A Fairy Tale Ending part 2
‘And so the old woman waited all day for her son to come back from the market, wondering what marvellous clothes he would be wearing, and the very thought of his inevitable marriage to the princess (because she must be princess, right?) kept her warm even though the winter was the harshest seen for years and they could only fuel their stove with dung.’ Hamish looked at his daughter who sat, if not in rapt concentration, at the very least pretending not to be bored. Not for the first time Hamish wondered whether actor, politician or fraudstress would turn out to be her ideal career.
‘And just before sunset, she heard the rattle of the downstairs lock being persuaded to relinquish its grip on the door, and the sound of her son walking into the ground floor. “I’ve burnt the last of the dung,” she said, as she flung open the trap door. “What did you get? Are they clothes worthy of an Emperor?” she said, peering through the gloom. What she saw almost stopped her heart. “What happened? Where are your new clothes?” Her son looked up through the trap door and smiled. “Oh,” he said. “I’ve got something much more impressive than clothes, mother, more valuable than money.” And with this he held up a small, silken bag. “I got talking to this bloke on the road, and he said to me if you give a man some clothes he’ll be warm for a season, but if you give him a magic pea he’ll have clothes for life.” His mother took the bag and began to untie it. “Oh, Jack,” she said (for that was his name), “Oh Jack what have you ... oh what have I done to deserve an idiot for a son? Is this all you got?” She fell suddenly silent, as if she’d been guillotined that very second. The bag really was too light. Jack twitched, and began to wonder whether he might have miscalculated. “Hang on just a minute, Jack my boy,” she said, emptying the contents of the silken bag onto her palm. “You’re serious, aren’t you? You’re telling me you sold our cow, goat, cat and rabbit for ... a pea?” The young man looked at his mother. She appeared to be quite angry. “Er, yes. It’s a magic pea, though ... that, er, turns into clothes?” he said, trying to line up his quickest escape route, as his mother’s rages were legendary. “Look, Jack,” said the old woman. “For one thing, everyone knows peas aren’t magic – there’s not enough room in them. Magic beans I’m down with, but peas? And even if they were magic, the going rate’s at least a bean each for the goat, cat and rabbit, and a couple for the cow. You’ve been conned. We’re at least four beans and three peas short.” She cast a long look at her son. “And that’s ignoring the fact that not only do you not make clothes out of peas, but you need new threads now. Idiot. I blame myself. I always spoiled you. There’s only one thing for it,” said the old woman, shivering slightly (they were fresh out of heating dung, remember?). “You’re going to have to do it the old-fashioned way.” Jack flinched. “The old-fashioned way, surely you don’t mean ...’ said Jack. “Yes,” said his mother. “You’re going to have to write her some bloody poetry.” And then the old wo ... hang on,’ said Hamish. ‘That’s not right, surely?’
Sylpheus finished his cup of tea, and surveyed what was, however temporarily, his fiefdom. Master Sylpheus. It had a nice ring to it. Of course, it would be several years before Master Orpheus would even be considering retirement, seeing as he was currently sleeping off the celebrations for his nonacentenary. Maybe following his millennium. Just maybe.
While he was in command, so to speak, he was going to institute an executive decision or two, and if there was one thing of which acting master Sylpheus was sure, it was that, in the event of a visitor popping by, the Ordinatarium was not going to be found wanting in terms of refreshments. Not on his watch. While Sylpheus was unaware of the numbers of visitors received in F division – there was no visitors’ section in the great book, for example, an oversight he felt ought soon be corrected – it was certainly clear that there were no biscuits. And as everyone knows, a cup of tea without at least one biscuit is simply wrong. Sylpheus cocked his ear. The snoring was as regular as ever it had been. What could possibly go wrong? He inspected the phone, found the appropriate switch, and armed the answering machine. Then he nipped out to track down some biscuits.
‘It just so happened that Jack had stumbled upon his mistress when he had been out scavenging for gruel. He had happened upon the third tower to the left of the great woods, and had seen her leaning out of one of the upper windows, as beautiful as a mountain lake in summer,’ said Hamish. ‘She’d been locked in the tower for years without so much as one hairdresser visiting her, so her tresses were long, if not golden, and her split ends were quite dreadful.’
‘Was she a princess? Was she? Was she?’ cried Cindy.
‘Jack knew immediately that she was a princess imprisoned by a wicked witch, and that if he set her free, he would win her heart.’ Hamish took a sip of his whisky. ‘He knew that the first thing he needed to do was to win her trust, and he figured that the most immediate way to gain this was to look the part. But he’d opted for the long view in selling the livestock and so he still looked like a beggar. There was nothing left to do other than exactly what his mother said: write her some poetry. And that very same evening he left his magic pea with his mother, hid behind a bush beneath the princess’s tower and read to her. Well, I say read, but she was on the top floor of a tower, so he was really shouting,’ said Hamish.
