Copyright © 2005: My intellectual property. All rights reserved. No part or whole of this work may be copied or used in any shape, form, or manner whatsoever without my express written consent.
Intellectual Property: The characters are wholly my own. Any similarities drawn between them and any persons, plants or animals, living and dead, are figments of your imagination.
Winner most 'food' words used
Once upon a time, in the land of Athena, there lived a king and a queen, both with hair the color of straw and eyes the color of the clear blue sky. They were much loved by their subjects, and they ruled with benevolence and good grace. Only one thing could complete the kingdom, and as the days passed, the people of the land fretted and fretted. King Attus' once-thick mane of hair was receding at an alarming rate, and a new wrinkle appeared on his handsome face every day. And a sadness had settled in Queen Elizaveta's eyes, and she took to sighing wistfully outside her window and staring at nothing in particular. For there was yet to be a child produced from their union, and the kingdom desperately needed the queen to bear a son. If she did not, Athena would fall under the barbaric control of King Magnatus of Qax, who was as evil as his head was bald. Magnatus was a rather odd-looking little fellow. His hair was concentrated in a bushy black moustache he was quite proud of, and he had little, almost womanly, shoulders and matchsticks for legs. His arms, legs and chest were free of hair. His only child, a horrid, spoiled and ugly daughter, was betrothed to the first son to be borne of Athena's queen.
Princess Vexa was the apple of her father's eye, but even King Magnatus had known finding a respectable and willing princely suitor for his daughter would be next to impossible. He was determined, however, not to be made into a fool simply because his daughter was so nauseous nobody would have her. So Magnatus had invaded Athena, a small, peaceful kingdom a few days away by horse and had forced the king and the queen to promise their firstborn son to Vexa, and in exchange, they could keep Athena.
But that had been 10 years ago, and as Princess Vexa neared her 13th birthday, Magnatus too was losing hope that Athena's queen would bear a child. One night, he was at his massive oak desk, going over maps of faraway kingdoms, concentrating in particular on the layout of a kingdom called Harrah. Harrah's crown prince, or so Magnatus had heard, was a strapping lad of 15, with hair the color of strawberry. There were problems, though: This prince was betrothed to someone else, and Harrah's army easily was four times the size of Magnatus'. But the king knew what he had to do, for his reputation was in jeopardy. With a sigh, he rolled up the wide parchment map. Magnatus was about to call in his top commander to talk strategy for invading Harrah when his squire, a slight, buck-toothed lad with orange hair, came running inside, huffing and puffing, his face red with exertion.
What now?" Irritation sliced through Magnatus' voice.
The squire beamed, a smile that started in his eyes and didn't stop until each of his chipped teeth were exposed. Athena's queen, your majesty. She is with child."
Magnatus was speechless for the first time in his life. Then he leapt from his chair, toppling it to the floor, and threw his arms around the squire. By jove! A happy ending after all!"
CHAPTER ONE: The girl prince
Queen Elizaveta's pregnancy did not go well, and she nearly lost her baby several times. But through it all, she kept her wits about her, so absolute was her faith in eventually delivering a healthy son. After all, the alternative was unthinkable. The well-being of every single soul in the kingdom depended on her, and she was determined not to let her subjects down. So even when Faulk, the palace doctor, his face grim and lined, sat down to tell her and the king that she could die, she commanded the doctor to save her child at all costs, even if she should lose her own life.
She went into labor one month early, on a sunny, clear summer day. Only five people were present at the birth: the king and the queen, the palace doctor, the king's private secretary, and, of course, the baby.
Asamadus, the private secretary, watched with bated breath, for he had returned only the day before from a journey that had taken him through the kingdom, which was huge in land mass but tiny in population. His mission had been to find a newborn boy or a hugely pregnant woman, just in case this child turned out to be a girl. But he had found nothing.
Asamadus swallowed as Elizaveta grunted with the pain of her final push. The queen's face was drained, her color unhealthy. Everyone in the room knew she was in the last hours of her life.
When the wails of an infant pierced the air, the private secretary shoved his way past the king, studiously avoiding the blood and gore that covered the queen and the floor, and stared at the pink, squalling bundle in the doctor's arms.
Is it a boy?" The queen's reedy, hoarse wheeze barely penetrated Asamadus' consciousness.
Asamadus couldn't take his eyes off the baby, and his heart clenched in panic and fear.
King Attus answered, his voice strong and unwavering. It's a beautiful, healthy boy." He strode to his wife's side and took her hands in his. We did it."
Elizaveta looked up at her husband, tears glimmering in her eyes. I knew it'd be a boy," she whispered.
Alexandre," the king said.
Alexandre, like my father," the queen murmured.
He has your chin, your eyes." Attus leaned down and softly brought his lips to his wife's.
Everyone will be safe now." The queen's face softened, and her eyes seemed to drift to a faraway place.
That's right, darling." The king fought back tears as his wife took her last breath. He sat by her side for what seemed like an eternity, taking in every last detail of her face, her finely curved eyelashes, the full, pink lips that had whispered sweet nothings into his ears countless times.
The cries of the baby finally roused him, and the king stood, meeting Asamadus' panicked face and the stern gaze of the palace doctor. Attus held his arms out. I wish to hold my son."
The doctor handed the baby, swaddled in coarse gray cloth, to the king. The new father's blue eyes widened in delight, and a small smile crept across his face as two tiny fists pounded the air.
Your majesty..." Asamadus cleared his throat. You do realize..."
The king looked at his private secretary with pained eyes. Compose a message to King Magnatus that our part of the agreement is fulfilled, at last."
Asamadus bowed his head in a show of respect. Pardon me, but how do you plan to pull this off?"
I'll find a way." Attus glanced at the palace doctor. Go outside and announce the good news, that a prince is born."
Yes, your majesty." Faulk inclined his head and was gone.
Asamadus' jaw worked its way up and down. There's no way. And when King Magnatus finds out..."
He won't." Attus held up a hand. This will take hard work and creativity. But it has to be done. And it will be done. Do you understand? Otherwise, Magnatus' army will come in and pillage, rape and kill... we have too much at stake. At least, this will buy us time until we can hopefully find a boy."
Asamadus sighed. Very well, your majesty." He took a tentative step forward and met the baby's blue eyes. Honored to meet you, Prince Alexandre." The secretary curtsied as the royal child began to squall.
When Alexandre was 2 months old and old enough to travel, Magnatus sent a message demanding to see and approve of the child. King Attus replied, saying he would soon embark on the three-day journey with his son and a royal party to officially seal the deal. Since the birth, Asamadus had spent weeks searching high and low in kingdoms near and far for a baby boy of any age and size, so desperate were he and Attus. But all Asamadus got was a year-old boy with olive skin and hazel eyes, quite unlike the fair-haired, blue-eyed Alexandre and his parents. There was another child, a newborn boy, with dark hair and dark eyes, but his skin was pale and just right for their purposes. However, his mother wouldn't hear of giving her baby up, even for a few days and for such a noble cause.
And so it was that King Attus and his party set out, their hearts heavy and their minds holding onto the hope that somehow Lady Luck would smile upon them.
Magnatus welcomed his road-weary guests with a huge dinner. No expense had been spared for this momentous occasion, and his heavy marble table groaned under the resplendence of food and the best silverware. The evil king wore his best robe, and his daughter wore a lacy dress he had selected especially for the event.
Vexa also wore a barely concealed frown, and she wrinkled her nose when Attus proffered the baby to her. He smells," she said.
Faulk, the palace doctor, quickly whisked the young prince away to change his diaper.
Attus could hardly keep his eyes off Vexa, so ugly was she. Her eyes were squinty and wholly too close to each other, and her eyebrows formed a thick straight line across her brows. The princess had long black hair that possibly could've been shiny and silky with the proper nourishment, but Vexa apparently seemed content to leave it hanging limp and tangled at her shoulders. Her mouth was hopelessly crooked, but Attus sighed in relief as he took in her white, perfectly straight teeth. Vexa's face was round and piggish, and her fat fingers shoveled handful after handful of food into her mouth. Attus could practically hear her dress bursting at its already tight seams as the princess dove happily into her meal, sending crumbs every which way.
So." Magnatus stared across the long dining table at his fellow king. I want to add something to the contract."
Yes, sir?" Attus raised an eyebrow.
The way we have it now, Alexandre will be 18 and my daughter 31 when they marry. Vexa won't have many childbearing years left, and I'm determined to see a grandson before I die. Alexandre must make her with child within the first two years of their marriage, or he'll be beheaded."
Attus stifled a cry and forced himself to swallow his food. That's not really something that can be controlled--"
Nonsense!" Magnatus slammed a fist on the table, causing everyone to jump. It's not my fault your wife couldn't bear a child until so recently."
Yes, uh..." Attus met the other king's fierce black eyes. I suppose that's okay."
Magnatus sat back smugly. I'm doing you a favor, and don't you forget that." He waggled a righteous finger. I'm feeling so generous today that I'll even send over part of the army to protect Athena from other invaders."
An appreciative smile crossed Attus' face. Much obliged, majesty."
Faulk returned with a sleeping Alexandre. He's all changed. Care to hold him now, princess?"
Vexa rolled her eyes and held out two grubby hands. Fine." She took the baby roughly and studied him with barely concealed disdain.
Magnatus pushed his chair back and joined his daughter, peering over her shoulder at the young prince. He looks like a strong fellow, don't you think?"
Vexa grunted. Guess so. But what if I don't wanna get pregnant, Father? I'd get so bloated and fat... and it'll hurt."
A glimmer of anger pierced Magnatus' eyes. Don't be silly. It's the duty of every young lady. We'll get a doctor to help you with your weight and the pain."
Eh." Vexa frowned as Alexandre's eyelids fluttered open to reveal cornflower blue eyes. I don't like blue eyes. Green's better, like mine."
Magnatus cleared his throat. Yes, well... you'll make do." He drew himself up to his full height and met Attus' hopeful gaze. He's acceptable, King Attus. Eighteen years from now, your son marries my daughter, they have a baby, hopefully a boy, but I'll take a girl, within two years and nine months, and everyone goes home happy."
Wonderful." Attus leapt to his feet. He strode to Magnatus so they could seal the deal with a handshake.
Ah, one more thing." Magnatus brought a finger to his lips. Just procedure, you understand. We'll need to see his, ahem... well, proof he's a boy."
Attus paled slightly, but he managed to keep his voice calm and his eyes open and earnest. My palace doctor's certified so."
