Rumpelstiltskin the Third and the Taming of Mr. Swirly by Kevin Kauffmann
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The time for parting was ever bittersweet, but no matter how well Rumpelstiltskin was getting along with his newest friend, there was little for an imp to do while spending his days in the beating heart of a lonely whale. Although he could not speak to his companion, he imagined communicating with the creature by thumping his chest and urging his feelings into the vibrations. Rumpelstiltskin could not have known what the whale thought as he felt such reverberations within his bloodstream, but when it was finally time, Rumpelstiltskin held onto his magical bracelet and rendered himself completely intangible.

It was all darkness, but even as he was immaterial, Rumpelstiltskin could feel the innards of the friendly whale rushing past him. After a moment, even the creature’s tail was past him, and though he could not see even an inch in front of him, Rumpelstiltskin knew he was alone in the depths. He would have liked to call out to his friend who had taken him so far beneath the surface, but when he took hold of his bracelet and urged his head back into the material world, an immense pressure stole whatever air was within his mouth and barely let him whimper out a few bubbles.

Still, the whale, wherever he was, heard and replied with a clarion call through the darkness. The sound was lonesome once more, but Rumpelstiltskin could tell it had the ring of a friend acknowledging that bittersweet feeling. For a time, they were friends. For a time, Rumpelstiltskin had taken that burden of solitude away from him, and it was clear that our favorite imp had a positive effect while this whale was bereft of his pod.

Although that would normally make the imp smile, the pressures of the deep were far too much for his cheek muscles to strain against. It was becoming infuriating, and he had no earthly idea why he could not see in the first place. Rumpelstiltskin had no way to know that it was because light itself could not reach these depths, and he was becoming frustrated by the idea that he had left his undersea transportation and perhaps gotten mired in some other creature who had even less inclination to listen to a pint-sized imp.

Since he could barely even contemplate a thought—insane or otherwise—while his head felt such pressure, Rumpelstiltskin used his bracelet to phase his head back into whatever immaterial plane it controlled. Once he was back to his contemplative self, Rumpelstiltskin wondered how he would find his way back to the surface and, hopefully, the tutelage of Captain Stone. He had not meant to depart from his seafaring occupation, and since the bracelet belonged to the surly captain—no matter Stone’s true intentions in the matter—Rumpelstiltskin felt inclined to return before he was owed any lashings.

Even though Captain Stone would never have dreamed of lashings or floggings or any other physical punishment for Rumpelstiltskin, the imp had imagined enough angry captains and mutinous crew to fear the worst.

So, after days of floating and internal debate, the imp was grateful when he felt ground beneath him once more. After a few hours of that, however, even that gave the imp little solace, and when Rumpelstiltskin saw a dim light a few hundred feet ahead of him, he was grateful for any opportunity for salvation. He fluttered in the water for just a moment, frantically switching between dog-paddles and breaststrokes, but then he realized that with an immaterial body, there would be no way to traverse the deeps.

Although it was no ideal circumstance, Rumpelstiltskin allowed his arms to become physical once more, feeling an immense atmospheric weight upon that transition, but his durable, immortal body was up to the task. With just a few waves of his arms, Rumpelstiltskin already felt himself moving toward the light.

Even though he was making considerable progress for an imp in an undersea trench, he was still frustrated by the pace of that progress. It even appeared that the light bounced forward and dipped away, becoming dimmer only to resurge in strength just a few moments later. Rumpelstiltskin had never seen light act like that, but he also had yet to see most of the world he would eventually encounter in his later misadventures. He merely placed the blame on himself for not propelling himself effectively, but once he was within twenty feet of the light, he noticed something peculiar.

Rumpelstiltskin could barely see the outline of something hovering near the light.

Although the darkness around him would and should be unnerving to a normal child, Rumpelstiltskin’s nerves did not start to fray until he saw that something next to the eerie light floating along the sea floor. Still, he had little options, so he continued his approach. The bouncing spark itself was nice and comforting—even if its light was swallowed up a few feet into the darkness—but Rumpelstiltskin could not help but feel like there was something hidden away, malice brewing within the unknown beyond the imp’s reach.

When he was just a foot away from the light, Rumpelstiltskin’s curiosity and suspicions were both given credence, as a terrifying cluster of teeth lunged forward to snap around the imp’s nose.

