Secrets For Surviving in Fairyland:
Sometimes, no matter how much you think you know, you are just wrong about a whole lot of things. If you can admit that, just sometimes, your world will become a much nicer place.
I stared up at Jake from where I lay on the floor, and he stared back at me. “Buddy,” I said, after a moment. “You just swallowed a sorcerer!” Maybe I only know a few things about sorcerers, but I know they are pretty hard to kill. “He was still twitching. Aren’t you worried that he’s going to turn your intestines into snakes or something?”
Jake let out a low, rumbly laugh. “Don’t you know? The one thing sorcerers are scared of is dragons. We’re magical, you know. They can’t really do all that much to us, besides imprison us if they really catch us off guard. He is never coming back, not now. The one sure fire way of getting rid of a sorcerer: have a dragon swallow him.”
“No problem. Let’s get you out of here.”
With the sorcerer safely gone, I actually wasn’t feeling all that awful. Other than the little problem of not being able to move my arm for the horrible pain that throbbed through it. I stood up slowly and looked around, feeling a bit dazed.
“How are we doing out there?” I asked, making my way over to him.
“Listen,” was his only response.
I stopped. I could hear yelling, and cheering from outside. “Is that us?”
“Yes, yes it is. You did it Robbie. You defeated Valkav. You win.”
It was almost too much. The world started to spin at an alarming rate. Jake started laughing again. “Just climb up, Robbie.”
Without arguing I did as he said. Jake took off slowly, and flew gently down and around the castle. He gave the softest landing yet, and growled for someone to come help me down.
I didn’t need that much help, just enough so I didn’t have to use my left arm. Blakely helped me slide off and I began to survey the damage. Suddenly I thought of something. “Blakely, will you do me a favor?”
“Of course, sir.”
“Go into the castle and see if you can find the gnome. He might be in the throne room, and he is probably injured.”
“You want to help the gnome, sir?” asked Blakely, astonished.
“He saved my life. Go.”
Blakely saluted, and did as he was told.
I didn’t express my great fear, that he might be dead. Instead, I looked around the castle. There were small smoldering fires here and there. Arlin’s men picked their way through the wreckage and ashes, helping the injured of both sides and presumably counting the dead. Those left of Valkav’s men stood along one wall, unarmed, and watched by several guards.
“Jake, where are they taking the injured?” I asked.
“They set up a station on the other side of the castle. Arlin thought ahead. He got several healers from the village, along with the guards’ own healer, and hid them in the tunnel until the end of the battle. Now they are out, and doing a fine job.”
Wow. Good thing some people are organized.
Jake looked at me worriedly. “Maybe we should get you over there. Someone should look at your arm. It looks broken.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I said, brushing him off. “First, I have to see Blythe.”
He didn’t look convinced. He turned his head toward the castle and peered at it intently for a moment. “It looks like they found him. They should probably take him straight to the healer’s though. It doesn’t look good.”
My heart jumped into my throat. “Dead?” I asked.
“No, but maybe mostly. Come on, we’ll meet them over there.” He gave me a nudge with his huge-o head to get me going.
Jake walked protectively behind me all the way. There were people everywhere at their makeshift hospital, lying on the floor, on mats, all over the place. “These people should be inside,” I muttered to Jake.
He growled his agreement, but said, “I think they didn’t want to go in without permission.”
“Permission! I’ll give them permission,” I muttered, but at that moment, Blakely and another soldier appeared, and they were carrying Blythe.
They took him over by the healers and set him down on a mat. I followed like a worried mother hen, and when he was down, knelt over him.
“Blythe?” I whispered. “Hey, buddy, can you hear me?”
His eyes fluttered slowly. “Hey,” he rasped out.
Relief flooded over me. He was alive. “How you doin’?” I asked.
He laughed, hackingly. “How does it look like I’m doing? Just swell!”
“Yeah, I can tell.”
“Hey,” he said seriously. “Did you kill him? Is he gone?”
“He’s gone, Blythe. Valkav is dead. You’re free.”
Tears welled up in his little gnome-eyes, and he struggled to speak. “Thank you,” he said finally. “I can’t tell you, especially after…” he choked up, unable to go on.
“Hey, hey, don’t die on me now. Don’t worry about that, it’s in the past. Everything is forgiven. Everything. You have more than paid for what you did.”
“No, I can never pay you back for that. But it’s a nice thought,” he said.
“No matter, it’s over. You just get well, and strong, and back to your old, impish self now. Okay?”
He nodded, smiled weakly at me, and closed his eyes.
I stood up slowly. Time to do something about all of these people lying all over the place. There was a giant castle, right there. Take them inside, for gosh sakes. I started looking for someone in charge-ish.
