Princess Automaton

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Princess Automaton“Please, Highness, it will only take a moment.”

“I’m sorry, goodwoman.  I don’t have a moment.  I must be on my way, but I will send help to you.”

With that, High Princess Leonora signaled her carriage driver to continue on and nodded to her guard to ride ahead.  He would find a cart and bring it back to the old woman and escort her and her broken wagon into the capitol.

“If you could spare a moment to speak with her, you could have spared a moment more for someone in our party to help fix her wagon,” said Leonora’s godmother, who sat across from the princess.

“The state it was in, they would have had to build her a new one,” Leonora said.  She turned and her bright blue eyes were filled with the weight of cares yet unfulfilled.  “That would have taken longer than a moment.  And I didn’t see you raising your wand, Godmother.”  

“You know I’m forbidden from using my magic on such everyday matters.”

“Fairy rules are even more difficult to understand than the rules of my kingdom.  But I accept that you could not help.  Can you not accept that I could not either?”

Leonora’s fairy godmother, Erilda, crossed her arms and frowned.  “I cannot.  What have you got to do that you could not stop to help one of your subjects?”

“Washing, breakfast, a visit to Corisande, if she’s awake.  Morning lessons.  Then brunch with some guests in the castle.  Then I must help mother receive more guests to the castle.  By the time we are finished, we will take lunch in the gardens—“

“All right!  All right.  I see you have your day planned as you always do.  And why must it be so regimented?  You are still a child.”

“I am a princess.”

“It is no one’s destiny to keep to a schedule, Princess.”

“Destiny?  That is a fanciful thought, Godmother.  And a foolish one.  Much is expected of me.  I cannot stop to fix every small problem when I must tend to the large ones.”

“Your people will not love you if you think of them as small.”

“It is not my purpose to be loved by my people, Godmother.  It is my purpose to serve them.  And to serve my family.  It is curious to me that you should be so troubled by my strict habits on today of all days.  Would you have me be late to my own sister’s coronation?”

Erilda sighed.  “Of course not.”

***

The princess and her fairy godmother had been in the country where Leonora was visiting some of the kingdom’s farms.  The princess had insisted on riding through the night so that they would arrive just after dawn and she could follow her schedule, even though the queen had relieved her of having to greet guests.

It was the coronation day of Leonora’s little sister.  Corisande was a year old and as the kingdom’s custom dictated, ready for induction into her role as princess.  Leonora was twelve years older and already bearing the burdens of future rule.  She was a sober and serious child.  What friendships she had made faded away when she had begun to realize that she was growing up and would inherit the kingdom.  There was only one thing, one person, who could disrupt the rigid schedule that Leonora set for herself, beyond what the king and queen and her tutors and minders required.  That one person was the baby Corisande.

The king and queen, thinking it a boon that their eldest was already taking her royal role seriously, let her be.  For she always did what they asked of her and more.  But her fairy godmother worried.  It was her job, after all, to assure that the princess had magic and wonder in her life.  So Erilda pondered as they rode on into the capitol, and before they reached the castle, she had a plan.

***

The coronation of Corisande was a lavish event.  The festivities began in the afternoon in the castle square, and the coronation followed as a solemn but short ceremony, during which the baby princess laughed and charmed her subjects.  Then there was dining and merriment in the evening, and it was likely to go on through the night.

Erilda kept a close watch on her goddaughter and noted that Princess Leonora rose and excused herself before dinner and headed toward her bedchamber.

The fairy godmother was much displeased and followed her charge.  When they were alone in Leonora’s bedchamber, the guards having stopped at the threshold, Erilda confronted the princess.

“Why have you left the festivities?”

“I must study, Godmother.”

“Tonight of all nights?  You didn’t even have dinner.”

“I have had much to eat and drink today, and have seen my sister rightly crowned.  My merriment is done.  Now I will work and then rest.”

Erilda frowned.  “Then you will wake and work some more.  Don’t you want to spend time with that little sister of yours?”

“Tonight is for her, not for me or for us.  I will play with her tomorrow.”  Leonora spoke with such calm and such seeming dispassion that the fairy felt her nerves twitch and prickle.