And while he did gasp and push himself away in fright, his bracelet was more than up to the task. Those long, mismatched teeth clenched nothing more than water, for the imp’s nose was merely there in spirit. Once he was able to gather his meager wits, Rumpelstiltskin noticed that the light was attached by a long stem to the crown of a fish’s head, where those menacing teeth now gaped once again. It was an ugly thing by any standard, but it was much uglier than Rumpelstiltskin himself, and the imp felt fortunate that he could now claim as such. He would have chided the monstrous fish if he had the air to speak, but once it realized the imp would not make a hearty meal, the creature was already swimming into the darkness, angling for some other prey.

Rumpelstiltskin might have followed the creature despite its intended attack—he did not much care for being alone—but there was something about its nature that prevented him swimming after the fading light. Those treacherous tactics gave the imp the impression that food was scarce, that friends were hard to come by, and that he should not be so trusting of anything that even seemed like it might be helpful.

This was no place for a friendly imp, and Rumpelstiltskin worried the bracelet on his wrist and felt gratitude to whoever left it on that ridiculous, migrating island.

Nodding to himself in the darkness, Rumpelstiltskin had become comfortable with his surroundings. He had even become accustomed to the crushing pressure of the depths. However, this comfort came at the cost of a surprise, because with no warning there was heat all around Rumpelstiltskin’s arms. This was confusing at first, but with a few more breaststrokes, it became alarming and more than just hot.

Something was pouring out from the ground, and it was strong enough to send Rumpelstiltskin’s arms—along with the incorporeal frame attached to them—away from the sea floor.

Fear overtook Rumpelstiltskin’s fragile mind for a frantic moment, but then his childish demeanor hurtled itself back into the fray. What began as a moment of pitch black terror became an exhilarating ride through the unknown. Rumpelstiltskin’s skin became mottled with goosebumps as the adrenaline kicked in, as his tangible arms were carried away from the sea floor and into the next act of his undersea adventure. Eventually the speed of that current was taken from him—as he had traveled outside of the range of what he could not have known was a hydrothermal vent—but that momentum meant Rumpelstiltskin was on his way to the surface, even if the pace could not be satisfactory.

As he was an imp of ever-changing focus and attention, even five minutes of nothing was an eternity, and he had much more than five minutes to waste.

However, once he was finished with his fourteenth internal diatribe about the nature of angler fish and how they should not be so mean—though he had not known its name and had used less sophisticated terms than we can describe here—Rumpelstiltskin had finally reached the oceanic stratum where light could finally pierce through hundreds of feet of watery veil. This was also where Rumpelstiltskin’s half-material body was affected by the ocean currents that might eventually carry him back to civilization.

He did not know this, however; all he could tell was that the chill no longer tore all the way into his bone marrow.

Still, Rumpelstiltskin had far too much time to himself. In the distance, he could see marine life making its way back and forth across the current, eating and being eaten, and from time to time he urged his mouth back into reality so he could call out to his undersea friends.

Invariably, he was thwarted—his biology was not up to the task of communication and would only permit bubbles surrounding the words—and it was days and perhaps weeks before Rumpelstiltskin reached the relative shallows where he might at least walk along a sea floor that he could actually see. The time frame could have been anyone’s guess, as Rumpelstiltskin’s mind was unable to keep count of the nights and days that transitioned above his head. No matter how many times he tried to keep that count, he would lose it after a few hours, especially since he was surrounded by distractions.

In contrast to his days in the dark depths, this part of the ocean was much more vibrant. As he waded his way along the sandy bottom of these shallows, he watched immense schools of silver fish darting along and forming clouds of marine life, and interspersed between those formations were neon stripes and speckled bodies that ate miscellaneous, smaller creatures that lived off the rocks, seeming like animalistic plants that swayed along with the currents. Rays of sunlight filtered down from the shimmering surface a hundred feet above him, and Rumpelstiltskin felt no real incentive to abandon his adventure under the water now that he had such a living spectacle making itself known to him. Between his curse and the magical bauble on his wrist, Rumpelstiltskin knew that he was the only living person to ever see something so incredible.

Although Rumpelstiltskin was prone to abandoning most pursuits after just a few minutes, he spent days walking along those shallows, taking his time and stopping to watch as his piscine acquaintances made their lives beneath the waves. Rumpelstiltskin had little else to do, and he had reasoned away any sort of responsibility to rush back to the side of Captain Stone. Merry would like to hear all the tales he could acquire along this seabed, and of course the captain himself might be worried, but Rumpelstiltskin knew he was not that great of a swimmer and he could see no trading vessels passing overhead.

