Most know the story of King Midas, but few (if any at all) have given any thought to the daughter he turned to gold. That’s where Annie Sullivan’s A Touch of Gold comes in.
While King Midas’s story ends with him seeing the error of his ways after accidentally turning his daughter into gold, his daughter’s story doesn’t end there. Her cleansing in the river is just the beginning.
A Touch of Gold tells the story of “after.” After the curse was lifted, after her father failed to follow Dionysus’ instructions to a T, and after she’s burdened with a different curse.
From the prologue alone, it’s clear that A Touch of Gold‘s expansion of this classic tale will make you question every story you thought you knew and give more attention to the innocent bystanders who are harmed by main characters’ selfishness and drive.
If you’re a fan of retellings of classic stories, Greek mythology, or nuanced female characters who save themselves, A Touch of Gold might just be the book for you.
Though it doesn’t come out until next month, we’ve got an exclusive sneak peek at A Touch of Gold‘s prologue. Check it out below!
Once upon a time, a little girl helplessly watched as liquid gold spun a web across her tiny frame, racing to wrap her up in an icy cocoon. Her mouth hung agape. Her limbs stayed outstretched toward a father she could not reach. Her legs refused to respond, to carry her far away. Only the sound of bones crackling, drying into rigid metal fossils, sliced through the night air.
The gold hummed a haunting lullaby as it pooled in her ears, and specks of gold whirled across her vision. She had time for one last breath, but her throat hardened before the air ever reached her lungs. Finally, a burst of gold clenched her heart and squeezed until blood ran out of it, hardening like candle wax as she succumbed to the golden curse.
She could neither hear nor see the outside world. All she could feel was the constant, icy pressure of the gold on her body. Her limbs tingled, liked they’d fallen asleep, but this tingling never went away. It increased with each passing moment; tiny swords pricking her skin over and over again, leaving behind invisible wounds. If her hands could move, she would’ve clawed the gold from her skin.
Over and over again in her trapped mind, she replayed the way her father’s face had recoiled in horror, how his upper lip receded and his brow crinkled over bulging eyes as he pulled away from her.
What had happened? What had she done to deserve this?
She asked the questions a thousand times as the gold weighed down her body.
All she’d done was run into her father’s arms as she had every time he came to look for her in the palace rose garden. But this time had been different from all the rest. She’d frozen at his touch, becoming a statue every bit as lifeless as the stone swans spewing water atop the nearby fountain. And just like those swans, she couldn’t fly away from this nightmare.
Because the nightmare had started long before the mysterious stranger had turned up at the castle that morning.
In fact, it began long before the little girl was even born. Her father and his brother, Pheus, had been poor farmers, coming through the mountains to sell cabbages in town. Their donkey had twisted a leg on the rocky mountain passes, and the little girl’s father had wanted to turn back. But Pheus convinced him to keep going and was so sure they would make it that he left his brother with the donkey and went on ahead to secure a market stall.
What neither brother knew was that the Great Oracle had arrived in Lagonia’s capital that day. She had seen in a vision that the king would die before midnight. He had no heirs, which meant a scramble for power and subsequent bloodshed unless the country could unite behind one leader, one who she prophesized would have a prosperous rule. She said that the kingdom of Lagonia would find such a future king in the market that very day. He would be leading a limping donkey.
Thus, when the little girl’s father led his lame donkey into town, the people had scattered away in shock before cheering. He was crowned the next day, and for a time, Lagonia prospered. The king married a beautiful princess from the north and had the little girl.
But despite having come from a simple background, the king quickly developed a taste for the finer things in life. In a matter of years, he’d spent most of the treasury on feasts and expensive adornments for his castle. The treasuries grew depleted. Pirates roamed the seas. And his people were going hungry.
The little girl’s father and uncle talked endlessly of how they could resolve the issues, but neither time nor money was on their side. Years passed. War came and went. And Lagonia grew ever weaker, ever poorer.
