Once Upon a Time
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This is a Story that started a few years ago as an Add-a-line game between myself and Jade, there were a few other peeps who added a sentence here in the first page, but they dropped out, and that part has since been revised by Jade. About half way through, Jade moved on to other interest and I completed it… finally. It started out as a kids fairy tale kind of thing and just mutated from there. At first each of us would do a few sentences, then a few paragraphs, until finally we were passing over pages at a time to each other. Who knew it would take two years to finish? :)
Once upon a time, there was a fair young/old man named Kai-drella. Kai co-existed with the beautiful but wicked Xev-sister, the not so beautiful, spoiled and selfish Stan-the-man, and the whiney robot head 790.
No matter how hard Kai slaved to keep these three demanding entities safe from harm, they were NEVER HAPPY. "Kai, rescue me from this blood-sucking demon!"
"Kai, save me from Prince!"
"Kai, kiss me, or I'll DIE!"
Kai was patient, emotionless, and mostly moral according to his own fashion. But even Nearly Perfect beings have their limits.
One day when Kai was pondering over the memories from His Shadow he felt somebody knocking on him on his back. Kai turned to see Stan standing there sulking.
"I hate him!" Stan said.
Kai looked seriously on Stan and said, "Hate whom?"
"790! Don't you just hate him too?"
"The dead don't hate!" Kai said with a cool voice.
"The dead don't this, the dead don't that! What do the dead do?" Stan snorted back to Kai.
Kai lowered his chin a bit while considering his answer. For although Stan was prone to asking dozens of foolish questions everyday, Kai always tried very hard to give him a rational answer so as not to upset him. However the more Kai thought about Stan's question, the more disturbed he became. For while it was true that the dead did not hate, it was possible, if one tried very, very hard, to piss them off.
Kai's eyes narrowed as he considered all of the times that he had bailed these three annoying companions of his out of trouble.
Not realizing how truly annoying he was being, since he never did. Stan interrupted Kai's thoughts. "Well?" Demanded Stan. "I bet you can't answer me huh. You know why? 'cause the dead don't *do* anything!"
Kai's eyes widened slightly and then he glared up at Stan from beneath lowered brows. "I will tell you," he growled in a menacing voice, "What I do. I save you and Xev and 790 on a regular basis. I do this *not* in the name of his Divine Shadow, and certainly not for the *pleasure* of your company. And I have never once received anything in return for doing this."
Stan retreated slightly at the dangerous tone of Kai's voice, but since he really wasn't very smart, he couldn't stop himself from retorting. "And what exactly do you expect in return," Stan sneered, "since the Dead *do not* have wants or desires."
Something snapped in Kai. "You are right," he informed Stan in a very cold voice. "The dead *do not* have desires, but they require maintenance, and not once have you or Xev offered to help me with my hair. I think... I think.... that until both of you learn how to *properly* fix my bun and braid my hair that I will not concern myself with *your* problems."
"WHAT!" Screeched Stan, throwing his hands up in horror. "You can't do that, I heard that Prince has been seen around the county. He wants to imprison us! What will we do if he comes here!"
"I don't know Stan, I suggest you get 790 and Xev and start thinking about what you need to learn. But I do suggest that it is easier to learn how to do hair than it is to learn self defense." And off he went to think in privacy. But little did he know, when he walked among the flowers in the garden that Prince would ride by on his black stallion.
"Hello, Kai. And what is a dead man doing all alone here?" said Prince with a smile.
Kai pondered, looking up at Prince. "Why would I not be alone?"
"Because Xev and Stan and 790 follow you almost everywhere you go, do they not?”
"Not always,” Kai replied, though as he thought about it he realized they did do it quite often.
Prince smiled again. “Xev would like to follow you into other places as well, I think.”
"What Xev would like is impossible. I am incapable of satisfying her needs.”
“And what about your needs, Kai?”
“As I am dead, I have no needs.”
"Really? How sad. A love slave with no love, and a dead man with no needs.”
“What are your needs, Prince?” Kai asked suddenly.
“You would not understand,” Prince replied rather sadly. “I must take my leave of you for now. Cheery-bye.” He spurred his horse and left.
Kai watched him ride away. He did not understand what Prince meant. But he DID know that Prince was no Prince Charming. He should go and check on Xev and Stan. Then he remembered what he had said to Stan, how they never offered to do anything for him, and instead he sat down on the ground. He knew it would only be a matter of time before Xev or Stan came looking for him.
He sat for some time. No one came. He felt some of his hair falling down. He tried to push it away, but it kept coming back. It was good that he could not get frustrated.
"Here, Kai, let me do that," a voice murmured. It was Prince, minus his horse. He held a comb and some hairpins.
"Why should I?" Asked Kai.
"Why SHOULDN'T you?" Prince retorted.
"Because you are evil and only want to hurt people," Kai said.
"Sometimes," Prince admitted. "I like to do that. But there are other times when I am helpful."
"For a price," Kai answered.
"I promise you, Kai, this will be free of charge." Without waiting for Kai to answer, he freed his hair and combed it gently. He then swept the top part into a neat bun, securing it carefully before braiding the bottom into a tight clean braid and fastening it. He made sure a thick lock hung down free, then stepped in front of Kai and gave him a mirror. "What do you think?" He asked.
Kai looked. "I think... you did a good job. Thank you."
"You're welcome. But do you know what *I* think, Kai?"
"I think that it is a shame that Xev and Stan treat you so unfairly."
Kai looked down. "I'm dead. I need no special treatment."
Prince chuckled. "Then why did you refuse to help them any more until they learned how to fix your hair?"
Kai handed the mirror back to prince. "What makes you say that?" he asked impassively.
Prince smiled as slid the mirror into the side pocket of his dark blue coat. His smile widened as he toyed with the strange homemade comb he was holding and then slid that into the same pocket as the mirror.
Kai's eyes narrowed as he noted Xevs comb disappearing in Prince's pocket, he stepped back a few paces reading his brace arm. "Where did you get that comb?” he demanded.
"Kai," Prince said in an amused voice. "I really thought you were more observant than that. After all, didn't you carve this for Xev? ...Yes, I do believe she mentioned your carving for her to me."
"And when was that?" Kai asked in a low voice.
"Why just a few hours ago I believe," Price said as he started to stroll about the garden, motioning Kai to walk with him. "Shortly after I left you as a matter of fact. It really was most comical, I afraid poor
was having quite a difficult time getting Xev's hair combed out. I'm not sure what they were going to do when it was Xev's turn to practice." Prince paused to pluck a large white Carnation. "But," he continued after taking a deep sniff of the flower. "I am afraid that between the two of them, they had 790 quite upset. I'm afraid he seems to think they aren't up to the challenge." Stanley
"Xev and even Stan are more than capable of using a comb." Kai declared.
"Mmm. I hope so... for their sake."
Kai pondered. What if Prince was right? What if they *couldn't* learn to take care of his hair? No. This was another one of Prince's tricks. "I do not think you are telling me the truth," Kai accused.
"Really? Now why would I lie about a thing like that?"
"To try and cause trouble among us."
"Would I do that?" Prince asked sweetly.
Kai glared at him. "Yes."
"You could be right. It *is* the sort of thing I would do, isn't it?" Prince mused. "Well, then, Kai. I suppose you'll just have to go find out for yourself."
"I will," Kai said, striding off as Prince watched in amusement.
Kai strode through the garden towards the house. While he knew it was most likely too late if something had already happened, he needed to make sure this was not a ruse designed by Price to get him away from Stan and Xev. Before leaving the cover of the gardens, Kai made a wide swing around the house, observing it carefully. His assassin training showed nothing that seemed out of place. So he cautiously approached the house.
Upon entering the house, Kai's trained eye noted a few things disarrayed, as if they had been disturbed during a brief struggle and then put right again. He swiftly searched the house looking for Xev, Stan or 790. Not finding any sign his three companions inside the house, Kai then turned his attention to picking up their trail outside the house. Making a careful sweep of the grounds Kai was easily able to pick up signs of several horses leaving the cobbled approach to the house. The bracken appeared freshly disturbed, and several paces from the road Kai spied a wisp of long blond hair stuck on one of the disturbed branches. After a briefly considering several possible options, Kai decided to see if Prince was still waiting in the garden, or perhaps more importantly to see if Prince’s horse was still in the woods near the garden.
He searched the woods, but did not find the horse. He then returned to the garden. On the path there lay a note. Kai picked it up and read it.
“Dear Kai, I have taken Xev and Stan to my castle. If you want them back, which I can't imagine why anyone would, follow the path into the Dark Glen. If you make it through, you will see a sign that says: ‘This way to Prince's castle.’ I think I'll be waiting for you. Yours, Prince.”
Kai carefully folded the note and put it in his boot. As a dead ex-assassin he needed nothing for the journey that he did not already possess. He started down the path in the forest towards the Dark Glen.
"Oh I want my dead man. What am I going to do with out my Kai-o-lisious one, I just can't go on without him!" 790 moaned.
Xev and Stan the man glanced at each other in exasperation and then turned to glare at 790, as he continued to moan and complain.
"790," Xev snapped, "moaning about Kai is not going to help use get out of here, and you are getting our nerves. Why don't you help us think of a way out of this mess, and then we can all be reunited with Kai."
"Like I care what Prince does with you and the useless Tweedle," 790 sneered. "I just want to be united with my beloved corpse."
paced around the room they were imprisoned in. Stanley had to admit he had been in worse prisons; in fact the only thing uncomfortable about the room was the fact that Prince controlled it. Well that and the fact that he was stuck in here with those two fighting. "Look 790, Xev is right, we need to quit fighting with each other and figure out a way to escape!" Stanley
Xev stood up from the bed she was sitting on, and walked over to look out at the bars on the other side of the small casement window. 790 followed her movements and then focused his eyes on Stan. "We wouldn't even be in this mess," he intoned with scorn dripping from every syllable, "If a certain waste of life, ex-security guard hadn't angered my beloved."
"Now wait a minute, " Stan began as Xev started, and then turned to narrow her eyes at him, "Kai was mad at all of us, not just me."
"But you were the last one to talk to him Stan..." Xev began accusingly.
"That's right Tweedle!" 790 interrupted with a venomous voice, "It's all your fault that my sweet corpse of delight became angered."
Stan threw himself onto a plain wooden chair and slapped the small table that 790 sat upon so hard that the robot head bounced a little. "Oh no you don't 790." Stan snapped. "If it hadn't been for your behavior that morning I never..."
And that’s another thing
! Why do you always have to complain to Kai every single time 790 does something you think is wrong? This might not have happened if you had just not complained to Kai," Xev interrupted, her voice rising as she crossed to the small table and leaned into Stanley 's face. Stanley
flushed; color creeping up his neck, suffusing his cheeks a deep red. "That's it! I have had just about enough of both of you ganging up on me every time..." Stanley
"We wouldn't be ganging up on you if it wasn't apparent to even this brainless bitch that you were at fault!" 790 yelled, eyes flashing in anger.
"Hey!" Xev yelped.
A rich chuckle floated into the room followed by Prince. "Ah, is everybody comfy?" He motioned his bodyguards to wait at the door, as he walked over to the squabbling group at the table.
790, Stan and Xev froze momentarily in place. "Well now,” Prince continued in a bright cheery voice as he turned the remaining chair around and straddled it. "How are we all this afternoon?" He folded his arms on the back of the chair and regarded his prisoners with a benign smile.
"We are upset," Xev snapped. "Why don't you let us go before Kai finds this place and makes you wish you had left us alone!"
"Finds this place? Why ever should I worry about that Xev? In fact I left him a note telling him where it was.” Prince looked at her serenely, I have nothing to fear from Kai."
"Yeah right Prince," Stan snorted, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling.
"Actually, I am quite looking forward to Kai's visit," Prince told the stunned little group. After all, he is quite an interesting being, and I hope to persuade him to stay a while. His intellect coupled with your antics will keep me tolerably amused for a good while, don't you think."
Xev walked over to Prince and looked down frowning. A bewildered look flitted across her face as smiled up at her. "What makes you think that Kai is going let you keep us here?"
"Now Xev," Prince purred as he rose and took her hand drawing her closer. "How many times has Kai broken his word to you?"
Xev flinched slightly as his arms enfolded her. "Never," she declared firmly. Prince grinned as Xev shifted slightly, trying to see how tightly she was being held. He gathered her more firmly to him and gently nuzzled her neck, deeply inhaling the scent of her hair. As was usual in his dealings with Xev, he could feel the conflict within her. He knew that no matter how much she retreated from him, a very central part of her wanted his attention. After a long enough moment to disconcert her feelings, he withdrew slightly. He smiled gently down at her as she momentarily melted towards him, her body betraying her mind.
“You haven’t answered my question,” she stated with an involuntary shiver avoiding his gaze.
“I think that Kai is indeed on his way here Xev, but since he does keep his word...”
“Unlike some people,” Stan muttered.
,” Prince paused for a second and met Stanley ’s challenging stare. He continued in a light pleasant tone, “You know I keep my word when I give it. Not that I have anything against lying, but where would the challenge be in that. I have much more fun watching the expressions on your faces as I slip through the cracks in the truth.” Stanley
Prince released Xev, who stepped back unsteadily, and he turned to smile at
, quirking a brow up in amusement, “Unfortunately for you and Xev and 790, Kai has a very simple view on giving his word. And since he told you that you could not expect any help from him until you can master the art of hairstyling, I really don’t think he will be inclined to help you right now. Especially if I am only restraining you with out any physical harm.” Stanley
Prince patted the speechless
on the shoulder as he moved to towards the door; he paused before exiting and looked back on the stunned trio. “Thinking of it that way, he asked as he slipped out the door, “Can you even be sure that Kai will concern himself with you at all?” Stanley
Kai had only walked for a minute when he stopped in his tracks. Had he not told Stan that he would not help them anymore until they learned to fix his hair? If he went to their aid, would that not be breaking his word? Kai did not break his word. But he knew they were in trouble. What should he do?
He sat down on the mossy ground and puzzled the situation. Suddenly an idea occurred to him. He knew how he could help them without breaking his word. He rose and resumed walking.
The Dark Glen was, indeed, dark. Hardly any light made it through the thick expanse of ancient trees. Kai walked quickly, constantly looking and listening, his brace ready to fire if need be. He heard many exotic sounds he had never heard before. Low snarls and forlorn cries echoed with every step he took. He had walked for perhaps five minutes when he heard a voice.
"Where are you going, young one?" It asked.
Kai paused. "I am not young, and I am going to Prince's castle."
"Oh, but you *are* young, compared to me, anyway. And the castle is far. It will take you a while to get there on foot."
"Nevertheless, that is where I am going." He glanced around him. He could not see who was talking to him. The voice was female, soft, almost a whisper. "Where are you?" He asked.
"Right here, above you."
Kai squinted upward, but could only see long green leaves and thick branches. "I do not see you."
"Trust me. I'm here." A gentle laughter floated down over him.
"I do not have time to converse. I must go to the castle."
"No, you must not."
"Because I need you here. To feed my children!"
Kai did not even have time to raise his arm before his body was wrapped in a mass of thick scaly purple coils. He tried to break his arm loose, but they were both pinned to his sides. He glanced down his torso. He was wrapped from shoulders to just above the knee. Escape at this moment would be impossible. Kai calmly looked upward as his captor descended from the tree.
The creature was easily ten feet tall, with probably 30 feet of tail. Silver and purple scales decorated it. It had a body like an owl, a tail like a snake, and a head like a wolf. Its' large silver eyes peered into his, and it smiled, displaying rows of tiny sharp teeth. A long red tongue came out and swiped his face. "You have an interesting taste," the creature said.
"I am dead," Kai said.
"Not yet. But soon you will be!" With a chuckle it unfurled giant wings and began soaring upward, Kai still firmly held in its tail. As the creature rose higher, Kai could see the Glen receding below him. On the other side of the glen on the top of a small rise, Kai could see a several fortified manor houses, one of which was supposedly Prince’s.
Xev turned wide eyes towards Stan. “Do you think he could be right?” She asked in an uncertain voice.
“Don’t be ridiculous Xev, Stan assured her in a confident tone. “Prince is just crazy, Kai would never abandon us. Especially not over something as silly as learning how to fix hair.”
Xev looked at Stan. She couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t look as confident as he had sounded. She exchanged glances with 790 and then they both shifted their attention back to Stan. A long painful silence ensured.
“Sooooo… “ Stan paused and grimaced, “Ummm, any ideas on how we can learn to do the hair thing with no supplies?”
Xev turned the chair that Prince had been setting in around to face the table and dropped down on it with a sigh. She leaned her elbows on the on the table and buried her head in her hands, shaking it slightly from side to side. “Oh Stan,” she said in a tired voice, “I don’t see how we can; we don’t even have a comb.”
“And even if you did, you obviously have no clue how to use one.” 790 sniped.
“Oh come on 790, leave her alone, we need to think, what could we use for a comb?”
