A Very Ugly Old Man.
The Story was twisted out of all proportion, and now he needs us all to know the truth, so here it is, from his own mouth.
That young girl, she was cryin’, see. Doing all that weepin’ and wailin’ and wringin’ of hands – an’ I could hear her all the way down where I was. That’s the dungeons to any what ain’t been there. That’s where they keep such as me, who don’t like the way people’s looks ats us.
All night, right up ’til when the bloomin’ moon snuck her light in my grate and I sees her face at the winder – an’ she was a beauty, alright. Black hair, dark eyes, pale skin. Tall, most likely, or she wouldna been able to lean out like that. I couldna do that – too short, too stumpy – tha’s why they calls me Stilty, ya knows – the legs that goes all bandy-like an’ twisted.
An’ I was hooked. Like any normal man is hooked by such a pretty face an’ such a dire problem.
So I went to her, through the pipes an’ drains and runnels, until I stands before ‘er, an’ her reaction to my being there or the way I looks was the same as all the others. But she’s in trouble and when I offers meself to help – if I can – she don’ look at me so harsh.
An’ she tells me the problem. A big one. Her Da – silly man – been heard all around that his dotter can spin straw inter gold! Yea! What a man to lie so bad about his only family – and she had nuttin’ to do with it, did she? So I says I can help, but what I didn’t say was that magic has a price, an’ it has to be a fair price, or it won’t play. Instead, I tol’ her that I has a price, an’ it has to be fair ‘cos I be the one awake all night.
She offers the trinket, an’ I take it an’ stick it in my pocket. I thinks to meself that I’ll give it back later, when she be freed.
An’ I works the whole night, happy to be able to help such a pretty girl, such an innocent. An’ in the mornin’, when she wakes, I aint there, but the spindles are full of gold thread, as she needed. An’ I was far below, catching up on me own sleep in the quiet of a town roaring with her success.
But that night it comes again, the howlin’ and ballin’ and tearin’ of hair, and when I goes to her – a bit sooner, this time ‘cos I think she won’t hate the sight of me now – she tells me the King has ordered her to spin more, or he will execute her father for failing to offer her skills to the king as soon as he knew of her gift. Nasty man, this king, I tells meself. Nasty. An’ of course, it’s not her fault. She is still innocent.
The gift is the only piece of value she has left. Her final offering. The jewel gifted to her by a mother who died so long ago. The thing in her life of greatest value. I takes it and does my task, callin’ on the magic to help me – ‘cos ye know I canna do it on my own; I’s only a man, an ol’ man, an ugly man with bumpy skin – who wants to help a pretty young girl; who wants this girl to smile at him, to see him as a real person and not a rumpled bit o’ dirt.
An’ in the mornin’, as she wakes to the room full o’ the gold thread – so much more of it than the night before – an’ I hasta sleeps the whole day in a dead slump. It took all’s I had – an’ I didna have enough in me to even go for food; had ta call in the rats to get stuff so’s I could rise from my rag bed. But when the rats tell me tha’ she’s still a prisoner, that now the King’s edict is to ‘marry the girl, make her Queen, if she can spin enough gold thread to save his kingdom from ruin’ – well, tha’ makes me sad.
Of course, it happened. She cried and wailed and hung outta tha’ window, an’ I goes to her, all hunched over and miserable – ‘cos I knows the truth of it all now, and she be lookin’ at bein’ queen, while I got no one, an’ no hope. An ol’ ugly, short man with no hope of marryin’, of findin’ the woman who be bearin’ the child necessary to become apprentice to the ways of magic. An’ I’s the last, ye know. The last who can pass it on.
This time, I asks for the only thin’ what’s gonna have value to me – an’ the magic, o’ course. I asks for her to give me the first child she bears. I don’ have all that much time to be able to wait; it has to be the first, or could be too late. An’ I watches her face to see if she’s not sayin’ the whole truth. An’ there’s a worm there, that I sees, but not an untruth. She agrees, but not with a whole heart. An’ I thinks to meself ‘when I comes for the child, I’ll tell her the why.’ Still I was sure she would unnerstand.
But tha’s not how it happened, is it? She did what they all do – men and women and children, rulers and teachers and parents and friends and enemies.
They say what they think will get them what they want, an’ tha’s the end of the obligation. An’ look what it cost the world. The Magic is gone because the eyes see only the outside of a thing and think is a reflection of the inside.
Copyright Karel Jaeger 2017