It seemed like a very long time before Trang’s soldiers of fortune were ready to set off to rescue Cloxlan from the sub-elves, and Princess Spiderweb felt sure that Mr. Tiktox was just as agitated by the delay as she was. He kept fidgeting with his jeweled egg, turning it over in his hands restlessly, and passing it pointlessly between one set of hands and another. (She sometimes envied him for having six arms!)
As soon as the mercenary army was finally ready, Trang came to speak to Mr. Tiktox, though he kept casting uncomfortable glances up at Princess Spiderweb’s horse as he did so, as if he thought it was going to breathe fire on him and burn him up to a crisp, just because it could.
“Look, metal man,” Trang said, scowling at Mr. Tiktox, “when we show up in Cloxlan, are your people going to rise up and help us fight the sub-elves? We don’t have enough men here to fight them all by ourselves.”
“The tiktox will do nothing without the executive function,” Mr. Tiktox told him, shaking his head. “I am only capable of independent function in this manner because that is part of my function. I am a servant of the court; I must be capable of acting when there is no executive function.”
‘”Like talking to a bloody wall,” Trang sighed. “What do we gotta do to make your people rise up and defend themselves?”
“Once the executive function is restored, then the tiktox will rise against their oppressors,” Mr. Tiktox assured him.
Princess Spiderweb didn’t think Trang was entirely convinced, but at least he didn’t keep arguing. Instead, he returned to the mercenary army, and told them to prepare to march.
An army on the march was a very boring thing, and Princess Spiderweb didn’t like being part of one. She suggested to Mr. Tiktox that maybe they could fly ahead and work on ‘restoring the executive function’ (whatever that meant) of the tiktox, but he insisted that their arrival would attract too much attention, without the army to distract the enemy. The princess knew he was probably right, but she didn’t much like the fact.
She thought it would be a great relief when they finally arrived in Cloxlan.
She was wrong.
As soon as they got there, the sub-elves attacked the mercenaries. Princess Spiderweb had never seen a war before. The only combat she knew were the stories of the old man who had lived below her of his days as a heroic prince, and the sight of the mercenaries practicing their skills as they waited to deploy.
This was nothing like those.
The sub-elves were hacking pieces of the mercenaries off, sending them falling into bloodied mud. And other mercenaries were hacking off pieces of the sub-elves in vengeance, sending them into the bloodied mud.
Princess Spiderweb was horrified and disgusted, and thought about ordering her horse to burn them all to a crisp just so she wouldn’t have to see such horrible things ever again.
Fortunately, before she could actually say anything so terrible, Mr. Tiktox suggested that they should now take the opportunity to find an executive body so the other tiktox could rise up against the sub-elves and win the day. Princess Spiderweb still didn’t quite understand that, but anything was better than watching the sub-elves and the mercenaries kill each other, so she was glad to agree.
Meriax was surprised to hear the call to arms flooding the palace. Her father wasn’t out of sons yet, so it was too soon for one of their own people to be attacking. Were they being invaded by someone even worse than they were? Or had the metal men finally found the backbone to resist?
Rather than follow the troops out to battle and get caught up in their fight, Meriax climbed to the highest tower of the palace of Cloxlan. As she did so, she passed by tiktox behaving in their usual passive manner, so it was clear that they weren’t rebelling against her father just yet. Which was a pity, really, because that would have been a quite fitting end for him, even if not quite as poetic as if she killed him herself.
The tower had a wide balcony at the top, outside the tiny throne room with the throne of solid gold that her father was so pleased with. From the balcony, Meriax could easily see the invading army. It had come through the mountains, and was thus surprisingly close to the palace. She could see her father just beginning to wade into the enemy. Foolishly, he had actually brought along a number of the tiktox to carry his spare weapons into battle, and his trophies back out again.
If only she could find a way to sway the tiktox to her will!
She had barely had that thought when she saw a dragon flying straight towards her. Hastily, Meriax ran and hide just inside the throne room. Through the open doorway, she could see the dragon land, and two beings climb down off the saddle on its back. One of them was a brass tiktox, carrying golden egg encrusted with jewels. The other was a human girl, perhaps no more than seventeen years old, with a pale face tinged with green; either she wasn’t used to flying, or she wasn’t used to the sight of blood.
As the newcomers approached the throne room, Meriax drew her sword and took up a position in front of the throne. She had plans for that throne, after all!
The newcomers looked shocked to see her. “Who are you?” the girl asked her, her voice surprisingly unconcerned by the drawn sword.
“I am Meriax, eldest princess of the sub-elves,” she replied, with a cold smirk. “Who are you to come marching into my father’s throne room?”
“Oh, I’m Princess Spiderweb,” the girl informed her, with a smile. “I’ve never met another princess before!”
