To Lead Our Lives We Must be Free
King Magnus locked himself in his room and refused to come out. This was a strange thing to witness as usually he was bright and cheerful, throwing parties and…beheading people. Anyways, that beautiful summer day King Magnus refused to leave his room and no servant could bribe him with anything. Alec had heard that he had met his sister and after approximately ten minutes of talking an argument erupted, which concluded with Magnus locked in his room and Princess Catarina nowhere to be found. Alec understood that Magnus didn’t want to talk to anyone. He didn’t feel like meeting his fearsome sister by himself either, so he went to the gardens with a piece of parchment and wrote.
Prince Jace, upon hearing the giant woman wake, turned around, cold sweat trickling down his collar…
…as he came face to face with the giant woman. She wasn’t exactly ugly. Her face was round and grinning, and her cheeks were a bright red. Her companion, the super tall boy with white hair, yawned and stretched, rubbing his eyes and peering at Jace.
‘What are you staring at?’ he snapped. Jace thought about backing away slowly but the woman was still staring at him.
‘I-I’m a prince. I-I’m g-going to marry p-p-princess Clarissa…’ Jace stumbled through his words. Was he going to get crushed to death?
The woman’s face brightened up and she clapped her large hands happily.
‘We’ve heard of her! Oh, Sebastian, an adventure!’ she looked at Jace with stars dancing in her eyes. ‘Take us with you!”
‘Huh?’ Jace took a moment to process the fact that he wasn’t going to get killed. ‘Take you…with me?’
The boy called Sebastian cleaned his nails casually. ‘Yeah, why not? We’ve been camping around here for a few days, but it’s ridiculously boring. All Anna wants to do is take naps. Besides, we could be useful.’
Jace thought about this. With a giant and a guy with an attitude he could possibly intimidate the king…besides, travelling alone was never fun. He grinned.
‘Aw jeez! How far is the princess?’ Sebastian complained, poking a stick at the fire. It was late night and Jace and Anna and he were gathered around the fire that Jace had started. All around them were miles of dark forest and abandoned caves.
‘Not too far,’ Jace said brightly. Hopefully he added in his head. Sebastian rolled his eyes and Anna started to settle down for sleep when the trees close by rustled. Jace was on his feet in seconds, pointing his sword at the place. Sebastian was close behind him.
‘Who goes there?’ Jace demanded, trying his best to sound dangerous.
Three figures emerged from behind the thick bushes, hands up in a ‘don’t shoot’ gesture. Jace frowned. They looked ridiculous; one of them was tall with spiky black hair and an over the top outfit of frills and brocade. His eyes were tied with a piece of white cloth that contrasted with his loud clothes. At his side was a girl with green eyes and golden hair. She would have looked normal except her neck was elongated so she looked a bit awkward. The third figure was a little girl with red hair. Her ears were impressive in size.
‘We come in peace’ the little girl said.
‘Please don’t kill us’ the other girl added. The boy didn’t say anything but he seemed to be inspecting Jace and his companions, even though his eyes were covered. Jace relaxed, seeing no weapons on the strangers. The little girl shivered, her ears twitching, and Jace felt bad.
‘Come, join us by the fire. But no tricks.’
The trio gladly joined Jace and warmed themselves.
‘So, who are you?’ Sebastian asked.
‘My name is Valentina’ the little girl said. ‘These are Magnus and Helen. We’re travellers.’
‘Oh! So are we! We’re going on an adventure! We’re going to save a Princess Clarissa-’
Sebastian slapped Anna over the head. ‘Shut up’
‘We’ve heard of her’ the boy spoke calmly for the first time, brushing glitter off the cloth covering his eyes. ‘Good luck with getting her.’
‘Huh? Why, is it gonna be hard?’ Anna asked. Jace sighed and explained as simply as he could the story of Clarissa’s monstrous father.
‘So,’ Sebastian looked at the newly arrived trio. ‘They could be useful.’
Magnus, Helen and Valentina looked at each other. Valentina grinned.
‘We can come with you!’
