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My mother named me after a cow’s rear end. It’s the favorite village joke, and probably the only one, but it’s not really true. At least I don’t think it’s true, and neither does Gran. Really, my mother had another name for me, a wonderful name, but no one ever heard it. They only heard the first part. The worst part.
Mother had been very ill when I was born. Gran said she was fevered and coughing and I came before I was supposed to. Still, my mother held me close and whispered my name in my ear. No one heard it but me.
“His name?” Gran asked. “Tell me his name.”
“His name is Rump . . . haaa-cough-cough-cough . . .” Gran gave Mother something warm to drink and pried me from her arms.
“Tell me his name, Anna. All of it.”
But Mother never did. She took a breath and then let out all the air and didn’t take any more in. Ever.
Gran said that I cried then, but I never hear that in my imagination. All I hear is silence. Not a move or a breath. The fire doesn’t crack and even the pixies are still.
Finally, Gran holds me up and says, “Rump. His name is Rump.”
The next morning, the village bells chimed and the gnomes ran all over The Mountain crying, “Rump! Rump! The new boy’s name is Rump!”
My name couldn’t be changed or taken back, because in The Kingdom your name isn’t just what people call you. Your name is full of meaning and power. Your name is your destiny.
My destiny really stinks.
I stopped growing when I was eight and I was small to begin with. The midwife, Gertrude, says I’m small because I had only the milk of a weak goat instead of a strong mother, but I know that really it’s because of my name. You can’t grow all the way if you don’t have a whole name.
I tried not to think about my destiny too much, but on my birthday I always did. On my twelfth birthday I thought of nothing else. I sat in the mine, swirling mud around in a pan, searching for gold. We needed gold, gold, gold, but all I saw was mud, mud, mud.
The pickaxes beat out a rhythm that rang all over The Mountain. It filled the air with thumps and bumps. In my head The Mountain was chanting, Thump, thump, thump. Bump, bump, bump. Rump, Rump, Rump. At least it was a good rhyme.
Thump, thump, thump
Bump, bump, bump
Rump, Rump, Rump
“Butt! Hey, Butt!”
I groaned as Frederick and his brother Bruno approached with menacing grins on their faces. Frederick and Bruno were the miller’s sons. They were close to my age, but so big, twice my size and ugly as trolls.
“Happy birthday, Butt! We have a present just for you.” Frederick threw a clod of dirt at me. My stubby hands tried to block it, but it smashed right in my face and I gagged at the smell. The clod of dirt was not dirt.
“Now that’s a gift worthy of your name!” said Bruno.
Other children howled with laughter.
“Leave him alone,” said a girl named Red. She glared at Frederick and Bruno, holding her shovel over her shoulder like a weapon. The other children stopped laughing.
“Oh,” said Frederick. “Do you love Butt?”
“That’s not his name,” growled Red.
“Then what is it? Why doesn’t he tell us?”
“Rump!” I said without thinking. “My name is Rump!” They burst out laughing. I had done just what they wanted. “But that’s not my real name!” I said desperately.
“It isn’t?” asked Frederick.
“What do you think his real name is?” asked Bruno.
Frederick pretended to think very hard. “Something unusual. Something special . . . Cow Rump.”
“Baby Rump,” said Bruno.
Everyone laughed. Frederick and Bruno fell over each other, holding their stomachs while tears streamed down their faces. They rolled in the dirt and squealed like pigs.
Just for a moment I envied them. They looked like they were having such fun, rolling in the dirt and laughing. Why couldn’t I do that? Why couldn’t I join them?
Then I remembered why they were laughing.
Red swung her shovel down hard so it stuck in the ground right between the boys’ heads. Frederick and Bruno stopped laughing. “Go away,” she said.
Bruno swallowed, staring cross-eyed at the shovel that was just inches from his nose. Frederick stood and grinned at Red. “Sure. You two want to be alone.” The brothers walked away, snorting and falling over each other.
I could feel Red looking at me, but I stared down at my pan. I picked out some of Frederick and Bruno’s present. I did not want to look at Red.
“You’d better find some gold today, Rump,” said Red.
I glared at her. “I know. I’m not stupid.”
She raised her eyebrows. Some people did think I was stupid because of my name. And sometimes I thought they were probably right. Maybe if you have only half a name, you have only half a brain.
I kept my eyes on my pan of mud, hoping Red would go away, but she stood over me with her shovel, like she was inspecting me.
“The rations are tightening,” said Red. “The king—”
“I know, Red.”
Red glared at me. “Fine. Then good luck to you.” She stomped off, and I felt worse than when Frederick and Bruno threw poop in my face.
Red wasn’t my friend exactly, but she was the closest I had to a friend. She never made fun of me. Sometimes she stood up for me, and I understood why. Her name wasn’t all that great, either. Just as people laugh at a name like Rump, they fear a name like Red. Red is not a name. It’s a color, an evil color. What kind of destiny does that bring?
I swirled mud in my pan, searching for a glimmer. Our village lives off The Mountain’s gold, what little there is to find. The royal tax collector gathers all the gold and takes it to the king. King Barf. If King Barf is pleased with our gold, he sends us extra food for rations. If he is not pleased, we are extra hungry.
King Barf isn’t actually named King Barf. His real name is King Bartholomew Archibald Reginald Fife, a fine, kingly name—a name with a great destiny, of course. But I don’t care how handsome or powerful that name makes you. It’s a mouthful. So for short I call him King Barf, though I’d never say it out loud.
A pixie flew in my face, a blur of pink hair and translucent wings. I held still as she landed on my arm and explored. I tried to gently shake her off, but she only fluttered her wings and continued her search. She was looking for gold, just like me.
Pixies are obsessed with gold. Once, they had been very helpful in the mines since they can sense large veins of gold from a mile away and deep in the earth. Whenever a swarm of pixies would hover around a particular spot of rock, the miners knew precisely where they should dig.
But there hasn’t been much gold in The Mountain for many years. We find only small pebbles and specks. The pixies don’t dance and chirp the way they used to. Now they’re just pests, pesky thieves trying to steal what little gold we find. They’ll bite you to get gold. Pixies are no bigger than a finger and they look sweet and delicate and harmless with their sparkly wings and colorful hair, but their bites hurt worse than bee stings and squirrel bites and poison ivy combined—and I’ve had them all.
The pixie on my arm finally decided I had no gold and flew away. I scooped more mud from the sluice and swirled it around in my pan. No gold. Only mud, mud, mud.
Thump, thump, thump Bump, bump, bump Rump, Rump, Rump
I didn’t find any gold. We worked until the sun was low and a gnome came running through the mines shouting, “The day is done! The day is done!” in a voice so bright and cheery I had the urge to kick the gnome and send it flying down The Mountain. But I was relieved. Now I could go home, and maybe Gran had cooked a chicken. Maybe she would tell me a story that would help me stop thinking about my birth and name and destiny.
I set my tools aside and walked alone down The Mountain and through The Village. Red walked alone too, a little ahead of me. The rest of the villagers traveled in clusters, some children together, others with their parents. Some carried leather purses full of gold. Those who found good amounts of gold got extra rations. If they found a great deal, they could keep some to trade in the markets. I had never found enough gold even for extra rations.
Pixies fluttered in front of my face and chirped in my ears, and I swatted at them. If only the pixies would show me a mound of gold in the earth, then maybe it wouldn’t matter that I was small. If I found lots of gold, then maybe no one would laugh at me or make fun of my name. Gold would make me worth something.