Almost everything has rules. We forget our own, often, because we are so used to them. And we forget the rules of ordinary things, for they are around us so often. Even so, we know them. We can spot when a tree's growth has been disturbed, because some rules for trees are, "Grow like this in no wind. Grow like this when someone has sliced through you. Grow like this when the wind always blows in this direction." Such rules are unbreakable, for the tree does not know how to break them.
Humans have rules. These rules are breakable, so we know the penalty is death. Eat regularly, but do not eat this. Breathe. Be around others occasionally, though they need not be human.
Similarly, other folk have rules. Their rules of growth are not a tree's, nor their rules of food a human's. But the rules are still there. There is one creature, a small one, who often goes covered in the dust of the road--for dirt does not make such a being ill, but stillness does. It is gifted with many wondrous powers of metalworking, and needs little food, little rest.
The being's rules are at once selfless and selfish. The being may only work in service of a deal made with another. Working, always, for another, but without payment. This is a rule, and one of this kind could no more break this rule than you could drink poison.
One day, during his travels, such a being came by a room where a maiden lay weeping. He climbed up the wall and slipped through the window in the rock. "Why do you cry, miss?" (Lack of politeness leads to lack of deals leads to idleness and illness. His mother had made him memorize that one as a boy, in exchange for a trip to a stream he had been interested in.)
"My father has told the king that I can spin straw into gold, and if I do not spin all the straw in this room by morning, then the king shall kill my father and me both for lying to royalty."
"Why do you not spin?"
The woman turned to him, then adjusted her gaze downward to account for his height. "I can't!"
"Oh." The littler one paused. "I could. What would you give me, for doing it?"
"I--I can't thing of anything I could give of value to one who could spin straw to gold. But my father dressed me as well as he could for my visit to His Majesty, would you take this silver ring as payment?" The woman took a simple silver band off her ring finger.
"Silver is quite valuable to me," the metalworker said. It was true, if misleading--not, more valuable than gold, but still valuable, since he could not take the gold he could spin. "The ring is payment enough for spinning this room. Rest, and it shall be spun when you wake."
The woman gave him her ring, and let the wheel's spinning lull her to sleep. The next day, the little spinner slept in a nook where a stone had fallen out of the castle, for he had need of a rest after having spun all that night.
That evening, he was again woken by crying. He climbed around the king's castle until he found the new and larger room, with the same woman. "Why do you cry now, dear?" (The second time you make a deal with the same person, make sure they know you remember them. Do not be forward, but be friendlier than you were last time. The piece of advice his elder sibling had given him, when they met and exchanged wisdom.)
"The king--he demanded that I spin another room of straw into gold for him, and tells me that if I do not, he shall kill me at dawn for impudence, and take father's mill as a lesson to those who raise ill-mannered children."
"Ah." The little metalworker looked about. "I could spin this in a night. What would you give me, if I did?"
"I--I have a bronze charm, on my necklace," she said, tapping a circle of bronze that hung on a flimsy-looking chain. It had an image of a dove carved into it.
"That much bronze is not of much value to me"--her face fell--"but the working on it is. Hand me the necklace, and rest. The gold will be spun when you wake."
The woman gave him her necklace, and let the wheel's spinning lull her to sleep. The next day, the little spinner searched for the third and largest room filled with straw. (The advice he'd told his sibling when they met was, When you've made two deals of the same sort with the same person, there will probably be a third.) He settled in the straw, and waited to hear the king's terms this night.
"Weave this straw into gold. If you succeed, then you shall be my wife the queen." Then he left the room.
"No threats?" The metalworker commented, jumping down from the straw.
"I don't think he feels he needs them anymore," the woman said back.
"Right." He looked around the room and was glad he had come early rather than looking for her. He could spin the room into gold in a night, but only barely. "What would you give me, if I spun this to gold in a night?"
"I have nothing left to give you," she said softly. The woman might have wept, but it was the third night where she might die the next day, and there's only so much weeping a body can stand.
"Hm." He glanced about the room for any inspiration, then noticed the small indentation he had left in the straw. "Your firstborn child, when you are queen."
"He won't make me queen, not really."
The little spinner shrugged. "Then you would lose nothing. Is it a deal?"
The woman hesitated, then nodded and shook his hand.
"Rest. I shall spin."
The woman slept fitfully. The wheel lulled her to sleep, but she had troubled dreams that night. The little spinner put it down to not being worn out from crying and not knowing if he could spin as quickly as he said he could.
After that night, the small fellow wandered, as was his wont. Eventually, he judged that there had been time enough for a child to be born and weaned, he returned to the castle to finish his deal. He climbed the walls and looked for the queen, this time starting as far away from the rooms of straw as he could, since he was searching for a place where the queen felt safe enough to sleep.
"Your Majesty," he said by way of greeting. "I have come for the child."
Pain flashed onto her face, and it surprised him. His mother had sent him off on his own earlier than this, and humans left their children to churches all the time. Why...?
"Can't there be another way?" she begged. "Please, another deal?"
The begging was what made him stop. Facing death for herself and her father, losing the only valuable possessions her family had ever had, she had never begged, only bargained. "Very well," he said, trying to think of something he could do. Betting would do, he decided. Gambling the child, and leaving him in his room as neutral ground until the gamble was decided. "If you can guess my name in three days, then the child shall be yours."
The woman nodded, but clutched her child rather than shaking hands. The little spinner slipped out.
The first night, she guessed odd names, which were all the odder for being odd human names. He knew some of his kind who took common human names to blend in, but he had never seen one of his take such a rare name. He shook his head at every guess.
The next night, she guessed a few names that were somewhat common to his kind, and exceedingly rare in humans. They had more syllables, and had the right rhythm to them.
Just before sunset of her last day, the little metalworker went to the forest and found a trusted servant the queen had sent to search for names. He played the part of a bard, and asked for a few coins to perform a song. The servant, who had not been able to find any names but the ones the queen had already guessed, flipped a few coins at the little spinner, on the half-hearted hope that the song would have some name she had not yet found.
Though the queen thinks herself wise,
None she sends use ears, only eyes,
And look as they might, they'd never see,
A name only spoken--'Rumpelstiltskin', me!
The servant leapt up without another word, to tell the queen of what she had heard.
When Rumpelstiltskin entered the room for the last night of guesses, the queen could hardly contain her delight. She guessed two names, which she doubtless thought were silly guesses--names common among humans, perhaps even from friends she'd had when she was young. Then, eyes glittering with suppressed laughter, she asked, "Is your name...Rumpelstiltskin?"
"Oh! You have won the bet, Your Majesty, and I must be off." He bowed low, then bounded out the nearest window, all pent-up energy and wanderlust.
Three days was far too long to be in one place.