Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Once upon a time there was a poor kingdom called Douran ruled by a sad and lonely king. His storehouses were bereft of gold, nor had he any wife or heir to succeed after him. As a result, his kingdom was governed by fear and darkness. Unrest lived in the hearts of the people and the land was under constant threat of war.
“What can I do?”
“King Lancer, your people need you to be strong,” Edgar, high advisor to the king said as gently as he could. It was getting harder to keep his hold over the kingdom inconspicuous with the figure head on the downward slope into depression. If King Lancer gave up his royal authority without someone to succeed him, no one would accept the high advisor as the next king. War would break out and the kingdom would collapse. He could not let that happen. “You need an heir.”
The king lifted his saddened eyes to look at his dark featured advisor and laughed, hopelessness permeating the mirthless sound. “Perhaps you haven’t noticed, Edgar, but the last I checked one needed a wife to procure offspring. And a wedding would cost money. Unless you have found some gold in our stores since the last time you checked, we’re simply out of luck. No gold equals no wife, and no wife equals no child. So I ask my question again, what can I do?”
Edgar twisted the hem of his sleeve between his spindly fingers and bit on his almost nonexistent lower lip. “You cannot give in to your dark thoughts,” he said thinking quickly. “Your people need you.”
King Lancer sighed and slumped even further in his wooden throne. He felt so old. When he had first risen to power he had felt so alive, eager to save this dying kingdom. He’d been too young to realize the burden of the responsibility of kingship. Back then, his sea blue eyes had sparkled, but now their brightness had faded to a dull grey. Once he had been strong and battle hardened, now he simply felt weak. Had it really been only six years since he assumed the title of King?
Edgar looked at his king quizzically. “Did you hear anything of what I just said?”
“Sorry...my mind wandered for a moment.”
His lips tightened and he forced back a frustrated sigh. “King Lancer, hear me out, if you will. I want you to rest for a while. Concentrate on ways to help your people and allow me to concentrate on a way to help you. Trust me so that your people can trust you.”
“Very well. I’ll try.”
Edgar bowed and left the miserable king alone. Now all he had to do was find a girl, and gold.
Tom was a poor miller. His only valuable possession was his daughter, Arabella, a girl as beautiful inside as out.
“Daddy, Mildred twisted an ankle,” Arabella said peeking her dirt smeared face around the door. Her twig infested golden curls bounced lusciously around her flawless face and her diamond eyes shone with worry.
“What is it you were doing?” he asked pulling a leaf from his daughter’s hair.
Hurriedly she tried to comb out the foliage. “The cart got stuck in the rut out back. I was helping her pull it out but it lurched and I fell in the bushes. But I’m okay, really. She’s the one hurt. I didn’t see it, but she screamed something awful!”
He sighed. “I pray it’s not too serious. She’s the last healthy one. Without her...” he shuddered. It was bad enough being a poor man with only two goats, worse still with one sick and the other lame. “Come on, let’s go see what we can do for the poor girl.”
She practically dragged him to where the goat was lying in a patch of dirt. “What should we do?”
He looked over the injured leg and frowned.
“Is it bad?”
“It’s a sprain. She won’t be able to do much work like this. But it isn’t fatal. She’ll live to work another day.”
Arabella’s smile brightened the gloom of the day. Though the clouds covered the sky, she shone as brilliantly as the sun itself.
“We’ll have to wrap this as soon as we can. Where are the good splints?”
He swore under his breath. “Alright, I’ll just have to go to town. I don’t want to use anything that could cause any more damage. Hopefully I’ll be able to find something cheap. You stay here to prep some linen to wrap her leg with. And see that the animals are fed. They haven’t eaten yet today.”
She nodded. “I pray she makes a swift recovery.”
“That’s my girl,” Tom said fondly. When had his little girl grown into such a fine woman? “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
It was a short walk into the town market and soon he was surrounded by merchants calling out their wares. Once, this market had flourished will all manner of trinkets, exotic foods, medicinal herbs, and many other wondrous things. It had been a sight worth seeing. People had come from miles around to take in the scents and sounds. Unfortunately, none of the current inhabitants remembered such days of prosperity.
