Spinner of Secrets started May 2015 with a writing prompt, featuring the following:
Person: an outlaw
Place: a castle
Thing: a rose
My inclination was to do a Beauty and the Beast or a Snow White retelling, but those are fairly common fairy tales, so I decided to do something that wasn’t so common, that I hadn’t seen a retelling of in all my fairy tale binge. So I went with… Rumpelstiltskin.
It has changed a whole lot in the year since then. For example, Lacey is now Letta. And this first draft is only 3,209 words long.
But I’m very excited to share with you all the first baby draft of Spinner of Secrets.
Spinner of Secrets
Annie Louise Twitchell
“My darling daughter, Lacey Miller, your Highness, the delight of my eyes.” My stepfather announced as we were led into the throne room. “She can spin the finest, strongest linen thread imaginable, from only straw and moonlight!”
This time, they really needed the gold my thread would bring, Kyle said as he dragged me to the tower chamber. No excuse would do this time. If I failed he would have me put to death. He threw me in, paying no heed to my cry of pain as I landed on the cold flagstones, and locked the door behind me. I wept as I heard his feet retreat down the stairs.
To my surprise, the funny little man came again today. This time he wanted to know what I was going to do about spinning the straw into thread. I told him my secret, that I couldn’t do it in the time I had. He tisked his tongue and thought for a while, then touched the silver bracelet Kyle had given me several days before.
“For that, milady, I’ll spin the straw into linen thread for you.”
“Oh, blessings upon you! Here, take the bracelet. When can you do it? And… you won’t tell Prince Kyle?”
His face darkened when I spoke Kyle’s name. “I’ll not tell that stinking rat of a princeling, never fear. Although I daresay it would serve you as well if I did, for I know he’s none too kind to you.” He nodded, as if his mind was quite made up and nothing would change it. “I’ll come tonight.”
“Speak carefully of my husband. Kyle’s not so bad…” I hesitated. “But he often wishes I was someone else, and I’m not. I’m Lacey Miller, and I don’t know how to be anyone else.”
“Until tonight then, Lacey Miller.” And the little man bowed with an odd twinkle in his eye, and disappeared.
I waited eagerly for the fall of darkness. A rap at the window heralded his coming, and I stumbled across the dimly-lit room to admit him.
He rubbed his hands gleefully as he examined the piles of straw, the spinning wheel, and the spools for the linen thread. Then he sat down and began to spin. I watched for a while, until the drone of the wheel and the hum of the thread sang me to sleep.
When I woke the next morning, Kyle was standing just inside the door, looking around him with amazement. The straw had disappeared, and the spools were filled with fine linen thread. He knelt and touched the thread with a reverent finger.
“By all that’s grand, Lacey, this time you have pleased me!” And he took my hand in his own and led me to his father, to announce the triumph.
The king, however, was less pleased. It would not be enough, he said. There must be more than enough to trade, for the kingdom was on the brink of war and gold was needed badly. My fine linen thread was in high demand. I must be set to spin twice that amount, and it must be done by sunrise tomorrow.
For a moment, a ray of hope shone through when Kyle asked if I might not be given a day off, since I had worked so hard the night before. But the king said no. I would have more than enough time for rest during the day.
Kyle shrugged and escorted me back to the tower chamber, leaving a bottle of wine and a loaf of brown bread on the floor. I ate a few bites and drank a little, before falling into an uneasy sleep.
I was woken by the grunts of men carrying heavy burdens, and the thud as loads of straw were piled in the chamber. Kyle was sitting on the bed beside me, firmly holding my wrists so I could not dart out the open door. He learned well, that one.
When the last bit of straw was swept up the stairs and into the chamber, they left. I was alone again. The sun was hanging low in the sky, and from one window I could see the rest of the castle silhouetted against the vibrant sky. I watched the sunset in complete and utter misery.
“Ho, Princess Lacey, may I come in?” The little man chuckled as he pushed through the window. His face darkened as he saw the piles of straw. “Twice as much? Who does this Kyle think he is, anyway? Oh well, to work, to work. What trinket can you pay me with today, Princess Lacey?”
I held out my empty hands. “I have nothing for you! They would not let me back to my chambers, else I should have taken something. But I have nothing, not even an ornament off my dress.”
“How about a button from your shoe?” The man asked, frowning.
I lifted my gown off the floor, exposing my bare feet.
“Spinning with bare feet? That sounds like it could get uncomfortable.” He muttered. I shrugged. I was used to it. Step-father never had money for shoes for my mother and I.
“Let me have a lock of your hair, then.”
“It’s very poor stuff. You won’t like it.” I said as I unbraided it and held a lock out. He drew a knife from somewhere in his garments and cut it. For a second it flashed gold, but then the light died away and it fell into his hand, mousy brown and limp. He tucked it in a pocket and sat down at the spinning wheel.
Again, I watched for some time until the whirring sounds put me to sleep. Again, I woke in the broad beam of sunlight that drifted through the window. Again, Kyle was sitting by me, watching me with his dark, unreadable eyes.
