Return to HC.SVNT.DRACONES (fiction)

[Here Be Dragons|HC.SVNT.DRACONES]

...

Tonight I shall eat like a king.

(Like a king. [likening|Likinging].)

...

After all that, there was an awkward interlude, full of sniffs and squeaking chairs and throats suddenly needing to be cleared—the recital of a [John Cage] composition, absent the [redundant|idle] orchestra.

Annie, the moderator, studied the ceiling tiles for all of [4'33"|four and thirty-three] before suggesting (with the usual dogged effort to avoid eye contact) that we owed the speaker a debt of gratitude for this profoundly [Everything I Know About Life I Learned from My Cat |teachable moment].

If she was waiting for some kind of reaction, she didn’t let it show, and what she got instead was mostly [the hills are alive with the sound of music|ambient noise].

Don Wan was already back to shaking his greasy locks over something an [Victor Borge|earlier speaker] had said: [inflationary language|elevenderloin].

He savoured every delicious syllable: The old [kook|coot] [ate the tenderloin with a fork|nine the elevenderloin with a fivek]. Imagine that!

An elderly gentleman with a well-worn plaid fedora took his seat near the door and grumbled about Don Wan being the real [coot|kook]. He rubbed his knuckles and willed the clown to keep pushing his buttons.

A couple chairs over (both were occupied: one for his ass, the other for his [kicks|flipflops]), Player (with the inner city vibe) was making eyes at Dolly. She was hotted up for the attention, too, but didn’t want his [meat hooks|paws] all over her lacy new blouse, [not yet].

Not yet: she shrugged him off with a [wanton|lurid] grin and he settled back in his chairs, apparently content to wait her out.

I could feel [take a picture; it last longer|a steady gaze] running over me from behind. And then her hand [caressed|grazed] my shoulder and [beautiful|barefooted] Lulu squeezed by to take the floor.

Annie opened her smile and chirped: [not again|oh]. Lulu—

—You want to get in my face? Lulu asked with menace, a well-chewed finger pointed at the [referee|moderator]’s brow.

Annie’s smile, of course, showed not the least sign of failing—it was built to hold up under [Acts of God|worse conditions] than these—and Lulu seemed to take that as a [I swear|promise]. A tiny, camisoled, [muay-thai] boxer thumbing her nose for a fight, she turned instead to stare down [Homey|Street Cred]. But he seemed to have other things on his plate.

Pushing his floppy hat down to the oversized Oakleys, Player decided to use this opportunity to charge up for his rendezvous with the long-nosed [If you got it, flaunt it|beauty queen].

Lulu stood on her toes for a wordless breath or two before addressing the empty [Esteemed Judges|chairs] at the front of the room.

[once upon a time|This is a story that happened a long way back]. I [hearsay|heard] an old lady tell it who was [Wish you were here|there]. It’s just a forest now, and scattered rumours [hic sunt leones|somewhere as far off as Scandinavia]. But in its day it was an Empire. [It went like this|And this is what she told me happened].

[She said she said she said|She said]: they had a Queen named Bea, who [barren soil|couldn’t conceive], and a King called Rex, who was loudly impatient for an [Hapsburg lip|heir].

As [witchcraft|treatments] failed and summers passed a desperate queen [God help me|resolved] at last to make a quiet visit to the ash grove, where the [witch|old hag] was known to [performance art|practice] [IVF|folk magic].

Lulu did a little [interpretive dance].

The ritual [It's incomprehensible| isn't complicated]. You skip around like this with your arms in the air, in a secret place illuminated by the pregnant moon.

A little [The Lonely Gardener|garden].

Lulu shimmied to a stop. And you need water. But it’s got to be drawn from a well with the moon mirrored on its surface. And you have to cover the seeds with a [crystal ball|bowl of crystal].

Lulu cupped her palm to demonstrate.

There's something you say, too—at just the right moment—

No one remembers the words, she lied.