He looked up at the towering castle. It had been built too many generations ago to count. Its spires rose majestically above the town, but it no longer gave off the aura of strength and power it once had.
Turning back to the streets, he could see how far they’d fallen. The houses were dismal and weary, the people were no better. He longed for days of colour, but he feared he would never see such in his lifetime.
He walked to one of the run-down stalls. An old woman peered up at him, her sunken brown eyes unnerving. “Umm...” he began, but the sight of the old hag only made him shudder. He turned to leave when she grabbed his sleeve. “What!” he cried in shock.
She stared at him for a moment. “It’s happened before,” she said in a voice much smoother than he would have expected.
“What are you babbling about?”
“The royal bride be warned. He craves the blood of the child.”
“Let go of me!”
“Beware falsities. One lie leads to the destruction of many lives.”
He yanked his arm free of her white-knuckled grasp and stumbled away from the stall. Fixing his tunic, he moved on, allowing the woman and her nonsensical warning to fade from his mind.
He visited three more stalls before he found what he was looking for at the lowest reasonable price. He was just about to head home when he saw a narrow man with dark features walking the streets. Recognizing him as someone from the palace, he decided to follow him. They ended up inside one of the town taverns where he discovered the man was Edgar, the king’s high advisor.
“Did you leave the palace and get lost?” the bartender asked. “How does someone of your status end up here?”
“Actually,” Edgar said clearing his throat, “I’m on a search on behalf of King Lancer.”
“We have no gold either,” the bearded bartender said gruffly and turned away.
Edgar waited for the man to turn back, but he continued to receive the cold shoulder. He never knew peasants could be so infuriating. He was trying to help them, after all.
“Excuse me?” Tom said working up his courage.
Edgar turned to the blonde-haired man who stood only a few inches shorter than himself. “Yes?”
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I couldn’t help overhearing you say that you’re here on behalf of the king?”
“I was just wondering, what would King Lancer need from us?”
Finally he had found a commoner with some sense. “I’m on a mission to find something that would make everyone happy,” he said not willing to give everything away.
Tom thought to himself, what would make the king and everyone happier than the king finding a queen? His mind worked furiously. “You know,” he said slowly, “I happen to have the most beautiful daughter in the entire town, perhaps even the entire world. She would make any king happy.”
Edgar eyed the man, taking in his ragged appearance. “Not interested,” he said flatly.
“But not only is she beautiful!” he cried hurriedly. “She can also spin straw into gold!” He was horrified by the words that spilled unbidden out of his mouth. What was he thinking? No one could do something so obviously impossible!
The advisor stopped, his interest suddenly peaked. “She can what?”
Tom gulped. It was too late to go back on his claim now. “She can spin straw into gold?”
“Who are you?”
“Tom. The miller.”
“Well, Tom the miller, perhaps you’d be willing to send your daughter to the palace by evening. She shall be put to a test. If she is as talented as you say, things could change greatly for you.”
His heart dropped for he knew he had doomed his daughter. He went home disheartened. What was he supposed to do? Perhaps he could take Arabella and flee the country. No, he had already made a promise. There was no running away now.
“Father, you’re home!” Arabella called when she saw him. Her smile faded at the look on his face for she could tell instantly that something weighed on his mind. “Why, what’s wrong?”
He tried to smile cheerfully at her, but he knew she could see right through him. “My dear, the king’s high advisor has requested for you to go to the castle this evening.”
“Me? What have I done?”
“You’ve done nothing wrong,” he fumbled. “It’s just...well, it seems he somehow caught rumour of your beauty. They wish to see the truth for themselves.”
“Oh,” she breathed. “But, surely there are plenty of girls more beautiful than I who can offer more to the king. We are so poor.”
She was so kind, and so pure. He hated himself for lying to her. “You must go at once. Perhaps the king shall make you his queen.”
