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Final Corner

            Queen Merna’s letter-writing room was empty of all furniture except for her writing desk. She had decided the room needed a complete overhaul. The quality of Queen Merna’s letters had been slipping over the last year or so and she thought a different atmosphere might restore some life to her correspondence. But her writing desk was staying. A new desk would not be part of the overhaul.

Queen Merna’s writing desk was made out of some kind of valuable wood – she forgot what it was called – and it had been a piece of choice plunder from her great-great-grandfather’s one successful conquest, which doubled as the one successful conquest in Queen Merna’s entire family history, at least as far back as the records went. So the writing desk was staying in the letter-writing room, but everything else was going, even the knick-knacks that had accumulated on top of the writing desk over the years. The servants had removed all the big furniture, but Queen Merna had sent them off to do more important work in the castle while she cleaned off the writing desk by herself. She didn’t need help with that.

                As significant as the writing desk was to Queen Merna, the stuff that had accumulated on top of the writing desk was not significant at all. In fact, the top of the writing desk had become Queen Merna’s go-to place to put things that she just couldn’t quite bring herself to throw out. So the top of the writing desk was one step up from a garbage can. Queen Merna didn’t want the knick-knacks to be a part of the new atmosphere in the letter-writing room, though. She wanted her special writing desk to be free of excess clutter, she wanted it to look dignified, like a place where important and meaningful and artful and, well, royal letters were written.

                So, after having a servant bring her a small, cloth sack, Queen Merna stood at one end of the writing desk, held the sack with one hand, and then used her other arm to sweep all of the knick-knacks off of the desk and into the bag’s open mouth. This maneuver was almost entirely successful. There was one exception: a poorly-carved green figurine of a woodland spirit of some kind missed the sack. Queen Merna saw it miss, saw it fall past the edge of the sack’s opening on its left side, and then she lost sight of it. She held the sack up with her right hand and looked around her on the bare stone floor for the fallen figurine. She did not see it. She turned in a complete circle, eyes fixed on the floor. She did not see the figurine. Then she moved two steps from where she’d been standing in case it had come to rest on the floor beneath her wide, elegant skirts, but the figurine was not there. Queen Merna looked around the room, mystified. Where could it have gone? There was no other furniture in the room for the figurine to have fallen under or behind or inside of. There were no long drapes on the windows behind which it could have bounced. There weren’t any drapes on the windows at all. The light of an overcast afternoon came through them unobstructed. There were no holes or cracks in the floor or walls large enough to accommodate the figurine. The door to the letter-writing room was closed, but even if it hadn’t been, there was no way the figurine could have bounced all the way across the room to it. Queen Merna had not swept the knick-knacks with that much force. And even if she had, her sweeping motion had been away from the door, not toward it.

                Queen Merna opened the sack and peered into it. She pawed through the knick-knacks. The green figurine of the woodland spirit was not among them. She knelt and turned the sack upside down, dumping its contents out on the floor. None of the knick-knacks that spilled out were the figurine she was looking for. She examined the knick-knacks closely as she returned them to the sack, pausing to make absolutely certain that each one was not the woodland spirit figurine before dropping it inside. When all of the knick-knacks were back in the bag – except for the figurine, of course – Queen Merna remained kneeling and again looked around the room. Was it some kind of trick of the light? An optical illusion? She stood and walked to the far corner of her letter-writing room. Then she walked slowly in a straight line until she encountered the opposite wall, watching her feet the entire time. Then she turned, took one sideways step, and headed back in the direction from which she’d come, keeping her eyes trained on the floor. She repeated this process until she had covered the entire room. Then she did it again, but she crawled instead of walking this time in case she had missed seeing the figurine because her eyes were too far from the floor when she was on her feet. Crawling while wearing her bulky dress was a huge pain. Queen Merna did not find the figurine, but the way her dress hindered her crawling did cause Queen Merna to give more serious thought to the dress, specifically to how many layers and folds and creases it had. So she took off all of her clothes and shook them out, shook them violently, pawed through them, but did not find the figurine among them.

