Tuesday, January 19

I want to write ...

... Not really.

Thursday, January 14


Marching dispassionately, anemic, black figures.
Someone died ... I do not know who ...
Someone alone, which is remembered only when I left ...
Forgotten, unknown, nameless, without a life ...
a packer another plot in the vein ...
Addictive white powder nose euphoria ...
For a little fun ... Thing in a perfect world ...

But this is over ...
Suffered ... laughing, dreaming about death ...
And here it is in all its splendor ...
roaming with a broad, ironic smile on his lips,
In the long, dark robe ...
Took you to the 'Golden shot' ...
Ignorant, insecure, ill ...

Moves ...
Have been the same again ...
... I go sit on the tombstone ...
Pale, clear with his head ...
Cheeks the tears flow ... once you inject a portion of hope ...
Oh ... Your blissful smile ... and fear when you see me at his side ...
And a few words ...

'I remember you ... you death ...'


as all the children play outside
only you count the tears you've cried
softly speaking to breeze
twenty-two, now twenty-three

everyone laughs and no one hurts
and no one stops to make it worse
the children play and carry on
ignoring the man walking across the lawn

he motions slowly for you to rise
you wait a moment and head outside
gently now he carries you away
where mountains grow and valleys play

sitting watching the rising tide
the sun comes over the ocean line
he looks for a moment at the sun
and asks you what the day has brung

the growing grass patiently waits
as you step across and through the gate
rocking yourself to bed at night
you hold your pillow ever so tight

and there is no pain or crying here
just the winter months you hold so dear
it snows at day throughout the near
but this is only a short visit here

the children playing on the lawn
waiting for the break of dawn
they form a circle and carry on
quietly listening while remaining calm

and no ones tells you not to do
and no one yells or laughs at you
and nobody forces you in or out
and nobody makes you run about

your dream stops there and you awake
it is now midnight by the gate
the tears fall down and do remain
a memory of the opposite of pain

and then you see him standing there
his hair is clean and his chest is bare
he appears to wait as you encroach
and vanishes as you approach

Wednesday, January 13


we stood still and watched the earth rush towards us.
the train tracks looked like a ladder,
ever star a step. life stole so much.
every passing moment greeted by another. fluid
and constant motion, escaping from our grasp.
stay close, and we are time ticking. we are passion. for once,
we are not afraid.

what for, you asked. why anything.
your eyelashes spoke symphonies, systematic and it sent me shivering.
how could i be so hollow and so full? i am nothing that you are.

i've seen many dusks and few dawns.
there are mountains i hate and birds i envy
and stones i throw. i wish for more
hands to hold. i only love one thing that
can't contain me or i contain it. i feel electricity
in palms and fingertips, and it's pulsing. it's brilliant. it's killing me.
my breath is stale. i am lost,
but in the darkness you felt familiar
and i just want you to hold me for a while.

the train will swallow us, whole,
if we're lucky. look deep into the blinding
light and step forward. this is our
last breath. we are motion, and earth comes to us and we to it.
i am the fury in fists,
and you are poetry to my dying ears. together.
this is our connection. this time, we will not escape. this is perfect, this is holy,
this is beauty, and this is the end.

Saturday, December 26

Notes From The R - II

Part IV: The Second Meeting

I was not surprised when I found myself again at the Palace the next night. I was stationed outside a different door, but I knew it would be the same girl within.

I was trembling all over. Of course I was mortified by what had occurred the previous night, but at the same time I felt a very alien kind of exhilaration pulsing through me. I was quite eager to again enter that befuddling presence, see her sweet face, and maybe this time watch her fall in love with me. (I knew how self-consumed this little hope of mine was when first I became aware of it but naturally I considered it unavoidable.) I was excited at the prospect of seeing her, yes, but I was also feeling noble and glorious: I was coming to rescue my true love!

