Princess Spiderweb asked the tiktox a great deal of questions, which it was at pains to answer, but it did his best, because that was what all tiktox did. “Tiktox are constructed out of all different types of alloys,” it told her. Then it gestured to its shiny body with two of its hands, still using two to hold the jeweled egg, and the last two to hold on to her horse. “This tiktox body is brass, the substance of the servants to the court.”
The princess thought about that a bit. She had often heard the ex-queen talk about the servants she used to have. “You’re a butler?” she asked.
“Not exactly,” the tiktox answered, with a grating sigh. “There is no good equivalent. Tiktox are very different than flesh creatures.”
“But they lay eggs?”
“Of course not!” the tiktox shouted, gesturing with all four of its free hands, so that it nearly fell off the horse’s back as they flew. “This is not an egg!”
“What is it, then?” Princess Spiderweb asked.
“This is the rightful executive function of the tiktox,” it told her, nodding serenely.
“I don’t understand,” Princess Spiderweb said, a bit reluctantly.
“Hardly a surprise,” the tiktox replied, shaking its head. “Flesh creatures have things like kings and queens and dukes, rather than the honest and pure executive function.”
“That’s your king?” Princess Spiderweb asked, staring down at the golden egg as it sparkled with jewels of every color.
“No,” the tiktox insisted, “an executive function is nothing so tyrannical. A king is a person, a distinct flesh creature unattached to the other flesh creatures. The executive function is one of us, part of us, just as all of us are part of us.”
“I don’t understand,” she told it sadly. She wanted to understand, but she had not been free very long, and this just wasn’t the sort of thing that the trollup — or even the old prince or the ex-queen — had taught her, because very few outsiders knew anything about the clockwork world of the tiktox, and even if they did, why would they have bothered teaching her about a race she would surely never encounter?
The tiktox did its best to explain, but it had to try over and over again, and still Princess Spiderweb could grasp only the plainest aspects. But she knew that the egg — or whatever it was — was very essential to the tiktox people, and they had to get it back to the other tiktox. There was still one point that left her confused, though:
“Who was trying to take the egg away?” she asked, thinking of the tiktox’s fear when it was hiding in the darkness, asking its funny riddles.
“The vicious sub-elves who conquered Cloxlan, of course,” the tiktox told her.
Princess Spiderweb’s face scrunched up and her eyes went squinty. “What…is a…sub-elf?” she asked, hoping she didn’t sound too stupid.
“You know what an elf is, yes?” the tiktox asked.
“No,” she had to confess.
The tiktox sighed. “It really is as though you were built yesterday,” it told her. “An elf is a pointy-eared creature that lives in forests and loves the trees and nature. They are haughty and annoying, but also wise and powerful.”
“Are those the pointy-eared things that the dwarves hate?” the princess asked.
“Probably,” the tiktox agreed, “but it could also be the sub-elves. They, too, have pointy-ears, but they are twice the size of regular elves, and very vicious and greedy.”
“Why did they conquer Cloxlan?”
“They wanted to reduce us to slag and ore and use us for their own weapons and decoration,” the tiktox sighed. “There are far fewer tiktox now than there were before the sub-elves arrived.”
“Then we have to stop the sub-elves before they can hurt any other tiktox,” Princess Spiderweb agreed. “Can you use the egg to save your people?”
“I told you, this isn’t an egg!” the tiktox shrieked. Then it shook its head. “This is the core of our rightful executive function. It has to be slotted into an executive body before it can lead the rest of the tiktox in revolt against the sub-elves.”
“Then perhaps I should get rid of the sub-elves for you first,” Princess Spiderweb suggested. “They’re ‘flesh creatures,’ aren’t they? Perhaps the horse can burn the sub-elves to a crisp.”
“It could burn a few, but thousands would still stand, and they would destroy us easily,” the tiktox sighed. “We need further aid.”
Princess Spiderweb tilted her head to one side. “You want to go looking for soldiers?” she asked.
