Surprise! Happy Made-Up Monday, O readers! You've all been so appreciative of my latest fictional endeavors that I thought I'd give you the next installment of "The Most Incredible Thing" a few days early. Besides it being good practice for me to get my daily words done, it's my way of kicking back against the frustrations of daily life.
Yes, the job is frustrating me again. When doesn't it? Today was particularly bad, however, so as my way of getting my own back, I've taken time to write. It helps to imagine myself as the Princess Alvida, frustrated by senseless laws which want to control my very life, but finding ways to work around them and get what I want anyway.
Support for this fictional habit, either by purchasing originals through any of my outlets (see the Useful Links page) or by pledging on Patreon, is much appreciated. Not to mention, if I get to my next milestone goal on Patreon, Made-Up Mondays will become a thing on the blog just like Fiction Fridays (and they will be free, rather than paid, postings)! I think you could all live with that, couldn't you?
Whether or not it comes to pass, though, O readers, today's words are here for you, to enjoy and to comment upon. Thanks, as always, and I'll see you Wednesday for my usual dose of Why Do I Work Here!
What Rune did with the next few hours he could never clearly remember, but his feet led him at last back to Master Paulson's shop, through the front where clocks were displayed, around the counter and into the workshop where the difficult work was done, and where he and Alvar had spent so many companionable hours working side by side—
But no, that was not quite correct, Rune knew, for he had seen what he had seen, and Alvar's refusal to take public credit for the carvings on the wonderful clock now made perfect sense to him, if to no one else. Alvar was in truth Alvida, the Princess Alvida, and judging by all that Rune knew of his friend and fellow crafter, she had surely been furious with her father for his whimsical decree of this contest, which trumpeted to all the world that she had no mind or voice of her own but was merely a prize to be won.
"So she set out to win it for herself, with my help." Rune looked down at his own strong hands, wondering if he should be angry at Alvida's deception, at the way she had used him, but finding himself unable to summon more than the feeblest spark of that emotion. For what else, indeed, could a prudent Princess have done? As Alvida had pointed out to him herself, secrets in palaces were few and far between, and anything marvelous enough to win the contest for the most incredible thing would surely have been noticed by the servants. Here at Master Paulson's, she could work in peace, and the only secret which required to be kept was her coming and going in the guise of Alvar.
"Besides, she never lied to me about the work." Rune picked up a pinch of the wood shavings which littered the floor. "She put it to me openly, a few days after we had met here. 'I could enter the contest with fine carvings,' she said, 'or you with a well-made clock, but there will be many other beautiful carvings, many other excellent clocks. Together, we could make something truly extraordinary'. And so we did." His fingers curled into fists. "Until Jan Larsen, who is surely one of those who hate and fear magic, took up his axe and smashed the fate we had built together—built without magic, thank you, for I have none, and if Alvida uses anything other than hands and knives to shape her wood, I have never seen her!"
"I do not," said a clear voice from the rear of the shop. "I never have."
Rune jerked, a motion which he thought must make him look like one of his own clockwork-driven puppets, then turned to face the speaker. Dressed in Alvar's clothes but with her golden hair in its braided crown now exposed, her sapphire eyes red-rimmed from tears, the Princess Alvida stood in the doorway which led from Mistress Kathrine's kitchen.
For a long moment, they regarded one another. Then Rune dropped back a pace and bowed low. "Highness," he said. "Your humble servant."
"Oh, stop that." Alvida strode into the room, kicking aside a stool from her path impatiently. "If I wanted a humble servant, I would have stayed at the palace." She stopped two paces in front of him as he straightened, gazing at him with Alvar's frank eyes. "The friendship was never a lie," she said softly. "And I want a friend very badly just now."
"I will do whatever I can." Rune held out his hands, and felt a little jolt as Alvida clasped them. "I only wish I could have stopped him. All your beautiful carving, destroyed so cruelly."
"All your hard work to make it live, as well. Gone in a single stroke of an axe." Alvida hissed between her teeth. "And I know my father too well to think he will ever budge from what he has decreed. 'A law is a law, even if it happens to be a most incredible one,'" she mimicked the King, looking about haughtily. Rune laughed before he could stop himself, and Alvida smiled in answer.
"So...what can be done?" Rune asked after several seconds of silence. "Do you have magic, and could it avail anything here?"
"I do, but I cannot see how it would help me now." Alvida squeezed his hands and released them to pull up her usual stool, seating herself as Rune did the same. "As you mentioned once yourself, my great-grandmother had magic with mirrors, and I have inherited it, but it is good only for a few simple tricks. Such as changing my clothing between a proper Princess's gown and this, as I choose." She tugged at the weave of her breeches. "It is both how I make sure my boy's clothes are never discovered and how I find the time to slip away as Alvar, for a proper Princess spends half her day dressing herself, but I need only so long as it takes to call the reflection I wish into the mirror and change places with it."
"You change places with your reflection?" Rune frowned. "That sounds dangerous."
"Not at all." Alvida shook her head. "My mother remembered her grandmother's stories, and taught me the trick of it young. Mirrors show the truth, and therefore those who would practice mirror magic in safety must know and accept themselves as they truly are, without hiding from their fears or failings. For anyone who can do that, as I can, mirror magic is as safe as stepping through a door, for what awaits me on the other side is only myself, Alvida, with my fingers which carve lovely stories in wood and my mind which finds those stories there in the first place. But for anyone else..."
She stopped, and Rune smiled as he saw her eyes light.
"Could the Princess perhaps request," he suggested delicately, "that the church be lined with mirrors on her wedding day?"