kiss my cheek I’d have spun that straw for her. I’d have carried more straw there on my back to make her all the gold the greedy king could ever want.
Just the softest brush of her lips against mine, and I’d have spun her boastful father’s bones into gold, had she wished it.
But she offered me her firstborn child, with such despair in her eyes. I felt for her so deeply–she was so beautiful in her sorrow–that I couldn’t reveal my desire. But finally, finally I saw my chance. I knew the king would take her as a bride. She’d given him a hundred kingdom’s worth in dowry already, remember. And I guessed that all the king’s appetites were as greedy as his love of gold. I knew a child would appear soon.
By the time it did, she would not be so naïve. I would not have to lay out my desires so coldly and callously. I knew a good woman would do anything to keep her child, and this young woman before me was so very good. I held tight to fantasies once again of the sweet girl, perhaps unhappy at first with the bargain. But soon after, amazed at how much I truly cared for her. I was sure she would wish she’d seen the truth in the beginning, and would steal away with me, leaving the king far behind. As I said, fantasies, foolish fantasies.
After the boy was born, I went back to her, determined to make my desire clear. I never wanted a squalling infant. What would I do with a child? Still, she thought I truly meant to take him. I hadn’t yet managed to make my plea when her tears moved me. To stop her despair, I offered her the chance to save the child by guessing my name, thinking that when she failed in this last attempt, I would make the bargain I’d longed to make, and she would gratefully accept.
My name is not common–in the many turns of the seasons I’ve been alive I’ve never known another with it. So this seemed a way to comfort her heart while ensuring the end result I wanted. Again, I practiced my plea, the one I would deliver when she couldn’t say my name.
“It’s you I want, my sweet. It’s you I’ve always wanted. I realize I’m not much to look upon, but perhaps if you look with your heart instead of your eyes . . . .”
And then, she cheated me. I know not how she discovered my name, but oh, the little smile and the light in her eyes when she said it! Anything but innocent, for just a moment! And that she offered nothing else, no lesser prize, broke my heart. I was so angry that I raced away instead of telling her my true feelings.
I hated her for a time, planned revenge on the entire kingdom, and then I realized I had only myself to blame. The king had plainly stated his desires. Gold and a wife, and he got them both. I hoped and pined and ended up with nothing. I’ve learned my lesson.
I watch her often. The child is a man now, and despite what I can only guess is her sweet and good influence, he’s much like his father. Together, they wager massive treasures against everything from simple street games to the outcomes of battles between neighboring kingdoms. The king has taught the young one the love of ale, as well. And because I watch so carefully, and because I also have a hand in the outcome of many of these wagers–she cheated, and so shall I–I know the king’s fortune is dwindling.
Spinning straw into gold is only one of my gifts. I can make the bones roll and land how I wish. I can make the feather fall on the losing circle. I can make a jouster’s aim straight and true, while distracting his opponent with a buzzing fly or tickle of sweat.
And I am perhaps the only living thing in forty kingdoms who knows that the king’s wife cannot spin gold. I’ll go to the king this time, when he seeks to replenish his fortune. He won’t offer me jewelry, or his son, or even a place on his council to be seated at his table to feast every night.
When I make my request, the king will be enraged. But that will fade in the white heat of his greed. It won’t take long, for as I said, I’ve been watching. He does not value her company so highly, because he doesn’t return to her night after night as I would. He entertains a fair number of the young ladies of the court, while she sings and sews and picks flowers in the garden.
The king will not hesitate to pay me with her body, and I’ve spent her child’s lifetime perfecting the spell that will steal her heart, so I shall finally have what I’ve wanted, lo these long and lonely years.