She laughed. “Father, did you not hear what I said? Why would he choose me over all the maidens of this land? I’ll go, but don’t hope too much for such an elegant return.”
“I love you,” he said as he wrapped his worn riding cloak around her shoulders.
She gave him a big hug. “I love you, too.”
He watched her leave and prayed that she would return to him, but he feared that he had just sent her to her death. A tear dripped down his cheek. “Forgive me,” he whispered as she disappeared from view.
Edgar told nothing to the king. He would first find out the truth for himself. So when the message came that the girl had arrived, he met with her in secret.
“Welcome, my dear girl.”
“Thank you,” she said with a shy bow.
“I can see I heard truthfully of at least one thing. You truly are beautiful.”
She blushed and cast her glance at the floor.
“If the rest is also truth, perhaps we shall finally have a new queen.” He watched her reaction carefully. Was she just another power-seeker, or was she honestly as innocent as she appeared?
She looked at him with a confused expression on her face. “I’m sorry. Um...the rest?”
He nodded to himself. “Follow me.”
“Am I to meet the king?” she asked feeling overwhelmed. “Don’t you think I’m not exactly presentable in this―”
“You cannot meet the king just yet, my dear. First, there is a test.”
He would say nothing more to her. Instead, he led her deep into the heart of the castle and brought her to a large room filled with straw. In the middle was a spinning wheel and spindle.
“Oh my,” she gasped. “What’s all this for?”
He pushed her into the room a bit harder than he’d intended. She landed roughly against the cold, stone floor. He held back the urge to flinch. “Get to work,” he said. “If you don’t spin all this straw into gold by morning, then you must die.” It was an unfortunate waste of such beauty, but the law was the law. He left and locked the door behind him.
Arabella jumped to her feet and began pounding on the door. She didn’t understand what was happening. “Please,” she cried. “Please, let me out. How am I supposed to spin this straw into gold? Let me out, please. Please!” She sank to her knees, her forehead pressed against the door. “Come back,” she whispered hopelessly.
No one returned for her. Sitting back against the door, she studied the piles of straw. She knew nothing of spinning anything into gold. It had never been done, as far as she was aware. “If I don’t do as he asked, come morning I shall surely die.” At the thought her fear grew greater and greater. She missed her father. She longed to leave and just go home. As her fear and longing meshed, she began to weep.
“Good evening, miss miller, why do you weep?"
She jumped in surprise. Quickly she scanned the room but there was no one to be seen. “Hello?” she said timidly. Perhaps she had imagined the voice.
“Hello. Why do you weep?”
Again she tried to spot the speaker, but there were too many shadows. “Oh,” she sighed. She could feel more tears coming on. “I’m supposed to spin all this straw into gold and I don’t know how! If I don’t, they’ll kill me!”
“I can do it for you.”
She sniffed and dried her eyes. “Y-you can?”
“For a price.”
She looked down at herself. “You can have my necklace,” she said hesitantly. It would be a hard trinket to part with. “It belonged to my mother and is very dear to me, but I’ll give it to you if you spin all this straw into gold for me.”
“Deal,” the speaker said finally stepping into the light.
She gasped. A man stood before her, slouched low and with a hideous face. His clothing was even more ragged than her own, his hair was mostly missing, and his eyes were dark and lifeless. A smell came off his breath making her eyes water, but what scared her most were the tiny skulls hung all about his person.
The man grabbed the necklace from around her neck and immediately she fell into a deep sleep.
She awoke just before dawn and to her amazement, the room was filled with gold.
When Edgar arrived, he was likewise astounded. “You...it’s gold. It’s all gold!” He held one piece between his fingers and stared at it. It had been so long since he’d seen such pure gold, and so much of it.
“Now may I see the king?” Arabella asked softly.
Edgar closed his hand around the gold he held and placed it into the confines of his robe. The greed in his heart was stirred. One room wasn’t enough. They would need more. If they wanted the kingdom of Douran to be secure, if they wanted their lands to be as prosperous as those that surrounded them, they would need lots more gold. “I must ask you to wait for a while longer. There is much to prepare.”