Queen Merna got dressed and set the sack of knick-knacks by the door, which was still closed to prevent any opportunity for other variables to enter the scene, to prevent any opportunity for the figurine to escape. Then she searched the writing desk. She pulled it away from the wall and out into the middle of the room. She searched the desk thoroughly, pulling its drawers all the way out and shaking them upside down, reaching to the back of their empty slots, feeling, and then crouching to look at, the desk’s underside. She did not find the figurine. Filled with an exasperation that was now for some reason bordering on dread, Queen Merna looked up at the ceiling. There were no light fixtures hanging from it. The ceiling was the same as the floor except upside down, suspended above Queen Merna instead of supporting her from below. The figurine was not on the ceiling.

But Queen Merna knew the figurine was somewhere because all figurines are somewhere. A figurine has to be somewhere. Queen Merna thought about how being somewhere is an essential quality of a figurine, albeit one so essential that perhaps most people don’t bother to say so, or even think about it. She walked over to the door, bolted it closed, and then pounded on it until she heard the approaching footsteps of a servant.

“Your Highness? Are you trapped in there?”

“No,” said Queen Merna. “But I don’t want to open the door. I don’t want anyone to open the door. Send for Dylan, OK? Have him come up here and talk to me through the door.”

“At once, Your Highness,” said the servant, and Queen Merna heard him hurrying away. She sat down with her back against the door to wait, her eyes scanning the nearly-empty room as if expecting the figurine to pop into sight at any moment.


                “Your Highness?” Queen Merna recognized Dylan’s low, solemn voice, which she knew was a total affectation because he had not talked like that when she had interviewed him for the royal seer job three years ago. Back then, he had just talked like a normal guy. That was probably the biggest reason Queen Merna had hired him. She had always been annoyed by seers who tried to act all seer-y all the time. But immediately after getting the job, Dylan had slipped into the same mannerisms as pretty much every other seer Queen Merna had ever met. She was tempted to fire Dylan, but would she really be able to find a replacement who was any better? She doubted it. And Dylan was good at doing seer stuff: offering mystical-sounding advice, attempting to predict the future, creeping people out, walking very quietly, hearing good gossip from other seers and passing it along to Queen Merna, smelling weird for no specific discernible reason, either having visions or doing a very good job of pretending to have visions, interpreting Queen Merna’s dreams in ways that were usually flattering, etc. Granted, Queen Merna did not consider any of these duties particularly vital to the kingdom, but having a seer was just one of the many expectations of queenship that she would have happily done without if not for the impossible weight of centuries of tradition. Queen Merna didn’t even want to imagine all the griping, criticism, and constant questioning that her advisors, allies, and everyone else would pester her with if she were to eliminate the seer position entirely.

                But now Queen Merna needed Dylan to do something genuinely helpful. “I’ve got a job for you, Dylan.”

                “Of course,” said Dylan through the door. “Anything you need. Anything within my power, of course.”

                “Well, that’s where we might run into trouble,” said Queen Merna. “I need you to see something, but I don’t know where it is. I need you to see where it is. Can you do that?”

                “Remote viewing,” said Dylan. “Difficult, certainly, but within the purview of a royal seer. I can try, Your Majesty.”

                “Great,” said Queen Merna. “It’s worth a try.”

                “What is it you’d like me to try to see?” asked Dylan.

                “It’s a figurine,” said Queen Merna. “You’ve been in this room before, right? You remember my writing desk?”

                “Of course,” said Dylan. “Crafted from that…uh, very fine wood.”

                “You remember the knick-knacks I had on top of it? All that little junk?”

                “I remember some little things on top of it, yes,” said Dylan.

                “Do you remember the green one?” asked Queen Merna. “The green figurine? It was supposed to be some kind of woodland spirit, I think. It’s not very well-crafted. I don’t know where it came from. Do you remember it?”

                “Not specifically,” said Dylan. “Is that what you want me to try to see?”

                “Yes,” said Queen Merna.

                There was a pause, then Dylan said, “Your Highness, if you’ll forgive my impertinence, can I ask why we’re having this conversation through a closed door?”