‘He took a deep breath. “My mistress’ hair is nothing like the sun, but makes its golden rays seem straw fresh spun” he yelled. The princess heard his manly voice shouting such words at her tower that she fell in love immediately (she’d been imprisoned for some time and perhaps lacked discernment when it came to the opposite sex). “Come to me in the morning, my love, with hope in your heart to see me, and rope in your cart to free me, and we’ll run away together.” And then she lay on her bed and sobbed. “How could any man love me when my hair is more like dirty straw than golden thread?” And as she did so, Jack held his head in his hands and sobbed. “How will she love me when I’m dressed like a beggar?” Luckily they both did it quite quietly or things might have turned out differently.’
Hamish looked at his daughter, blonde, blue-eyed and enraptured. ‘It just so happened that not only was Rapunzel’s hair now long enough to reach the ground from her window, but somebody was listening. Somebody magical.’
Sylpheus slipped back into the Ordinatarium clutching a packet of ginger nuts, and decanted them into the biscuit barrel that loitered underneath the great desk. He was slightly relieved to hear that the Master’s snore was as regular as ever it was, and decided to take a look at the great book that lay on the great desk. As he opened it, he noticed the small light flashing on the telephone. It appeared that there was a message. Sylpheus pressed the button and listened.
‘If only I knew how to spin my horrible straw hair into gold, then he will love me,’ said the voice. The message was over ten minutes old. Sylpheus looked over at the cabinet and saw a young girl sobbing on a bed in a room in a tower. Around the bed were coils and coils and coils and coils and coils of straw. Sylpheus hadn’t seen straw arranged like this before, but as night fell, the girl was falling asleep. Ah well, thought Sylpheus, a little late won’t hurt anyone, and he walked over to the cabinet and talked the doors open. He surveyed the compartments, picked up the hook that hung underneath the pincers, and lifted out a jar in which sat a small, skinny manicle, drumming his fingers together.
‘Here you go, little Rumpelstiltskin, it’s time to do your thing,’ said Sylpheus, lifting his jar from the shelf. He twisted the dial, unscrewed the lid and tipped the manicle into the tube that led to the story. Rumpelstiltskin tumbled helter-skelter hurry-skurry down the twisty-turny tube, and Sylpheus shut the cabinet. ‘That should do the trick,’ said Sylpheus. ‘I think it may be time for a ginger nut.’
‘And so Rapunzel lay sobbing on her bed in her room at the top of her tower, asking over and over again how she could spin her straw-like hair into gold,’ said Hamish. ‘And suddenly there was a bang and a crash and a puff of smoke and Rapunzel stopped sobbing and looked up. There, on the floor of her room, sat a little manicle, with a tiny body and stick-like arms. “Hello,” said the manicle. And Rapunzel fainted. “Well that’s a bit rude,” said the manicle, brushing himself down. “Ah well, I’ll spin for you tonight and we can set terms tomorrow. There’s no time to waste.” And so the manicle looked around the room, and all he saw were coils upon coils of Rapunzel’s hair. He picked up one end. “Goodness,” he said, “does she ever get this trimmed? No wonder she calls it straw. It’s going to be pretty heavy when I’ve spun it into gold but I’m sure she’s thought of that.” He stroked his tiny chin. “I’ve got an idea. I’ll do the first third tonight, then we’ll agree terms, and I can do another third, and then on the final night I’ll get my reward!” And so Rumpelstiltskin sat up all night spinning for all he was worth while Rapunzel, who’d moved directly from fainting to fast asleep, snored her way through to morning, by which time a third of her hair was a twisted rope of finest gold.’ Hamish took another sip of his whisky.
‘And did the princess escape, daddy, and did she marry Jack, and did they live happily ever after?’ said Cindy, jumping up and down with excitement. ‘Did they, did they?’
‘Well,’ said Hamish, ‘we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?’ And he smiled at his daughter.
Cindy simply stared at him. It was a look he remembered well. ‘Ok, ok. So, Rapunzel awoke to the sound of Jack serenading her from the bottom of the tower, and she ran to the window. “Did you bring the rope?” she said. “Of course I did,” came the reply. Rapunzel smiled. Soon she would be free. “I’ll let down my hair. Tie the rope to the end, I’ll pull it up and then ...” she was interrupted by Jack’s voice, “and I can climb up to be with you,” he said. “No, idiot,” said the princess, sounding rather exasperated. “I can skinny down the rope and we can run away together.” There was silence. Then Jack spoke. “Yes, that is a better idea.”
