I did not allow myself the luxury of a long wallow- time was passing, and even as I had blessed the length of the night for the extra time to guess, so now did I curse the shortness of the day in which I had to prepare. For prepare I must do. I summoned the court’s ambassadors, for they would have knowledge of foreign names my people had never encountered. I summoned the court’s priests, for they would know the names of gods and angels and demons I’d never knowingly had truck with. I summoned children- dozens and dozens of children, for they have their own secret languages and names for things. And I summoned my daughter, for I would not sleep without her by my side, and sleep I must, if I was to stay awake another long winter’s night. Perhaps in my dreams more names would come to be.
I woke six hours later, again with an hour before sunset. I ate what was put before me as I eyed the new scroll on the device. It was not so large as the one from the night before, not even with the names I’d not gotten to added to it. I would not run short of time this evening.
In the light remaining I sent my daughter off with the wet nurse, and called my maid to help me change. Since becoming queen I’d had a few simple gowns, gowns like those I’d worn as a miller’s daughter, fashioned for me. I wore them only when my husband would not be around, as a sort of reminder of who I really was. A sort of comfort. I needed that comfort tonight. I needed to be a miller’s daughter, a wise woman’s daughter, not the wife of a king.
I shooed the maid out as the last of the light disappeared, and the creature stepped out of the shadow the closing door created.
“Is it feeling more clever this evening?” It asked politely. I took a deep breath, and began to read.
Name after name, some so hopelessly complex I had no hope of pronouncing them correctly. The creature laughed at some of the more outlandish attempts, but answered in the negative to all. Just as before, it began interested and engaged, but eventually grew bored. Unlike the previous night, however, it seemed to remember much earlier that if I failed, it won. This began to perk it up, and as the night wore on it began giggling its “No.”s, which only served to make me stammer and stumble over the strange names all the more.
I came to the end of the scroll as the stars began disappearing. For a long moment there was silence as my brain scrambled for more names- Say something! my mind screamed. Don’t waste any of this time! But I knew no more names. Until, suddenly, I realized I did.
My mouth opened, and out came the names of all the good and helpful spirits my mother had shown me. At first the creature looked stricken, then baffled- then disgusted and finally, amused.
“How can those be one’s name?” It finally asked, laughing. “Those names all belong to others. Weak, useless others. It should know that- it has had truck with the others, or it would not know the other’s names. The others are far too careless with their names, not like one. One is too clever for that: no mortal knows one’s name.” The last was said smugly, and I fought the urge to throw my silver flagon at its pitch-black head.
“No mortal knows it yet,” I said instead, digging my fingernails into my palms. “Don’t forget, I have one more night of guessing.”
“Yes yes,” it said, complacent. “One more night of guessing, one more night of hope to sweeten the pain, yes yes.” It yawned, stretched, and slithered off the bed towards the corner. “One more night for it to be a mother,” it added, and disappeared.