                Queen Merna did forgive Dylan’s impertinence – it was a fair question – and she explained the whole situation to him. “So the door has to stay shut,” she concluded. “So that everything stays like it was when the figurine fell.”

                Dylan was silent for long enough that Queen Merna began to wonder if he had walked away from the door. He was a very quiet walker when he wanted to be. But he proved he was still just beyond the letter-writing room door when he finally spoke. “And how is this figurine important to you, Your Majesty?”

                “It isn’t,” said Queen Merna. “Honestly, I was probably either gonna throw it out or give it to one of the serving girl’s kids or something. Or rather, I should say it wasn’t important. But now it is. Or rather, I should say that it still isn’t important, but it is important that we find it.”

                “Oh,” said Dylan. “Maybe it bounced into a crack in the floor?”

                “Do not do this, Dylan,” said Queen Merna. “I looked everywhere.”

                “Maybe if you just let me in to help you look,” said Dylan. “Maybe you just need another set of eyes.”

                “No!” said Queen Merna. “I can’t open the door because if I do and we still can’t find the figurine, I’ll drive myself crazy wondering if it got out somehow. If it rolled out or if you sneaked it out or, I don’t know, something. This is why I called you. You’re the only one who might be able to see without coming into the room. Right? Because if not, you can just go away.”

                “OK, OK, Your Highness,” said Dylan. The added honorific didn’t really make him sound much more respectful. “Can you give me a little more detail about what the figurine looks like?”

                “Uh, let me think,” said Queen Merna. She closed her eyes and tried to picture it. “You really don’t remember it?”

                “Only vaguely,” said Dylan.

                Queen Merna doubted even that much was true. “Well, like I said, it’s green. It’s only a few inches tall.”

                “Can you be more precise on its size?” asked Dylan. “And on the shade of green?”

                “Three inches,” said Queen Merna. “And it’s dark green. Dark-ish.”

                “And you said it’s a woodland spirit?” asked Dylan. “That’s what it’s supposed to be?”

                “Yes,” said Queen Merna. “I could draw it for you and slide the drawing under the door, but I don’t have a quill and paper in here anymore. The desk is all cleaned out, the knick-knacks were the last things to go.”

                “I’ll slide you a quill and paper under the door from this side,” said Dylan.

                “The inkwell won’t fit,” said Queen Merna.

                “I’ll dip the quill in the ink on this side and then slide it under the door to you,” said Dylan. “As many times as you need. We’ll pass it back and forth.”

                “Actually, I can’t draw it,” said Queen Merna. “I don’t draw well. A drawing would only confuse you. Don't you have enough information to try to see where it is now?” She was suddenly worried about leading Dylan astray, accidentally giving him some detail that might send him down the wrong track and spoil everything. It seemed preferable for his mental image of the figurine to stay vague but more or less accurate as opposed to specific but in potentially inaccurate ways.

                Queen Merna heard Dylan sigh through the door, which he wasn’t supposed to do in response to his queen, but he probably assumed she couldn’t hear him. “I heard that,” said Queen Merna.

                “I beg your pardon,” said Dylan. “I wasn’t sighing at you. I was sighing at something that happened over here.”

                “What was it?” asked Queen Merna.

                “Oh, just a…problem with my shoe,” said Dylan. He hurriedly changed the subject to avoid further questions on the topic of his traitorous sigh. “I’ll begin to attempt the remote viewing of the figurine now, Your Highness. This requires extreme concentration, so if you don’t hear from me for a little while, that should be expected, OK?”