(On some level I must have been quite cognizant of what a pitiful and ridiculous figure I posed, rushing headlong into a romance that did not yet exist - that I was certain it would was beside the point - it did not yet exist - however, I know I imagined myself a gallant hero and even liked that I appeared otherwise.)

Just as I began to enter the room with what I'd planned as a heroic flourish, I was struck by an attack of nerves. I was about to appear before my ladylove and naturally I formed a determination to make a good impression on her the second time around. The romance would form, it was set down by Fate, but I felt apprehensive... I quickly realized nothing would be gained by contemplating it, but still I lingered outside the door fretting. One area of particular concern was my appearance. Quite stupid, I know. But I am, well, not exactly a specimen out of maidenly dreams, and I could not suppress an internal cringe at what she must think every time she catches sight of me. I had never in my life been bothered by what human girls thought of my appearance! What manner of thoughts had crossed her mind when she took in my dwarven stature and countenance? Being beautiful herself, she was bound to be vain and shallow to some degree. But her pure heart and keen intellect would speed the passage of her revulsion and soon she would begin nurturing her love for me, I felt sure.

If only she weren't so beautiful! I lamented, beginning to grow irritated.

Deciding I'd best go in before my agitation mounted beyond control, I entered the storeroom.

Her countenance bore signs of strain as if she had been laboring under the burden of uncertainty for some time, but she was obviously better prepared for her circumstances and had, it seemed, formed a tentative yet determined concept of hope that went a long way to preserving her presence of mind. My heart swelled - she had been waiting for me to come to her aid!

She gave out a sweet sigh of relief. "You came. I was afraid... Here, I prepared this for you," she said and thrust her hand toward me. Her movements and speech were hasty and the severe line of her mouth had not eased at all at seeing me - if anything, it had deepened.

I glanced at what she offered me; it was a diamond ring. I frowned.

"Please take it. Is it not enough?" she pleaded with me.

Suddenly I felt my face flame red with humiliation. I looked away from her, but asked, "Have you been wearing it?"

She hesitated briefly before answering. "Yes. Is it enough?" she asked again, as if my question had been off-topic.

"Then, yes, it is sufficient," I said almost angrily and did not reach for it though she again put it forth. I paced the length of one wall, examining the new room. It was somewhat larger than the last and nearly over-filled with straw. "You wish me to spin this roomful too?"

"Yes!" she said, exasperated by the superfluous question.

"It is important to be clear in these matters," I informed her, sending her a sidelong glance. I considered the mound of straw. I was certain I could manage it all before sunrise with moderate ease, though it was significantly larger than the previous roomful.

I was annoyed by her manner. Truth be told, I was disappointed in her. Obviously, I needed to put her at ease and make her understand why I was here, but it was difficult, especially taking into account it was my earlier pique that was causing her to misunderstand the situation. Fundamentally, though, I wondered why she didn't understand me; could she not see who stood before her, a powerful being whose will was bent to her aid for her sake, brought by Time itself and who looked upon her with eyes of noble intention and love? I had thought her very perceptive.

"I wish you to understand something," I said, looking at her with the most serious and benevolent look I could sustain. "Time has brought us together. You predicament and my ability to counter it are of no consequence in as much as we are concerned - soon you shall see what I mean by that. Meanwhile, know that I will help you because I am to do so, and not only to serve Time, I assure you. I told you before, but I will tell you again since you seem not to have comprehended my meaning: these tokens you give me are only that - tokens. I will spin for you because you need me to and I will - for you as long as you need me to, forever and always - I will - for you-" As I spoke I had worked myself into a sort of frenzy and by the end I could hardly articulate. Somewhere along the way I was forced to remove my gaze from her and I found myself staring into a corner. My impassioned speech was over - oh yes! over - but I could not bring myself to so much as peek at her to gain some idea of her response, and remained trapped in the corner waiting in terrible silence for her to say something or for Time to shift me out of there.

Presently her voice drifted to me, soft and quiet: "I apologize. I meant no disrespect for Fate and I certainly do not wish you to think me ungrateful. You have saved my life."