Stan got up and started pacing around the room, not that there was much here that he hadn’t seen previously. But maybe, he thought, he had overlooked something. Two small, but comfortable looking beds were placed up against the creamy plaster walls on either side of the room. The only color in the room came from the ample pillows and comforters upon the beds, which had an aged cream background and a rich deep holly and berry pattern upon them. In the middle of the room the wooden table with its two chairs sat upon a small oval rug woven of some dark beige material. The small casement window centered between the beds was sunk into the thick wall and had thin wooden blinds that echoed the pale wood of the floor. The blinds were currently raised affording
a fine view thru the bars of a fairly large garden bordered by woods; unfortunately, he was not really in the mood to admire it. Stanley
Although sighing inwardly, Stan had to admit, that Kai could not find fault with Prince over the quality and comfort of their accommodations. Exasperated, Stan crossed the room towards the Xev’s side of the room. Ignoring 790’s staring eyes, he ducked into the small bathroom. The room was bare except for basic sanitary facilities and supplies. The only other things in the room where a wall mirror and a few towels draped over the edge of the small tub. Even the mirror he found was no help, as it seemed to be fastened to the wall with some type of adhesive. Defeated Stan slouched back into the main room.
“Well you putrid pimple on the face of humanity, you didn’t find anything did you? Although you wouldn’t have even if it was sitting right in front of you.”
“Oh shut up 790.” Xev told the errant robot head tiredly. “No one wants to fight with you right now.”
“Well Xev, the only thing I can think of is you are going to have to get sweet talk your comb and some stuff out of Prince.”
Xev looked at
in exasperation. “Oh sure Stan, and just when do you expect me to have an opportunity to do that?” Stanley
“How do I know Xev! Gosh I wish Kai was here, even if he wasn’t helping us, I’d feel a lot better having him around to keep Prince in check.”
Kai watched as the creature brought him into a large nest woven from twigs and bones. Two smaller birds called excitedly to their mother. Kai was set down near them, he waited for an opportunity to escape.
“Supper time!” The mother declared, unwinding her tail from Kai.
As soon as she had freed him, Kai fired his brace towards a sturdy branch on a distant tree. “I cannot be your dinner,” he called over his shoulder as he swung away. “I must go to the castle.”
The creature gave a shriek. He heard her wings unfurl, but by then he had already caught another branch and was ahead of her. He moved rapidly, swinging from tree to tree, until he had made his way out of the forest.
He landed gracefully on the path again. He saw his pursuer abruptly halt at the edge of the woods. With an angry hiss, she went back into the trees. Apparently she was afraid to pursue him in the open. He resumed walking.
He had not gone far before he saw two wooden signs with two arrows. He paused to read them. One said ‘This Way to the Perilous Marsh’ and the other said, ‘This Way to Prince’s Castle.’
Kai pondered. It wasn’t above Prince to have arranged for the direction of the arrows to be changed, so that he would be heading into more trouble. Unfortunately he had no way of knowing. What to do… Kai narrowed his eyes. There was a faint smudge in the dust on one of the signs. A fingerprint. Now he knew which way to go. Brace primed, eyes and ears alert, he strode down his chosen path.
Xev was roused from a fitful sleep by a brief pounding on the door. She sat up and looked around, momentarily confused that she was not on the Lexx. Then she remembered that she was stranded on his little wooded planet while Lexx went off and did Lexx things. She sat on the edge of the bed, still confused because this wasn’t even her room on the wooded planet. She heard the lock in the door rattle. As it clicked so did the memory of the pervious day. “Stan!” she hissed, as she stumbled across the room to shake him awake.
“Wha… What. Okay, okay, I’m up, I’m up.” Stan mumbled sleepily, trying to make bleary eyes focus on his tormenter. “Oh Geeze Xev, what…” he started to say, before the sound of the door opening caused them both to focus on it.
The door swung open and two armed guards entered, moving to stand on either side of the door. In their wake came three servants, the first carried a tray of food, which she sat on the side of the table. The other two servants were burdened with cleaning implements, towels and such. They flanked out, the man setting down the broom and mop by the guards and then moving towards the window with a small bottle and a cleaning cloth, while his female companion took the bucket, some bottles and the towels and dove into the bathroom and immediately started running water.
No one spoke as the tall woman who had carried the food set down spoons, napkins, cups and covered plates in front of both chairs. She left the two small jugs in the center of the tray and then took the covers off of both plates and motioned them to the table.
“Ummm Hi,” said Stan uncertainly. “I’m Stan and this is Xev. And you would be?” he queried with what he hoped was a friendly lilt.
The tall woman merely looked that them and again silently motioned towards the table with a wave of her hand. As Xev and Stan sat down at the table she placed the plate covers on the serving tray beside the jugs and moved towards the beds. Xev looked at her plate and then looked at serving woman, but the smell of the food won her undecided attention, after all, she hadn’t had anything to eat since yesterday early morning.
Stan however continued to watch the woman. He was making particular note of her hair done in a severe braided upsweep. Stan was willing to bet that she would have made short work of doing Kai’s hair. As he was puzzling out how her hair was fixed, and calculating the amount of hair fasteners he could see, he noticed that she had started to make the beds. “Whoa, wait a minute,” he called to her jumping up and hurrying over to his bed. “You don’t have to do that, Xev and I will take care of the beds. Really….” He trailed off, as she just looked at him and returned to fluffing the pillows, and straightening the bedclothes.
“So, um what did you say you name was again?”
“Please sir, you food is getting cold.” The woman said as she motioned him back towards the table. This earned her a quick glance from the man at the window and a admonitory cough from one of the guards at the door. She glanced at the guard and then again motioned
back to the table, before turning to finish making his bed. Stanley
The cleaning went swiftly while Stan and Xev watched, beds were made, surfaces were dusted, floors were swept and mopped. The only pause in this whirlwind of cleaning came when 790 took exception to being moved from his perch on the windowsill, so that the window could be cleaned.
“Listen you walking excuse for a pustule, put me back right now! I must keep a look out for my sweet dead meat. I won’t be moved do you hear me, put me back!”
Stan jumped up again and took the robot head from the startled servant, “Um, 790, our friends are cleaning, and we don’t want to get in their way now do we? Kai wouldn’t like us to upset them for no reason now would he?” Stan's light breezy voice did not match the meaningful look he gave to the robot head as he wedged him into a small space on the table.
790 grumbled in a low voice, but reframed from verbally attacking the cleaning crew as they finished their duties and Stan and Xev finished the food on their plates. Stan jerked his head meaningfully at Xev as he called out thanks to the crew as they collected up their supplies and the tray.
“Yes thank you for everything,” Xev cooed at the flustered servant who glanced at her as he stumbled out the door.
“And exactly why are we trying to kiss up to peasants?” sneered 790.
“Oh shut up you stupid robot head. Did you see that woman’s hair? Did you see how many hair fasteners she had in it? Heck Xev, I bet she would know how to do Kai’s hair.
“They’re gone now you boil on the buttocks of humanity,” 790 groused, ignoring Stan’s observations. “Can I go back to my vigil now?”
“Why sure, 790,” Xev told him as she propped him back on the windowsill and looked out over the gardens. “Okay Stan, now what happens?”
Kai had realized that the smudge on the arrow was not an attempt to trick him; rather, it was an attempt to make him wonder if he had been tricked. Prince loved to play games, and if Kai had gone the wrong way Prince was smart enough to know that Kai could get himself out of almost any situation. So there would have been no purpose in sending him the wrong way, except to detain him. Kai did not think Prince wanted him to be detained. Prince hated to wait, even though he was very good at it.
It did not take long for Kai to see that his choice had been correct. The castle loomed ahead of him. Kai studied the design. He had two options: to lift himself to a window and begin hunting for them, or to announce his presence to Prince and tell Prince to take him to Xev and Stan. He had decided by the time he reached the castle.
Kai strode right up to the front doors and thumped the large brass doorknocker. A moment later a man came to the door. From the way he was dressed, Kai deduced that he was one of Prince’s servants.
“May I help you?”
“I am Kai, last of the Brunnen-G. I am here to see Prince.”
The man nodded. “Yes, Sir, we’ve been expecting you. This way, please.” Kai followed the man down the main hall and into a parlor. Prince was sitting in a plush purple chair near a small wooden table, drinking from a crystal goblet. He smiled when Kai entered the room.
“Kai. What a delightful surprise.”
Kai frowned. “You do not look surprised. And you have been expecting me.”
“True. But it sounded so good, didn’t it.” He waved a hand towards a bottle. “Would you like some wine?”
“I do not drink. I have no stomach.”
“Pity.” Prince took another sip.
“You will take me to Stan and Xev now,” Kai said flatly.
“Yes… provided you sit and talk with me first.”
“Five minutes, Kai. Sit down with me for five minutes. Then I will take you to them.”
Kai studied Prince. “Is this one of your deals?” He asked.
“Then since you always stick to your deals, I will sit and talk with you. For five minutes.” Kai took the chair on the other side of the table. Prince smiled.
Kai crossed his legs, and then looked into Prince’s eyes. “What do you wish to talk about?”
Prince smiled at Kai, amused to see him copying his posture. "Well, Kai," he murmured, leaning back and stroking his lower lip with an index finger. "Not that your visit is not an utter delight, but I can't help but wonder what brings you here and why you are so insistent upon seeing Stan and Xev. Especially since you said that you would no longer help them."
Tilting his head slightly, Kai regarded Prince steadily. "That statement is
not entirely true."
"Really Kai?" Prince asked in a light wondering tone, his eyes gleaming
mischievously. "May I inquire in what way it is untrue?"
"What I told Stan is that I would no longer assist them until they
had learned to satisfactorily fix my hair. So your statement is not entirely
true since it did not include the qualifier."
"But since they don't know how to do your hair, you can not help them
without breaking your word. Would you say that that is a true statement?"
Prince asked in a slyly inquiring tone.
Kai regarded the mocking Prince with his normal unwavering intensity. "That statement may be true, but only once I have ensured myself that they do not have those skills, it will become untrue as soon as they acquire those skills."
"Ah, now but since I hold them prisoner, and you may not help them, how will you find out when they have acquired these skills with out my permission?"
"I do not need your permission to see them," Kai informed Prince in a cold
hard voice. "There is nothing you can do to stop me, and you know this."
"True enough Kai, but if you force my hand, I might do something drastic to them. I'm sure you don't want that to happen, especially since you have sworn not to help them." Prince held up his hand forestalling Kai’s reply: "yet."
He smiled again, lifting his wine goblet to take another drink, only to suddenly feel the cold metal of Kai’s brace locked around his throat like a lethal necklace.
“It will be difficult for you to do anything drastic to them if you are dead,” Kai said quietly.
Prince cleared his throat several times, “Quite right, Kai.” His voice was raspy from the brace. Even if he tried to call for help he would likely not be heard. Besides, Prince was not a man who called for help. He knew Kai would not kill him, or he thought he knew. He sat very still, waiting for the ex-assassin’s next move.
Kai snapped the brace away, the gesture almost casual, as if to imply that Prince should reconsider any ideas of trying to trick him. “You have three minutes left,” Kai said.
“Well, now. I did make you a deal, didn’t I? And I always stick to my deals. So let us talk.” Prince’s hand shook slightly as he took a drink and sat the goblet back down.
“I am listening.”
“You know, Kai, if you were under my roof, I would see to it that your hair was done properly every day. And have new clothes made for you.”
“There is nothing wrong with the clothes I have on.”
“No, no, not at all. Other than the fact that they are a constant reminder of what you used to be.”
“The dead do not-“
“The dead do not what? Get upset? Don’t think about their past? The first part I’ll grant you, but if you say your past means nothing to you then you are lying, Kai.”
“Explain,” Kai said, a slight frown on his face.
“You are an ex-assassin. You stopped being an assassin because you regained your memories. You understand the difference between good and evil now. When you see evil you destroy it. If those qualities mean nothing to you, why would you act for the cause of the good? You think about your past. Intellectually, you do not like what you did. Yet you carry a constant reminder of it with what you wear. A mockery of the clothing you had when you were alive. A mockery of all that you were, all you believed in.”
Kai looked down. Prince kept his face neutral, though inside he smiled. He had given Kai something to think about.
“Well, I think our time is up,” Prince announced cheerfully. He rose. “And as I keep my word, I’ll take you to see them. Come this way.”
He walked through the hall, Kai silently walking beside him.
“Ouch Stan, don’t tug so hard!”
“Well, I’m sorry Xev, but it’s hard to get your hair untangled without a comb or a brush. You have a lot of snarls back here.”
“Are you ever going to start trying to braid that lank mess she calls her hair, or are you just going to pull it all out?” groused 790, who wanted to be back on his window perch looking for his deadly thriller in black.
“No, I think it is smooth enough to start now. Let me see, where is that piece of string we ripped off the rug tassel?” Stan said.
790 heaved a huge sigh, or as much of a sigh as a disembodied robot head could manage. He focused the projection rays in his eyes to a narrow beam and pointed them towards the rug, where a seven-inch piece sting had fallen. “Right there you moron. Can we get on with it?” he inquired impatiently.
“You know 790, this would be a lot easier if you were a little more of a team player,” Stan said as he picked up the string and set it back down on the table beside him. He ignored 790’s mutterings and instead concentrated on the images of how a braid was formed that 790 was now projecting with his eyes.
“Hey 790, how is it that you know how to do these things?” Asked Xev as Stan clumsily separated her hair into three sections.
With out interrupting the instructional video that was looping a few feet in front of them, 790 replied in a testy voice. “Love slave training includes lots of information on how to make yourself beautiful for your master. Since I received your instruction I know this stuff and you don’t. This would account for the fact that you walk around looking like a ill-kempt hag.” The projection wavered a bit as Xev smacked 790 on the top of his head. “Slut, keep your hands to your self, “ 790 growled and shot her an angry glare.
“Hey Xev, don’t do that, I’m trying to watch it.” Stan protested as the picture broke up briefly while 790 was glaring at Xev and then reformed. Crewing on his lip in concentration, Stan finished up the braid and tied it off with the rug tassel. “There. What do you think? Not bad for my first attempt huh.”
“No not at all Tweedle,” 790 interjected venomously, “if you were attempting to make her look more hideous than she usually does, I’d say you achieved your objective. However, if you are ever going to do it well enough to braid the hair of my gorgeous corpse, you’ll have to do much better!”
“Let me go look Stan” Xev said as she stood up and headed towards the bathroom mirror.
Stan turned a long-suffering look upon 790. “Now look here 790, if you have any thing helpful to suggest fine, other wise just shut it, okay?”
Xev had almost reached the bathroom when the hall door opened and Kai stepped into the room. Xev glanced over her shoulder at the sound of the door opening. “Kai!” she shrieked joyously as she spun around and flung herself in his arms. “Oh Kai,” she cried hugging him tightly. “I knew you’d come for us, I knew it!”
For a few moments there was pandemonium as Stan hurried over trying to speak to Kai over shouts from 790, who was demanding to be taken to his sweet stiff in black. Just as their uproar was dying down, Prince entered the room.
Xev's joyful expression faded at his arrival. Stan, noticing the change on Xev’s face, looked up and scowled at Prince. Even 790 quieted as Prince walked over to the table, and favored them with a sardonic twitch of his brows.
"Hello, all," Prince said cheerfully as the guards exited the room and closed the door in response to his gesture. "How are my favorite guests this afternoon?"
"Sick of being in this damn room, is how we are!" Stan said.
"But these are beautiful accommodations," Prince said as he made a slow circle around Kai and Xev, eyes crinkling as he took in Xev’s rather lumpy braid.
Xev glowered at him over Kai’s shoulder. "Why Xev," he cooed. "Are you trying a new hairdo?" He flicked a quick glance at Kai who was had turned his head slightly and was watching him and then retuned his attention to Xev, his smile deepening. “It’s very nice Xev, but perhaps just a bit uneven don’t you think?”
Stan saw his grin and snapped, "Well, what do you expect when we have nothing to comb her hair with?!"
Xev leaned back and looked at Kai, "Please Kai, get us out of here!"
Kai gently disentangled himself from the distraught love slave, "I cannot do that Xev." He said quietly stepping away from her.
Xev looked at Kai in wild disbelief when he said he would not help them, lower lip trembling she cried, "Why?"
"I'll tell you why you ignorant b*tch…" 790 shouted, before falling silent in response to a frown and slight headshake from Kai.
that I would not assist you further until you could properly fix my hair." Stanley
"But Kai, surely you didn't MEAN that! Prince has us here as prisoners!" Xev cried as she studied his face closely.
"But you have been well-treated, have you not? Prince asked smoothly taking a step forward to stand beside Kai. You have been fed? Kept warm and safe? Isn’t that true"
"Well..." Stan muttered.
"Xev? Is this true?" Kai asked.
Throwing a mutinous look at Prince she answered in a low husky voice, "Yes, he has treated us well but we are still prisoners!" Xev and Stan both looked at Kai, his normally expressionless face seemed to be even more expressionless than normal. “Kai... are you really saying you will not help us?" Xev asked quietly.
