Secrets for Surviving in Fairyland:
Pick your friends—and your sidekicks—wisely. Sometimes, they can be very useful and save your life and make your plans work and good things like that.
There was to be no more running that day. I walked, yes walked, slowly, and painfully, all of the way back to where Simeur and Jake waited. When I trudged into the clearing they were both awake, and they both looked at me anxiously.
Simeur stood up. “What happened? Where is Mara? And Blythe?” he asked, looking me over carefully, probably checking to see if I had any mortal wounds.
I sat down next to Jake and put my head in my hands. “Blythe works for Valkav, and they caught us. I couldn’t get Mara out.”
There was a stunned silence. Then, Sime’s voice again. “Blythe, he betrayed you?”
Another long silence. “I knew I didn’t like that guy. He didn’t act the same when you weren’t around.”
“I believe it. I should have listened to you, Sime.”
“You couldn’t have known. Don’t blame yourself.”
“But I should have! I should have figured it out! There is no one else to blame, only me. I’ve failed. I failed Mara.” I shook my head.
“You haven’t failed at anything,” said Jake’s booming voice. “You’ve only had a set-back or two.”
“No,” I whispered. “I really, truly, thought that I would be able to do this. I couldn’t. Mara is still in that place, in the clutches of the sorcerer. He can do anything to her, whatever he wants. Who knows what will happen to her before we can rescue her! And it is all because of me, because I tried to do something on my own, without the magic, and it didn’t work. It just didn’t work. You were right, Sime. Without the magic, I’m just asking for trouble.”
“I never said that,” said Simeur. “I told you what you were risking, but that wasn’t because I don’t think you can do it. I’ve spent too much time under Phil’s tutelage to believe magic is everything in this world. The reason I told you all of that was to make sure you knew exactly what you were risking, exactly what you faced by going out against the magic. You shouldn’t make a decision about something like that unless you know what you are up against. That was why I told you. So you would understand, and could make precisely the choice you needed to make.”
His words stunned me. Actually, they made sense. He never told me not to do anything, he just explained the facts. It went over badly and I still felt angry about it. But he was right. “The fact is, I chose poorly this time. And now Mara has to pay the price. She told me not to try and be a hero. Maybe I should start listening to her. She was right, all along.” I was starting to break down.
“You are too a hero,” said Jake suddenly. “Don’t you remember? You broke my enchantment without the help of any princes, or princesses, or magic, or anything.”
“I can’t be everything. I can’t do this. I keep messing things up. Over and over again, I’ve ruined everything. Now, Blythe has taken her from me and I’ll never be able to fix it. I can’t do this.”
Simeur looked hard at me. “Robbie, what is really going on? This isn’t like you. Is there something going on with you and the princess?”
“Something going on? You want to know the truth?” I asked, standing up. “The truth, Sime? The truth is that I love her. Yes. I love her, I love her, I love her!” I was shouting now, at Sime, at Jake, at the sky, at everything. “But that is not enough. I’m not enough for her and I never could be. She needs a prince, or a hero. I can never be that, I can never be any more than just Robbie, the servant-boy. I love her more than I have ever loved anything in the whole world. She means everything to me, but I can never say so. I can never have any claim on her, because I will never be good enough. Nothing I do will ever change the facts: I’m still not a hero. Tomorrow, we will go in there, and we will fight like the dickens, defeat this sorcerer and save Mara so she can have her Happy Ending. That is all there is left for me: to make sure that happens. And if I die in the process, so be it. There is nothing more for me..”
“That’s not true, Robbie,” Sime began.
“Yes, yes it is, Sime. I heard her and Ramonda talking about me, and that is what they said. I am nothing more than a tool to get her married to her prince. And by golly, I’m going to do a heck of a job. We’re going to do this tomorrow, and we are going to do it right. I will not stop until that sorcerer is dead and Mara is happy again. I don’t care, that I’m fighting this battle without a Happy Ending. I don’t care what happens to me. I don’t even know if I believe in this Happy Ending junk anymore, but Mara’s going to get one if it kills me, and that’s the way it is. I may not be good enough for her, but I’ll make sure she is with someone who is.