Yes, well..." Magnatus waved an impatient hand. Won't take but a minute. Vexa, here's your first act as a mate. Go over there so you have some privacy and verify that that baby's a boy."
The princess grunted and pulled her considerable frame upright, all the while precariously cradling the infant Alexandre in the crook of her arm. She trudged to an empty section of table, her back to all the diners.
Attus watched her go, his heart sinking into the depths of his stomach as her rolls of fat jiggled. He closed his eyes and prepared himself for the shriek that would undoubtedly lead to his death.
Princess Vexa was indifferent toward her father most of the time. The rest of the time, she didn't like him. He didn't let her do anything fun; she had to sit and play music and eat when she'd much rather learn to read and write. He made her wear tight dresses and big blooming hats when she'd much rather throw on pants and a shirt. And she hated going on walkabouts with him, greeting the people of the kingdom with fake smiles and pretending not to notice the snickers they made upon seeing her face. Vexa knew she was ugly, but it was as if her father wanted to make her even uglier, for anytime someone suggested an eyebrow wax or a vegetable for dinner instead of sugar, or a looser dress instead of those tight garments, the king promptly banished the offending person to the dungeon. Before long, people knew to act as if the princess was the most perfect creature in existence.
And there was this business with Alexandre. King Magnatus had chosen his daughter's mate without a word of input from her. Vexa knew this was the norm; even her parents' marriage had been arranged, but she still didn't like it. Eighteen years from now, her father expected her to marry this person whom she hardly knew and bear his children. It sucked to be a girl, that was for sure.
Vexa grimaced as she set the baby down on the table and fiddled with a pin linking his pants to his diaper. This whole thing was so stupid; of course the kid was a boy. Attus wouldn't be nuts enough to bring a girl, would he? Vexa kind of felt sorry for Attus. She could tell he loved his people and would do anything for them, even if it meant sacrificing his son, his only child, to some ugly cow.
The princess shifted uncomfortably as the baby made eye contact with her. The child held her gaze unflinchingly, and after a moment, a faraway look came into his eyes.
What? What is it, baby?" Vexa felt for a scrap of food she must've left on her face, but there was nothing. What? What?" Vexa swallowed as she realized this baby was the first person to ever not recoil in horror or in giggles upon seeing her. She pushed her thoughts aside and finally managed to undo the baby's pants and fumbled her way through his diaper.
She nearly fainted when her eyes alit upon the truth of the matter. A girl! Vexa's heart hammered with the revelation, and blood whirled through her brain as she pondered the pickle she was in. Was her father testing her loyalty? Or had Attus indeed been stupid enough to bring a girl child? How hard could it be to find a boy, any boy really, to pass off as his son? Vexa blinked and studied the offending body part yet again. There was no question about it; this child in front of her was definitely of the female persuasion.
Honey?" King Magnatus called. Everything all right?"
Vexa clenched her fists and looked into the baby's cherubic face. The child gave the princess a little smile that seemed to say: Hey, we have a secret. Let's make a sucker out of your evil daddy. And maybe you won't have to get pregnant."
Okay," Vexa whispered, and her heart beat in guilty excitement. She took a deep breath, straightened and turned to face her father. All clear. Definitely a boy. I'm going to put his pants back on now."
And so it was that Alexandre grew up as a boy, schooled by his father in the ways of men. Attus taught his son how to ride horseback, to hunt, fish and trap game. He skilled Alexandre in the art of the sword and taught the child how to read and write, a privilege rarely afforded girls. Alexandre was kept largely secluded from the people of the kingdom, and his only constant companions were his father, Faulk and Asamadus. Another companion, a portly, jolly maid, joined the circle when Alexandre began his monthly bleeds at age 12. She gave the girl prince some herbs to help with the pain, but there was nothing she could do to stop the regular visits. The maid also helped the palace doctor fashion a leather dildo and helped bind his budding breasts so that his chest was as flat as any boy's.
Through it all, Alexandre understood what he was doing and why, and he accepted his purpose readily enough and rarely did he dream about what else life could have churned out for him. He would not duck his fate; he would face his destiny like a man. As far as Alexandre was concerned, he was a boy.
King Attus told his son many times the story of Vexa. There I was, my eyes squeezed shut for I don't know how long, and still, there was nary a peep from her. And then I hear the most blessed words ever: 'All clear. Definitely a boy. I'm going to put his pants back on now.' And then for the rest of the evening, she acted normal as could be. How lucky we were that she didn't bother to open the diaper!"
Alexandre nodded with each telling, his mind thrumming with questions, as always, about this Vexa. Attus had warned him countless times that the princess was no beauty, that she was spoiled and lazy. She had a face no mother could love, Attus said, and the body of an elephant. Do you know how her mother died?" the king asked one time. It was right after Vexa's birth, and Queen Deidre was looking at Vexa for the first time, but as rumor has it, the baby princess was so ugly, she caused her mother's heart to fail."
With each telling, Attus apologized for subjecting his child to such a creature. But it has to be done," he would say. The good news is that Magnatus can't last forever, he's older than even I, and when that cracker dies, we're free."
Attus also taught his son how to pee like a man, and as the time drew closer to the day Alexandre and Vexa would join in marriage, the maid started taking the girl prince into a private room and instructed her in the chore of sex.
You have this on all the time," the maid explained, indicating the dildo. Make sure it's on nice and firm. Make sure there is no light. Take it inside her, thrust a few times--" The maid demonstrated with her hips and continued: Maybe for a minute or two, then draw back out. That's all. Try to be as gentle as possible. Now you practice." And the maid would watch as the girl prince honed her craft on various cored-out watermelons.
There, of course, was the problem of creating a baby, and it was an issue Attus and Asamadus had agonized over many a night. They asked the maid if she had access to herbs that would put Vexa in a sleep and allow a man to plant his seed within. Indeed there were several such herbs, the maid reassured them.
King Magnatus visited at least once a year, always stopping in unannounced and with a suspicious eye to make sure Attus and Alexandre were toeing the line. He requested their presences at his palace from time to time as well, and they came readily. But about the time Alexandre turned 4, Magnatus stopped allowing Vexa and Alexandre to meet. Vexa was becoming even uglier, even fatter, and Magnatus did not want Prince Alexandre to run away, as far away from this monstrosity as he could get, as many a man would do.
Alexandre grew into a slight young man of medium height, with his parents' straw-colored hair and clear blue eyes. He did not view the rapidly approaching date of his wedding with dread, for he was eager to finally meet this princess around whom his life revolved. Alexandre was a gentle soul, an artist who found beauty in everything, from the lowliest worm to the most majestic trees. And he was sure that regardless of all the warnings about Vexa, she too was beautiful even if most people, his own father included, were too superficial to see it. Alexandre was so excited about meeting this woman and finally escaping the claustrophobia that was his life that sometimes he entertained the thought of going to Vexa and marrying her early.
On Alexandre's 17th birthday, he actually brought it up to Attus. I want to go to Vexa now. I'm tired all this waiting around," he implored, his voice deep and strong like a man's.
Attus gasped. What?!?"
I want to meet her and marry her now."
You're bananas! I can't even imagine what she'd look like by now. Savor the time you have now, my boy. Relish your freedom."
Rage filled Alexandre's eyes, and he nearly threw his father across the room. Freedom? You call this freedom? What I can't wait for is for the time when I'm on my own, away from here and from people telling me what to do. And let me tell you something, Father. You may think this is corny and cheesy; actually I'm sure you'll think I'm some fruitcake. But Vexa is going to be my wife, my life partner, and I am sick and tired of you harping on and on about how fat and ugly she is. She's a person, not a monster, not an elephant, not a hog, and I demand that you treat her with respect. So you get whatever chip you've been carrying on your shoulder and chop it into little, itty bitty pieces."
Alexandre stopped screaming, and his face slowly regained its normal state, but shock had completely frozen Attus. After a moment, the king finally extended a shaking hand. Alexandre, my son, you're two times the man I am."
CHAPTER TWO: The elephant princess
Vexa studied her reflection in the mirror and tucked back a wayward strand of black hair. She sucked in her stomach and nodded in approval. The wedding dress, a silky white, hugged her supple curves and clung like a second skin to her taut, perky breasts. Her shiny hair settled on her shoulders in feathery layers, perfectly accentuating her emerald green eyes and high cheekbones. Wonderful," she murmured. That'll show them all. The elephant princess blossoms."
A loud rap at the door knocked Vexa out of her daydream, and she almost tripped over her mannish feet. Who is it?" She threw a longing glance at the mirror, but the vixen with the smooth hair and perfect body was gone. In its place was a gigantic, frumpy woman wearing a shapeless blue dress, her hair messy and askew.
Vexa opened the door for her handmaiden. What is it?"
Clara leaned in and whispered. You asked me to tell you next time Prince Alexandre visited."
Vexa stifled a cry. He's here, now?"
At this very moment, he's haggling with your father, trying to move the wedding up. He says there's no sense in waiting, says he can't wait to make you his wife."
Oh my..." Vexa's eyes widened in amazement. And did you get a good look at him this time?"
The handmaiden slid past Vexa into the bedroom and closed the door. I did." The servant's worn face beamed. He's a handsome fellow. Beautiful hair like gold, eyes like the bluest oceans. He's a bit on the short side, but that's okay, right?" She studied Vexa critically. I'd say Alexandre is exactly your height."
Vexa clutched a hand to her throat.
You two will make a lovely pair." The handmaiden smiled again and adjusted her graying hair. Shall I try to find out what's going on?"
The princess grabbed Clara's hand. I want to see him. Where is he?"
The duo crept from the bedroom to the top of the long, winding staircase that led into the grand ballroom. Vexa got on her knees, trying to conceal her large body behind the railings. The reed-thin Clara crouched next to the princess. There was Vexa's father, old, stooped Magnatus in his red kingly robe. The years had not been kind to his looks, but his moustache, big, black and brash, still loomed as large as ever. With the king was simply the most beautiful creature Vexa had laid eyes on. That's not him," Vexa whispered.
It is he," Clara affirmed. Like an angel, isn't he?"
Prince Alexandre spoke passionately, waving his arms about as if his life depended on it. I just want to marry your daughter as soon as possible, majesty. I'm so excited. Why wait?!?"
The king guffawed. Young prince, I'll be honest with you. My daughter is not known for her, ahem, looks. Nor her personality nor her temper. Haven't you noticed nary a painting of her hangs on those walls? She's no beauty, but she is my child, and it's important to me that this deal goes off exactly as planned. So I won't have you come barging in like you know what's going on."
