It was the second night of my captivity. After spending the first night of darkness fitfully tossing on the uncomfortable floor, I had decided to treat myself to a fresh straw mattress. Still, I tossed and turned even as I tried to glimpse a star through the high windows. I saw only darkness.
I tried counting the hours as I lay there, hoping that the night would not seem as endless as the one before it. After I lost track of the minutes, I planned what I would do when the morning came. It would be my third day, and I needed to finish my blanket. I had already managed to get it half-quilted. With any luck, it would be done the next night—the last night of my “freedom.” It would not cover all of me, but it would cover some. Even though I had already destroyed my dress, I still had on undergarments, but the room was cold, for it was winter, and I—obviously—had no fire.
Since my brother and father had always slept closest to the hearth, I knew what cold was like at night. But I longed for the blanket to be finished—to offer me a little heat on the last night that I ever intended to “feel” anything.
Yes—that was my new strategy. I would simply cease to “feel” once I was handed over to the two-natured men. I hearkened back to the “training” I’d received from Priest Newlin and Uncle Bartlett, and I was back to thanking God for it. For, indeed, their actions had prepared me for the violations and violence that I was sure would come.
For example, I knew that physical pain could be compartmentalized. And there was always hope—after all. One of the Weres might impregnate me. And my mother had died when having her second child. For me, that might be as little as eighteen months away!
If God decided to bless me with his mercy. Finally.
I startled from the daze of half-sleep and disturbing thoughts to a new mind in the room—one I could not read.
“You know I am here,” a voice in the dark said.
“Yes,” I confirmed.
“But you cannot hear my thoughts, can you, fairy?” he asked.
“No,” I said without thinking. “How do you know that I can . . . ?”
He interrupted with a chuckle. “Goblins and fairies are distant cousins. Others may not be privy to the fact that most fairies read minds, but I am,” he said in a taunting voice.
I tried to look toward the source of it.
“But I am not a fairy!” I said.
“You are Fae. That is for sure,” the voice cackled.
“But fairies can see in the dark,” I countered, focusing on the buzzing in my head to try to figure out where the creature was.
He was moving toward me.
“You are only part Fae,” he commented, now seemingly on top of the hay stacks right next to me. I looked that way, but he had already moved again.
“Part?” I asked.
“You favor a half-fairy I once knew named Fintan,” he offered. “I had heard a rumor that he had bedded a human. Perhaps, you are the offspring.”
“But my father and brother are not fairies. They do not smell like me,” I said. “I heard the Were-tiger and shifter thinking of this.”
“Hybrids do not smell like Fae unless they have the essential spark, and that you have, girl!”
His voice was cruel, and though I could not fathom his thoughts, I recognized that his intentions were evil.
“You will be the means for my revenge, milady,” he jeered.
“How?” I asked. “Please do not kill me!” I added with desperation.
He laughed. “You fear for your life?” he asked. “You are a selfish creature.”
“No. I thirst for death,” I corrected. “But the king will kill more than 100 innocents if I kill myself or disappear during the time of my task. If you kill me, they will die, too!” I explained.
“What is your task?” he asked.
“I am to spin the straw in this room into gold,” I replied.
“I see no gold,” he laughed. “I see only an ugly blanket.”
“It is . . . ,” I paused. I had thought to defend my greatest creation to date, but I stopped. Indeed, my technique would seem “good” only to a humble being. “It is not beautiful,” I said. “But it will offer some warmth.”
“What will happen to you when you cannot do the task the king has set for you?” he asked, his voice actually sounding marginally softer.
“I am to be given to his two-natured employees. They plan to use me roughly and pass me around,” I informed, trying to keep my tone devoid of emotion.
“And how do you feel about that?” he chuckled.
“I feel nothing,” I lied.
“So—if you fail, you will become the plaything of beasts. If you kill yourself, you will kill many, many others. What if you succeed?”
“I cannot. I have not the skill required.”
“But if you did?” he asked.
“The king will take me as his bride if I fill this room with gold. I will live in luxury and not be asked to fill more rooms as long as I give him an heir within five years.”
The creature laughed loudly. “I offer you a bargain then, milady.”
“A bargain?” I asked, still looking for the man in the dark.
“Yes. I can save your life.”
“I can make this straw into gold,” he shared.
I was silent for a moment. “What is your price?” I asked.
“A child—specifically, your firstborn with the king. That would satisfy me,” he said.
“Yes—and I am going to take one of your choices away, too!” he laughed cruelly.
“Which one?” I whimpered, even as I closed my eyes.