“Tomorrow, we fight. Are you with me?”
“Of course,” Jake growled lowly.
Simeur sighed. “You know we are, Robbie. We’re with you to the end, and forever after. But I don’t care what you, or Mara, or anybody else says. If you’re not good enough for her, no one is. You’re the greatest hero I’ve ever met, and I’ve been around for over 300 years so I think I’ve seen a pretty good sampling!” With that he stalked into the woods.
I lay down in the grass, close enough to Jake that the heat coming off of his stomach could keep me warm. Dragons have more uses than just blowing things up. They make very nice space heaters, also. I closed my eyes, trying to shut out everything.
They couldn’t quite shut out the words Jake growled softly. “He’s right, you know. I’ve seen my fair share of heroes too, but I’ve never met anybody like you.”
Pretending to be asleep seemed like the only good response, so that was what happened. Jake sighed and put his head down close to me.
It had been a crazy day. Despite all the stress and anxiety, it only took about two seconds to fall asleep.
It was late the next morning when I woke up and groggily opened my eyes. Jake was awake too, watching me between slit eyelids. Simeur sat by an open fire, roasting up something. Hopefully, there was some food for me on that thing.
With a groan, I sat up. Simeur looked over. “Good morning, sleeping beauty. Ready to wake up, finally?”
I groaned again, and stumbled over to the fire.
“There,” Simeur handed me a chunk of wood, with a piece of roasted rabbit on it. “You looked hungry. Eat, before you try to talk.”
I couldn’t even remember the last time I ate. Simeur, as an elf, knew a thing or two about cooking exceptionally well. The rabbit tasted delicious, though anything would probably have tasted good at that point.
We ate in silence. That is, Sime and I did. Jake did not eat with us, but that was okay. Dragons usually only need to eat once a week or so, and they are fine. It was a good thing Jake wasn’t hungry, because our entire rabbit would have only been about half a bite for him, and I was really hungry and didn’t particularly want to share.
After we devoured the rabbit, Sime asked, “So, what exactly is happening today?”
I hadn’t really explained anything while throwing my fit last night. In brief, and very calmly, I told them what all happened the day before, and that Arlin was coming at noon.
“Noon?” asked Simeur, glancing at the sky.
My gaze followed his. “Bananas,” I muttered. I needed to run like crazy if there was any chance of making it to the cave entrance in time. Sleeping took longer than I’d realized.
“I’ll get you there on time,” Jake said, standing to his whole glorious height.
Well, I had no arguments with getting another dragon ride. Simeur looked at Jake skeptically and said, “I’ll stay here if no one minds.”
I laughed. “Sure, chicken out on me again.”
“Not having a death wish is not the same thing as chickening out,” Sime said with a sniff.
“We’ll bring Robbie’s friend back here so you can hear the plans,” said Jake.
“You’ll have to behave yourself,” I said, climbing up Jake’s leg. “He’s never seen a dragon before.”
“I’ll try and be good,” Jake said, but I swear he smiled to himself.
On Jake’s back, getting to the tunnel only took a few seconds, but Jake took his time circling down. He probably knew that I found dragon rides rather enjoyable.
Arlin got there minutes after we did. Good thing I took Jake, running would never have gotten me there on time. Arlin climbed out of the tunnel with one other soldier. Both of them had their arms full of armor, and they had two swords. When they emerged from the tunnel and ran right into Jake, they both dropped everything on the ground.
“Great, now it’s probably dented,” I complained good-naturedly.
Arlin gaped up at Jake.
“I told you I had a dragon.”
“I didn’t realize how big it would be,” he whispered.
That made me laugh. “Arlin, this is Jake. Jake, Arlin. And the other guy is Blakely.”
Blakely was the soldier who I saw at the castle the night before. He, too, was dumbfounded by Jake.