I risked a glance at her and wound up looking straight into her eyes. That direct look seared me, but I could not look away; she did.

"This entire situation has been so hard for me. There are times I marvel I am still sane. It is changing me and I..." her throat closed on the sentence and she blinked rapidly. I cursed myself for the hard-hearted idiot I was. She soon recovered herself. "I just... Well, I hardly understand anything anymore. I'm still confused; do you not, after all, want the ring?"

My vision blurred and the world slipped away around me. Time struck with dizzying force, sending my consciousness reeling forward to some unknown point, but thankfully, leaving my physical self behind in the room with the Miller's Daughter. I blinked and saw her, the Miller's Daughter, to my profound bewilderment and for an instant I thought my sense of Time had played me a fool. Had I not actually left the room in any way? Then I saw her garments and surroundings were changed. She was gazing fixedly at something just out of my field of vision to the left - I seemed to be crouching behind a door and viewing the scene from a hidden recess - and she appeared to be in the grip of some intense emotion I could not read.

A man's voice said, "I have told you the entirety of my thoughts; now let me tell you all my heart would say." Someone stepped forward from the left into my view and took her hands in his. He was tallish in height, that is to say he stood about a head taller than the Miller's Daughter, and his broad back was garbed in a rich velvet mantle of deep blue. I could not make out his features clearly because of the angle at which he was standing, but I could see he had a well-groomed beard of red-gold. I was uncertain as to his age.

He spoke again with a voice filled almost to breaking with sincere feeling. "I love you. I have always loved you, but I have only just begun to learn how to go about it. All that I have explained to you is difficult to hear (I know I do not deserve the patient listening you have granted me) and I am also aware that it is not enough. I wish I could give you more, give you everything. All I can offer you is the depth of my profoundest feeling: I love you."

Her face blossomed in a beatific display of perfect love as she moved into his tender embrace. The man enveloped her in his arms and as he bent his head candlelight glinted off something on his brow.

Abruptly I was back in the straw-filled room. I was badly shaken, but I had remained standing through this one - thank the Spirit! - and did not have to endure her ministering over my prone body. She was staring at me, however. I was unable to manage anything at the moment; I put my head in my hands.

"What happened? Are you ill?"

A strange sensation was spreading from where my heart used to be - I say "used" because the organ in question was no longer performing its proper function, no longer worthy of the name, and from what I could tell was pumping ice in place of blood. Each beat pushed my mind closer to a freezing darkness that I almost welcomed.

What, precisely, had I just witnessed?

I could not believe it, yet what alternative was there? That I was truly mad? If so, what was I to do - just forget the vision? I could not. Every inch of my body remembered it with awful clarity and I had a dread certainty that it would continue to do so for the remainder of my life - which might not be that much longer. How could I live like this, with that diabolically blissful image branded on the back of my eyelids and this morbid weight in my breast?

"What has happened to you?" she had risen and was approaching me.

I lifted a hand, putting her off. To my surprise, after a brief moment, the unbearable feeling receded, leaving a sickly tremble in my limbs and voice.

"Tell me what transpired this day that you should again spend a night in a room filled with straw," I said, even though I was fairly certain I knew.

She gave me a considering look. Evidently judging my rapid recovery trustworthy, she retreated to a more comfortable distance. "I shall answer you, though there is not much to tell about it, while your own mysteries seem only to multiply." Her concern had transmuted rather quickly into annoyance. I was beyond caring. She began relating events to me grudgingly with a trace of contempt but gained momentum for her tale as she progressed, perhaps forgetting my presence, and added commentary of her own thoughts.

