* * *
“Mirrored fragment in my hand, show me now the brass-made man.”
The glass fragment reflects the old woman’s withered features. Her visage slowly fades and all that is left is her floating smile. The smile morphs until an androgynous face replaces it. The face’s lips are peeling and the facial features are cracked. Eyes empty of light stare back at the old woman. The disembodied head attenuates and ripples as it is replaced by a rolling forest.
“There it is!” she croons.
The glass fragment shows a man made of brass uproot a tree and launch it at two figures. The old woman has to move the glass fragment to follow the action. The figures dive out of the way, the tree barely striking one. The brass automaton’s clockwork gears propell it forward in a leap, and a burst of steam arrests its decent.
“What have you got there, prisoner?” The guard bangs the hilt of his sword on the bars to the woman’s cell.
The withered woman secrets the glass fragment in her tattered robe, and turns to face the guard. “I have nothing,” she croaks.
“I saw you with something,” retorts the guard.
The crone extends her arms and spins in a circle, gesturing around the room. “I’ve been locked in this room for generations,” she rasps. “The oracle foresaw my death in this very cell.”
The guard steps back, but still attempts to project an air of authority. His eyes narrow into slits as he surveys the woman older than the castle and the kingdom he has vowed to protect. He leans against the wall, still facing her, but he lets his eyes fall slack. The woman withdraws her hands into her robe and runs a callused thumb against the rough edge of the glass fragment. The guard misses the slight wince as the glass drinks from her bloody thumb.
* * *
“Come with me if you want to live!”
John looks back at the brass automaton, the escaping steam bending grass and its feet sinking into the soft topsoil. John lunges and grips Reese’s outstretched hand with his own. She hauls him to his feet as a high-pitched whine escapes the brass automaton.
“It needs to build up pressure before it can attack again!” Reese shouts as she drags John away from his farm site, and the menace that is whirling gears and dark magic.
John looks forlornly at the pigs screeching in the mud. He doubts they would survive the path of the brass monstrosity. “We have to get to the castle,” he yells as he stumbles after Reese.
Reese looks over her shoulder just long enough to ensure John is following. “The soldiers of this time are not equipped to handle something like this.”
“And you can?”
“With the weapons of the time? I don’t know.”
“Don’t worry about it right now.”
John skids to a stop. “You’ll tell me now!”
Reese doubles back to where John obstinately stands, her shoulders square with irritation. She seizes John by the neck and spins him toward the brass automation. “Do you see that thing?” she shouts into his ear. “That thing will kill you.”
“I told you, it wants to prevent you from meeting your wife.”
John struggles from her grip. “I’m not married!”
Reese rolls her eyes, and pulls on John’s arm. “An evil queen wants to kill a beautiful princess. She’s the fairest in the land.”
Reese keeps looking back to the automaton in the distance as they run away. “The evil queen will hire you to kill the princess.”
John slows at the revelation. “I won’t kill anyone.”
“I know this.” Reese sighs and gazes at the automaton as it shrinks in the distance. “But the evil queen doesn’t. You only pretended to kill the princess, and the evil queen cast a spell on her causing her to fall into a deep sleep. You will wake her with a kiss, and you will be her king.”
John and Reese stagger into a stable, and begin saddling a pair of horses.
“Why is the automaton trying to kill me?”
“Don’t you see?” Reese grumbles as she tightens a strap on the horse. “If you don’t wake the princess, the evil queen will reign and the world will crumble to her gruesome whim.”
The duo ride out of the stable as the increasing pitch from the brass automaton finally ceases. The automaton’s clockwork eyes move, the glass fragments reflecting the scene of its escaping target.
* * *
The old woman scores the back of her glass fragment against the stonework as her guard snores loudly in the hallway. She snaps a small piece off the larger fragment, and rubs it against the wall, repositioning it time and time again until the glass starts to become round. She smiles and pushes the small pile of glass dust around with her dirty bare foot. The glass is indistinguishable from the dirt that accompanies her cell. She holds up a second round glass fragment, comparing the two pieces, and smiles again at her progress.
* * *
Sarah watches the odd up-side-down image from the glass fragment Jarvis handed her. The old crone finishes grinding the glass pieces to match, hides them in her robes, and settles in to sleep for the night. Sarah hands the fragment back to Jarvis and turns toward the brass automaton.
“Can I touch it?” she asks.
“Yes, but do not touch the mangled metal, it is sharp where it was crushed, and it feeds on blood.”
Sarah jerks her hand away, but walks around the pedestal examining the defunct automaton. “How did its head and arm get crushed?”
Jarvis smiles and replies, “That would be skipping ahead to the end of the tale.”
Sarah nods and sits in silent respect as the enigmatic Jarvis continues to tell the tale. The king watches them both from his own glass fragment, and feels the weight of the story as it unfolds in the hidden room below.
Next: The Price of Beauty