“Yes, we need soldiers,” the tiktox agreed. “Countless soldiers.”
“Where do we get soldiers?” the princess asked. “Don’t we need a king for that?”
“Probably,” the tiktox agreed.
The princess thought about that for so long that the tiktox feared she had fallen asleep. Then she turned to look at her horse. “Can you take us back to the tower?” she asked. “I need the trollup’s advice.” She didn’t know who else to ask. The trollup, after all, had raised her; she was both her parents, as far as the princess was concerned.
The horse wheeled about, and flew off at incredible speeds, so fast that both passengers nearly fell off. But soon they were landing outside the tower where Princess Spiderweb had grown up. She got down off the horse’s back, and approached the gate of the tower.
Before long, the trollup left the tower. On seeing Princess Spiderweb, she teared up, and ran over to give the girl a big hug. “I was so worried about you!” she declared.
The princess apologized profusely, even as she tried to pull out of the trollup’s painfully tight hug. “I need help,” she said, then explained about the terrible state of affairs in Cloxlan.
“I’d heard about that,” the trollup agreed, “and it’s certainly terrible. But what help can I possibly offer you?”
“I know you had an ex-queen and a prince staying here,” Princess Spiderweb said, “so you surely have kings, too, right?”
The trollup laughed. “Dear, this is a prison for unwanted royalty. Any kings here — and yes, there are a few — have no power any longer. They can’t call up any soldiers for you.”
“At least ask,” Princess Spiderweb urged.
The trollup sighed. “You need to learn the way of the world, child. I’ll ask, but don’t get your hopes up. Wait here.”
The trollup went back inside, and was gone so long that Princess Spiderweb began to fidget terribly. Since escaping this place, she had found herself very annoyed whenever she wasn’t going or doing, so just standing about suddenly was a terrible, terrible thing for her.
Eventually, though, the trollup returned, with an old gent, perhaps sixtyish, following her. Princess Spiderweb hadn’t seen the fellow before, as he had been locked on a floor above the ex-queen’s, so they hadn’t opened his cell during their escape, as they had only gone downwards.
“Are you going to get soldiers to help the tiktox?” Princess Spiderweb asked, as soon as they drew near.
“I know a few soldiers of fortune who can probably be paid to help,” the gent replied, with a rakish grin. “I’ll help out, too, if the price is right.”
“What sort of price?” the princess asked.
“Does it hurt to be that naive? Do you work at it?” the gent asked.
“Be nice!” the trollup shouted, hitting the old fellow in the back of the head. “And introduce yourself!”
The gent sighed, and shook his head. “Trang, the King of Thieves.”
“And you’ll help us, Trang?” Princess Spiderweb asked, all trusting. She didn’t know what a thief was.
“If I get hold of a bit of gold or a little silver, sure,” Trang assured her. “Besides, anything to get out of that stinking prison.”
“Watch your tongue!” the trollup shouted, hitting Trang again. She had no patience for his rudeness. (Especially since he used to flirt with her to get extra food, without the slightest hint of sincerity.)
“I don’t know if the tiktox have any gold or silver that isn’t part of their bodies, but I bet the sub-elves do,” Princess Spiderweb said. “You could probably take a bit of that.”
“Then let’s go,” Trang replied with a suave grin. It was the sort of expression that usually had the ladies swooning — particularly back when he was young and attractive — but it had no effect on Princess Spiderweb whatsoever.
Princess Spiderweb thanked the trollup for her help, and assured her that she would send letters every so often so the trollup would know she was all right, and then they headed back to her horse and the tiktox. Of course, Trang insisted that the horse was a dragon — Princess Spiderweb often wondered why everyone thought her horse was a dragon — but he got on its back without hesitation. He suggested they head to a ‘pub’ in the lands of a nearby king to look for troops. Princess Spiderweb relayed the instructions to her horse, and they took off into the air once again.
Originally posted 2/22/16.