As it was, if he was to return to the surface, it would be just as productive as staying beneath the waves.

So Rumpelstiltskin continued his path, speaking only to himself since there was no way to speak to the creatures around him. More than once he thought about pleading to Sir Death to come and whisk him away and back to another living human, but he had made his peace with this adventure. This would be quite the story to tell someday, even if there were only one or two people who would ever believe it.

However, Rumpelstiltskin never cared much if people believed him; he mostly just wanted to say the words, and whoever listened could assign as much truth to them as they wished.

And it was this attitude that led him away from all the vibrant life that had distracted him, as a yawning, dark cave beckoned him from beneath an underwater rock face. It seemed artificial in a way, a thirty-foot wide hole in the rock wall that seemed like it had been carved purposefully to harbor some sort of mermaid sorcerer and his experiments, but it was the lack of life around it that summoned Rumpelstiltskin forward. If other creatures knew well enough to stay away, the imp knew there was a story waiting to unfold within its depths.

Still, fear gnawed at him, and Rumpelstiltskin had not yet been on enough adventures to completely disregard that feeling. Most of his body was tangible at that point except for his mouth and lungs—they were the only things that would have made it impossible to stay at these depths—and he waded until he could set his hand against the ridge of the rock wall. Gulping down his vestigial fear, Rumpelstiltskin pushed himself into the cave only to be met with a low-pitched growl that reached his ears, despite the aquatic interference.

Mustering his nerve even though he could tell that mysterious creature meant what it threatened,

Rumpelstiltskin waded further into the cave, to the point where light was about to abandon him. The imp even looked back, seeing the mouth of the cave as more than just inviting, but then he thought about what he would say to Merry and Captain Stone if he only walked a few feet into the cave only to let himself succumb to fear. Nodding at his newfound resolve, Rumpelstiltskin turned back around only to realize that he knew nothing of resolve.

For he turned from one welcoming mouth to find one much more menacing, with dozens of teeth that parted to show a long, forked tongue that looked like it would love to taste an immortal imp.

Rumpelstiltskin didn’t even have the bravery to shriek or step back, he was frozen in place as this seafaring monster let out a roar that bubbled against the imp’s miniature frame. It was all Rumpelstiltskin could do to flinch at this creature’s terrifying expulsion, and he curled in on himself as the mouth opened wide and rushed forward, taking Rumpelstiltskin’s entire body into its embrace, rows of long teeth clamping shut and taking the light from the imp.

As Rumpelstiltskin felt the creature’s tongue slither underneath him and roll him back to the chasm of its throat, the imp gave into fear. And when it swallowed and took Rumpelstiltskin down toward its stomach, he had little to do but quiver and shake. But when it was a few moments after that and Rumpelstiltskin was relatively unscathed, he realized that being swallowed was not so bad.

His curse had kept him safe from harm, and that was before Rumpelstiltskin had even bothered with his magical bracelet.

Knowing that this creature would not be pleased by the coming event—but knowing that it would be even more displeased when it tried to pass an undigested imp through its digestive tract—Rumpelstiltskin held the bracelet by the gem pinned to his skin and phased his body back into that parallel existence. It wasn’t long before the creature’s body moved past him entirely, and Rumpelstiltskin reappeared directly between the surface and the sea floor, his teal surroundings illuminating the very creature that had swallowed him whole.

There, already banking back to approach the imp, was a majestic legend that even Rumpelstiltskin had not been entirely certain could exist. It was at least two hundred feet long and the only interruptions to its sleek, shining body were two pairs of legs, not nearly large enough to be useful for anything but grabbing food or to help it wriggle out of dangerous situations. Its reptilian head was massive—it had to be to house all those teeth—and along the crown of its skull was a pair of golden horns that ran back to frame its long, blue-green mane of hair. Even from that far away, Rumpelstiltskin could see the gleam of its silver eyes, the reflection of sunlight along all of those magnificent scales, and he actually didn’t mind that this creature had tried to eat him when they had first met.

Rumpelstiltskin had finally met himself a dragon, and he was excited for whatever story that would lead to.

The dragon, however, was not so keen on this imp who had gotten away. After it had finished its aquatic maneuver, the dragon came back at Rumpelstiltskin with a vengeance. The imp was so distracted by the sight that he didn’t realize that his new friend would still intend to make him a meal, but when the dragon opened his maw, Rumpelstiltskin was fortunately still very much intangible.

