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The Reluctant Dark Knight/Part 6

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Royal Affairs

The king heard a bird twittering happily, prompting him to open his eyes and rise to the new day. He stretched and sat up, blinking a few times to clear his vision, and then he saw a nightingale perched on the stone sill of the window; it flew away when he stood, also awakening the Clockwork Smurf.

“Good morning, Clockwork,” he began, approaching his closet. The trinket hopped out of its tiny bed and made various sounds which translated as, “Good morning, your majesty!”

“I think I’ll wear the blue one today.” King Gerard picked out his favorite outfit – the one the Smurfs had made after he escaped from the castle dungeons his evil Aunt Imperia had locked him in. He knew it was Clockwork’s favorite too, so he laid it out on the side of his bed and undressed while the little doll told him he would see him at breakfast. He acknowledged the note and plucked his dark blue hat off the coat rack by his door when he was exiting the room.

"Good morning, your majesty,” announced a rosy woman’s voice in the dining room. King Gerard smiled at Mrs. Sourberry and seated himself at the table, seeking the time.

"Oh, it’s just half past the tenth hour, me lord. How did you sleep if I may ask?” She brought him a plate of scrambled eggs, two bacon strips, and fresh strawberries.

“It’s strange, Mrs. Sourberry,” he admitted, picking up his fork, “I dreamt that I was getting married, but I didn’t see a bride in sight. Only bridesmaids congratulating me on the ceremony – what do you make it?” He took a few bites while she thought about it.

"Oh, I think you’ve just got butterflies in your tummy is all. It’s not easy choosing a wife when you’re royalty, as we all know.” Then he looked at his mechanical companion.

“What do you think, Clockwork?” he asked. The little Smurf waved one arm and assorted a series of clicks, notes, and clunks as if to say, “I agree with her statement.” With that, King Gerard continued eating while his servant left the room; he wondered who he would pick for his future bride.

Shortly after he and his Smurf finished their breakfast, he was informed of a trio waiting at the drawbridge, so he made his way to it. Clockwork jumped into his hand and held his thumb along the way.

"Johan, Peewit, and – who is this young lady?” he exclaimed. He told his guards to let them in immediately and greeted the boys, but was most eager to meet the girl travelling with them. Johan dismounted Bayard and gestured towards her with his hand across his chest.

“Sire, this is our friend Lady Falla of the south kingdom. She’s here to help you decide on a suitor, just like us."

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, King Gerard,” she said, curtseying, and held out her hand. Clockwork jumped down and stayed at his feet, assuming his next move. He took it and assured her, “The pleasure’s all mine,” as he kissed the top gently. She smiled, so he did too, but then Peewit cried out: “Is there still time to have breakfast around here?”

"Peewit…” Johan nudged him with a subtle scowl; he turned back to the king and added, “I apologize for his rudeness. Would it be alright if he eats while we attend to the matter at hand?”

“Of course, Johan, I don’t mind if it’s the three of us,” and then he looked down to the blonde boy, “Mrs. Sourberry will serve you in the kitchen over there.” He pointed to a nearby door – before they knew it, Peewit was gone and it was the trio (plus Clockwork) remaining. He glanced at Falla and led them up a stairway to the main tower into his throne room.

When they entered, he picked up a scroll on the cushion and showed it to her and Johan, explaining, “This is a list of the maidens I have to choose from, and about half of them live thousands of miles away. I just can’t tell which ones to eliminate, so I was hoping you two might know and give me your opinions of them.”

“We’d be happy to help, sire,” Johan replied with a nod. He glanced at Falla, who agreed, and they skimmed over the list when the king flattened it out on a table against the far wall. “Now, let’s see here…”

Lady Pricilla of North Regiment Estate
Princess Adela of Madero Castle
Princess Francesca of West Dirking Castle
Queen Gwendolyn of Eastern Shore Estate
Princess Miranda of South Almira Castle
Princess Andria of the North Kingdom
Princess Cara of East Firebird Castle
Princess Karla of East Firebird Castle

“So you see, it’s more than I had expected to choose from,” King Gerard admitted uneasily. He lifted up from the table and touched Falla’s shoulder, catching her attention: “Do you know any of these ladies, miss?”

