The Queen slipped from the Royal bedchamber and padded down the servants’ staircase. She went deep into the bowels of the castle, deeper even than the dungeons. It had been years since she had trod those steps but something had told her in a restless dream that she must visit the cellars again.
As the staircase became narrower, darker and danker, memories of those stressful times before she was married rose to the surface of her mind. She had been determined to do anything to secure the affections of the heir to the kingdom. She had entered into the pact with that unspeakable creature without hesitation.
The creature had made good his side of the bargain. His gnarled and withered claws had accomplished what her pale and slender fingers could not. He had spun a cartload of straw into golden thread. The Prince had been amazed and more than a little stunned. His greed had led to two further nights of spinning. Two further nights in the cellar in the company of that wizened goblin, enduring his mockery, his menaces and – oh, Lord, the stench of him!
The Queen put her sleeve to her face as she reached the cellar door, in readiness for the full force of that infernal odour when it struck her nostrils. She pulled the rusted iron hoop, lifting the latch on the other side of the door, and stepped in.
The crook-backed monster was there. His slanted eyes widened when he saw the Queen come in.
He stooped in a bow, although he was almost bent double already.
“Majesty,” he intoned. “May I say how beautiful you look? Being Queen suits you so well.”
The Queen was suspicious. This was not how she remembered the goblin’s tone. When had he ever been so deferential?
“It has been fifteen years,” the Queen observed, taking care not to breathe through her nose. “Our bargain is long since done.”
The goblin’s eyes flashed. “You – you reneged! You did not complete your side of the deal.”
The Queen shook her head. “That is not my recollection. Please; refresh my memory.”
“The deal was,” the little man began to pace, agitated and desperate, “I spin your straw into gold and, unless you guessed my name, I receive as payment your first born son.”
“I don’t see what the problem is.”
The little man let out a groan of anguish.
“He’s eating me out of house and home! He’s sullen – when he’s not rude. And stubborn! I can’t get more than two words out of him. He’s into terrible music. He dresses like a fairy and I’m worried he’s mixing with the wrong crowd.”
“The joy of teenagers,” the Queen gave a wry smile. “Well, if that’s all.”
“Majesty, please! I know you did your research. I know you sent out your spies. You knew my name all along but you never said it. Say it, Majesty; say my name and you can have your son back.”
The Queen laughed and turned away. She left Rumpelstiltskin to his despair and went back up to bed, to sleep at her husband’s side, safe in the knowledge that the child she had had by a hairy-handed stableman would never come to light.