Secrets for Surviving in Fairyland:
Patience is a virtue. A very good virtue. Sadly, not everyone gets all good virtues. I have very few. And I certainly don’t have patience. But, if you do have this virtue, it makes everything so much happier.
When my eyes fluttered open, the first thing I thought was that the dream was finally over and it was time to go and die. Then I remembered that stupid crab. Not to mention I was lying on something soft and comfortable and the smell of coffee and fried eggs filled the room.
With great care, not moving too quickly, I got off the makeshift bed on the floor and followed the sounds through a doorway and down a hallway, and then into the kitchen where I found them. Simeur sat at the table while the dog made tea or coffee or something. That could take some getting used to, and you know me, it takes something rather queer to disturb me. Between the crab and the dog, I was officially disturbed.
Max was nice, though. The moment he saw me he boomed out a rather hearty “Good morning!” and sat me down at the table with a cup of coffee. The coffee tasted great and was exactly what I needed to settle down my nerves.
“So,” Max said, once we were all situated. “What’s the story here?”
Simeur just looked at me, so I assumed that was a cue to start talking. “Well,” I said, “it’s kind of a long story.”
“He’s Robbie DiShaun, the knight who works for the prince,” Simeur said, as if to get me started.
That was the first time I’d ever been called a knight. “More like servant than knight, actually” I said with a grin.
Max just nodded. “I see. I wondered about that last night when Simeur told me your name. You caused quite a stir around here when you caught Griselda. Forest hasn’t settled down yet.”
“I have a habit of causing trouble,” I said.
“So I noticed. What trouble got you stuck out here?” he asked.
“You haven’t heard?”
He shrugged. “News from the kingdom doesn’t matter out here. I don’t hear much unless I ask. Normally I don’t care to ask..”
In short, I explained the situation with the sorcerer, how being in the wrong place at the wrong time got me condemned, and how Simeur saved me. At the end, I explained about the crab—which caused Max to laugh so loudly I thought the house would fall down—and how we found his house. “So that’s about it. I’m condemned, have nowhere to go, and the kingdom is doomed.”
That made him serious real quick. “That is rather troubling, isn’t it,” he muttered, mostly to himself.
“Besides all of that,” said Simeur, “he just got back from a journey to rescue a princess for Roy, and has been invalid for the last three weeks. He’s only been on his feet for a couple of days and hasn’t really recovered yet from a whole pack of injuries.”
“Who told you that? You haven’t been around!” I asked Simeur with a scowl.
“I heard a few things while I was waiting for you to pop up at the hanging hill,” he said pompously.
The little imp. “It’s not that bad,” I assured Max. “It’s just a couple little things, I’m fine.”
“After the way you about fainted last night, I’m not sure I believe that,” Max said.
The whole world was ganging up against me. “I’m fine. I have a job to do, and that is not hanging around here.”
“And what is your job?”
“To make sure Mara gets her happy ending.”
Max glanced at Simeur. “Mara is the princess he almost died rescuing,” Simeur said.
“So, how do you plan on doing this?” Max asked.
“I don’t know yet.”
“I have an idea,” Max said thoughtfully. “You need to get healed and come up with something. I can get the woodland creatures’ help, and we can keep an eye and an ear on what is happening in the kingdom, while you rest up. We’ll figure out what is going on, and if you need to do anything you can figure it out then. How does that sound?”
It sounded like a wonderful plan. Resting and keeping up with the daily news would be a nice change. “All right,” I said to Max. “As long as you aren’t worried about soldiers coming and destroying your house or something. I am a wanted man.”
He downright laughed. “Soldiers? Out here? No soldier has the guts to get so far into a haunted forest!”
“Hey, I did it!” I pointed out.
“You’re not really a soldier now, are you?”
“Not really,” I conceded.
“So my point stands. I’m not worried about anything the palace can send at me. You’re the only person from the palace whoever causes trouble around here, and we all know you’re not going to cause any this time.”
He had a point. So we came to an agreement and I decided Max was ok, for being a giant black dog, that is.
The next few days were pretty much great. I got to rest and take it easy. There was a river that went through the forest, and came pretty close to Max’s house that made for good swimming, and I slept a lot, and lay in the grass. It was very relaxing, especially considering my current circumstances. I tried not to think about those, or the fact that this had to be a very short vacation.
