So this has been a busy week for me, O readers. I've been fixing lots of "broken" printers (which generally just need refills of paper or ink) and getting my boss two cups of coffee at a time, cleaning up after Buddy the Destructo-Dog and Brando the Mud-Pup, and thinking about graduation and confirmation presents for my brothers.
Still, I've found some time to write, as followers of my fan fiction already know, and as readers of my Fiction Friday posts here on the blog will soon discover. My retelling of "The Most Incredible Thing" is spiraling out to include themes I hadn't seen in it before, which is usually a good thing in my writing. As I've said in other places, the best stories feel to me more like chronicling, writing down what I see and hear, than like inventing anything. But that's a story for another day.
For today, here is one of the more worrying sections of the tale, which does end on something of a cliffhanger, while revealing a thing that most of you have probably known for a while. Please enjoy, leave comments or reviews as you like, and if you're able, hop on over to Patreon and make a pledge to support my continued writing. I've posted some new goals which you might want to help fund, so go have a look if you can! New chapter of For Your Own Good will probably be up tonight sometime!
Some few days went by between the showing of the wonders and the declaration of the winner, time enough for Rune to wonder if sheer frustration were enough to make a man lose his mind. Master Paulson and Mistress Kathrine both did their best to calm him, but the person he wanted most to be with was Alvar, and Alvar's duties at the palace were taking up more of his time than ever. Rune found some distraction in imagining Alvar's self-effacing servant's demeanor whenever nobles or royalty were looking his way, as compared to the merciless caricatured imitations of them he would later perform.
At last, the waiting came to an end, as all things in this world must, and Rune went dutifully to the palace once more, smiling at all those who offered him congratulations until his face ached with the strain. If the crowd in the street had been the judge of the contest, he had surely won it already, but the official verdict of the judges was still to be received.
"Alvar ought to be here," he muttered to himself as he found a place to stand. "He conceived the idea and bore it into the light of day, while all my work was done behind the scenes. If there were any justice in the world, it would be Alvar who would have the Princess and half the kingdom, not I!"
A flash of gold and blue at the front of the room caught his eye, and for one wild moment he thought—but no, everyone was rising to their feet who was not already standing, and the trumpets were blowing a fanfare. It was not Alvar who had entered, but the Princess, now acknowledging the plaudits of her subjects.
If the Princess were indeed as wise as she was beautiful and as kind as she was wise, Rune thought dizzily, then the man who won the contest would have a jewel of a wife, for the hair which flowed across her shoulders was as golden as her crown, the eyes surveying the crowd as sapphire blue as her gown, and the sweetness of her smile was tempered by the determined point to her chin. He had never fallen in love before, but his first sight of the Princess had him teetering on the brink of that abyss. And yet, the longer he gazed, the longer he felt that he should know her already.
The trumpets blew a second, louder fanfare, and Rune, with the rest of the crowd, bowed low as the King strode forth to take his place beside his daughter. "Rejoice, my people," His Majesty boomed forth throughout the crowded palace hall, "for the contest is ended and the man who has done the most incredible thing, who will have my daughter and half of my kingdom, is one of you, the ordinary folk of my kingdom. Behold, the creation which has won!"
He gestured to the sheet-covered object to one side, and a servant pulled the sheet away to reveal the wonderful clock. All the people gasped and murmured, but before any of them could turn towards Rune, the Princess looked over the crowd and smiled directly at him, blue eyes meeting eyes of green. Rune stared back at her, feeling his heart leap behind his ribs, for surely it could not be—
"No!" bawled out a voice, drawing all eyes back to the dais. A lanky lout with an axe on his shoulder stepped forth, and Rune recognized the man who had been splitting logs on the day of the contest. "This little toy has not won, for I will show you now the most incredible thing!"
From all corners of the crowd, men leaped forward, but the lout was too quick for them. With a crash like the screaming of a thousand voices, he drove his axe through the clock, sending splinters of wood and metal flying in every direction. "There," he said in satisfaction. "My work has undone his, all in a single stroke, and with muscle and might, the proper doings of a man, instead of dainty bits of wooden whimsy which might as well be magic." He spat to one side, as though the word were too foul to remain in his mouth. "What do you think of that?"
As the crowd began to murmur, Rune wrenched his eyes from the destruction of all his and Alvar's hard work to look back at the Princess. She had collapsed into her horsehair-stuffed throne, her face as white as though she had seen the murder of a child, her hand pressed firmly across her mouth. Rune gazed in fascination at that hand, at its long and slender fingers, feeling pieces fit together in his mind like his own clockwork, for surely this made sense of everything which had ever puzzled him about his fellow crafter and friend...
"Hear me, my people," said the King from where he had been concurring with his counselors, and the crowd in the hall stilled. "By my decree, whoever did the most incredible thing was to have the Princess and half the kingdom." His mouth worked, as though he disliked what he had to say but was determined to say it anyway. "For a work of art like this clock to be so cruelly destroyed is indeed the most incredible thing we have seen, and the law is the law. So that in three weeks' time, as soon as all things may be made ready, you, sirrah..."
"Jan Larsen, Your Majesty." The lout bowed low, setting his axe aside. "At your service."
"Yes, very well," said the King wearily. "In three weeks' time, Jan Larsen will be wedded to my daughter." He gestured towards her. "The Princess Alvida."
The lady rose to her feet, her face a mask of ice, and curtsied coldly to her future husband. He bowed in return, smirking broadly.
Rune took two steps back, then turned and fled from the hall.