"This morning the King came to my room. Belying his decree last night, it was well on midmorning at that time, so you need not have rushed for sunrise. He was greatly surprised when he saw what you had done, indeed he did not believe it at first and walked and talked as if in a dream. He questioned me and closely inspected the gold (he eventually called his blacksmith in to have an expert examination) and when he found he could not refute the fantastical feat, he became a little afraid of me. Needless to say, I refused to answer his questions, which was not difficult seeing as how I did not know the answers to most myself, and made no mention of you thinking I could awe him into letting me go. He grew frustrated and his frustration burned away his fear until he was angry. Well, the King is a hard man to read; one moment he seemed furious and the next he was thoughtful, almost pensive. At one point he even smiled. I would have concluded he was mad - even last night I had the thought - but for the bright spark of rational intelligence in his eyes. He has absolute control over his actions. Well, soon he saw I was as helpless against him as I was last night and apparently considered my only power to be spinning straw into gold: he ordered this room filled with straw and myself imprisoned within and if I did not spin the straw into gold by sunrise I would be put to death. He said he wished to see if my power was a sure thing, repeatable on demand, a kind of experiment, but I do not think his words are important." She paused and was silent for a pace. Then she said thoughtfully, as if to herself though she looked at me, "You know, I do not believe he came to my room this morning expecting to execute me. I think he came alone so he could free me." She blinked. Smiling unpleasantly she added, "Now, having seen your work, the King will, I have a feeling, want to see gold tomorrow morning. If he does not find it, no doubt he will keep to his word this time."

I was confused. Not by her account, no, that was as I had expected for the most part. What confused me was the incomprehensible thought that this mad King (in spite of her words, I personally felt the description amply earned) could, even in the distant future, pour out his heart-felt love so sincerely and be received with such welcome in her arms! I shuddered deeply - in fact, I don't think I had stopped shuddering since I first suffered the vision. I do not know why I asked her to tell me the events of the day; I felt no more enlightened having heard it than before.

Suddenly rage broke through the ice in my heart. Curse the King! May the Spirit shred his soul! Would that an evil sprite stole away his breath this very night! As to the Miller's Daughter's part in it - I refused to consider it. But if betrayal lurked in her pure heart, latent until the day regal perfidy awaken it, then - then curse her too!

There was no question as to what I would do.

"Give me the ring," I said and took it when she handed it over. "I shall begin now so as to be sure it will be finished an hour before sunrise in case he checks early."

So it was that I spent a second night spinning straw into gold in the company of my soul mate with my heart half broken.

Part V: The Second to Last Meeting (that is to say, Sixth)

I felt in much better spirits for some reason the next day. I was still anxious - there was a real chance she had my name by now - but something had released inside me. A light, airy feeling buoyed me up, making life a distant less painful thing. I contemplated every outcome; that the Queen would have my name and take the child forever beyond my reach; that she would not have my name and we would spend another painful session going over other people's names and I would again have to endure a night of agony anticipating the morrow; that I would see the King and lose control of myself, never even meeting with the Queen; that the child itself would call out to me and I of course would be powerless to resist it; etc. etc. But with each scenario where I should have been writhing with dread I felt only a sort of mental shrug. Perhaps I was finally learning to accept Fate?

I was nearly cheerful when I entered the Queen's presence. We exchanged pleasantries; she looked askance at me, reacting to my strange mood or the hoarseness of my voice, I could not say. She set about listing again so I installed myself in one of the chairs for the duration. I did not answer orally to every name as I had nearly done the day before, sparing my aching throat the discomfort, and kept up a steady headshake.

Within the first three seconds I knew she did not have it. Out of good humor I politely sat through the considerably improved collection of names - she had done some research it seemed - but soon my mind began to wander. At first I was subject to rather unpleasant musings, such as how she was managing to keep the King out of the business (or was she? I had no real evidence that he hadn't been informed by now. It was possible he simply left the problem to her to solve on her own. But somehow I felt she kept me to herself still) and what manner of heroic yet tragically foolish act she was planning for the morrow in the eventuality that she remained ignorant of my name. Then I lingered over the thought that a year ago she had had merely to ask and I would have (the afflicted fool I was!) gladly given it. Suddenly I thought, How could she not know? More importantly, why? Did she in fact in her deepest heart of hearts want me to have the child? I almost laughed.