“I do not believe that is what you should be focusing on at this moment,” the tiktox with her said, setting one of its empty hands on the girl’s shoulder. “What do you intend to do with that weapon?” he asked, looking at Meriax.
“That depends what your business is in this throne room,” Meriax replied.
“I am here to restore the proper executive function of the tiktox and save Cloxlan,” the metal man replied. “I shall not allow myself to be stopped from executing my duty, though I shall be sorry if I must harm a flesh creature unnecessarily.”
“I might let you do your duty, on one condition,” Meriax told him. This could be the break she’d been after for some time, but she didn’t dare risk it by being too eager!
“What kind of condition?” Princess Spiderweb asked, tilting her head to one side curiously.
“I want your people to answer to my commands,” Meriax said, aiming a tight smile at the clockwork man.
“The tiktox cannot be enslaved to a flesh creature,” the tiktox countered, his cold voice rasping slightly.
“I don’t want to enslave them,” she agreed. “I just want them to view me as…an adviser who knows better than they do. Especially in the matters of war.” She gestured sweepingly with one hand, using the other to keep the sword pointed at her potential allies. “Consider me as the military commander-in-chief, whose advice should be considered closely even off the field of battle.”
The tiktox was silent for some time, and Meriax could hear the gears in his head turning as he considered her offer. His cute little companion didn’t seem to know what that grinding sound was, and kept pestering him for an answer, and peppering Meriax with questions, but she didn’t bother paying attention to her. Human princesses were worth even less in these matters than sub-elf ones, after all.
Finally, the tiktox nodded slowly, but only after the sound of guards running up the stairs to fight the dragon began to fill the air. “I cannot promise you any control, even of military matters, as I am only a servant to the court. But I believe the position of military adviser is an acceptable exchange for your assistance in this matter. If you will ensure that your father’s soldiers do not prevent me from restoring the executive function, then I will guarantee you an advisory position.”
“And the tiktox out on the field with my father — they’ll restrain him so I can personally behead him, right?” Meriax demanded, not moving an inch, even though she could hear the guards on the balcony now.
“Why would you want to kill your own father?!” Princess Spiderweb exclaimed. “That’s horrible!”
“It’s the only way I can obtain the throne of the sub-elves for myself,” Meriax told her.
“But you could just banish him to the tower with the trollup, like everyone else does with their unwanted royalty,” the human princess objected. So that was her story, was it? Unwanted and dumped off in a tower to await rescue by some horny human prince?
“That’s not our way,” Meriax said, remaining firm. She could not allow herself to be dragged down by human weakness.
“The deal is acceptable,” the tiktox told her. “Please step aside and guard the door.”
Meriax nodded — knowing that a tiktox never broke his word — and took up a position to fight off any guards that got to the throne room. It didn’t seem likely to happen, though: they were preoccupied with the dragon, and not faring well against its fiery maw.
That being the case, she felt free to watch as the tiktox approached the throne with its eye-poppingly precious cargo.
To Meriax’ surprise, the tiktox moved aside the drapery that covered the back and seat of the throne, and pressed the egg into the depression on the seat. Then he stepped aside, and for a moment nothing happened.
Then the throne itself began to move.
Its arms came free from the seat, the legs shifted around, and in a cacophony of screeching metal, it changed its configuration entirely until it was no longer a throne, but a tiktox made of solid gold, and somewhat larger than the standard tiktox.
Without the brass tiktox filling it in, the gold tiktox looked at Meriax. “Your advice will be accepted without question in this battle against your father’s forces. After that time, it will be considered before being applied.”
“Good enough, I guess,” Meriax said. She didn’t much care what happened to the tiktox after she was king of the sub-elves, after all.
“Your father is being restrained, but if you wish to be the one to dispatch him, you must be quick about it. His enemies among the mercenaries are not eager to listen to our demands that we have our own ways of being rid of him,” the executive tiktox informed her.
“Damnation!” She turned to look at Princess Spiderweb and the brass tiktox. “That dragon of yours, is it tame, or are you the only ones who can ride it?”
“He’s a horse, not a dragon!” Princess Spiderweb insisted. “And he probably only answers to me.”
“Then let’s go!” Meriax said, grabbing the human girl by her wrist. “I have to be the one to finish him off!”
Princess Spiderweb was not pleased to be dragged off by the sub-elf princess, but as they flew to the battleground, she was glad to see that the fighting had more or less stopped. The mercenaries must have understood that with the king of the sub-elves prisoner, they didn’t need to fight anymore. Or maybe the sub-elves lost their will to fight when they saw their king as a prisoner?
Either way, she hoped she could talk Meriax into imprisoning her father instead of killing him.
But just as they were dismounting from the horse’s back, there was a scream of anguish and pain.
A dismayed Meriax ran over towards the sound, and Princess Spiderweb followed her, not knowing quite what else to do. They soon found that Trang had just run his sword through the chest of Meriax’s father.
