[1024 words]In part eight, Paul talked about the conclusion to the Brass Automaton collaborative project. He did link to my tweet threatening to go all “Gardner monkey wrench,” on the story. You’ll have to judge if this iteration classifies as a monkey wrench. Of course, I do have part ten to have my filthy ways… Here’s another thousand words or so for you Brass Automaton fans:
* * *
John placed the final rock over Reese’s grave. The shallow scrapings were hardly befitting a proper burial of a woman so profound, he lacked the empathy to see. He didn’t fully understand the concepts she bandied about, but he detected a love she harbored for him. It lived just below the surface – not a romantic love, but a familial love. Who is Reese, he thought, and when does she come from?
* * *
John saw the malice in his wife’s eyes. Her façade of being the loving queen was nonexistent here with the midwife observing the joyous proceeding.
Snow closed her eyes and bore down with a scream escaping her lips. John was used to seeing the prim and proper Snow, but the sweat that dripped from her brow, and the pain that shown on her face was a side of her he had unfortunately never seen.
The reserved passion she displayed in manners of state, were hidden behind her ghostly pallor. If their child possessed a fraction of the intensity his wife had, then the kingdom was in good hands.
John’s reverie was interrupted by a wail. His unfocused eyes scanned his queen, and their… princess.
“John,” Snow whispered, “come hold your daughter.”
John gently held the swaddled child. “My sweet baby of ardor.”
Snow rolled her eyes, and motioned for the baby to be returned to her. She was fussing, and Snow hoped the baby would relieve more discomfort soon.
“She’s hungry,” John declared. “Baby Reese and my glowing queen need some time alone.”
As he handed Reese back to Snow, the room cleared. Clerics to witness the birth of their princess; historians to scratch on parchment, chronicling the event; and royal guards to oversee all the other people crowded into the small room. The midwife had insisted the room be free of any decorations or furniture other than a bed and a few wooden chairs.
“We are not naming her that!”
John looked over his shoulder at the retreating historians. “I think it may be too late. Besides, how else would we honor our ancestry?”
Snow scowled at her husband. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll name the next one.”
John rushed to her side, and held her free hand. “I decree it,” he whispered, mischief in his eyes. “Shall I ask the historians to return, and make it official?”
Snow dropped her husband’s hand, and cradled their new baby. “I expect great things from baby Reese,” she replied as the baby nuzzled her breast.
* * *
John made his way down the mountain, and from the grave of the mysterious woman who spent the last few years mentoring him. The pulverized boulder was less than a few hundred paces away, and the gleaming metal remains. It was mostly intact, but for the mangled left arm and missing head.
He stood there, staring at the monstrosity that attempted to kill him, and he let out a slow breath.
“A marvel of workmanship,” a voice intoned.
John whirled, and a stout man with a fiery red beard stood a few paces away. “Your name, kind dwarf,” responded John.
“Odc is the name my kin have given me,” the dwarf replied.
“Master Dwarf,” John responded, “from what kin do you hail?”
Odc nodded, as if he gleaned the unasked question. “We hail from beyond the seven mountains.”
“I implore you, Odc, take this monstrosity and hide it well.”
Odc looked to the brass automaton, and back to John. “This is quite the task for which you ask.”
John returned Odc’s steely gaze. “I offer payment of your choosing, if I am able,” he replied.
Odc’s eyes fell to John’s tattered clothing. “My payment is seven-fold,” he responded. “A chair of plain wood to adorn my supper table.”
“An earthenware plate to hold my supper.”
John nodded again.
“A loaf of bread baked by your own hands.”
John looked at his hands briefly before nodding yet again.
“Vegetables cultivated and picked on this very mountain.”
John stared at Odc in the defiant stance that only dwarves seemed to master.
“I shall need a fork and knife of brass to eat my bread and vegetables.”
John started to nod once more, but Odc continued: “A mug to hold my drink as I sup with my kin.”
“We have an accord, Sir Odc,” replied John, his hand extended. “I shall endeavor to get your payment post-haste.”
Odc grasped his hand. “I do not wish these items right away.”
Odc winked, and turned on his heel. “You will know when, Master Huntsman,” he called over his shoulder as he disappeared into the thicket.
The words echoed in John’s mind as he climbed down the mountain toward his home, and the life of a huntsman.
* * *
“Father, why do we do set an unused place every day?”
King John ruffled his daughter’s hair. “To remind us of a promise I made so many years ago.”
Reese looked from her father to her mother. Snow nodded, and placed a linen cloth below the earthenware plate, brass knife, fork, and mug. A single wooden chair sat in front of the table. John had made it before he was tasked to kill Snow. He had never told Snow the story behind the odd custom, but she recognized the items from her own adventure in the forest so many years ago.
Reese reached for the bread and vegetables, but a stern look from Snow stayed her hand. John placed the vegetables and bread on the plate at the empty space at their table.
The royal family ate their supper as they had for years. They were loved by their subjects, and were not prone to extravagant meals and parties. As servants came to clear the table, and the uneaten portions, they knew the cold vegetables and bread would be dispersed to the orphans in the orphanage Snow spent so much time at.
“Mi’Lord,” an excited voice echoed from the corridor.
Snow and Reese excused themselves as the crier stood at attention beside John.
“At ease soldier,” John commanded.
“Mi’Lord,” the crier announced, “there is an old crone with urgent news of the Rooskye family.”
Next: Etching Gullies