“I was going to ask your parent’s permission,” Erilda said.  “But I think I should take a godmother’s liberty in this case.”  She fluttered her wings.  “You must stand still a while, child.  You must see that all your life cannot be planned and prepared ahead of time.  This lesson you must learn and none other seems to be willing to teach it.  So I will.”  She raised her wand, and as Leonora’s eyes widened and her lips parted to speak, Erilda cast her spell.

***

Erilda placed her hand upon the stone statue that stood before her, the one who had been a living, breathing girl only moments before.

“Do not worry,” Erilda said, for she knew the princess could hear her.

Leonora’s ears were stone just like the rest her, but she was enchanted stone and so she could hear and she could see what was right in front of her eyes.  She could not smell much really and her skin could feel nothing, so her godmother’s touch went unfelt.  She could not move her lungs and yet she did not suffocate.  Leonora was in no pain.  She just could not move a muscle, for her every muscle had been turned to stone.

“It may be frightening,” Erilda said, moving into the view of her goddaughter’s stone eyes.  “But it will pass.  By this time tomorrow, you will be flesh and blood again.  And if you choose, you can go back to your schedules and plans.  But you will see that one day of absence will not ruin all.  I will tell everyone that you are feeling ill from all the merry-making and that I convinced you to take a day of rest.  I will check on you myself.  And you will stay here just as you are for one night and one day.  You will be stiff and sore when you are restored, but it will be nothing you cannot recover from.  And you will be angry with me most likely, and you may tell the king and queen of my deception.  That is your right.  But I hope you will see that I do this for your good as well as the good of the kingdom.  A monarch must be somewhat flexible in her rule.  I hope being rigid for a day will teach you why it is unfavorable to be unyielding.”

With that, Erilda left, and Leonora stood in a pool of moonlight, still as a statue.

***

The night passed and the day passed and no one but Erilda came to check on Princess Leonora.  Everyone was tired from the coronation.  And while Leonora was not known to take to her sickbed often, many were glad to hear she was resting.  The child with her diligence and gravity made even the oldest councilors feel uneasy and deficient at times.  Some even praised Erilda for having convinced the princess to take rest.

Leonora could not sleep properly for she would grow drowsy, but her eyes were frozen open.  She abided in a strange state between waking and sleeping.  Her thoughts were scattered.  And the only emotions she felt were fear and hope.  Fear of her godmother.  And hope that her flesh and blood would soon be restored.  She had tried to think of what she would do when she was restored.  Whether she would tell the king and queen, or strike some deal with her godmother.  Whether she would be able to even face her godmother.  But she grew so tired and weary, she just could not focus her thoughts.

At last, the appointed hour came when the stone princess would be restored and with it came Erilda.  She had been telling everyone in the castle that she would be sure to rouse the princess for the following day so she did not rest overmuch.  The fairy came merrily into the darkened chamber, lit some torches and candles, and stood before the princess.  She gave a nod and waited.  She waited for the better part of an hour, but the princess did not change.  Erilda creased her forehead and raised her wand.  She took a breath.  She lowered her wand and raised it again.  Leonora watched all this with mounting hope and horror.  She still did not know what she would do—what she should do—when she was made flesh again.  Erilda raised her wand, bit her lip, and cast her spell, the spell of restoration, of reversal.

It did not work.

Erilda huffed a breath.  She shook her head slightly and tried again.  Still, there was no change.  With her stone eyes, Leonora saw a sheen of sweat forming on her godmother’s brow.

There was a candle burning on the dresser where Leonora could see it.  That was how the princess knew that hours were passing as her fairy godmother tried again and again to undo the spell she had wrought.  As Leonora watched, her fear of her godmother lessened.  She began to feel anger and then pity for the creature.  When she was found, Leonora had no doubt that her mother and father would find a way to restore her.  And their wrath and the wrath of the fairies would be on Erilda.  For her godmother had broken a most sacred pact, to never harm her godchild.  The princess watched as her fairy godmother grew more and more desperate with each failed attempt.  She was not surprised when Erilda stopped at last and spoke, short of breath and with wavering voice.

“I must leave,” she said.  “If the king and queen find you like this, why, they’ll lock me in a dungeon.  And then I’ll never be able to find a way to restore you.  I won’t fail you, dear Leo.  I won’t rest until I figure what has gone wrong and right it again.  I know it will be difficult to wait, but you will be well taken care of.  Now I must leave.”  Erilda gave a clumsy, stumbling bow to the princess.  She moved out of view.

