The king stopped in front of the enormous double-doors, and I tried to imagine what this place was actually supposed to be for. Housing the numerous tools that kept the gardens in order? Or perhaps a small dormitory for the servants who would wield said tools? And then he was placing his hands on either side of my face, tipping it up so that our eyes met. Behind him the moon, just past full, was beginning her nightly ascent.
“My beautiful miller’s daughter,” he breathed, and I wondered if, in his mind, this was romantic. “You have done so much for the kingdom- so much for me. I am overcome by your skill, and your beauty.”
I said nothing, for it was not my skill he coveted, and beauty has nothing to do with anything but one’s parentage.
“I have decided to make you my bride,” he said, smiling.
“Your- your bride?” This was not at all what I’d expected from this moment.
“Yes,” he nodded, still holding my head firmly in place, but now smoothing his thumbs along my cheekbones. “Even if I had not fallen in love with you, I couldn’t risk my enemies having you. The only way to keep you safe is by my side, as my queen.”
“Your queen? But… I’m a commoner...” I felt faint, but not like the maidens in the tales.
“I know, I honor your greatly- but I am a great man!” he laughed like a boy, and kissed me. I don’t know that he even noticed my stillness, for when he pulled away again, his eyes were dark with passion.
“It’s true you’re a commoner,” he said, huskily, “But I am king, and I will marry whom my heart chooses. Besides, what need have I for political allies, when I have such wealth! For my dear, when we are wed it will not do for you to spin the nights away. No, when we are wed, you will never spin again. Which is why, as your bride gift to me, you will perform this final task.” So saying, he released my face, and opened the door.
As I had feared, it was not merely a chamber- it was the entire building. There were no interior walls, just piles and piles of straw. He must have had it gathered from every village for miles around. I found myself laughing almost hysterically, for I realized that perhaps the real reason I wasn’t to ‘spin’ after this night was because there wasn’t any more straw left to spin. I wondered what the kingdom’s animals would sleep in, this winter.
“Laughing with joy!” the king exclaimed, catching up my hand and kissing it. “My industrious beloved! One last night you toil to prove your love of king and country, and then you shall live a lifetime of royal leisure! Your father will be honored, your entire village enjoy noble patronage!” Suddenly his expression turned. “My enemies shall never have you, my darling” he said, darkly. “Never. Every man, woman, and child in the kingdom, be they noble or common- all of them will keep you safe from harm. Or I’ll know them as traitors to the crown.”
I shivered at this vow, and stepped into the building, releasing my hand from his as I went.
“I’ll see you in the morning,” he said, sweetly. “And we shall go straight to the church.”
“Yes,” I said, my voice echoing strangely in my ears. “In the morning.”
The door shut, but no bolt slid home. It didn’t have to. I could well imagine the wrath of this man denied his chosen bride: not a man or woman within a day’s walk of the castle would be safe, whether they sheltered me or not.