"I do know four of them, your majesty.”

"Who and what have you to say of them?”

Her eyes darted away for a moment, and then she placed her finger against the paper, pointing to a name. “This one – Princess Adela – she’s a small girl, about Peewit’s age. She’s sweet, but I’m not sure she’s ready to marry.”

"Why not?” The boys asked in unison. They exchanged glances as she explained, “She’s not yet a woman.” Johan understood what she meant.

"What others?”

Tracing her finger past the next name, she said, “Queen Gwendolyn, sire. She has white hair, not by old age, but I think she’s stuck up and believes that she has mastered the art of seduction.”

“I do remember meeting her once,” Gerard admitted, putting his hands on his sides, “and I agree. She’s not really my type.” Falla smiled faintly and tapped the last two names on the list.

“Princesses Cara and Karla are twins – Karla being older. I liked Cara because she was nicer, but her sister was bossy.” She straightened her back and crossed her arms, looking over her shoulder at the boy-king with a calm demeanor. “Consider the younger one if you meet either of them – she’s not as pretty as the other, but she’s nicer.”

“I will then, thank you,” he responded with renewed hope in his tone. Just then, Clockwork hopped onto the table top and jumped twice before gesturing to the fifth name with several mechanical noises as if to say, “What about her?” The king was confused by his little Smurf pointing to Falla at the same time.

“Falla, do you know this one too?” Then he gently nudged him with his hand, adding, “Or is Clockwork’s memory rusting up?” He meant it to be a light joke, but seeing the emotionless expression on the young lady changed the mood effortlessly. She still had her arms tightly crossed against her chest, and through her poker face, her eyes darted towards the floor.

The king redirected the question to Johan: “Do you know any of them either?”

The knight stepped forward and nodded, holding down the curling corner of the paper. He recognized the first name. “Lady Pricilla is an old friend of mine. Before I was admitted for squire hood as a boy by the King, I worked for her father as a blacksmith.” He put his hand on his sword. “I remember her sending me my sword when they heard of my good opportunity.”

“She sounds nice,” his majesty murmured. “How long has it been since you’ve last known her?” At that, Johan’s smile wasn’t as apparent – he confessed that at least nine or ten years had passed. “So, she could be an entirely different person by now?”

“I’m afraid so.”

"She is," Falla muttered bitterly.

King Gerard sighed, rolling the list back up and handed it to Clockwork, asking him to put it back where it belonged. Then he leaned against the window, resting his arms on the sill. Falla approached him and pat his back.

“You’ll find a fitting suitor soon enough, your highness,” she reassured kindly. She smiled when he did, and added, “Besides, there are some things worth waiting for – I think this is one of them, don’t you?”

"I guess you’re right, my lady,” he replied, looking at her.

Suddenly Johan took her arm, having seen the sun dial in the garden below and said, “We best head back to the castle, Falla. I just remembered that I promised Princess Savina I would teach her how to fall off a horse without injuring herself.” At that, she left the boy-king’s side and proceeded towards the door.

“Falla, wait,” he called uneasily, “will I see you again?” She turned her head and smiled reassuringly at him: “Of course, your majesty. I like your company.”

She left the door open as she ventured away.

“I’ll fetch Peewit while you ready our horses,” she projected from the hallway. She heard the knight’s response and continued on, but was happily surprised by a railing trailing down the staircase. She wondered how she could have missed it when they first ascended, and then gave in to a childish desire.

Meanwhile, Peewit sauntered across the way to the tower his friends had gone into when he had left to eat. He heard something coming from the staircase; faint a first, but then he recognized it to be laughter the closer it came. Before he knew it, Falla leapt from the railing and toppled over him, still giddy.

“What on Earth did you do?” he exclaimed, lifting off of her hurriedly. He brushed himself off as she said, “I did the one thing I could never do as a child – slide down the stair railing.” Suddenly Peewit wasn’t mad – he actually chuckled and helped her up.

“That must’ve been fun!”

