Prof. Cassandra Lobiesk
The hobgoblin appeared. He ignored the straw that towered over him. It surprised Sesha how easily the creature could transform a room by his presence. It was no longer so stifling, and she found herself beginning to relax.
"The daughter of a poor, boastful man," he bowed and grinned. "What can we do for you today?"
She stiffened, the calm gone, replaced by wary suspicion. "I wish to bargain no longer," she turned away. "Begone, fae."
"Oh-ho-ho," the goblin said. "Take care not to anger us, weaver child, for we hold power beyond your understanding."
The creature lifted his tiny head, sharp silver eyes holding soft blue ones. "You have one room of straw. We know what you want, and you know what we seek."
"I cannot give you more." She kept calm, for she did not wish the hobgoblin to detect her mounting desperation. "I have nothing left that is of value."
"Ah-ah-ah," the creature replied. He wagged his bony brown finger and chuckled. "But you do."
"You have a life you can give," he continued. He circled her, hopping and humming.
Sesha could not help but find amusement in the absurdity. Trade a life in order to escape death? But perhaps the creature had meant her soul...
"A woman's seed is what we seek." The hobgoblin stopped his little dance. "And you can give us this."
"I am not with child."
"We remember deals from years on end. You will give us your firstborn, and we will weave for you."
"Then we will stay and watch you hang, boastful man's daughter."
The room closed in on her. She swayed in her seat and grasped at the spinning wheel's spindle. When she was steady, she looked upon the hobgoblin once more.
"Your kind is cruel," she whispered.
"We abide by the forces of trade, and we hold ourselves to the law of sacrifice," the hobgoblin said. "Your king wishes to kill you at the merest failure. There is no law but his alone. Do you think us cruel still?"
"What would you do with a child?"
"It is not for you to question our desires. This is a simple trade."
"I cannot give it. Perhaps I can offer something else."
"A life for a life, is that not the mortal saying?" the hobgoblin asked.
"You were well content taking my jeweleries in place of a room of woven straw."
"The mortal's essence is life alone. You held those heirlooms important, and we knew the cost you gave."
The ring and necklace were all Sesha had of her mother, and she had willingly traded them for the cost of life. If she could part from her mother's things, could she part with a child she would not know?
But perhaps there was something else she could give.
If she agreed to the creature's trade, she could be one step away from earning her keep, one step away from marrying the king. She would be rich, would sire more than one child, would rule a kingdom.
Yet how much of that life did she want? She did not love the king, and she did not love his rooms of straw.
"I proposition another trade," she said simply.
The hobgoblin stood still, his lopsided head tilting one way, the silver in his stare unwavering. "The price must be of equivalent exchange."
"I am aware." She took a breath. "Gold for gold."
"You have no gold to give."
"A life for a life." And she told him what she wanted.
In his opinion, making her his queen had been an honor and privilege. It was the greatest kindness offered.
In her opinion, marriage was nothing but another gilded cage, one with gold in plenty.
She chose to refuse her golden prison, and she did so with a trade.
The king returned the next morning, his eyes glazed with rich promises. He would free his bride-to-be at a command, provided she gave him what he wanted. He was good with his word. He was just. He was the king.
He opened the door to the weaver's room. He found a room filled with straw, the occupant gone. He puzzled at her disappearance, for the room had been locked. His confusion gave way to irritation, and finally to anger.
He was the king, and she, a poor man's daughter, had chosen to shun him.
The room remained dull. It kept its secrets, and no matter how long the king stared, he could not extract them. He left in a huff, ordering his guards to search his lands.
But he would not find her. She was born anew.