The miller’s wife lifts her skirt hem to her knees and pounds up the stairs. She throws open the bedroom door and the sour smell of yesterday’s drink hits her as her husband shifts and moans in the big bed. He groans louder and pulls the covers over his head as she unhooks the shutter and pushes it back so that a shaft of bright midday sunshine falls over him.
She perches gently beside the hump under the covers and lays a hand on him. She can hardly contain her excitement, but if this great smelly lump of a husband of hers has achieved what she thinks he’s achieved, it’s only reasonable to be gentle with him.
“My dear,” she whispers. “Do wake up!”
He tugs the covers where they’ve slipped off his shoulder and mutters, “Leave me alone! And cover the window! Doesn’t a man deserve a day off now and then!”
She pats his shoulder again, a little harder this time. “But my dear, you see, you are needed downstairs.” He tosses his shoulder to try to shake her off but she’s not having it. “There’s a coach from the palace outside. The king has sent for our daughter.”
The miller opens his eyes. The king has sent for their daughter. Vague stirrings of memory from the previous night. Drinking at the palace. Joking with the king. Telling him he needed to take a new wife.
He begins to sit up, but his head feels as though his brain is pushing against his skull, pulsating. He shakes off his wife’s hand. “Close that shutter, woman!” he demands. His voice rings in his head.
She pushes the shutter to, squeezing the light into a single fine beam full of dust motes.
“So?” she says, sitting back down. “What happened?”
He rearranges the pillow and rests back against it cautiously. He’s getting flashes of memory from last night, but putting them into the right order is a problem.
“So, I went to the palace.”
“And the dinner was good, very good. Roast swan and sweetmeats like you wouldn’t believe.” He can see his wife’s impatient. But if he doesn’t go through the whole thing he doesn’t think he’s going to be able to make any sense of the thing he’s vaguely starting to remember. “And after dinner the king moved around and talked to all the guests…”
He looks at his wife. He’s remembered now. He’s going to have to tell her what he’s done.“He’s a great guy, the king. Just like you and me. Well, no, maybe not like you, but like me… So we had a lot to drink, him and me, a lot. And most of the others had gone, and so, I did what you told me, I started telling him about our daughter.”
“Yes!” It’s more of an excited breath than an actual word.
“So I said all the things you told me too, how beautiful she was, how clever, how charming, how intelligent.”
“And?” As he speaks, she’s stroking the place where his knee makes a ridge in the covers.
“And the tailor was there too, and he was going on about how fabulous his daughter was and how she could spin and weave and sew.”
He rubs his eyes. When he woke in the night, he was sure this bit was just a bad dream. But the king’s coach is outside. It’s real.
“So I told the king our daughter could spin straw into gold.”
His wife’s hand freezes. “You told him what?”