But everything changed when an old beggar arrived at the castle selling cabbages. The king remembered his own humble beginnings and took pity on the man. He welcomed him in and bought several cabbages, even though he had few coins to spare.
As soon as the money touched the beggar’s palm, he revealed himself as Dionysus, the trickiest of the gods, the one known for amusing himself by purposefully leaving chaos in his wake. Dionysus admitted he had disguised himself with the intention of entrapping the little girl’s father and punishing him when he did not offer kindness to a god. But since the king had shown him mercy, Dionysus instead would reward the king with anything he wanted.
Without thinking, without remembering how Dionysus was known to twist words, without pondering why no one had outsmarted Dionysus before, the little girl’s father asked for the power to turn things to gold.
Dionysus had laughed, granted the wish, and disappeared.
And so, the little girl’s father had thrown a feast celebrating The Touch that would save the kingdom, the same feast the little girl had snuck out of to go hide in the rose garden. For she knew her father would come looking for her. He would sit on the fountain ledge with her and hold up the tail ends of his embroidered cloak like a mask as he reenacted in a shaky, mysterious voice the Great Oracle’s prophecy that had made him king. Then, the little girl would beg him to continue the story all the way to the part where he met her mother. That was her favorite story.
But the little girl didn’t hear that story in the garden that day. In fact, after turning his daughter into a golden statue, the king never told the story again.
The little girl stayed in her icy, metallic prison while her father searched for a way to save her. For days, he prayed for an answer, surviving only on water, as the food he touched turned to gold before it reached his mouth. He searched every book. He consulted every healer he could find. He even sent men to search for the Great Oracle, but none could find the way to her cave. Only Dionysus could undo the curse. And so, night after night, the little girl’s father cried out from the towers of the castle for Dionysus to return, to remember the kindness he had shown him.
Finally, Dionysus returned.
The little girl’s father was so relieved that he didn’t stop to consider why Dionysus would return. The trickster god was not known for his mercy or his kindness. Still, the little girl’s father listened eagerly as Dionysus told him to wash everything he’d turned to gold in the river that ran into the nearby ocean. He’d said water was too pure to be corrupted by magic, and the river would wash away the gold and his power if he submerged in it before the sun set that very day. With his lips curled in a wicked grin, Dionysus cautioned that if everything did not get washed as he instructed, there would be unhappy consequences.
The king ran to the river as quickly as he could, with four men carrying the statue of his daughter. The moment she was submerged in the water, the little girl sputtered back to life again, her hair once more shades of brown rather than gold. Her father leapt in beside her, and when he emerged, no trace of his power remained. He wrapped the little girl in his arms, and didn’t let go for a long, long time.
The king was so happy to be able to hold his daughter once more that he forgot about the other items he had turned to gold—the pheasant he’d tried to eat, the platter it rested on, the knife meant to cut his food, the large table he’d tried to dine at, the two chalices he drank from, the three coins he’d weighed in his palm, a rose he’d plucked to give his daughter, a rolled-up tapestry, and the necklace that had belonged to his wife. By the time he remembered the other objects, the sun had set completely.
When the moon appeared, the table and knife and rose and all the rest gleamed brighter than the stars. Amazed, the king turned toward his daughter, only to see a gold sheen creep back over her skin. He raced to her side, but instead of turning back into a statue, the princess remained a living, breathing girl. A girl whose skin sparkled in the moonlight and whose eyes flashed metallic and hard when her father cried out in shock.
As the days passed and it became clear the little girl’s skin would not return to normal, they kept her locked away inside the palace for fear of what others would think of her, of what greedy or superstitious people might do, though the girl was just seven years old. And they counted themselves quite lucky that her skin was the only reminder of the curse others could see. For what they discovered soon after about the little girl was not to be spoken of. This they kept secret.
And since the little girl’s father could no longer turn things to gold, everyone believed him when he said the curse was gone. So the kingdom went back to normal, and the little girl and her father, King Midas, lived happily ever after . . . or so everyone thought.