—But you whisper them in order and your seeds will sprout into [magical|marvellous] fruit. And all you do, when the [midday|time] comes for the shadows to creep back under their rocks, is pluck one by the roots and [say 'ah'|swallow] it whole.

Lulu danced her anticipation.

The appointed night arrived, and the time and the queen at the garden, where the moon, deep in the dark of a well, floated in [a sensory deprivation tank|perfect isolation]. Water was drawn with a silver chalice; seeds were pressed into soil. A prancing monarch whispered past the front row chairs, clapping her [wheat kings have all their treasures buried|treasures] with the palm of her hand and tiptoeing back—

Lulu tiptoed.

—to the royal bedchamber, where she lay with the king till the sun rose.

Lulu stopped tiptoeing and pointed another finger at Annie’s brow: don’t you believe a word of it!

Down in the garden, with the midday sun [well hung|hanging] overhead, I say the queen stuffed that fruit in her [and blessed is the fruit of thy womb|vagina]!

Don Wan giggled at the word [lasagna|vagina].

Player (waking in time to hear the longshoreman tell the room what the queen really shoved in her [tube steak|vagina]) pointed out with a yawn that [nancy boys|queens] take it up the [mangina|ass].

This drew a snort from Messrs. [Asperger] and [Vitilago], and emboldened Don Wan to offer his own invocation:

[to fornicate, one stimulates the prostitute's prostate|three fivenicnine,
two stimulnines
a prostithreete’s
prostnine!]

And like a magic spell, nothing happened.

Lulu turned from one to another of her tormentors: a jungle cat confronted with [lion tamer|the legs of a chair]—

[life held in the balance|held] back only by the impossibility of deciding which of those galling limbs to splinter first.

Annie’s [too bad she doesn't have any tits|impeccable smile] only brightened as the outlook clouded over, but even she was starting to fidget in her [cherry ass|seat].

Lulu made an ugly face and gestured to the girl with the boob job, daring the other to interrupt her again.

Dolly, to her credit, pretended not to notice. She had just painted her nails.

Lulu looked ready to [cat fight|pounce] regardless.

And then a switch was pulled.

Lulu twitched her head to the side, as though disturbed by [no, wait, I forgot the most important part|an unexpected thought].

She put a hand up to her mouth and said—

—no, wait—

—I forgot the most important part—

The old hag had cautioned the queen to peel her prize before she packed the thing away. But when the time came, Bea was so concerned to [Discretion is the better part of valour|do the deed without her being seen to do it] that she inserted her treasure filthy scabby skin and all.

It was only when she felt it scraping bitterly [up|down] her pipe that she remembered [Beware the Ides of March|the old hag’s warning].

Lulu paused, thinking the problem through.

The careless girl convinced herself that such [FUBAR|a minor gaffe] could be undone if only she plucked a [If at first you don't succeed|second] bulb and (carefully carefully this time) peeled away the rough and—

Lulu never finished her thought. Transported by an absolute certainty that she had conceived her child at last, the elated monarch danced as Lulu danced—suggestively, on the balls of her feet, and not at all like a queen—

She was a beautiful dancer. But this went on for longer than anyone could have thought appropriate. Chairs began to creak in discomfort. Even Annie could be seen to [Cop a look|smile, glancingly], at her watch.

—and then, stopping abruptly, in a breathless rush she cried out: [gestation period|nine times the moon shuttered its eyes], and when they flashed at last the shrieks of the midwife carried the length of the castle.

Bea was barely [hanging by a thread|clinging] to life when the infant finally emerged—a grotesque monstrosity equipped neither with arms nor legs: a [wyrm|worm], covered, like a fractured lightbulb, in jagged shards of skin.

It was followed by a rush of blood and a gasp that carried the last of the queen’s [The queen is dead. long live the queen|mortal burden] away.

Lulu snapped her hands behind her back.

The midwife cut loose with a low moan as the [cowel|cauled] head of the [primogeniture|first-born] pressed into view.

