Short Story: Rumplestiltskin III and the Disheveled Knight by Kevin Kauffmann
Old Rumplestiltskin III had found himself to be quite the gambler at one point in his sordid, prolonged life and had acquired ownership over a domesticated donkey. Some might say a burro, but those people would be wrong. At least, that was the mindset of our familiar little imp. As he continued along the dirt road, he lamented about the fortunes he had lost to the swamp people nary a fortnight past, but that particular story has nothing to do with this current adventure. The only thing that need be said was that he was not relegated to walking along this little dirt road.
He was singing along to some fancy ballad he had created eons ago, a number full of dissonance and irregular time signatures, when he noticed a man on horseback towards the crest of the hill. His curiosity piqued by the very nature of another wanderer on his path, Rumplestiltskin III set his donkey at a faster pace so that he might catch up to the mounted fellow.
When the imp managed to get within a few horse-lengths from the man, he found something quite unexpected. In truth, not really anything he would have ever thought to see. First off, the horse, if it could even be called that, was a dingy, unimportant little beast; it was big enough to hold the man and that was really all that could be said for it. A dress of iron, which Rumplestiltskin III thought was the true name of horse armor, would look positively dreadful and unfashionable on such an animal.
And that was just the horse!
The man was so much worse for wear. True, the brute did have the spare piece of armor here and there. The important ones, at least, breastplate and what have you, but they looked so unabashedly….plain. Dirty, in point of fact, which was a phrase the imp had decided he would start using with much more frequency, as his inner monologues definitely needed some sprucing up.
In any case, the man was most assuredly in need of a bath, or he would just have to make peace and commit to becoming a pig. He obviously was no gallant knight, that was for sure, as Rumplestiltskin III had met his share of knights in his travels; always shining and completely charming, in point of fact. However, Rumplestiltskin III was quite lonely in these days, and even if he had to speak with a dirty, porcine creature, who was probably some sort of mercenary…
Well, he would just have to do.
So the imp sidled up next to the pair of animals, as he was determined to be snobbish towards the horse and rider until he gave into another flight of fancy, and issued a greeting to the brute. The man, who was dingy in almost every regard, looked at Rumplestiltskin III and gave a half-smile.
“The name is Willis, little one. And who might you be?” At this, Rumplestiltskin III was quite surprised. Who would have expected this sub-par human to dally with manners as he was?
Well, fair trade, the imp thought, and gave his name back to the man. This is itself was a rather rare occurrence, as Rumplestiltskin III rarely gave his name to anyone after his escapades with the Witch of the Berry Bush, but one should not dwell on distractions.
“Rumplestiltskin III? I didn’t rightly know there was more than one of you. Your predecessor made it seem like he was the only one; you know how legends can be. But as it is, well met, little one.”
With introductions out of the way, Rumplestiltskin III and Willis talked for quite some time on that dirt road, almost without any interruptions from Rumplestiltskin III’s mischievous antics. Really, when it comes down to it, that bent-over tree was just asking for Rumplestiltskin III to drunkenly threaten it. It didn’t even matter that the imp was sober and had been for twenty-three years; trees need to remember their roots from time to time.
Astonishingly, Willis had the unique ability to interest Rumplestiltskin III for a long period time. The reason for this was that Willis had led quite the interesting life, as it turned out he was a knight after all and not some stable-boy who had taken to lounging in heaps of dung. Even more surprising to Rumplestiltskin III, Willis was a very accomplished warrior, as well. In his few years, he had killed a sextet of dragons, braved the halls of the dead, defeated the murderous duke of a far-off kingdom that time itself has forgotten. He’d had so many adventures that Rumplestiltskin III couldn’t even remember to indulge in his usual insanity. Truthfully, the incident with the tree was just to remind himself that he was, in point of fact, quite ludicrous. The only stories missing from Willis’ tales of adventures were those of his true love or all the lovely little peasant girls he’d beguiled into sleeping with him.
Well, Rumplestiltskin III thought, we can’t have that! Those are the best ones!
“Women? Oh, little one, there aren’t any stories like that.”
At the quick and clearly erroneous reply, Rumplestiltskin III stared at Willis for a good long moment, enough for his eyes to dry up and make him feel like a wax doll in desert air. It was quite the heroic effort by the imp, considering his lack of ability in maintaining a moment’s peace. In the end, however, his vexing stare did nothing to draw answers from the derelict knight, so he had to resort to yelling, pleading and pointing, which were his main weapons, after all.
