art by Seth Alan Bareiss
by Melissa Mead
"Of course it's fool's gold! You gave me dirty hay, not straw. What did you expect?"
Rumplestiltskin left his dissatisfied customer swearing at his pile of pyrite and started for home. Dirty hay had nothing to do with it, but it could be dangerous to say that the gold wouldn't spin for the Mayor because Hizzoner wanted it for no better reason than greed.
His mood lifted as his wife approached, a dear familiar bundle on her arm.
"We came to walk home with you, Rumple. Aura missed her Papa."
"And her Papa's glad to see both of you," he said, hugging his wife and kissing his daughter. I've had enough of the schemes of powerful... Oh no."
The young woman in the enveloping black cloak couldn't have been more conspicuous. She rushed up to Rumplestiltskin, sobbing.
"They said you'd torn yourself in two! But I can't... gold... "
"Your Majesty," he said, less coldly than he'd intended, "breathe. You're making a spectacle of yourself. Which, I suspect, is the last thing you want." His wife gave him a questioning look. He nodded.
The girl gasped. "But nobody must know I'm here!"
Rumplestiltskin sighed. "Your Majesty, if you'll follow my wife, we'll talk privately at my home."
The girl's mouth hung open in a most unqueenly fashion, but she followed.
"...so now he wants me to spin enough gold to refill the Royal Treasury, and I don't know how, so I came to... to ask you to renew our bargain."
"What, to give me your firstborn child if I spin gold for you?" Rumplestiltskin leaned over and tickled Aura's toes. "As you can see, I have my own now."
"I'm the Queen now. I could make you."
He stopped cold. "That would be... most unwise, Your Majesty."
No one moved, not even Aura. Then the Queen burst into sobs.
"He said he'd kill me and the baby! I know you hate me, but he's a baby!"
"The King would kill the Crown Prince?" Rumplestiltskin's wife asked.
"He would, my dear." Rumplestiltskin stood. "Your Majesty, I will not spin for you."
Both women gasped.