The entire length of the dragon flew past Rumpelstiltskin—that dangerous mouth full of mythical teeth forcing the imp’s heart all aflutter once more—but it wasn’t long before the dragon’s tail was past Rumpelstiltskin and swaying through the water. From the way it twitched and pushed against the water, Rumpelstiltskin could tell that it was becoming annoyed, but the dragon banked along the water once more and then attempted another approach.

Now that he knew he was safe, Rumpelstiltskin was ready this time, but on this attempt the sea dragon was much more cautious. It did not rush headlong toward its meal, but instead maneuvered through the water until it could slowly gaze at the imp and judge him as it circled around his tiny frame.

Rumpelstiltskin could tell that the dragon was not used to such a difficult meal—that a mythical creature could not expect magical bracelets and immortal imps—and he decided to give the dragon some time. It was understandable that this creature might treat such a curiosity with some wariness, and Rumpelstiltskin wanted to avoid any sort of discomfort if he was to make a friend with a living legend.

So when the dragon resolved most of its body into the shape of a figure eight and stopped its head just a few feet away from Rumpelstiltskin’s hovering body, the imp felt like he had achieved some sort of victory.

“Just what kind of creature are you?” a deep voice emanated from its mouth, and Rumpelstiltskin was excited at the prospect of such a conversation.

There were so many things he would want to ask a dragon, especially one that spent so much time at sea. Rumpelstiltskin frantically tried to think of the best first question, one that would impress the dragon; a question that would make it so this creature would immediately enjoy this conversation and would speak with great fondness about the first time it met Rumpelstiltskin the Third. Once he realized the nature of the most important question of his early life, Rumpelstiltskin took the jewel from his bracelet and turned it around so his mouth could become functional once more.

But when Rumpelstiltskin tried to ask his first question, only bubbles came out of his mouth.

“You can dwell within the waves, but you cannot speak? You are a curious creature indeed. I’m rather glad I failed in swallowing you whole, even if I was momentarily aggravated,” the dragon replied, musing on Rumpelstiltskin’s nature even as the imp gave into an underwater temper tantrum.

He thrashed as he hovered there, fuming at himself for not realizing he had no verbal talents beneath the surface, but he did not realize that his now-tangible lungs had made him more buoyant. As he pouted and despaired, his tiny body rose a few feet, the dragon watching all the while.

“Do you intend to reach the surface?” the dragon boomed once more, earning enough of Rumpelstiltskin’s attention that he realized the answer to his predicament.

Enthusiastically nodding throughout his nonverbal communication, Rumpelstiltskin pointed at the wavering surface and then tried to pantomime a vigorous conversation where he would have most definitely impressed his mythical companion. A low murmur resonated through the water, and although Rumpelstiltskin was disheartened, that was only because he did not realize it was the dragon’s method of laughter.

“Here, creature, let us go together,” the dragon stated before it rose from the depths, its mouth once again a source of concern for Rumpelstiltskin. This time the imp did not have the bracelet to depend on, and he could not react before the dragon’s mouth was upon him. However, the dragon did not intend harm on this occasion, and when its snout bumped into Rumpelstiltskin’s frame, it was only to push him to the surface and to the air that might allow better conversation. If Rumpelstiltskin had been mortal, the decompression might have been something close to fatal, but as it was, the imp broke the surface and was flung ten feet into the salt air.

It was one of the most exhilarating feelings Rumpelstiltskin would ever experience.

When he landed back in the water, he sputtered and coughed and fought his way back to the surface, but Rumpelstiltskin quickly remembered he was trying to impress a dragon and looked around for the creature. Soon after that, the dragon’s head broke the surface and its shimmering body encircled Rumpelstiltskin where he treaded water. In full sunlight, the sea dragon was even more magnificent, light refracting into rainbows off of each scale, and Rumpelstiltskin could not stop his face from becoming

devoted to an almost painful smile.

“I’ve never met a dragon before,” Rumpelstiltskin said, grateful that he was finally able to speak after what could have been a month or more below the surface. If he had not been immediately thrust into an overwhelming situation like meeting a dragon, Rumpelstiltskin would have most assuredly exploded into a dozen intersecting diatribes about the life hidden beneath the waves.

Since he was, instead, overwhelmed, what followed was a more traditional sort of conversation.

“I’ve never met a you before, either. Just what are you?” the dragon replied, its head lowering so that its beard almost touched the crest of a gentle wave. From this close, Rumpelstiltskin could see how seaweed and kelp had woven through silver braids, and he wondered if it was intentional or if it was cosmic chance at play.