Alexandre shook his head in frustration and ran a hand through the short gold locks of his hair. I don't care what she looks like. I know, I just know, she's beautiful, even if that beauty isn't apparent at first. Everybody's beautiful. Why, even the most stout pig is lovely!"
Vexa bit her lip as she studied this prince with his radiant hair and eyes, making a fool of himself over her, the hideous, ill-tempered Vexa.
No." The king was adamant. Almost seven months from now, you are to become my son-in-law. But no sooner. You still have much growing up to do, all those ideas in your head."
Alexandre sighed and held his palms out. Very well, majesty. But may I see your daughter? Please, I've journeyed three days. I'd just like to meet my future wife."
No!" Magnatus roared. What part of this don't you understand?"
Alexandre took a step back. You really think she's so deformed that she'll drive me away?"
The old king strode to a cabinet and carefully drew out a painting no bigger than his hand. This is a painting of my daughter commissioned for her 18th birthday. She looks much the same now. Study it carefully, Prince Alexandre, and tell me you really can't wait to marry Vexa."
The prince took the portrait with eager hands, and Vexa resigned herself to the usual flinch. But it never came. Alexandre studied the picture with keen eyes, and his lips curved upward. He traced his fingers over part of the painting. I love her smile," he whispered. Finally, he met King Magnatus' surprised gaze. I still want to marry her."
Vexa's heart thudded noisily in her chest, and she lifted her head in disbelief. She looked at the youth opposing her father in the grand, cavernous ballroom below, the youth with the tousled hair and slight but firm body, the youth who wanted to make her his wife. The youth who was making her father pale and speechless. The prince who was a girl. Vexa almost wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all, but she didn't dare reveal her presence. Instead, she grabbed Clara and forced her back to the bedroom. I can't marry him now." The princess turned around the room slowly. Not like this. I want to... I've got to fix my hair and my eyebrows and I need to eat better and ..."
The maid drew back in surprise.
He knows what I look like. And he wants to marry me anyway. Early! Why? What's the catch?" Vexa didn't wait for a reply as she shooed the maid away. Make sure the wedding goes on as scheduled!"
Magnatus was amazed at his daughter's transformation. In only six months, she'd slimmed down enough to fit in her own mother's wedding gown, and the dearly departed Queen Deidre had been just as small as Magnatus. Vexa had started taking a brush to her hair, stroking each strand until her tresses shone. Gone were the briar patches of yesteryear and the sulky temper tantrums that were more fitting to a child of 5 than to a woman of 31. Vexa ran daily and cut all sugar from her diet. She had Clara trim and wax her unibrow into two perfect eyebrows.
Magnatus couldn't believe this creature was his daughter, the same woman villagers had taken to calling the elephant princess behind his back. Where had he gone wrong? Had he indulged her so much that her appearance had been like a self-fulfilling prophecy? Well, whatever it was, Magnatus was glad his daughter was finally coming into her own, but he wished she'd done it sooner, for she was set to marry Prince Alexandre in a few days. And the old king couldn't let that happen. Now that his daughter was a dish, any man in the world would be lucky to have her, and indeed, a couple of minor dukes had already come inquiring. If Magnatus played his cards right, he would gain untold riches.
He sat at his large oak desk and began to compose a letter to Attus. Greetings, dear king," he wrote, his tongue sticking out of his mouth as he concentrated. I have decided to release you from our agreement regarding the marriage of your son and my daughter. Such a union is no longer needed, but in thanks and appreciation for your patience and cooperation, I am sending you a bag of gold and will keep some of my troops in Athena. Sincerely, King Magnatus." The elderly king reviewed the letter, nodded in satisfaction, and stood to summon his squire. But the first thing he saw was his daughter's furious face.
What are you doing, Father?" Vexa's voice was barely under control.
Magnatus clasped a liver-spotted hand over his heart. He was so used to hearing the heavy, clomping elephant footfalls announcing his daughter's presence long before she arrived. Don't sneak up on me like that. I'm simply canceling the wedding to Prince Alexandre. I'm going to find someone else who can bring more to the table."
Vexa placed her hands on her now-slim hips, and her eyes thrummed with rage. No."
No?" Magnatus cocked an eyebrow.
I want to marry Alexandre." Vexa's gaze was unflinching.
What?" Magnatus laughed. No, you don't. He's a pipsqueak shrimp of a prince, and his kingdom has little money or resources. You've not even seen him since he was 4 years old."
Oh, I saw him, Father." Vexa put a finger to her lips. I saw him when he came here wanting to marry me early. I saw him as he defended my honor against your words, your horrible words. He saw that horrid portrait of me, but still he was earnest in his desire. Perhaps it's naviete and the innocence of youth. But regardless, he wants to marry me, and I want to marry him."
Magnatus lowered his face. You shouldn't have been listening."
It's okay, Father." Vexa spoke coolly. I know what I was. I can deal with all the hateful words. I was lazy and took no pride in myself. But now it's different." Vexa grabbed her father's hands. There was something about him... the passion, the fury in his eyes. The way he carried himself. I just... I need..."
Magnatus drew back as the most radiant smile crossed the princess' face. Good Lord, Vexa. You think you're in love," he said.
Vexa's caught her father's hand. I am. Please, let me marry him."
Magnatus furrowed his brows. After a few months, a year, that lovey-dovey feeling goes away. And in a few years, you will hardly recognize him anymore. You'll be indifferent toward him, or even resent him. You'll be trying to do your work as a crown princess or as a queen, running the land, and he'll only get in the way. There's really no such thing as love."
Vexa's green eyes narrowed and hardened. Is that how you felt toward my mother?"
The elderly king stiffened. It is not your place to ask. That's my matter. Such insolence, and after all I've done for you! You shall not marry Alexandre."
What?" Vexa nearly screamed. Because of that one question? Fine, Father. We'll do it your way. You find another man worth half the world's riches for me to marry. And by the time our wedding day rolls around, guess what? I'll be ugly, squat and ill-tempered again. He'll flee in disgust, and his vomit will stain the palace grounds. Father, I can and will become ugly again far quicker than I became pretty. And then maybe I can marry Alexandre."
Magnatus' eyes clouded in anger, but a small smile played around the corners of his lips. You're a chip off the old block. I've taught you well." The old king looked at his daughter knowingly. Fine. You can marry him. And when you grow tired of him, let me know, and we'll make sure he meets with an unfortunate end."
For a long moment Vexa looked at her father, wondering what had happened to turn him so callous.
News of Vexa's transformation reached King Attus and Prince Alexandre during the huge sendoff that would begin their three-day journey to her kingdom. The people of Athena, having only caught glimpses of the hugely secluded prince here and there, turned out in droves, coming from near and far. Necks craned and twisted, children piled onto their parents' shoulders, and people even formed human pyramids to get a glimpse of the young prince, who was the spitting image of his parents at the same age. But they needn't have bothered, for Alexandre was only too happy to go to each and every person, shake every outstretched hand, and answer the rushed, excited questions.
An old crone with a beak for a nose was the first to tell Alexandre. My daughter just returned from a trip to Qax, and she says word over there is that Princess Vexa's simply gorgeous now. You two will be so wonderful together!"
Really." Alexandre dismissed the words as an old woman's fanciful mutterings, but when he heard the same story from countless other people, a funny, uneasy feeling began to spread through his body.
During the long and bumpy trip, Attus gave his son more tips in bedroom behavior. Are you nervous?" the king asked.
Alexandre avoided his father's eyes. Yes. More nervous about that than anything else. It's going to be tricky to keep her from feeling the bindings on my chest... and what if she doesn't want it to be dark, or what if she wants to feel... well, different parts of my body?"
It'll be fine." Attus tried to speak in a calm, reassuring voice. She's a virgin. She has no idea how this is supposed to go. Get in and out, make it fast and dark."
What do you make of the rumor that's she's beautiful now?"
Attus glanced out the window of the stagecoach. It doesn't matter what I think. What do you think, my son?"
Alexandre let out a troubled breath. I don't know if it's such a good thing. Before, it was like she had no choice, and if somehow she found out I'm not a man, well, maybe she'd stick with me anyway. But now..."
The king pursed his lips. I'm actually surprised Magnatus is going forward with this. I would've bet my life that he would try to back out and find a prince with more money. I just... I'd like to know why this is going through after all." Attus looked at his only child through sad eyes. If you want out, Alexandre, I bet we could make that work. Magnatus would only be too happy, I imagine. This is really no life for you, all these secrets. Maybe you could even go back to being a ... well, a girl."
The young prince snorted. How can I go back to being something I never was? But maybe you're right about the other thing. As much as I hate to say this, and despite the fact that my entire life's been geared toward this moment, maybe we should try to call this whole thing off. Something just seems fishy here."
You want to what!" Magnatus' eyes bugged out as Attus and Alexandre took simultaneous steps back.
We don't want to do anything." Attus held up a reassuring hand. I'm just saying that if you'd like to pursue other options for your daughter, that's fine. Alexandre and I understand completely."
Magnatus shook his head. I don't believe this. Your son came running in here half a year ago, all lovestruck, begging to marry my daughter as soon as possible. And now you're saying, 'Hey, no biggie. Whatever.' What gives, man?"
Alexandre steadied his father's hand. Nothing, majesty," the young prince said. I suppose I'm just having last-minute jitters."
Uh huh." Magnatus glowered at his future son-in-law. Well, you get over them pronto. ASAP. Right now. Like yesterday. Because my daughter thinks she's in love with you, and you're going to marry her, period."
I... I don't understand," Alexandre stammered. How can she be in love with me?"
Well, when you came trotting in here that time, making a grand spectacle fool of yourself, Vexa overheard. And she saw you."
The young prince's eyes widened as Magnatus continued his telling. I suppose she was impressed, touched, whatever, by the fact you weren't deterred by her looks."
No one spoke for a moment, and both Magnatus and Attus studied the visibly nervous Alexandre with a mixture of pity and trepidation. He finally spoke, but his voice was as jittery as his hands. But, but, she can't really, truly be in love with me."
Magnatus chuckled. Of course not, my man. There's no such thing as true love. Don't worry—just put up with her for a while, give me a heir or two, and you can go. I want my daughter to be as successful a ruler as I am, and I didn't get this way by subscribing to lovey-dovey thoughts. She'll harden up quick enough and start focusing more on reality than fantasy. And she'll know I'm always right." Magnatus patted Alexandre heartily on the back. But if you ever lay a hand on her, I'll beat the bejesus out of you, and your head will roll." The elderly king drew his future son-in-law in for a bear hug. Welcome to the family, Prince Alexandre!"
