Briar was at a loss. Malena had insisted that she had not been the one to poison the baby, yet she knew what the poison was before anything had really happened. If it was her who committed the crime, why had she come forward, indeed? She could simply have stayed hidden and let the potion take its toll. And she had been Briar’s good friend in the past, so there was no way she would have wanted to harm the baby. Just what was her game?
“Where can we possibly take the baby so that she will be away from any machinery?” Stephen put a hand to his forehead. “This whole world is filled with machines.”
“My folks have a place out in the country,” Fleur looked down into the face of the baby she held. “We could take her there until an antidote is found.
“I will come with you,” Faun agreed.
“Aren’t you afraid of living without machinery?” Fleur raised an eyebrow. “There’s a chance this could take years.”
“I’m sure,” Mary spoke up. “And so is she. The three of us will take good care of the baby.”
“Thank you,” Briar smiled at her old friends. “I sure will miss her.”
“She won’t be gone long,” Stephen reminded her.
Nearly sixteen years passed before an antidote was developed. And not by anyone at court, but by a teenager named Phillip. Phillip had not developed the antidote because the reward for anyone who did so was Aurora’s hand in marriage, but because he simply wanted to prove himself a great scientist.
Malena herself had been attempting, in vain, to create an antidote. Without any other mechanics sharing her space, she had turned the house into an impregnable fortress, complete with a mechanized door that was so heavy no one could knock it down.
Her camera-eyed raven had been painted black and planted in the castle in an effort to catch anyone who may have been the poisoner. A second raven was made to procure food and parts, for she hardly dared to leave her home in case the culprit (or worse, the king) came after her.
Meanwhile, Aurora was growing up in the country, away from all of that. While Malena was holed up in her fortress spying on the castle’s occupants, Aurora was outside picking flowers.
“Aurora, it’s time for your supper!” Aunt Fleur called.
“Coming!” Aurora scooped her flowers up into her arms and ran into the house.
Something was different about Aunt Fleur today. She seemed tense as she poured herself a cup of tea. Soon, Aunt Mary and Aunt Faun entered, not smiling.
“Is something wrong?” Aurora wondered.
“There’s something we need to tell you,” Aunt Mary sat at the table. “We…never told you the truth about your parents.”
Aunt Fleur shot Aunt Mary a warning glance.
“Or your allergy to machines,” Aunt Mary finished.
Both Aunt Fleur and Aunt Faun were glaring at Mary now.
“What are machines?” Aurora asked.
“Mechanical things that do work for us,” Aunt Fleur attempted to explain.
Aunt Fleur rolled her eyes. “Mary, did you really have to explain about machines first?”
Aunt Mary shrugged.
“Anyway,” Aunt Fleur continued, “your parents are not only alive, but they are the king and queen. They sent you here to keep you away from machines, because you are allergic to them. But an antidote has been found, and it is safe for us to take you home to your parents.”
Placing her hand on the table to keep from fainting, Aurora sat down in one of the chairs. “So I’m…a princess?”
“That’s right,” Aunt Faun explained.
“Why…couldn’t you tell me before?” Aurora’s voice shook.
“Would you have believed us?” Aunt Mary said.
Aurora smiled. “I suppose not. But…when do we have to leave?”
Aurora’s eyes grew wide. “Tomorrow?”
Her aunts all nodded.
The next day, once Aurora had packed her things, she was dragged out of the house by Aunt Fleur and Aunt Faun, who waited outside in the field with her.
“What are we waiting for?” Aurora looked up at Aunt Fleur.
Moments later, the strangest thing Aurora had ever seen erupted through the tops of the trees and rose above the forest, shaking the trees. It was a ship like the ones she had seen in picturebooks, only suspended in the air by what could only be described as an oval-shaped balloon, only she doubted that the balloon would pop, seeing as the entire contraption shone with an obsidian hardness. Covering her ears to block out the unfamiliar noise, Aurora ducked.
Looking at the girl, Aunt Faun laughed to herself.
Once it came to land in front of them, Aurora asked “What is that thing?”
“That,” Aunt Faun said, “is an airship.”
Once it was on the ground, it stopped making that horrible noise, and was still for a few moments.
“What’s an airship?” Aurora wondered. “And what’s it waiting for?”
Before her question could be answered, a figure peered over the edge of the ship.
“All aboard!” Aunt Mary tossed a rope ladder down.
Slinging her bag over her shoulder, Aurora ran to the ladder.
“Aurora, I need to warn you,” Aunt Fleur ran after her. “You are allergic to machines, so be careful.”
