What do I know of Captain Stanzara Belamarix?
I know that she was the most stunning jewel at my father’s funeral. I know, I know, I should have been more concerned with stateliness and solemnity. But when one is the heir to the Clockwork King, one becomes blasé about these things. After all, it was the old man’s seventh funeral. Come the end, they would unhook his brain from all those wires and gears, install him in a new body, and the two of us would be back to bickering over foreign policy and my lifestyle. Even the imitation of grief felt tasteless.
And really, did you expect any better of me? I know my father never did.
So anyway, Stanzara – sorry, we’re being formal aren’t we? I should use her title.
Captain Belamarix was quite the finest figure in that cathedral. She wore the full dress uniform of the Royal Philosophical Corps. Those tight trousers, that leather jacket, and under her arm the brass helmet that protects philosophical officers in the void between worlds. Knowing that this was a woman who strode between realities added a frisson to seducing her. There’s something about a woman who could snap your reality in half, don’t you think?
You don’t? Well, never mind.
Something rattled in her helmet as she bowed, but I didn’t pay it much mind. I had some recollection of loose gadgets from my season with the Philosophy Corps. I didn’t want her thinking about fixing her equipment when she could be thinking about fixing me, if you know what I mean.
We set to talking, but nothing I said penetrated her cool professionalism. In retrospect, that was when I should have become suspicious. After all, I was the crown prince and, well, look at me. Women seldom say no, but her whole demeanour was screaming it.
Looking back, I blame myself for not seeing that something was amiss. Especially as that rattling sounded again. Something about it was uncomfortably familiar.
But I was a man on a mission, and that mission was Captain Stanzara Belamarix. As her eyes kept shifting to the royal coffin, I saw a way to chip away at that frosty disposition. So I stepped across the purple ropes keeping most mourners from the coffin, taking her with me.
I can see why you might blame me, but there’s really no reason to shout about it. How could I have known?
Well, yes, I had spent time with the Philosophical Corps. I had a passing knowledge of their equipment and methods. But that was months ago. Years, even. And how could I have known that anyone there was scheming against His Majesty? They’re meant to be loyal to the last officer!
Besides, I had other frustrations to deal with. I had hoped that the sight of father lying there, the cage around his brain opened for the mourners to see, would move her to tears, allowing me to step in and comfort her. An arm around the shoulder and a soft friendly voice can take a chap a long way.
But no. She didn’t even step close to me for comfort. Instead she grew distant, one hand clutching the helmet in front of her, the other fidgeting with something inside.
I was starting to think that I had wasted my time, that I should get back to my mother’s weeping chambermaids or the poker game in the archbishop’s antechamber.
Then I heard that clicking again. Louder, faster, more intense.
Here was my last shot.
“I say.” I leaned in close and conspiratorial. “Do you hear that? What could it be?”
Captain Belamarix turned to me, eyes wide, and for a moment I thought I had her. At last, some strand of emotion on which I could work. I pictured what lay beneath that leather jacket, thought about those eyes going wide in a very different way.
If it’s true that you can be damned for arousal in church, then I was doomed in that very second.
My father, alas, was doomed regardless. For that was the moment when the ticking became an irregular rattle and then a sound I can only describe as a long, wet crunch.
An assassin’s spider, one of those ghastly clockwork contrivances with the blades and claws, was twisting and turning inside my father’s bronze head cage. A brave guard snatched it out and flung it against the wall, losing three of his fingers to the brute. But it was too late.
What had been my father’s brain was now little more than puree.
Captain Belamarix turned away, but as she did so something in her hand caught the light. A winding key, such as might be used to prepare an assassin’s spider. Weighed down with guilt and horror, I called the guards. She was seized and, well, you know the rest.
Now excuse me. I know that your enquiry must be completed, but I’m sure you understand that I too am busy. I have a kingdom to rule now, and everyone says that I am woefully ill-prepared.
Merciful? Well, I suppose I have been so far. Even after what she did, I still had a fondness for Captain Belamarix. After all, we had known each other since those days I spent in the corps. The thought of her facing death was just too much, whatever the law says. Exile was what I could bear. If I had known that her ship would face such a horrible accident, then I would have ensured that we questioned her first, to find out if anyone else was behind the plot. But then, if I had known she would die then I would not have chosen exile, would I?
Now excuse me. My heart is heavy, but a monarch’s work is never done. My council meets on the hour. Some policy changes are long overdue.
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