“I like your beard,” Rumpelstiltskin said, grinning as he ignored the dragon’s question. “I’m sure it takes a lot of maintenance, but I don’t think I’ll grow even a pair of whiskers, let alone a beard that I can decorate with seaweed.”

Reptilian eyes narrowed as the dragon judged its new acquaintance. “You seem quite talkative now that we’re on the surface.”

“I think I’m pretty talkative everywhere, my words just turn into bubbles when I’m underwater, which is just frustrating, honestly.” Rumpelstiltskin agreed with himself, nodding and crossing his arms and dipping below the surface when his legs couldn’t tread water without his hands to help.

The imp floundered for a moment, but then some part of the dragon’s long body rolled beneath him and raised him back to the surface, surprising Rumpelstiltskin enough that he plopped onto his rear just above the waves.

“You still have not told me what you are,” the dragon emphasized with a show of teeth the size of Rumpelstiltskin’s forearms, and that was enough for the imp to gain necessary focus.

“Oh! Well, I’m sorry about that. My name is Rumpelstiltskin the Third, and I’m an imp!” Rumpelstiltskin shouted, trying to jump to his feet and failing. He would have fallen back into the water if the dragon had not shifted its frame and caught him before he could slide into the ocean. Rumpelstiltskin giggled at the event, but he did not try to jump to his feet again. He just flopped over so he could sit and look up into the dragon’s face, which was now ten feet away.

“I have never met an imp before. Are they all capable of living in the water? And what was that trick?” the dragon asked, the lines of its long mouth curling down underneath its eyes and giving the impression of a frown. “I felt it when I swallowed you, but you were outside of my body within just a few seconds.”

“Well that’s because of this bracelet!” Rumpelstiltskin quickly replied, offering his wrist forward so the dragon could see his treasure. “If I turn the stone around, I can control my body and if it’s solid or not.”

“Truly?” the dragon replied, moving its face forward and peering at the small jewelry capable of so much. “And that allows you to live without air, as well?”

“Well… no,” Rumpelstiltskin said as he lowered his hand and leaned back, propping himself up with both arms. “I have this curse that makes it so I can’t get hurt, and apparently that means I don’t need air, either.”

“You are a creature of the surface who does not need air,” the dragon mused, its right brow raising

above its eye. “And you cannot be harmed? That must be some curse.”

“It is, and it’s not always great, but it means I can go on a lot of adventures and gain a lot of stories,” Rumpelstiltskin explained, chuckling a bit as he grinned up at his new friend. “I don’t think anyone normal could get swallowed by a dragon and then get to talk to him on the surface of the ocean.”

“No, I don’t believe a normal person could do something like that,” the dragon agreed, drawing back its head and gazing down at the creature lounging on his lower body. “It makes me wonder just what kind of spell would be responsible for such a thing.”

“I don’t know, but I don’t really feel the need to know.” Rumpelstiltskin shrugged away the question as he saw the telltale line of land on the distant horizon. Just that was enough to give him confidence that he would return to some soil, but he was not nearly done with his current adventure. Turning back to the dragon, he beamed up at the creature who had decided not to eat him. “Learning about that magic is its own adventure, and I’m not ready for that one.”

“I guess that could be understandable. I am not entirely bereft of magic, myself,” the dragon said, prompting the imp to ask the question he had intended beneath the waves.

“What’s your name?” he asked, shocking the dragon into a frown.

“I’ve never had one. I have had titles in the past, but no one has ever had a need to call me by any name, and I have never had a conversation long enough to warrant one,” the dragon explained, lowering his head once more and staring the imp in the eye. “What would you call me, Rumpelstiltskin the Third?”

“Umm…” the imp paused in thought, even raising an index finger to his lips as he pondered, but he snapped his fingers when he discovered a seemingly-perfect moniker.

“I know! Mr. Swirly!” he exclaimed, but the distinct lack of reaction on the dragon’s face was enough to show his displeasure.

“I don’t believe you are taking this seriously.”

“No! No, hear me out,” Rumpelstiltskin said, raising both his palms out to stall for time. Truthfully, he had only thought the sounds were pleasant in that order, but he attempted some form of reasoning while he took a breath. “Since you can swim fast, you can create whirlpools, right?”

“No, that is not something I do.”

