By Lisa Elis
The royal family spent several months every year vacationing at their summer palace. The vast ivory castle sprawled over lush acres of greenery, overlooking the sea on one side and the wild country forest on the other.
The Queen particularly hated it.
Everything about the place reminded her of her ill-fated past—a greedy father, a room full of straw, a conniving dwarf who brought her unimaginable heartache. They might have been warring against the Fair Folk for twenty years, but no amount of fighting would ever erase the memories that haunted her here.
When Lord Chamberlain came to her on a particularly dismal Monday morning, she nearly called the guards to throw him out. But the pinched look on his face gave her pause.
“There’s a new boy in town,” he told her. “They say he spins straw into gold.”
The Queen paled. She had never expected to hear those words again. “Are you sure?”
“That’s what they say, Madam.”
“Well, what are you standing there for? Investigate! Bring him to me at once.”
The man hurriedly bowed before scurrying out.
The King was with her in the throne room when the young man came. He was dressed as a commoner—somewhat shabby—but his boots were shined, his chin clean-shaven, and an exquisitely crafted knife hung from his belt.
However, there seemed something more to the young man. Something familiar. The Queen’s mother-heart stirred. He reminded her of her own three children—with his sandy hair, straight nose, and dimpled cheek…
“What is your name?” she asked him.
Casper… It was one of the names she had guessed wrong a long time ago. “I hear you can spin straw into gold.”
“Who taught you?”
“My late father.”
“Young man,” the king spoke, “you must prove this… talent to us. Spin a roomful of straw into gold tonight. If you’re lying, you’ll have blood to pay.” He waved six guards forward to surround the young man. “And leave all your belongings here. Can’t have you trying to escape.”
Casper looked around as if seeking help, but upon finding none, dropped his backpack and unbuckled his knife-sheath from his belt. A necklace fell free from his tunic as he bent to place the knife on the ground.
“Dismissed,” the King called.
“Wait a moment,” the Queen interjected. She stared at the chain around the boy’s neck, and as he brought up a hand to it, her eyes fell on a band around his finger. “Leave your necklace and your ring as well.”
Casper looked befuddled and unhappy but obliged.
Once Casper and the guards were out of sight, she turned to her husband. “And still, all you want is more gold. Do you not remember what consequences gold-spinning brought last time?”
“Chances like this come only once in a lifetime.” He gave her a narrow look. “Or twice.”
She moved forward to pick up the jewelry from the floor.
“Are you all right?” the king asked, concerned, when she turned back to him with shaking hands.
“These—” she held up the necklace and ring, “were mine.” She hadn’t seen them since she’d given them to a dwarf in return for a favor…
The following day, Casper was brought before them again, but this time, the guards escorting him also carried in a bale full of golden thread—a sample of what he had spun. The Queen’s heart leapt.
“Casper Stiltskin,” she began, “I have only ever heard of one man who could spin straw into gold.”
“My father, Rumpel,” Casper answered.
“That dwarf is not your father,” her voice trembled slightly. “He’s a thief. He stole you. From me. You are my son.”
“Our son,” the King corrected.
The Queen descended the dais to stand in front of Casper. She cupped his face and ran her thumbs over his cheeks. “Twenty years. Twenty years, I thought you were dead.”
“I was with the Fair Folk.”
“What did the dwarf do to you?” The King came to stand beside them. “Tell me where he is, and I will send the army after him.”
“He’s no longer alive.” Casper looked down and twisted a piece of straw in his fingers. “After he died, I started investigating my past—I knew I was not truly his son.”
“Why did you not say anything to us?” the Queen asked.
“You were more likely to believe it if you realized it yourself,” Casper replied, then added, “Mother.”
A lifelong burden lifted from the Queen’s heart. “Casper… You are home.”
Casper had never quite experienced anything like the past three weeks. Now that the King and Queen had announced him as their long-lost son, people bowed to him everywhere he went, and his new parents doted on him even more than on his three-year-old brother, Roddy. Word had spread like wildfire all over the country—the true heir had been found after twenty years of unimaginable captivity.
“But it really wasn’t captivity,” Casper said to Rumpel when they secretly reconvened on the day of his official welcome home ball.
Rumpel’s growly laughter sounded in the palace garden, where Casper had finally managed to escape after telling his parents he needed some time alone before the festivities. This one last moment of privacy before a lifetime in the limelight.
“No, indeed,” Rumpel replied. He was a grotesque little man, with the most crooked, hooked nose, beady black eyes, and an enormous beard that obscured half his face, which was carved deep with wrinkles. “You’ve done me proud, m’boy. But don’t forget your mission now. It’s only just begun.”
Yes, thought Casper. Making peace between the Fair Folk and humankind would take years of work and patience. Only a king could even begin to accomplish something like it.
It was a good thing he had been raised for a job such as this.