The knight had no choice but to relent.
He explained that while he accomplished all the good and knightly deeds expected of him, he never conformed to the stereotype. All the women in these kingdoms wanted nothing more than a knight, he conceded, but they wanted the archetype; that gallant, shining knight saving them from evil, wicked creatures and all other pitfalls. The problem, he explained, had to do with the nature of his heroics.
Yes, he killed dragons, but he didn’t save any princesses doing it. They were all safe at home in the castle, and when he came around to notify the people they were safe, the princesses wanted nothing from him. Sure, he saved the kingdom, but they were never really in any danger. They wouldn’t give him the time of day, he said, because not only was he “just a knight,” but he was do despicably dirty, as well.
Needless to say, Rumplestiltskin III was more than slightly confused. He brought up to Willis that if they were all denying him “the time of day,” as he put it, for being dirty, why didn’t he just make his armor all shiny? Willis just laughed at the imp.
“Little one, a knight’s work doesn’t allow for it. I was killing dragons and ogres, not sitting in a chair listening to tawdry ballads or walking through gardens. I wasn’t born for the gentle life, and I sure as hell ain’t one of those pretty boys who have time to chat up princesses. No, my lot in life is help people with my old friend, here,” he said as he patted his dusty destrier, “not bed women. As far as I care, the little boys can have the little girls. I’ll settle myself down with glory for supper and dragon’s teeth for my fence.”
Rumplestiltskin III didn’t understand him at all; he would rather have a busty little peasant girl than a brown horse. The knight was clearly mad, after all. Oh, well, the imp thought, people don’t think too highly of my sanity either, in point of fact.
And so they rode together, made camp together, and rode once more. They continued like this for a long time, making their way through the numerous little villages that came between them and the next stretch of dirt road. At each little outpost, Willis would ride up to the locals and ask if they needed help doing anything. Whatever they wanted, Willis would do, no matter how small; he would milk cows or hunt down rabbits if needed. To distract himself from the knight’s altruism, Rumplestiltskin III would just go around accusing flowers of being harlots and bees as womanizers. Reality was, as always, firmly outside his grasp.
Unlike his other compatriots, however, Willis took a liking to the creature. The little imp made him laugh, and even Rumplestiltskin III could tell that it was a welcome change to the weary knight. Secretly, Rumplestiltskin III also appreciated the company, as no one tended to stick around the creature for extended periods of time. The imp assumed it was some magic curse laid down by an ornery witch, never suspecting that his personality was the problem.
So they continued on their way, Willis ever the opportunist for good will and Rumplestiltskin III the designated harbinger of lunacy. They were happy and quite content on the road.
For a time, as it always inevitably turns out.
The two compatriots found their way to a town which seemed abuzz at their arrival. After being approached by a couple of townsmen in hysterics, the two wanderers found out that the area was currently terrorized by a monstrous fire-breathing troll who had already ate a dozen of the able-bodied men. Truly, the men were quite outmatched and needed a hero.
Rumplestiltskin III rolled his eyes at the display, as he knew this was perfect bait for Willis; the man felt absolutely compelled to help at the slightest provocation. It was rather annoying, considering the imp held no compassion for these little sheep, but he resigned himself to relative boredom. This little exercise in heroism only held the promise of dalliances in the village for a day or two, and they would be on the road and back on their adventures soon enough.
It wasn’t long before Willis and his impish companion were led to the house of the town baker, who had been devoured days before. The baker left behind one daughter, who, contrary to gender stereotypes, was actually not very dainty at all. She carried herself like a man, much to Rumplestiltskin III’s astonishment, and it took him far too long to stop calling her a boy.
Even in his own stubborn mindset, Rumplestiltskin III could tell instantly that Willis was already smitten with the girl. Another roll of the eyes was due for this new development. Yes, she had fine bone structure and all that, but there were no dresses or flowers to be seen; the woman was clearly not in shape for a man’s bed, the imp decided, but then again, Rumplestiltskin III was rarely in charge of making any decisions.