“You will not become the plaything of Weres and shifters, Your Majesty,” he teased. “Either I will turn this straw into gold and take your child, or I will kill you now. Trust me when I say that it will look like suicide. And many, many will be killed by the king.”
“No,” I whispered, even as my tears began to fall. “Please—no.”
“Sorry,” he said insincerely, “but I do love a plump child. And—make no mistake. I will kill yours and eat it! Or,” he continued speaking, as I continued weeping, “you could kill more than a hundred people by letting me put you out of your misery.”
“What,” I paused to hiccup through a sob, “have I ever done to receive such cruelty from you, sir?”
“Fintan was my enemy just as King William is,” he answered flatly. “And so is Fintan’s father, Niall. You are but a vessel for my revenge upon all of them.”
“I am innocent of all of their crimes,” I cried.
“Women are never innocent—not in these times,” he intoned. “However, I am a goblin of great mercy.”
“Mercy,” I gasped, saying the word as if it were a prayer, though I did not know to whom I’d sent that prayer. For all I knew, the devil himself was before me, and God had finally had the last laugh.
“Yes. I will transform this straw into gold. In a year’s time, I will come to you. You will have a child by then. I am certain of it; you are ripe even now. I will give you three chances to guess my name. If you fail, I will take the child; if you succeed, I will leave you alone.”
“Three chances,” I whimpered.
“But I won’t succeed.”
He chuckled. “No—you will not. You will fail miserably, and I will have the child and a laugh. But you will take me up on my offer anyway.”
The part-fairy was pathetic. Had she mettle, she would have begged me for death, for I could tell she had no skill for teleportation. Telepathy was her only weapon, and it did not work upon me!
However, she was more concerned with pathetic humans than she was about herself—as if even a thousand humans would be worth even one fairy-hybrid. I knew that she would agree even before I made the offer. I would get a yummy part-fairy child—thanks to a HUMAN queen. I had been longing to taste a fairy child all of my long life! Of course, once I took the child, she would likely be blamed for the disappearance anyway. King William would, I speculated, kill all that she loved AND then give her to his Weres and shifters. So she would—in a sense—get exactly the fate she had been aiming for before I came into her life.
Was I not merciful?
And for me?
I would get baby fairy flesh—even if it was muted by human blood.
I would get revenge upon Fintan and Niall for wrongs of the past.
And I would take something from King William, too!
Win. Win. Win! For me.
And the “hope” I gave her? It was laughable. Not even my sister knew my name. Plus, the pathetic hybrid couldn’t even see me to describe me! She would torture herself for a year, ripening with a child, which she knew she would lose—even as she prayed for a miracle that would never, ever come.
It would be my perfect “trick.” My pinnacle. In one fell swoop, I would ensure that she eventually suffered all of the horrible destinies that her king had allowed her to choose from. Ultimately, she would have no choice at all!
Be forced to marry a greedy, cruel tyrant? Check.
Cause the deaths of so many innocents that her soul would never recover? Check.
Be the whore to mongrels? Check.
The bonus would be her having to give up her child to me!
I was already planning the songs I would write on my own behalf, even as the miller’s daughter repeated, “one or one hundred and seven,” over and over again.
“One hundred and eight,” I wanted to say. But I held my tongue.
Finally, she spoke. “Are you an agent of God or of the devil?” she asked seriously.
“I belong to myself,” I responded with amusement.
“To appease the king, you must transform ALL the straw, including that which I placed inside of my quilt—as well as that forming my mattress. Every piece or fragment must become gold, or there will be no bargain.”
“All will be gold,” I swore.
“And it must stay gold,” she said.
She was craftier than the king. That was for sure.
“Yes. Yes. It will stay gold,” I agreed. “It will be as golden as your hair.”
“Can you make my hair less golden?” she asked. “Can you make the scars on my back more hideous?” she begged.
“No,” I stated. “That will not be a part of our bargain. In fact, for overreaching, I will make your hair so golden that it would beckon the dead! And I will heal your scars, making your skin as pristine as,” I paused, “a newborn baby’s.”
She gasped out a cry. “Your mercy tells me that you must have been sent by God. I will pray for you as loudly as I have ever prayed for myself,” she added, hinting at the fact that she might have had great spirt if it had not been beaten out of her. In fact, her scars, clearly visible to my eyes under her thin chemise, indicated just how much she had been beaten.
I waved my hand and they were gone.
I wiggled my finger and her hair rivaled the sun.
“I will see you in a year, my queen,” I taunted before easily filling the room with gold.