                “OK,” said Queen Merna. “Go for it.” Still seated on the floor and leaning against the door, she again surveyed the letter-writing room, all of its elements: the ceiling, the floor, the sack of knick-knacks, the walls, the windows, and the desk in the middle. That was it. That was everything there was to see. Unless the figurine was still in the room somewhere, which it had to be, because it had to be somewhere and there was no feasible way that it could have gotten out of the room. Queen Merna stood up and returned to the desk, walking around and around it. The figurine’s trajectory as it had fallen past the open sack was away from the desk, but it was irregularly shaped and could have bounced back toward the desk when it hit the floor. What if there were some kind of secret compartment in one of the desk’s legs into which the figurine had caromed? Queen Merna got down on her hands and knees and examined each of the writing desk’s legs, feeling them up and down for any seams, triggers, bumps, switches, depressions, anything. She found nothing. Then she examined the desk all over, feeling it inch by inch. It took a long time, but in the end it turned out that the desk had no secrets. Or, if it did, those secrets remained concealed. Queen Merna looked around the room again: ceiling, floor, sack, walls, windows, desk. What if there were a secret compartment in the floor or the walls? What if the figurine had burst into fine, fine dust when it hit the floor? What if the figurine had gotten inside of Queen Merna’s own body somehow? What if microscopic organisms had come into the room through the crack under the door and devoured the figurine?

                Dylan knocked on the door. “Your Highness? I believe I saw the figurine, but-”

                “You saw it?” asked Queen Merna, rushing back to the door. “Where was it?”

                “I couldn’t tell,” said Dylan. He sounded drained, enfeebled.

                “Was it in a light place?” asked Queen Merna. “In a dark place? Was there wood around it? Stone?”

                “I couldn’t tell,” said Dylan. “But now we know there’s hope, right?”

                “What are you talking about?” asked Queen Merna.

                “Well, Your Highness,” said Dylan. “Now we know it’s somewhere.”

                Queen Merna briefly considered seething in silence, but instead she shouted, “We already knew that, you idiot! All figurines are somewhere!”

                In response to this outburst, Dylan had the good sense to say nothing.


                “Mom? What’s happening in there? Are you OK?” Princess Ivey’s voice was filled with annoying concern.

                “Yes, Ivey, I’m fine,” said Queen Merna.

                “Why are you breathing hard?” asked Princess Ivey. “What were those cracking sounds I heard?”

                “I’m breaking my writing desk apart,” said Queen Merna. She had broken pieces of that valuable wood in each hand. Fortunately, the wood’s value was not tied to its durability. Queen Merna had been able to destroy the desk using only her own hands and feet. And her knees, once or twice.

                “Why are you breaking the writing desk apart?” asked Princess Ivey. “It’s so valuable! And it’s a family heirloom! You told me it was going to be my writing desk someday!”

                “I’ll get you another writing desk,” said Queen Merna. “Why are you here?”

                “Dylan told me there was something wrong with you,” said Princess Ivey. “He said you were losing your mind over some trivial thing and wouldn’t come out of the letter-writing room.” There was a pause and some frightened whispering, which Queen Merna took to be Dylan panicking about the way he was being portrayed. Further support was provided for this hypothesis when Princess Ivey said, “Well, he didn’t phrase it exactly like that, but he could have because you are acting strange, Mom. Let me in.”

                “I can’t open the door until I find the figurine,” said Queen Merna. “This room can’t be contaminated by elements that were not present when the figurine fell.”

                “You’re calling me a contamination?” asked Princess Ivey. “Really?”

                “You know what I mean,” said Queen Merna. She looked at the remains of the desk. It was pretty thoroughly dismantled. And no secret compartments had been discovered. The missing figurine had not been discovered. But Queen Merna did not consider the destruction of the writing desk a waste. Now she knew the figurine was not inside of any part of it.

                “Which figurine are you looking for, Mom?” Princess Ivey was trying a different tactic, Queen Merna could tell.

                “The little green one,” said Queen Merna. “The woodland spirit.”

                “Are you serious?” asked Princess Ivey. “I gave you that figurine!”

                “You did?”

                “Yes, I did. When we were visiting King Vormit’s kingdom Dad let me go to the marketplace with Princess Hyllia to pick something out for you. I used my own money on that figurine.”

                “That sounds familiar,” said Queen Merna. “It’s coming back to me. How old were you?”

                “I don’t know,” said Princess Ivey. “Seven or eight. King Vormit sent, like, thirty guards with us. We made a huge scene. The shopkeeper I bought that figurine from kept kissing my hand and crying.”

                “I totally forgot the figurine was from you,” said Queen Merna. “I’m sorry, Ivey.”