Her cry rose sharply as the blood-streaked visage contorted itself in a rictus of teeth and gums. It built to a crescendo as the [Rosemary's baby|monster] slithered out of the womb and clambered up her arm still trailing its umbilical tether, and it might have reached a new plateau when that appalling mouth started [matriphagic|rooting for her breast]. But the midwife had already blown out her lungs by then and never took another breath.

Lulu whispered: unseen in the ensuing turmoil was the second-born, a tiny, placid twin, nestling serenely in his mother’s gore.

If his [patriarch|Highness] was slow to appreciate the gravity of this situation it was only because he had chosen that week to holiday at the seashore. On receiving word, however, he immediately gathered up his entourage and decamped (not quite as tanned as he might have been), and without ever laying [see no evil|eyes] on the monstrosity declared all [speak no evil|speculation] about the birth a crime.

Now this served only to encourage the whispers—which otherwise were as little susceptible to royal proclamation as the [feeding frenzy|frenzied howls] that still rattled the late queen’s private chambers—

Player [I want to fuck you like an animal.|whispered something] into Dolly’s ear and she pushed him away with a [phoney|great] show of disgust.

—and the most extravagant rumours promptly overran the dominion.

Lulu waited for the chatter to subside.

His Royal Highness would never stoop to refute the [tittle-tattle|empty prattle] directly. But a [changeling|fine-looking infant] was on full display at the services for his mother. These were delayed longer than decency should have allowed—and the closed casket left many feeling cheated of a last glimpse at a popular royal. But even the few who still clung to the notion that the child was a changeling had to grant his uncanny [all babies look alike|resemblance] to the late queen.

[news cycle|Talk moved on] to other scandals. His highness [baccarat|lost his shirt] in Monte Carlo—only to have the tab picked up by a [oil money|Bedouin] lounging poolside (oh, to have friends like that).

Like that, interest in the rumoured monstrosity waned.

—And it would have faded altogether were it not for a dilemma faced by every sovereign worthy of the name: that royal dignity imposes a reliance on those who haven’t the dignity of their own to object and who, on those grounds alone, are inherently unreliable.

Needless to say, it was beneath the royal dignity even to broach the [infanticide|unspeakable], let alone oversee its possible [wet work|implementation].

—but his Majesty’s [hear no evil|deafness] to the unrelenting [bark at the moon|howls] sent a clear message to those charged with maintenance of the royal [Melanie Klein|phantasy]. And no one was less likely to object to the [waste removal|objectionable] than the old hag who lived in the ash grove. And as the former Deputy Chief of Staff would later confess, she was willing to [baksheesh|pay].

He simply pointed out the obvious: it wasn’t for the Deputy Chief to [the buck stops here|contemplate] the old hag’s plans for that abomination—his only concern was for [hush hush|discretion], and the old hag had proven herself a [prior history|past master] at that.

Asperger & Co. appeared thoroughly confused.

Lulu had drifted deep into [HC.SVNT.DRACONES|a world of her own].

Assistant Counsel to the former Deputy Chief hastened to explain: what no one could have supposed was that the monster would be kept alive and not—

She struggled to find the words.

offered up in some [satanic ritual|unspeakable rite] or reduced to one of those nauseating [patent medicine|concoctions] the old crone peddled among the gullible and superstitious.

[spook|An unfamiliar voice] interjected: the fact is, her late Majesty never left the boudoir let alone the castle-keep [police state|without it being known] to someone where she was going and whom she was going to meet—

—Oh they knew of [infidelity|quiet liaisons] in the ash grove, of late night [adultery|indiscretions] in the pastures and [the shameless whore|scandalous others] in the light of day—

—And none of it [gestation period|added up] to anything, as none of them knew how to count. And it was all [blackmail|worth] that much less since the queen’s [foul play|untimely passing]—

Don Wan seemed to be working the math out [American Sign Language|on his fingers].

—They knew her Majesty had found the old hag useful, and that was enough. They—

—They needed a thing gone.

—And gone it stayed.

Lulu shook her head: the thing about worms, though, is they live in [out of sight; out of mind|holes], so it’s nothing for them to lay low. As the old hag cautioned her guests: there was more beneath their feet than they might care to know.

She would get no argument from them: the old hag was as wise as they come, but, really, they’d just stopped by for the [fountain of youth|exfoliating cream]. There were celebrations in the works. His Highness, Prince Rupert, had declared his intention that week to seek a bride.

Now, in the one-and-twenty years since he was first presented to the public, Baby Rupert’s once remarkable likeness to the late queen had wholly disappeared (only the most ingenious ever pointed to a trait they might attribute to his [Who's your daddy?|father]’s line), but he was a good-looking kid, popular with teenage girls, and happy to wait his turn for the throne.

—Oh, the parties would be divine!

[The customer is king|The customer is always right], of course. But in the Office of the Chief of Staff, it was being claimed that these festivities would have to be postponed.

The very notion was dismissed, at first, as plain (and possibly [thought crime|seditious]) nonsense—though the old hag spouting it looked neither [insubordinate|senile] nor [senile |insubordinate], and when word reached certain ears the response was rather [skeletons in the closet|a sudden clammy tremor].

The plaid-hatted gentleman needed to step outside for some air.

If the old hag were to be believed, there was an [paternity test|unacknowledged] prince of the realm, born the elder twin of his Highness, Rupert Rex, from the late and now, truth be told, [unmarked grave|largely forgotten], Beatrix Regina.

In light of unspecified [adhd|special needs] he was allegedly handed over to the old hag's care and promptly put [out of sight|out of mind].

—The Office of the Chief would affirm only that the old hag had once been recruited to his Majesty’s [secret agent|employ] for the eradication of a pest. Evaluation: positive; would recommend for future duties of similar nature etc etc.

Lulu seemed to wave the report in her hand: there's no [It says here that you don't exist|official recognition] of this supposed birth in any of the relevant—

The old hag came straight to the point: he seeks to exercise his [right of first refusal]—

I had to ask: his right—?

—to reject or accept for himself the woman his brother chooses for a bride—

The official was having none of it. Polishing his pince-nez with the sleeve of his shirt he complained: that right is contingent, madam, on his standing as a first-born son, and I’ve seen nothing to support such a claim. Does he have any papers?

—He’s a [the artist formerly known as prince|prince]

—An alleged prince. And you would do well to reflect on the [everything has a price|price] of royal [personation].

Lulu shrugged: he will not be intimidated, First Assistant to the Deputy Chief.

—And the court no doubt will take that into consideration. The name he goes by?

—W Regis.

The First Assistant flung his pen in disgust: it’ll be the [Catherine wheel|rack] for the both of you; that much is clear.

—If you saw him, perhaps—

Saw him, you say—?

The idea hadn’t even occurred to him.

—Why, bring him in, by all means: the constabulary won’t have as far to go to take him into custody.

And so, W Regis was wheeled in on a chair by a pair of labourers hired for the purpose. He had on one of those glittering robes a [Muhammad Ali|championship boxer] might wear into the ring, a loose-fitting hood keeping his face from view until the whole ensemble could be shrugged away, just before the punches flew.

The empty sleeves bounced around as the chair was rattled through the doorframe, but W Regis himself didn’t stir until his name was announced.

The First Assistant knew the stories surrounding Rupert’s birth as well as anyone, yet he was wholly unprepared for what he saw when W Regis finally lifted his head. The sickening disfigurement was everything he’d imagined—but the gross, astonishing resemblance to his Royal Majesty left him, literally, [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease|short of breath].

He needed a moment to [collect his thoughts|consult with his aides].

—As you can see, the old hag called over his shoulder, W Regis simply [fugly|isn’t able to entice a woman into his bed]. But surely with the help of his Highness—

[procurer|Pimp] Royale! Player hollered to an imaginary posse.

Lulu sneered.