Leonora was left in silence.

***

What happened next was as Leonora predicted.  A maidservant found her in the morning, screamed, alerted the guards.  Before long, the king and queen and some servants and councilors were gathered in Leonora’s bedchamber.  At first, they thought it a prank, or perhaps a gruesome gift.  The princess’s expression was frozen in the fright she’d felt when she saw her godmother’s wand pointed at her.  Then the search began for the princess.  In her hast, or perhaps in her deception, Erilda had left no note, no explanation.  But it was known that she was the last to have seen Leonora.  She was sent for and did not come, of course.  And so the search began for her as well.

Leonora strained and screamed to be heard, but none could hear her for her voice was stone.  The queen remained in Leonora’s chambers.  And when Corisande was brought into the room, the baby who rarely if ever cried, began to bawl and scream.  No one could comfort her.  She knew.  Leonora felt a burst of love for her sister, for she felt that the baby knew.  But the baby too could not speak what she knew.  The queen, at a loss for how to calm the baby, brought her toward the statue, hoping the sight of something that looked like her elder sister would calm her.  And it did.  Corisande stopped crying and she did a most peculiar thing.  She pointed to Leonora, reached for her, and cried whenever she was pulled away.

After the night of waiting alone, the events that followed happened quite quickly.  Leonora was glad and proud that her parents kept their wits about themselves even as they feared for her.  They sent for the fairy godmothers and godfathers of the nobles in the capitol.  And they asked them all to examine the statue of Leonora.  It was not long before the fairies were able to put together the story that Leonora could not tell.  That the statue was not a statue, but the princess, Leonora herself, turned to stone.  That a fairy had cast the spell, and it was most likely Erilda, as she had vanished.  Some of her possessions were gone and that suggested she fled and was not taken or coerced by someone else.

The queen and king begged the fairies to try and restore Leonora, but they said they dared not, for they were not powerful enough to even try without harming the princess.  But they promised to report to their highest authority and to send for help.

The queen and king could not fathom why Erilda would do what she had done, why she would harm Leonora, who was so dear to her.  They ordered that search efforts be redoubled, and that the fairy be brought straight to the castle when she was found.  The other fairies too vowed to search for Erilda.

In the meantime, word spread of what had happened to Leonora.   By the end of the day, everyone in the capitol knew that the heir to the throne had been turned to stone.

***

There were several fairies in the flock that came to pay their respects to the king and queen. The oldest among them was gray of hair and wing and she seemed to speak for the lot.  They went to Leonora’s bedchamber and examined the stone princess for many hours.

“We give our condolences and apologies for the careless act of our sister,” the gray fairy said at last.  “This was done on purpose but not with malice.  I can see evidence of her efforts to undo the spell.”

“Can you see why she cast it?” the queen asked.

The gray fairy shook her head.  “But I do see something else that is troubling.  Brace yourselves, Majesties.  For there is cause to hope and cause to dread.  Your daughter is still alive within the stone spell.  Alive and reasonably well from what I can gather.”

The king and queen gave sighs of relief.  And then held their breaths again for the ill news to come.

“I cannot fathom why this is so,” the gray fairy said.  “But your daughter is also quite aware.  She is not slumbering in stone.  She is trapped in it.  She can hear and see us.”

At this, the king fell back into his seat.  The queen, holding her youngest daughter, rose and stepped toward her eldest.  She walked into view of Leonora’s frozen gaze.

“Hold fast, darling,” the queen said.  “We will restore you.”

The gray fairy told the king and queen that there were a few great magics that could break a fairy spell or curse.  True love was one.  But Leonora had no true love.  She was too young to have suitors by the laws and customs of their kingdom.  And the king and queen had already kissed her stone figure and wept upon it.  So the true love of family had not worked.  Snapping or destroying the wand that cast the spell, if a wand was used, was another way to break the spell, though there was no guarantee.  Killing the fairy who cast the spell might work, but that too was not guaranteed.  Despite their grief and anger, the king and queen did not want to kill Erilda, only entreat her to reverse her spell.  Lesson learned was another way a curse might be broken.  Some spells were cast with specific conditions.  And by fulfilling those conditions, the spell would be broken.  Typically the conditions were meant to teach the recipient of the spell a lesson.  But with Leonora silenced in stone and Erilda vanished, there was no one to ask who would know for certain.

