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Genevieve held her breath and clutched her father's arm as they entered the front gates of the castle, her heart pounding with anxiety. She'd been wrapped in a silk amethyst gown inlaid with jewels around the neckline and lace at the end of the wrist-length sleeves, which were cinched by light-blue ribbons. Her long, dark hair fell in soft waves, soft and shiny from being recently washed. Rouge subtly lit her cheeks. Though her beauty was famous in the captial city, she still felt inadequate, like no matter how much she dolled herself up, she would disappoint the king.
Her father, Jonas, had somehow miraculously arranged for her to meet the ruler of Stacia so that she might be accepted into court and find a suitable match for marriage. A commoner being welcomed to court rarely happened, and when it did, there was always some kind of price for the invitation. That's what was really making Genevieve nervous – not knowing what would be asked for her in exchange for a place among the noble elite of Stacia.
"If you grip me any tighter, you'll cut circulation to my arm off." Jonas jested quietly so that only she would hear. "Don't be so antsy – it will all work out for the best."
The castle was large and imposing, made of pure white moonstone with blue shell shingles on every tower and a wide open courtyard centered by a marble fountain and several rose bushes. Banners with the insignia of House Thorne – a blood-red rose – were hung all over the walls within, accompanied by priceless portraits and tapestries.
Even in her best dress, surrounded by all of this grandeur, she felt ragged and quite unextraordinary.
Eventually they reached the main hall, where an attendant was waiting for them. He had slicked back hair tied with a blue bow that matched his silk waistcoat. "This way, please."
He proceeded to lead Genevieve and her father through the throne room and down a series of halls until they reached a stone stairway winding down into darkness. Confused, Genevieve almost inquired where they were going, but it soon became obvious that these steps led to the dungeons.
It was a long hall with several cells lining the walls and a door at the very end. It was this door that the attendant led Genevieve and Jonas to. With a set of wrought iron keys, he unlocked the door and entered.
This was a particularly large cell with a high ceiling and grimy, rounded walls. It was absolutely filled with impossibly tall stacks of hay. The sweet smell of it was enough to keep the stench of rot and stale body odor at bay.
King Ronan Thorne was there to greet them. Genevieve was still very confused and unsettled by their unsual meeting place. She'd expected to be received in the main hall.
The king was a stout and stoic figure who hardly ever interacted with his people personally. But he did care deeply about them, and would do anything to keep them safe. The same traits had begun to show in his son, Prine Dante.
Genevieve curtsied gracefully, the hem of her silk gown brushing the rough stone floor.
"Welcome, Miss Swan, Mr. Swan." Ronan greeted them humbly and gave a kind smile that helped ease Genevieve's nerves.
"You weren't lying," He spoke to her father, but his eyes never left her, taking in her every detail. "She is breath-taking."
This made Genevieve blush – she was modest about her appearance.
"If she holds up her end of the bargain, she shall marry my son right away."
This surprised her beyond words. What "bargain" did he speak of?
Now her father couldn't meet her gaze, shame etched into his face as Ronan went on.
"Miss Swan, you will spend the night here, spinning all of this straw into gold. When I come to collect you in the morning, if there is no gold, you will be executed for your deceit. However, if you really can make all of this into gold, you will marry my son."
He explained it in a tone as if he were being reasonable. He must have been out of his mind. Who on Earth could spin straw into gold? It was ludicrous. Impossible. And she was going to lose her life for it.
Suddenly it all made sense: Jonas had told the king that his daughter was talented with this outrageous ability as a way to make her appealing as a prospect for Prine Dante. He'd gone too far – his proud boasting had just cost Genevieve her life.
She finally released his arm and swallowed a lump in her throat, nodding when the king motioned for her to go down the stone steps into the cavernous cell. If she denied having the talent for this, her father would be the one getting executed. And as much as his betrayal stung, she still loved him enough to protect him even when he'd failed her.
After saying farewell, Ronan and Jonas left, locking the door in their wake. Genevieve felt a knot form in her stomach. She took a seat near the rickety, worn spinning wheel in the center of the room, an began to weep until she was gasping for breath.
"Now what's this?" a husky voice suddenly spoke, jolting Genevieve into pulling herself together. "You are in obvious distress."
A shimmering light materialized beside her, coming together to form a dashing young man with auburn locks, a sharp jawline, and a lean but strong build.
"Who are you?" she inquired, awestruck.
"I'm here to help you with your impossible task. For a price, of course." The man stood and cleated his throat.
Genevieve eagerly nodded. "Anything." She said. "Anything at all, you can have it."
He obviously possessed magical powers, and perhaps she would live through this. Having a slyph's assistance certainly instilled in her more hope than she'd had not five minutes ago.