Clara sat Vexa down on the princess' comfortable, large bed. It's time we had the talk."
Talk?" Vexa wasn't paying much attention, for her mind was on other matters, namely her wedding tomorrow.
Talk." Clara took one of Vexa's long, slender hands in hers. About what'll happen on your wedding night."
Oh." Delayed understanding came into Vexa's eyes.
It's a duty every woman must bear." The handmaiden squeezed the princess' hand sympathetically. He'll want to, ah... well, stick himself inside you. It might hurt. It probably will. Some men do it rough. Most men, actually. But it shouldn't last too long. Just lay there and grit your teeth."
A small smile crossed Vexa's face. I think we'll be all right, Clara."
Now, what is that grin for?" The handmaiden shifted uneasily as the twinkle in Vexa's eyes grew.
Nothing," the princess said, stifling a giggle. I just think it'll be fine."
Have you done it before?" Clara's jaw hung open. Pretend you haven't! It'll be important to him that your cherry is intact. Who did you do it with?"
It'll be fine." Vexa patted the handmaiden's leg and stood.
Clara whirled the princess around and waggled a finger in her face. You listen to me, and you listen to me good. You've been sheltered your whole life, and you have no idea what goes on behind closed doors. Why, some men like to stick it everywhere—in the butt, in the mouth, in goodness knows how many other places, and it can and does hurt. There will be blood everywhere."
Is my father like that with you?"
Clara gasped, and her face turned deathly pale. What?"
Vexa laughed, a small, knowing chuckle. Everyone knows you two have been going at it for years, Clara. It's obvious, especially when you two look at each other, that you're in love."
Clara's eyes bugged out. You're wrong."
Okay." Vexa held up a hand. Whatever you say. But, I do think you two make a darling couple."
Clara slumped onto the bed, her posture defeated. He loves me. But he won't marry me because I'm but a lowly handmaiden. I'm too old to bear a child, and I don't have the proper grooming to be a queen."
Vexa put a comforting arm around her handmaiden. I'll see what I can do."
No. He mustn't know we had this conversation."
Okay, okay." Vexa squeezed Clara's arm.
Clara jumped to her feet. I need to finish the laundry. Goodbye." The maid practically fled the room, and Vexa fell back onto her bed, a triumphant grin gracing her face. She had always been good at changing the subject.
CHAPTER THREE: The secret
The people of Qax had started showing up for the wedding four days early, converging on the lush and expansive meadow where their ugly duckling-turned-swan princess would marry her Prince Charming. It seemed as if every single soul had come to bear witness that Princess Vexa was indeed capable of beauty and grace. It's so romantic," said one young girl, sighing. True love lifts the curse of ugliness from the princess. I hear Prince Alexandre isn't all that, though: on the small side, really thin, barely a whisker taller than Vexa herself. Wonder what she sees in him."
The sun rose bright and early on the morning of the wedding, rousing the bleary-eyed spectators, who numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Alexandre was already awake, for he hadn't been able to sleep at all the night before. He kept pacing inside the suite he was sharing with his father, Faulk and Asamadus, his stomach feeling as if it was being devoured by ants. So the princess said she was in love with him. Or at least, with the person she thought was Prince Alexandre, who just turned out to be missing a crucial piece of equipment that could cost him his life.
Alexandre barely registered anything as he went through the pre-wedding motions, putting on his purple tunic, getting a haircut to shore up his messy blond locks, binding his chest tighter than usual. At long last, he studied himself in the mirror.
You're a prince to behold, son," Attus said admiringly.
The young prince shifted the bulge in his pants so it was less conspicuous. Well, here we are. Eighteen years of hard work."
Attus, tears in his eyes, clasped his only child in his arms. Thank you, son."
You're welcome, Father." Alexandre returned the tight hug. I know my mother loved her people, and this is what she wanted, for everybody to live in peace and without fear. This is what it takes, and so be it."
She'd be proud of you." Attus squeezed his son's shoulder. Let's go, Alexandre, and get you married."
The Athenian king and his son made their way to the grand ballroom, and then Magnatus escorted them outside. The deafening roars of countless revelers nearly caused Alexandre's knees to buckle under him, and a sea of humanity as far as the eye could see greeted him. Oh my Lord," he breathed. The people of Athena could fit in here 500 times over."
Prince Charming! Prince Charming! Prince Charming!" The thunderous voices kept coming and coming, rising in frenzied pitch, as hundreds of thousands of excited hands and arms waved against the cloudless blue sky. Prince Charming! Prince Charming! Prince Charming!"
Alexandre went pale, and he squeezed his eyes shut.
Then suddenly, as if somebody had thrown a switch, the crowd fell silent. Alexandre opened his eyes and surveyed row after row of gaping mouths. He jerked his head toward the palace. Princess Vexa had appeared from the castle doors, a solitary figure clad in a flowing white gown that accentuated her long, slender body and supple, round breasts. She was not wearing a veil, and her blood-red lips stood out in stark contrast to her creamy skin and silky black hair, which was pulled in a bun.
Alexandre's mouth went dry, and his mind simply stopped functioning. He remembered little of what happened after: Vexa making her way to him, offering him a shy smile, taking his hand in hers, glancing none too discreetly at the bulge in his pants, pecking his cheek tentatively when they were declared man and wife. He remembered nothing of the banquet that followed, nothing of the delicious, mouth-watering food nor the music and fine wine. So when he suddenly found himself in a bedroom with his bride, he did a double take.
Hello. Finally, we're alone." Vexa was lounging on the bed, still wearing her wedding gown. Her ankles were crossed, but there was something lazily seductive about her look. Alexandre stood dumbly near the closed door. Slowly, he took in his surroundings; a dozen candles flickered on two large chests of drawers, lending ghostly illumination to the darkened room. It was large but simply decorated. No pictures hung on its bare white walls.
I thought we could decorate together. Later, of course." Vexa crooked a finger and beckoned Alexandre to join her. Sit with me." She patted a spot next to her.
Decorate?" Alexandre's voice was croaky.
Vexa giggled. This is our bedroom."
Our... our bedroom?" Alexandre studied the backs of his hands.
Yes, our bedroom. Haven't you been paying attention?" The princess' voice held a note of amusement. I'm your wife."
I'm sorry." Alexandre looked up from his hands but could not meet Vexa's eyes. The day's just gone by in a blur."
Vexa stood. That's okay." She crossed to her husband and indicated the spot where she had been sitting. Our wedding bed."
Oh." Alexandre's mind went blank again.
Do I scare you?"
No." Alexandre bit his lip and studied a dancing shadow. I just... when I saw you for the first time earlier, I just... just didn't know what to do. You were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen in my life..."
Were?" Vexa raked her fingers across Alexandre's arm, causing him to shudder.
Are. Sorry." The prince glanced away as his face turned a beet red.
Vexa chuckled. I'd like to take you to bed. Now."
Uh... uh... uh..." Alexandre worked his jaw up and down. That... I... okay."
Vexa cocked an eyebrow. Yeah?"
Sure." Alexandre ran his tongue across his teeth, still avoiding Vexa's sly, curious eyes. Let's uh... you just lie down, and I'll blow the candles out."
The princess took Alexandre's hand in hers. My, such strong, manly hands." She fingered a small callus near his middle finger. Where did this come from?"
I don't know." Alexandre shifted his weight nervously.
Why do you want the candles out?" Vexa took Alexandre's other hand in hers.
Better that way," he stammered.
I want to see you, in all your full glory. Don't you want to see me too? I'm your wife." Vexa brought a finger to Alexandre's chin, forcing him to meet her eyes. It's okay. I know your secret."
Alexandre's eyelids fluttered. What's that?"
You're a girl." Vexa peppered Alexandre's lips in fluttery kisses.
Alexandre stepped back. Confusion and anger shone in his eyes.
Vexa held her hands up. It's okay."
Alexandre went pale. Please, princess." He clasped his hands together. Please, princess. Do what you must, but don't tell your father, or he'll send his troops after my people and behead me and my father."
Oh, don't worry." Vexa fixed the nervous youth with a furtive smile. I've known since you were a baby."
Alexandre's mouth formed an O. What? You ... you ... oh my God, you did open the diaper."
Vexa threw her head back and laughed. Please answer me this question; I've been wondering all those years why didn't your father simply find a baby boy to pass off as his son?"
He tried." Alexandre clutched a chest of drawers to steady himself. But there was precious little to choose from. In the end, there was no choice but to hope for the best. Father told me most married people don't sleep together and don't often have relations. It could be done easily enough, he said, especially with..."
Especially with what?"
Tell me," Vexa commanded. Is it about my looks? Did your father think I was so shy or so self-conscious about my body that I'd be more than happy to make love in the dark and just be grateful that I had a man in my life?"
Yes." Alexandre finally met Vexa's electrifying green eyes, and he tried to throttle the dizzying current racing through him.
He was right. The old me would have been. But not this new me."
You married me anyway, knowing I'm a girl." Alexandre said the sentence almost accusingly.
Yes." The princess ran her hands across Alexandre's breast, feeling for the cloth that must be lingering under the tunic. I don't really remember what I was thinking when I was 13 years old and saw that you were a girl. But I never liked my father much, and I felt sorry for your father, so I suppose I figured, what the hey. You know, I really never thought things would get this far." A flash of humor crossed Vexa's features, and she giggled. I've married a girl! Who woulda thought? How did you do it, growing up as a boy? What can you do?" Vexa let out a cry of triumph as her fingers finally found purchase.
What can I do?"
Yes, what manly things can you do?" Vexa began to unbutton Alexandre's deep purple tunic.
Well, uh..." The youth fidgeted under Vexa's masterful fingers.
You have a man's voice," Vexa prodded.
Yes... it's like second nature to me now."
Vexa completed her task and slowly slid off the tunic. She drank in Alexandre's chest and rippling arm muscles with appreciative eyes. May I?" The princess raised her eyebrows in question and indicated the bound breasts.
There's not much to see, really. All the exercise I did, some herbs I took..."
That's okay. Can I?" Vexa asked again, almost pleadingly.
I don't understand!" Alexandre wailed, pushing Vexa away. Why are you doing this? You know I'm a girl!"
A flash of darkness crossed Vexa's face, and she retreated to the bed. I thought you liked me. The way you've been looking at me all day..."
That's not the point." Alexandre spoke through clenched teeth as the chilly air of the room caused gooseflesh to multiply across his chest. He wrapped his arms around himself.
Why is that not the point?" Vexa asked reasonably.