                “No, that’s not the point,” said Princess Ivey. “I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. The point is that if I don’t care that it’s lost, then neither should you. Who cares? It was a piece of junk. I did not have good taste when I was eight. Even Princess Hyllia tried to talk me out of getting it for you. You were nice about it when I gave it to you, but honestly, I’ve always been a little embarrassed whenever I walk into your letter-writing room and see it sitting on top of your desk. I’m actually glad it’s gone.”

                “Well, once I find it, I can throw it away,” said Queen Merna. “Or you can, if you want to.” She threw the broken pieces of wood in her hands on top of the pile of broken pieces of wood that used to be the desk.

                “Mom!” shouted Princess Ivey. “Don’t you see how silly that is? Don’t you see how that makes no sense?”

                “You think this is just some ridiculous pride thing,” said Queen Merna. “But it’s not!”

                “Then what is it?” asked Princess Ivey.

                “It’s just…” Queen Merna hesitated. “It’s just that the figurine has to be in here somewhere. Or, if it’s not, then I have to be able to find its means of getting out. Because if neither of those things are true, then why would you ever feel confident sitting down in a chair again? How could you be sure that if you went to look at your left hand, it would still be there? What’s to keep me from-”

                “Oh, what’s the big deal?” interrupted Princess Ivey. “You’ve seen magic stuff happen before. We just had a witch problem last year. You employ a seer. He’s standing right here next to me. So what if something, like, magical happened with this figurine, huh?”

                “No,” said Queen Merna. “No, this is too different. This is too mundane. Magic happens with purpose, with intent. Someone sets out to accomplish something with magic. This was just a figurine falling on the floor. There would be no reason for it to-”

She stopped at the sound of Princess Ivey speaking in low tones on the other side of the door. Queen Merna couldn’t make out what Princess Ivey was saying, but she heard Dylan say, “You want me to gather them?”

                “Yes,” said Princess Ivey. “You don’t think you can?”

                “It just isn’t really part of my duties,” said Dylan.

                “Well, this is an emergency,” said Princess Ivey.

                “What’s an emergency?” asked Queen Merna.

                “The queen won’t come out of her letter-writing room,” said Princess Ivey. “It’s a real crisis.”

                “Hold on,” said Queen Merna. “You don’t need to tell everyone.”

                But she heard Princess Ivey walking away from the letter-writing room door. The princess was not as quiet of a walker as Dylan. She didn’t try to be.

                “Dylan?” called Queen Merna.

                But he was gone too.

                Queen Merna didn’t know what her daughter was up to, but she returned to the task of searching the letter-writing room for the missing figurine with renewed urgency.


                It came as a surprise to Queen Merna when the light coming into the letter-writing room through the windows began to fail. She had lost touch with the idea that her search for the figurine was taking place within the dominion of time. At first, as the room became more and more dim, Queen Merna was worried about how the loss of light would impede her search for the figurine. But then she thought, well, having the light hadn’t done her any good, so maybe losing it would actually be a benefit? Maybe the whole reason she wasn’t finding the figurine was because of the light. If there was no light, then that light couldn’t perform any tricks on her, and her eyes wouldn’t be able to deceive her. Yes, the encroaching darkness might very well be the solution to this whole mess. Without being able to see, Queen Merna would be more reliant on her ears, for example. What if there was something to hear that would clue her in as to the figurine’s location? She hadn’t even considered careful listening as a tactic until now. Maybe other tactics would occur to her as well. Maybe her sense of touch would be heightened without visual distractions. She’d finally feel that certain divot in the floor that indicated a tiny, clever trapdoor. Or she’d smell something. Or she’d taste something. Something that would lead her to the figurine, whether directly or as a first step in a series of steps.

                The one thing Queen Merna worried about was that the departing light meant a change in the conditions in the room from when the figurine had fallen. She knew it was silly to worry, for example, that the departing light would take the figurine with it, would smuggle it off to wherever the light went during the night, but that thought did nag at her. But what could she do about it? Nothing. Even if there had been candles in the room, she wouldn’t have lit them. That wouldn’t have been counteracting and negating a change, that would have been adding another change on top of it. Maybe she shouldn’t have destroyed the desk. But she had to in order to fully search it. But that act of searching had changed the conditions of one or more elements of the room. But maybe so had taking her clothes off and putting them back on. Maybe so had walking and crawling and feeling, pounding on the door, talking to Dylan, talking to Princess Ivey. What if Dylan’s remote viewing of the figurine – assuming he had actually done so – had magically affected it, moving or destroying or shrinking it or something?