"No. I am not. Have you learned to how to care for hair in the Brunnen-G style yet, Xev? Kai asked her.
“Well then what the hell ARE you saying?" Stan asked, frowning as he moved over to a where a very forlorn Xev was standing and placed a comforting arm around her shoulders.
"Oh Kai, how can I? We have nothing here to practice with!" Xev cried.
"It wouldn't help if you did, you and Tweedle are both hopeless!" 790 snapped.
“Kai, I know we could do better if we had the proper tools to work with. After all, I've never done this before in my life, and I did pretty darn good on my first try with nothing to work with but a piece of string.” Stan told the ex-assassin earnestly, nodding at the braid Xev now sported.
"Yes, quite a smashing job," Prince murmured.
"Hey!" Xev growled throwing a venomous glare at prince from under her lowered brows.
“Tweedle is useless Kai, kill Prince or we will never get out of here!”
“I will not do that, 790. That would not be right, I cannot help until you learn to help yourselves.
"But Kai! How can we learn without your help?!" Xev cried with a hint of tears in her voice.
“Kai,” Stan said earnestly. “If Prince would let us have the right stuff to work with we could do this.”
"Well, now that, I'm afraid, is not my problem," Prince sighed in falsely sympathetic tone.
"Not yet," Xev retorted. "Kai, what are we supposed to do? For us to fix your hair PROPERLY, you have to tell us what is involved in fixing it!"
Kai gave Prince a sidelong glance and then looked down at Xev and Stan. “Xev that is something you must figure out for yourselves.” Xev stared at him in disbelief, and then shrugged Stan’s arm off her shoulder and stalked over to look blindly out the small window. Kai was not unmindful of her distress and Stan’s growing unease. “The reason I told Stan I would not longer help you …” he paused noticing the slight shaking of her shoulders and then continued in a softer voice, “Is that you seem to have developed an increasing dependence on me to solve all of your problems no matter how small. I think… it is unhealthy for all of you to be that dependant upon me.”
A silence developed. Despairingly, Xev thought about how difficult it was to persuade Kai to change his mind once he thought he was doing the right thing. It would take time. Time and a valid argument neither of which she had right now. She blinked back the tears standing in her eyes, and the garden which she had been staring at came in to sharp focus, giving her an idea. Exhaling loudly she turned and looked at him, "Well, if you aren't going to help us, would you at least bring me fresh flowers while I am here?"
Kai regarded her steadily, “Why do you want flowers?”
"It could cheer me up while I try to think about what to do!"
“Flowers!! Xev, are you nuts! We need your comb back! We don’t need flowers” Stan stepped forward holding his hands out pleadingly, “Kai, Prince has stolen Xev's comb, at least make him give it back to her!”
Prince cleared his throat loudly.
After a short pause as all waited for Kai to say something, Xev cast Prince a murderous glance and said, "That would be *helping,* I'm sure." She then pushed away from the window a few steps and looked at Kai pleadingly. "Please, Kai, just a few pretty flowers? That wouldn't be helping, just cheering me up."
"Well, I suppose that cheering you up would be all right," Prince said with a smile.
Kai looked at the smiling Prince and then asked him, “How exactly did you get Xev's comb? You said she gave it to you. Stan says you stole it. Are you a thief Prince? Kai asked in such a cold voice that it caused the smile on Prince’s face to flicker out and be replaced by a guarded expression.
"Stole is such an ugly word. I prefer 'creatively acquired.' That is not exactly stealing."
"Yes it is!" Xev shouted.
"I seem to remember asking you to give it to me so I could comb your hair with it..." Prince murmured.
"But that didn't mean for you to keep it!"
“Yeah!” Stan agreed. “You didn’t tell him he could keep it.”
Kai looked at Xev intently. ”Xev did you give your comb to Prince or did he take it with out your permission?” he asked.
Xev flushed, "I gave it to him to USE, not to KEEP! Only to comb my hair!"
"But you didn't say I had to give it back, either," Prince stated, a smug smile twitching the corners of his lips once again.
"Since when do I have to ask for my own comb back! Besides, while you were combing my hair your guards burst in and grabbed us."
Stan rubbed his hand across his face and clench his hair in exasperation. “Aw, geeze, Kai, you know he stole it, she didn't intend for him to keep it! As soon as his goons attacked us, he vanished. How in the heck was she supposed to have asked for it back?” Tilting his head to one side with a mulish look, Stan regarded Prince for a long moment, and then walked over and stood directly in front of him. “Besides, What does Xev’s comb have to do with you taking us prisoner?” He spun away from Prince and appealed to Kai, “He shouldn't have done that. If he hadn’t taken us prisoner, we wouldn’t be in this fix in the first place. And we certainly wouldn’t be arguing over a stupid comb!”
Kai looked at Stan and Xev and even the uncharacteristically quiet 790, and then turned to survey the room they were in. “Have any of you been injured Stan?” he asked quietly, turning back to face
. “Are you and Xev in mortal danger at this point in time?” Stanley
"Kai, what does that matter! Ask Prince why he even kidnapped us to begin with" Xev challenged.
“Yeah Prince, why don't you tell him why you took us prisoner?” Stan taunted.
"Well it is quite simple, actually," Prince replied. "Kai will not help you right now, so I am in a perfect position to make a deal."
"What kind of deal?" Xev demanded.
"I have told Kai how much better off he would be staying here, under my rule. I believe I have given him something to think about."
“How dare you use us to try to manipulate my dead man of delight!” 790 screeched. “Kill him Kai, kill him now so that I can be reunited with you forever! I’m the only one who truly loves you, he only wants to control you, just like he wants to control
and the key to the Lexx. In fact….” His voice took on a callous calculating tone. “Why not just take the worthless Tweedle and let the rest of us go…” Stanley
"I’m afraid I can’t do that 790,” Prince told him in a amused voice as he stepped around
and crossed to the table looking down at the enraged robot head. “I don't want to take Stanley and let the rest of you go. I want all of you to stay here. I want Stanley , but I also want you and Xev and especially Kai." Stanley
"Why!" Xev asked harshly.
"Having Kai at my disposal would ensure me a long reign as governor of this land." Prince informed her with a tranquil smile, "And the best way to keep Kai here is to keep all of *you* here as well."
Kai looked the stunned trio, “What Prince wants has nothing with what I told Stan.” He informed them,” He then went over to Xev and looked down at her. She looked away hurt and angry refusing to meet his glance. “Xev, he told her gently. You three can help yourselves. You are in no danger, I do not believe Prince will harm you.” Kai looked up at
’s derisive snort. He looked at Stan for a long minute and then he looked at Prince and his expression hardened. The words, “He had better not." Seemed to hang unsaid in the air. Stanley
I will come and see you every day, and see what you have learned.
"I'll be glad to let you visit them, Kai," Prince said graciously. “And you can even bring Xev the flowers she wanted from my garden.”
Xev mockingly muttered Prince’s last phrase under he breath, still not looking directly at Kai.
"Kai! Don't let Prince sway you with his evil ways! Don't make any deals with him! He's evil! My robot intuition screams it!!"
Kai walked back to stand beside Prince, and picked up robot head. “790, you know I am dead. The dead cannot be swayed.”
790 looked at Kai's face longingly and then shot a homicidal glare at the benevolently amused Prince, before once again gazing up into the face of his beloved corpse before wailing, “But Kai, I can't live with out you!”
Kai put him gently back on the table. “790, I am sure that you will do everything you can to help Xev and Stan so that we can all be reunited.”
"I have to help these two morons to get to be with you again? Now *that* is *real* evil!!"
Kai then looked at Prince. “I am finished here now. I will come back and see them in the morning,” he said in a slightly challenging tone.
"And you will find them excellently cared for, as always," Prince said as Kai turned and walked towards the door. "In the meantime... perhaps you will consider my words to you from earlier?"
"Forget it, Prince! Kai will not make a deal with you!" Xev told him, staring at him defiantly.
"Not yet perhaps." Prince admitted stepping over to her and pulling her into his arms. Prince felt Xev stiffen in outrage at his touch, but she also trembled at his nearness. “Perhaps the time will come when you all will want to stay here," he murmured as his lips grazed her neck. Then he released her.
Opening the door, Kai paused. Standing in the doorway, was a tall woman. Stan recognized her as the woman who had brought them breakfast this morning. She balanced a large tray on one hand, while the other hand was frozen in the air, apparently in preparation to knock on the door for permission to enter. Prince motioned her into the room.
"As you can see, Kai,” Prince gestured at the steaming covered plates on the tray. “I am making certain that Xev and Stan are well fed. They also have hygiene facilities, running water, soap, clean clothes available for them to wear while their clothes are washed and quarters that are cleaned daily.” He looked seriously at Kai holding his gaze for a moment, “I am treating them very well... I do hope you keep that in mind." With this statement complete, Prince nodded slightly and waved for Kai to precede him out of the room. As soon as Kai had gone through the door he shot a mocking smile at the stunned Stan and Xev.
“Well, at least we have food,” Xev muttered as she unthinkingly grabbed a plate from their small table.
“Stop!” The woman cried , but it was too late.
“OWW!” Xev screeched as she dropped the plate. Her face scrunched up in pain as she crumbled down on to one knee cradling her inflamed hand.
“I’ll get the master,” The woman cried, rushing to the door and calling for the hall guards to let her out.
As she hurried off, Stan knelt beside Xev, the food and all else forgotten in light of Xev’s pain. “Xev!”
“Oh, Stan, it hurts BAD!” She whimpered.
Stan frantically looked around, and then grabbed a pitcher of cold water from the tray. He took Xev’s hand by the wrist and placed her hand in the pitcher. “How’s that?” He asked anxiously.
She nodded. “Still hurts…. but not as bad. Thanks, Stan.”
He stroked her hair. “Hey, I gotta look after you here, right?”
She managed a small smile just as the door opened and Prince entered. He sighed. “Xev, how do you manage these things?”
“Luck,” she snarled.
“I see. Come on, I shall have to tend to you.” He held out a hand to her.
She stared hard.
“Or you could remain in considerable pain for a few days and have an injured hand. It’s up to you, Xev.”
She scowled, but took his hand with her good one and let him pull her up.
“You’re gonna bring her back, right? You’re gonna help her, right?” Stan asked anxiously.
Prince sighed again, “Yes,
, to both questions.” Stanley
“I’ll be all right, Stan. We’re no use to Prince dead, anyway.”
Prince’s expression became one of hurt. “Xev, why do you assume that I want to kill you? Or hurt you?”
“Because that’s what bad people do!” She replied as they left the room and walked down the hall.
“I’m not as bad as you think, Xev. I just have different goals than you.” A snort was Xev’s only response he received. They entered a parlor room, Prince ordered the guards to stay outside, and shooed out a harried housemaid who was setting a tray with bandages and other items on the side table near the door. He waved Xev towards an overstuffed purple velvet duvet where she sat down reluctantly, her hand was starting to burn again, but she would have liked to examine the room a bit.
“Well?” She asked. “Are you just going to let me sit here and suffer?”
“Sorry. I was just admiring your beauty,” he said absently as he brought a large green stalk and a knife over to her, sitting in a chair beside her.
“Right.” She stared at the plant. She had never seen it before.
He used the knife to slice it open. A clear substance oozed out of the cut. Despite her pain and anger, she was curious. “What is that?”
“It’s called an aloe plant. The gel you see is used on burns to take out the string and help speed the healing process.” He studied her hand. “You’re fortunate. It’s a minor burn.”
“It doesn’t feel that way,” she answered.
“Then allow me to ease your pain.” He applied the aloe gel to her hand, rubbing it in lightly.
Xev’s features relaxed as the pain eased. “It’s feeling better.”
“Good.” He rubbed in some more, and suddenly Xev was aware of the slow, almost sensual movements of his fingers. She shivered despite herself. Part of her knew she needed to jerk her hand away. Part of her didn’t want him to stop, and not just because of the burn.
He seemed to sense it, because he stopped and gazed into her eyes.
“Don’t,” she whispered.
“Why not?” He asked softly.
“I don’t want you to!”
He grinned. “Your body tells a different story,”
“My body is vulnerable. But my mind is strong.” She glared at him fiercely, hoping he wouldn’t press the issue, because she was afraid. Not of him, but of herself. To her surprise he stopped, bandaged her hand and then released it.
As he led her to the door he whispered in her ear: “One day, Xev, you might not ask me to stop.” She looked disdainful, but he only smiled as he handed her an aloe vera leaf and escorted her back to her cell.
Stan awoke with a feeling that something wasn’t quite right. As the wisps of sleep cleared from his mind, he felt a bit silly. Of course something wasn’t right, Lexx was gone, he was Prince’s prisoner, Xev had hurt herself and Kai was on a crusade to increase the number of beauticians in the world. Other than that everything was just fine. Tugging the covers up over his shoulder, he thought muzzily that while he missed the Lexx, this planet was certainly more comfortable. He unconsciously stroked the smooth sheets thinking how nice it was to use real furniture to sit on as opposed to the living protrusions of the Lexx. He tugged the soft pillow into a more comfortable position and reflected that a real bed with real sheets and pillows certainly beat a dead moth carcass and membrane scraps any day.
He tried to work up a bit of panic, just to keep stuff in perspective, but he was so warm, relaxed and comfortable he just couldn’t do it. So we’re prisoners, he though sleepily, pulling the soft warm comforter up under his chin, big deal. It’s not like they weren’t virtually imprisoned on the Lexx. And while the food Prince provided was just as bland as the stuff Lexx fed them, at least it was hot when it should be, and cold when it should be, and occasionally chewy. Stan thought he could get use to having toast and fresh fruit again. It was certainly better than the disastrous cooking attempts that he and Xev had made during their short stay here. And that tall woman who brought it to them was certainly an interesting improvement over a food tube. He grinned a little at the memory of her smiling at him this evening when she had brought Xev up another plate of food.
Just as sleep was threatening to overtake him again, Stan heard a stifled sob. He raised his head off the pillow and strained to hear a soft crying from Xev’s side of the room. Pushing himself up on one elbow he peered across the dark room and called out softly, “Xev, are you alright? Is your hand feeling worse?” For several long minutes he was unable to hear anything else. Just as he was about to convince himself that he had imagined the whole thing, he heard Xev take in a deep shuddering breath.
Wrapping his comforter around him, Stan crossed over to Xev’s bed and peered down worriedly. “Xev,” he whispered, “are you okay?” Xev was facing the wall with her covers over her head. Stan placed a hand on what appeared to be her shoulder, and felt it shaking beneath the covers.
“Ah Xev,” he said in soft worried voice, as he sat on the edge of the bed. “What’s wrong? Is it your hand?” He received no reply. For a few moments he though she was going to ignore him, but then she rolled over. As she uncovered her head, he could just make out her pale, tear stained face in the moonlight coming in through the window.
“Oh Stan,” she sighed shakily “ I’m sorry that I woke you, I was trying to be quiet.”
“No. No, it’s okay.” He assured her. “I was awake, you didn’t disturb me. But Xev what’s wrong? Is it your hand? Should I have the guard go get Prince?”
“No, it still hurts a little,” she said, wiping her tears with the back of the soft cotton bandage, “but it’s not too bad, it’s nothing really,” she lied. “It’s just… well… oh Stan,” she sobbed burying her face into her pillow. “I just can’t take being abandoned any more!”
“Xev, this is crazy, no one is going to abandon you, we all love you, you know that.”
“First it was my parents, then 790, then Lexx, and now it’s Kai! Everyone leaves me!” she cried in a muffled voice. “I just can’t stand it anymore.”
Unable to think of anything that to say, Stanley just sat there patting her arm comfortingly, occasionally uttering a few consoling words in rebuttal to Xev’s increasing incoherent whisperings, until finally, she had cried herself back to sleep.
After what seemed like hours,
straighten up from his crouched position with a soft groan, and then stumbled back to bed. “Gosh,“ he thought to himself, “tomorrow has just got to be a better day.” Stanley
Xev awoke several hours later, the despair from earlier that night had faded into a quiet sadness. She turned to see Stan, still sleeping in his bed she was touched by his efforts to comfort her the night before. But only Kai could really make her feel completely better. She looked forward to his arrival.
Since Stanley was still asleep, Xev decided to go take a quiet bath, thinking that perhaps that would make her feel better, while at the same time get her out of the room so she wouldn’t be disturbing Stanley. Who was doubtless tired after her disturbing his sleep last night.
She crept carefully into the bath chamber, running very warm water with some soothing oils she found in one of several glass jars. As she bathed her mind focused in the problem at hand. She hoped they could practice somehow on fixing her hair. She was afraid to stay in the castle, afraid of being forsaken by Kai, and afraid of her feelings towards Prince.
After her bath, which was made a little more complicated by her not wanting to get the bandage on her hand wet, She dressed in a simple dark blue silk dress with matching slippers that had been left for her. When she came out, Stan was awake and sitting on the side of his bed.
,” Xev said. “I hope I didn't keep you waiting by taking too long in the bathroom?” Stanley
A sleepy eyed Stan, shook his head ‘no’, mumbled good morning, yawned, stretched a bit and then shuffled off towards the bathroom, apparently still half asleep.
After a few moments the wisps of sleep finished clearing from Stan’s head and he decided to take a quick bath before breakfast himself. After all he smiled to himself in the mirror while brushing his teeth, he wanted to be look good, when the tall woman arrived with breakfast.
When Stan came out of the bath, Xev stared. He was dressed in a grey long sleeved cotton tunic, with black trousers, and without a hat. He actually looked... well not ‘good, this was Stanley H. Tweedle after all, but he did look almost nice! "You look good in that outfit, Stan," Xev said.
"Yeah?" He asked, surprised.
"Gee… thanks, Xev." He grinned at her.
“Well don't you both look wonderful this morning,” Prince said in a cheerful voice. He smiled broadly at them, “Such a change
from that ratty old uniform of yours, don’t you think?” Stanley
“Yeah, sure," Stan grumbled, while inwardly acknowledging that the clothes *were* nice.
"Hello, Xev, hello,
, hello, 790,” Kai greeted them as he stepped into the room. Stanley
At the sound of his voice, the Robot head that had been scanning the back gardens all night long hoping for a glimpse of his beloved man in black began to shriek. "Kai! Oh my luscious living dead one, how I've missed you! Quick! One of you morons turn me around I must view his loveliness, take me to my killer thriller."
Stan rolled his eyes but figuring that it was the only way to shut 790 up, he went over to the window and turned him around.
Fortunately Stan did not appear to expect any gratitude from 790. Which was a good thing, as the robot head was devoting his full attention towards Kai.
“As you requested, Xev, here are your flowers," Kai said holding out a very full bouquet.
Xev, walked over to Kai, looking at him carefully. As she took the flowers, she asked him. “Well Kai, do you think I look nice in this outfit?”
"You... you always look nice, Xev." He paused a moment and then continued, "Are your flowers satisfactory? It has been a long time since I have picked flowers."
Xev looked at the large bunch of flowers, it was not what one might have expected. The bouquet included flowers, ferns, wooded twigs and grasses all bound together haphazardly. It looked a bit odd, and not at all like any of the flower arrangements she had learned about in the wife bank.
“ummm, it is very nice Kai,” she said politely. “And different.”
"Sheesh, Kai, I hope you never tried to impress a girl that way," Stan quipped, which earned him a puzzled look from Kai.
Stan sighed and shook his head, "Never mind. Thanks, Kai. I'm glad Xev, at least, can feel better."
“Well I did wonder about that myself,” Prince remarked setting down a large vase on the table as he walked over and stood looking down at Xev. “But Kai insisted that since he could not be sure what you liked, he should add a selection of different things.”
“Well Xev,” he said moving a bit closer to her and taking a deep appreciative breath. “I am glad to see that that dress does match the lovely blue of your eyes. I was so hoping that it would.” He smiled warmly at her and then reached out a hand and gently touched a large spiny teasel in her flower arrangement. “Unfortunately there is nothing in this arrangement to compliment your outfit properly. Perhaps tomorrow I should forewarn Kai of your clothing colors.”
He stepped back slightly, reached into his pocket and pulled out a square of folded paper. “I also brought you something.”
Xev gingerly cradled the flowers in one arm and took the packet from Prince with a puzzled look. “What is this?” she asked.
“Oh, nothing to get excited about,” he smiled. “I wouldn't want you to get an infection or anything. So I brought you up a few fresh bandages.” He waved a hand towards the table and said, “Why don't you set those down a moment and I will help you rewrap your hand.”
"Are you sure you can spare the time?" She asked sarcastically as she laid the flowers on the table.
He only smiled, waiting until she sat down, then sitting beside her and beginning to tend to her hand.
"Xev? How did you injure your hand?" asked Kai
"Stupidly, but then what else would you expect from a love slut!" interjected 790 in a disdainful voice.
"She got a burn from a plate Kai." Stan told him
Kai's expression didn't change, but somehow he seemed to convey concern. "Will you be all right?"
790 continued in an incensed tone, “She is so stupid she didn't realize the plates sit on hot metal holders so the food will stay warm! The brainless bimbo tried to pick up the plate, metal holder and all!
Prince eyed Kai, “It was an accident Kai, one that Xev brought upon herself, I assure you it will not happen again. He glanced over towards the window. “Perhaps” he said archly, “Xev was unaware of how the food was kept warm as it traveled from the kitchens through the castle. We cannot all of us have your range of knowledge now can we 790.
Xev looked at Prince strangely, he was making sure that Kai knew she had done this to herself, yet he was defending her from 790. She had felt stupid after the accident, She though a plate was a plate. Plates that were burning hot were foreign to her experience.
“Oh really Prince?” 790 smirked. Under what sun do you think that any love slut would have the knowledge vouchsafed to a robot like myself?”
“Ah,” Prince smiled as returned his attention to unwrapping Xev's hand. “Now you see why I don't want to let you go either 790. You are full of much information, some of it unique. I would be foolish to let it slip though my hands wouldn’t I.
"Not really! I'm actually a very *dumb* robot head! You should let me go with Kai! *He* knows so much more than I! He could teach me!"
"While I am certain that Kai is indeed a vast library of knowledge, you are not a dumb robot head, and we need you here."
790 made a growling sound.
Xev was quiet as Prince applied more fresh aloe and carefully re-wrapped her hand.
"I am certain that Xev would not have touched a hot plate knowingly." Kai said.
"Yeah, right! She's all breasts and no brains, Kai! You should abandon them and take me away with you!"
"I am not abandoning anyone, 790."
"Damn sure feels that way to me," Stan muttered dropping down on the corner of his bed.
, once you can show me that you can learn what you have been asked on your own…” Stanley
"Then what?" Stan interrupted.
"Yes, Kai, then what?" Prince asked, giving Xev’s hand a final soft pat before rising and walking around the table to stand on the other side of Stanley.
"Then I will take the appropriate actions."
“hummm, I am not at all sure I will be able to allow that Kai, but..” He hurried to finish after noting the aggressive lift of Kai's chin, “We will have to see what occurs. Don’t you agree?”
“Agree with what? When they have learned this thing on their own, I will assist them in leaving if you try to stop them. You can not stop me from doing this. As I told Stanley, I am not abandoning them.”
“Well Kai,” 790 exclaimed nastily, “That isn't what that hag of a love slut said last night.
Ignoring the warning look from Stan, 790 continued in the same venomous way. “Imagine the nerve of her. Crying and carrying on for hours that you had abandoned her.”
Xev looked mortified, as everyone in the room looked at her. Her eyes darted from 790 to Kai and then finally to Prince.
Prince looked thoughtfully at 790 and then turned a sympathetic face towards Xev. Her eyes however flinched away from the unholy amusement twitching at the corners of his lips. “Why Xev,” he cooed, “Were you upset last night?”
"790 is good at exaggerating. I did say that I felt Kai had abandoned us. But I was just tired and in pain. That's all."
Kai stepped over to the table and frowned slightly. "Xev, I have not abandoned you. If I had, I would not be here now."
"That is true," Stan admitted standing up shooting a warning glance at 790.
"Of course Kai didn’t abandon all of you. I didn’t think he would. Which is why you are here."
"For now." Xev retorted.
Prince merely smiled. "Well, I'll leave you to your flowers, while Kai and I have a chat."
"The dead do not chat."
"Well then you can listen while I talk."
"Why?" Kai asked turning to face Prince.
"You want to keep seeing them, do you not? Prince asked. What am *I* getting out of all this? I am feeding, clothing, and sheltering them."
"Against our will, so that doesn't matter!" Stan muttered.
Prince raised an eyebrow at Stan, "But you are kept safe from harm.”
He then turned his attention back to the dark man, “And I promise you, Kai, there are plenty of harmful places in this kingdom. Unless, of course, you are going to go back on your word."
"I am not."
"Then since I am taking care of them, you will be allowed to see them if you will agree to talk with me when I ask. And they will continue to be well treated. Is it a deal?"
Kai studied Prince for a long moment, "Making a deal... could be helping them
A rueful smile tugged at princes mouth, "Well, let's not get *too* analytical, shall we? You can help *me* by talking to me. The fact that they benefit from it is a bonus."
“Um, you know Prince. I don't want to tell you how to run your kingdom or anything, but don't you think you have better things to do than chatting with an ex-assassin?” Stan asked sarcastically. “I mean, what exactly is talking to Kai going to do to benefit you?”
, do you think I am merely going to discuss the weather with Kai? I though perhaps Kai and I could discuss various ways of improving the training of my place guards, and assassin-proofing my quarters and other little thing like that. Boring I know, but one does have to think of these things, after all…,” he smiled deeply, “you wouldn't want anything to happen to me now would you?” Stanley
Stan stared skeptically at Prince, shook his head slightly then replied with disbelief dripping from every syllable, “Oh no, of course not, not us.”
“Well I didn't think you did.” Prince went on genially. “I am quite fond of you all in my own way you know, and it would pain me deeply to think of anything happening to you if I should suffer an accident.”
“Why should something happen to Xev and Stan and 790 if *you* suffer an accident?” Kai inquired in a cold voice.
“Oh my. Didn't I tell you? How careless of me. Well it is quite simple you see.” Prince grinned at them all, “If anything should happen to me, my guards all have orders to kill them. So... I though that perhaps, for your own good you understand, that I would ask Kai to help me improve my security. I think an Ex-assassin would make an excellent bodyguard. Don't you?”
All eyes stared at Prince: Xev in horror, Stan in fear, Kai expressionless as always. 790 yelped.
"Kai doesn't want to work for a sleaze like you! Do you, Kai!"
"The dead do not have wants, 790," Kai responded absently.
"Hmm. Does that mean you reject my offer?" Prince inquired.
"No. The dead do not have wants. But I do have affinities, sometimes. And motivations.. Less often."
"Are you motivated right now?" Prince asked.
Kai's answer was simple and to the point. "Yes."
hen do we have a deal?"
Kai gazed at him steadily. "I agree to be your bodyguard for as long as Xev, Stan and 790 stay here, providing that they are not harmed and continue to be
"And I agree to those terms. So we do indeed have a deal," Prince smiled.
"Kai! Oh, my darling dead one, you've fallen into evil clutches! Don't you dare let that conniving Casanova lay his dirty hands on you!" 790 shrieked.
"I'm not interested in Kai's body, you idiotic robot head. Not in the same way you are, at any rate," Prince snapped. He turned to Kai. "Come, Kai. There are many things for us to discuss. You can visit them again tomorrow, as always."
Kai nodded, looking at Xev, who watched him fearfully. "Do not worry, Xev. I will return in the morning. You will all be safe."
"Yeah? Says who?!" Stan demanded.
"Prince did. And Prince does not break his word." Kai said the last part with a shade of warning.
"Of course I don't. Now, please excuse us. We'll see all of you in the morning for a nice long visit."
Prince exited, Kai following behind him.
Xev sat on her bed with a sigh. "Well, at least we'll be ok."
"But still locked up. Come on, Xev! We gotta do something!"
"I know!" She replied crossly. "We'll just have to think. Right now I want to arrange my flowers."
As she began trying to sort through the heavy mass, she accidentally dropped some of the larger twigs and teasels onto the floor.
"Boy, you sure are a piece of work, Xev," Stan muttered, kneeling down to pick them up and tugging on one of the teasels which had snagged on the fringe of the rug.
It didn't want to budge, and it was only with effort that Stan removed it. As he did, he noticed that the strands of fringe looked different somehow. Smoother.
He stared at the rug, then the teasel.
"Stan? What is it?" Xev asked.
"Turn around," he said excitedly.
"Just do it, ok? I got an idea."
Xev shrugged, mystified, but turned around for him. Stan brought the teasel against her hair so that the spikes caught in it slightly, then very gently pulled
downward. As he did, Xev's hair began to brush neatly into place.
"Wowie! It's working!" He exclaimed in delight.
"What are you doing?" She half turned.
He showed her the teasels. "We can use these like brushes. We can brush your hair!"
Xev's eyes lit up as she comprehended his words. "And so we can practice fixing it! Quick! Let's look at the other things and see if there's more that can help
pushed the now unwanted vase to one side as Xev began to separate the large bouquet. Stanley
“What do you suppose these are called Stan?” Xev asked setting the two precious teasels to one side.
“They are a larger version of what is usually called a dipsacus fullonum, you uneducated cow!”
Stan straightened up and stalked over to 790 where he sat on the window sill. “Now listen here 790,” Stanley snarled picking up the robot head, giving it a hard shake, and thumping it back down on a bare spot on the table. “You are going to be just a little more cooperative, do you hear me?”
“Oh yeah?” taunted the truculent robot head. “And what exactly do you think is going to make me cooperate with you two?”
“I’ll tell you what is going to make you cooperate with us,” Xev told him, leaning over
’s shoulder. “If,” she continued in a light sing-song coo, “You are not helpful every minute of the day, I am going to point out to Kai how little you love him. Since you obviously can’t be bothered with doing something he specifically asked you to, and clearly don’t care if you are ever reunited with him. I’ll also tell him how Stan and I both love him so much better than that and are working hard so we can be with him.” Stanley
She and Stanley grinned at each other as the shocked 790 sputtered and growled, unable to express his shock and outrage at Xev’s plan.
“Now 790,” Stan asked pointing to the teasel, “What did you call that?”
I was fairly oblivious that if 790 had a body, he would have tried to murder both of them. After his eyes flickered a few more times, he fairly spat out the words, “dipsacus fullonum! Or as it is more commonly referred to, and nothing is more common than you two! A teasel! “
Stan smirked, “Well thank you very much 790, ”
“Oh Stan, look!” Xev cried excitedly as she untangled a thick bunch of long soft green grasses. “Look,” she held it out for him to touch, “feel how silky it is. I could practice braiding!
“It is Carex comans, you blond twit, also called Frosted Curls, so I guess other smarter people than you two have liken it to hair also. That other is an Ornamental Grass called Festuca glauca, or Blue Fescue.
“Great Xev, and it even has one of those bandy things on it. We needed one of those. Look, there are a couple more of them on the flower bunches. “
Stan and Xev quickly separated the flowers from the various grasses, removing all the elastic bands and then standing them up in the vase.
“What do you want to do with the twigs Zev?” asked Stan.
“I’m not sure Stan, they are really too big for the vase, but Kai might have given them to us for a reason. Why don’t you lay them on the window sill for right now, while I put water in my flowers.”
A short time later Xev was seated a little way away from the table practicing her braiding on a hank of frosted curl grass which she had bound at the top with several lengths of rug fringe and wedged into a joint on the table top.
At length, Stanley had wrestled Xev’s hair into a smooth mass, with only a few screams from Xev when a teasel point had broken off unnoticed and been brushed into her scalp.
Hours had passed unnoticed as they worked. Xev’s braiding had rapidly improved as she worked with the hair like grass. The repeated braiding and unbraiding were a bit much though for the delicate grasses, which broke and torn, eventually making a small heap of grass bits at her feet. She had switched to the coarser bluish grass a few hours ago, just to keep practicing.
Stan was having a much easier time of it, for one thing his braiding material did not occasionally slip from it anchor point, and he did have the benefit of being able to ask Xev to tilt her head into a better position as he learned how to braid at the angle he wanted the braid to lay.
Xev and Stanley were startled as the projections that 790 had been playing in a continuous loop all morning we abruptly stopped in mid-sentence. “Someone is coming!” he hissed. “Turn me around! It might be my darling deceased one!"
He was ignored though as
scooped up the elastic bands and thrust them at Xev. "Quick, go take your hair down and hide these," he hissed. As Xev scrambled into the bathroom, Stan grabbed both teasels, not with out a bit of pain on his part, and hurried them over to the windowsill, thrusting them Stanley
amongst the twigs. Ignoring prickled fingers he quickly arranged them so that the damaged and missing points wouldn't be as noticeable.
Turning just as the door opened he spotted Xev's braid wedged into the table joint. As casually as he could he scooted over to the table and stood in front of it.
Trying to be as surreptitious as possible, he tugged at the braid, which resisted his first few efforts before finally pulling free with a slight jerk. Stuffing it out of sight into his pocket Stanley smiled weakly at the tall woman as she entered. He was surprised to see only a single guard, who remained in the hall as he closed the door behind the woman. "Good evening." He said, not really expecting an answer.
"Good evening sir," she replied, setting the tray on the edge of the table. "How are you doing this evening?"
"Hey! Why are you talking to me? Not," he explained hurriedly at her upraised brow, "that I'm not glad mind you. I'm just a bit surprised. And what happen to
the other guards?"
Xev came out of the bathroom vainly trying to smooth her crackling hair down.
"Hey Xev, she talked to me."
"I heard. Hello, I'm Xev of B3K and this is Captain Stanley Tweedle.
