Secrets for Surviving in Fairyland:
Being able to run is a very fine skill. Whether you are winning a race, staying away from the coppers, heartbroken, fighting a dragon, or just trying to get somewhere quickly, it is always good to be able to run fast.
I ran blindly, as hard and as fast as possible. My breath came out in gasps, and my heart pounded in my ears. My side started to cramp, but on I ran until the pain was too much and the forest too dark to see where I was going, and I collapsed on the ground and fell asleep.
The next morning when my eyes opened, the sun was pouring through the canopy of leaves overhead. I stretched stiffly, and sat up, wondering what time it was. As far as I could tell, it appeared to be midmorning. At least the night was over. I got up and started to walk aimlessly. It didn’t really matter where I ended up now.
So. That was how it was going to be. At least now it was clear. There wouldn’t be any more confusion on my part at least. Mara thought I was just a pawn, a means to an end. I could never be anything more. At least she cleared that up. Now we could continue with our lives.
Or she could continue with hers. Me, on the other hand, that would be more difficult. There was no way, when this ended, I’d be able to stay at the castle. That left the question, what else could I do? What marketable skills did I even have? The answer was: not much. I could fight dragons, outthink witches, run away from wolves and not much else. I’d spent my whole life training for a role that soon would be unnecessary. If Mara cast me aside, I’d be out of a job. That was really the last thing eating away at my chest, but it didn’t hurt quite as bad to think about. I had actually believed Mara cared for me, maybe even loved me a little bit. I’m such an idiot. I was just a tool, something to be used and then forgotten.
Whatever way I looked at it, there was still a job to do. Just because I had discovered the truth about things, that didn’t change the facts. Maybe Mara didn’t care, but this was my home, and Roy was still officially my boss.
And I promised Mara I would take care of it. Even if she cared nothing for me, even if everything had changed, I still made a promise. By golly, I was going to keep it.
The problem was, she wanted to get Roy. I could live with that. Didn’t like it any, but it was livable. That still left me without a very good plan for defeating the sorcerer. I’m a dragon-slayer, not a sorcerer-slayer. It’s a little bit out of my experience. Sure, I’m about as qualified as anybody, but that isn’t saying much. Do you know anyone qualified to fight a sorcerer? Me neither.
I emerged on the top of a hill, and the trees cleared up a little so I could see for quite a ways. The castle rose up in the south, looking bare, dark, and forbidding. The town lay spread out around the walls, looking small and desolate next to the castle.
As I turned, I saw the forest spread out all around, almost as dark and forbidding as the castle. The forest made the castle and the village both look tiny and unimportant. The trees continued, wide and unbroken for a long ways. Here and there emerged the top of an old tower, or you could see a break in the trees where there were ruins. Countless people had lived in the forest, countless died. It was kind of fascinating.
Something caught my eye close by. The midmorning sun shone blindingly, and bathed the tops of the trees in light. A shadow moved across them at an alarming rate, headed toward a very tall tower jutting out of the trees somewhere in the east, toward the river. I looked up. A large, dark shape flew through the sky. It circled the tower a few times and landed on the top, looking quite pensive and foreboding. Probably, it was an enchanted dragon guarding a damsel in the tower. I didn’t remember hearing about one being there, but that kind of thing happens all the time in Fairyland. It was a little too close to the castle for my comfort, but that’s ok. I can live with a dragon for a neighbor. Wait…
A huge smile spread over my face, and I started laughing hysterically. A dragon! Just when I really needed something to cheer me up! What perfect timing. As I stared toward the tower, at the massive shape of the dragon, a plan began to form in my mind. A dazzlingly simple, marvelously elegant, freakishly fantastic plan. And it just might work!
It was time for some more running. Time was becoming important. I bolted from the hilltop, headed as fast as possible toward the dragon-tower. It took most of the day to get there. I couldn’t run the whole entire time, I’m not enchanted. But either way, I can travel pretty quickly when I’m motivated. And today, I felt plenty motivated. It was the middle of the afternoon when I realized I was very close to the tower containing the enchanted dragon.
Inside this tower waited a dragon and a damsel. I didn’t know much more. Dragons are big, strong, and very useful when you want to fight other strong powerful things.
From Phil I knew that dragons only try to kill people who are in the castle because one, they are enchanted, and two, the people are trying to attack and kill them. We’ve already been over that, awhile ago. So, my thought was, if I got the girl out of the castle, the dragon would be free. Maybe he would feel indebted to me for freeing him and decide to help me out. That was the thinking anyway. And a dragon would be rather helpful for my impossible predicament. If nothing else, a good fight with a dragon might put me in a better humor.
