Trang, the King of Thieves, had thought he was getting the best deal of his life. A pretty teenage princess had come to him for help, and got him out of the tower where he’d been confined by his own people when the thieves proved they had absolutely no honor at all, and deposed him. Him, whose grandfather had founded the Kingdom of Thieves! Him, whose father had stolen a diamond the size of a roc’s egg, and then a jade sculpture the size of a roc! Him, who…well, he hadn’t really accomplished much of anything, but he would have if they hadn’t locked him up like that!
Trang had imagined that within an hour, the pretty girl would be madly in love with him, and they could use her dragon’s fiery breath to melt the metal man and sell him as ore to the nearest blacksmith, while making off with his jeweled egg to fund their happy home as Trang retired in peace.
But this girl!
It was like she didn’t even know what men were for. Or even what girls were for!
She didn’t even seem to know it was a dragon they were riding. She kept insisting it was a horse.
And she absolutely would not give up on the idea of saving Cloxlan from the sub-elves.
Trang tried to explain to her that no one even lived in Cloxlan — that tiktox with her objected to that obvious fact, as you’d expect — so there was no reason to kick the sub-elves out. And he tried to explain to her that sub-elves were a lot more dangerous than regular elves…and regular elves could actually be pretty fearsome!
But no matter what, the princess with the silly name just wouldn’t listen to him. She just kept insisting that he use his power as a king to get them some soldiers to save the other tiktox.
Eventually, Trang admitted defeat, and so when they went into the old familiar pub, he told the princess and the clockwork man to stay back and keep quiet, then he approached the nearest mercenaries, and began the tedious process of buying an army.
* * *
Being the king of the sub-elves was supposed to be a pretty sweet deal. All the wives you could want, all the money you could ever spend, and the power and freedom to inflict the most grievous bodily harm on anyone who crossed you. Or just crossed your path. It didn’t matter. You had the power to get away with it.
Yes, from all the indications, the king of the sub-elves had a really great life.
The king’s daughters, on the hand, did not.
His favorite daughters were, one by one, married off to his favorite men. Do the king a solid, get one of his daughters as a wife. That was the usual arrangement among the sub-elves, and Gerlax was no one to break with tradition. Not unless tradition broke with him first, anyway.
The daughters he didn’t like, though, they were just kept out of sight — and out of mind — in a corner of the palace or the cave or wherever else they were living at the moment, and told not to make any noise or otherwise remind anyone that they existed. Sometimes the obedient ones starved to death because everyone had forgotten about them.
Now, Meriax was not what you would call obedient.
In fact, she rather reveled in not doing what she was told.
But as she watched her sisters — the ones their father actually liked — get married off one by one, and she stayed behind, unwanted and unloved, she had to admit it stung a little. Not that she wanted to marry her father’s friends. They were either disgusting barbarians or pretty boys who were more interested in sharing a bed with her father than with her sisters. But under the current arrangement, she would never get married at all until her father was overthrown. Then she’d get married, like it or not, to his successor.
That was how her mother and all her aunts had ended up married to Gerlax, after all. He’d killed her grandfather — his skull was still hanging on the wall in their old home under the mountain — and married all his unwed daughters to solidify his claim to the throne.
Really, it was traditional. Meriax had studied the history of the sub-elves and their kings — her ancestors — and not a single son had ever inherited his father’s throne. All the other sub-elf princes — like her own brothers — were stupid brutes who either got themselves killed to prove they were tough, or were killed by their fathers for eyeing the crown too greedily. (So far, 47 of her 56 brothers had been killed. 12 through regular stupidity, and the rest by Gerlax. Meriax figured the rest would probably be dead within five years, if not sooner.)
It was always the way: when a king had exhausted his sons, some tough warrior would wheedle his way into the king’s confidences so he could behead him when the king least expected it, and place the still-bloody crown on his own head.
No king could fail to expect it.
But then, once the bloody deed was done, the new king promptly married all the king’s maiden daughters, and started fathering as many babies on them as he reasonably could. But their mothers reminded him of the man he’d had to do away with to become king, so he always hated the children of the old bloodline. The sons were usually killed by their father before they reached manhood, and the daughters wasted away in spinsterhood…until someone beheaded their father and the cycle began again.