"Yes I know." The woman replied. I'm Jayne Stewart, head of housekeeping here at Treevale castle. Please be seated, your dinner will get cold." At that she
began to deftly lay out dinner, removing covers and filling glasses.
“Hey." Xev said as she sat down, "The metal holders aren't on the tray, but our plates are still warm."
"Ah, yes. Well..." Jayne paused slightly, "In order to keep you safe the Master says that they are no longer permitted in this room. So I had to leave them on the
guard’s table in the hall."
She noted Xev's embarrassed flush. "I am not sure why, since I don't think the same thing would happen again, but it was a direct order, so I had no say in the matter."
"So what happened to the other guards?" Stanley asked, as much for the information as to change the subject for Xev's comfort.
steadily. "There are still several layers of guards between you and freedom," she warned. Stanley
"No, no. That's not what I was getting at. I was just wondering what happened to the two that use to come and stand inside the door while you were here."
"Humm," she said as she began to circle the room twitching covers smooth, and straightening pillows. "They are training with the dark man this evening; all
of the guards are going to be taking extra training from him." She stopped and peered down at the pile of broken grasses on the floor.
At first Stan thought she had stopped to gather her thoughts. Then he noticed that she was stooping down to gather up the debris. "Do you wish me to dispose of the twigs at this time also?" she queried glancing over at the windowsill?
"No." Xev said quickly. "Those are mine. I like them there."
"As you will Miss,” she said as she straightened up, “but please be advised that the rooms must be cleaned. It would not do to have them look cluttered or messy. In fact I doubt if it would be permitted."
Xev looked a pit panic struck at this and glanced meaningfully at Stan.
said hastily, "WE will get it all tidied up, don't worry. I don't like clutter, either. I'm a neat person at heart." He smiled what he hoped was a charming smile. Stanley
To Stan's relief and Xev's amazement, she smiled back at him. "Good. I like that in a man."
Xev almost laughed out loud. This woman was actually responding to Stan? Amazing! Best to go along with it since she didn't want anything to happen to their flowers.
is a good man in many respects," Xev said sweetly. Stanley
Now it was Stan's turn to look surprised. But he quickly smiled again. "Aw, well, I try to be," he said, looking down and scuffling his feet a bit.
Jayne raised an eyebrow. "I'm certain that you do."
"It is a shame, your sticks aren’t woven into a wreath, then you could hang them as a decoration,” Jayne said as she gathered their dinner things onto a tray once they were done. “I shall see you tomorrow. I hope you have pleasant dreams." Was it Xev's imagination, or did she have a twinkle in her eye as she looked at Stan?
"Good night, Jayne," Stan said.
"Good night, Jayne," echoed Xev.
Once the house keeper had departed, Stan exhaled. "Thanks, Xev."
"I'm glad I didn't have to come up with anything good about you, Tweedle. I'd have fried my circuits with the effort!" 790 sneered.
"Pipe down, 790," Xev hissed. "Remember that if you don't help us, you'll never get to see Kai for more than an hour a day again!"
"For once you're right, you sloe-eyed sleaze," the robot head retorted. "Now get back at it, you two! I want out of this dump! The only imprisonment I want is to be Kai's sex slave!"
"Right!" Said Stan as he and Xev gathered their tools back onto the table.
While Stan practiced braiding Xev’s hair, she used her newly learned braiding skills to weave a large lumpy wreath. While it did not look exactly like the examples that 790 projected for her, in the end it did not look too bad either. It was several hours later when Xev hung the wreath in the center of the window from the curtain rod with string made from a few tied together bits of rug tassels. A weary Stan cleaned up the table and picked up all the stray bits of twigs and bark from floor.
tidied the area, Xev tucked the teasels into her wreath at a jaunty angle, trying to hide as many of the increasing number of missing spines as she could. At the insistence of 790, Xev placed him on a windowsill facing the gardens and then exhausted, she and Stan went to bed. Stanley
“Argghhhhh!!!!!” Stan cried, as he scrambled out of bed in response to the undulating wail of a siren. “What, what, what’s wrong?! …Xev, get up! Hurry!”
Calling for Xev to get up was unnecessary as she was already crouched in the center of her bed, looking wildly around for the source of her panic.
“Oh good you’re both up,” 790 said with acid good cheer cutting the siren off. “Well don’t just stand there looking stupid. You need to get started working again so I can get out of here and back into the arms of my dark angel of death.”
“Why you…” Stan growled, as Xev flopped forward burrowing her head under her pillows.
“Oh no you don’t, you wretched excuse for a love slave,” 790 hooted, as Xev scrabbled at her covers drowsily. The horn tones increasing in intensity as Xev covered her ears.
“ALL RIGHT!” Stan yelled over the noise. “We’re up, we’re up! Shut up before you get the guards in here!” He strode over to the window and plucked up the unrepentant robot head and shook it.
Xev sat on the side of the bed, trying to brush back the crackling tangles of hair sticking to her face. She glared at 790 as she vainly tried to smooth the hair sticking out from her head in every direction. “What time is it?” She growled.
“It is in the morning, if yesterdays schedule can be used as a guide, you have ninety minutes until Prince and Kai show up. So if you hurry with the washing of your skanky bodies, you can get an hour of practice in before Kai gets here.”
Xev moaned softly as she buried her face in her hands. “But 790, we didn’t get to bed until after two.”
“So!” Stan yelped in indignation raising 790 up so that he could glare at him, “I’ll tell you so! We would have liked more than a few hours of sleep you know.”
“And that affects me how?” 790 smirked, not the least bit disturbed as Stanley set him on the table with a bit of a bounce. 790 units were fairly durable after all.
Over the course of the next half hour, while they were getting washed and dressed, 790 heckled and chided them until Stan thought he couldn’t stand it anymore. After re-bandaging Xev’s hand, Stan began to brush out the snarls in her hair.
Xev sat in silence, stoically not mentioning the occasional too hard tug, as a teasel caught in the tangles of her damp hair. Working quickly, Stan separated her hair into an upper and lower section. Using one of the bands from the flowers, he pulled the top section into a pony tail on the top of her head and then braided the bottom section neatly. Despite the continuing haranguing of 790, the braid he produced was tight on the sides and smooth and even all the way down. It was amazing what can be produced after several hours of intense practice.
As Stan worked, he tuned 790 out and began to relax a bit. This wasn’t going half bad. Working with slightly damp hair seemed to help a lot.
Stan was starting to relax and get into the rhythm of his work and his results had steadily improved despite what 790 said. However a few problems were giving him grief and one of those was the bun. He could get the hair up into place, but without fasteners he couldn’t get it to stay of course.
And perhaps more troubling than that, no matter what he did, the bun he was producing didn’t look like Kai’s. 790 was no help there as apparently the hair styling techniques of the Brunnen-g were not included in his love slave programming.
“Well Tweedle,” 790 grumbled, “I suppose I have seen worse, but I think you better clean up, if you don’t want Prince to know how much progress you have made.“
Xev, followed by a slightly smug
went into the bathroom to check out her hair in the mirror on the wall. Stanley
“Why Stan,” she exclaimed, taking in her hair for a few moments before the bun began to unravel. “It looks really good! If we had some hair fasteners to practice with, I bet we would be out of here in no time.”
“Yeah,” Stan agreed brightly. But then his mood darkened a bit, “But Xev, it’s not the right style bun. I mean,” he went on hurriedly, “it is a bun, but it doesn’t look like a Brunnen-g bun. Really Xev, how are we going to figure out how to do a Bunnen-g bun? Heck there is only one guy left that knows how, and he can’t help us.”
“I know Stan,” Xev consoled him, as she began removing the bands and unraveling her hair. “But I’m sure that we will figure it out. After all, just yesterday we had no idea how we were going to learn to do hair at all with no brush or comb.”
“Well, that was an inspired idea of yours to ask Kai to bring us the flowers.”
Xev blushed slightly, “Well yes,” she agreed, “but to be truthful, I just did it so I could see Kai everyday.”
“So what, it worked didn’t it. Kai said he wouldn’t help us learn to do this, but I doubt if he meant for it to be as impossible as Prince was making it. Your request gave him a chance to even up the odds a bit with out actually doing anything to break his word.”
Xev smiled and began to rinse her hair again to remove the waviness that the braiding had given it, so Stan wandered back out to the main room and put way all evidence of their efforts.
“You know 790, I really hate to say it,” Stan said as he regarded the Robot head ruefully, “we really couldn’t have done any of this with out you.”
“What exactly are you up to, you wretched excuse for an ex-security guard? Why are you being nice to me?” 790 asked with narrowed eyes.
Stan sighed inwardly, trying to keep the edge out of his voice. “I am thanking you, that’s all. But there is something else you can do to help, we need to find some kind of substitutes for hair fasteners, or some way to work around them.”
“They are hair PINS you dolt,” 790 spat rolling his eyes, “and they are normally made from stiff plastic extrusions which we do not have access to…. However…”
790 paused and his eyes flashed as he accessed archived data files, “some of the fancy old style hair pins were made out of bent pieces of stiff thin wire.”
“Really? Metal wire? How thin? Could you show me a picture of one?”
Why? I don’t see how that would help you? You don’t have any rolls of thin wire to manufacture them with.”
“True, but the bed supports are made of wire, it’s kind of thick, but perhaps that would work.”
Excited, Stan jumped up and darted over to his bed. He lifted the mattress and examined the frame of linked wires. They seemed a little stiff, but he thought perhaps he could pull a few loose and work with them. He was trying to figure out how to do this with out it being apparent when he heard the rattle at the door. Quickly dropping the mattress, he pulled the pillows and covers back into place and then threw him self down on it to hide the complete disarray of his bed.
Xev entered the room, finger combing her damp hair just as Prince and Kai came through the door
“Well how are we all this fine morning?” Prince boomed in false cheerfulness.
Stan decided to ignore him and instead concentrated on trying to figure out how Kai’s bun was formed. It didn’t seem to be coiled or twisted like the styling examples that 790 had showed, the hair seemed to fall vertically, from the top all the way around as far as Stan could tell.
He was distracted from his musings when Kai greeted Xev and then offered her a large armful of vegetation. Hummm, Some of the stalks were rapped in a stiff paper and the entire bundle seemed to be bound together in…. wire!
was elated. There seemed to be several loops of wire binding the various bouquets together. He was so wrapped in though of how he could turn them in to hair faste… pins with out any tools or equipment that he didn’t realize that Kai, Xev and Prince were all looking at him. Stanley
“What?” he asked, startled to be the center of such intense attention.
,” Kai said gravely as Prince captured Xev’s good hand and drew her away from Kai and over to the table. Stanley
“Hi Kai,” Stan said abstractedly. As his eyes followed Prince and Xev. “Here Xev,” he called leaping over to her side of the table, “Let me hold those while you get your bandage fixed.”
Clutching the bouquets Stan gloated inwardly at the stiffness of the thin wire. Going over to sit on the edge of his rumbled bed, he tuned out the conversations between Prince and Xev, and Kai and 790. Cudgeling his brain he tried to decide how best to make hair pins.
It was only when Prince came over to stand in front of him that
became aware that the visit was winding down. Stanley
“Why Stanley,“ Prince murmured looking down at him, and gesturing to the incredibly rumbled bed, “you seem a bit distracted, I do hope you were not too restless last night.”
“Oh, no,” he assured Prince sarcastically, waving one hand in the air dismissively. I always sleep like a baby when I am being held Prisoner.”
“Oh, I am glad to hear that Stan,” Prince answered, responding to his words rather than the tone and meaning behind them. “I would hate to think of you tossing and turning night after night, year after year.”
“Well for your information Prince. I for one do not intend to be here for too much longer, let alone year after year!”
“Well I am sorry to hear that
. Are you planning on quitting this veil of tears soon?” Stanley
“What!?” Stan looked confused, until he caught the reference and then retorted, “Oh, yeah as a matter of fact I am, and * not * in the way you are referring to.
Kai! Stan called, breaking into his conversation with Xev.”
what is it?” Kai asked walking over to him. Stanley
“I was wondering on this hair thing, do we only have one shot at this or can we have a couple of chances to get it right?”
“Well, I would say since there are more than one of you then you should have more than one opportunity to do it.”
“Good, oh and another thing Kai, since 790 doesn’t have any arms, how is he suppose to fix your hair? Seems a bit unfair to leave him here for something he can’t help don’t you think.”
“No,” interjected Prince. “It seems very fair to me. If he can not perform the task then he can’t leave, in fact I believe that all three of you have to succeed before Kai will assist you.”
This statement caused 790 and Xev to erupt into a storm of protests. While Stan and Prince steadily regarded each other.
“Yes and no,” Kai said, recapturing everyone’s attention and gazing steadily at Prince. “The original statement only included Xev and Stan. They have to work together to do my hair, but I did not require that both of them do every stage of it. So long as both contribute to the finished task I will be satisfied.”
“Well I certainly will not!” Prince retorted.
“Perhaps then it is fortunate that your feeling on the matter do not really have any affect on my decision,” Kai countered in a flat cold voice as he tilted his head slightly and gazed steadily at Prince.
“Yeah Kai!” 790 crowed, making a raspberry noise, “That for what prince wants. The only person whose opinion matters is my darling dead man’s.”
Prince narrowed his eyes slightly, a shadow of anger passing across his face, before he schooled in back into a benign grin. “Well,” he said in a light neutral tone, “this has been enlightening. But I think now we should go and continue your assessment and training of my guards Kai. Xev, Stan, you will excuse us now.”
Kai assented, bade Xev, Stanley and 790 goodbye and preceded Prince out the door.
As they traveled down the hall, Kai studied Prince. While on the surface Prince appeared as calm and genial as ever. Kai was able to detect a faint tension and was certain that something was upsetting him.
While glancing down a side corridor that they passed, Prince noticed Kai's regard. "Kai, don't' you think it would be better if you spent more time studying your surroundings rather than me?"
"I am quite aware of what is going on around us Prince," Kai replied calmly. "What I have not yet figured out is why you are so upset."
Prince gave Kai a disdainful look as they continued down the corridor. “Upset, don't be absurd. I am perfectly calm.”
"No,” Kai replied calmly. “You were perfectly calm last night when we parted, but this morning something has unsettled you."
Prince's lips twitched in a small rueful smile. He flicked a quick glance at his dark companion and sighed. "Very well Kai, something has come up since last night. Are you familiar with the ruling structure of this country?"
"No, the dead are not interested in politics."
They walked down the wide stone steps to a small landing. Instead of continuing down to the court yard, Prince paused and headed towards a small door leading to the walkway over the curtain wall. Kai followed him until Prince finally stopped at one of the guard stations on the north defensive point. He dismissed the two rigidly attentive guards with instructions for them to wait for him at the entrance to the castle. As soon as they had passed out of earshot, he leaned against the parapet wall and grimaced.
Prince looked out over the parapet, taking no apparent joy in the bountiful vista spread out before him.
"You see Kai, the Emperor of this country granted me this governorship in exchange for a favor I did him. A trifling thing actually, maneuvering an ambitious cousin of his into a provable treason. Unfortunately, the former governor, instead of returning to his home estates in disgrace went to the capital and has been petitioning to be reinstated. As his wife is very close to the Empress, his case has been heard."
Kai watched Prince carefully looking for unspoken clues to what his thoughts were. "Why would the Emperor care about you, you have skills… of a sort, but no power base or family connections on this world."
"Yet," Kai agreed.
Prince gnawed lightly on one thumbnail as he regarded Kai speculatively. "The Emperor's envoy will be here tomorrow, I imagine he will have a summons with him for me to appear before the Emperor.”
“Perhaps,” Kai said thoughtfully. “But it is also possible that the Emperor’s Envoy will simply imprison or kill you. After all, that will also solve his problem, and he may feel that your possible future services are not as valuable as the family connections of the former governor.”
“Yes, really Prince. Furthermore your body guard and household troops are loyal to the Emperor, not you.”
A sly smile tugged at Prince’s lips, and his voice took on a more cheerful tone. “Well then, isn’t it lucky for me that I have a very skilled bodyguard who is * not * loyal to the Emperor.”
Kai took in Prince’s smug, smile, “If you are referring to me, then you are correct, I am * not * loyal to the Emperor. But the point you are deliberately ignoring is that I am * not * loyal to you either. And as soon as Stanley and Xev fulfill their task, I will leave with them, and then you will have no one to protect you. Perhaps you may wish to rethink your desire be governor.
Prince looked momentarily thoughtful, but then shook his head. “No Kai. I have wasted enough time in starting a power base. After all, even you have no way of knowing how long we will be stuck on this rather boring and backwards little planet, and I do not intend to remain a nobody here any longer.”
Kai regarded Prince without expression. “No one knows. As I explained at the time, the Lexx is a unique evolving insect, and even my memories of His Divine Shadow held no hint that it would molt. Therefore, I have no idea how long it will hibernate.
“In fact,” Prince continued as if Kai had not spoken, leaning back against the sun warmed stones. “In a certain sense I could hold all of you responsible for my being stuck on this miserable mud ball. In that sense, you might * owe * me any assistance I request.”
