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HAPPILY EVER AFTER
by Edward Ahern
He stared past the observant servants until he caught her eye, then winked. “Blanche, let’s do something different today.”
“Like what, Fürstie, we thirst for nothing.”
He scratched his silk leggings. “No really, this rut of ours, even our royal rutting, is excruciatingly pleasant but so predictable. Let’s do something different.” He waved at the satin draperies. “Everything is sumptuous, but it’s like eating only desserts. Don’t you ever get an urge for a bologna sandwich?”
Blanche tossed her hair. It was perhaps even more golden than Fürst’s, and somewhat longer. “No. First off, we have all our needs splendidly attended to, and then we have each other, all day, every day, forever.”
“Yes, well.” He stared at the coarse-dressed castle stones, half-draped in tapestries. “I need to start having a Fürst night out. Think how much more I’ll appreciate you if I’m deprived of you for a day and a night.”
“Did you say night or knight?”
“A night, spent in reflection on our limitless blessings.”
Blanche heaved her ample, milky bosom. The trussing of her empire gown flaunted her twins, but made heaving a bit painful. “Fürstie, you know I can deny you nothing. If this will add another sweet layer to our love cake, please go ahead. On a trial basis, of course. Who knows, while you’re out I may take up très haute cuisine. Not to actually cook on a regular basis, of course, but to become more culinarily conversant.”
They kissed demurely, avoiding excessive affection in front of the courtiers, and sat back down at their ornate desks. Fürst had been signing his way through a tall pile of correspondence prepared by his social secretary, Alberecht. Although a dour gnome who despised his job, Alberecht proficiently drafted ornately flowery replies and politely vague threats. On his days off he wrote anonymous hate mail. He thought he might eventually launch a career in greeting cards.
Fürst paused in his signing, took out a blank vellum sheet, and began to write to the queen mother, who Blanche had supplanted as queen with the death of Blanche’s father.
My deliciously wicked Lucinda,
We can finally stop meeting for moments in the castle passageways. I have an evening and a night free, and hope to dedicate my freedom to your arms. Blanche cannot know, of course, that I tryst with her almost equally young stepmother. I profoundly aspire to wrap myself in you this Friday following.
Pining, Your Fürst Bezaubernd
He carefully folded the note, sealed it in three spots, and wrote on the outside:
Personal and Private for the Queen Mother Lucinda
He slipped the note into the correspondence pile. Fürst presumed that Alberecht opened and read his private correspondence before replacing the seals, but rightly presumed that the information Alberecht gleaned was of value to him only so long as it remained confidential.
Fürst finished signing the letters, and kissed Blanche with pulchritudian enthusiasm before furlonging off for a horse ride. At least that’s what he announced to Blanche. Actually he hunted, killing any animal small or large that crossed his path. He had been known to use peanuts to lure in chipmunks and butcher them. He told his huntsmen that the bloodletting provided balance for his synchronized swim in concentrated syrup with Blanche.
Blanche had never actually been in the woods, but adored wildlife, regarding these generally rank-smelling animals as cuddly. Fürst gave away the disemboweled game before returning to the castle. Blanche was secretly aware of his weakness for blood sports, but appreciated his lying protection of her sensibilities.
Meanwhile, once she’d acquired relative privacy, it was Blanche’s turn to write. On her monogrammed vellum she penned:
My Bewitching Selena,
At last we will have the privacy to conduct those intimate goetic and herbal experiments that we’ve whispered about. Bezaubernd will be spending Friday evenings out. We will have the entire night for the ungarbed earth mother rituals we’ve discussed. I tremble to think of rubbing you all over with hellbane.
In Intimate Novitiate,
She sealed the letter and pulled the bell cord for Hecatia, her First Lady in Waiting.
“Yes, Princess Neigé?”
“Take this immediately to Mistress Selena.”
Blanche was reasonably confident that Hecatia pried open only those sealed notes not addressed to Selena. She’d been a novice of Selena’s before being appointed to the royal court, and still cowered in the presence of the mannishly attractive but vindictive witch.
Neither note had very far to go. Lucinda, the seductive queen mother, was quartered in the royal turret. Alberecht and Selena had apartments in a turret diagonally across the inner courtyard, which housed senior castle staff. For those for whom such things are important, their titles were, respectively: “Fürstal Scribe” and “Herbologist and Leech to the Royal Family.”
Friday evening the Fürst’s steed rode off into the woods with another rider. Bezaubernd skulked about his own castle for awhile before softly rapping at the Queen Widow’s oak-planked door. She answered the knock herself, a breach of etiquette the Fürst found fetching.
She winced at the term, but moved toward him for an embrace. “Don’t touch the hair, dear.”
“No, of course not, Lucinda.”
Lucinda was one of those vaguely plain women for whom cosmetics are designed. By the time several score of ointments and powders had been applied only her underlying bones were recognizable. Eyes, mouth, skin, hair—everything visible was artifice. Poor Bezaubernd seemed enamored of an ambulatory oil painting.
They undressed on their own sides of the bed. The room had been darkened to the point of fumbling, but Fürst launched into Braille caresses and praise for faintly seen body parts. Lucinda, with few unmodified attributes, was bemused to discern that Fürst was a natural blond. The assorted clichés, staged moans, and eventual panting are not repeated here.
Meanwhile, Blanche was having a turret tryst of her own. Selena greeted her at the oaken door without makeup, wearing black leather leggings and a sheer silk blouse. Blanche blanched.
“Am I early? Do you wish to change while I wait?”
“No, your grace. In my own apartments I dress as I wish and not as court convention dictates.”
“Ah. Trousers. How peculiar. Isn’t it more difficult when you need to enter the water closet?” Not wanting to unintentionally offend a dangerous minion, Blanche segued. “I’m so looking forward to the dark arts you’ve described. Do we really get to slather each other with ointment?”
