Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sleeping Beauty, Part 4

(Starts here. Part 3 is here.)

Time passed, and the news that the princess had awakened became known, and this was a cause of great wonder throughout the kingdom, especially for those who still had memory of the tale of the Sleeping Beauty. Soon, too, it became clear that Alexis was carrying Luthor's child. Alexis kept to herself her feelings of revulsion for what had happened to her and made arrangements to marry Luthor. This resulted in great rejoicing throughout the kingdom, for who would not think that any prince would want to marry a princess who was also the most beautiful woman in the kingdom? And who would not think that any princess would be honored to marry the son of the most powerful man in the land? When the news broke that the princess was carrying an heir, all the subjects of the kingdom wept. Who could imagine a more perfect ending?

The day came when Alexis would leave the castle of her parents and move across the mountains, to the palace of the current King. Her servants clicked and whirred as they packed her clothing and her personal items in several trunks and transported them to waiting carriages. Luthor smiled at his wife and said, "Soon you will again have human servants, who will tend to you in your accustomed ways. No longer will you have to make do with these mechanical devices - though they are true wonders, they are cold and unfeeling, not proper servants for a princess of the realm."
She looked at him in horror. "Leave my faithful servants? Oh no, my prince. They understand my needs and I have become quite used to them. I know it sounds silly, but they are now part of my family, and would no sooner leave them behind than I would leave behind my jewelry!"

Annoyance flitted across Luthor's face but he held his tongue. This was unexpected, but not worth arguing over. His bride gave him her dazzling smile and instructed the clanks to ready themselves for travel.

When in due time the princess gave birth to a son, the kingdom rejoiced. The princess made herself a new home in the palace and made up for lost time as best she could. She was pleasant, if not warm, to Luthor, and she had her clockwork servants as companions so she never became lonely. To pass the time, she cared for her infant son and maintained several hobbies, including hunting in the royal forest, which she did very well, and knitting, which she did quite poorly, though she enjoyed both activities. Several years passed uneventfully. The king grew old and eventually died, leaving the kingdom to his son. He made his princess a queen.

One autumn morning the queen entered her husband’s chambers. He looked up, startled, as this was not the queen’s regular habit. “My husband, this day is so fine that I cannot in good conscience allow you to spend it inside, tending to affairs of state. They will be here tomorrow, and the day after that, and all the days after that. We should spend today out of doors.”

“What did you have in mind?” Luthor asked.

“You have promised to take me hunting with you one day. Why not today? The stags will be running, and we could have a meal with us, so as to spend as much time as possible at the hunt.”

Luthor considered, then smiled. “A splendid idea.” He made arrangements with his secretary to attend to some minor affairs, and instructed his two most faithful hunting partners to accompany him. Alexis bade two of her most advanced servants to do the same, and soon the odd group - the two royals and the two friends of the king, all on horseback, and two humanoid clanks who walked along side - were making their way into the old royal forest. As the queen promised, they spent the day at the hunt, breaking for a leisurely lunch before resuming.

The day was indeed splendid. Trees were beginning to turn colors under the autumn sky. Small animals scurried under the cover of tree roots and plants as they made their preparations for the coming winter. Clouds wafted across the azure sky, cooling the hunting party as they made their way into a clearing before darting into the woods once again.

As daylight started to fade, Alexis touched her husband’s arm and pointed to a spot in the distance. “I think I saw the stag turn and run through those trees. If you head left and I head right, we will force him into the open, where you will have a good shot.”

The king had been thinking of bidding the group to head home for the night, but he nodded and did as his wife suggested. In turn, she moved into the woods to the right, to the spot she had picked out several years earlier when she learned her way around the royal forest. She brought her old rifle to her shoulder and waited patiently. As she knew would happen, Luthor moved into a clearing that was visible from her position. She raised the rifle and fired once. The bullet flew true and hit his left eye, shattering the socket, continuing through his skull, and came to rest in a tree beyond him.

At the sound of the shot, the queen and her servants converged on the spot where the king now lay dead, with the king’s two companions close behind, still holding their rifles. The latter two surveyed the scene and exchanged glances. “Your Highness,” one said, hesitantly, “how did it come to pass that His Majesty was in the way of your shot? As a gentleman experienced in hunting, he would have known not to walk into your line of fire.”

Alexis smiled prettily. “Just so,” she replied. “Perhaps my late husband was less the gentleman than we all supposed.”

The men attempted to raise their rifles into firing position. Before they could do so, each was restrained by two metal hands, immobilizing the men instantly.

The hunters struggled in the grasp of the clanks, but to no avail. "Take your filthy mecha hands off me," growled one while his companion said to Alexia, "My lady, I ask you to order your servants to release us, as we have done you no wrong."

The clank butler said, "I cannot do so, sir. I was designed to serve your queen in all circumstances, and I will continue doing so until I am deactivated. Although you gentlemen have not made any outward expression of disloyalty to your queen, your tone indicates a deep suspicion of her explanation of her husband's death. It seems likely that you will continue to air those suspicions were you to return to the castle, and it seems possible that some will give credence to your beliefs. My programming allows me but one course of action." The butler said this in his resonant but dispassionate tone; regret was not part of his programming. At his command, the butler and his fellow clank snapped the necks of their captives and deposited the bodies deep in the forest. When they returned, they carefully placed the king's body across one of the horses for the journey back to the castle.

"My lady Alexis," the butler said, "may I suggest that we explain to those who inquire about the nature of the king's death that they tried to kill you both, and succeeded only with your husband before you retrieved your weapon and they fled into the woods, presumably to leave the kingdom? This would reduce the likelihood of awkward questions." Alexis nodded her agreement to the plan, regretting the dishonesty more than the fatal shot.


The late king was not well-liked, so few were inclined to probe deeply the cause of his death. His young son was declared king, with the queen serving as regent until his majority.

Thus began a new and kinder reign, born, it is true, from an act of violence, but carried on in a manner of which Alexis hoped her parents would have approved. Fairies were rare in this part of the kingdom, so Alexis lived out her life without further interference from the magical realm. Eventually, she taught her son of the art of shooting, the importance of loyal clanks, and the need for patience when seeking vengeance.

No comments: