Somehow … I still have no idea how … last Friday took me by complete and utter surprise. It slipped past in little more than a breath, like a ghost, and before I realized what had happened, it was Monday.
It pains me to admit it, but I completely forgot about poor Alexander and Destiny and Fate and the unknown little one of as of yet undetermined identity.
So, you can imagine, I was even more determined not to miss this week’s installment. Unfortunately, I gave myself rather a tall order with where we left the story last time. So much ground to cover! And the votes were all quite close, by the way. I counted twice, just to be sure.
If you’re trying to catch up, you can read the previous installments here: When Destiny Comes Calling – A Serial Short Story.
Alexander ignored Miss Destiny’s interruption and forged ahead, pacing with his hands clasped behind his back as he spoke in the no-nonsense voice he’d learned from his father, the Baron of Midsig. “Considering that I just rushed an ogre to save the both of you, I think it is perfectly reasonable to expect to be told just what is going on, and to find out why you, Miss Fate, and the child were here in the swamp in the first place, and what in the realm of exploding things this has to do with my family’s curse.”
Miss Destiny pursed her lips and then nodded. “Fair enough. Fate, do you care to do the honors?”
With a heavy sigh, the young woman sat on a fallen log with the baby snuggled against her shoulder and her ankles crossed before her. She dipped her head toward Alexander. “I’m afraid it’s rather a long story, but I shall attempt to keep it brief so you can follow along without unduly taxing your mental abilities.”
Alexander started to stammer a reply, but thought better of it when Destiny’s glare set the skin crawling on his arms.
Fate cleared her throat. “As I was saying, we’ll keep to the short version. What do you people say, ‘short and sweet?’ Here goes: I am Fate, formerly a countess in the Emperor’s court in Amardell. And this,” she glanced down at the baby in her arms, “is Emperor Caldwell VI.”
“The sixth, you say?” Alexander stopped in his tracks and no amount of self-control could keep him from shivering. “Emperor Caldwell VI?”
“Indeed—” Fate broke off and her lips curled into a thin smile. “I see the meaning is not entirely lost on you. Really, Destiny, you did not do his mental skills justice.”
Destiny sniffed. “No one is more surprised than I am. Must be the moisture in this swamp air seeping into his brain and causing it to expand.”
“Stop!” The force of his own voice surprised him. He shook his head in a vain attempt to regain some of his composure. “If you please. I beg pardon but I simply can’t focus with you two bickering. Now hold on and back up. This baby is the Emperor? But then, oh hang it all, does that mean old Emperor Caldwell V is dead?”
Both Miss Destiny and Miss Fate nodded.
Alexander ran his hands through his hair—a nervous gesture his mother, the formidable Baroness of Midsig, had often warned against. (She claimed it made his hair resemble a pin cushion.) “Killed?”
“Gracious no,” Fate said. “He was a very old man. Died in his sleep, leaving his troublesome throne to his grandson and his empire on the verge of total chaos.”
“All right, let me get this straight.” Alexander folded his arms across his chest. “If Caldwell V is dead, and Caldwell VI is Emperor, than what in all of Cantakorious is he doing out here in the middle of a swamp with you two?”
Destiny’s skirt rustled as she adjusted it about her legs. “Really, Alexander, if you would just calm down we—”
“No! I am done being calm.” He paced back and forth in front of the ogre’s corpse, painfully aware of the pair of disapproving glances leveled his way. “I’ve had more than enough, thank you very much. It’s high time you were truthful with me. What am I doing out here? Where is here? And why do you have the Emperor? I do hope you didn’t kidnap him. Because being accused of kidnapping emperors is a sure-fire way to get me kicked out of military school before I can even apply!”
“Well …” Fate grimaced. “It’s not a kidnapping exactly.”
“Oh, don’t sugarcoat it.” Destiny rose and stared Alexander in the eye. He fought to keep from withering before her piercing gaze. “If he wants the plain and simple truth so much, he can have it. Yes, we kidnapped the Emperor. Yes, Alexander, you are now involved. Yes, a good number of people are already on our trail and will try to kill us.
“But we are trying to protect dear baby Caldwell and the Empire from those who would try to claim his throne, not harm him. And as to your involvement, well, you can thank your great great great grandfather for that and stop blaming me!”
“That’s right,” Fate chimed in. “You remember dear? The one who tried to assassinate Emperor Caldwell I?”
“Because of him, your family was cursed. And whenever a Caldwell was in mortal danger, a Beauford must arise to protect him and—”
“Die in his place.” Fate’s chilling whisper sent fear tingling down Alexander’s spine.
* * * *
I thought it would be fun to try something different this week. So instead of choosing one of the options I wrote, y’all get to write a response to the prompt below, and a select panel of judges (ahem, yours truly!) will choose the winning line to feature in next week’s installment.
Excited? I am!
PROMPT: Write Alexander’s response to this new development. It can be an action, reaction, line of dialogue, etc. But write only Alexander’s response—i.e. don’t pen a paragraph of dialogue between Alexander and Destiny—and you are limited to no more than four sentences.
Have fun! Can’t wait to see what you come up with!