She couldn’t believe it. She was actually going to meet the king! What kind of preparations needed to be arranged? Were they already going to make her be queen? Perhaps they were planning for a celebratory ball. All day, as she waited in her gold-filled cell, her imagination whispered fantasies to her. She imagined the king asking her to be his bride and living happily ever after.
When Edgar returned, she was anxious with excitement.
“Come with me.”
She followed him willingly. He brought her to another, larger room filled with even more straw. Her heart froze. “What?”
“To make sure this isn’t some sort of trick, you must spin a second time. All this straw must be spun to gold by morning or you must die.” Then, once again, he locked her in. He felt bad, in a way, but his lust for gold was stronger.
“You can’t do this!” she cried as once more she began to weep.
“Why do you weep?”
She spun to face the room, her heart beating furiously in her chest. In the corner she saw the man from the night before. She gulped back her growing fear. “I...they want more gold.”
“And they’ll kill you if you don’t spin it for them.”
She nodded fearfully, not trusting her voice to speak.
“I can do it for you.”
“For a price?” she squeaked.
He nodded and stepped closer.
“My ring,” she said hastily taking it off her finger. “My father gave it to me. It’s very dear to me.”
He paused and then stepped closer. “Deal.”
She smelt his awful breath as he took the ring from her hand, and then she fell into a deep sleep.
Once more she awoke to find the room full of gold. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Edgar returned, pleased to find so much gold. With this, they were already wealthier than the nations that loomed at their borders.
“Now may I see his Highness?”
He said nothing but left her in the room once more and did not come back until evening. By the time he opened the door, Arabella was feeling much less hopeful than the day before. Her fears were realized yet again as he brought her to a third room. This room was bigger than the last two combined with triple the amount of straw.
“Spin this straw into gold. If you succeed, you shall become Queen of Douran. If not, you will be killed come morning.”
She had no tears left for crying; there was no sadness, only disappointment. “This time I will die. I’ll never see my father again.”
“What price will you pay if I spin it for you once more,” the grotesque man said appearing from around a stack of straw.
She tried to back away but she was already up against the wall. “I have nothing left to give.”
“Promise me your first born and I shall help you.”
She was so numb with fear, the shock of the request had hardly any effect on her. “Surely you want something else,” she suggested.
He shook his head, his eyes never leaving her face. “When you are Queen, you will give me your first child.”
Having no other way out of her predicament, she promised the man what he demanded.
Immediately she fell into a deep sleep and awoke to the room full of gold.
“And how have you done today?” Edgar said as he unlocked the door. His jaw dropped at the sight of the room. “Douran is saved,” he said under his breath. Then he saw the girl staring up at him. “If you will just come with me, I shall take you to be cleaned and dressed for an audience with his Majesty.”
Hope fluttered in her chest, but she still feared that she might be locked in yet another room. To her pleasant surprise, Edgar was true to his word.
“The maids will take care of you,” Edgar said ushering her into a well-lit room.
She looked around. It was a simple room with modest furnishings, but all of it was grander than anything she had ever seen.
“Oh, you poor thing,” an elderly woman said fussing at Arabella’s appearance. “What has Edgar done to you?”
“No time for talk, into the bath with you!”
In a blur of action that made her head spin, Arabella soon found herself washed, dressed, and being lead to meet with the king.
“What’s he like?” she asked the elderly maid who was leading the way.
“Don’t you worry, dear. Edgar may be a bit uptight, but he’s as loyal to King and kingdom as anyone.”
She chuckled. “Not Edgar, King Lancer.”
“Oh,” the maid said sadly. “The poor man. He’s strong yet gentle, firm but kind. He has a good heart, he does. But he is ailed with a deep sadness. I pray one day he will become the king we all know he could be.”
“King Lancer, I think I have found a way to make all your problems go away.”
The king sat up a bit straighter in his throne. “What is it?”
“Not it, Sire, who? I have found you a girl.”
He fell back and sighed. “I already told you, Edgar, a wedding costs money and we have none.”
