And work quickly, the creature did- so quickly it seemed a blur to me, spools of golden thread appearing as if from a black mist. More and more, higher and higher, all the while the straw seemed to stay the same level. As the first hour passed I felt certain that it didn’t matter how strong its magic was: the creature would never be able to spin. But then the second hour passed, and the third, and the creature moved more quickly still, nearly invisible, a ring of bare stone beginning to spread out from the piles of spools. I began to revise my opinion.
It might have been wise to sleep, but I found I could not. My stomach was churning with dread as I imagined all the possible ends to this night’s work, none of them good. I twisted straw between my fingers to keep them busy, eventually plaiting an elaborate braid, and then a full wreath, just large enough to slip over my hand and onto my wrist. Staring at it, an idea began to blossom in my head.
What if the creature didn’t actually spin all of the straw- the king wouldn’t notice a missing handful, but the magic would. Even a single piece should disrupt things. My heart began to beat faster, and I spun the bracelet around and around my wrist, thinking furiously. It was far too large not to be noticed, of course, but it might act as a smokescreen. If I held one additional piece back- just one- hidden in my skirts, or my hair, and said nothing come sunrise, let the creature think the bargain was kept… then if it ever returned to plague me, to collect something beyond a promise, I could confront it with its failure.
I shifted about in my pile of straw, until my shoes were free of my skirt, and slowly, carefully, I pushed a single, broken piece of straw down into the side of my left shoe.