Instead, a young boy stopped me. “Sir, if you will just take a seat over there, I am sure one of the healers will be with you in a second.”
I looked at him in confusion. “Who is in charge around here?” I asked.
“That would be Healer Jove, the healer for the guard.”
“I need him, immediately.”
“He is very busy, sir, but if you just sit over there someone will be able to look at your arm in a minute.”
“This has nothing to do with my arm, silly boy! This has to do with the organization of the place. Now where is he?”
“Sir, really,” he looked very exasperated. He grabbed my good arm, and began to push me toward the waiting area. “Just take a seat. We need to help the people who are close to death first.”
There was suddenly a low growl behind me, and the boy’s face went very white. I turned around. There was Jake, looking angry. “Do as he says!” Jake growled.
The boy’s eyes got big and he scrambled away. “Great,” I muttered. “He’ll never come back now.”
“A simple thank-you would suffice,” Jake replied.
“Thanks,” I said, grinning.
After a minute, the boy came back. With him was Jove, a man I had met many times in the guard, looking rather angry. At least, he looked angry until the boy stopped in front of me, looked up at him expectedly and said, “Here, sir.”
I don’t think Jove heard him. “Robbie!” he said, thrilled, and rushed over to grasp my right hand. “You made it! The sorcerer?”
“Gone,” I said, and it sent a thrill through my chest.
“Wonderful!” Jove slapped me on the back a little too hard. “Now, what can I do for you, sir?”
“These people should be inside the castle.”
“I agree, but we can’t take it over without permission.”
“I’m going to stand in for the prince and give you permission. If anyone says anything, tell them I told you to do it.”
“Anything you say, sir,” Jove said. Then he eyed me, warily. “That is, on one condition.”
“What kind of condition?”
“You let someone take care of your arm.”
Why was everyone so desperate to look at my arm? It wasn’t that exciting. “Fine. Whatever you want, Jove.”
It took the whole night, but eventually every injured person had been moved inside the castle and made comfortable. A young healer from the village tackled me at one point, and tried to make me let him wrap up my arm. It was totally the wrong time, and I was in the middle of something important, but Jake popped up growling and said if I didn’t let the healer do it, then he’d sit on me himself. Being sat on by a dragon is a pretty vicious threat, so I settled down and let the healer do his thing with only a little bit of whining.
The night passed, and in the very early hours, Arlin dragged me away from the commotion and locked me in the guardhouse, and Jake sat in front of the door so I couldn’t escape. I actually got a couple hours of sleep before dawn.
Then nothing could hold me in. I got myself out the window, and soundly chewed out by Jake, and we headed back out. Arlin gave me the run down on the damage, and how many from both sides were dead or injured
The numbers came out nicely. We did pretty well for ourselves, all things considered. The losses on the other side far outweighed our own. It made me proud. Arlin and I walked all the way around the battlegrounds and talked about how to make the area livable and defensible again.
It was while doing this lovely chore, as we looked down on the village and talked about how to help it recover, that I saw her. She was walking up the road, with Simeur at her side. Her face was pale and drawn. Apparently, the spell had taken its toll.
A minute later she looked up and saw me. She stopped and stared. For a moment we just looked at each other. Then the careful, passive look on her face melted. She let out a little half sob, “Robbie,” and rushed into my arms.
“Hey,” I said, surprised a bit by the outburst. But it felt good to have her kicking again, instead of lying limply in my arms.
“I thought you were dead. That was the worst night of my life!” She pulled away, and looked up into my face. For the first time I noticed that her eyes were bright red and there were dark circles around them. “They wouldn’t let me come until now!”
“Who wouldn’t let you come?”
“Him!” She pointed at Simeur, glaring.
“Thank you,” I said to him.
“Next time, I won’t have you get rid of the spell first. I almost wanted to put one of my own on her just to make her stay put,” he replied.
I just laughed. Mara glared at me. “Thank you?”
“I told him to keep you safe until the battle was over. Sounds like he did just that.”
She took a deep breath. “What happened to the sorcerer?”
“He’s gone, Mara. You’re safe now.”
“I killed him, with a little help from Jake,” I said, grinning up at my big friend.
“Robbie did most of it,” said my good buddy. “I just disposed of the body.”
That made me laugh. Mara looked totally confused, which was ok.
“You could have died,” she whispered.
“That’s my life,” I shrugged. I bit my lip. “I suppose you are wondering about the prince. He’s fine. I’m sure you can go see him now, if you wish. I’ve got some things to take care of, but Blakely…”
I never finished my sentence. “I need to talk to you. Now. Unless, you’re super busy,” she said, putting a finger on my lips to keep me from talking.
“Okay, what about?” I asked carefully.