“On the contrary, this girl has worked a miracle.”
“And what miracle would that be?”
“She has spun your storehouses full of gold.” He held out the piece he kept in his tunic and placed it carefully in the king’s outstretched hand. “It’s purer than any gold I’ve ever seen. We now have three rooms full. Douran is the richest kingdom I’ve ever heard of!”
“Amazing!” King Lancer said in wonder. “You said to trust you, and it seems you have indeed proven yourself. What would you have as a reward?”
“All I ask is to serve you as I have for these past several years.”
“Thank you, Edgar.”
The advisor bowed low. “And now, would you like to meet her?”
King Lancer sat straight in his throne and nodded, staring eagerly at the door. “Please.”
Arabella entered the room, her eyes turned to her interwoven fingers. She’d never been so nervous in all her life.
“You’ve saved Douran,” King Lancer said, trying to see the girl’s face. “Won’t you lift your face so that I may look upon the one who single-handedly saved my kingdom?”
She raised her head.
King Lancer gasped. She was beautiful. Her blue eyes shone brighter than diamonds from a porcelain face edged by wavy golden curls.
She blushed under his gaze; his eyes that mirrored the sky regarded her kindly.
Edgar watched the exchange in fascination. He couldn’t help but smile as the haggard and worried appearance of the king faded. This king he now saw was no longer depressed and worn-out, but strong. The girl, on the other hand, was glowing with radiance. Together, they glistened brighter than any star and warmer than any summer day.
“What’s your name?” King Lancer asked.
“Arabella,” she said shyly.
“Arabella,” he said coming to stand in front of her. “I would be the happiest man alive if you would do me the honour of becoming my wife.”
Tom nearly leapt for joy when the herald came to his door with a message from Arabella. To think, his daughter was to become Queen of Douran!
The wedding was the most joyous occasion any of the people had ever witnessed. There were even those who came from far away kingdoms to congratulate the king and his bride.
With King Lancer and Queen Arabella ruling Douran, the kingdom flourished. Wars were averted before rumour of them even began, alliances were made, and the people finally had peace. The markets buzzed with activity as they had in the days of old. Every day was a day of celebration, and the people were genuinely happy.
After a year of peace, the queen gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She had all the beauty and grace of her mother. They named her Princess Aaleyah.
The young princess was loved by all the people, but none as strongly as her parents. Together they were very happy, the horrible promise made all but forgotten.
“She looks even more like her mother now that she’s turning five tomorrow,” King Lancer said as he watched his daughter play.
Queen Arabella kissed him on the cheek and smiled warmly. “She’s our greatest gift.”
“Yes, and the people love her.”
Later that night, as the queen was putting her beloved child to sleep, an awful smelled awakened a terrible memory.
“Hello, Lady Queen.”
She screamed at the sight of the vile man.
“Give me what you promised,” he said stepping toward the bed where the young girl slept peacefully. “Such a precious thing.”
Arabella was horrified. “Please! Don’t take my child, I’ll give you anything! Just ask and it’ll be yours.”
“I’ve already named my price.”
“Please,” she pleaded. “You can have all the treasures of the kingdom, if you wish. I beg of you to find it in your heart to let me keep my child.”
“No!” the man snarled. “Something living is more important to me than all the treasures in the world.” He looked at the sleeping girl. “A beating heart is so much more delicious than lifeless trinkets.” He stepped closer, licking his lips greedily.
“Mommy?” Princess Aaleyah said blinking her eyes open softly. She saw the man coming toward her and screamed. “MOM!”
Arabella grabbed her daughter and tried to run for the door, but the man was faster than she expected. In desperation she ducked behind the table, but he flipped it with apparent ease. With the thought of protecting her child at the forefront of her mind, she dashed for the window, but he got there first.
“Give me the child!” he snarled. “Keep your promise, Lady Queen.”
“Never! I’ll not let you have her!”
The young princess was crying and sobbing heavily by now.
The man only laughed. “The choice is no longer yours. That child already belongs to me.”