‘And so Rapunzel began to pull her hair towards her, and fed it through the window. At the tower’s base, Jack stood, eyes agog as the coil of hair grew steadily longer. Once Rapaunzel had dangled the first fifty feet or so, she noticed that it became extremely hard to gather, as if it were caught on something, or something was tugging in the opposite direction. She looked to see if it was the manicle but as she did so she saw her hair was glinting in the light like never before. She took a closer look and she realised that the final thirty feet or so was no longer hair, but rope spun from gold. She looked over at the manicle who sat on the bedside table. “You?” she said? Rumpelstiltskin nodded. “Cool,” said Rapunzel and started to feed the golden tresses out of the window. “What are you doing?” said Rumpelstiltskin. “I’m escaping,” said Rapunzel. “I don’t think that’s a good ...” said the little manicle, but before he could finish his sentence the weight of the golden rope Rapunzel was lowering to her waiting Jack became too much for her to hold, and it slid from her hands.’
‘What happended next?’
Hamish looked confused. ‘A second later, Rapunzel silently mouthed the word “oops”, and was pulled out of the window, plummetting to her death.’
‘Ewww,’ said Cindy.
‘I’m sure that’s not right. I think I need to get the book out. My memory’s terrible.’ And so Hamish stood up and collected the collected fairy tales and opened it at page thirteen. ‘Here we go,’ he said, and began to read.
Sylpheus stood silently, staring at the cabinet doors. He was beginning to get the feeling things were amiss. In fact, he was convinced of the fact. The first thing he saw was a furious Rumpelstiltskin, jumping up and down in anger. Then the manicle vanished in a puff of smoke. ‘How can ...?’ said Sylpheus, to himself.
He hadn’t realised that the snoring had stopped until he felt the hand on his shoulder. ‘Oh secretary,’ came the voice of the Master. ‘I believe I placed a moratorium on fairytales this once, and rather than obey me, you decided to confuse the issue. In the first place, Jack’s livestock sale traditionally results in magic beans, not a pea. I imagine there’s a princess somewhere who can’t sleep on account of the enormous beanstalk growing through her bedroom ceiling.’ Master Orpheus paused. Sylpheus merely stared at the cabinet doors. ‘Oh my,’ said Master Orpheus. ‘You appear to have placed young Rumpelstiltskin in the wrong story.’
Sylpheus simply nodded and the pair of them watched as the cabinet doors writhed with stories as they crashed into one another.
‘He’s a feisty one, is Rumpel, and by the looks of things he’s crawled back into the cabinet and now he’s sending all the magic items into the wrong stories.’ Master Orpheus looked at Sylpheus sternly. ‘The last time this happened ... well, let’s just say this is going to take some sorting out. Would you kindly make us some tea? Oh, and some ginger nuts wouldn’t go amiss, either.’
As Sylpheus busied himself with the tea and biscuits, Master Orpheus watched as Jack poked the lifeless body of the Princess with his foot, shrugged, cut off the last thirty feet of her hair, coiled it up and walked off. His mother was thrilled.
Hamish began to read from the book. ‘And the wolf said “little pig little pig let me in, or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in,” and the door of the straw house opened and out walked a huge bear. “Who are you calling a little pig?’ said the bear, and the wolf ... no, that can’t be right ... Ah, here we go. Yes, this is better. And so Little Red Riding Hood stood at the bottom of her grandma’s bed. “Is that wolfskin throw new?” she said, and her grandma, who was looking much younger than she had done for at least twenty years, threw her head back and laughed. “Well, no matter what the mirror says, you need some serious work on your wardrobe, my dear,’ she said. No. This is ridiculous.’ Hamish flicked forward a few pages. ‘And so the prince kissed Snow White and fell down by her side, clutching his throat. And Snow White woke up, saw the prince apparently dead on the floor beside her and ... oh, come on ... and the little girl put on the ruby slippers and started ... clicking her heels together?’
Cindy looked confused, as well she ought. ‘Daddy?’ she said.
Hamish turned the page one last time. ‘Ah, now this looks more promising.’ And he started to read: ‘Secretary Sylpheus stood at the long mahogany desk of the Ordinatarium, chewing the index finger of his right hand, unsure of what to do. The Master had been very clear, but the very thought was, to Sylpheus at least, utterly unimaginable ...’
‘Now then, Sylpheus,’ said Master Orpheus. ‘I believe you know what to do?’
Sylpheus nodded. ‘Once upon a fairytale,’ he said, and the cabinet’s panels slid open. ‘Twice upon a fairytale,’ he said, and he shrank to the size of the manicle. Master Orpheus placed his hand on the ground, and Sylpheus climbed onto the open palm, holding onto the master’s thumb as the now gigantic hand soared into the air. ‘Thrice upon a fairytale,’ said Master Orpheus, setting the dial to about three o’clock. ‘Watch out for the bears,’ he said, as Sylpheus stepped into the cabinet. The panels slid shut.
Master Orpheus had a sip of his tea, nibbled on his ginger nut, pulled up a stool and waited. It was going to be a very, very long night.