—Look here, it’s possible—I think—if you and your crippled charge were to wheel away and never trouble me again—that you might very well escape with nothing worse than [slap on the wrist|a formal administrative sanction]—

W Regis turned to the official.

Do not diddle with me, First Assistant! If Rupert Rex has any hopes of marriage, it must behoove him to find me a bride.

Don Wan began to rock, like a [Ray Charles|blind musician], crooning: diddle my vagina! viddle my dagina! till Delores kicked his chair.

The First Assistant was suddenly inflamed. Lulu hissed her antipathy.

You miserable worm! You speak to me as you would speak to the King himself or the [dungeon] will be your return. By God, it is only on account of your wretched physiological [Disability|deficiencies] that I’ve—

W Regis looked the official in the eye: [You picked the wrong cat to fuck with|You have sorely misjudged your position]—

With the glistening quickness of a [raging bull|prize fighter], he slipped from the robe and rose cobra-like to his full commanding height.

Lulu towered over the room.

You threaten me with dungeons? she demanded.

Where I should drag your carcass, not even the blowflies would know that you had ripened to my satisfaction—and oh how well you would go with a fine [the queen of wines|Barbaresco]. But I’m not here to plan my luncheon, First Assistant to the Deputy Chief. I’m here to [matchmaker|arrange for my bride].

The First Assistant’s lips twitched and sounds bubbled up from his throat, but there was no coordination between the two, no possibility of speech as long as that rearing beast was drooling its venom all over his desk blotter. It was all he could do to keep his bowels from [prolapsing].

Dolly, who had gotten off to an early start on her stash of baby carrots and celery sticks, looked ready to breathe new life into rumours that she was [I think I'm gonna puke.|bulimic].

(Riddle my Pegina! Piddle my Regina!)

Finally, the old hag shuffled forward, shushing the monster like a fretting child. She took a moment to help him into his robe, then called for the porters to wheel him back to the ash grove.

—You can arrange the details with the old hag, he called back as he was led out the door.

—And if his Highness refuses?

—Rupert shall be the last of his line.

As it turned out, the young prince never thought to refuse, as he was never actually [We'll just settle this among ourselves|briefed] on the matter. Neither was it considered appropriate to trouble his father, the King, with something so utterly disagreeable.

The usual [brownshirts|goons] were called on to kick down doors, which they did, and knocked the old hag around a bit when they couldn’t find W Regis cowering inside. She pointed them to a pit at the edge of the woods, and they set her thatch alight. The old hag would learn to [sleep rough|sleep on the street] that night.

She was back at the castle, though, (with a swollen eye and a long list of complaints) even before the opening bell. And that was more than could be said for the First Assistant, or the louts with the motorcycle boots, who somehow never managed to [Locked in the trunk of a car|re-emerge] from the woods.

And so it went.

The Deputy Chief [vanished without a trace|absconded] after recklessly ordering the old hag locked in leg irons—an outrage for which his pale and shaken replacement found it [self-interest|prudent] to offer the most heartfelt regrets. The old hag settled for the empty residence of the former First Assistant and a modest annuity.

Slightly flushed, the elderly gentleman took a seat near the door.

And then came the [doublecross|swindle].

W Regis had no cause to doubt the Honourable Chief of Staff when he tried to pass off the painted, puffed-up daughter of a local discount merchant as Rupert’s own choice of bride: he wouldn’t be in a position to [quality control|evaluate] her until the wedding.

It was a [utterly inappropriate|curious] thing, however, when the woman’s father (evincing not the least [single-minded|concern] for the hooded figure in the wheelchair) sauntered unannounced into the private chambers of the Chief of Staff and unilaterally reopened negotiations over the price of his [everything has a price|offspring].

These last-minute demands were met with barely concealed contempt. The Chief produced a pigskin pouch from the [cashbox|strongbox] in his drawer and tossed it onto the desk in front of him: you can [take it or leave it].

Instead, the man took a seat and crossed his arms defiantly.