Meriax began to yell at Trang with a great many very terrible-sounding words that Princess Spiderweb didn’t understand…and didn’t want to understand.
Then Meriax took her sword and cut off her dead father’s head. The icky thing was dripping blood as she held it up and showed it to the other sub-elves.
“You see this?!” she shouted. “I am now the king of the sub-elves! You must obey me!”
“It was that human that actually killed him,” an enormous sub-elf said, pointing to Trang. “No accomplishment in cutting the head off a corpse. Seems to me he’s the new king.”
“But aren’t you already a king?” Princess Spiderweb asked, looking at Trang. He completely ignored her.
A great argument arose between the sub-elves. It became so heated that the tiktox began to speak all in unison, telling them to bring their cases to the executive function. He would decide who was the new king of the sub-elves.
Princess Spiderweb rode her horse back up to the throne room, but everyone else was walking, so she had a long wait. But Mr. Tiktox didn’t want to talk to her anymore — he said he had work to do — and the golden throne-king didn’t seem to have any attention to spare for her, either. So she spent the time stroking her horse’s enormous nose, and picking bits of burnt sub-elf out of his teeth. She also lectured him severely for eating people like that.
When Meriax and Trang finally arrived at the top of the tower, they were accompanied by four large sub-elves. They all filed into the tiny throne room, and Meriax immediately reminded the throne-king that he was supposed to be on her side because she had helped him.
“I promised to take your advice under consideration, not to side with you in all arguments,” the throne-king reminded her. “Tiktox are always fair. The outcome of this debate will be the correct one. Now both sides must present their case.”
Meriax told him that it was sub-elf custom that whoever beheaded the old king became the new king. Therefore, it was her right to be the new king, she had cut off her father’s head. One of the other sub-elves said that beheading was merely the preferred method, and it was the act of killing the king that entitled one to his throne, not the act of cutting off his head.
The throne king stood there for a long time, humming and nodding. The heads of every tiktox in the room and on the balcony outside were all making terrible grinding noises the whole time, like big metal objects were being rubbed against each other.
“We have processed all the data you have given us, and all the history of the sub-elves available to us. Since it is the custom that the new king marry the daughters of the old kings, and since it is always sub-elves who rule the other sub-elves, the obvious solution is that the two of you should marry and rule jointly,” the throne-king of the tiktox announced, gesturing at Meriax and Trang.
Trang glanced at Meriax and smiled. There was something in the smile that unsettled Princess Spiderweb, though she couldn’t say quite what. “Fine by me,” Trang said, licking his lips slightly.
Meriax sighed, and shrugged. “Better than nothing, I suppose,” she said, “but only on the understanding that I get to rule alone after this old human has died. He can’t have more than fifty years left in him!”
“It is doubtful that such an aged human will live even that long,” the throne-king chuckled, making all the other tiktox chuckle in unison. “But yes, you shall rule alone when he is dead, so long as you do not cause his death yourself.”
Since Meriax and Trang agreed to the terms, a wedding was soon planned. Princess Spiderweb found the wedding very dull, just as she had found the preparations for the wedding to be tedious. She hoped that after the wedding Meriax might have time to spend with her and tell her what it was like to be a princess who hadn’t been raised in a tower by a trollup (even a very nice trollup), but she was willing to spend even less time with her then. She insisted that on getting to know him, she found she was quite falling in love with Trang. (His greedy, back-stabbing nature was just the sort of thing to turn a sub-elf’s heart.)
Finding that none of her friends any longer felt any interest in speaking with her, Princess Spiderweb climbed up on her horse’s back, and sighed deeply. “Let’s go somewhere more interesting,” she told him. “I want to do something fun. Something that will help people. And won’t get anyone killed.”
The horse nodded, and took off into the sky, launching Princess Spiderweb off towards her next adventure.
Princess Spiderweb spent many years having adventure after adventure. Then, when she was getting very old — nearly 50! — she came to a kingdom that was suffering under a curse. They had lost their whole royal family to a terrible, scandalous love affair between the king’s son and the queen of another kingdom, and now the people suffered under the curse of the widows and orphans of all the men who had died in the subsequent war.
A kindly witch in the kingdom told Princess Spiderweb that the curse could only be broken by someone taking the throne who would never, ever love or be loved.
It didn’t take the witch long to figure out that Princess Spiderweb was the only one who could break the curse: she had, after all, been under a curse since her birth that all those around her would find love, and she never would.
So Princess Spiderweb became a queen, and she ruled for the rest of her long years, bringing peace, prosperity and happiness to her newly adopted kingdom.
Still a bit anti-climactic. Sorry about that. It’s been so long I forgot a lot of what I intended to do. But anyway, I could always go back and write more stories to go in between being 17 and being 50! So while I now consider this story “over,” there could still be more Princess Spiderweb in the future.