Max found a whole bunch of crazy animals he and Sime could talk to, and sent them out and about to spy on the kingdom. Max gave them food for doing it; it’s not like animals just sit around waiting to be useful all the time. They have lives, too, you know. But they like food, so they did whatever he wanted apparently. I don’t really know, I can’t talk to crazy animals, other than wolves and some birds. Birds don’t say much, though, other than “food” and “bad guys!” and “fly away!!!!” and stuff like that. So it’s not that hard to learn.
Max and Simeur handled the animals, and the talking and everything while I did useful things like go swimming. From the reports they gave me, things were not going well. The king decided that since I worked for Roy, Roy must have been involved in the assassination attempt and conspired against him. They locked Roy in his quarters and refused to allow him to do anything. The king disinherited him until “further investigation of the assassination attempt and the escape of a wanted traitor who works for the prince.”
Each report brought more bad news. New word came that the king decided to name his new Lord Chancellor as his heir until the child from the union between Roy and Mara was grown. There wasn’t even a child, or a union yet! But Roy had been found unfit, so that was that. I worried a lot, but what could I do?
Two weeks passed uneventfully, other than the visits from the little animals with their depressing news. If I hadn’t been so worried about Mara and the kingdom, I never would have left.
That is, until we got a report that changed the rest of my life. A little rabbit brought the news and told it to Max and Sime. I knew something was up. I sat at the table drinking my coffee while they whispered and gave me funny looks.
After a few minutes of that, I put my coffee down. “Just tell me, it’s not gonna kill me!”
Max nodded at Simeur, and he took a deep breath. “The king is dead.”
The world stopped spinning. “What!”
“I’m sorry, Robbie,” Sime said, looking at the ground.
I sort of felt sick. “What happened?”
“He choked on something while he ate, and died suddenly.”
“Choked! The sorcerer…” I managed.
“Probably,” said Max.
“The sorcerer is in charge now, following the King’s decree,” said Simeur.
“What wonderful timing,” I muttered
I stood up and began to pace. The sorcerer took over the kingdom. The sorcerer sat on the throne. The sorcerer who tried to kill me. The sorcerer responsible for the look on Mara’s face the last time I saw her. The sorcerer now in charge of the palace where Mara lived right now.
The sorcerer who could now kill Mara with a word if he wished, or do anything else for that matter. And no one remained to stop him, no one to do anything.
Well, I’m not a hero, but I couldn’t just hide in the woods while Mara could be dying or something equally awful. “I have to go back,” I said, turning to face Simeur and Max.
“Robbie,” Simeur started.
“No, Sime, I have to!”
“It’s dangerous, Robbie.”
“I don’t care, I can’t just sit here! He has Mara!”
“You could die!”
“I’ve fought every kind of monster imaginable and survived, I’ll be fine.”
“You were with Roy then, and had the protection of the Happily Ever After. You won’t this time. You’ll be all alone.”
“I’m doing it for someone with a Happy Ending.”
“You know that’s not how it works. If you aren’t working directly with them, the magic won’t help you at all. You have almost no chance.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” I yelled, finally snapping. “I’ve studied under Phil, too! I know, I’m just a loser who can’t do anything on my own! I got that, Sime! What do you want me to do?” I took a deep breath. “If I can get to Mara, when I’m with her I’ll be protected again. I can get her out, if nothing else. Then I’ll decide where to go from there. Maybe I’ll get Roy out, too, I don’t know.”
Simeur turned to Max. “What do you think?”
Max looked hard at me. “It’s very risky, Robbie.”
“The magic won’t help you this time.”
“I know that too.”
He nodded. “If you understand, then go. I can’t stop you. But wait until tomorrow morning; if you start now you’ll just be wandering around the forest at night. I’ll take you out tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” I said quietly. I left them and went on a walk.
My head spun. I couldn’t think about what Sime said, so I just walked. The king was dead. The world I grew up in had disappeared forever. Nothing would ever be the same. What was really the plan? I didn’t know. All I knew was that it was time for action.
I walked for a while before I heard something and spun around. Max stood in the shadow of a tree behind me, watching me. “You scared me,” I said, and continued walking.
In one bound of his long legs he stood next to me. “Sorry.”
“We were worried you’d booked. Didn’t know if we’d see you again.”
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“Didn’t think so, but I thought I’d follow you, just in case.”
He sighed and stared up through the branches toward the sky. “You know, I can read the stars.”
“And what are the stars saying to you tonight?”
He stared at the sky for a long moment. “The end is near.”
How disturbing. “Whose end?” I asked uncertainly.