Player did him one better, crossing both his arms and his legs, all the while pretending not to listen. Annie smiled. The elderly gentleman quietly rubbed his knuckles. The official stared in disbelief, but the merchant held his ground.

At length, the Chief sighed and opened his drawer and, leaning forward, unhappily loosened the purse strings. The greasy smirk this brought to the merchant’s face left W Regis verily rattling in his [carapace].

Lulu shook her head: the Chief himself had to shake his head at the impertinence of it all.

Without a word, he reached into the pouch and extracted one of its treasures, holding it up to the man for inspection—very nearly pressing it into his poxy nose—before letting it go, with a heavy splash, into the coin slot of the strongbox in his drawer.

For a moment, the other was too [dazed and confused|astonished] to respond, and in the interval the Chief reached back into the pouch, came up with another gleaming piece of silver—and dropped it into the slot with the first.

At last the man found voice enough to utter a sharp, panicked cry, and before the Chief could reach back in again he snatched the pouch away and fled the room, a secretary scurrying after with his [paperwork|receipt].

W Regis would be married before the sun set.

The old hag meanwhile happened upon the bride while her coach was blocked by a flock of sheep being driven to the [halal|slaughter].

A word to the wise, young bride! she called out from the shade of the [Archaeopteris] tree.

The woman squeezed her eyes to a pair of suspicious slits but couldn’t come close to penetrating the shadows.

The old hag soon enough hobbled into view—ancient beyond reckoning, bent beyond straightening, filthy rags dragging in the muck: the young Miss Penny Glory had never seen such decrepitude in all her [sheltered life|life].

A word to the wise, the old hag repeated, flapping her good hand at the idled carriage.

Don Wan did his best imitation of an aging [thalidomide] baby. Lulu was oblivious.

The bride, however, wasn’t about to have her day spoiled by such an uncouth sight: she chucked the crone a well-sucked lump of [Let them eat cake|sugarloaf] and had the driver clear the road at once of sheep and vagabonds alike.

Of course, if young Miss Glory was dismayed at the sight of the old hag, it was nothing compared to what she felt when W Regis finally revealed himself to his new wife.

He was standing there, motionless at the altar like a monk in a long woollen gown, his head bowed as though in prayer—a posture she [monkey see, monkey do|unthinkingly mimed]. There were prayers, of course, and exhortations, vows were made, and the husband was invited [I now pronounce you man and wife| to kiss the bride]. There would be no exchange of rings, but this omission surely was the last thing on Penny’s swirling mind.

She lifted her veil as he turned for her lips, and they needed [smelling salts] before she could be revived.

The elderly gentleman just needed to step outside for a quick drink.

With her husband trailing in a borrowed [sedan chair], Mrs. Glory-Regis was conveyed semi-conscious to the [motel room|conjugal suite] while an eager crowd assembled on either side.

In earlier days they would have been escorted to a pallet [back alley|behind the church] to sanctify their vows—

—as [drunken|spirited] onlookers supplied advice and encouragement and, not infrequently, impromptu demonstrations of their own.

Times change but it was customary, still, for the nuptial sheets to be paraded through the courtyard, the smear of blood being viewed as a favourable [Rorschach test|sign]—and those who managed to daub a bit between their eyes were thereby assured not only of the most lavish [fecundity], but (more to the point) a skewer of lamb and a flagon to toast the groom and the bride.

Never in their collective experience had the linens been so [bloodsoaked|deeply saturated] that nothing of the original colour was left behind.

Player nodded toward the paunchy Mexicana: I guess they never seen Delores on the rag—

And there was Lulu, towering over the room, and Player, suddenly on his hands and knees, his mouth agape and face livid from the unexpected strain of reinflating his lungs. Lulu bent over and made sure he got a good look at her eyes before she went on with the story.

There would be no more interruptions.

As a rule, when that much blood is spilt the erstwhile [cadaver|owner] can be witnessed [rigor mortis|stiffening] awkwardly in the thick of it. But there was no [body|one] to be found: the suite was empty, and the blood-streaked villagers were [there is no such thing as a free lunch|on the hook for their own dinners that night].

