art by Jonathan Westbrook
The Long Con
by Megan R. Engelhardt
I knew the girl would never give up her child.
I knew before I asked. That is the sort of deal you only make if you're young and naive and facing execution and the idea of a child is so very far away that it is an easy thing to give up.
But I asked her anyway, knowing that she would say "yes" then and say "no" later.
How she wept when I came to collect! Oh, the tears that fell over that poor sweet babe! How she begged and pleaded that I spare him, that I release him from her promise!
I thought the guessing game was a nice touch. It kept her busy for a few days, and gave her hope.
And all the while, I was working. I baked and cleaned and made sure the queen's messenger overheard me sing the naming song in the dark woods.
She was so proud when she guessed that name! The triumph in her voice! The relief in her eyes! I put on a show for her and she ate it like it was porridge that was just the right temperature.
"How?" I screamed. "How did you guess that name?"
I stomped and ripped and shouted. I believe there was spittle, and I am certain my face turned red.
And then I left.
I went to my clean cottage that smelled of fresh bread and I waited.
The child was not yet walking by the time the whole kingdom knew of the twisted man in the deep woods and the clever queen who outsmarted him. The young princeling heard the story at his mother's knee and saw daily the huge rent in the floor where I had stomped my foot in rage. Servants and peasants would watch him pass and whisper about the boy who had been saved.
At first it was enough that the story was about him and that it ended happily. He enjoyed the attention, as any child would. He would demand to hear the story, and when his mother reached the end of the guessing game the prince would yell out "Rumpelstiltskin!" with her. I heard them in my forest home and smiled.
Because soon, he began to wonder.