“The dead do not feel responsibility for the fate of a stowaway,” Kai replied coldly. “And if we are going to discuss what may be owed… in a sense you might *owe * Xev and Stanley for bringing you down to this planet, rather than leaving you up on the Lexx to starve while it went into hibernation. In that sense you’re holding them prisoner is a very poor repayment for their generosity.”
“You know Kai,” Prince smiled slowly, quirking an eyebrow at Kai. “One of the things I like about having you around is your ability to see the darker possibilities of a problem while still maintaining a certain naivety.”
Kai tilted his head slightly to one side and regarded Prince, “While the motivations of the living do not interest me, as an assassin I was trained to consider all their possible actions in any given situation.”
“And you do it very well indeed Kai.” Prince in a warm intimate voice as he placed a hand on Kai’s should and gently steered him back towards the waiting guards. “Yes, I can see where having a bodyguard who is also an assassin might prove handy. I am sure that you took care of more than one officious functionary while working for your Divine Shadow.
The minute Kai and Prince left,
unwound one of the coils of wire from around the various bundles that Kai had left with Xev. Stanley
“Xev,” he said absently, his mind already lost to the problem at hand. “Why don’t you sort through this stuff and see if there is anything else in this bundle that might be useful.”
then turned his attention to the problem at hand; he prodded 790 to display information about metal hair fas…pins. He was making pins he reminded himself. The wire was stiff enough that working it back and forth for a few minutes was enough to break off a section. After he had several sections broke off, he smoothed the sharp edges as best he could on the underside of the stone window ledge. Stanley
Xev glanced over at
and smiled at how focused he was on his project. Stanley
She then bent to the task of sorting through the bundles of vegetation that Kai had brought her. Vegetation was the only way to classified it she thought bemusedly, since it did not by any stretch of the imagination resemble a bouquet. Separating out the flowers for the vase, she then sorted the twigs, grasses, and weed like things into individual bundles and wrapped each separately in some of the plain white paper. She plucked out the broken teasels from her wreath and replaced them with the new, undamaged ones. She was just wrapping the broken bits and old wilted flowers in a bit of the white paper so that they could be disposed of when a brisk knock heralded the return of the morning cleaning crew.
started and then frowned when he noticed that Jayne was not with the other two, never the less he pasted a smile on his face and echoed Xev’s cheerful “Good Morning.” Stanley
Which was again ignored.
Two of the guards stationed themselves inside the closed the door and the crew once again began to briskly clean. The only interaction that Stan or Xev had, was when Xev handed the parcel of trash to the young female, and when the man cleaning the windows and floors pointed silently at 790.
“Oh, sorry”, Stan said jumping up to grab the cranky robot head off the window sill.
“Grrrr,” he growled startling the cleaning maid, who was passing
, to start making the beds. “Nobody better make any plays for my cold hunk of hot love while I’m cooped up in here with these two idiots!” he yelled at her. Stanley
“790!” Stan hissed in a low voice, as the wide eyed maid edged over to the bed. “Stop that right now, or I’m telling Kai!” 790 grumbled a few times but subsided, merely flashing his eyes menacingly at the cleaning crew and making a few low snarls when they passed near.
“Um, excuse me.” Stan said as he withdrew from the area the cleaners were working in and drifted over towards the guards.
“Hi, I’m Stanley H. Tweadle, Captain of the Lexx…,” he sighed. “Or I was the captain… anyhow; do you know where our breakfast is? Will it be here soon?”
The older of the guards looked at
for a long silent minute. “The housekeeper was delayed this morning,” he rumbled in a rough voice. “She will be here shortly.” Stanley
“Ah, thanks.” Said
, waiting hopefully. Unfortunately, no other conversation was vouchsafed to him or Xev, and within a very few minutes the cleaners and the guards withdrew. Stanley
Not quite an hour later, Jayne was escorted into the room by a different guard. Setting the tray on the table, she nodded to him and he exited silently, locking the door behind him.
“Good Morning Captain, Xev,” she greeted them as she uncovered the various dishes and began placing them in front of them.
“Good Morning Jayne,” they chorused, except of course for 790, who merely growled from the window sill.
“I’m sorry I’m late with your breakfast, but I wanted to delay coming until after the regular guards were scheduled for training.”
“Oh really?,” Stan smiled as he reached for a peach-like piece of fruit. “Does that mean you can talk to us this morning?”
Jayne folded her hands in front of her and regarded them gravely, “Exactly how dangerous is this Kai person?”
“Well…,” Stan began taking a deep breath and puffing out his chest.
“Why do you want to know,” Xev interrupted.
Jayne glanced over at Xev, “I have my reasons,” she replied.
“Don’t you dare tell her anything that might imperil my dead-o-lious one!” 790 yelled.
curled his lip and shot an annoyed glance at 790. “Like what?” He inquired sarcastically, “You think she could find a way to make him deader?” Stanley
“Hush, both of you,” Xev said, waving a hand dismissively at Stan and 790. She then turned her attention to Jayne. “Look, you obviously want information from us, well we want information from you too. Perhaps we could trade.”
“Fine, but quickly, I can’t stay long. And you need to eat while we talk, I have to take the trays with me when I leave.” As they resumed eating, she looked at Xev closely. “So how dangerous is this Kai?”
“Very dangerous you hag,” 790 spat from the window sill, “He was a Divine Assassin, and has killed thousands of people. He is virtually an unstoppable killing machine, skilled in tactics only dreamed of on this cesspool of a world.”
“Now it’s our turn to ask a question,” Stan stated just as Jayne started to ask another question. “How would we fix Xev’s hair in a bun that looks like Kai’s, rather than one that looks like yours?”
Of all the questions they could have asked, this was clearly not one that Jayne was expecting. She looked at Stanley with a confused expression, while her lips moved silently repeating his question.
“A bun?” she asked puzzled. “Like the one… Kai has?”
“Yes, you wretched cow, a bun like the one that my beloved corpse-sickle of love wears!” 790 shouted, exasperated.
They watched as Jayne’s expression changed from puzzled to thoughtful. “Well, she said frowning slightly. “I don’t know how he does it, but if I was trying to do it to my hair…” she paused looking up at the ceiling as she concentrated. “I would use a doughnut form of some sort underneath it…. Draw the hair up through the center of it, and then arrange it all around the form, pining it up underneath it.”
She looked at
, re-focusing her eyes and said, “My turn now I think. What do you think this Kai would do if the former governor tried to dispose Lord Prince?” Stanley
“That depends, Xev replied. If the governor threatens Prince with injury or imprisonment he will kill the governor and as many people other people as necessary to protect him. If Prince decided to leave on his own, which is highly unlikely, he would see him safely away, regardless of what the former governor tried to do. Now how could we make one of these doughnut forms using only the materials we have in this room?”
“Could he really do that?” Jayne asked skeptically, then seeing the expressions on Xev and Stanley’s face, she quickly said, “Never mind.”
“A form using only the material in this room?” Jayne began a slow circuit of the room, “Wait, let me think a minute,” she said, absently twitching bed clothes into straighter lines and inspecting furniture for dust as she surveyed the room’s contents. As she passed the window on the way to Stanley’s side of the room, she stopped. Ignoring the growling and muttered insults from 790 she gently removed Xev’s wreath from the window and surveyed it intently. Frowning in concentration, she flicked her eyes from the wreath to the bundles of grasses and twigs that Xev had sorted and wrapped in paper which were lying on the foot of her bed.
“If you took the smaller twigs, and soaked them for a while in the tub to make them more pliable it might be possible to make a small wreath to use as a form.” She set the wreath on the corner of the table and made a small circle with her hands to show them the size she was thinking of. “I’m not sure how you would smooth it out though; perhaps you might be able to cover it with the grasses…. Or a bit of material, like a scarf.” She plucked a few of the grasses from the bundle and wound them around the wreath crosswise from the direction from the twigs.
“Is that how they are made?” Stanley asked eagerly.
She glanced over at him and grimaced, “Well no,” she said, noting the crestfallen look that her words produced. “Usually they are made with a special type of material sewn into a tube which is stuffed and then sewn into a circle, but you have no material of that type or anyway of sewing it into the proper shape.”
Raising her hand, she stopped
from asking another question, “Is there anyway to protect the former governor from this Kai person?” Stanley
790 immediately took exception to her again referring to his beloved stiff as a ‘Kai Person’.
Ignoring the flying insults, Xev’s furrowed her brows as she studied Jayne.
“Shut up 790,” she commanded. “Jayne, if he is the master, why should you care about the former governor?”
“Is it your turn to ask a question?”
“Well, no. But I am curious. I won’t tell Prince of course,” she assured Jayne hurriedly, “and it might help me know how to answer your question.”
After a sharp look at Xev, Jayne began. “I serve this Castle, which like all the fortifications in this land belongs to the Emperor. However…” She stopped, took a deep breath and went on, “However, the former governor was stationed here for fifteen years, I watched some of his children being born. I have cared for his family most of my adult life. One of my daughters is apprenticed to his treasurer, and his recommendation enabled my son to be accepted as a student with the imperial engineers.” She paused. “I would not like to see anything happen to him or his family at the command of Lord Prince.”
Stan felt a warm happy glow come over him, perhaps he thought, things were finally going to go their way. “Well Jayne,” He purred, sounding not unlike Prince for a second, and standing up with a small smile. “I can answer that. If Xev and I learn to fix hair in the style of the Brunnen-g, Kai will make Prince release us, and then we will all leave, taking Kai with us, eliminating him as a danger to your governor.” He noted the skeptical expression flitting across her face and grinned broadly.
a suspicious look, “If this Kai is powerful enough to make Lord Prince release you if you learn to… fix hair, why could he not just free you now? No offence Captain Tweedle, but that does not make a lot of sense to me.” Stanley
It took a few minutes to explain to Jayne how they had come to be in this predicament. And a just a little longer to explain their current progress. The entire conversation threatened to bog down on the why’s of Kai’s seemingly irrational demands, until Stanley finally pointed out, ‘The dead do not have to make sense.’
Although still a bit confused and disbelieving, Jayne seemed to quickly reach a decision as she heard a rattle in the door lock. “Here,” she hissed, swiftly snatching a few pins out of her hair and thrusting them at Xev.
As the door swung open Jayne hastily placed Xev’s mostly untouched plate on the tray, and began to gather up all the rest of the breakfast dishes.
, glanced at the door and snagged a piece of bread and a few small sausages placing them out of sight under the table just as his plate was whisked away. Stanley
As soon as the door shut behind Jayne,
offered a share of the bread and sausages. Stanley
"No thanks Stan," Xev said, showing him the fragrant yellow fruit that she had snatched off the tray as Jayne was turning to leave. "You keep them, I'll eat this."
They grinned at eat other as they ate the flinched food. It wasn't much, but it would tide them over until dinner.
"Tell you what Xev, from now on, while one of us talks the other one should eat."
"No, Stan, I'll tell you what. You finish up your hair pins, and I will make this bun form thing and we will be out of here by Breakfast! Oh! Speaking of pins, here."
Swallowing the last bit of sausage into his mouth,
accepted the hair pins from Xev. Stanley
"Great Xev. Using these as a pattern, I should have some pins made in an
hour or so. How long do you think it will take you to make a form?"
Prince glanced out his open office window, down into the courtyard Kai was teaching advanced hand to hand fighting techniques to a few dozen of his more trusted guards. The men chosen by Prince for the advanced training were ones he had marked as dissatisfied with either the emperor or the former governor.
Satisfied that Kai was within call should he be required, Prince turned his attention to the report he had just received from one of his spies.
A shadow fell upon his face as he opened the report and read the news contained within. While this spy was a low level personage and was unable to confirm what the Emperors envoy was charged to do, he did add the unwelcome news that the former governor was traveling in the envoy's company, and was apparently in very high spirits.
Fortunately, no one was near to see the change that came over Prince. His face darkened and his eyes narrowed into malevolent slits. If someone had been present, they would have had the uncanny sensation that the light was fleeing from the room as Prince's narrowed eyes flashed in the gathering shadows. Prince sat very still, his face briefly contorting into something that was unpleasantly not quite human.
Few things angered Prince more than someone *not * honoring their deal. While there could be several reasons that the former governor was traveling here, and in good spirits, this had the look of a broken deal. Perhaps the emperor did not realize how important it was that people honor their agreements.
Finally the stillness broke and an evil grin slid across Prince’s face. Perhaps, he thought as he stoked his lower lip, his advancement in this country was going to come sooner than later. After all, if the emperor wishes to disregard his previous agreement… Prince glanced out of the window, his grin widening at the sight of the dead man.
Prince reflected on how very pleasant it would be to bait this envoy into attempting to do him physical harm in the emperor’s name. That would surely invoke a protection response from Kai. And if the actual threat of violence came from the Emperor, well then the only way that he could be completely safe was if the Emperor was also eliminated. Prince was very sure that he could convince Kai of this necessity, especially if the conflict endangered Stanley and Xev also.
Xev grimaced as she exited the sanitary chamber and glanced over at the intent
. He seemed totally focused and confident in his project and was busily smoothing his bits of wire on the stone windowsill while apparently singing under his breath some fast little tune that he was smoothing, bobbing and toe tapping to. Stanley
Several hours of soaking small branches and getting sopping wet had yielded her one rather lumpy and uneven wreath. She was amazed at how much harder it was to weave the little wreaths. She had lost count of the number of them that had fallen apart in her hands, forcing her to start over and over again. And no amount of twisting or tucking was sufficient to get her a symmetrical wreath that was even worth trying to wrap for smoothness.
With one last squeeze, trying to force the wreath into a more circular shape, Xev placed the misshaped little bundle of twigs on the table. Dropping down in her chair, she sighed silently and examined her red, sore hands. What she wouldn’t give for a proper form, like the ones that Jayne had described.
Leaning back, she was hard pressed not to be annoyed with
. He had two largish piles of metal wire he was working on, apparently one finished and one not. Granted he still had to bend them into shape, but that did not seem like it would be much of a difficulty for him. While she was of course glad that the hair pin problem was being solved, Stanley’s happy demeanor was irritating her. Stanley
Xev leaned her head back and tried to think of a way to even out her wreath. Of course, since she had been thinking of nothing else since beginning it, no new idea presented itself. Pressing her hands to her temples, she tried to ignore the tapping and scratching sounds and think! Unfortunately the scratching noise was necessary… and
would have to be barefoot before the tapping noise would be low enough not to be irritating. With a mental snort at the chances of Stanley taking off his boots for anything short of sex, Xev pressed her hands over her ears and closed her eyes. After all, she wasn’t that desperate to see Stan in his shorts and socks even if it meant a few minutes of blessed silence. Stanley
Xev’s eyes flew open as she jumped from her chair. Socks! Little fabric tubes that could be stuffed with, with… grass!
“I find it difficult to ignore your useless existence when you jump around like that,” 790 groused from the corner of Stan’s bed. “Obviously your drowning of defenseless vegetation didn’t work, so why don’t you go try it on yourself?”
“Shut up 790. Stanley,” she called. “Stan, I need your socks, quick give them to me.”
“My socks? Xev are you nuts?”
“Yes… no… grrrr,” she growled almost stamping her feet in impatience. “Give me your socks... Now. Right now. I want to use them to make a bun form with.”
lay down the piece of wire he had been smoothing and stood up shaking his head. With a slight groan he straightened up his back, and stretched, while he considered Xev’s odd request. An irreverent part of his brain whispered to him that men who were four thousand and forty plus years old, did not need to spend that much time being hunched over. Stanley
“Now Xev, what are you planning? And why can’t you use something besides my socks? These are brand new. Do you know how long it has been since I had a pair of brand new socks?”
“Yes, since yesterday.” She retorted completely unmoved by the wistful note in his voice. “Now hand them over Stan.”
hung his head grimacing. “You know I meant before that. Besides, the cleaning lady took those back. These are new, and soft, and clean….” His voice took on a plaintive note, “Do you really have to have my socks?” Stanley
Xev advanced on him holding out her hand and grinning. “Hand ‘em over Stan.”
“Cripes, talking a man’s socks…” he grumbled as he dropped down on the bed and began unlacing his nifty new shoes.
790 hooted at bit at the bouncing he took as Stan flopped down on the bed. “Watch it Tweedle, you almost knocked me over!”
“Oh. Sorry robot head.” He apologized with an unrepentant tone, rolling his eyes a bit. “Heavens knows we wouldn’t want to do that…”
“What we would really like to do is kick you across the room….” He groused in a low undertone as he took off his left sock and handed it to the waiting Xev.”
Without even waiting for Stan to hand it to her, Xev snatched the second sock from his reluctant fingers the moment he pulled it off his foot. She then dashed into the sanitary chamber and immediately began hand washing the socks. Using one of the thick fluffy bath towels she squeezed the last of the water from the thin material and then placed the almost dry socks on the metal warming element in the bathroom to finish drying.