I sat up, rubbing sleep from my eyes. The spools of linen thread had all been taken from the room. My stomach rumbled and Kyle’s mouth twisted into a half smile. He snapped his finger and a man servant entered, bearing a plate with several slices of ham, a chunk of cheese, and an apple. Kyle set the plate of his knee and took a knife from the man, then proceeded to cut the food into small pieces. He stuck a piece of ham on the end of the knife and offered it to me, and in this way fed me the entire meal.
When he finished, he prepared to leave. He stopped in the doorway and half turned. “Why do you stay with me, Lacey?” He asked in a low, sad tone.
I blinked. “Where else would I go? My stepfather would only send me off to someone else. You are unkind to me, but someone else might be worse. At least you have only raised your hand against me once, and doubtless you had good reason.”
“So… it is not because you are happy here, but because you are afraid to go elsewhere?”
I nodded slowly.
“What would it take to make you happy, Lacey?” He came towards me and lifted my chin with his finger.
A tear rolled down my cheek and he raised his other hand to brush it away, but I flinched away from him. His hand tightened around my chin and he touched my cheek gently. That was all it took. I began to cry in earnest.
He sprang away from me in surprise and distress. I curled up into a lump on the bed and sobbed. I heard the door slam shut, and, thinking I was alone, I stopped trying to muffle my cries.
I was not alone, as I found a moment later when Kyle picked me up and sat down with me in his arms. He rocked back and forth, holding me tightly, and let me cry.
I must have drifted off to sleep, because it was high noon when I opened my eyes again. Kyle was asleep, still cradling my head on his shoulder. I tried, unsuccessfully, to get up without disturbing him. His arm tightened around my waist and he drew me to him. Pressing a kiss against my forehead, he murmured in my ear. “What would it take to make you happy?”
The rush of emotion I felt when he asked me the first time was curiously absent. “I want my father back. He was outlawed for poaching when I was five and Mother was carrying my little sister. It was a hard winter and we had no food, so he went to the woods by the river and found a deer. It was a miserable thing, nearly dead itself with starvation. It would have been dead within a week if he had not killed it then. But they found him and he ran away. He had to, because if he didn’t they would have killed him. But they found him and killed him a year later. They wanted to have a public execution, but he escaped prison and they killed him in the woods. For a long time I hoped they were lying, but he never came back.”
Kyle stroked my hair. I turned my face to look at him and he met my gaze with wistful eyes. “Can nothing else make you happy? I cannot bring back the dead, you know.”
“Nothing that you can give me, I’m afraid.”
“Tell me what it is, Lacey, and I will do my best to get it. I’m a prince, you know, and there are benefits to that rank.”
“Your love.” I whispered, hoping he would not catch the words. He stiffened and I sighed, knowing he had heard. “No… No… Bring my mother to live with me here and I shall be happy.”
He glared at me. “Be quiet.”
He thought for some time, then got up and left the room. I looked around. A mouse scuttled along one wall, looking for something to eat. I put a crumb down and he hesitantly advanced. The door opened just then, frightening him away.
Loads of straw were being carried into the chamber. It filled until the only room left was the square in front of the door where the spinning wheel and bed had been moved to. A stack of spools sat on the bed.
The door shut behind the last man and I was left alone.
A rap at the window broke me out of my miserable stew. It was the odd little man again. He glared around at the straw filling the room, rubbed his palms together, and went to work without a word.
“But, sir, aren’t you going to ask me for a trinket as your fee?” I asked as he set the wheel in motion.
“Third night, it’s your unborn baby. I’ll take him… Her, sorry, on the day she turns two. Go to sleep, I’ve got work to do.” And he waved his hand over my protests, and I fell senseless onto the bed.
I was awakened by Kyle shaking me the next morning. He looked concerned at my pale face and trembling frame, and carried me to our chambers.
His father bustled in a moment after Kyle put me to bed. “She’ll make us rich, my son!” His face darkened when he saw me, propped up on some pillows. “Why don’t you have her spinning? She should spin all day also!”
Kyle stood up. “Father, leave the room, please.” The king glared at him.
“I will not leave! Your village girl is going to make us wealthy beyond belief, but only if you make her work!”
“Father, you made me marry her, which gives her the rank of Princess and the privileges of such. Also she is my wife and I will not have her worked to death for the sake of your over indulgent tastes.”
The king left, muttering under his breath. Kyle shut the door firmly behind him and dropped into an armchair. He exhaled loudly, then reached out for a bottle of wine on the table next to him. He poured a glass and raised it to his lips, then stopped and looked at me. He got up and offered it to me. I drank a little, then he sat next to me and downed the rest in two gulps.
“You should try to sleep, Lacey, alright?” He kissed me and got up, drawing the blanket up to my chin and adjusting the pillows.