The amusing thought demolished my good humor. I was abruptly so filled with disgust I could hardly keep my seat.

I interrupted to rasp, in venomous outrage, "Have you given up?"

"Are you afraid?" she countered.

Baffled I only looked at her.

"You are afraid; I surely have your name," she said with a small smile.

"No, you do not."

"No? Why not let me continue, if you are so certain?"

"It is a waste of time - you aren't even trying! You will never find it out!" I was on my feet and shouting now.

"Do you truly know that? Has Fate already given you my child?" Her voice was low and menacing. "Why invent this game, which apparently fails to amuse, if you know? I do not believe you know. I believe you are the one wasting time, stalling, for what I do not know, but to some cruel aim no doubt. Let me tell you: I will prevail against you. Perhaps even now I have your name and I will say it and vanquish you once and for all and you will never touch my child again."

"Let me tell you, my Queen: You will have to do much better than this if you are to succeed. And of this I am certain: your chances of success would improve drastically if you made proper use of your resources - namely, your King. I realize you would only think me a cheat if I left now and gave you an opportunity to actually find my name, so I will hear the rest of your pathetic list."

She stared at me for a long moment then recommenced naming names. I resumed my seat and thoughts, though the latter were quite changed, having gone from reasonless cheer to loathsome brooding.

Why should I take offense at her misperception of me? She did not know me; a year ago it was made plain she did not wish to know me. And did I not, in fact, enjoy her condemnation? Every grimace, every recoil, every time she poisoned herself with repulsive thoughts of my odiousness - weren't these my vengeances against her and the true reasons behind "this game?" Besides, there should not have been any living nerve left to feel in my heart for her since the truth was discovered - namely, that I am a total imbecile and hers is a false heart. (When my thoughts strayed to her side of it, in spite of myself I yet felt a piercing pain in a place I thought long dead.)

At long last the final name fell from her lips and left us in silence. She was watching me, looking me straight in the eyes. Suddenly I could not bear to meet that gaze but I dared not look away. Her face was drained of color, of life, and the muscles in her neck stood out from her flesh like cords. She was grieving without tears but somehow her eyes, so full of hurt, were empty of reproach.

"What do you mean, 'make use of my resource the King?'" she queried in a voice devoid of emotion.

"I mean just as I said: make use of him. It is possible to find it - if you look in the right places." I rose as I spoke. "Please try. For both our sakes."

I was gone before she could make a reply.

Part VI: The Third Meeting

The third night found her in a yet larger room filled with yet more straw. The King's greed was indeed incited, it appeared, and would rob me of another night's sleep. But I was not firmly decided I would surrender to it this time.

I had had a day to ponder and my mind was in an unpleasant way after doing this work. My heart was no longer breaking but I felt it pertinent to take precautions to ensure it did not break again - the next shattering was certain to be more thorough and complete. So I had resolved to end the romance before it started, thereby avoiding her inevitable betrayal. Such resolutions are simple to make but quite another thing to do. I already loved her and I was not entirely sure Fate could be so easily foiled. What would become of our child? When I remembered that fresh fragrance, that plump face, I felt my resolve falter. Was it really best to deny that existence (even if that were possible) only to guard against my own hurt? Besides, human beings are weak creatures; did she not need some allowances? It did not necessarily follow that one misstep resulted in an irreparable and everlasting rift. Perhaps her heart would stray and, yes, skewer my soul, but mayhap after its wanderings it would return to me.

I was ill with indecision when I entered her new prison. I thought maybe I would wait to see another informative vision (I am not a complete idiot - I could detect a pattern when I saw one) to make my decision, if indeed I had any choice in the matter. My heart gave a lurch, as if in confirmation of Fate's control of it.

The Miller's Daughter had been waiting for me again but in a changed state. Her face was not lined with worry and her pacing had a queer spring to it - if I didn't know better I would have thought she was, well, happy. Nervous and taut with tension but happy. She turned to me with bright eyes when I stepped in and I had to take firm command of myself to keep from cringing away.