                The sun set, the last of its residual light dissolved, and a period of full-blown night began. The sky was overcast with a thick layer of cloud, so if there was a moon behind it, none of that moon’s light was able to fight through to the surface of the planet to which it was gravitationally beholden: the Earth. Not to the spot on the Earth currently occupied by Queen Merna’s kingdom, anyway. So the letter-writing room was now utterly dark. Queen Merna could not see anything. She had never been afraid of the dark before in her life, not even as a child, but the world had made more sense to her for the entirety of her life prior to today than it did today, and now she was afraid of the dark. But she had a task to perform. If she could find the figurine, then she could unbolt the letter-writing room door and walk out into the firelight and the company of her subjects and friends and family. She crawled her way to the wall opposite the door, then to a corner. Yet again, she started her slow, meticulous search of the floor, leading with her hands and feeling as hard as she could while she crawled, seeing nothing, finding the opposite wall and turning to crawl and feel back in the direction from which she’d come. This took a long time. She didn’t want to have to do it again. If she didn’t find the figurine, she would do it again, but better to be so thorough the first time that more attempts would not be necessary.

                Eventually, having found nothing, Queen Merna reached the third corner of the room. Which meant that with only one more traversal of the distance from wall to wall, she would have searched the entire floor of the room in the dark. If she did not find the figurine by the time she reached the fourth and final corner, then that would mean that the dark-search had been as fruitless as all of the ones she had executed in the light. This thought made her hesitant to launch toward that final corner. What if she stopped now? What if she crawled to the door, opened it, and went out? Would she be able to tell herself that she would have found the figurine on that final stretch? Would that deduction, which seemed sensible enough, be sufficient to ease her distress, even with a whole day of failures preceding it? She knew it wouldn’t be enough. She had to actually find the figurine, not just convince herself that she would have. So she crawled, her left side brushing against the wall, then brushing against the door, under which she saw the dull glow of light from another existence, which was how Queen Merna knew she was half-way to the final corner.

                As she felt her way past the door, Queen Merna heard footsteps approaching from the other side. Many footsteps, plus the jangling and clanking of armed men. She was tempted to hurry, but she knew what the consequences of that could be: she might miss the figurine in her rush.

                The footsteps stopped. Queen Merna heard murmuring voices, then the sound of Princess Ivey shushing them. She’d recognize her daughter’s shush anywhere. Then there was a gentle knock. “Mom?”

                Queen Merna ignored her. She was almost to the final corner. It was hard to judge how much farther it was in the dark, but she had moved from one end of this room to the other so many times today that she knew she was close. Just a few more feet. She needed to concentrate, needed to focus all of her attention on the sensations firing up from her fingertips and palms to her brain.

                “Mom?” Princess Ivey knocked louder.

                Queen Merna’s left hand brushed against something. It moved and tapped against the wall. She had reached the corner, and there was something in that corner. She moved out away from the wall, facing into the corner to block the thing’s escape route, and felt for it with both hands. She found it, grabbed it, held it firmly with her left hand while feeling it up and down with the fingers of her right hand. It was the right size. And she could feel its features. It was humanoid: arms, legs, a head. But was it green? Was it the woodland spirit? Was it the figurine?

                “Mom, answer me,” said Princess Ivey.

                “I’m here,” said Queen Merna. “What do you want?”

                “I had all the servants search the whole castle for that figurine,” said Princess Ivey. “One of the cooks found it in the pantry. I’ve got it right here. Open the door and I’ll give it to you.”

                “You’re mistaken,” said Queen Merna.

                “I’m not mistaken, Mom,” said Princess Ivey. “I’m the one who bought it. I know what it looks like.”