It took a while, but I eventually did convince them it was safe to ride Jake back to our campsite. Neither of the men said a word the entire time. And I’d thought I was scared the first time I met Jake. Well, admittedly, neither of these guys had ever even seen a dragon before.
Back at camp, I checked out the armor while Arlin and Blakely went over how many men and horses and other things they had rounded up so far. They had, fortunately, brought my own armor that I kept in the guard house when not using it. I didn’t usually wear it when dragon fighting because I didn’t want it to get singed. But it was very good armor. There were two swords. One was a smaller sword for me to carry at my side. The other was a giant dragon-fighting type of sword that would usually be carried from your horse.
By the time everything was sorted, I had a pretty good idea what all the guard had managed to round up. That wasn’t all Arlin had to tell me, however. He saved the worst of his news for when I was done going over my armor.
“Robbie,” Arlin said, when I put the dragon-sword down.
“There’s something I need to tell you. About Mara.”
That got my attention. “What? What happened?”
He shifted nervously. “Valkav put her under a spell.”
My heart froze, and my guts felt like I’d swallowed rocks. “What kind of spell? When did this happen?”
“Right after they discovered you escaped. He wanted to make certain you wouldn’t be able to rescue her. He put her to sleep, Robbie. I don’t really know much more about it, but it’s a love spell of some sort. The only way to wake her up is by her True Love’s Kiss. They put her in the throne room. She’s just lying there, very still. It’s terrifying. None of my men will go in there.”
“He put her under a spell?” I sank to the ground, letting my mind take in another shock. Simeur’s face was very white. Jake snorted black smoke. Arlin looked apologetic and nervous. “Well,” I said, trying to pull myself back together. “I guess we’ll have to figure that out, too. Let’s do this.”
Arlin had brought charts and maps of the castle grounds. It took time, but eventually we had the workings of a plan. First I would get Mara out, so nothing bad would happen to her during the battle. Then I would somehow signal Jake and he would come roaring in, which would be the troops’ signal to engage Valkav’s soldiers. Arlin had some tricks set up. It would be exciting.
The only difficulties I could see in our plan were the parts I had to accomplish. That is, saving the princess out from under Valkav’s nose, and then signaling Jake when I would be inside the castle.
Jake, of course, had an answer for that. “Just whistle and wave your arms around. I’ll stay nearby, and see you.”
“I’ll be in the castle, Jake. You can’t see me.”
“I have x-ray vision, Robbie. I can see you.”
Oh, golly. “How come you never bothered to tell me this before?” I demanded.
I swear he rolled his eyes. “Didn’t really seem important.”
Well, no wonder he’d always known where I was and when I was coming when I fought him. “Ok, so that takes care of that problem.”
“I will help you rescue the princess,” said Simeur suddenly, joining the conversation for the first time. “I know a thing or two about spells.”
What can I say, I pick good sidekicks. With their help, everything was sure to work out. “All right, it sounds good. Sometime in the battle I’ll take care of Valkav. It’ll work out. For now, you need to get everything ready, Arlin.”
Jake flew us back to the tunnel. “I’ll see you soon,” I said before they disappeared.
“Very soon,” said Arlin, with a smile.
After Arlin left to do all of the hard work to prepare for the night’s battle, I didn’t do anything useful. I did some hunting and caught another rabbit, which I made Sime cook up. My hunger hadn’t quite been satisfied. I ate the whole thing without pause. Afterward, I took a long walk and tried to get mentally prepared to do what could very well end me. Then I started getting my armor all cleaned up and set for business. It wasn’t exactly designed to get dragged all over the kingdom. Besides that, I hadn’t worn it in a while, except at contests and things like that. It is more designed for fighting people than it is dragons. I tend to do more dragon fighting, and things where more sneakiness than coolness is required, so I didn’t get to wear it all that often.
Soon it was time to go. Sime helped me get all suited up, and then we were ready. It took a while to convince Simeur it was actually safe to get up on Jake’s back, but at that point he really didn’t have a choice if he wanted to come with us. He climbed up behind me and clung on for dear life while Jake took off and never moved the whole trip. He just sat behind me and tried to squeeze the life out of my stomach.