Well..." Alexandre sputtered under his wife's knowing gaze. I'm not supposed to actually like you. I'm just supposed to fuck you and get out, do my duty in bed from time to time."
Who said you're not supposed to like me?"
Alexandre floundered helplessly again. I don't know. It's just been, like... this has been my purpose. It's been assigned to me like a chore. Who likes their chores, right?"
The princess smiled slightly. Well, I think it's okay for you to like this chore."
Alexandre placed his throbbing head into his hands. But I still don't understand why you married me. I'm a girl. Why would you want a girl?"
You're not a girl."
Well, I'm not a boy," the youth retorted.
Vexa moved toward Alexandre again. That's not what I meant. I don't see you as a boy or as a girl. I see you as the person who, seven months ago, made me feel so impossibly alive, who would marry me no matter how ugly I was. You were willing to look past my appearance to try to get to know the real me. But I admit I don't know who that is yet, the real me. And I'm sorry about that."
Well, hell." Alexandre's shivers increased, and he dug his nails into his still-bare shoulders. That's no big thing. I thought I knew who I was, but turns out I don't." Tears came to his eyes, and he bit his lip. He breathed in quick, shallow gasps.
Vexa could only stare at Alexandre as a tear made its way down his cheek, eventually shattering on the floor. I'm sorry. I thought you'd be happy that the secret's out."
Some fire came back into the youth, and he looked at Vexa with burning eyes. My whole life's work, princess. Gone. What am I supposed to do now, huh?"
No." Vexa took Alexandre by the shoulders, her nostrils flaring with determination. My father still can't know. He's a sad, bitter, closed-minded old man. I still need you, Alexandre. Please, be my mate. All that's changed is that you know I'm okay with you just the way you are. Just as you're okay with me the way I am. Right?"
Alexandre looked away. I guess. Can I have my shirt back?"
Vexa silently handed the tunic to the youth, and he slipped it on immediately. I'm sorry I came on to you so strongly," she said.
He held up a silencing hand. That's enough sorrys. Let's just... what can we do? We're stuck in here all night, aren't we?"
Yes. Let's just go to sleep." Vexa trudged to the bed and pulled the covers back.
I have a thing... down here. A dildo. I was told to just slip inside you, pump for a minute or two, and draw back out." Alexandre still lingered by the door, but his voice held a trace of warmth now. That's all I was told to do. That's all I know."
The princess chuckled. Funny. That's exactly what Clara, my chambermaid, told me would happen. Ah, what fun, no? If you'll turn around, I'll slip out of this dress and into my pajamas."
Alexandre turned so he was facing the door. What do you know?"
He heard Vexa rustling about as she changed clothes. Nothing," she said.
Father did have me practice kissing a doll," Alexandre considered.
I'm not a doll."
I kind of noticed." Alexandre closed his eyes, feeling utterly confused. So much energy, so much time and planning, had gone into the task of ensuring Vexa would never find out her so-called husband was of the female persuasion, and that she already knew was the one thing nobody had fathomed.
You can turn around now."
Alexandre did as he was told and, with an odd twinge of disappointment, he found Vexa completely clothed. She slid under the bedcovers, and he gingerly got into bed with her, taking care not to touch even a hair on her head.
Are you going to sleep with that thing across your chest? It looked dreadfully suffocating," Vexa said.
Alexandre turned to face the princess and propped his head up with his hand. I sleep with it with every night. I have ever since I started, well, blossoming. It doesn't bother me most of the time. There's only occasional itching."
Do you wear it all day too?" Vexa asked in amazement.
Yes." A look of tired sadness crossed over the youth's features. I'd feel funny without my chest swaddles and without the dildo in my pants."
May I see it?" Vexa watched Alexandre intently.
Okay." Alexandre avoided the gaze and quickly came up with seven inches of leather. It connects to a belt I also have on."
Oh my. It's hard." Vexa breathed in wonder as she fondled the dildo, and Alexandre's insides jangled with guilty excitement at the princess' obvious appreciation.
I was told to be as gentle as I could be. I'm actually... I'm glad I don't have to use that. I didn't want to hurt you."
Did you ever try this on yourself?"
What? On myself?" Alexandre's brows furrowed. I never thought to."
Really?" Vexa giggled and handed the faux penis back. How about fingers?"
Fingers? Did I use fingers on myself, you mean? I didn't." A delicious shudder heated Alexandre's body as the princess' eyes raked boldly over him, and he felt a wetness pooling in his crotch.
You never put fingers inside yourself or pleasured yourself on that little knob?"
I never thought of myself as a girl. So how could I have done those things?"
Vexa's gaze moved over Alexandre's face and searched his eyes. In them, she found a twin mirror of longing. She took the youth's hand and brought it to her lips then down to the slick curls of her own sex. Shall I show you?"
Alexandre's body ached for Vexa's touch, and he moaned in response to her question.
Good." The princess flung her bedclothes off, made quick work of Alexandre's tunic again and practically ripped his pants apart. The dildo landed on the floor with a clatter. This time, Alexandre allowed Vexa to unwrap the chest swaddlings without protest.
Alexandre's small breasts, freed from their confines at long last, stood taut and perky. Oh, my." Vexa's green eyes hooded over in appreciation. They're perfect. You're perfect." Her hands slid up Alexandre's silken belly to two dusky pink nipples. She gently laid Alexandre on his back and took a breast in her mouth, sending a floodtide of ecstasy through the youth's slight body. He gasped in sweet agony as the princess caressed the skin of his thigh with her other hand, quickly finding entrance within him. Alexandre covered the other woman's mouth hungrily, leaving her lips burning with fire. She moaned as Alexandre cried out in release yet again. Please, please, me now," she begged. I can't wait anymore. Now, now, please." Vexa was about to guide his hands to her throbbing but they found their way home just in time. And Princess Vexa abandoned herself to the whirl of sensation time and time again as Alexandre's tongue took control of her entire body, from her lips to her groin.
Two days later, it was time for Alexandre to bid farewell to his father, Asamadus and Faulk for they were returning to Athena. And everything's going fine in the, ahem, bedroom?" inquired the king as he supervised the loading of the stagecoach.
Alexandre fought a huge grin. Yes, Father. She hasn't a clue."
Attus nodded in relief. Wonderful. You keep it up, all right? Be careful. She seems to really like you; I hope she'll be content with things the way they are."
Alexandre could no longer stifle his smile, and it blossomed across his face and into his eyes.
Attus raised a crooked eyebrow. What's the grin for? You've been mighty happy lately."
And why shouldn't I be happy?" Alexandre crossed his arms defensively. Everything's going well."
The old king shook his head. Something else is going on. What?"
The young prince's thoughts spun as a vivid recollection of Vexa's hard and searching lips on his belly flashed into his brain. Nothing."
Attus sighed. There is something, but that's okay, son. You're your own person now, and you have your own life. There's no need anymore to tell me everything. Now... about making a baby."
Alexandre tensed immediately. Yes."
Asamadus spoke. I have just the man in mind. He's a poor traveling salesman, a wanderer. He can definitely use the gold bars and nuggets of silver Attus is prepared to pay him in. He's of fair skin and looks, like you. He and his wife have a farmyard full of children, so we know he's fertile. He's discreet and a man of his word. He's scheduled to stop in Athena next week to facilitate an exchange of livestock. I'll talk to him then, and if all goes well, he should arrive here within the month to plant his seed within Vexa. His name is Bartocollous."
Alexandre's throat constricted at the thought of another person touching his wife. I suppose it's got to be done," he finally murmured.
Attus took in the all-too-obvious misery on his son's face. Yes, it has to be done. I'll send you a message after we meet with Bartocollous to let you know the nights on which you should drug Vexa's drink and food. Hey, look who's coming." The king smiled as his daughter-in-law joined them.
Hello, Father Attus." Vexa pecked the old king on the cheek.
Good day, darling." Attus hugged the princess. Take care of my son."
Magnatus came out and stood with his daughter and son-in-law as they waved goodbye to the rapidly disappearing stagecoach. Alexandre had his arm around Vexa's waist, and she was leaning into his side.
Magnatus studied them with an air of envy, and Vexa wrapped her arms around Alexandre's waist. I love you, I love you, I love you." She met his lips in a kiss, and Magnatus averted his eyes.
I'm just going to go in and uh..." The elderly king's voice trailed off as he realized he might as well be across the ocean, so wrapped up were the newlyweds in their own little world. He sighed and trudged back into the palace, but the sight through a window of Clara dusting brought a small smile to his wrinkled lips.
If Alexandre was unhappy about a strange man fertilizing his wife, Vexa was upset to no end. They shared many a heated conversation in their bedchamber. I don't like this one bit!" she would cry, her face reddening with righteous anger.
Me either." Alexandre's voice was just as tortured as Vexa's.
Five nights after Attus had left, the princess had had enough. That does it," she announced to her husband. Father knows how much I love you, and how much you love me. I'm going to tell him the truth, and he'll understand. He has to."
Alexandre moaned in distress. If by understanding you mean he'll slice my neck open, then, yes, I agree."
Vexa collapsed to her knees and placed her head in Alexandre's lap. Oh, darling. Why does Father have to be such a mean old crab? You're right, of course. There's no way he'll understand. Why, he won't as much acknowledge Clara in the hallways, even though she has his heart in a way only my mother had."
Clara?" Alexandre blinked in surprise. That bird of a handmaiden? Now that's something I would never have imagined."
Vexa smiled at the youth through her tears. Father isn't all evil. But he likely won't stand for this, at least not yet. He needs more time to get to know you. I'll have this salesman come to me, so that I may save your life and your kingdom."
Alexandre took deep breaths until he was strong enough to look Vexa in the eyes. You're a brave woman, and I don't know how to thank you."
Just love me." Vexa kissed Alexandre with a calmness that masked her inner despair. Stand by me forever and ever. And do me one other favor."
I want to experience what you experience. Will you swaddle my breasts and help me with the dildo? For just a little bit, I want to get an idea of what it feels like to be a man, to be able to make all kinds of decisions for one's self."
Alexandre mustered a smile. Of course, princess. You'll look quite fetching. And may I..." he paused. I admit I've been curious what it's like to wear a dress."
Vexa groaned. Oh, it's so horribly confining. You've lucked out in that regard."
The youth shrugged. Perhaps. But could I?"
Vexa put her arms around Alexandre's neck. Of course. I love you as a man, Alexandre, and I love you as a woman." A thought occurred to her, and she squealed in delight. I'll get some of Mother's wigs and Clara's colors and powders and make you up just wonderfully. Then I want to paint you, a portrait just for you and me. Maybe naked, maybe clothed. Or both."