“NO!” she screamed, flinging her arms protectively around her small daughter.
“I’ll make you a new deal,” the man said slowly. “I’ll give you three days to guess my name. If you can guess it correctly by the third day, you shall keep your child.”
“Oh, thank you!”
“But!” he said pulling himself up to tower over her. “If you do not guess my name, that child is mine.”
She looked down at her daughter and gently stroked her soft, golden curls. Steeling her jaw, she turned back to the man and nodded.
“Until then, I’ll take my recompense from the town.”
“NOOO!” she screamed, but he was gone.
At that moment the door opened and the king burst in. “Arabella, what’s wrong?”
She wept and told him everything. “I’m sorry,” she said at the end of her tale. “You can imprison me if you wish, but please, protect the children. He’ll eat them if we don’t guess his name!”
“I’ll not have you imprisoned,” King Lancer said softly. He took his wife and wrapped her shaking body in his arms; their once more sleeping child nestled between them. “I love you. Don’t worry. We’ll do all we can to stop this dangerous creature from getting what he wants.”
All the palace guards were sent out into the surrounding towns and villages, but too late. Several children had already been taken. Unfortunately, there was only one way to prevent this from happening.
“We must gather every name and pray one of them belongs to the man who dares eat our children!”
The next day, scrolls containing lists of names poured into the palace.
The queen turned at the familiar voice. “Father?”
He opened his arms and she ran into them. “I don’t know what to do,” she wailed fearfully. “This is all my fault!”
“Shh,” he hushed. “If anyone is to blame, it is I. However, what matters now is protecting the children. I think I know someone who can help us,” he said holding her away from him.
“Her face has been haunting me these last few nights. I will find her and bring her to you as soon as I can.”
It was supper time when the horrible man appeared to hear if they could guess his name. One-by-one they went through the lists they had collected.
“Kaspar? Melchoir? Balzar?”
To each name he only laughed; a terrible sound that made all who heard quiver down to their bones. “All wrong,” he said once they had exhausted their lists.
“Please, do not eat the children of the good people,” she pleaded.
“Give me your child.”
Queen Arabella could only cry.
“Then I shall continue to collect as many children as I desire.”
News spread to their allied kingdoms and names from all the lands poured in. By the next day they had compiled a list of the strangest and most unusual names.
“All wrong,” he said at his next visit and vanished.
“What will we do?” Arabella wailed.
“Pray for a miracle,” King Lancer said.
“I’ve found her!” Tom said at that moment running breathlessly into the room.
“Found who?” the king asked.
Tom stepped aside and the old woman he’d met so many years ago shuffled forward. She was bent oddly and her eyes seemed distant.
“Can you help us?” Queen Arabella asked nervously.
“This has happened before,” she said in a strangely smooth voice. “Oh yes, many times past.”
“Will you tell us what happened?” Tom urged her.
With a word from the king, a stool was brought for the woman to sit on as she recounted her tale. “Once upon a time, long ago, the kingdom of Douran was poor and without a queen. A girl came forward, claiming to have the ability to beat metal into gold. They locked her in a room to see if what she claimed was truth. It was not. Fortunately for her, a strange man offered to help her, but in exchange she agreed to give up her first born child. The kingdom became wealthy, the girl took on the title of Queen, but when she gave birth to her first child it was taken from her.”
The king and queen exchanged horrified looks.
“And that wasn’t the only time,” the woman continued. “Four times this same thing has happened over the course of Douran’s history.”
“What can we do to break this cycle?” the king demanded.
The woman paused, deep in thought. “Perhaps, the only way is for him to die.”
Late that night, as the royal couple slept, someone arrived at the palace gates. He was the son of a woodsman who lived in the forest.
“What do you want?” the guards asked the dark-haired boy.
“I need to speak to the king and queen. I have news that may bring them some hope in these dark days.”
The guards looked at each other, and then rushed the boy into the palace. Word raced on before them and the boy was met by eager parents. He bowed low to them but they dismissed etiquette.
“What is your name, lad?” the king asked.
“Eric,” the boy said.