"I am glad to see you!" she exclaimed. "Without you I would die! Though this time I don't know - I am almost certain he would not - I mean, he is, in his heart, not a killer! He has changed, or my perception of him has, but most certainly his plan has - I think! - Well, it is a fact his statement is different this time. There was no mention of death, that's an undeniable fact. I still need your services, of course. Why take chances?" Here she laughed unnervingly for a moment then resumed pacing - for she had begun pacing immediately after greeting me - and exclaiming her various and confusing thoughts, gesticulating wildly. Clearly she was riled up by something. She spoke as if she had been indulging this disturbing monologue for some time before my arrival. "But if we go strictly by his words, then there's the question, the ultimate question, which not only is the question of my life, but in a way, in a very serious way, the question of all humanity. Because everyone needs forgiveness and a new life and ... and ..." she could not quite make herself utter the final word and as she struggled she suddenly became aware of me again. "You must think me mad and maybe I am. I will ask for your aid once more because I must, for life, for my loving father, but for myself? My soul is skewered on this decisive point, but what real choice do I have?" I shuddered at how closely her words echoed my thoughts. She had ceased pacing and now the energy drained from her body in one horrible sigh of desolation. Profound sorrow crept into her voice as she said, "My rage means nothing, avails nothing, because there is something else inside me conquering it, countering it strength for strength, something that makes me think reason has abandoned me, yet... Yet my soul soars with a certainty I have never felt before. It's as if I have known all my life this was in store for me, that I was born for this. Yes, everything has fallen into place for this and no other reason. My father, you, the King... Oh, God, help me! Am I embracing Fate, accepting Thy command, or am I lost in delusion? Can I rise to this challenge? Am I even meant to?"

There was such yearning in her face that my breath caught in my throat.

"But again," she said, turning an odd smile on me, "again, there is nothing to consider because there is only one choice, that of life. All this agony, confusion, anger, even the joy, is nothing. Fate has seized me in its iron grasp and there is no escape."

"What has he done to you?" I hissed, completely horrified.

"What has he done? What has he done?" she laughed overly loud and long. "He has hardly anything to do with it - it is Fate! It is all just Fate! Is that not what you tried to tell me before?"

"Has the mad King infected you with his disease? You've lost your mind!"

"Oh, assuredly!" she replied merrily.

"The demonic fiend!" I cried, beside myself. "How could I have let it come to this? I have failed to protect my dear one! Let us away! I should have freed you that first night! Let us be free of him at last, even if too late!" I leapt towards her and took hold of her hand.

"Away?" she asked uncomprehendingly then came to herself. "No, I must stay for the morrow - You do not understand. You have not failed. You have led me to my destiny, to the aim of my entire life. Please, spin the straw into gold for me one last time; send me into my new life - my real life - with him. Do your magic, please, and cause me to be reborn fresh and more alive than ever - Turn me into a Queen!"

I froze in place. "Queen?"

She laughed giddily. "There was no mistaking it. His exact words, when he left me here, were: 'If all this is spun tonight you shall be my Queen.'"

My heart shattered within me.

For a moment I thought I had lost consciousness or simply exited the realm of reality, but soon I realized my mind had whipped through Time yet again. Images assaulted me and I helplessly took their pummeling for my mind had no eyes to close against them. I saw the Miller's Daughter clothed in a most beautiful and ornate gown, head held high, face glowing with an intensity not quite joy. Next to her stood a man - the same man from my previous vision, who could only be the King - royal head adorned with his crown and countenance impassive. The sunlight caught in the red of his hair and close-shorn beard and danced along the sharp edges of the crown. The couple was surrounded on three sides by a gaily dressed crowd, gathered as if for a festival in the open courtyard. The Miller's Daughter murmured something to which the King replied equally softly and their faces turned to each other, eyes meeting in a look so intimate and deep the kiss that followed was superfluous. Then the King turned to reach for something and, smiling for the first time, he placed on her temple a circlet of rulership. King and Queen hand-in-hand faced the crowd.