The gray fairy glided forth.  “We can…put her to sleep.  She will be more comfortable that way.”

“I don’t understand,” the king said, rising, “why you can’t just undo what Erilda has done?”

“Majesty, with utmost respect, I am certain you can find many in your kingdom who can scramble an egg.  But how many people do you know who can un-scramble that egg?  Even if he was the one who scrambled it in the first place?”

“If Erilda cannot undo it and if you cannot, then can it be undone at all?” the king asked.  His demeanor was calm, kingly.  But anger flashed behind his eyes and despair bowed his shoulders ever so slightly.

“It is not impossible,” the gray fairy said, “but it does require great power.  There is only one whom I know to possess that power, our queen.  But she cannot help you.”

“Why not?”

At this the fairies were hesitant.  They asked if they could speak with the king and queen in private and so the few members of the royal council who were present were, after much objection, dismissed.

“We would not have this known far and wide,” the gray fairy said.  “But as your sorrow is of our making and as you and your ancestors have been honorable in your dealings with us, we will trust you to know and to keep it secret.”  The gray fairy took a deep and weary breath.  “Our queen was in battle with a great enemy of hers and was gravely wounded.  She now lies in a deep and dreamless sleep from which she cannot be waked without great peril to herself.  You see, it is a healing sleep.  If she wakes too early, she will die from her wound.”

“How long will she sleep?” the queen asked, hoping and dreading at once.

The gray fairy gave her a pitying look.  “One thousand years.”

***

“We would lose her and she would lose us, but she would have a chance to be alive and live out the rest of her days,” the king said.  He and the queen had dismissed everyone from the chamber.  Only they and their two daughters remained.

“She is still a child,” the queen said, a tear streaking down her cheek, breaking her royal composure.  “However  strong and able she is, she is still a child.  Who will care for her a thousand years from now?  What if it is forgotten that she is real?  What if she is thought a mere statue and never restored?”

“The fairies have given their word.”

“Be damned the word of a fairy!” the queen said.

Leonora, who was feeling alert and awake thanks to a spell cast by one of those fairies, perked up at the sound of her mother’s curse.

“We must make them try to restore her to us.”

“At the cost of destroying her?”  The king shook his head.  “This statue is all we have of our daughter.  What if their efforts make her crumble? “

The queen reached out and touched her daughter’s stone cheek.  Mimicking her mother perhaps, the baby reached out toward her stone sister.  She brushed her clumsy fingers across Leonora’s lips.  The queen smiled down at the baby.

“Yes, if only she could tell us, eh little one?”

The queen turned to the king then, her eyes wide, for she had just been struck with a most wonderful notion.

***

“If you attempt to restore her to flesh and blood, you might harm her, even destroy her, you said.”  The queen spoke to the gray fairy, who with her flock, were gathered once again in Leonora’s bedchamber.

“It is so,” the gray fairy said.

“Can you turn her from stone to something other than flesh, wood perhaps or metal, without harming her?”

The gray fairy frowned.  “To what end?”

“You said that she can hear and see, even though she is stone.  It is part of the magic.  She cannot move, for her limbs are fused.  She cannot speak, for her voice has been turned to stone.  But what if we restored her limbs and her voice?”  The queen walked the fairy to the writing table by the window and unrolled a scroll that lay there.  There was a drawing of what appeared to be a most elaborate doll.

“Do you know what this is?” the queen asked.

The gray fairy raised a brow but did not answer.

“It is called an automaton.  I saw one in my brother’s kingdom.  A guild of craftsmen made this…doll…that when wound up could move and speak of its own accord.  It was a machine and yet one in the shape of a person.  And it was made of metal, wood, and glass.”

The gray fairy stared at the scroll for a long time before speaking at last to herself.  “To change her back might break her.  But to change her forward, could she withstand that?”  She turned to the queen.  “I believe we can do it without harming the princess, but I cannot predict how well the…automaton will work.  Why do you ask this of us?”

“She can tell us what happened for certain.  And she can tell us what she wishes to do.  Slumber until she can be restored, or try to be restored now.”

“If we do this, we cannot turn her back to stone,” the gray fairy said.  “She would remain an automaton until our queen can restore her, and I cannot promise such a thing on behalf of our queen.”

“I understand.”