King Lancer watched the green eyes. There was something strong in their depths. “How old are you?”
“I’m eleven, Sire.” It was obvious he knew hard labour for there was a roughness about him. Yet, despite his young age, he was quite handsome.
“Please, what news do you bring?” the queen asked fearfully.
“First, I’m sorry to say that my father and I could find no new names though we searched far and wide. However, I did find something strange and disturbing as I travelled through the forest. Deep in the heart of the darkest parts I found a hut. In front there was a fire that glowed with an ugly green light. It smelt disgusting. Of course, I noticed right away that there were no animals. None of them would dare go close to a horrible place like that! And then I saw him, the man who lives there. He looked more monster than man, I thought. As I watched him I saw...I saw...” He shuddered at the awful memory. “He gutted and roasted two small children and then tied their bloodied skulls around his neck! I was terrified! What kind of person could do something so awful?” he said forcing back the tears that threatened to leak from his eyes.
“Go on,” the white-faced Queen Arabella prodded gently.
“I was about to leave when he started to dance and screech. At first I couldn’t make out what was going on, but then he started to sing.”
“What did he say?” King Lancer asked leaning forward.
‘Today I’ll brew, tomorrow I’ll bake.
Soon I’ll have the Queen’s namesake.
Oh, how hard is it to play my game,
For Rumpelstiltskin is my name!’
“There were more verses, each one fouler than the last,” Eric said in end.
The king and queen sat shocked. “Rumpelstiltskin?” they said together.
“Oh, thank you!” Queen Arabella said wrapping her arms around him and kissing his face. “You dear, dear boy! You have saved a great many lives this night.”
“Indeed!” the king said. “For your services to Douran, you shall be greatly rewarded.”
When the horrible man arrived the next day, they were ready. Queen Arabella sat beside King Lancer, the Princess Aaleyah on her lap.
“What’s my name?” he asked eyeing the small child.
“Kunz?” the king asked.
“Heinz?” the queen asked.
They looked at each other, prepared to offer their final name.
“Could your name be, Rumpelstiltskin?”
He said nothing for a tense moment. All in the room held their breath and watched as his face slowly turned a violent shade of red. He growled something no one could understand, and when he turned his eyes on them they were burning with a fire fueled by hatred. “The devil told you! The devil told you!” he screamed as his body began to contort. In horror they looked on as his body warped and twisted. Bones rose out of his skin as spikes along his back and shoulders and the skulls hanging around his neck began to chatter.
“What’s happening?” Princess Aaleyah asked her eyes wide with fear.
The king and queen could only shake their heads in terrified fascination.
“How dare you!” His voice was now more of an animalistic howl. “Your blood will be mine!” With a flourish he grabbed the queen along with the princess and fled the castle.
“After them!” the king cried.
At his word, men raced after the rapidly fleeing figure.
“Eric,” King Lancer said to the boy who stood horrified beside him. “I must ask something of you. Will you lead me and my men to that creature’s lair?”
Eric turned his green eyes up, gulped back his fear, and nodded. It was only a few short minutes later that the chase was on.
Princess Aaleyah whimpered. Queen Arabella prayed for the safe deliverance of her and her child.
“Here we are,” Rumpelstiltskin said tossing them on the ground.
They had been brought to the terrible cabin Eric told them about. The cabin was hideously wrought, but it was the clearing before the house that frightened her the most. True to his story, the place smelled fouler than anything she’d ever smelt before; like death, rot, and decay. The smell wafted up from the bones that littered the ground. She nearly retched.
“Mommy? I’m scared,” the young princess sobbed.
“Hush, dear one. Daddy will come for us.”
“Welcome to my home, Lady Queen. You should be honoured. You’re the first adult I’ve allowed to visit here.”
She shuddered, her arms tightening their hold on her daughter. “How horrid.”
He chuckled. “Feel free to soak it all in. After all, this place will become your burial chamber.”
“Wh-what are you going to do to us?” she asked in a trembling voice.