Alexandre blushed. Isn't that risky?"
Vexa blew him a raspberry. Oh, pah. Not at all. What do you say?"
He grinned. I say I have the most wonderful and sexy wife ever."
A week after the wedding, Alexandre's dildo started getting heavy use. It simply fascinated Vexa to no end, and while she shuddered at the thought of it ever piercing her, she had convinced Alexandre to receive it.
And so they went for a picnic to an isolated meadow near a babbling brook, where only animal eyes pried. The newlyweds were feeling bold and adventurous, and when Vexa put on the harness and dildo, excited shivers of lust coursed through both of their bodies.
Alexandre's legs opened wide, and he shrieked in pure delight as Vexa dominated him, pounding inside him until they both cried out in pleasure and collapsed in sheer exhaustion. But after a few moments, the youth gave his wife a knowing look and rolled over on his stomach. The quivering princess gathered the wetness from her own crotch and from Alexandre's, and lathered the dildo liberally. Then she reached inside him yet again, slowly and gently at first, until his butt was flexible enough to fully accept her toy. They moved together in perfect syronchity until Alexandre exploded in a downpour of fiery sensations. After Vexa withdrew, the prince fondled the toy with awed, appreciative eyes, and they fell asleep and dreamed sweet dreams.
The next night, after everyone else had long retired to bed, Alexandre swaddled Vexa's breasts and fastened the dildo to her again. She pulled on his trousers and a green tunic. In turn, she dressed him in one of her gowns, a long yellow garment, and painted his lips a light pink. Then for the finishing touch, she clasped one of her mother's black wigs to his hair. You're beautiful, simply breathtaking," she murmured.
Alexandre studied his reflection in the mirror, squinting slightly, for the candlelight didn't provide much illumination. He was speechless for a moment, then finally he found his voice. I'm a beautiful woman."
Yes." Vexa breathed lightly between parted lips. You're exquisite. I want you so badly, right now... but first I shall paint your portrait."
Alexandre ran his hands through the black wig. I should have been the woman, and you the man."
Vexa chuckled. That does seem more appropriate, doesn't it? But this way isn't too bad, is it? We can be both. Though it does feel odd to have this deep voice coming from such a delicate creature as yourself."
A seriousness flickered in Alexandre's clear blue eyes. Here's what I really sound like," he said, and his voice became soft, sweet and undoubtedly feminine. This is me, with all the acting and pretense stripped aside. Me as I should be. Me as..." Tears of frustration choked his throat. Me as I want to be."
Vexa's eyes filled too, and she touched her mate on the shoulder. I love that," she said. Your voice."
Alexandre sniffled, but Vexa could do nothing but hold him, for they both knew he could be her wife and she Alexandre's husband only at night, when no other creatures stirred.
Alexandre got the message from his father the next week. Bartocollous was more than up to the task and would be in Qax during the last few days of the month. Vexa would need to be drugged each of those nights, Attus said, and Alexandre would take the salesman to her bedchamber. Attus also instructed his son to tell Magnatus that Bartocollous had come from Athena bearing gifts from Attus in honor of the successful union of their kingdoms.
Bartocollous was a reedy man of 50, but despite his age, he boasted a thick blond mane and lively blue eyes. The gaps among his brown-stained teeth bespoke his rough life and sometimes violent temper. From time to time, he kept dubious company on his travels, but above all, he was known for his loyalty and honest dealings, even if he did have a bit of a problem with the drink.
He set out from Athena with two horses. He rode one, and on the other horse were piled the gifts for King Magnatus, along with his own payment for impregnating the princess. Bartocollous could hardly believe his good fortune; with those riches, all that dough, he could retire for the rest of his life, which he fully intended to do. And what's more, even though only a handful of people could ever know, he, Bartocollous, the lowly traveling salesman, would be the biological father of a future king or queen. The misfortune of the poor, barren Prince Alexandre had turned out quite beneficial for Bartocollous, he thought.
The salesman didn't need to leave for Qax for a few more days, but when his youngest, and favorite, grandchild fell deathly ill, Bartocollous left immediately with Janan, his eldest son. Qax was home to some of the finest herbs, herbs that could cure Janan's little girl. The two men made record time in reaching Qax, for what was usually a three-day journey only took them two days. They arrived as the sun was setting, and Janan went to get the herbs.
My business at the palace will only take an hour or so, then I'll meet you back here, and we'll go home," Bartocollous promised. The salesman, his heart in his throat, rode his horse to the palace, wondering how he and Alexandre were going to handle the matter if the princess wasn't drugged. She won't know the difference," Bartocollous decided. It's all the same in the dark."
He entered the courtyard bearing piles of goodies on his other horse. A servant brought him to King Magnatus, who welcomed him with open arms, despite his being nearly a week early. And how is Prince Alexandre?" Bartocollous inquired. I have some things for him as well."
He and Vexa are in bed now, but you can see them in the morning. They're recovering from a bout of sickness. Come, I'll have a chambermaid show you to your lodgings."
The salesman's face fell. I can only stay for a few hours. My grandchild is very sick, and I must get back to her."
The king clucked sympathetically. Everyone's getting sick. I just got over something myself. Here, I'll have Clara give you some of the herbs Alexandre and Vexa are taking. It helps with the cough. And you stay here tonight and rest. You can see Alexandre in the morning and be on your way." Magnatus clasped his hands together, and his admiring dark eyes roved over a small golden statue of himself. Attus sure knows how to butter me up. He's turning out to be a fine in-law. Look at that fellow's moustache! So robust, it practically puts my real one to shame!" He sighed and called for Clara.
Bartocollous followed the maid to his room. Pray tell, where is the royal couple's chamber?" he inquired.
Clara indicated a door at the very end of the long, winding hallway, which was lighted by rows of wall candles. Their living quarters are through the last door on the right. But please don't disturb them until morning. They've been sick, and the poor things need a bundle of herbs just to get to sleep, they've been coughing and sniffling so much."
Bartocollous smiled, and at this moment, he knew everything would be all right; the princess was drugged after all. Much obliged." The salesman tipped his hat at Clara and retreated into his room. He waited a few minutes, checked to make sure all was clear, and tiptoed down the hallway, a solitary candle in his hands.
He used a piece of metal to force his way inside the locked suite, which was pitch black. The faint light afforded by his little candle wasn't much help, but Bartocollous managed his way through the drawing room and through another room, the purpose of which he couldn't ascertain, and then he arrived at the bedroom. He pulled the handle, and the door yielded easily.
The intruder held the candle in front of him and crept to the two sleeping figures in the bed. He nearly stumbled over the bedcovers, which were strewn haphazardly on the floor. He let out a small cry as the candle slipped from his hands. The room was rendered completely dark, and Bartocollous muttered a long string of curses under his breath. Prince Alexandre? Prince Alexandre?" he whispered, but no reply was forthcoming. He felt for the figure closest to the door, and his hands immediately alit upon soft, round breasts. The salesman smiled despite himself; his wife's breasts were huge and elephantine due to bearing so many children. The sleeping woman was naked and clammy, covered in the sweat of the sick. It reminded the salesman all too much of his ill grandchild and of precious seconds slipping by. Bartocollous freed his penis from his pants and straddled the young woman. He was done with his business in under a minute and quickly buttoned up and made his way back to his bedroom.
Within the hour, he had left the palace and rejoined his son.
CHAPTER FOUR: The pregnant prince
Vexa's color was better in the morning, but Alexandre didn't seem much improved. It's no fair," he groused at the breakfast table. Vexa's immune system puts mine to shame."
Magnatus joined the couple then, and his brows furrowed as he addressed Alexandre. Looks like your man Bartocollous left last night after all. He wrote a note saying he had to get back to his sick grandchild."
Vexa went pale, and she looked more sickly than ever.
What?" Alexandre asked in a raspy voice. He isn't due for a while."
Magnatus shrugged. He had to come here anyway to get some herbs for his grandchild. Seems like a nice enough fellow. Let me show you the most marvelous statue your father sent me." The elderly king grabbed the small golden man and beamed as he fingered the hard moustache. Isn't this the spitting image of me?"
He's coming back, right?" Alexandre asked.
Magnatus scratched his chin. Don't think so. He brought all the gifts. Here, he left a letter for you. All it says is that everything's taken care of."
Alexandre took the piece of paper with shaky hands. Your Royal Highness Prince Alexandre," it began, I am sorry I had to come early, but it could have been a matter of life and death for my most precious grandchild. Please do forgive me, but I have delivered everything per our agreement. If things do not turn out as planned, let me know, but everything should be taken care of. Best of luck to you and your family. Sincerely yours, Bartocollous Marcellus."
The young prince swallowed and read the message aloud for Vexa. I think he forgot something," Alexandre muttered once Magnatus was out of earshot.
It's okay." Vexa appeared quite relieved. Let's just visit your father in a few months and have someone else do it then."
Yeah," Alexandre murmured. Yeah, okay. God, what a con artist."
Vexa was the one who realized Alexandre was pregnant. He had developed odd food cravings and had bouts of nausea that showed no sign of abating. After a few months, his stomach was starting to bulge, and he admitted to her that something had to be wrong because his monthly visits had stopped.
She sat him down on their bed and took his hand. You're pregnant," she said matter of factly.
Alexandre went pale. What?"
I've thought about it. That night Bartocollous was here, we were both conked out on the herbs, the same herbs you would've used to get me to sleep if things had gone according to plan. You never wear your swaddlings or dildo to bed, and you sleep on the side of the bed closest to the door. Say you're Bartocollous, and the room's very dark. You're feeling around in the bed and come across a pair of breasts or a pussy. Well, of course, you're going to assume that person is me." The princess gave her mate a glance of utter disbelief. It all makes sense now. Your symptoms match exactly ... We're going to have a baby."
Alexandre was too stunned to do anything except stare.
Vexa put her arms around his neck and whispered into his ear. It'll be okay, I promise. I'd bet my life on it. Father and you get along so swimmingly; he'll just need some time to adjust. He's really mellowed since the wedding. I'm going to talk to Clara. Father loves her, and he'll listen to her. She'll make him see how happy we are together. "
Oh, God." Alexandre studied the backs of his hands. Oh, God, no. This is a nightmare."
Clara was summoned to the royal couple's suite that night, and Vexa broke the good news to her first.
We're going to have a baby," she said.
The maid clapped her hands together and laughed. Wonderful! And it's not even been six months!"