He stared at the sky for another moment. “I’m not sure. I can’t see enough of the sky.”
I stifled a laugh. Of course he couldn’t. “Well, now we know someone is going to lose.”
He nodded, and laughed as well. “Somebody.” He looked at me in concern. “Don’t worry, Robbie. I’m sure she is fine.”
I couldn’t say anything, just stared off into space.
“She’s a lucky girl, to have someone like you looking after her.”
“No she’s not,” I whispered. “A lucky girl has a real hero, not a stupid prince and a stand-in hero.”
“You are a real hero, Robbie.”
“A real hero? A real hero doesn’t have to worry about losing the protection of the magic when he isn’t dragging his buffoon of a prince along just so he won’t die! A real hero doesn’t wash socks for a living, and a real hero doesn’t give up the girl to the first idiot that looks at her. I’m not a hero, Max, I’m just a guy who does hero-work for a living.”
“Whatever you say,” he muttered. “But if it weren’t for you, she’d still be stuck in that enchanted castle, don’t forget.”
“Maybe she would have been better off.”
We didn’t talk anymore, and eventually Max left me alone.
It was very, very late when I got back and finally fell asleep on my cushion.
And it was very, very early when Max, Simeur, and I headed off for the castle. We traveled quickly, Max running next to our horses. It was a quiet trip, everyone lost in thought.
Other than me, who religiously avoided thinking. Being completely exhausted helped with that plan, which was kind of the point.
We rode all day, and it was late afternoon when we could see the castle. It took a minute to figure out why the place looked so bare and naked. Then it hit me. Not a single flag flew from the towers, the walls, or anything. The place had been stripped. How disturbing.
After we were a little closer we pulled to a stop and I stared at the castle for a few minutes. Somehow, someway, I had to get into the castle, rescue Mara, and get out.
I should probably free Roy too. The problem was simply that—according to Max’s woodland creatures—they were guarding Roy heavily. Which was my fault, I do admit. He was suspected of sending me off to kill the king. I wasn’t sure that freeing him would work out very well, especially since the sorcerer knew I was loose and could possibly come back for him. Especially if the guards thought I worked for him, which I suppose, technically, I did. Whatever way you look at it, he was going to be heavily guarded. Now, if his guards were my friends from the palace guard, no problem. I’d have him free in no time. If they were those crazy dudes that came from who knows where, however, there was not a big chance of me getting him out today. Not until I had a better plan, that is.
For now, it was time to come up with a master genius plan to just get into the castle. Usually, this castle wasn’t a particularly tough place to get into. Some castles are like fortresses, no one gets in, and no one comes out. Our castle wasn’t like that. There was an almost constant stream all day long of people coming and going.
At the end of every day, there was a great exchange among the castle servants. People who had the day off, or only came in at night all came back, and people who lived outside the castle left. It was a grand lovely mass of confusion, yelling, and bickering. No one really knew how many servants worked in the castle, or came and went in a day. It left a big wide hole in security that could easily be taken advantage of.
So it wouldn’t be hard to sneak in, just uncomfortable. See, big, strong, strapping young men like me were going to be heavily questioned anyway, and, unfortunately, I look like myself. And myself was a wanted man. So a disguise was in order. The fun part was, the most unsuspicious kind of person to be entering the castle at that time of day would be a round, old woman.
Max and Sime were staring at me, waiting. “All right,” I said. I turned to Max. “Thank you, Max. You’ve been a big help, and a wonderful host. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to hide. But now, I think, I should continue on alone.”
He nodded. “I knew that was coming.” He reached out one giant paw, and I shook it, trying not to laugh. “Good luck, Robbie. And keep in touch, both of you.”
“We will.” Then he left.
I hated to say it, but I was going to miss that big old dog. I turned to Simeur. “Do you want to leave?”
“Well, er, it’s kind of difficult. Phil’s orders were to stay with you until you were out of danger, and I don’t think he would consider you safe yet.”
“Probably not,” I agreed.
“But you don’t need to come into the castle with me. This will probably be easier with just me to worry about.”
The relief on his face was quite blatant.
“Wait for me here. If I’m not back by tomorrow morning, check the village and see if you can find out what happened. Got it?”
“Yes,” he said with a nod.
“Good.” I grabbed his hand. “See you in the morning.”
“Yup, in the morning, then,” he said with a crooked grin, and disappeared with both of the horses.
I was alone. “All right, Robbie. Let’s do this thing,” I muttered to myself, and set off toward the castle.