“I hope you’re happy Xev.”
grumped from his resumed spot at the window. Stanley
“Oh Stan, I just know this is going to work, you watch, we will be out of here by breakfast.”
Xev’s smile blazed as she began sorting her grasses from the plants and meeting her glance, Stan couldn’t resist grinning back as he returned to work on his hair pins.
With a bit of grudging information from 790, Xev was able to stuff one of the now dry socks and tie both ends in what she and 790 judged to be the proper length, she then tucked the knotted side into the stuffing. After a bit of rolling the tube on the table, it had a uniform thickness. She then tore a hole in the toe of the other sock, doubled it in half and carefully worked it over her tube to use as a sleeve joint. While this worked, it was not a very sturdy ring and the tube had a tendency to separate under the joining sleeve no matter how carefully she worked.
“You really are a stupid cow aren’t you Xev?” 790 inquired in a casual voice after repeated attempts to keep a dip from appearing in the ring.
, looked up from his work and frowned. He had spent the last hour sandwiching the top half of the metal wires carefully between two window blind slats. Holding this tightly together he then used the stone window sill to bend then evenly around one side of the thin wooden slats. He had found that a final pinch at the ends, resulted in a very close cousin to the pins that Jayne had left as samples. Stanley
“You just stop that right now you hunk of junk,” he demanded. “Xev, you are doing a great job, don’t listen to that refugee from a trash heap.”
“Oh all right, I am sorry I called you a stupid cow. After all, you are more like a pig’s ear that has been made into a silk purse.”
Stan gathered up his pins and his chair and moved over to the table, smacking the robot head as he passed. “Look we can figure this out,” he said sitting down across from Xev. “After all, we are almost there.”
Xev smiled at Stan, but then noticed the sky outside the window.
“Stan! The sun is setting! We have to get this place cleaned up!”
For various reasons, many people were not resting easily this evening at the castle.
A new set of guards listened and took notes as the dark man lectured them on potential ambush areas inside the castle and how to prepare defenses against them.
Jayne, worried over the impending arrival of the Emperors envoy. She was almost certainly going to be closely questioned about Stanley, Xev and Kai after giving her normal report. She regretted not being able to arrange an opportunity to talk to Stanley and Xev this evening as she could tell that they were excited about something. Unfortunately she could not be absolutely sure what it might be. However, she did not get her present position by being unprepared. Sighing, she got up. Perhaps it would be best if she gathered a few things this evening. Just in case.
Prince stroked the fur in his ceremonial robes and adjusted the position of the heavy gold chain of office. Turning away from the outfit, he pondered his preparations for tomorrow. A smile flitted across his lips at the thought of how surprised the Emperors envoy was going to be, should he attempt to affect any changes not to Prince’s liking.
Yawing, Xev got up and began peeling as best she could the two aloevera
leaves she had left from treating her hand. While her hand still hurt a
bit, the sticky juice from the leaves were needed to help hold her hair in
place. Frowning in concentration, Xev put the peeled leaves into a flattish soap dish she had taken from the sanitary chamber. She used the base of her now empty vase as a pestle to carefully mash and grind the alovera.
"Okay Xev, it is all yours," Stan told her as he reentered the room washed and dressed. "How is the sticky stuff working?"
Xev looked up smiling, "Oh Stan, I think this will solve our problem of the
hair not laying smoothly and pulling away and flying around when it dries."
"Good. Um, anything I can do?" He called as she exited the room with the vase and soap dish full of pale green goo.
"Not just this minute," she said, carefully wiping the base of the vase off
with wet fingers and directing the last of the liquid towards the soap dish. "I
am just going to add a bit more water and let it set up while I get ready." A very short time later, Xev was seated at the table and
working on her freshly washed hair.
smiled to himself as he considered the fix they might have been in, if Stanley
790 had not been comparing Xev to a sow's ear last night. After rapping him
smartly, Stan had demanded that 790 research all the fasteners that could be
made using the materials they had at hand. Still spouting vitrol, 790 had
suggested that since underneath it all Xev was a pig, and the bun form was
going on her fat head, he suggested that they use hog rings to fasten together
her lame excuse for a project. A short time, and a few shaped pieces of wire
later, both ends of the bun form was securely joined together. The C shaped
fasting rings were covered by the sleeve sock and the entire form was now
stable enough to use.
pulled Xev's hair up through the form and laying it in place, he Stanley
occasionally dipped his fingers into Xev's greenish goo to smooth her hair into place.
Working at a fairly rapid pace, he was able to get the bun form evenly covered and Xev's hair securely pinned into place with out too much criticism from 790. "Oh sorry Xev," he apologized as an improperly smoothed hair pin caused her to wince.
"It is not your fault Stan, we just don't have any of that dried resin stuff on
the tips of yours like the ones that Jayne gave us."
"Well pay attention to what you are doing Tweedle and quit worrying about Xev. You have to make every pin count if you are going to try to do this with out
using the pins that woman gave you," 790 grumped. "After all we don't want to
give Prince a chance to pull a technicality on us.
"Yeah right, you stupid robot head,"
retorted as moved the two love Stanley
locks out of his way and brushed out the remaining hair for the braid. Stan had
become amazing adept with using the teasel brush and soon had the side area's
of Xev's hair smoothed back and gathered into the beginning of a tight braid.
"You ready?" he asked.
"I think so Stan," Xev answered as reached back and took the separated bunches of hair from him.
followed Xev into the sanitary chamber to supervise as she finished the bottom half of the braid. Stanley
"Looks good Xev," he told her as he secured it with a hair band and gently pulled the love locks into place.
Xev turned back to the mirror and studied her reflection for a moment before
with a wide happy smile. "Oh Stan, we did it. We did it," she laughed. Stanley
Smiling smugly, Stan went into the main room and began to clean up their work area. "Sit down Xev, let me get this stuff. We don't want to dislodge your hair before Prince and Kai get here."
rinsed out the remaining goo and replaced the soap dish in the sanitary chamber. He also stuck the teasels back into the wreath and Stanley
used the left over hair bands to join a few clumps of flowers together before
replacing them in the vase. "I think that is everything put back or hid," he
said as he sat down across the table from Xev and admired their handy work.
Down in the housekeeping area, Jayne was now on the move. She had been delaying taking breakfast and her cleaning staff up to the prisoners until she got word from one of her trusted upper floor house maids. The message her breathless maid gave her was that Lord Prince had just left his chambers dressed for the Envoy's impending arrival and was being accompanied by the Dark man. Since the she was closer to the prisoners, she was able to catch a glimpse of Lord Prince at the end of the long hallway just as he was entering their room.
"They're coming," 790 hissed from his perch on the center of the table.
Stan and Xev exchanged big grins and then turned to face the door, not wanting to miss the look on Prince's face when he saw Xev's hair.
Prince’s reaction as he came through the door was all that they could have hoped for. He was richly garbed with velvet and furs with an enormous gold chain of office glowing across his chest. The moment he saw them, the smug self
satisfied smile ran from his face and his cheery sarcastic greeting died in mid
So suddenly did Prince stop in the door way, only Kai's superior reflexes kept
him from knocking into Prince. Kai's immediate swing to high alert at the
sudden stop were calmed as he searched the room over Princes shoulder and saw no immediate threat, but only Xev and
sitting at the table. Stanley
"Good morning Prince," Xev cooed with a wicked grin.
"Hi Kai, hey Prince, good to see ya buddy"
called jovially. Stanley
"My darling corpse," 790 cried. "At last we can be reunited!"
Being the consummate schemer that he was, it took Prince mere seconds to
regroup his composure and continue into the room.
"Why Xev," he caroled, only the hardness in his eyes giving lie to the light
cheerful utterances. "You have made some great progress."
"Progress my behind Prince,"
smirked stepping forward and addressing Kai. "We learned how to fix hair in Brunnen-G style, can we go now?" Stanley
Kai walked over to Xev and examined her hair, and then looked at
. "This is very good," he acknowledged studying Stan. "Did Xev help or did you do it by yourself?" Stanley
Ignoring the glare from Prince, Xev lifted her chin and answered proudly. "I
figured out how to do the bun form, keep the hair smooth and did the braid. You
can ask 790 if you don't believe me, he recorded lots of it."
Kai looked at Xev and then glanced at Prince.
"And I told them how to do the braid, fasten the hair, and hold the form
together." 790 interjected.
Really?" Prince murmured. "Hummm. And how exactly did you fasten the hair? Or comb it for that matter?"
"Uh, Prince? Stan said, folding his arms and cocking an eyebrow at him. "I
don't think that is any of your business really. It wasn't easy, and you sure
didn't do anything to make it easier, but we did it, and we certainly don't
have to explain how we did it to you. The only person here who has to be
satisfied is Kai, so you need to butt out!"
Prince narrowed his eyes at the insolent posture and tone that
wasusing. It did not take a trained assassin’s powers of observation to know that Prince was furious. However, since Kai could easily control Prince, Stan did not feel much inclined to worry about any plans of Prince's that their release might Stanley
While Stanley and Prince glared at each other, Xev moved close to Kai and did a slow graceful twirl that caused her blue dress to float about her.
"Well Kai? She inquired. Have we learned what you wanted us to know? Can we leave now?
"Now wait just one minute Kai! You seem to forget that while you made an agreement with them, you also made one with me." Prince's eyes flashed as he glared at Stan and Xev. His voice deepened with menace, "And I do not like it when people break their agreements."
Kai stepped past Xev and motioned
to pick up 790. "I have fulfilled my agreement with you. I only agreed to work in your service * until * Stan and Xev learned this thing, which they have. Therefore, I have kept my word to you, and I now intend to keep my word to them." Stanley
by the arm as he reached for 790, Prince pulled him across the table and thrust his face close. As they looked eye to eye, Stanley could see that Prince was red faced with fury. All of his urban poise and mannerisms were gone as he glared at Stan."Tell me," he spat eyes dark with rage. "Tell me who helped you." Stanley
"No one." Stan snapped, trying to shake his arm free. "Let go! We figured it out ourselves, no thanks to you!"
"Let him go Prince, we are leaving now," said Kai as he reached over the table to pick up 790.
"Oh my darling, I love it when you are stern," trilled the excited robot head.
"You're lying." Prince snarled stalking towards the door and throwing it open. "You and Xev could not figure your way out of a bad dream with out assistance!"
The guards in the hallway came to full alert at the tone in Prince's voice. The ones closest to the door obeyed his waved command to enter the room.
"Stop!" He called as Xev took the robot head from Kai and then they moved towards the door. Walking over to Xev, Prince struggled to regain his calm, reaching out for Xev's hand. "Now Xev, you can't leave yet, we need to make a deal* about * what provisions you will need for the remainder of your stay on this planet* And you’re keeping these fine new clothes."
As quickly as clouds blown away on a bright summer day, Prince's expression cleared and he regained his persuasive tone. He continued clasping her good hand and drawing her off to one side. "I'll tell you what, if Kai stays here until tomorrow morning, and you can have those clothes and I will even make you honored guests at the banquet tonight," he offered, folding her hand in his and clasping to his chest to draw her nearer. Ignoring the sputtering robot head in her arms, he moved closer until he was blocking her view of Kai and Stanley. "Then tomorrow, perhaps we can work out a deal that will allow me occasional access to Kai and 790 and allow you and Stanley to live in some comfort while you are stuck on this miserable mud ball of a planet."
Xev was mesmerized by his intensity of his gaze. Unable to move or even breathe until Kai broke the mood.
"We do not need to make a deal for that," Kai said. "We found lodgings and support when we came here, and can do so again. And as for the other* you *gave * them the clothes, just like Xev gave you her comb. You chose to keep the comb, they can choose to keep the clothes."
Taking advantage of Kai's distraction of Prince, Xev slipped her hand free and began to ease around Prince towards
"Now Kai, let's not be hasty." Prince said turning and trailing after Xev. "I can make them much more comfortable with my resources than you could as a huntsman. Really, that squalid little cottage buried in the woods, it just simply does not bear thinking of does it?" Noting the narrowing of Kai's eyes, Prince hastened to add, "Although I did think that you showed remarkable flexibility and considerable ingenuity in translating your skills to that position. I congratulate you on that. It just shows how valuable your assistance could be. And Kai, make no mistake, I am willing to pay for your assistance quite handsomely."
Kai frowned, studying Prince intently. "We will do as Stanley and Xev wish."
"Well I wish to get my butt out of here and so does Xev, come on Xev, let’s go.
"Yeah! We're leaving! Just me and my dead man, alone in the woods."
"Oh. And for your information, I was the one who found the huntsman job and negotiated the salary for it. Xev helps find the wolves, bears and boars using her cluster lizard sense of smell. And after Kai kills them, I take the identifying bits into town to provide proof of our kill and pick up our pay. We're a team you know!"
, I am most impressed. I didn't think you had it in you quite honestly. Stanley
Prince sighed, "Oh, well. If that is how you feel about it. Guards! If any of them move kill Stanley!"
“Me?” Stan yelped, “Why me?”
“Yes kill him,” 790 urged.
“790, be silent.” Kai said.
Prince was quite satisfied that his threat was having the desired affect. A few comments, but no one moved. He quickly checked to make sure that Stanley was between him and Kai, no sense in taking chances after all. “Restrain him,” he ordered the guards gesturing towards
. “Don’t move Stanley ,” he said smiling as the obedient guards began to move warily into the room. “I would hate for them to have to kill you, it might upset Kai, and we don’t want that do we?” Stanley
“Yes we do!” 790 shouted.
“790, shut up.” Xev said, giving the robot head a small shake, stopping when she saw one of the guards, flick his gaze her way.
“The dead do not get upset,” Kai said. “You know that.”
“True,” said Prince. “But you might do something that would upset me, and we don’t want that do we?”
“We certainly do!” Xev said, glaring at Prince, but still not moving.
Noting Kai’s almost imperceptible shifting of position; Prince moved close beside
and tossed a mocking smile to Kai. Stanley
,” Prince said, not taking his eyes off of Kai. “Perhaps this would be a good time to reconsider your desire to leave without coming to some sort of accommodation with me. After all, Kai said he would do as you and Zev wished…. we are all reasonable people here, I am sure some sort of compromise can be worked out.” Stanley
felt strangely calm despite the fact that he was, once again in mortal peril. Oh, there was panic there, welling up inside him, but… he almost felt like he was not really part of what was going on. Kai was scanning from Prince to the guards and back again. No surprise there, Kai always kept his eye on the main threat. Xev and 790 were watching Kai intently, again no surprise. Prince was watching Kai, as were the guards, as they slowly advanced towards him as commanded. Startled, Stanley realized that no one was watching him. Without thinking, Stanley threw himself sideways at Prince, grabbing his robe and trying to maneuver him so that he stood between Stan and the guards. Stanley
!” Xev cried as Kai shoved her and 790 towards the wall, and then began targeting the guards rushing towards Stan. Stanley
Transferring his hold to the front of Prince’s robes,
whirled Prince in a circle crying, “get ‘em Kai!” Just as Prince struck him with sharp blows to his unprotected sides. Stanley
Cries of confusion, command and pain erupted from various areas of the room as Prince and
struggled, and the guards tried to fend off Kai’s brace wrapping a cable around them at knee level. Stanley
Xev, quickly placed 790 down by the wall, pausing only long enough to obey his shrieks that he be turned so he could see his corpse of delight. Looking up, she saw Kai begin to tighten his hold on the guards. Xev danced impatiently by the wall, waiting for an opening so she could slip past without crossing near the guards and help Stan.
was not having a good day. Granted he was still alive, but that was possibly the only thing going his way now. He tried warding off blows by shifting his body, but unless he released his hold on Prince, he couldn’t really defend himself that well. And for some reason, he felt that giving Prince a chance to break out of the fight personally… was a bad thing to do. Prince was enough of a pain in close quarters, but Stan was sure he could cause worse trouble if he was not kept occupied. Stanley
“You’ll never win
,” Prince snarled. Very soon reinforcements will arrive and you will all be overwhelmed even Kai.” Stanley
Before Stan could reply, Prince struck a low hard blow.
’s knees buckled and his eyes widened like saucers, only his grip on Prince’s robes kept him from collapsing to the floor. Seizing the advantage, Prince punched both fists up between him and Stan forcing his arms apart to break Stan’s hold on his robe. Stanley
Prince was breathing heavily but his lips curled into a sneer as he aimed a kick at the fallen man’s ribs.
Xev cried out as
fell heavily backwards. Darting around Kai, she barreled into Prince, knocking him sideways. Prince staggered a moment trying to keep his footing, but he fell over Stanley, crashing to the floor with Xev on top of him keening her cluster lizard cry. Stanley
With a quick twist, Prince knocked Xev off of his back. “Oh, no you don’t,” he growled as she tried to scramble upright. Continuing his roll, his hand found her braid and yanked her backwards as she tried to regain her footing.