The tower loomed up high over the trees. It started out wide at the bottom, but got steadily thinner all the way up. The top probably turned into merely a garret where the princess most likely lived. The highest room in the tallest tower and all that jazz. A high wall circled the base of the tower, which didn’t make a lot of sense, but I’m not the one who designed the thing. The dragon was probably in the courtyard there, between the walls and the tower. Either that, or he was hiding in the lowest level of the tower. Probably wouldn’t fit very many other places.
The plan? Grab the girl and get out again, preferably without making the dragon too angry in the process. Or getting myself fried for that matter.
Well, if I wanted to do this, it was time to quit stalling and do it. Twice, I circled the base of the tower, hoping to find some sign of the beastie waiting inside. Nothing. When I got back over to the gate I stared at it for a long minute.
I stretched, loosened up a bit, and unsheathed the sword I got from Arlin. Nothing in the plan called for the sword, I just felt more natural and comfortable going to face a dragon with it in my hand. It seems more professional.
Making faces at the gate so far had not yielded any interesting results. One last stretch, I grabbed the handle to the gate and pulled it open hard and fast toward myself, keeping it between me and the entrance.
Good thing, too. A wall of fire came through the opening the instant it opened and if I hadn’t been safely hidden, everything would have ended there. Before he could catch his breath again I leaped around the gate, bolted through the entrance, and ran between his legs.
He was a biggie, all right. Almost as huge as Mara’s dragon, and a brilliant gold color. He tried to whack me with his tail when I came out from between his legs, which was a new one, but I managed to duck out of the way, though it did get close. Silly dragon, I’m faster than you.
Only, I didn’t want to kill the thing. I just needed to get around it. If I’d thought it would help I would have started yelling, “Stupid! I’m trying to help you!” But that probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Oh well, this was more fun anyway.
In the end I had to continuously run between his legs and dodge his tail to avoid him. The more I did that, the better he got at aiming. Finally, we inched close enough to the crumbled entrance to the tower. I made a run for it and darted behind the wall the instant I got inside to let the fireball pass by.
Luckily, the dragon couldn’t fit through the entrance. A crumbly ruin of a staircase twisted up along the walls to the top of the tower. I groaned at the sight. This was worse than dragon-fighting any day.
The stairs took longer than the dragon-fighting had, too. I climbed them carefully. Didn’t really want to die from stepping on a rotten stair. It took a while, but eventually I made it to the top of the thing and burst into the princess’s room.
I needed to hurry and get back to Mara. The princess sat on the low bed, her hands folded in her lap, utterly petrified at the sight of me.
From the look of things, she hadn’t been a D.I.D. that long. She was a bit plump and quite cute, with large brown eyes and long blonde hair.
“What’s your name?” I demanded. I was in a hurry.
“Me?” she squeaked.
“Yes,” I sighed. Who else was in the room?
“I’m—I’m—Helga!” she stuttered out.
I rolled my eyes, ran across the room, and grabbed her hand. “Come on, then, Helga. Time to go!”
Back down, down, down, all the way down the stairs we ran. Well, ran is relative. Helga didn’t move that fast, but she looked like she was trying to run. No where near as fast or as determined as Mara. But Mara was clearly my favorite. Obviously.
When we arrived back at the entrance to the courtyard, I poked my head around. The dragon wasn’t in sight, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t hiding just out of vision, waiting for me.
My only prayer, now that I had to drag Helga along, was that he would think twice about frying the princess. Hopefully, that would give us time to run out of the courtyard, and Helga would be officially rescued.
I grabbed Helga’s hand and raced for the gate as fast as I could drag her. As we burst into the open a roar sounded from somewhere above and to the left, and the thudding sound that meant he was airborne above us. He roared again. Twenty feet to the gate!
The horrible sound of a dragon in-taking air. Ten feet.
He landed on the ground behind us, reared his head back, and released.
I pulled Helga behind the gate and slammed it shut.
Take that, mister dragon!
Helga stood there just staring at me like I was some sort of nut case. But there was not time to worry about that. I glanced around and saw a big stone, part of the ruins, close by. “Here,” I said, leading her to it. “Stay there, for now. Ok?” She nodded, and I ran back to the gate.
Now that was taken care of, it was time to think about my dragon. Cautiously, I opened the gate again and peeked inside. The dragon sat in the courtyard, sides heaving and head down, looking in my direction suspiciously. I was all the way inside the courtyard before I realized something kind of important.
No one had ever actually tested my dragons-aren’t-really-all-that-bad theory. No one but me had ever even thought about trying it. Who goes to all the trouble of rescuing a dame without bothering to kill the dragon? So there I was, face to face with a massive golden dragon, with no idea whether or not he was going to just eat me then and there.
Slowly, I made a great show of placing my sword on the ground next to me. He watched closely, huge golden eyes tracking my every move.
