Friday, December 30, 2011

Sleeping Beauty, Part 2

Continued from here.

She didn’t know what she expected to find, but what she saw was beyond anything she could have imagined. Mechanical devices of all shapes and sizes, some of which looked like men, moved smoothly to and fro, great keys protruding from the back of each device. They carried out tasks crisply and efficiently, though never leaving the large room. Along a wall of the room stood a long workbench, which was covered with parts. Several of the devices worked with the parts, apparently creating more of their kind. The princess was mesmerized by the sight, so much that she did not see a tall, humanoid clockwork device breaking from its routine and walking toward her. “Good afternoon, miss. How may I be of assistance?” it said in a pleasant, if slightly machine-like, baritone that reminded her of her father’s voice.

The princess gasped. “You can speak!”

The automaton bowed. “Indeed, miss. I am equipped with the latest vocal technology. Though we are all confined to this small area of the castle, we continue to refine the work that our creator started.”

After she recovered from her shock, Alexis was delighted at what she saw, and asked for a tour of the room, with an explanation of what every machine did. The valet - for that is what the tall automaton turned out to be programmed for - seemed eager to serve a human. He introduced Alexis to each machine, some of which could speak and greeted her in return, some of which were less sophisticated devices that merely continued about their business. He showed her the work table, where two clockwork devices that had far too many hands worked with the delicate machinery.

“Oh, let me try!” exclaimed the princess, and she took a mainspring and two gears in her hand. Despite her gift of dexterity, her inexperience with the parts caused her to pierce her hand with the sharp edges of the spring. No sooner had it pricked her skin then she fell to the ground in a swoon, just as the old fairy had prophesied.

The clockwork valet whirred as its programming considered how to respond to this crisis. A decision made, it picked up the princess and, for the first time, disobeyed an order, leaving the restricted room to return to the inhabited part of the castle, to seek help.

At that moment, the king and queen returned from their journey, only to see their daughter in the arms of the clockwork valet, as though dead. The queen cried out, and human servants arrived. They took Alexis to her chambers and many efforts were made to revive the girl: one servant threw water upon her face; another loosened her corset; another applied a healing balm. Nothing worked, though, and she remained in a deep sleep.

The king judged that this was the work of the evil fairy and correctly noted that no mortal could rouse the sleeping princess before the designated time. Despite his grief, he ordered his daughter to be laid out in her night clothes upon her bed and covered with the finest linens. When she was so situated, the king ordered her left undisturbed until her hour of awakening came.

Upon hearing that the evil fairy’s curse had come to pass, the young fairy, who had tried to ease the sting of the curse, returned to the castle. She looked at the princess and complimented the king on his good judgment of allowing the girl to sleep peacefully in her bed. She looked gravely at the king and spoke: “You have done well for your daughter and prepared her for her long sleep. Even those preparations may not be sufficient to see her through this time, however. She will be here long after you and the queen are gone, long after her servants can care for her. I will prepare some magic to help her, but you should use your skills at building and programming your clockwork men to create an immortal army of servants whose job will be to tend to the princess, keeping her safe until a king’s son comes to revive her.” The king nodded his agreement.

While the king made his preparations, the fairy did as she promised, enchanting the castle and the forest in which the castle stood. When the king was ready, he and his wife kissed their daughter gently on the cheek and, for the last time, took their leave of her. With them, every human servant in the castle departed as well, traveling with the royal couple to a residence on the far side of the kingdom. Once they had departed, leaving only the clockwork men to tend to the sleeping princess, the fairy’s enchantments took hold: in but a quarter hour’s time a dense forest surrounded the castle, leaving no path to or from the structure. Bushes and brambles assured that no creature, man nor beast, could make passage to the castle. The trees were so tall that the spires of the castle were obscured from view, and the trees of such a wood that they would last for a century.

The princess slept on, and the people of the kingdom slowly forgot of her.

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