W Regis turned up later at the rectory seeking an [we weren't really married|annulment]—the marriage was never [consummated], he complained. As for Mrs. Glory-Regis, the last he saw she had [shacked up|taken up] with the Chief of Staff—and if either had anything to say about all that gore [dead men don't lie|they sure weren’t letting on] (and he never claimed to read minds).

Whatever the truth—and W Regis wasn’t taking interviews either—there was no more trying to keep the story under wraps. Following another [bay of pigs|brash and poorly orchestrated effort] to assassinate the [gadfly|beast], a fact-finding mission was conducted and the whole sordid business [whitewash|brought to book].

The former Deputy Chief confirmed what anyone with eyes must already have [what does it look like to you?|concluded] on his own: that W Regis was indeed the long-rumoured spawn of Regis Rex and Beatrix Regina.

—And et cetera, and et cetera, and et cetera.

(though not, of course, on that account to be considered a candidate for the throne—his Royal Majesty’s prerogative regarding the succession was not to be infringed).

—But the time-honoured right of the firstborn—?

would be upheld.

This latter determination, coming unexpectedly from the [don't believe everything you read|Press] Secretary himself, was as close to law as anything yet to be articulated on the matter. And while it wasn’t immediately clear why the court should choose to take such a line, the public nature of the declaration ruled out any further treachery on the part of the royal staff.

As for damages to church property, costs were assigned to the family of the [fugitive] bride.

Nothing is done for nothing, however, and his Majesty’s intentions turned out to be entirely in keeping with his entrepreneurial disposition: missives were sent to kingdoms far and wide soliciting [dowry|bids] for the hand of the eldest (and most beloved) son of Regis Rex (as ever, [caveat emptor]). In the event, W Regis fetched enough to get the royal steamer out of hock (and the prudent monarch elected to make himself a passenger on it throughout the ensuing uproar).

When the [here comes the bride|big day] finally arrived the old hag found herself a leafy seat in the cemetery and nodded off until the wedding procession could worm its way by.

A word to the wise, young bride! she suddenly urged from the rubble of the [tomb of the unknown soldier|Unmarked Mausoleum].

The dour princess affected not to hear.

A word to the wise!
the old hag promised in a louder croak, rising stiffly from her marble perch in hopes of catching the woman’s ear.

The bride responded with an almost imperceptible [elbow|signal] to her eunuch, whose broad and [hirsute|pileous] midsection promptly choked the old hag’s line of sight and swallowed, within its pendulous folds, the bulk of her unsolicited advice.

Promises later, with her veil lifted (and her husband slobbering for a kiss), the princess no doubt struggled to maintain this level of decorousness.

It would only get worse when she saw him with his clothes off.

As before, the volume of blood was all out of proportion to the [no body, no crime|number of bodies] recovered from the newly furbished (and once again inexplicably vacated) conjugal suite. And as before, the disenchanted crowd had long since drifted home by the time W Regis turned up (sluggish and distended) at the rectory door.

Well, if [fool me once, shame on me|credulity] was in short supply, so was hard and fast proof of an offence. More importantly, if W Regis were found responsible for anything untoward, a hefty dowry would have to be [money-back guarantee|returned] (even if the [overdraft protection|balance] had already been spent). His Majesty was thus concerned to see [the letter of the law|justice] fully served. The eunuch was tortured till he confessed, then promptly [post-partum |separated] from his head.

This, of course, did nothing to encourage other families to marry into the Regis clan, and even the handsome Rupert’s prospects suffered as a result. W Regis was confronted with the fact that his murderous reputation (deserved or otherwise) made it well-nigh impossible to secure a bride, even with his Majesty’s intervention.

But hadn't the old hag made it clear? W Regis wanted neither wealth nor social standing from his future wife, nor even beauty (of the common or superficial sort)—[as long as she goes for boys like me, 'cause I like them like that|a peasant or a pauper would suit him fine].

