Good morning, O readers, and happy Fiction Friday! Or good afternoon or good evening, whatever it is where you are. Today, as promised, I continue my retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Most Incredible Thing", with a slightly modernized twist on the usual setup of "win the contest to win the kingdom and the Princess".
If you were here on the blog yesterday, you may remember that I spent some time thinking "aloud" about ways I could turn my writing into a paying job. At the recommendation of my friend and sometime collaborator Alex Conall, I've started off this effort by setting up a page on a website called Patreon, which allows patrons to pledge a certain amount of money per work I do. If you can, please consider clicking through and signing up! Rewards include bonus drabble stories, character naming rights, or even an Anne story written just for you!
A few things to bear in mind with Patreon. First, you're making a pledge per work, so every time you use the Patreon link to read a new Fiction Friday post, your pledge amount comes to me. Please consider that when choosing your patronage level. On the good side, you can set a monthly maximum, so that you will never be charged more than you can afford. However, please do also consider that I write a lot of fiction on days that aren't Friday. I just can't legally be paid for most of it. Not directly, at any rate...
And now my final note about Patreon. Your ability to pay me for my Fiction Friday posts does not mean that you will have to pay for them. They remain, as they have always been, free gifts from me to you. If you are able to give back to me in this way and you choose to do so, that is incredibly appreciated, and will boost both my confidence and my more tangible ability to pay attention to my writing. If you don't or can't, well, I'll just consider that you're saving up your money for my next novel release.
Please enjoy today's installment of "The Most Incredible Thing", Anne B. Walsh edition! (Here's Part 1 if you missed it last week.) More fiction of all sorts will be on the way soon, so stick around!
Rune and Alvar worked in companionable silence, the tiny clicks of Rune's tools forming a percussive background to the soft scraping of Alvar's knife. At last Rune stopped and arched his back, stretching. "There," he said, gesturing to the clock. "The roses are finished. They will bloom whenever the watchman sings his midnight song, and then curl back into their buds until the next time twelve is struck."
"How you do it, I have no idea." Alvar set aside his knife for a moment to twist his body at the waist. "To me, a gear is a gear, a lever a lever. You look at them and see movement, synchronicity, life."
"But I cannot look at a block of wood and see a rose, or a bird, or an angel, waiting to be set free." Rune flexed his fingers, looking at them thoughtfully. "Everyone underestimates his own talents, I think, because he has always had them and cannot conceive of life without them."
"A philosopher, as well as a clockmaker!" Alvar laughed aloud. "The Princess is a lucky lady indeed, to gain such a fine fellow as you for her husband!"
"You speak as if my victory were assured," Rune objected. "There will be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of wonders at the contest. Who is to say that someone else's effort will not be chosen as the most incredible thing? And that brings me to something I have wanted to ask you, Alvar." He turned to face his friend, green eyes looking directly into eyes of deepest blue. "Why will you not take your place beside me at the contest, and claim your share in the making of this wonderful clock? Why do you wish me to speak as though mine were the only hands to shape it, when the vast majority of the visible work is yours and yours alone?"
"I have my reasons." Alvar's gaze did not falter, but a deep flush stained his cheeks. "Besides, there is only one Princess, and she can have only one husband. I am sure she would prefer you to me in that role." Abruptly, he smiled. "I would make a very poor husband for any woman of taste and sense. And the Princess, from what I see, has both."
"Yes, I forget sometimes. You work also at the palace, and come here only when you can be spared there." Rune began to pace back and forth in the clear area of the shop. "You have that place assured to you for life, I think you said?"
"Whether I want it or not." Alvar laughed again, the sound more than half a sigh. "The work is not exhausting, only tedious, but in some ways that makes it harder."
Rune looked back at his friend, curious. "How so?"
Alvar spread his slender-fingered hands. "Those who work hard on the docks or in the fields are permitted, even expected, to sweat and curse with the strain. At the palace, I must move always with grace and poise, and behave as though my duties are effortless, though my shoulders and feet may be throbbing from the weight they carry and my head aches from remembering six dozen names at once."
"I begin to wonder if I should indeed aspire to marry the Princess." Rune chuckled. "If palace life is so hard as you claim, surely I would never survive it!"
"Ah, but you would be a Prince, you see." Alvar shook his head playfully. "And a Prince has no duties besides entertaining himself and waiting for his esteemed father-in-law to die."
"No duties, you say? With half the kingdom already mine, and a Princess as my wife?" Rune stroked his hand down the housing of the clock. "I would rather think there would not be enough hours in the day to properly discharge every duty that would suddenly fall to me! And I would be sure to make some very foolish decisions," he added. "But I would have the Princess to guide me, for they say she is as wise as she is beautiful, and that her father has had her educated as he would have a son." He glanced back at Alvar. "Some have even hinted that she has powers beyond the ordinary. That her mother's mother's mother was a wise woman of the far north, able to do mighty magic with mirrors."
"The Princess's great-grandmother came from a kingdom north of here, that is true." Alvar spoke slowly, choosing his words with care. "But I have never seen a single feat of magic done by our Princess, Rune, and if you are wise, you will speak of this to no one. There are those in this kingdom who hate and fear so much as the idea of a witch-Princess. Some of them may even try to win the contest for the most incredible thing, for if their creation is chosen as such, by her father's word the Princess must marry them. And what happens between a husband and wife, behind closed doors..."
"I had never thought of that." Rune came to Alvar's side and poured out another cup of tea from the tray Mistress Kathrine had left, steadying his friend's shaky grasp as Alvar sipped from it. "But you are right." He smiled encouragingly, cupping his own hands around Alvar's. "All the more reason for us to work harder, for I would enjoy having a witch to wife, and working with her to find ways that her magic could be used to better our people's lives without betraying itself."
"As I said before, my friend." Alvar turned one of his hands to clasp Rune's. "The Princess will be a lucky woman to gain you as her husband."
For one moment they stood thus, smiling into one another's eyes. Then Alvar released his hold. "Shall we proceed?" he suggested lightly. "We have only a week until the contest, and this child of our brains must be perfect if we are to make sure you win..."