He cocked an eyebrow at her in mischievous amusement. "Be careful what you offer." He warned. "I'll decide on my price when it is done. Now go to sleep. When you awaken, all of this straw will be the purest gold."
With this, he sat at the spinning wheel and got to work.
Relieved to the point of giddiness, Genevieve found a spot to lay her head, and before long, sleep claimed her.
She dreamed of strands of solid gold and floating spinning wheels, working all by themselves. She also saw a girl with hair that must have been made out of sunshine, She'd never seen anything like it before.
As Genevieve reached out to touch the girl, she vanished, leaving a horrible gaping void in Genevieve's heart. One that she would surely never fill.
Genevieve awoke with a start as the cell door was unlocked. Quickly, she scrambled to her feet and dusted off her dress, knocking loose bits of hay from her hair. Except it wasn't hay: They were weighty, solid gold strands glimmering in the torch light.
When she looked, she was astonished to see mounds of the gold strands all around her.
King Ronan was just as surprised when he saw it. "She really did it," he said to himself. Then he spoke louder. "Well done, child! I'm sorry that I ever doubted you. Come; we'll get you prepared for the nuptials."
And so Genevieve was married to Dante almost right away. But fortunately, he was a kind and gentle man, who was very interested in getting to know her. This was a first for her – most people praddled on and on about how beautiful she was, with eyes like a clear sky and the features of a doll. But Dante really wanted to know everything about her; her likes, dislikes, her hobbies, her dreams and ambitions. And in return he shared his with her.
It wasn't long before they were falling in love and all thoughts of the sylphin man to whom she owed a great debt were washed away.
Until one day, when the nameless man reappeared just as suddenly as he had a year ago.
"I'm here to name my price for helping you become queen."
Shushing him, Genevieve made sure no servants were near and that the door to her chambers was locked. Then she engaged in hushed conversation with him.
"What is it you've decided?" she inquired.
"My price is…your first born child." He said with a wicked grin.
Genevieve gasped sharply, already feeling her eyes sting with tears. "I haven't told anyone. Not a soul. How do you –" "Sylphs can sense these things. To me it is obvious that you are with child."
There was no way she could even consider parting with her baby. Her hand went to her stomach, the lace on her sleeves fluttering over her fingers.
"Please." She begged. "Anything else. Just please not my baby. Not my baby."
She was crying now, unable to stop.
The sylph didn't bat an eye; just stared with cold indifference. "We had a deal." He said coolly. "You said anything, remember?" His tone was cruel. "I'll be back to collect my fee when the child is born."
And then he was gone again.
The young queen sobbed uncontrollably, her hands holding her belly protectively. How could he treat her unborn child as currency? He said he'd come collect his "free", as if it were all a simple transaction. Clearly, in his eyes, it was.
Genevieve finally calmed herself enough to stand, and resolved to tell Dante the truth about everything. The spinning of gold, the bragging of her father that nearly killed her, and the sylph who helped pull it off. And now he wanted payment.
Dante embraced his sobbing wife, resting his chin on top of her head and breathing in the scent of her perfume while contemplating her confession.
He put her at arms length to make her look at him. Both his hair and eyes were black as the night sky, but there was always light dancing in his eyes whenever Genevieve met his gaze. Right now, she saw determination. He had a plan – she could feel it.
"That sylph will never have our child." He promised. "Even if we have to give him another baby."
And that was precisely what they did. The time came for Genevieve to give birth, and they were shocked when they ended up with a set of beautiful twin daughters. They looked alike in every way except for their hair. One was a brunette like Genevieve, but the other – her first born – had hair of liquid gold and sunlight. It was gorgeous and soft. This was the one the sylph would demand for his own.
But Genevieve's resolve was strong as ever; she could never let them go now that she had met them.
As expected, the sylph arrived shortly after the girls' baptism. He was seeking what he was owed. Tearfully, Genevieve picked up a black haired baby boy from the intricate, lacy cradle.
Holding him close, she did well in playing the part of devastated mother.
The sylph took one look at the infant and smirked. "Nice try." He said smugly. "You had two girls. The day I came to you all those months ago, I put a spell on you. Your first born would have hair of the gold you so desperately needed from me. Now I'll be taking my payment."
A nursemaid entered the room, seemingly in a trance as she carried a small bundle of slightly moving blankets. Genevieve could hear her daughter softly cooing. She lunged, ready to drag the maid to the ground.
Dante stopped her. "It's magic; you don't know what it will do to you if you touch it." His eyes lit with fury as he glared daggers at the sylph, who took the baby as the nursemaid passed her to him.
"This is the child I was promised. She will do great things, and oh, what a beauty she will be. I'll raise her as my own."
"Who are you?!" demanded Dante heatedly.
The sylph paused, then turned to face the king. :"I am Rumpelstiltskin."
And then he vanished, taking the princess with him.