We're in a bit of a jam, though," Vexa continued cautiously.
Clara looked in confusion from Alexandre, pale and worn, to Vexa, worried and tired. We need your help. Father loves you. So, please, listen to what I'm going to say with an open mind because we're going to need you to save Alexandre's life and the lives of the people of Athena. There's no way to fudge this, and quite simply, I'm glad this happened, because I'm sick of sneaking around." The princess sighed. We're going to have a baby, but I'm not the pregnant one."
Clara's eyes widened. I don't understand."
Alexandre spoke next, in a harsh, raw voice. I'm the pregnant one."
Clara brayed. Naw, you're not fooling me. What a piece of baloney! Enough with this. I need to clean." She turned to leave, but the desperation in Vexa's eyes stopped her.
Please, Clara. Hear us out." The princess sat the maid down again and launched into her long tale. You see how happy we are together," she pleaded in conclusion. Father sees it too; he knows we're as happy as clams, that he's never seen anyone more in love than we. You have to help him understand that I love this person no matter what, and if he wants to do the right thing, he'll let us live happily ever after. He didn't want to let me marry Alexandre, but he relented. And he can be made to see the good in this too. I used to think maybe he couldn't, but you see how he is with Alexandre. Father does have a heart."
Clara's face had gone through a mixture of incredulity and shock, then anger and confusion. Now only sadness and a vestige of bitterness were visible on her worn lines. The maid collected her thoughts for a moment, then she finally spoke. My dear, listen to me, and listen to me good. This is sage advice, and you have no other options. Run, run, run, as far away as you can get. Go on the lam. Or use a herb to expel the child. For there is no way in this life, or in any other life, that Magnatus is going to allow this. His pride, his reputation is at stake. He won't be made a fool, and there's no way he'll be raisin' this baby as his grandchild."
Vexa's face fell. I really think if you talked to him... I'm his daughter, for goodness' sake. His only child. And Alexandre and I want this baby so, so much."
Clara studied the young people, both of their expressions tight with strain. Think about it carefully. It's a horrible idea. I used to think your father had some goodness in him, but I'm not so sure anymore."
Vexa stared unblinkingly at Clara. I'm not changing my mind. He's my father, and he deserves a chance to redeem himself. I finally have faith in him."
King Magnatus was sitting in his study two nights later, poring over a couple of maps at his desk, when Clara came in. She closed the door quietly behind her. Magnatus took her in his arms and kissed her lightly. Hello darling. How are you? You've been preoccupied lately."
The maid sighed and tucked her graying hair behind her ears. She shrugged off her work apron. Sit down." She indicated the large, comfortable couch that ran one length of a wall.
I don't need to sit. Tell me what's going on," the king demanded.
All right." Clara's expression stilled and grew even more serious. Your daughter and Alexandre are expecting a baby."
What!" Sheer joy overcame Magnatus, and he grabbed Clara into a bear hug. How wonderful!" Clara cleared her throat, and Magnatus set her down. What now?" The king narrowed his eyes.
Alexandre's the pregnant one," the maid said, and launched into a version of the tale Vexa had related to her. By the time she finished, the king was shaking with rage.
They think they can make a damned fool out of me, huh?!" he screamed. That despicable Attus, thinking he can milk me out of my riches and take over my land and my daughter!"
She knew, Magnatus," Clara said quietly. Vexa's known ever since Alexandre was a baby that he... that she was a girl."
Magnatus swallowed. She didn't know. She wouldn't keep such a thing from me."
She undid the diaper. She knew." Clara's mouth set in a grim line, and there was no doubt she was telling the truth. She told me so herself."
Not my sweet pea." Magnatus took a step back. Why would she do that?"
Clara's face was a stony mask. She felt sorry for Attus and his people. For a moment, please, put yourself in his shoes. He's a peaceful man, and so was his wife. They loved their people; their subjects' welfare was a main priority. Then a bellicose king comes storming in, occupies their land, and refuses to withdraw his troops and vows slaughter of every person in the land unless their firstborn son is promised to his daughter, who's so horrid no one will have her. What choice did they have? In their shoes, Magnatus, you'd do the same, and you know it."
But...but..." Magnatus sputtered. A girl!"
A girl." Clara solemnly met the king's befuddled gaze.
They're going to hang, all of them." A coldness came into Magnatus' face. Even my daughter."
Clara swallowed. But you love her."
She made a fool out of me,
willingly, knowingly. She begged me to let her marry this,
this..." The king spat. This girl, saying she
was in love. A girl!" Magnatus bellowed as if he was
in excruiating pain. She... she turned pretty for
that girl!" The king took an angry hand to his desk,
whipping everything off. His maps, his paperweights, glass
statues, everything, shattered on the floor.
Love makes people do crazy things." A coolness had come into Clara's eyes. You're no saint. I've been keeping your secret for years, ever since..." The maid cleared her throat. Ever since Queen Deidre died. Maybe it's time everyone knew the truth about what you've done and that Vexa's mother is still very much alive."
Oh, you little..." Magnatus lunged for the maid, but she dodged him gracefully. You'll hang too!" he shrieked.
Then I hang," she said. Because I'm through doing crazy things for you in the name of love. I'm tired of playing second fiddle to your delusions of grandeur, your conquests of land and people, I'm sick of following orders, having to pretend I'm nothing to you but a maid, all because you're too prideful to admit that you're in love with the woman who empties the toilet pots. And while I'm hanging and dying, I will pray for you, you bitter old wretch. But I think you're going to hell anyway. Vexa has something you don't—a heart. You're going to hang your own daughter because she had the fortune to find true love in a person who doesn't quite meet your ideals. And it makes you jealous as hell."
That's not the point!" Magnatus hollered. Everyone lied to me! I've been deceived for years! The people in the kingdom will think I'm some kind of half-wit!"
No one has to find out." Clara's tone was still icy. Simply keep Vexa and Alexandre secluded until the child is born. Vexa can get pregnant later on, too. There, you'll have your blood heir."
The king snorted. Oh, you and your neat little solutions."
Don't punish your daughter for your shortcomings," Clara warned. She's bold and brave enough to seize her love. Can't you see the irony in this whole situation? Magnatus, you have become what you so despised. Why, you should be thrilled that Alexandre is a girl." When the comment was met with stony silence, the maid held up a hand. I know you're going to call the guards now and have me escorted to the dungeon. I'll save you the trouble and take myself." She threw the old king one last look before departing the room. I had hoped against hope to see a glimmer of the person you used to be."
Magnatus thought and thought, plotting the most delicious revenges, and then it came to him. The most perfect thing ever. There would be no unnecessary beheadings or killings. The solution would be quite simple. The old king sent out an important announcement then ambled down to the dark dank dungeon, where Vexa, Alexandre, Attus and Clara had been suffering for the past few weeks. All of them were naked, their mouths gagged, their arms and legs bound. They were caked in filth from head to toe. They hung from drab gray stone walls, and a dozen or so skeletons, some fresh, some centuries old, littered the dirt ground.
The prisoners drew back in fear when they realized who their visitor was. The old king went to the yellowed skeleton directly opposite Vexa; she'd had a perfect view of it during her time in the dungeon. Does this remind you of anyone?"
The princess shook her head.
Magnatus reached down and cackled. He slipped a diamond ring that was easily five carats off the skeleton's finger. He used his shirt to wipe off its layers of accumulated dust. Vexa, meet your mother."
The old king thoroughly enjoyed the confused look that came into his daughter's eyes.
That's right. Dear old mommy isn't buried in the royal graveyards. She's been right here all along. I got so tired of her yammering that I banished her down here, even though she was pregnant. She was allowed food and water until you were born; why, Vexa, how fitting! You began life in this room, and this is where you'll die too." Magnatus crossed his arms. After I had my heir, I simply left her mother here to die. No food, no water. I was glad to not have a pesky wife to worry about anymore; I could focus on amassing more land and fortune."
Disgust had crept into the princess' eyes, but all she could do was thrash against her chain and make muffled shouts.
And now..." Magnatus unlocked Alexandre's chains himself and ripped his mouth gags off. The youth's blond hair was at his shoulders now, and his belly and breasts were swollen because of the baby. There was no trace of masculinity in him now, and anyone who had known the prince would be hard pressed to identify this person as him. Hello, darlin'," Magnatus said, an evil leer growing across his face. You're lovely. Guess what I've just done?"
Alexandre spat in the king's face.
Magnatus threw his head back and roared with laughter until his belly hurt. I've just sent out an announcement that Prince Alexandre and Princess Vexa have met with untimely ends. It was a hunting accident, you see. It happens." The old king shrugged.
Alexandre went pale, but he kept his bearing proud and stiff. Magnatus brought a finger to the youth's lips, caressing them slowly and seductively. He then stepped back and looked at his daughter and Clara. Oh, don't worry. Nothing's going to happen to him. Or, shall I say, her. Matter of fact, this fellow's going to live with me from now on while you people suffer down here. And believe me, you'll be down here until you die naturally and woefully alone. No quick painless deaths, sorry."
Attus twisted furiously in his position on the wall.
What's that, Attus?" Magnatus cupped a hand to his ear. Oh, I can't hear you. But let me just say that the people of Athena are mourning your demise. It seems as if you drowned. Sorry. But, I thank you verily for leaving me your kingdom in your will. Cool beans! Anyway." The old king turned back to Alexandre and proffered the diamond ring that once had belonged to Vexa's mother. I've decided to take another wife, and you're the lucky one. I'd call you Queen Alexandra, but alas, the people might find that too coincidental."
Vexa's gasp was audible through her bound mouth, and that was reward enough for Magnatus, but he plowed on. That's right, darling daughter. I'm making your husband my wife, and her baby my heir. Not you. You're dead to me." He grabbed Alexandre by the wrist, his fingers pressing into the delicate skin. I think... yes. Your name shall be Clara, Queen Clara, and you come from a kingdom I've just conquered far, far away. The people will love you." The stooped old king turned to the chambermaid who had once loved him and whose eyes now held nothing but the most bitter hatred. Some wishes do come true after all. Clara becomes queen." He threw his head back again, and his laughter thundered around the dungeon walls.
Shortly after the requisite seven-day mourning period for Prince Alexandre and Princess Vexa ended, the people of Qax were heartened by the news that their king was to take a bride. Stories about the young woman sprouted in all corners of the kingdom, and most took an odd twist or turn. But the central part of all the stories was the same: Magnatus, even at his stooped old age, was still a vigorous conqueror and had led the charge on Daph, a tiny kingdom across the ocean. It had been love at first sight: Daph's queen, a never-married, drop-dead gorgeous young blonde with sapphire blue eyes, had immediately welcomed the virile king into her bed. He had made her with child that very night, and Clara, their future queen, was eager to start her new life with Magnatus.