Meriax had the blood of every single past king of the sub-elves flowing through her veins. On her mother’s side, she could trace her lineage all the way back to the first sub-elves, kicked out of the elven race for being too big, too burly, and too brutish, while not being very bright. When she tried to trace back her father’s bloodline once, Meriax had found that two generations ago, his family was working in the dwarven mines, and before that they were cleaning out stables for humans.
So Meriax didn’t care for her father any more than he cared for her. Possibly even less.
She hadn’t thought much of his decision to invade Cloxlan. Sure, there was gold and silver and other metal there in plentitude, but it was walking and talking and generally giving all indications of being alive. And okay, yeah, you could find just about any excuse to do away with just about anybody, if you worked hard enough at it, but…the tiktox were really not much fun to kill. It was more than a little creepy, watching a tiktox be melted down for its metal, and Meriax didn’t like it at all, even though she had always rather enjoyed a good execution.
Just at the moment, her father was trying — as he had been for the last five years — to find out what had happened to the lord of the tiktox. “Where is your emperor?!” Gerlax was screaming in rage by this point in the proceeding.
“The tiktox have no such thing,” the tiktox on the torture table told him.
Gerlax gestured to the torture master, and out came the red-hot poker. So cliché! But there wasn’t much you could do to a tiktox to hurt them, apart from melting them a bit. As the searing hot instrument pressed up against the brass body of the tiktox on the rack, it let out a shriek like a rusty door being swung open all too fast.
All the other tiktox in the room let out the same shriek at the same moment. Even the ones out on the street did; Meriax could hear them through the open window. It was eerie, how the tiktox could all feel each other’s pain like that. She wondered if they could feel each other’s pleasure, too. For a moment, she thought how awkward that must get between husbands and wives, then sharply remonstrated herself that tiktox weren’t male or female and they built their young, so it wasn’t the same as it was with “flesh creatures” like herself.
“Why are you protecting a ruler so cowardly that he’s never shown himself in all the time we’ve been here?” Gerlax demanded, when the instrument of torture was lifted from the tiktox’s metal body, sparing everyone from the pain of its screech. “All we want is the gold and jewels. Give us your rulers, and we’ll go away again and leave the rest of you in peace,” he lied. Meriax knew very well that her father wanted to melt down every single tiktox there. All that metal to make new weapons, without having to go through the hassle of mining like the dwarves…that spelled money and power. Lots of both.
“The tiktox have no need of rulers the way flesh creatures have,” the tiktox informed him.
Gerlax let out a stunning round of very inventive swear words. Meriax was actually rather impressed that his vocabulary was that large. “Slag him!” Gerlax shouted at the torturer. “Melt him down slowly, so he really feels the pain!”
The torturer winced. But seeing that Gerlax had a hard look on his face, he didn’t talk back.
He just reached for a pair of ear plugs.
As the torturer began his work, Meriax hurried out of the throne room. She knew an isolated spot where she probably wouldn’t hear too much of the screeching from the other tiktox.
But the whole time, she couldn’t help contemplating the idea of being the one to take out her father and become the new king.
* * *
As Princess Spiderweb watched the soldiers of fortune arriving and milling about, she decided she didn’t much like armies.
No, that wasn’t true. She didn’t like them at all. They kept staring at her and whispering things that sounded very unpleasant. The only thing keeping them away from her, as far as she could tell, was that she was standing beside her horse, and they all seemed oddly afraid of her horse.
“Will these men really help us save Cloxlan?” Mr. Tiktox asked her, still holding the jewel-encrusted egg in two of his metal hands.
“I hope so,” Princess Spiderweb answered. She wanted to tell him that of course they would, but…she had begun to have her own doubts about them. Particularly because the woman in the pub’s kitchen who had been bringing them food all this time had taken Princess Spiderweb aside and explained a few choice facts of life to her concerning ‘mercenaries’ and their ways. She had expected Trang to provide his own army, since he was supposed to be a king, but obviously he was just a liar and had no army to provide, and so he was just buying one! Princess Spiderweb resented his lie all the more because it meant that surely he had lied to her former guardian, the nice trollup who had watched out for her for so long.
Princess Spiderweb was not fond of the whole concept of ‘lying,’ and she wanted nothing more to do with it from now on.
But right now it was more important to save Cloxlan.
After all, what would poor Mr. Tiktox do if that egg he was carrying around started to hatch before he was ready to take care of the little baby tiktox inside?
Originally posted on 3/21/16