I cried out and discovered my body returned to me. I cannot describe my emotions at this juncture. I had to see it all before I could understand and the understanding in full nearly annihilated me. You must think me abominably stupid, dear reader, that I should only at this point have realized my mistake - but maybe you abandoned this tale long ago and are not here to enjoy my humiliation, or you may never have even begun this wretched thing in the first place and there is no reader. There is only me to suffer this, to humiliate and mock, to sympathize and pity, reader or no makes little difference. I have seen my own idiotic hopes, dreams, and mistaken beliefs and watched what came of them.

Of course at the time I could not think on it with the coolness of humility. The mere realization, let alone the full consequences, of the fact that she never loved me nor would she ever sent me reeling. My body ached as if from physical injury. I felt my being try to expunge this poison, expel the realization and feeling from my mind, body and soul, but it could not. Thoughts jumbled in painful clumps without constructing sensible meanings. Out of the chaos of my mind one thought cycled continually to my attention: the child was not mine. Would not be mine, would never be mine,

I slowly became aware of the Miller's Daughter pushing at my limp and recumbent form and saying something, but I could not discern her words over the sound of - sobbing? A small remote part of me somehow managed to feel a dull surprise to find myself whimpering and keening with abandon. I attempted to control myself but could not muster the motivation. What did composure matter when my heart was broken?

Presently her gentle coaxing turned rough until she was shaking me. I tensed in startlement then went limp; so what if she throttled me? Life was already extinguished as far as I was concerned.

She slapped me across the face. I was shocked into silence.

"What is ailing you? Please! Come back to me!" she cried. When she saw my gaze focused on her, she took my face between her hands quite tenderly and asked, "Are you all right?"

Overcome I warbled, "It's not mine."

"You poor, poor thing," she crooned, stroking my hair. "It will be better in a moment."

"It's not mine!" I said more forcefully.

"You will be better soon, it will pass. This happened before, I recall; you always recover." She rocked me back and forth in her arms.

"No, no, I will not recover - it's not mine!" I shoved away from her, despair giving way to anger.

"Shush, calm yourself," she scolded. "You'll hurt yourself."

A strangled sound emitted from my throat. I doubted in the extreme my ability to inflict any further damage to myself.

"You must recover!"

"Must I? Why must I? Oh! Yes! Of course!" I laughed hysterically, bitterly. "You need me to spin the straw for you so you can become Queen! His Queen! Ha-ha-ha-ha!" I lurched to my feet when she reached as if to hold me again. "No! No, no, no! I won't do it! Nothing in the world could make me do it! Nothing! Not even Fate itself!"

"What are you saying? Pull yourself together!" Her eyes were wide with amazed horror.

"You heard me, my lady - I will not spin it! Not for you, not for Fate, and definitely not for myself, no!" In my agitation I was tearing through the room, stirring the straw up into uneven lumps here and there.

The significance of my outbursts was beginning to come to her. "Won't spin it? But why? What is wrong with you? What happened?"

She again moved to touch me and I violently jerked away.

"I won't!" I shouted.

She studied me for an agonizing moment as I stood trembling with only a tenuous grasp on sanity. Finally she said reasonably, convincingly, "Did not Fate bring you here to me? Fate sent you not once or twice, but thrice in my hour of need - is that all for naught? I believe you came to help me, to save me, to show me my destiny, my place in this universe when all was dark and gloom - you gave me my life and my true self. You gave it to me. And now, when I am on the cusp of realizing my true destiny, you abandon me?"

I stared at her blindly. I thought on her words and went over in mind all that had led to this moment, every spoken word, every action, every vision, and the paralytic epiphany hit me: I had no choice. I could not not spin the straw. I had to spin the straw into gold for her, for him, and make her Queen. Just as she had observed: there was only Fate. Nothing else mattered or even existed.