Jake landed at the tunnel entrance and said he would wait close by the castle to watch for my signal. It wasn’t until we were halfway to the castle that I realized we never actually set up an exact signal. Oh well, I suppose he would figure it out.
Soon, Sime and I were in the guardhouse with Arlin and Blakely.
“All right,” said Arlin. “I think we are ready. My men are set up all around the premises.”
“How many men did you manage to round up?” I asked.
“Well, there were a hundred and twenty-two left in my troops, and I dug up about thirty, maybe thirty-five more from the village.”
“Ok. And how many do you think Valkav has now?”
“It’s impossible to say. But with your dragon, and our weaponry, they can’t stop us.”
“They have a sorcerer too, don’t forget. But first things first: do you think we can get into the throne room?”
“Yes, I think so. If you’re sneaky. But you should have no problem with that, now will you?”
“No problem,” I said with a grin.
“It will probably be easier if you get there by the second floor.”
The ceiling of the center of the throne room went up several stories, and around the edges of the second and third floors there were balconies overlooking the throne room for the lower courtiers to stand on. The servant hallways connected to these, and they weren’t well guarded. It was by far the least dangerous way to get to the throne room.
Simeur and I made our way carefully to the second floor, through the servants’ quarters. With some hard work, and some careful ducking and dodging to avoid any servants that would cause a commotion, we managed to get there in one piece.
It wasn’t until we were standing on the walkway, looking down on the throne room itself that I really had to remember why exactly we were there. So far I had been able to push it out of my head. But now, looking down there, I had no choice but to remember.
In the center of the room was a long, low table covered in cushions. Did they have to display her like that? In the middle of everything? For there, lying on the cushions, covered in a blanket up to her shoulders, lay the still, cold form of my little princess. It broke my heart.
For several minutes that was all I could see in the whole room. I finally managed to rip my eyes away and look back at Simeur. He was watching me, almost as closely as I had stared at Mara. “What?” I asked.
“Just how much do you know about love spells?”
“How much do you know about them?”
He rolled his eyes. “How often must I remind you? Is it that difficult? I’m an elf! I know about love spells!”
“No games, Sime. What are you trying to say?”
“These love spells can be very tricky things. Obviously, we don’t really know much about this one. If the situation weren’t so desperate, I would never allow you to try and mess with this one. The situation is desperate, however, so we have to take some chances. There is a problem, though. Depending on how exactly the spell was worded, moving her could be fatal.”
“Why is that?”
“There are sometimes details about location in these spells. It’s hard to say what exactly is entailed in this one. It seems it was put together pretty hastily, so I doubt there was anything in it on that, but it is hard to say. Either way, moving her would be a horrible, horrible risk.
I sighed. “Couldn’t you have told me this before we were standing above the throne room? So what are you saying? We have to break the spell?”
“Something like that. But it’s your choice.”
Yeah, right. Like I was going to steal her if there was a chance of it killing her. “So, we have to get the prince? All this, and I still have to rescue the stupid prince first?”
“That is actually the other problem.”
“Now what? What else are you not telling me?”
“I didn’t tell you before, because I didn’t know for sure until I saw her.”
Tell me now!”
He shifted nervously. “Listen, I’m an elf, right?”
“I thought we went over this already.”
“As an elf, I just know things sometimes. We are a magical people, and there are things we can know about. Love spells are one of those things. I can tell you, right now, the prince cannot break the spell.”
“What? The prince is her true love! How can he not break the spell?” Panic rose up in my soul.
He shook his head. “I don’t know. I can’t explain why, but I can tell you how it is. The princess does not feel true love for the prince. Maybe, after they are married, that will change. But at this time, he can not break the spell.”
“What am I supposed to do?” I whispered.
Sime looked straight into my eyes. “I think you know.”
At that moment, while the world spun out of control, there was a commotion in the throne room big enough to rouse me from my state of supreme shock. The sorcerer was entering the throne room with his retinue. Oh great. Perfect timing.