“It was,” she agreed, fixing her dress, “Too bad Dame Barbara had the railings removed because you were playing on them all the time.” They made their way to the drawbridge when Johan whistled for them. She took the boy’s hand and led him as he continued telling her about it.

“Oh, yeah, that,” he said, “I hardly ever used the stairs because it was faster and funner to slide down those railings, so she got mad at me and complained to the King. Before I even had a say in the matter, the railings were detached and rid of, so I was forced to walk up and down like everyone else. It just isn’t fair that she can dictate what I can and can’t do like that!”

“I know, Peewit, I know,” she nodded. “Perhaps she had them removed because ‘funner’ isn’t a real word.” He shrugged with a careless grin.

They were at their steeds’ sides, so she let go of his hand and mounted Gentile. Likewise, he hopped on his trusty goat, Biquette; Johan sat atop Bayard patiently and finally gave him a light kick, and they were off in a steady gallop. It was close to high noon; partly cloudy with lots of sun today, as the local weather fairer had predicted.


. . .

“At last, it’s mine – hahaha!” Gargamel held the frozen heart in his hands; a perfect ice sculpture, actual size, and it had been enchanted not to melt until it was ready to be used. What luck, too, for the journey to and fro took several hours on foot, and by now Scruple was exhausted. They reached the hovel and he collapsed on the floor once inside – Azrael followed suit.

“Now what, Garggy?” he asked wearily, lifting his head. The wizard explained what he was doing as he was doing it, standing over the cauldron with livid eyes. The mixture was thicker than blood, a swirling portal of gold and near-black, with a cold heat coming off of it. He quickly read a few instructions from the spell book before acting: “I’m going to turn up the heat and add the frozen heart, my boy. Get me more firewood!”

“On it,” he said, pushing himself to his feet, “but I’m only bringing back what I can carry.” He descended into the basement for a few minutes, and then reappeared with five or six good-looking pieces of chopped lumber. He threw them under the cauldron and continued standing – he swayed back and forth at first.

“Now we wait for it to bubble again,” Gargamel told him, “then we add the heart and watch its evil power take effect on this horrible concoction.” Scruple sighed and watched with him. When bubbles began to appear, he stepped back. His master dropped the heart and leaned forward to see the results.

The swirling colors became jagged, corrupted, and glowed as eerily as the refraction of light in an animal’s eyes in the dead of night. The shadows elongated, more pronounced against the walls and floor – Scruple’s eyes widened at the sight of his for it no longer looked like his own. It was darker, more powerfully despicable than his, and just as suddenly as he reacted to it, the spell pulled it into the cauldron – the same happened to Gargamel and Azrael’s shadows. The frightened cat’s fur stood on end, and he rushed behind the boy’s legs, trembling.

Gargamel cackled triumphantly as the glowing colors became one solid white light spilling out into the hovel, seemingly filling each nook and cranny. “It works! I’ve done it! I’ve single-handedly brought the end to the kingdom and to the Smurfs!!” After what felt like hours ended at last; the light faded, the room was normal once more, and his apprentice was able to approach the cauldron with caution.

“It’s ready, Scruple,” he announced, trembling with joy. He saw a tiny amount of liquid at the very bottom of the overgrown pot and retrieved a vile to transfer it to – with a few magic words it shot up and filled the miniature container. He capped it with a cork, gently placed it as far down into his pocket as he could, and stole a glance out the window. “It’s too late to take it to our victim now,” he concluded, “so we’ll have to leave tomorrow.”

“Thank goodness,” Scruple whispered to the cat. He scurried away for bed, adding, “I sure hope this doesn’t backfire on us like every other ‘fail-proof’ plan has.”

“Oh no, Scruple, this time I can feel it! Our success is but a day’s time away!” Gargamel insisted, rubbing his hands together with a sneer. He looked over his shoulder and acknowledged his cat jumping onto the stone window sill. “Just think of it, Azrael – the day after tomorrow, we shall be living like kings!”

Author's Notes

This is my favorite chapter for Gargamel and Scruple; the description of the addition of the frozen heart is crucial for this potion to succeed, so the imagery details had to be vivid. Even years after writing those two paragraphs, I can still see the scene as it plays out the way I had intially imagined it.

Continuation

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