“About that, dear Princess Blanche—may I call you just Blanche? I thought we would engage in knowing each other before we engage in dark knowledge.”
The seduction required two goblets of wine and a little less than thirty minutes. Selena was brusque but thorough, leading the bumbling princess through various alternatives. Selena, an older and dominating woman, made being led astray seem like a routine internal audit.
Affairs progressed. Both Blanche and Fürst misplaced most of their Saturdays, painfully reacting to the aftereffects of alcohol and drugs, and aching from contorted postures assumed in connubial interchanges. They were even a bit short with each other, but, of course, didn’t argue.
One Sunday, after Matins but before Vespers, as the help hovered, Fürst broke again with protocol.
“I was wondering, my love object…”
“Yes my prince?”
“We see your stepmother so infrequently. You surely can’t believe the rumors about the death of your father. She had nothing to gain from becoming queen mother.”
“Or the rumors about the prior death of my mother. I see Lucinda at state functions with a hundred courtiers. Isn’t that enough?”
“Rose lips, I’ve encountered her several times on the castle grounds, and she seems proper, grieving even, in a socially presentable way. Perhaps if we were to invite her to sup with us one Sunday evening? The servants have their one half-day off, and we would be alone, serving ourselves from the sideboard. It would be completely informal.”
“My hero, I never speak ill of a person, no matter how vile, but there are persistent rumors about her.”
“Crimson blush, all the more reason to dispel them. Please, unpurse those pulchritudinous lips and say yes.”
Blanche smiled. “Perhaps, Fürstie, but first a favor in return. You know that I’ve been taking cuisine classes. What you don’t know is that I’ve been taking them with Selena.”
“But, puffy mouth, she’s a witch! We’d have expelled her years ago if we didn’t need an occasional curse cast.”
“It will be much less awkward dining with four rather than three. Besides, she’s been most gracious, allowing me the run of her library of arcane cuisine and herbology. If you must insist on my wicked stepmother, why shouldn’t I get to invite the evil witch?”
And since they never argued, they agreed. They prepared carefully phrased parchments to their paramours, inviting them to an informal dinner the following week.
Selena and Lucinda arrived at the receiving room and were asked to wait briefly while Blanche and Fürst dressed down for the informal dinner.
Selena, despising herself, had donned a heavily decorated dinner gown. However her face had encountered nothing more than soap, and her hair was severely bunned up. Lucinda, contrarily, wore an elegant but severe little black dress that served as an ebon vase for her mazelike hair-do and multi-layered makeup. This top and bottom reversal of plenitude and paucity made them droll companion dolls.
While waiting, they huddled close together and whispered.
“Selena, dearest, I never imagined we could arrange things so well.”
“Shh, Lucinda my sweetest. Don’t praise our good fortune or you’ll curse it. We have to keep these two blundering ninnies preoccupied with us. We can only rule the kingdom through them.”
“But I hate knowing that you’re with that simpering pop-tart every week.”
“As I do your couplings with blond and bland. But before bimbo and bimber know it we’ll have them well under foot.”
The dinner conversation was deliberately dulcet. Blanche and Fürst had been schooled from early childhood in the art of innocuous small talk. They discreetly drove the conversation around potholes like Lucinda’s probable murders of Blanche’s mother and father and Selena’s attempt to fasten Fürst in a forest of nettles before he could reach the castle. To say nothing of tacky topics like Selena’s sexual orientation and Lucinda’s lecherous love life.
Blanche served all four of them from the sideboard, clearing the dishes after each of the five courses and stacking them haphazardly for the staff to contend with in the morning. Lucinda and Selena were cautious, waiting until Fürst or Blanche had eaten part of the course before partaking.
After the last dinner course, Blanche bounced up brightly. “Dessert is home-made by me! I’m sure you’ll love it, I used a blueberry pie recipe of Selena’s.”
Selena stared suspiciously as Blanche lifted four blueberry wedges from the same pie plate and served them. But the prince and princess ate with gusto, and finally Selena and Lucinda had no choice but to begin to eat. The heavily sugared pie drowned out almost all the taste of fruit.
“There’s more please, you can have seconds,” Blanche bubbled.
Selena’s tongue went numb and swollen. Then her jaw froze in mid-chew, and her neck and torso locked up. She rolled her eyes over to see that Lucinda was equally immobilized.
“Pink nipples, I think it actually worked!” Fürst exclaimed.
“Of course it did, my blond stallion.”
Blanche and Fürst put their arms around each other, facing Selena and Lucinda. Blanche began. “I added a little something extra to the pie—apple juice. Your apples, Selena. Fürstie and I tippled the antidote just before dinner.”
Selena tried to stand but could only thrash about in her mind.
Blanche continued. “How egotistical of you to think that your drab, tired fleshes would entice us to really stray. Our love is perfect. Your deaths won’t be. You’ll die slowly and painfully, but will expire well before morning.”
Two sets of white, even teeth grinned at Lucinda and Selena. “You shabby little schemers,” Fürst added, “we haven’t survived as rulers just because we’re attractive and charming. We survive because we dispose of petty threats like you. Would you like help clearing the dishes, azure eyes?”
“Thank you Fürstie, that would be fine.”
They left Selena and Lucinda to die at the dining room table and moved into their study.
“What, my hero, should we do with the weasely Alberecht and Hecatia?”
“Nothing, my pert pet.”
“We’ll have them dispose of the bodies in the morning. They’ll fear us enough to stay housebroken for awhile. And good help is, after all, so hard to find.”
“My clever Fürstie. You’re so good at happy endings!”
“It’s why you married me.”
Edward Ahern: Resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international paper sales. Able to cause trouble in German, French, and Japanese. Original wife, but after 46 years they are both out of warranty.