They made up some form of battle plan for that night, but Rumplestiltskin III was far too busy playing with the roly polies that had gathered in the corner of the hovel and barking orders at them. The order were all over the place, as half the time Rumplestiltskin III wanted them to make new shoes and a third of the time he wanted them to cart around bread. The rest of the commands were spoken entirely in tongues and even he had no idea what they meant.
Ironically, those were the orders the insects understood.
It seemed only two hours had passed before the troll found his way to village once more and the humans tried to counter his advance. Almost the entire time, Rumplestiltskin III was fast asleep in a nearby tree dreaming of warm summer nights. Most likely this was because of the vast amount of fire being spread about the village, which increased the temperature quite a bit during his slumber.
When he woke, the village was gone. Well, not gone, per say, but quite ruined by fire; that probably would have been the best way to say it in the first place. Rumplestiltskin III found two or three of the villagers wandering around caked in ashes, but they held no interest to the imp. Willis, on the other hand, was sitting on a charred log looking at the ground in a manner sullen and depressed.
It was obvious that he had failed, and Rumplestiltskin III wondered if perhaps this was the first time Willis had not saved the day.
“It took her,” he said very quietly. Rumplestiltskin III thought for a bit to figure out who “her” was, but in the end decided the best way to figure it out was with a cryptic question.
At the remark, the even-more-disheveled knight looked up at Rumplestiltskin III’s deformed face and then gave a grim smile.
“Well, guess I’m going to have to go and get her back, don’t I?”
Without knowing what Willis wanted him to say, Rumplestiltskin III shrugged and then looked back in the ground, wondering if it was in bad taste to start playing in the ashes. He almost didn’t notice when Willis resolutely stood up and limped back to his horse, but a black moth caught his eye and allowed him to see the warrior leap on the destrier. As such, there was only one thing to do for the imp, and so he jumped onto his donkey and followed.
Following was really the only thing he was good at when Willis was around.
They found the troll’s lair rather easily, as it wasn’t exactly like it was trying to hide itself. However, Willis didn’t seem too happy about it. He didn’t even laugh when the imp started trying to carry his donkey, which was a sure-fire way to draw out a satisfied chuckle. Willis looked like he was downright angry when he yelled for the troll to come out of the cave; not exactly the kind of Willis that Rumplestiltskin III wanted to hang out around.
It didn’t take very long for the troll to find his way to Willis and his considerably more cowardly friend, replete with the baker’s daughter in his fist. The woman was yelling something at Willis, probably some words of warning, but Willis was not turning tail and running like Rumplestiltskin III thought he should. It wasn’t a fair fight or anything, and no one expected him to save the day, but Willis merely unsheathed his sword and shield and stood ready to fight. It would have been quite heroic if it was not also so ridiculously idiotic, in point of fact.
The troll merely tossed away his meal before rushing at Willis, clearly counting on its size for this fight, which was reasonable, but Willis merely ducked and dived and rolled out of the troll’s way. He even sliced when the timing was right, cutting deep rents into the troll’s mottled skin. Rumplestiltskin III and the baker’s daughter could really only watch; it even seemed like he would win.
Then the troll’s mouth gave life to an inferno.
Willis’ piece-meal armor could not protect him from the onslaught of flames pouring from the troll’s mouth. Almost right away, his shield melted onto his arm, but even though the pain was far too much for the normal person, Willis was a hero. Against all odds, he kept fighting and standing against the troll’s blaze, his armor melting onto his skin to the point where he had trouble standing.
That was when the troll decided to show its cruelty. He turned to the baker’s daughter and started to breath out flames and, since Willis was not really the type to let that stand, he went and jumped in front of the flames to shield the woman. It was really the only thing his personality would allow him to do.
But fear not, as is the case in most tales of heroics, Willis made one last ditch effort while the troll was inhaling and rightly stabbed it through its black heart. So, Willis ended up being the hero yet again; it even seemed like he was going to get the girl this time.
They even kissed.
Then Willis died right in her arms; not even saying goodbye to his old friend Rumplestiltskin III. It made it very awkward for the imp, who really felt he deserved more than some peasant woman, so he decided to set off on his donkey back onto that old dirt road.
It wasn’t until a day or two later Willis’ death really started to affect him, but then again, he was always used to traveling alone. In honor of the disheveled knight, every week or so Rumplestiltskin III would try to carry his donkey or drunkenly yell at trees.
But it just made him feel more lonely, in point of fact.