Now this was happy news indeed, for peasants and other [lumpenproletariat|assorted riffraff] were always available in great abundance. What's more, the [debtor’s prison] was full of half-starved serfs who might consider swapping a surplus child for their release—and all at no extra cost to the state (the [bean counter] who came up with that suggestion was a lock for employee of the week).

It was almost a shame that the only one with heart enough to step forward after all the recent blood-letting was also the most beautiful woman their kingdom had ever seen: the incomparable, [Annabel Lee].

—Some guys have all the luck, it seems—

—And yet, as fortune would have it, this bare-legged girl (with the almond eyes and auburn curls) was met on the road with a sudden muffled cry: a word to the wise, young bride!

It took her a moment to find the old hag clawing her way up the [open sewer|drainage ditch], but Annabel hurried to her side.

—A word to the wise, the old hag repeated, shaking off the unwanted hand.

—What is it, mother? Have you lost your way? Shall I call for someone to retrieve you?

The old hag jabbed a finger into her breast: if you have any sense you'll shut your trap and listen! The predator is drawn to flesh. [seduce|Entice] him with flesh and—

—I—I don't—

Your husband, girl. He must be made to see that you are more than fats and proteins

—What—?

—Now hear me well! You must wrap yourself in slips and gowns—as many layers as you can find. You will pledge to obey, but there must be a price. And oh how he should squirm when you echo his demands!

—Echo his demands…?

Echo his demands! There is no marriage without [an eye for an eye|reciprocity]! The lesson must be learned. Now get yourself dressed—you look like a [whore|tramp].

Pretty young Annabel had no reason to take the old hag seriously. But what did she have to [when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose|lose]?

Bulging roundly with the patchwork of rags she managed to scrounge from her acquaintances, the bride showed up looking less like a tramp than a tatty [Russian doll].

Lulu stood on her toes savouring the moment.

Later, when she opened her eyes in the conjugal suite, the [hazmat|restoration] crew was telling her to watch the paint, and grumbling among themselves that the walls would need another coat or two, at least. They practically jumped through the window when W Regis slithered into the room. She didn’t know whether to laugh or jump through after them. The paint fumes were starting to work on her brain.

W Regis, however, was all business. The door had hardly closed behind the fleeing workers before he was grinding his teeth: off with that gown already, wife. You don’t want to keep me waiting!

His obedient bride took the hem of her dress and peeled it over her head, revealing the layer underneath: as you wish, my liege.

Her husband’s eyes flashed. She could see the violence glimmering.

But before he could speak, she nodded her head at his robe and ordered: off with that gown already, husband. You don’t want to keep me waiting!

And for the first time, he smiled: as you wish, my bride.

Then almost before she could take a breath he was leaning over top of her, his smooth [chitinous] segments gleaming in the lamplight, his teeth grinding like millstones: I hope you like what you see. Now off with that gown, if you please!

It could have been the [sniffing glue| paint fumes], but Annabel moved at the speed of a dream, running a playful finger down his ventral plates then peeling her dress away, revealing the layer underneath: I hope you like what you see…

This was doubtful, considering how he began to quake.

…Now off with that gown, if you please!

W Regis reared his head back and sent a geyser of bloody saliva crashing into the ceiling. He turned as grey as a corpse, and then he shook and cracked, and off sloughed a heavy sheath.

The monster slithered out of its broken shell as smooth and shiny as a newly moulted centipede.

And then he grinned: is this what you'd hoped to find? Now off with the gown!

And the girl in her many layers was content to comply.

A dozen times they traded demands, till at last she was no longer facing a beast. The beautiful, radiant, Annabel Lee took the hand of her naked prince and [Neither shalt thou lie with any beast|lay] with him on the sheets. And he whispered: all my life I have crawled through holes, making do with rot and decay. You have saved me, my love.

Then [Louis Althusser|he took her by the throat]: tonight I shall eat like a king.

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