“And the princess…she is but a child.  You will have her decide her own fate?  Between death and loss?”

“She has the right.  And I would hear my daughter’s voice again.”

“Very well, though it will not sound as it once did.  She will not be as she once was.”

“I understand.”

“And you trust us to cast untried spells upon you daughter, when it was one of our number who cast the one that took her from you?”

“I admit, I do not trust you, gray fairy.  But my only other choice is to let her remain in stone.  That I cannot do to my daughter.  I must give her a chance.”

***

The spells were cast.  They turned the princess of stone into a princess of wood and metal and glass.  What once was bone was now metal.  Joints were gears.  What was once hair colored like midnight was now made of fleecy strands of black silk.  Her bright blue eyes were now made of glass.  Her limbs of rare wood that did not burn.  And she had, to her great relief, eyelids that could open and close.  To her mother and father, Leonora looked like a doll of herself.  Her sister, Corisande, squealed in delight at the sight of the automaton princess.

But something was wrong.

Leonora could not move very well.  She struggled to lift her limbs, though her workings were wound up all the way.  She needed help to move at first, and she could not speak but a few phrases.

She could say “I must study,” which made the queen and king laugh and cry.  But the other phrases puzzled and even haunted them.  “My merriment is done,” and “Tonight is for her.”  They did not know it, but Leonora knew that she was repeating the last few words she had spoken before her godmother turned her to stone.  She wanted to speak so much more, but she could not utter the words.  The automaton body was shaped like hers, but it was unfamiliar.  And the voice that spoke sounded calm and measured like hers, but somehow awkward, stilted and hollow.

The king and queen lamented, and yet they saw how Corisande looked at the automaton.  How the baby locked her green eyes with the blue glass eyes.  They did as their baby did, and they saw traces of their elder daughter inside the mechanical body and felt some measure of hope.

As the days passed, they tried to encourage Leonora to speak and to look at them.  The royal council found smiths in the kingdom, craftsmen and spell-makers, who believed if they could tinker with the princess’s inner workings, they might be able to make her move and speak properly.  But the royal couple, desperate as they were, could not bear the thought of rough hands upon their daughter, sharp tools tearing at her insides.  They refused and instead took turns sitting with her, caring for her parts, and trying to teach her.  They wound her up and let her speak and move.

They realized that even as Corisande would have to learn how to use her new limbs and voice, as all young children do, so Leonora would have to learn to use her new body.  Leonora had realized that too.  But unlike her baby sister, she knew what she must learn.

“Let me be,” she said when they wound her up one day.  For she had struggled many days to learn and form the words.  “Let me be,” she repeated when her mother and father looked at her.

And so for that day and many to come, they let her be.

“She has always been determined, and filled with a fierce focus,” the queen said to Corisande as they moved away from the reclining automaton.  “Perhaps our dear Leo will find her own way back to us.”

***

Leonora learned to crawl with her sister, then to walk, and to speak more and more words.

The king and queen loved her, but the rest of the castle’s inhabitants—servants, guards, residing nobles, visiting relatives—found her presence unsettling.  When she was flesh and blood, she was thought to be aloof, but that was accepted, as she was a royal.  But now she was unnatural.  Alive and yet not alive.  A machine that moved not just with purpose but with awareness.  Some claimed she was without a soul, that she had lost it and that’s why the fairies hadn’t been able to change her back.

There was only one being in all the castle who did not lament for her or shy away from her.  Corisande.  And Leonora, who loved her parents and her kingdom and her people from afar, who had never truly had friends beyond the age when she realized she had the burden of rule in her future, adored her little sister beyond life and time.  She adored the little child who saw through the bright blue glass eyes into the soul of her older sister.  The little child who played with the dark midnight hair made of black silk as if it were her older sister’s real hair.  And as the sisters grew up and learned, the mechanical heart that passed the oils and fluids through Leonora’s workings began to glow with love.

Leonora learned to speak as she once spoke.  In a tone that sounded almost human when addressing others, and outright warm and gentle when speaking to Corisande.

She returned to her studies.  She found she could retain perfect memory of all she learned and read.  But while her mind was strong and fluid, her body was far clumsier than it was before.  She had been graceful enough to be a fair dancer.  And she had loved to dance and to ride.  She did not give up hope that she might learn to move as she once had.  But while she practiced, there was one thing she could do very well in her automaton form.