                “Then you’re lying,” said Queen Merna. “To convince me to open the door.” She clutched the thing that she had found in her hand so hard that it hurt.

                “Mom,” said Princess Ivey. “I’m not lying. I have the figurine right here in my hand. Dylan, tell her that I’ve got it. Mom, Dylan’s going to confirm that I have it and you can execute him if you open the door and see that he’s lying.”

                “Dylan doesn’t know what it looks like,” said Queen Merna. “He could be tricked by another small, green figurine.”

                There was silence, then a small thump on the door that Queen Merna took to be her daughter’s weary forehead.

                “I can’t let anyone in until morning,” said Queen Merna. “At the earliest.”

                “Why not?” asked Princess Ivey.

                “Because,” said Queen Merna. “I think I found the figurine. But I have to wait until the sun comes up to confirm that. Because if I open the door and it turns out that I found the wrong figurine, then the room will be contaminated, the conditions will have changed, and I’ll never have closure.”

                “You don’t have the figurine, Mom! I have the figurine! It’s been in the pantry this whole time! Who knows how long? Probably days!”

                “No,” said Queen Merna. “If anyone has the figurine, it’s me. I also may not have it. But you definitely don’t.”

                “All right,” said Princess Ivey in a tone that suggested she was no longer speaking to Queen Merna. “She’s sick and she needs help. Break down the door.”

                “No!” screamed Queen Merna. “No! I’m your queen and I command you to-”

                The heavy blows of axes and the sound of splintering wood drowned out her cries of protest. Queen Merna clenched her eyes shut and huddled facing the corner with the figurine – if that’s what it was – cupped in both hands, shielded from the intruders. She heard the men coming into the room, felt the presence of other people and things contaminating the whole environment, changing it forever.

                “Mom,” said Princess Ivey. “Mom! Look at me!”


                “Look at what’s in my hand! It’s right here!”

                Queen Merna didn’t respond. She didn’t know what to say or what to do.


                Queen Merna felt her daughter’s hand on her back, shaking her.

                “Mom!” And then Princess Ivey’s voice changed. “Mom?” The question in her voice was a frightened one.

                “What?” asked Queen Merna, still refusing to look at her daughter or either of the potential figurines or anything else.

                “Where’s the desk?”

                “What do you mean, Ivey?” asked Queen Merna. “I broke it apart.”

                “Right,” said Princess Ivey. “But where are the pieces?”

                “In the middle of the-” Queen Merna stopped speaking. She thought back to her final crawl through the room in the dark, the way she had felt every inch of the floor. She had felt stone, she had felt the sack with the other figurines in it, but throughout that entire search, she had felt no scraps of wood, no pieces of broken writing desk.

                “What did you do with it?” asked Princess Ivey. “Did you take the pieces out and burn them in the fireplace while we were gone?” Queen Merna heard her whirl to face the guards. “Marvin, you were standing guard. When did she bring the broken wood out? What did she do with it?”

                “She never came out,” said the guard. “The door never opened. Not until now.”

                “Then where is it?” asked Princess Ivey, her voice rising dramatically in both pitch and volume from the beginning of the sentence to the end.

                Queen Merna stayed face-down and eyes-closed in the final corner. Her hands had begun to sweat around the small thing within them. She said, “It has to be somewhere, Ivey.”

                “I know that,” said Princess Ivey. “Everything’s somewhere.”

                “But,” said Queen Merna. “You opened the door. And now it could be anywhere.”

Discussion Questions

  • Does this seem like a story written while watched over by one-level-above-trash knick-knacks? Why or why not?

  • Do you have any “closed rooms” in your life in which you are trying to “find” something and you’re worried that if you “open the door” then the “room” will become “contaminated” and you’ll lose touch with reality entirely? Explain what I mean by this. Let the quotation marks guide you.

  • Have you ever dropped something and then not known where it went? BE HONEST! Do NOT say “yes” if the TRUTHFUL answer is “no!”

  • What was your family’s most successful conquest? Go as far back as you need to. Does any plunder from that conquest remain? I bet some does.

  • Where were the remains of the writing desk?

  • Where was the figurine?