“But you said this was an airship,” Aurora placed her foot onto the first rung of the ladder and looked behind her at Aunt Fleur, “not a machine.”
“Airships are one kind of machine,” Aunt Fleur clarified.
“So what will happen when I ride this thing?” Aurora placed her other foot onto the second rung of the ladder.
Aunt Fleur sighed. “Just don’t touch it while you climb up. It will burn you.”
“And for goodness’ sake, don’t touch any sharp edges,” Aunt Faun warned. “Cutting yourself on a machine is the absolute last thing you want to do. In fact, that could kill you.”
No sooner had Aurora reached the top, than she felt queasy. Putting a hand to her stomach, she saw blue dots swimming in front of her eyes. As Aunt Mary helped her up the last step and into the ship, Aurora sunk into a dead faint.
Though Fleur, Faun and Mary had otherwise machine-proofed the airship, the ship itself was making Aurora ill, and she lay unconscious for the duration of the flight. Faun stayed in the room with her while the others flew the ship, making the poor girl as comfortable as she could. It was not long before they reached the castle, landing in the courtyard.
In preparation for the arrival of their daughter, Stephen and Briar had machineproofed the castle as much as possible. Any machines they could find were locked up in the landing dock with the airships, and guards were posted at the door.
Still unconscious, Aurora was carried out by Fleur and Faun, while Mary flew the ship to the proper landing dock.
“Is she alright?” Briar could only stare at her unconscious child.
Fleur placed the girl onto the grass. “She’s fine. We got her to drink some water, but she couldn’t get onto the ship without fainting.”
Opening her eyes, Aurora looked up to see two unfamiliar faces. The man had her blue eyes, and the woman her same blonde hair.
“Father?” she whispered. “Mother?”
When both of them nodded, Aurora sat up. “Where am I?”
“The castle,” her mother said. “You slept through the whole flight.”
“Did you tell her about the allergy?” her father was asking Aunt Fleur and Aunt Faun.
“Yes, we did,” Aunt Fleur said. “But you can imagine her questions about what a machine is.”
“A machine is anything mechanical,” her father tried to explain. “Anything not found in nature.”
“So…is that a machine?” Aurora pointed to the golden ornament atop her father’s head.
“No,” he laughed. “This is just my crown. A machine has a function, like that airship you rode here in.”
“So I can’t touch anything that has a function,” Aurora tried to understand, “until I take the antidote.”
Her father nodded. “That is right.”
Aurora pushed a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “When do I take the antidote?”
Stephen’s cousin, Albert, was the only one not happy about Aurora’s return.
“Why did she have to survive this long?” he stood before the window. “She was supposed to have died by the time she was fifteen. Isn’t that what you said?”
The two mercenaries standing in his doorway looked at each other.
“You see,” one stepped forward, “the mechanic Malena didn’t exactly say that the girl would die. The princess will only die if she cuts herself on a machine, which, naturally, she couldn’t if they kept her away from all machines.”
“Then I will have to take care of that on my next visit to the castle.”
Aurora could hardly speak as she was led through the castle. She had never imagined that ceilings could be so high up, nor hallways so wide.
“Where are these machines you were talking about, Aunt Fleur?”
“Your parents locked them all away in time for your arrival, until you take the antidote,” Aunt Fleur explained.
The tour of the castle complete, or as complete as a tour of such a large dwelling could be, Aunt Fleur and the accompanying servants brought Aurora back to the courtyard, where her father was greeting a newly arrived guest.
“Aurora, this is cousin Albert,” her father introduced the man.
“Nice to meet you,” Aurora curtsied.
“It is nice to make your acquaintance as well,” the newcomer took one hesitant step closer to her. “A long-lost princess is certainly news. Where is it you have been for the past sixteen years?”
“Somewhere out in the country,” Aurora told him.
“It hasn’t been sixteen years yet,” her father clarified. “We shall have to throw a grand celebration for her approaching birthday. After she has taken the antidote, of course.”
Albert looked from Aurora to her father. “I shall be looking forward to that.”
That night, Albert snuck out of his castle room. As he had thought, the room he was always given while visiting his brother was right next to the one they had allotted to Aurora. Sneaking something into her room would be a cinch.
The collapsible spindle he had fit into his bag was certainly machine enough. Clutching it in his hand, he glanced both ways down the hallway to ensure that no one was in sight. Once he got to Aurora’s room, he peered through the keyhole, finding the girl asleep. Slowly, he turned the doorknob, surprised to find it unlocked. As quietly as possible, he pushed the door open just enough to push the spindle through.