She could run.

She would put on trousers and boots and run through the gardens with such terrible speed, it would frighten the gardeners.  She felt no pain.  She felt no exhaustion and could run until she wound down.  She was stronger than she would have been as a young girl.  She tested that strength against some of the castle guards in games of arm wrestling.  She devised and built a crank that would allow her to wind herself.  Leonora had not been built by the skill of mortal hands.  She had been built by the magic of fairies and the spark of life that was imbued to all natural living creatures.  She had, despite rumors, a soul.  And she suspected she could do more wonders with her automaton body than any could imagine.  A regular automaton could not grow, but she had been stretching and flexing and willing her body to age, just a bit, to grow taller and wider, stronger.  She had done it for herself at first, and then for Corisande, so her sister would not outgrow her, at least not for many years to come.

“I can grow up, for you,” she told Corisande once.  “But I don’t want to grow old.”  And Leonora had gently poked her sister’s armpit with a mechanical finger, causing the ticklish little princess to collapse into giggles.

***

Ten years passed, and the castle and the kingdom became used to their automaton princess.

To Corisande, she remained a delight.  To some in the castle, she became a curiosity.  To others, she was a wonder.  To still others, she remained a concern.  She was still the heir to the kingdom, and yet the kingdom could not be ruled by an automaton.  The royal council brought their concerns to the monarchs time and again.  Leonora, as she was, could not become queen.  None would court and marry her.  And even if someone did, some desperate noble perhaps looking to gain prestige, they would never have an heir.  The choice was obvious.  The kingdom should go to Corisande.

Over the years, the king and queen considered the advice of their councilors.  And they delayed in giving their answer.  But when Corisande turned ten years of age, when the search for Erilda had turned up no signs or clues, even among the fairies, when they could delay no longer, the king and queen sat their daughters down and told them what must be.  For they agreed with their council.

Little Corisande became angry at the council for insulting her sister.  She threatened to get rid of them all if they made her queen.  Though the threat was spoken with a high voice, Leonora did not envy the royal council for the enemy they had made that day.  She did not envy them, but she did agree with them.  Even before becoming an automaton, Leonora was a practical child.  She would do what was best for her kingdom.  She told the king and queen so, but she insisted that she remain as advisor to Corisande, if her little sister so chose, for she felt the strain and burden of future rule and did not wish for her sister to bear that burden alone.

The king and queen assured that Corisande would not bear the burden alone, for she would have a partner in her king.  They warned Leonora that once Corisande was queen, she would have to consider the opinions of her husband and her royal council.  And they might not approve of an automaton as advisor to the queen.  Already they grumbled because Leonora was one of Corisande’s tutors.

“I will step aside, if that is your wish,” Leonora said.

Corisande frowned and her green eyes seemed to flash in the sunlight that flooded the room.  “It is not my wish.”

Leonora turned her head.  “When you are queen, you will have to do what is best for your people, not what you wish.”

Corisande composed herself and calmed her expression.  “What is best for our people is for the monarchs to have wise and caring counsel.  I am young yet.  But I have met few who are wiser or more caring than the Princess Leonora.”

It was well spoken for one so young.  And Leonora felt a sister’s and a teacher’s pride.

I will let no one harm or corrupt my little sister, Leonora thought.  I will stay with her always.  She will be as she will be.

“We will never stop searching for the one who can restore you, darling,” the queen said to Leonora.  “But we must make the decision soon and announce it to the realm.”

Leonora bowed her head to her mother.

***

In the first year of Leonora’s life as an automaton, the king and queen and council had passed laws forbidding fairies from becoming godparents or guardians to any child in the kingdom, lest any other parents suffer from the whims of a wayward fairy as they had suffered.  By the time Corisande reached the age that Leonora had been when she was turned to stone, the kingdom had become devoid of all fairies altogether.

So it was a strange sight when on the eve of High Princess Corisande’s thirteenth year of life, a creature with glittering wings entered the capitol and made her way to the castle.

At the gates of the castle, her wand was taken.  At the entrance to the great hall, she was shackled by the guards.  As she made her way to the throne room, she was met with gazes some curious, some hostile, some fearful.

And at the steps to the thrones upon which sat the king, the queen, and the heir to the kingdom, the fairy was met by an angry automaton.

