The sun was perhaps a finger’s length above the horizon. I watched it sink from the window in my bedroom, wrapped in the scarf I’d woven from my mother’s goats, cradling my sleeping daughter.
“It will be over soon,” I whispered to her. One way or another, it would be over.
There was no scroll tonight, no flagon of restorative potion. Just me, and that I held most dear.
I leaned down and kissed her head, wondering if I’d ever have enough of her.
Half the sun was gone, and then three quarters. And then all but a sliver, and then not even that- just a blazing glory of clouds to mark its passage. All the orange and gold made me remember the little fire spirit, lounging on the rock, and I smiled.
“It seems pleased with itself,” said the creature. I turned to see it sitting in my daughter’s cradle, leering at me. “Has it found some small sliver of cleverness at last?”
“There’s no need to be nasty,” I told it primly. “Get out of there. It’s meant for babies, not spirits.”
It gave a snort, but climbed out and jumped up onto my bed. I fought down my thrill at seeing it obey, however unconsciously.
“It is stalling,” the creature said, and sat at attention on one of the sable furs that covered the foot of the bed. It stroked it absently. “There is no point in stalling- it will not add any hours to the night.”
“Are you so impatient to begin?” I said, mildly. “I might actually have discovered your name, you know. It might be your pain you’re hastening, not mine!”
The creature gave a bark-yip. “It is courageous, yes yes. Valiant to the end.”
“And you are arrogant to the end,” I said, shrugging. “We are as we were made, I suppose.”
“Get on, get on,” it grinned. “One is impatient to hear what names it has unearthed for this final night.”
“Am I so amusing to you?”
“Yes yes, it more so than most mortals, for it actually thinks. One thought, for a time, that it might actually present a challenge to one. But in the end, it was nothing but a passing amusement, after all.”
“How difficult for you.”
“Yes yes. One gets very bored. But,” its eyes slid downward to my daughter, “Soon one will have a great source of entertainment, indeed, as well as the pain for all sorts of magic.” Its tongue flicked out, tasting the air around her.
Red washed over my vision, and it took a great deal of self-restraint not to strangle the creature with my bare hands.
“Get away from her,” I hissed. Its eyes narrowed and it reared back on its haunches.
“It cannot command one to do that, or anything else,” it said, taunting. “It does not know one’s name.”
“But I do know your name, Rumpelstilzchen.”
The creature- Rumpelstilzchen- froze, and I felt a great pressure in the air around me.
“What did you say?” Now it was the creature who hissed.
I stood up straighter, doubts flown, and pointed my finger at it. “I said I know your name, Rumpelstilzchen, and I command you to leave this place and never again threaten or do harm to me or mine.” My voice rolled out like a thunderclap, magnified by the magic of the bargain we’d made, and the creature shrieked in agony, writhing on the bedclothes.
“No!” it cried. “No no no no no!”
But it had no choice.
It turned and attempted to lunge towards me, fangs and claws bared, but I held its true name now, and it could not disobey me. It continued to struggle, howling all the time, until at last it ripped itself in two, and vanished in a swirl of smoke.
The king did not return from his pleasure-palace. I was told he vanished from his hunting party with a scream and a smear of blood, and it was widely believed that a bear had taken him.
I felt no need to pursue it beyond that.
Alarming as the king’s death was, he had at least fathered an heir- my daughter- before he died, and so things were not as bleak for the kingdom as they might have been. My role as queen-regent was not one I’d ever dreamed to wield, but I did my best, for my daughter and for our kingdom- queendom, now. Having unlimited wealth certainly did not hurt, and before a handful of years had passed the common folk seemed downright pleased with the arrangement- although the nobles would wring their hands about my ‘need; to remarry. I found ignoring them- or occasionally threatening to marry a foreigner if they would not let me be- to be immensely satisfying.
When my daughter was six, I took her to visit my mother’s grave. It was not a time of greatest need, not like it had been the times before, but I called my mother’s true name, nonetheless. She shone with an inner light when she appeared, and I felt a peace that she would, at last, be wholly free of this world.
“My daughter’s daughter,” she said, reaching towards my daughter. “So beautiful.”
My daughter hid her face bashfully, then glanced back over her shoulder.
“Say hello to your oma,” I told her, giving her a squeeze. “This is your one and only chance.”
“Hello oma,” she said.
“Hello my darling,” said my mother. “I am so very pleased to meet you. Why don’t you run along between those bushes, there, and play with my goats?”
“Goats?” squeaked my daughter, and was off like a hare. My mother’s gaze followed her.
“She is so like you at that age,” she said, wistfully.
My mother nodded and turned back to me. “I am- so happy- that you brought her here, to see me. But daughter, this is the last time I can appear to you this way. Why did you call me now, when you are so happy?”
I tucked my knees up under my chin- a miller’s daughter in this place, even if I must be a queen in all others. I let my eyes drift over to the greenery behind my mother’s grave, where I could just make out my daughter playing with Hazel, Aspen, and Yew.
“The world thinks her name is Elayne,” I said, absently. “Named for my long-dead mother.”
“But that is not her true name,” my mother said, nodding.
“No,” I admitted. “It is not. Her true name lies locked in my heart, and I have never spoken it aloud.”
“Nor should you, until the time is right. Anyone who knows her name will be able to call her as you have called me.”
I looked back up at her face and took a deep breath. “Is the time right for me to know my true name, mother?”
She smiled, radiant, and leaned in close to whisper in my ear.