“First, I’m going to roast and eat your child as you watch on, Lady Queen. Then I’ll offer you as a sacrifice. Your purest blood will flood this earth, and hers will flood my veins.”
He reached forward and yanked the Pprincess from her mother’s arms.
He threw the young girl to the side and then turned on her mother. Grabbing the queen by her hair, he began to haul her across the clearing.
She kicked and screamed as he dragged her to a post, but he was too strong. He bound her with thick, course ropes. They burned as they rubbed viciously against her fair skin. “Aaleyah, run! Please, have mercy on my child!”
He smote her on the cheek causing bright stars to erupt in front of her vision. In the distance she heard the terrified screams of her daughter.
“You monster,” she said tasting blood in her mouth. “How could you do such cruel things to so many innocent children?”
“It’s simple, really,” he said tying the crying princess’ hands and feet. “Innocence tastes delicious.”
With a word, green flames sprang up around a dark cauldron. Slowly, he began chanting as he raised a curved black knife above his head, the point poised to drive into the princess’ heart.
A bugle sounded.
Queen Arabella lifted hopeful eyes in time to see the royal army burst through the trees. The fight that followed was one of the bloodiest the kingdom of Douran had ever seen. Men and horses fell by Rumpelstiltskin’s unholy strength. Soon the earth was drowned in a thick layer of blood.
Eric slipped away from the king’s side the moment the hut had come into view. His eyes were sharp and he could make out the silhouette of the queen bound to a post off to the side of the clearing. It was to her side that he now raced. As the first clashes of battle rang out through the night, he had cut through her bonds.
“Eric,” Queen Arabella said in relief.
“Save your child,” he told her. “I must help the king.”
She didn’t hesitate. She ran as fast as she could to where her child lay screaming.
“Mom-my!” she hiccup.
“Come on, my dear one. Daddy has come to save us.” She scooped her child up in her arms and made a mad dash for the safety of the trees.
Eric, meanwhile, found himself a stroke of luck. He was directly behind Rumpelstiltskin whose attention was fully on the king and the royal army. Using all his skills as a woodsman, he snuck up completely unnoticed until he stood only a few feet from the horrible man. With all the strength he could muster, he plunged his hunting knife deep into the evil man’s exposed, unguarded back.
Rumpelstiltskin roared, flailed his arms, and flung his attacker back.
That was all the distraction King Lancer needed. He drove his sword forward, burying it up to the hilt through Rumpelstiltskin’s heart.
In a final act of defiance, Rumpelstiltskin tore himself in two, causing his own end.
“Arabella! Aaleyah!” King Lancer cried worriedly.
“We’re here!” the queen called. She ran into her husband’s outstretched arms and let him kiss her deeply.
“I’m so glad you’re both safe,” he said stepping back to place a kiss on his daughter’s forehead.
“We almost weren’t.”
“It’s all thanks to Eric. That boy’s a hero twice over. He’s done so much for us.”
Queen Arabella looked around at the carnage, tears in her eyes. “How horrible. So many deaths.”
“Where is he?” Aaleyah asked suddenly.
“He? Who?” King Lancer asked kneeling down to look his daughter in the eye.
“The boy with the green eyes.”
Sure enough, upon looking around more closely, Eric was nowhere to be seen.
“Oh, Lancer, you don’t think...?”
“He can’t be dead,” King Lancer said sternly.
They found him lying unconscious against a tree.
“Eric? Wake up child,” Queen Arabella said softly.
Slowly, he opened his eyes. He looked at the king, and then the queen. “Did we win?” he asked groggily.
Princess Aaleyah threw her arms around his waist. “You’re okay!” she said happily.
The king laughed. “Yes, we won. It’s all thanks to you.”
Eric smiled at them, and then at the young princess still wrapped around him.
The kingdom was saved from a terrible curse that spanned across generations. With the cycle broken, Douran finally had true peace.
Eric was made a hero and when they grew up, he and Princess Aaleyah were married. King Lancer and Queen Arabella were the greatest rulers Douran had ever seen.
And they all lived happily ever after.