Then there was an even bigger problem. Blythe was with them, and right as the group walked into the room, he happened to look up and see me.
Our eyes met for a long moment, then he looked at Mara and back at me again. His eyes got very big. Yep, he knew exactly what was up. He looked at the sorcerer, and back at me again.
“This is bad, Robbie,” said Simeur.
“He’s not going to tell on us,” I whispered back, and somewhere in my heart, I knew he wouldn’t. He owed me that.
“We’re running out of time, Robbie.”
I stared at the table where Mara lay. He was right, we were running out of time.
I looked at Simeur.
“You are only going to have one shot at this, before it is too late. This is your choice, but you need to make it now.”
I looked back down at Blythe, at Mara, and back at Blythe. I think, at that moment, he understood exactly what was going to happen next, maybe even better than I did. He looked at the sorcerer, at me, and at the sorcerer again.
“Now, Robbie!” Sime whispered.
Blythe made a decision. Before either Sime or I could do anything, he took a running jump and leaped onto the sorcerer’s back. “Go!” he screamed, before he was lost in the tumult that resulted from his crazy, crazy act.
That was that. Without thinking, I jumped off the balcony, and landed on the floor of the throne room. I hit the floor with a thud, but the guards were too distracted by Blythe’s commotion to pay attention to a random guy jumping off of balconies. I ran straight to Mara’s table. Her face was utterly pale, her mouth slightly open. She looked completely dead.
Gently, I knelt down next to her and took her face into my hands. All the craziness in the room seemed to fade away. None of that mattered. It was just her and me. I knew, really knew now, how much I truly loved her. “Mara,” I whispered. “Don’t do this to me. I need you.” With that, I leaned over and kissed her.
Her lips were cold, but when mine met hers I felt a spark of warmth in them. The kiss lasted for barely more than a second, but when I lifted away to look at her, there was a flush coming over her cheeks, and she sighed ever so slightly.
That was enough. Maybe it had worked, or maybe it was my imagination. It was time to go. I threw the blanket off of her, lifted her in my arms, and fled from the room. Somehow, all of that happened quickly enough for us to escape before Valkav recovered from Blythe’s sudden, unexpected attack. As I ran, I wasn’t able to wave my arms, so I threw my head back and started yelling at the top of my lungs and tossing my head back and forth like a crazy person.
Well, it must have worked. At least, I heard roaring and yelling, and then all the soldiers around me became very distracted.
I ran past everyone, and finally burst outside. Yup, Jake had figured it out. The guards had started their attack, and it was getting very exciting. Somewhere, I could hear Jake roaring and it sounded like a happy roar. At least someone was enjoying himself.
First, Mara had to get out of here. In the barn a horse was waiting, all nice and saddled up and ready for her. There was also supposed to be a guard. Unfortunately, when we got there, the horse was waiting, but the guard apparently got distracted. There was no sign of the guy. For a moment I was dumbfounded. There was no way that I could leave now, in the middle of the battle. Suddenly, I heard a voice. “I’ll take her.”
I turned. There was Sime, looking a little flushed. “You hate riding,” I countered.
He shrugged. “I hate rivers too. And you hate killing people. Sometime, you have to do stuff you don’t want to. I may hate riding, but I can do it in a pinch. Remember when I rescued you?”
He had ridden pretty well then. “Ok,” I said. “I guess there is no one I’d rather trust her to. You think you can get her to the forest?” I asked as he climbed onto the horse.
Once he was situated I took a last look at Mara. She was definitely un-spelled, at least. There was a lot more color in her cheeks, and she stirred restlessly.
“Stay safe,” I whispered as I placed her gently in front of Sime.
Her eyes fluttered gently, and she whispered, so softly I almost missed it, “Robbie, Robbie.”
“Go, Sime!” I cried, and flung open the barn door.
He must have kicked that horse awful hard. The animal took off and they were gone before I could recover. “Go,” I whispered.