ELEVEN MONTHS LATER
My son had been born nine month to the day after King William had found the gold and taken me for his wife. The boy had been named William II by his father.
I had never called him any name—at least not out loud. I would not call him a devil’s name, and that was what William was to me. In my mind, I called my son Erik, for I had once heard a story about an explorer from the North who had left his homeland never to be seen again. I had envied the man. I had prayed that the story ended with the man happy and free.
It was the impossible prayer that I also had for my child.
Adding to my self-torment, I poured all that was left of me into my child. All of my affection went to him. All of my hope went to him. On the contrary, I took nothing from him in exchange, not even allowing myself to feel happy when he smiled at me. I did not deserve to be happy, after all. In only one month, I would be handing over my beautiful boy to a monster. That would also be the day when I would begin killing myself! Neither the goblin who had “saved” me nor King William had bargained for my life during that time. I had already planned it, already stolen the ingredients I needed to make the poison that Hallow had been thinking about using on one of William’s enemies the last time she was in the castle. The poison would work slowly. It would take at least a week. And my pain would be acute. I was determined that my child would not suffer a harsher death than his mother. That would be my final gift to him—and my final punishment to myself.
Until then, I had vowed to make sure that my child experienced all the love I could give—though that love was, sadly, conditional. I had already established the condition when I had decided that one hundred and seven lives were more important than his. And—if I could go back in time—I would make the same choice.
That was my greatest sin of all!
My son would be dying soon—because I had failed in this world. And I couldn’t even hope to see him in the afterlife, for I was certain that I was bound for the very bowels of hell, while my son was bound for heaven.
King William had been just as “attentive” of a husband as I had feared. He had raped me night after night until my belly had grown to disgust him. Thankfully, his witch had yet to declare that I was healed enough from the birth to suit William. By good fortune, William was due—the very next day—to leave for a three-week tour of the Northern part of the kingdom. With any luck, the weather would turn bad, and he would be delayed until after I was dead.
Otherwise, I would face added torture during my final week with my child, for Hallow had already declared that I would be “ready” by the time William returned from the North.
I had thought long and hard about the names I would say when guessing the goblin’s name. I had already decided to limit my guesses to two.
They were the names of the other demons I had known, so I could not think of any better ones to guess.
Realistically, however, I knew that I had no real chance of saving my son.
The third name I would say that day would not be a guess. It would be spoken to my child.
“An explorer. A free man,” I whispered as I took my child into my arms and held him close. “You are going to be so happy exploring heaven,” I told him with my mind. Though he could not understand my words yet, I knew that he understood their meaning.
Yes. The boy that I had traded for a year of torment and the lives of over a hundred others was a telepath.
I wondered if he already knew of all of his mother’s sins.
I wondered if—even when he was in heaven—he would find the grace to forgive me.