Kyle laughed as he twisted the red rose into my hair. It was our daughter Mia’s second birthday. She danced into our room, followed by her nurse, a cheerful maid of fourteen. Mia was dressed in white, with white rosebuds caught up in her black hair. Kyle swung her up in his arms and spun her around in a circle. She squealed with delight and begged for more.
The whole day was spent in merrymaking. Even my mother, worn and gray now, ventured from her chambers in the castle to attend Mia’s birthday dinner.
After the toasts had been made, Kyle stood up to take Mia onto the dance floor. A flash of light broke the calm happiness, as the odd little man who had spun for me entered the courtyard.
“I’ve come for the Princess Mia!” He bellowed, with surprising force for such a miniscule person.
Kyle clutched Mia close to him as the castle guards ran forward. The odd little man glared at them and clapped his hands together. A wave of black smoke flooded the courtyard, and under its cover he stole to my side.
“Have you forgotten your promise?” He hissed.
“Please, is there nothing else? Kyle will give you whatever you want, if only you will let us keep our daughter!”
“Nothing! I must have that child! But still. I will propose a game. I will give you three chances to redeem your daughter. Tomorrow night I will come to you in the same tower chamber where I saved your pathetic life, and you must guess my name. For three nights we shall do this, to account for the three nights I saved your life. If on the third night you have failed to guess my name, I will take the child. If you guess my name, you may keep her. Do you understand?”
I nodded miserably and the little man disappeared.
Kyle didn’t waste time scolding me, he instead pulled the census books from the library and we spent the night and well into the next day reading names from them and making a list. He fell asleep shortly after lunch but I kept on, trying to find the name that would save my baby girl. I couldn’t understand why I had to do this, what had made the little man so angry that he would place such a task on me.
That night Kyle led me up to the tower chamber. Scraps of straw still littered the floor, and the spinning wheel sat gathering dust. He kissed me and left.
The little man swung in through the window. I wondered briefly why it had never been boarded up. “Ho, Princess Lacey the Outlaw’s daughter! You have four hours tonight to guess my name. You may begin!” He chuckled as he sprawled out on the bed, leaving me with a low seat by the spinning wheel.
Around midnight I ended with Jeremiah, my father’s name. He chuckled, said “no” again, and disappeared out the window. Kyle pushed open the door and entered slowly.
“Lacey, it’s alright. We’ll find it. I’ll send couriers to the nearby kingdoms and we can see if they have any peculiar names. We will save Mia, I promise you.”
At dinner time the couriers returned, some with names and some without. Kyle and I hurriedly made a list and we went up the tower chamber. The odd little man was waiting for me. He grabbed my arm and pulled me inside, shutting the door hard in Kyle’s face. Again I ran through several hundred names, each one earning a negative response. Again he left at midnight and Kyle sent out more couriers to gather names.
Just before we were going to the tower, one of the guards brought a woodsman to us. Twisting his cap in his hands, he whispered to us a strange tale. He’d been up very early that morning, around 3:30, hunting. He’d stumbled across a campfire with an odd little man dancing around it, singing what first seemed a nonsense song. As the woodsman listened, however, he learned that the little man was going to kill a princess and take her baby girl away that night, since the girl could not learn his name. Then he danced around singing more, a different song, blessing his mother for giving him the horrendous name of Rumpelstiltskin.
I cried out and rushed up the tower stairs. The odd little man was again sprawled on the bed, smoking a long pipe. He rolled his eyes at my hasty entrance and puffed again, waiting.
“No — what? What devilry is this? How came you to find that name!? What witches have you let in your house that have told you my name?”
A new voice rang from the doorway. “Her father, Jeremiah Miller. Stand away from her, you monster, or I’ll throw you from the roof of the castle!”
I spun around. The woodsman and Kyle stood in the doorway, each with a drawn sword. The odd little man, Rumpelstiltskin, ground his teeth together, then lunged at me. Kyle and Jeremiah stepped forward and their blades flashed in the moonbeam that drifted lazily in from the window. Rumpelstiltskin lay in a bloody heap on the floor, cut in half by the blades. I choked and turned away from the awful sight. Kyle grabbed me and pulled me out of the room, rubbed my back until I stopped crying, then led me downstairs. Jeremiah followed and Kyle bade me wait with him while he went to fetch Mia.
Jeremiah stood, rubbing his palms together. “Hallo, Lacey.” He said in a low voice, looking down at his feet.
“Ada? Is it you?” I whispered, and at the childhood name I’d given him he dropped to his knees and held his arms out for me. I ran into them like a child and we sat on the courtyard floor, laughing and crying. Kyle came down with Mia in his arms and the smiling maid following close behind. Ada, that is, Jeremiah, took Mia in his arms and laughed at her antics as she ran her fingers through his rough brown beard.
We lay in the courtyard watching the summer stars, my father, my husband, my child, and myself, and I couldn’t remember being happier. I whispered that to Kyle and he grinned mischievously.
“Well, we shall have to spin many more happy memories.”
Copyright 2016 by Annie Louise Twitchell
First published privately by Annie Louise Twitchell in May 2015