“I need to talk to you alone.”
Well, that was unexpected. I really did have things to do. Jake looked at me like I was an idiot. He rolled his giant eyes and said, “Mara, that’s a good idea. You should take Robbie out of here for a while, before he dies of exhaustion. We’re running out of ways to get him to stop working and take care of himself. He won’t listen to me.”
I looked at Arlin helplessly. “He’s right. We’ll be fine for an hour. Go take care of yourself, for a change,” was all he said.
“You were supposed to be on my side,” I grumped.
He laughed. “Jake and I will take care of things. Go.”
I was outnumbered. Even my best buddies were turning against me.
“Come on,” said Mara impatiently.
“You are all ridiculous!” I said, and headed down the road after her.
We walked in silence until we were a ways away from the castle, in the middle of somebody’s pasture. I felt glad about doing as ordered; it was really nice to get away from the castle, and the blood, and the war-zone and all.
“I wanted to talk to you.”
“Look, I’ve been thinking about some things the last few days. I feel,” she stopped and took a deep breath. “I feel like the most horrible person ever!”
That got my attention in a hurry. “No!”
“Shh. I have to say this. Just hold on.”
We stopped walking and I could only look at her.
She looked into my eyes. “I thought I lost you forever. I realized…I realized how much you mean to me.”
“Mara,” I whispered.
“Robbie, I’ve been such a fool. All I’ve done, this whole time, is try to convince myself that I can be happy married to the prince. But I can’t. Last night, you broke the spell. I knew, I knew when he put it on me, you would have to be the one to break it. I prayed that you would realize it, that you would understand. Robbie, I’ve been such an idiot over this Happy Ending business, and I’ve hurt you. I know I have. The truth is I love you with all of my heart, and I have for a long time, I just couldn’t say it before.”
“How?” I whispered. “How can that be? Mara, I heard you, with the godmother.”
I sighed. “I followed you, that day you went to the godmother’s house. I was worried about you. I heard your conversation. I heard what you were saying about me.”
She looked confused, but fortunately not angry that I’d spied on her. “Then you should understand.”
“What? I heard you saying that I was meant only to get you your happy ending, nothing more.”
“Did you hear the whole conversation?”
“Well, no. I ran away somewhere in the middle.”
“What was the last thing you heard?”
That was a good question. I had to think about it for a minute. “Something about you could only get your happy ending if you forgot me. Or something.”
She actually started laughing. “If you are going to eavesdrop on me, don’t just listen to half of the conversation!”
Now I really was confused. “What?”
She shook her head and grabbed my good hand in her own. “Ramonda did say all that. But it made me furious! I couldn’t believe she would say something like that about you! So I told her she was an idiot, and that godmothers had no right to tell people what they can and can’t do, and that I was going to love who I wished and get whatever ending I wanted.”
Oh my. “You said that?”
“What did she say?”
“That I was a fool. And I would lose my Happy Ending if I didn’t marry Roy.”
“What did you say?”
“Maybe you should have stuck around and listened to the whole conversation.” She caught her breath. “Is that why you ran off?”
“Maybe. What did you say?” This was no time to talk about my stupidity.
“That I didn’t care. I’d rather live a whole life and have my story be with you, than have it end with Roy.”
My heart wasn’t working properly. Was it possible she really meant what she was saying? “I thought,” I couldn’t continue.
“What?” she asked gently.
She was still holding my hand. “I thought you wanted a prince, a hero. The story you were meant to have.”
“This is the story I was meant to have. And I do have a hero. The greatest, strongest, bravest hero in the history of the world.”
“All this time,” I whispered, “I thought you didn’t care. Why didn’t you say something?”
“I tried. I wanted to, before we went after Roy. You wouldn’t let me.”
Thinking back, it was the truth. I really hadn’t given her any chance to talk. “I’m such an idiot.”
“No, it’s my fault. I hurt you.”
“I’m still ridiculous. You deserve better than me. I can never give you the life you should have.”
“Would you stop going on about that already! If I hurt you too much, if you can’t forgive me, that’s fine. I’ll understand. But don’t you dare say you’re not good enough for me, Robbie DiShaun. You are under a terrible illusion that you are not a hero, when everyone else in the world is trying to convince you otherwise. What more do you want? You saved me, and Jake, and Arlin, and Roy, and everyone else in the kingdom. I was too blind to see it, but Robbie, you are all the hero anyone could ever want. And you are all I could ever want or need. What do you think about that?”
There was nothing, no words in me for that. Mara’s eyes were tearing up, but it was hard to see because so were mine. Yes, I, Robbie, was crying. Instead of speaking, I leaned down and kissed her. This time, she kissed me back.