Kai, flicked his wrist and brought the brace back to its sheath. Reaching out, almost casually, he picked up a chair and slammed it against the stone wall. After a moment, he broken off enough that he was left with a decent length club which he brought down on the head of the first guard jumping up from the ground. His next swing knocked aside a sword thrusting towards him, and then took care of the other guards in very short order.
“Ohhhhhhhhhhhh Kai. I just love it when you get rough,” moaned 790.
Ignoring the robot head, Kai glanced over to see Prince straddling Xev, but leaning backwards hands clutching his heavy chain of office, trying to keep an enraged, breathless
from strangling him with it. Judging that he had a moment to spare, Kai darted to the door to make sure that no crossbow men were headed their way as re-enforcement. Stanley
“Quickly,” Jayne hissed as he looked up the hallway. “I hear the guards coming up the central stair.”
Kai stepped back into the room, casually kicked a guard who was stirring in the head and then went to retrieve 790. “Stanley, leave him and help Xev up, we need to leave.”
“I’m. Going. To. Kill. Him,” Stan grunted face red with effort.
, we have to leave now.” Stanley
Stan threw a exacerbated look over his shoulder and then strained trying to draw the chain tighter. Prince fell forward gasping as that final tug caused the chain to break. Xev, pushed him off of her, and accepted a trembling, sweaty offer of assistance from Stanley.
“I’ll get you,” Prince gasped crawling to his knees. “One way or another.” *coff* “I’ll get you.” Had he not been facing away from them, he might have been surprised at the look of utter irritation that passed over Stanley’s sweaty face.
Of course, Prince would have also been surprised at the business like way
folded the heavy chain in half, took a step back towards him and then swung the chain sharply down on the back of his head. “And that,” Stanley told the motionless form sprawled on the floor, “Is for messing up Xev’s hair.” Stanley
“Oh Stan.” Xev laughed as she hugged him, tears bright in her eyes.
“Hey, hey. Xev, come on, let’s get out of here.
“Come, we must hurry,” Kai told them, handing 790 to
They ran from the room. Jayne was waiting for them in the hall. “This way,” she hissed, running away from the central hall. The next few minutes were a dizzying scramble down narrow service stairs, through long galleries, back hallways and then finally fetching up by a ground floor door opening out to the work yard.
Xev, who had been shedding hair pins the entire trip, pulled the bun form off her head and pushed her hair from her eyes, just in time to see Jayne pull a small bundle from a storage cabinet by the door.
“Here are your things,” she said, thrusting the bundle into Xev’s arms. “Beside the stables, you will find three horses saddled and ready to go. There may be a few boys there waiting for my housemaids to bring out the alms bundles that I am sending to the village. Don’t hurt them, they’re young, a few shouts should send them running.”
“We won’t hurt them,” Kai told her opening the door. Xev, hugged her quickly, and then followed after Kai.
“Jayne, I don’t know how to thank you,” said
, snatching up her hand, and holding it tightly. Stanley
“Taking the dark man away from here quickly is all the thanks I need Captain Stanley.”
,” Xev hissed, reaching in the door way and tugging at his sleeve. “Kai said to come now!” Stanley
“Goodbye Captain,” Jayne said, drawing her hand away.
Taking the door key off the wall, she watched them through the small window, as she locked the door. Walking back towards the hallway, she casually tossed the key ring behind a stack of boxes waiting to be carried down to the basement. And then adjusting her apron, she sailed back to her duties, mentally reviewing what would be needed to erase all signs of Prince in the Governor’s chambers.
As soon they had fled the castle it became apparent that flight was going to be no easy matter. Stanley could hear cries going up from the battlement, and signal mirrors began flashing from hill top to hill top. Panting heavily as he ran, he spared a lamented their lack of horses. He wondered what chores Jayne would have in store for the boys who *weren’t* beside the stables with their horses as they had been told to be. If he hadn’t been so winded, he would have sighed in regret. But Kai had judged that saddling horses would take too long, even if it could have been done without raising more of an alarm.
Shouting at them to hurry, Kai had them dive behind a small out cropping just seconds before a large troop of guards came pelting down the track. Panting, Xev watched the guards disappear around the bend. But in response to a hurried whisper from Kai, she and Stanley remained where they were.
“Wait,” Kai hissed. “Stanley, be ready to come assist me when I call you.”
And then Kai scrambled over the outcrop to clamber into the foliage of a small tree by the road.
“Here Xev, take this,” Stan said thrusting 790 at her. As he handed the growling robot head over, he became aware of the heavy jeweled chain wrapped tightly around his fist. “Take this too,” he told her dropping the very heavy chain into her out stretched hands. “Wrap 790 in our bundle and stick this in with him, we don’t want to loose it. If Prince does manage to get a hold of us again, he might be a bit pissed if we don’t have it to return to him.”
Xev wrapped the protesting 790 with their clothes she tucked the chain securely into the bundle while Stan turned his attention to Kai.
After several moments another detachment of troops could be heard thundering towards them. Apparently this some what smaller troop was exactly what Kai was waiting for. Waiting until the first few horse men had passed, Kai shot his brace across the track latching it onto a small sapling on the other side of the road. He then quickly pulled out a bit more slack and looped around the upper trunk of the tree he was perched in. He managed to get it tight, just as the last few stragglers raced towards his position.
Kai grunted as he strained to hold the cable tight while it swept the last four riders off their horses.
After releasing and recalling the brace, Kai leapt down to the road. “
, come quickly!” he called as he kicked one of the fallen riders in the back and then snatched up the man’s sword. Before they could recover and untangle from their horses, Kai whirled through their mist, using the pommel of the sword to render them unconscious. He was able to snatch the bridle of one of the tangled horses, and used his brace to trip up another. Stanley
“Here Stan, hold this,” he called thrusting the bridle at Stan and then dashing over to where the fallen house was floundering to regain its footing. He had just grabbed the side of its bridle when the horse reared, dragging the Brunen-g high into the air.
gasped as he watched Kai being tossed about, but then his attention was taken up by the horse he was holding. He managed to hold the horse tightly and even gain some control over it by the time Kai came running up the road followed by the wild eyed horse he was leading. Stanley
“Quick Xev,” Kai called. “Those two horses that escaped will have alerted the riders in the front that there is a problem.”
Panting, and only a little wild eyed himself,
managed to hold the horse steady enough to enable Xev to scramble up on it. Stanley grabbed the pommel and stepped into Kai’s cupped hands and was boosted up behind Xev. Stanley
“Kai!” Stan yelled, “I don’t know how to drive one of these things!”
“Both of you hang on!” Kai called back, mounting his own horse. “I have the reins.”
And hang on they did, as Kai managed to get both horses turned around and running down the track away from the castle.
As he had expected, they were met only a few minutes later, by the front riders, who had turned to find out what had happened to the rest of the unit.
Kai’s brace managed to slice the reins of one of the two horses, and then the saddle strap on the other. This gave the guards something else to worry about. Plowing into the thick of the remaining riders, Kai used his brace to disarm two of the other riders, but it was Xev who really put them to rout. Apparently the already upset horses, did not like the keening of a Cluster Lizard, and they swerved away from her and Stanley.
“Watch it Xev!” Stan screamed as their own horse tried to rear. Both of them nearly fell off the horse as Kai jerked the reins and they continued pressing their way thru to the clear road ahead.
Once clear of the guards, Kai called for them to hang on as he whipped his horse to greater speed. When they passed an area where the banks of the road rose too high to let the following horse men spread out, he turned in his saddle using his brace to lop off a large overhanging branch behind them. He did this several times, where the road had sharp bends with high banks.
“Kai!” Xev called, “Where are we going!”
Stan looked behind them; occasionally he would catch glimpses of the guards following them. While there did seem to be less of them, they were still following them. Thundering down the track they grew closer and closer to the forest. Unfortunately, the guards also grew closer and closer, and the horse carrying Xev and Stanley was starting to falter.
Kai pulled their horse level with his and shouted, “Stan, take the reins, follow this road and don’t, don’t go into the forest! Just wait for me outside of it, I will be along soon!”
“I can’t drive a horse Kai!” Stan protested as he scrambled for the reins. Kai struck a sharp blow to the rump of their flagging horse, and he and Xev both yelped when the horse jumped and surged ahead.
Kai wrestled his horse around to face the track, that he had been trained in many forms of transportation, did not mean that horses necessarily approved of strange riders.
Stan struggled with the galloping horse, “Xev I think something is wrong with this one, it’s blowing foam all over the place!” He wrestled ineffectively with the reins. But the horse was too excited to pay attention to such feeble attempts to control it.
!! Stop it, stop it!” Xev screamed as the forest grew closer. Stanley
cursed and 790 yelled advice that was too muffled to hear as the horse took the bit between his teeth and plunged into the overgrown forest road. Ducking low against the horses back, Stan and Xev managed to avoid being scraped off by the low branches whipping over their heads. Stanley
“790!” Xev screamed, as the horse stumbled over a encroaching tree root, regaining its footing with a hard jolt.
made a desperate lunge and managed to snag the bundle as it bounced from Xev’s arms, but the momentum of this triumphant catch was too much. He gave a wordless cry as he rolled off the horse, grazed a passing tree trunk before collapsing at the side of the road. Stanley
Xev’s last glimpse of Stan before she was whisked deeper into the forest was his arms falling away from his body as the bundle containing 790 rolled into the windblown debris that lined the road.
Jumping off of his horse Kai turned to face their pursuers. Seeing him standing in the road, the lead riders pulled their swords. The one flowing to the right attempted a head cut. Kai swayed away and then grabbed his arm, yanking him off his horse as he flew into the path of the horse on the right.
Kai ducked several other sword thrusts and used his brace to pull the other three riders off their horses as they streamed past him. He then turned to face the lone remaining guard on a horse. Jumping aside, just as the horse would have run him down, he grabbed the bridle with one hand as he jerked the surprised rider off the horse with this other. Kai swung up on the horse, ran it into the midst of the guards who where regrouping, knocking them aside again, and then scattered their horses before him as he galloped down the road towards the forest. The horses he had been driving before him, eventually scattered into small clearings on either side of the road. Feeling that they were far enough from their riders to avoid quick recapture, he barreled back down the track towards the forest.
He noted that Xev and Stan were not waiting for him at the entrance of the forest. Since he had calculated that this might be the case, he plunged into the forest ducking low and keeping a close watch out for signs of them. Kai hadn’t gone very far into the forest before he came upon a dusty Stanley who was backed up against a large tree trunk wielding a large tree branch.
“Geeze Kai, you startled me.”
where is Xev?” Kai said, as he brought his horse to a stop. Stanley
“The horse wouldn’t stop, and I fell trying to keep from losing 790.”
Kai glanced at the stray leaves caught in Stan’s clothing, noted the bruise on his cheek and the bloody scratches on the backs of his hands. His attention was then drawn to the shrieking bundle at the base of Stan’s tree.
get 790, we need to go get Xev. This forest is not safe you know.” Stanley
Tell me about it,” Stan muttered as he retrieved the bundle of their belongings that the robot was wrapped in.
“790, we need you to be quiet now,” Kai told the noisy bundle.
“Kai, Kai my beloved is that you?”
“Yes 790, it is me, and now I need to listen if we are going to escape, you need to be silent if we are going to stay free. Do you understand?”
“Oh yes my deadman of delight, what ever you say.”
Kai reached down and pulled
up behind him on the horse. “ Stanley , keep your eyes on the trees above us, I will search for Xev.” Stanley
“Sure Kai, but what am I looking for?”
“Something that you will not want to see
They rode at a steady pace for perhaps five minutes, then Kai whispered, “
, be quiet, we are getting closer.” Stanley
Stan listened. Did he hear something up ahead?
Kai slipped down off of the horse, motioned
to get down and then tethered the horse to a near by branch. Slipping silently up to Stanley he whispered in his ear to take 790 and continue following the trail on foot. Quietly. Before Stan could reply, Kai melted away into the woods. Stanley
“Come on you stupid thing, turn around.” Ignoring her, as he had for most of her ride, the horse stood in the middle of the path, breathing heavily. Xev, tugged on its mane and drummed her heels against its sides. She debated letting go of the mane, to grab the sting things that
had been holding, but decided against that. With her luck, that would most likely be the moment the stupid thing would break in to a run again. Stanley
Xev around. She suddenly had the feeling that she was being watched. She narrowed her eyes as a strange scent wafted past her. Abruptly, her horse began tossing its head nervously and she heard a faint rustling above her. Before Xev could react the horse reared, Screaming in panic. Xev’s grip on its mane enabled her to keep her seat, but she started to slide off as it slammed back down to the ground and then spun around abruptly. Tumbling to the ground, Xev rolled though the leaf mold and branch bit, trying to avoid flashing hoofs as the horse reared one more time and then fled back down the path.
A strange bird like creature descended from the tree canopy. “I told you, you were making too much noise,” it cried as it landed on the path near Xev.
Xev scrambled backwards, “I didn’t say anything,” she said in a choked voice.
The dun colored bird snapped its teeth together in irritation as it casually wrapped its long tail tightly around Xev’s left ankle. “I was not taking to you,” it said, as two similar creatures descended to perch on a thick branch above them.
“Mother, make him share,” the smaller of the two creatures on the branch begged.
The much larger, brighter, purple scaled creature made a soothing sound as it surveyed Xev. “Now, my precious hatchlings, there is no need to fight. I’m sure this man-thing will be enough for both of you. And if not, mother will go look for its horse for you.”
finished tying the blown horse loosely to a tree, before picking up 790 and continuing up the trail limping slightly. After catching the reins of Xev horse as it tried to barrel past him, he almost lost it immediately, by tripping over a tree root snaking across the path. At least I caught it, he though wondering if he should have done so. What if Kai had instructed Xev to let it loose? Shrugging, he shifted their bundle with 790 replaced inside of it and continued quietly along the path. Stanley
He had only walked another few minutes, when he heard a commotion up ahead. He broke into a lopsided run when he heard Xev’s cluster lizard scream and strange shouting voices. Stanley cursed under his breath as he hurried towards the sound. He was well on his way to complete panic, when he heard Xev’s glad cry of ‘Kai’.
!” Xev cried as she ran to hug him. “I’m so glad you’re safe.” Stanley
“Are you okay?”
“A few bruises, but other than that, nothing else.”
“So, who is your scaly friend?” he asked. “And where is Kai?”
, where is 790?” Kai called from up in one of the trees. Stanley
Looking up, Stan saw Kai leaning against a tree fork with the cable of his brace wrapped around the throat of the larger bird snake thing. Raising the now shrieking bundle, he pointed towards it.
“Now what?” Xev called up to Kai.
“Now we leave.” Kai said, ordering both birds out of the tree and down to the path.
A short time later,
shaded his eyes and watched the birds fly back into the forest. It was a shame about those poor horses he though, but better the birds eat them as opposed to devouring him and Xev. Of course if it hadn’t been for Kai threatening to kill the mother bird-monster that is most likely what would have happened. Stanley
“But Kai, now what are we going to do?” Xev tiredly shifted the heavy swearing bundle that consisted of 790 and all that they now possessed. “We can’t go back to our cottage. Prince may return there. We have no home, no jobs and no money to live on and not even any idea of where we are. I’m not sure what we are going to do.”
Kai did not reply. For several long, long moments he regarded them.
shifted from foot to foot for a moment, while avoiding Kai’s gaze he noticed a few stalks of teasels in the weeds off to the side of the road. He went over to them, broke off two and handed one to Xev. “Here,” he said taking the bundle from her and setting it down on the ground at their feet. “Fix your hair, you look a mess.” Stanley
Ignoring Xev’s confused stare, he proceeded to take his own advice and used his own teasel to neatly comb his hair. Bending down to tuck his teasel in the buddle, he noticed Xev was still staring at him. “What? Do you want to look like that as we travel?” He gestured to her tangled hair that had been whipped to a frenzy by their recent wild ride on the birds. He rescued 790 from the bundle and handed the swearing sputtering robot head to Kai.
“Come on Xev. After what we’ve been through lately, this will be easy. After all this path has to go somewhere, we can get other jobs, find another home. Besides,” he reached again into the bundle and held up the large heavy gold chain and also passed it to Kai. “Prince gave us plenty of money to travel on. We can break that up and sell bits of it as we need to.”
slung the bundle over his shoulder and started limping down the path away from the forest. After a few steps he stopped and looked back. “Well, are you coming or what?” he demanded. Stanley
Kai and Xev looked at each other and then both started walking towards
. “Yes, Stanley we coming, that sounds like an excellent plan.” Kai told him. Stanley
As the walked towards the future, Stan fell in beside Kai. “You know Kai, I’ve been thinking. Maybe this time we should try to find a small city to live in.”
? Why is that?” Stanley
“Well, hunting is pretty dirty work, and with what you know as your typical Brunen-g, and what Xev and I have learned… I bet we could make more money opening a beauty parlor. ”
They walked on. The suggestions for shop names and services provided grew more and more outrageous, and amid the peals of laughter, Kai suggested gently, that perhaps there were times when Stanley and Xev should not think so much.
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