Having given my orders for the collection of names, I then sent for scribes, dozens of them. They were to go through the lists, both written and oral, and record each unique name. Then they were to combine the lists, again and again, until I had a master list that I could read from that night. I summoned a woodworker, to create something that would allow me to scroll continuously. I summoned the cook and gave her careful instructions on how to prepare a potion that would allow me to speak for hours without going hoarse. While my people worked, I laid down and slept. I would need all my faculties about me, to make it through the coming night.
My maid woke me, as instructed, an hour before sunset. There lay before me an enormous scroll, mounted on a contraption that had two prongs, with a handle attached to each. The woodworker showed me, proudly, how all I had to do was rotate one to move forward, the other back. The cook presented me with a large flagon, and a quick sip proved that she had brewed it correctly. I smiled and thanked them both, then shooed them- and everyone else- from the room. My daughter I sent with a wet nurse. As much as I longed to keep her closer to me than ever before, I could not give her the care she would need tonight. And I did not want her any closer to the creature than necessary.
The shadows moved steadily up the wall as the last of the sun’s rays disappeared, and I blessed the length of winter’s nights, and the extra hours it would give me to guess.
Then the last of the cold light vanished, and the creatures stepped forward from the corner.
“It sees? One does not wasting a minutes of it’s precious chance, no no,” it announced. “One does not cheat, no no. One keeps it one’s word, yes yes.” It leapt on the bed and sat at attention, tail curled neatly about its haunces, eyeing me eagerly. “It begins?”
I did not answer, save to begin reading.
“Ardent? Ansel? Anna?”
“Jemima? John? Jade?”
“Christopher? Chelsea? Calvin?”
“Michaela? Mercury? Mason?”
“Riley? Rebecca? River?”
“Eli? Eleanor? Ethan?”
“Silja? Saul? Stibnite?”
“Isaac? Ivanna? Igneous?”
“Pyrite? Patrick? Pauline?”
And on, and on, and on. The first time I cranked the scroll to move it upwards, the creature leapt down and investigated the device thoroughly, continuing to give its negative answers even as it did so, chuckling now and again as it discovered something new. Before too long it was back up on the bed, in a more relaxed position, like a cat curled up for a nap.
Every time my throat began to tire, I sipped the potion, and was refreshed. The first time I did so, the creature’s head came up, it’s tongue out, and it inhaled deeply. Then it’s mouth opened into that sharp-toothed grin.
“Clever clever,” it remarked, before settling its head back on its claws, half-closing its eyes.
For those first few hours the creature seemed greatly entertained by my efforts, but before the moon had reached its apex, it became bored, even sullen. By the time the sky outside my windows began to grow silver, its pose had become downright sulky.
“No,” it snapped, eyes closed and tail draped over its nose. It’s ears were laid flat along its back in irritation. “It does not even come close. Not so clever, perhaps. Not so clever at all. Suddenly the ears perked up, the eyes snapped open. “But if it fails,” it said, as though to itself, “One gets so many lovely sufferings, yes yes! Hah! Yes yes, one will return. It should try to be more clever. But not too clever,” it cackled. Then it twisted in on itself, slowly, and left me to weep my frustration and despair into my pillow.