“Godmother,” the automaton said.

The fairy gazed in wonder and fear at the mechanical woman, whose dress of ornate blue and gold fell like light armor over hard limbs.  She gazed into bright blue eyes of glass.

“Leonora!”  The fairy fell to her knees.

“What mischief have you come here to make?” the automaton asked.

“I told you I would return,” the fairy said, sobbing.  “I told you I would not fail you.  But…I have failed you.  There is only one way I can think of to…break the spell.”

“Are you putting your life at my mercy?”  Leonora’s mechanical features turned to surprise.

“My life and my wand.  Break them both.”

A guard brought forth the wand.  But Leonora held out her hand.  “We cannot just snap it ourselves.  There is no telling what will happen.  We must bring it to the fairies.  They can break it.”

“I made a mistake, Leonora.  A terrible mistake.  I saw you slipping into madness…into nothingness.  I was desperate to stop it.”

“False words from a false friend.”  The voice came from the throne, from the king.

“I did not intend to take your life, your youth,” Erilda said, still collapsed before Leonora’s feet.

“Then why did you not come to sacrifice yourself sooner?”  The question came from the queen.

Erilda ignored the words of the king and queen.  She kept her gaze fixed on Leonora.  “The fairies did this.  They took my stone and they carved something far more beautiful out of it.”

“They are not all like you,” Leonora said.

“You have always had the soul of an automaton.”

“And you have always resented me for it.”

Erilda shook her head but did not speak any denials.  “What will be my fate?”

“That will be for the High Princess to decide.”

Erilda now looked to the right of the king, where sat the High Princess.

“Give her to the fairies, sister,” Corisande said.

Erilda blinked in confusion.  “Do you not care, Highness, that your sister can be restored to life?  All you need do is take mine.”

“My sister is as she wishes to be.  She always has been.”

“A fairy’s spell is oft undone when the intended lesson is learned.”  Leonora cast her glass eyes upon the fairy.  “The spell you cast upon me broke a while ago.”  It had, in truth, broken many years ago, even before she stepped down as heir, but Leonora had not realized it until later.

“Then…why are you not restored?”

“I chose not to cast it off.  I have abdicated the throne.  I will have no heirs.  I will retain the immortality you have granted me.  And I will serve my kingdom as I am.”  She gave a nod and the guards raised the fairy up.  “We have already sent word to the fairies.  You will be our guest until they come for you.”

Erilda’s eyes widened with fear and confusion but she said nothing as the guards took her away.

***

Corisande was by Leonora’s side as soon as the fairy left the hall.  Leonora knew how difficult it had been for her sister to remain on her throne while Leonora faced the one who had wronged her.  As soon as the fairy was spotted in the capitol, marching unhidden toward them, they had prepared for her arrival.  The sisters bowed to their parents and walked down a side hallway lit by windows of colored glass.

“I thought I would hate her,” Corisande said.  “But I think I rather pity her.  She looked so wretched.  It seems she truly tried her hardest to find a way to restore you.  And she eluded everyone for so long.  She could have stayed hidden, but now the fairies will have her and punish her.”

“Yes,” Leonora said.  “I am curious about her story.  How she remained hidden.  What she was truly doing.  Why she seems so fearful.”

“Will you ask her?”

“Not likely.  I do not wish to see her again.  You may ask if you are curious.  Just take care.  I don’t want her casting any spells on you.”

“Do you still hate her?”

“I never hated her.  I was angry and I did not understand how she could be so careless with something so powerful as magic.”

“I hope I won’t be so careless with the power I have,” Corisande said.  “The power of rule.  You gave me a kingdom!”

“You gave me a heart.”

Corisande smiled.  “I will have you here for my whole life.  But I worry for you that you will be alone once we are all gone.  That you’ll forget to enjoy yourself every now and then.”

“I will have your children and their children.”

“May they be good to you.”

Leonora stopped in the halls of their ancestors and turned to Corisande.

“They will be.  I’ll be all right.  I did learn some lessons of worth from my godmother.  She spoke to me of destiny once or twice.  I dismissed her words, but she was right.  We all have a destiny.  What she did not understand is that we must chose our destinies.  Yours is to rule our kingdom.  Mine is to watch over it, guard it, and our people and our family for as long as I abide.”

And I will abide for many an age to come.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Nila L. Patel.

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