“I’m sure you could,” Rumpelstiltskin argued, clucking his tongue at his obviously oblivious friend. “And since you can do that and whirlpools tend to swirl around, I think it’s only right that you have a name that can tell people what you do without you having to show them.”

“Imp, I don’t believe you understand. I do not create whirlpools,” the dragon tried once more, but Rumpelstiltskin would not let himself be defeated by mere truth.

“Well… now that I’ve said it, it really just seems to fit. I can see plenty of times in the future where I turn to you and I can just imagine myself calling you Mr. Swirly. It just sounds right.”

“I… your first argument was to give me a name that would describe my talents, and to call me… Mr. Swirly would be to undermine any sort of understanding as to my nature. It would be a false tale.”

The dragon was confident that he had put this silly name behind him, but Rumpelstiltskin pouted and then pushed his chin forward, which made even a dragon from the sea realize that he had been undone.

“Don’t you think your first friend above the waves should be able to choose what he calls you? It's a nickname, no matter what. And… and… and I want to call you Mr. Swirly, because it makes me think of you, and I—”

“That’s enough, Rumpelstiltskin,” the dragon interrupted, sighing as he reared back and admitted defeat.

“In honor of our… fantastic meeting, I will allow you to call me by the name of… Mister Swirly.”

“R—really?” Rumpelstiltskin asked with a glimmer in his eye and a tremble in his voice, and that was when a mythical creature realized that he had made his seabed and would have to lie in it.

“Yes…” Mr. Swirly replied, sighing once more and then looking to the land Rumpelstiltskin had spied earlier. “Now, what would you like, Rumpelstiltskin? Should I return you to land so that you might reunite with some other surface-dwellers?”

“Hmm, eventually, of course,” Rumpelstiltskin said, surprising the dragon into turning back to him.

“You do not wish to return?”

“Not right now,” Rumpelstiltskin stressed, tapping his heels against Mr. Swirly’s scales. “I only just met a dragon, and I’m not quite done with that story.”

“Then how would you like that story to continue?” Mr. Swirly replied, and Rumpelstiltskin realized that the only way forward would be to ask. Biting his lip and trying to look as cute as a twisted, cursed imp could, Rumpelstiltskin made his desperate gamble.

“I always wanted to ride a dragon along the waves…” he ventured, timid even in his audacity. Mr. Swirly knew what he intended and furrowed his brow, but he still twisted his body so that his mane of seaweed-braided hair was directly within the imp’s reach.

“I am not inclined to such a vulgar display, but I do feel some sort of responsibility in making sure your story is one worth telling,” Mr. Swirly explained, even if he grumbled by the end of it. “Come now, Rumpelstiltskin.”

“You—you won’t regret it!” the imp exclaimed as he hopped forward, taking tufts of slick hair in his hands and climbing until he was between Mr. Swirly’s golden horns. “This is going to be so much fun!”

“Perhaps it will, but don’t think that this is anything but an exception,” the dragon clarified, it’s giant body unfurling so it could swim at peak performance. “Mind you, your bracelet will come in handy if I need to sink beneath the waves. I do not want to lose you because you do not have the strength to resist the water.”

“Ooh! Alright,” Rumpelstiltskin said, quickly taking the gem and turning it around in its socket. While Mr. Swirly prepared himself, Rumpelstiltskin regained his hold on the dragon’s hair and held them like reins, hoping it was just that simple. After a bracing lungful of salt air, Rumpelstiltskin was prepared for a moment he had never thought would ever come.

“Are you ready, imp?”

“Yes!”

“Then I shall make a liar out of you,” Mr. Swirly replied before lunging forward, taking the imp by surprise and proving that Rumpelstiltskin was not ready. The imp could never have been prepared for that speed, for the feel of the wind on his face, for the rush of water when Mr. Swirly dived beneath the waves nor the gust of air when he broke the surface once agin. There was nothing to do for Rumpelstiltskin but to laugh and to hold on, which was exactly what Mr. Swirly had intended.

There would be more rides after this first one; an exhilarating and exciting journey had been laid out for the two of them, and without that bracelet, Rumpelstiltskin could never have experienced them. Of course, the imp would eventually lose that bracelet—just as he lost all his treasures—and Mr. Swirly would unintentionally abandon him on a tropical island where another adventure would begin, but he could not consider that while the dragon carried him faster than he had ever traveled.

With the wind whipping his face, Rumpelstiltskin forgot about the rest of the world and enjoyed the feeling of riding a dragon across the ocean.