The day of King Magnatus' second wedding started much the same as his daughter's wedding had. A bright, cheerful sun roused hundreds of thousands of curious spectators, and the young blonde who would be queen paced her room, bags under her eyes after weeks of little sleep. A gaggle of chambermaids helped dress their future queen in lacy white, neatly concealing her growing bulge, and applied the most brilliant makeup to her fair complexion.
The chambermaids, of course, had no idea that this lovely young woman was the former Prince Alexandre, and that Vexa was alive and chained to a dungeon wall. Magnatus had threatened to kill Vexa, Attus and the chambermaid Clara if the former prince breathed even a word to the contrary.
The future queen Clara bit tears back as she recalled her wedding night with Vexa. She shuddered as she thought about Magnatus touching her in any way. She prayed, as she had every minute for the past week, that the stooped king's age would catch up to him and claim him. But this adventure seemed to have injected new life and vigor into him, and he had vowed to be around for a long time, especially so he could make lots of babies with her. Her mind raced with hundreds of jumbled thoughts, searching for the solution that would lead her back to Vexa and to true freedom. The only way out she could see was to end Magnatus' life herself, and she was prepared to do just that. There would be repercussions of course, but once everything was sorted out, nobody in their right mind would hang her for the crime, or so her thinking went. After all, she would be queen, and when Magnatus was dead, her word would rule supreme across the land. The spilling of blood would be done tonight, before he could claim her as his wife in every sense of the word.
A familiar sea of excited faces as far as she could see greeted the future queen as she glided out of the castle and down the long red aisle where King Magnatus awaited. This time there were no chants of Prince Charming! Prince Charming! Prince Charming!" But as before, every eye was on her, and people murmured amongst themselves how beautiful and serene she was, with her wonderful skin, light hair and regal bearing. She definitely met with the crowd's approval, and the people roared when the clergyman said to Magnatus: You may kiss your wife."
The queen flinched as Magnatus ran a wet tongue across his lips, his eyes filled with unspeakable darkness. He grabbed his wife, flung her back, and stuck his tongue down her throat, nearly choking her. The crowd's approving roars grew to a fever pitch, and Magnatus finally let go of the queen and bowed in appreciation.
We love you! Long live the king and the queen!" the people screamed.
Magnatus leaned over to whisper in Clara's ear. His voice was crystal clear despite the cacophony surrounding him. Long live the king is right. I'm no fool, and I've left orders for all prisoners in the dungeon to be killed immediately should anything happen to me tonight. So don't even try."
Clara bit back tears, and the terrifying realization that she and Vexa were doomed washed over her.
Among the hundreds of thousands of spectators at the royal wedding was Asamadus, the private secretary of King Attus. Unlike the revelers, Asamadus was grim and wore a frown. He was disguised as a pauper; gone were the elaborate robes he had worn for the past 22 years, and his face and silver hair were speckled with mud. King Magnatus had sent troops after him and Faulk, the palace doctor, about three weeks ago. It was only by sheer luck that Asamadus had escaped with his life. Faulk had not been as fortunate.
And now, thought Asamadus, Attus was dead, and more and more of Magnatus' troops streamed into Athena daily, pillaging the land, eating her food, raping her women and children, and even some men.
Asamadus had spent the past weeks lying low, mourning and trying to figure out why Magnatus had gone berserk all of a sudden and what to do about it. There could only be one answer: He'd found out Alexandre was a girl. And now, Alexandre and Vexa were dead too, and Magnatus was starting over again with this young pregnant woman called Clara.
The secretary didn't know why he'd shown up for the wedding, but he was sure, as sure as he'd ever been of anything in his life, that he would make Magnatus pay for his crimes. Asamadus pushed his thoughts aside and watched in shocked interest as the king practically devoured his wife for their first kiss as a married couple. People were screaming and roaring, forcing Asamadus to cover his ears. Something else was niggling at him too, and it finally hit him. He was looking at Alexandre's mother, the late Queen Elizaveta. Asamadus saw it clear as day now, even though he was standing near the back of the huge crowd. He couldn't see the new queen's eye color or the fine details of her face, the curl of her eyelashes, or the exact color of her fair hair, but there was no doubt. A rush of memories flooded back to the secretary: dearly departed Elizaveta's smile, the way she put everyone at ease, the way she waved with her hand slightly cupped, just as this young Clara was doing now.
Asamadus began to wonder if he was going crazy.
Elizaveta was dead, had been for years. But there she was, very much alive, while Faulk, Attus, Alexandre and Vexa were not. Asamadus glanced around frantically, in near panic, wondering if anyone from the old days of Athena was here and had noticed. But there was no one. The private secretary's heartbeat began to spin out of control.
Magnatus leaned over to whisper something to his wife, and she went pale and clutched her swollen belly.
In that instant, Asamadus knew.
Oh my God," he muttered, falling back. Oh my God!" He clutched a hand to his heart.
A plump young girl shot Asamadus an irritated look as he nearly keeled over.
Oh my God! Queen Clara is Prince Alexandre! Thank the lord, he's alive!"
What?" The girl leaned forward in interest. That can't be. What would Magnatus want with Alexandre?" The girl swiveled her neck, squinting her eyes to study the new queen. Naw, there's no way." But this piece of gossip was too meaty, too juicy for the girl to keep to herself, and she passed it on to four more people, who in turn passed it on to twice as many people, and in a matter of minutes, the whole crowd was abuzz with the revelation.
By the time the rumor reached the front groups of people, the king and the queen had been waving tirelessly for nearly ten minutes and were getting ready to go in to prepare for their wedding feast.
Prince Alexandre!" shouted someone in the front row.
Magnatus' eyes darted to the offending person, and his guilty reaction stoked the fire of the crowd. Prince Alexandre!" shouted three more people. Then five, then ten, then a hundred: Prince Alexandre!"
The old king held up a hand. We all miss Alexandre and Vexa. Let us pray now for their souls."
The crowd roared back, and its chant quickly took on a life of its own. Prince Alexandre! Prince Alexandre! Prince Alexandre!"
Beads of sweat appeared on Magnatus' bald head, and he nervously twiddled with his moustache. After a moment of hesitation, he strode to his top army colonel. Send the troops in. All of them. Shut those yammering fools up."
The colonel gave the king an incredulous glance. That's not Alexandre, is it?"
Don't be daft!" Magnatus snapped. Just get in there and kill them if you have to!"
Those are your own people!" The colonel's eyes widened in anger and confusion. My family's in there! My men's families are in there!"
So?" the old king roared. Have you ever seen such insubordination?"
The colonel, a stern, tight-lipped man, held up a hand, and then strode to the stage. People!" he bellowed. Stop this nonsense!"
Prince Alexandre! Talk to us, Prince Alexandre!" the crowd hollered back.
The new queen took an uncertain step forward, studiously avoiding Magnatus' furious eyes.
She began to speak, not in the same voice in which she had recited her wedding vows only moments ago, not in the voice with which she had been born. She held her arms out, tears in her eyes, and the crowd immediately fell silent at the strange juxtaposition of the deep, rich voice of Alexandre coming out of this lovely, tiny woman. It is true--"
Magnatus didn't let her get any further. He tackled her, sending her flying to the stage floor.
The crowd bellowed in rage, and thousands upon thousands of people clambered onto the stage, swarming over Magnatus, trampling him, squishing him, pulling his moustache until he bled from every pore in his body.
And the new queen raced to rescue her loved ones.
EPILOGUE: The woman who had been king
--By the time the people of Qax were finished with their king, he was an unidentifiable mess of blood and skin, with some teeth scattered about. Vexa fed his remains to the hogs.
--The new rulers of Qax, Queen Vexa and Queen Alexandre, welcomed their first child, Princess Elizaveta, five months later.
--Clara the chambermaid did become queen after all, for she and Attus took quite a shine to each other.
--Bartocollous Marcellus' most precious grandchild recovered fully from her illness.
--Asamadus the private secretary penned a best-seller, Them Crazy Royals," and he became an instant millionaire. But if only he had known Magnatus' deep, dark secret, he would easily have been the richest man in the world ...
--Vexa still wondered why her father seemingly had no heart. And one night, Clara finally told her everything.
King Magnatus was more like you and Alexandre than anyone could've imagined," she said. He hated how men had all the power, how women were held back and oppressed, how they could do precious little. But in the end, he became that which he despised."
Vexa didn't understand. Why would he care about women? He had everything made for him."
A knowing grin played on Clara's lips. He was your mother. Queen Deidre had been alive all along."
Clara gasped. What?"
The former chambermaid sighed. Your mother, Deidre, found out that your father, the original King Magnatus, was plotting to banish her to the dungeon after she had you. Make no mistake, he was a ruthless man, just as much as your mother eventually became. But she one-upped him, played some favors with guards, most of them sexual, and Magnatus was the one who died in that dungeon. That skeleton you saw down there, with the diamond ring—that was the true King Magnatus. Deidre chopped off his moustache, shaved her head bald, and became king. It was done quite easily, actually."
No. No. That person was not a woman."
Oh, believe me, it was a woman. And I loved her, and she loved me. But power eventually corrupted her. Through it all, I held out hope that somewhere inside her, she could remember what it had been like to be oppressed. That's why, against my better judgment, I told her about Alexandre's pregnancy. I thought she'd understand. Talk about delicious irony. But I was stupidly naïve too." Clara leaned forward. I'm telling you this for a reason. To make sure you remember what it was like when you were subject to the whim of a greedy man. Don't make the same mistakes your mother and your father did."
Vexa swallowed uncomfortably and fingered the emerald boulder on her finger. I won't, Clara. Promise."
The queen of Athena studied her former employer with keen eyes. Then I think maybe you should withdraw your troops from all those lands across the ocean and stop slaughtering prisoners with such glee. And maybe spend more time with Alexandre and your children instead of counting gold coins."
Vexa stood. I'll be fine."
I hope so, darling. I hope so." Clara hugged the other woman, gave her a sad smile, and left.
The queen of Qax sat in her study all night long, at the same desk her mother and her father had before her. And her eyes glittered all night long at the thought of gold, gold and more gold.
66 food words claimed. (cornflower counts as two: corn and flour)
Other words that may be confusing: time=thyme, a spice. Sage, also a spice.
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