Here goes nothing. “Uh, hi,” I said. What should one say in this situation? “Uh, well, I’m Robbie, and I actually didn’t come here for the princess. I’m a lot more interested in you, really.” I sounded ridiculous “See, now that I’ve rescued the princess, you aren’t enchanted anymore, so you don’t have to stay here. You could do anything you wanted. But I was kind of wondering if you would be interested in helping me out. I’ve got this problem, see, the kingdom I live in has been taken over by this evil sorcerer, and I’m not a hero or anything, so I’m having a little trouble. I thought maybe, since I got you free of your enchantment, you might like to do a little favor for me, or something.”
Ok, so that sounded awful. “So, in other words, I need some help, and it doesn’t exactly look like you have anything better to do with yourself right now, so yeah.”
The dragon just stared at me. Did he even understand a word of that? There was a thought. What if dragons don’t understand people-talk? That would put a serious hole in my plans. And probably in my body if he still thought I wanted to kill him and my sword was lying on the ground. This was a horrible idea.
He was still just looking at me. Suddenly, a deep sound burst out of his throat. If I hadn’t been utterly petrified that would have cued me to bolt out of there in high gear. For some reason, however, my legs wouldn’t respond to the signals my brain sent out, and I just stood there gaping at him and looking ridiculous.
“What did you say your name was again?” came a deep, growly voice from the golden dragon.
“R-R-Ro-Robbie,” I stuttered.
He made that funny growly noise again, and I realized it was probably laughter. “You are the queerest person I ever met, and I have met some queer ones.”
“So, you don’t think I have anything better to do, do you?” There came that growly noise again. “Well, you’re probably right. And you are entertaining. I’ll come with you, if nothing else just to see what in the world you were stuttering about.”
Now that he was talking and being friendly like, my bravery started to come back in a lovely flood. “I wasn’t stuttering. I had something caught in my throat.”
“Sure,” he said, skeptical.
“You’re really going to help me?” I asked, trying not to let my hopes fly up too high until I felt certain. This was almost too good to be true.
“Well, maybe first you should tell me exactly what I’m signing up for. However, like you said, you did rescue me from the enchantment. I do feel indebted to you for that great service.”
“I must say, that is a great relief. I always thought dragons weren’t all that bad, but no one ever agreed. Of course, I didn’t remember that until I was back staring you in the face.”
He laughed. “Well, you get points for pure guts, if nothing else.”
“Thanks, I do try.”
“You haven’t answered my question yet.”
“Oh, and what question was that?”
“What did I sign up for, exactly?”
“That, my friend, is a very long story.”
Once again, I found myself settling down and telling the whole long thing over again. When the dragon heard my reasoning behind coming to rescue the princess and get his help in return, he burst into loud guffaws.
“That—that was all you had—to go on!” he laughed loudly. “You’re crazy! You had no idea I wasn’t going to eat you!”
“I was just a little bit desperate, if you can’t tell.”
“So what is the plan now, since you have acquired a dragon’s services?”
“First, we probably should find the princess.” I had carefully left out the parts about our big fight and the conversation I overheard with the godmother. In fact, the whole incident had happily stayed far away from the front of my mind. It could just stay away, for all I cared.
“That does always help,” he agreed. “I don’t suppose you have any idea where exactly she is?”
“She was in the forest near the castle yesterday.”
“How do you know for sure?”
“I saw her there.”
He looked me over carefully. “And you got all the way over here today? On foot?”
“I like to run,” I said with a shrug.
He burst into more loud, roaring laughter, and I laughed with him. “In all my hundreds of years, never have I met a human like you, Sir Robbie. Let’s go find your princess.”
He turned, strode out of the gate, and crouched down. “You won’t have to run any more today, anyway. Hop on.”
“Of course. My pleasure.”
It’s not everyday you get a chance to take a complimentary ride by dragon-back. This was turning out to be a pretty ok day after all. Eagerly, I scrambled up his leg (with a little help from him, admittedly) and onto his back. As I got settled between his shoulder blades, I thought of something. “Hey,” I called to his head. “What did you say your name was, again?”
“It’s not very pronounceable.”
“Well, I gotta call you something!”
“You can call me Jake, I guess,” he said uncertainly. “That’s close enough.”
“Jake. It’s nice to meet you Jake.” A thought came to me. “What kind of a name for a terrifying dragon is Jake?’
“Like I said, it’s not my real name. My real name can only be said in dragon language. You wouldn’t be able to get it out, not with your vocal cords. So you are going to have to live with Jake.”
I shrugged. “It’s fine with me. Just a little odd, that’s all.”
“Robbie’s not much of a hero’s name, either.”
“I’m not much of a hero.”
