Rump waited for her nervous fingers to relinquish his buttons. Then he said, with muffled anger, "I told you not to call me again. I told
you that it would go hard for you. And yet--"
"--I did!" she snapped. "I have no other choice."
"No!" he said. "And did I not tell you that, too? There is always a choice."
"So you would have me choose my own death?" she said.
"Yes!" he shouted. The word was so loud and so fierce that Lorelle shrank from the hunchback. For a moment, his ugly face faltered and his
golden fingers opened, as if to reach for her, as if to apologize for his outburst, but when the moonlight touched his hand, when it glinted
back its cold metal, his heart hardened once more. "You owe them nothing, Lorelle, not even your life. Give them death. It is the only
freedom in this world."
Lorelle clutched her throbbing chest. "How can you say such a thing?" she whispered. "Death is freedom? Only one who has lived so long could
be so arrogant. If my mother taught me anything, you miserable man, it is that life is fleeting. It cannot be dispensed with so casually,
not when its span is unknown or its quality variable by the moment. A week ago I was a worthless brewer's girl. Tonight I am a heartbeat
removed from the crown. What will I be tomorrow? Would you prefer a corpse?"
The Rump clawed his fingers through his limp hair and threw his cap at his feet. "No," he said. "Only, it will not end here, Lorelle. The
King will have you spinning until your dying breath."
"Yes," she said.
"I cannot save you indefinitely," he said. "There is only so much you can sacrifice."
"I will give what I must," she said.
"That," he said, "I do not doubt. You are as tenacious a maid as ever I met."
"I am no longer a maid," she said. "You saw to that."
The Rump gazed into her sweet brown eyes. "Aye. That I did. Though I took no pleasure in it."
"Liar," she said. "You took as much pleasure in it as I did." Then, remembering that he could never finish the act, she amended her
statement. "Some pleasure."
"Pleasure is irrelevant to this new affair," he said. "Lorelle, I beseech you to reconsider."
"Why?" she said. "Is this not what you do? Is this not your demonic mission? To seduce women into your power?"
"My power?" he laughed. "Oh, Lorelle, if you knew..." He shuffled to the spinning wheel and gave its wheel a formidable turn. As it blurred
into motion, silent sparks rolled forth into the shape of golden teeth. The teeth grimaced and melted into smoke. "I wasted my young years
seducing women. What I do now is penance. Do you know what sacrifice I would ask of you for this second wish?"
"Some new depravity?" she hoped. "I confess, I've exhausted my imagination as to what it could be."
"You've been fantasizing about me, have you?"
"Let us not go so far," she said. Her fingers traced the circumference of the wheel until they rested close to his own golden hand. "Only
that I have been preparing myself to be defiled."