February 2, 2019


I’m supposed to spin straw into gold.
Suggestions are welcome…

There was once a young woman whose father, the local miller,erroneously claimed to the king that she could spin straw into gold. When told either to recant this statement or to summon his offspring so that she could perform the purported feat for his majesty upon pain of death, the miller chose instantly to sacrifice his child rather than admit his addiction to tall tales.

“I must be optimistic,” the young woman said to herself as she scrutinized the royal environs for escape routes. “Whatever happens now -- whether I get out of here, whether I can barter tomorrow with his royal gullible-ness and save myself, whether some miracle happens and I really do wind up with gold, or whether I die tomorrow -- at least I’ll be rid of Father. He was bound to mix me up in one of his get-poor-and-run-out-of-town-quick schemes eventually. Or, mix me up more than I usually am by having to run behind him and return-fire with the rocks they throw after us.”

“What’s this I hear?” said a tiny man who appeared suddenly in the middle of the floor.

“How should I know what you heard?” the miller’s daughter answered. “Only you know how long you’ve been eavesdropping.”

“I did not,” said the gnome-like gentleman with an air of injured dignity as if to imply that she had grossly misjudged the extent of his misdemeanor, “enter in time to discern from you the exact nature of the task you have been set, although I understand it to be one which you are unsuited to. I also gather that the consequences of the task’s being left undone tomorrow morning may be somewhat injurious to your pleasing person or your still more appreciable mental faculties. If you care to enlighten me as to the precise nature of your predicament, perhaps I may be of assistance in some way so as to improve your chances of escaping this ordeal unscathed?”

“I’m supposed to spin straw into gold,” she said. “Suggestions are welcome.”

The gnome beamed at her.

“Happily, that particular task happens to be one of my own talents, which I will, of course, be delighted to exercise on your behalf. As a sensible woman who clearly comprehends the desirability of people being fairly treated rather than taken advantage of, you will, naturally, wish to repay me in some way.”

This little rascal was crafty. The miller’s daughter smiled. You knew where you were with crafty little rascals who liked to hear themselves talk. Such persons liked to be entertained, and they were often past masters at appreciating their own turns of phrase, clever antics, and bad bargains. They still more appreciated being out-witted by one-time opponents who gave guile for guile in defense of their own, but who weren’t interested in competing for the privilege of out-witting others professionally, and thereby stealing potential clientele. These people were so much easier to consort with than the giants who also liked to hear themselves talk but had no inkling that there were occasions upon which silent and self-interested observance of situations and consequences were warranted. This one had reason to think well of himself. His eloquence was as impressive as his ability to appear out of nowhere, which was, in turn, as admirable as his laudable if insufficient skill at rhetorizing his opponent into the wrong.

“What’s your price?”

“Your first-born child,” he said, evidently aping her brevity either out of a desire to imply respect for it, or, just perhaps, in genuine appreciation of it as an alternative manner to his own expansive one.

“Done,” she said.

She presented an immense heap of gold to the king that morning and upon the two following days. When he, in response, proposed, she politely declined the honor and retired to a house she bought with surplus magicked metal she’d gleaned from her supply before presenting the remainder to His Royal Gullible-ness.

The next evening, the gnome erupted into her kitchen bristling with the righteous outrage of the con man experiencing the indignity of being out-conned without the consolatory knowledge of exactly how the outsmarting had been managed.

“You didn’t marry that stupid king!”

“He’s much too stupid for me, don’t you think?” the miller’s daughter responded serenely. “I’m going to marry you, instead.”

The gnome stared at her in surprise for a moment, then grinned delightedly.

“And so, your first-born child will be my first-born child,” he elucidated the means by which this solution would fulfill the letter of their bargain. The miller’s daughter smiled back. She did not advertise the fact that she’d known he was the one for her well before he’d named his price. She’d save that tidbit for some significant anniversary, or some evening of celebration after they’d jointly pulled off an extraordinary bartering job. She would throw a few discreet rocks at people who might otherwise draw undesirable attention to them, he would employ his superb information-gathering and magical talents to good effect, and the baby would clap.

“And we’ll all scheme and connive happily ever after,” she said.

Lisa Kovac recently graduated with her Master’s in English from Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. She currently works as a writing tutor at King’s University College, one of Western’s affiliates.Her short story “Snow White and the Magic Mirror” appeared in Imprints: Ten Write Place Writers, a creative writing journal published by King’s University College in July 2018. In May 2017, her poem “Villanelle for the Writing Centre: A Monologue” was published in Connecting Writing Centers Across Borders, a journal of writing centre scholarship. She is currently at work on a collection of revisionist fairy tales.

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff

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