He didn’t respond, because at that moment he made a terrific leap and with several huge thuds of his humongous wings we went airborne, flying over the tops of the trees. He made several circles around the tower and headed for the castle. “That one?” he hollered at me, flying in the direction of the one he meant.
I barely managed to nod, and with a roar and a little dip in the air he got going even faster. Now we were booking. I was terrified, but after a minute started to relax. He flew confidently and my seat between his shoulders felt pretty solid. Unless he started doing somersaults in the air, I probably wouldn’t fall off. In fact, it was a very enjoyable ride once I caught my breath.
When we were very close to the castle he pulled up suddenly, his head reared back, and he circled once over a section of trees. Then he pulled up a little higher. “Someone is calling your name down there!” he yelled over the wind.
“Really? Is it a girl?”
“That’s got to be Mara.” It came to me that I sort of ran away without any warning or talking to anybody. Oops. “Maybe you better set me down and let me warn her before you come roaring into view.”
He circled a couple of times and eventually found a spot clear enough in the forest for him to land without spearing himself on any trees. He settled on the ground, and I slid off. And right onto my rear. Apparently it would take a minute for my land legs to come back. Jake laughed at me. Again. “Go get that girl of yours,” he said, still laughing.
“I’m going, I’m going,” I muttered, getting up and running into the forest.
It took a minute to get my bearings and remember how to run properly. Then it took a couple more minutes to find Mara. Soon I heard voices, one of them unmistakably belonging to Mara. With a grin I ran toward them.
When they came into sight, Mara sat on a rock talking to Simeur, and Blythe stood on the rock next to her looking from one to the other in aggravation. “Hey!” I called.
They all three turned and stared at me. Mara jumped to her feet. “Robbie!” she cried, her face filled with relief.
“I’ve got to show you something. Come on!” I called, turning back toward the woods.
“Wait! Robbie! Where have you been?” she cried, running up to me.
“It doesn’t matter. No time. I need to show you something!”
“Come on!” I grabbed her hand, and pulled her behind me back through the forest.
“Did you sleep in a tree?” came the unmistakable voice of Blythe in dwarvish.
“Under one, actually,” I replied.
“Where did you two learn dwarvish? You both have awful accents,” commented Simeur. Oh yeah, I forgot, he would know dwarvish, wouldn’t he? Though why he never felt the need to point that out before and help me with my translation difficulties is a mystery. My absence must have forced him to talk to Blythe.
“You three drive me crazy!” said Mara. “All day these two have been gabbing and arguing with each other in that crazy language, and now you, too!”
“Sorry,” I said with a grin. To my little sidekicks I added, “Have you two been arguing?”
“This—this—thing you brought back has no idea how to handle anything. He is more trouble than he is worth!” crabbed Simeur.
“And he does nothing but whine and complain. Can’t stand it that the princess trusts me more than him!” said Blythe, glaring at Sime.
Simeur sighed. “That’s not true. No one cares to listen to me, despite the fact that I worked with Robbie for years before you ever popped up. We don’t know anything about you, actually. What did you do before you met Robbie? Won’t tell me. I don’t trust him,” he added.
“Whatever, you two. I have someone for you to meet.” I stopped at the edge of the clearing where I’d left Jake. “Ready, Princess?” I asked.
She nodded slowly and with a grin I led her into the clearing.
“Mara, meet Jake.” Jake stood, huge and terrific, in the center of the clearing, where a patch of sunlight reflected off his great golden frame. He looked absolutely magnificent and it made me smile.
She gasped at the sight and clutched my arm very hard. Even Simeur and Blythe fell silent. “Who—what—how…” Mara whispered.
I grinned, grabbed her hand, and led her closer. Jake bowed his head slightly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Princess. Robbie has told me so much about you.”
“How?” she whispered again, unable to take her gaze off of Jake, who looked a little bit full of himself.
“Remember how I told you, before Roy killed your dragon? How once the princess is rescued the dragon doesn’t have to kill anyone anymore? Well, I had an opportunity and I decided to test the theory.”
“You could have died!”
“That’s what I said, Princess,” cut in Jake. “I think our friend here does a lot of things without thinking about them too carefully.”
“I’ll say,” Mara agreed, before she realized she was talking to a dragon. “You should have seen some of the stuff he’s pulled already!”
“I believe it! He didn’t remember he’d never tested this theory until he was standing in front of me without a weapon, or so he claims.”
Mara glared at me. “Thanks,” I muttered to Jake. “Now I’m in trouble.”
“No,” said Mara. “At least, not for that. But where have you been? We were worried about you. What happened?”
I shrugged. “Just needed to think about some things. But that’s not important now.” I didn’t want to talk about the things I’d thought over. “The important thing is that, with Jake’s help, this might actually work. The first thing that we need to do is get Roy back.”