No! my soul screamed. Hopeless defiance gripped me. A sudden resolve, as sharp and cold as an icicle, formed within me. Alas, my rebellion only closed the trap around me!

I thought, If Fate isn't going to give it to me, I will simply take it myself.

I turned to her and asked with a wicked smile, "What will you give me to spin the gold for you this third time?"

She looked at me steadily, with fortitude but resignedly, as if she too knew the inevitable. "I have nothing left to give."

"Then promise me," I said, "your first little child when you are Queen.

Part VII: The Seventh and Final Meeting

It was the final day, the moment of truth, as they say. I did not know which outcome I hoped for; either way I would win, child or freedom. Of course, looking at it a different way, I'd lose either way too. That's the trouble with betting on both sides.

The shock of finding the King in the sitting room was harder than I'd expected. I walked in and there he stood, arms crossed, back straight, his infernal height enhanced by the blue velvet mantle draping from his shoulders. He was looking directly at me, having obviously anticipated my arrival.

"I suppose we can dispense with introductions," I said, grinding my teeth. The Queen was seated in her customary chair and was watching me impassively. I glared at her resentfully.

"Oh, yes, I think we might as well," the King said, a note of sarcasm unmistakable in his voice.

The Queen shot him a sharp look. She turned to me and spoke coolly, as if she were untouched by the circumstance. "As this is equally his concern as mine, I took the liberty of requesting his presence for this meeting."

"And before it wasn't his concern? Only now does it concern him?"

She flinched. A spot you cannot turn to ice, my Queen?

"She need not justify anything to you," the King said.

"Of course not, Your Majesty, but if we are to converse, might I be allowed to ask questions? Or perhaps I should request leave to speak at all."

"What insolence! Need I remind you of your current position, dwarf? You are in the Royal Palace-"

"Yes, I've visited once or twice before. No wait, now that I think of it, I recall coming here, hmm, eight times already. This shall be my ninth."

"Eight-! What?" the Queen gasped. "Wouldn't it be only six?"

"That reminds me - I forgot to congratulate you on the wedding, didn't I? I would have given you my blessings on the day, but," I shrugged, "you seemed busy."

That put some color into their cheeks. It was rather gratifying to watch.

"You have been spying on us? What other time-"

"It is of no consequence, my love. Banish this fiend before he poisons us further with any more degrading utterances!"

"'Poison' you? 'Fiend?' As I recall, it was I who saved her from you!" My wrath exceeded my control and I shouted at him with hatred.

The Queen stood. Though consumed with rage, I still fell back from the force of her presence. I think the King must also have quailed for his arms dropped to his sides and he turned away from me to face her.

"Rezmik," she said, the word reverberating painfully through my skull. I fell to my knees. "You did save me. You performed the task I asked of you in spite of your reluctance and for that I owed you my gratitude. But what you delivered me from neither of us know or can know - the King, like Fate, was not what he seemed. Oh, that third night! Madness had taken us all! I told you I thought I would die but in truth I feared I would lose him. We have all sinned and I will carry my regret to the grave, though thanks to you I have been granted a second chance. And you have also."

I knelt, trembling with shock. At last I grated flippantly, "I see I am not the only spy here."

The Queen smiled.

Then I began to laugh. Once started I could not stop. I laughed and laughed till tears ran down my face. I was moving around the room, somehow having pulled myself up off the floor, and I danced. There was no music, of course, but soon I found myself singing:

Today I wait, tomorrow take,
The flames of my evil Fate fanned,
The Queen's child, by Time's own closed hand.
Joyously I sing my fame,
Rezmik is my name!

On one haphazard turn about the room, I tripped, damaging my toe considerably. The pain did not halt my dancing, but I had to stop singing to laugh again.

"I won!" I said, though I had lost more than I'd thought I would. "I won, ha-ha!"

The Queen and King only stared at me.

"Well, I would say our business is definitely concluded, wouldn't you? I must bid you adieu!" I took my leave and never saw them again.

Now I bid the same to you, dear reader.