‘There is the castle’
The following night the crew was gathered underneath a horrifying castle – it was like from a cheesy horror movie. Black walls, dark windows and bats fluttering around the towers.
‘Okay, genius. How are we planning on getting in there?’ Sebastian asked.
‘Through the gate’ Jace said simply. ‘I’m not here to kidnap Clarissa. I’m here to win her hand in marriage fair and square.’
‘I sure hope we won’t pay for it with our lives’ Magnus muttered.
‘Come, men!’ Jace grinned and started to look for the main gate.
‘Men’ Valentina huffed, following him.
But before Jace found the gate, he found a man.
He had a fire going and a blanket around his shoulders, but he was shaking badly.
‘P-please’ he looked up at Jace, his teeth chattering. ‘P-p-please, I’m so…so… c-cold!’
Jace didn’t know what to do. Anna blinked.
‘Um, maybe we should take him with us? It’s probably warmer inside the castle’ she looked doubtfully at the looming building. It looked anything but warm but the man nodded his head eagerly.
‘I am S-S-S-S-Simon’ he said. ‘P-p-pleased to meet you.’
Jace helped Simon up. ‘Come! We’re going to save my princess.’
‘What a brave lot you are’ King Valentine drawled, observing the lot with cool boredom.
‘Uh-uh’ Jace muttered absently, his eyes on Princess Clarissa. She was sitting next to her father on two morbid thrones and behind them was a window, flicking through images of cities and wastelands. She was more beautiful than Jace ever imagined.
‘You do understand that to marry my daughter you must complete a task. And I must warn you, no man has yet returned from alive from these tasks.’
‘We are aware’ Sebastian sunk his nails into Jace’s shoulder to bring him back to reality. Jace cleared his throat.
‘And we would still like to try, your majesty’ his eyes travelled to Clary once more and she smiled at him. She looked eager to leave her father’s side. Valentine nodded.
‘I understand. However, since you have many more companions you must complete three tasks, rather than one. And if you fail, I will execute all of you. Do you consent?’
Jace didn’t even hesitate. ‘I do.’
‘Very well.’ Valentine checked his watch and clicked his fingers. Imiediatly a man appeared at his side. ‘Prepare one hundred roast pork’s and one hundred bails of ale.’ The man disappeared and Valentine smirked calmly at Jace. ‘Every bite of meat and every drop of ale must be gone by the time the clock chimes midnight.’
Jace’s blood ran cold but he managed to bow down. ‘As you wish, you majesty.’
‘This is impossible!’ Jace cried, starting at the food and drink prepared for him and his team. ‘There is no way we can eat all that before midnight. Right?’ he turned around to look at his team to find them already eating. Magnus was drinking from a cup gracefully and Sebastian was having a contest with Helen who can stuff more meat into their mouths. Simon seemed grateful for the warmth of the meat, although he didn’t stop shaking. But who astounded him the most was Anna – she ate portion after portion, devouring pork after pork in seconds. She drank bails of ale like they were small cans of juice, smacking her lips in delight. She was through hall the room in half an hour. Jace smiled and ate his portion.
And it was a damn good dinner.
‘So you have succeeded.’ Valentine smiled although it was obvious how distraught he was. Clarissa grinned at Jace and he grinned back. ‘Well done. Two tasks to go.’ He thought for a moment, before touching his finger. ‘A few months ago I lost my ring in the red sea. It is made of gold and it has a large ‘M’ on it. You have until tomorrow noon to find it and bring it back to me.’
Jace’s jaw fell open.
‘B-but the red sea is two days journey away! We could never get there in time!’
‘Would you rather I execute you now?’ Valentine’s bored tone was back. Jace gritted his teeth and bowed.
‘No, you majesty. It shall be done.’ He stormed towards the doors of the throne room but before he walked out he glanced over his shoulder.
‘Oh, and my compliments to the cook.’
The glare Valentine sent him was strangely satisfying.
‘Red sea, red sea, red sea…’ Sebastian flipped the map around while Jace rubbed his temples.
‘We’ll never get there in time!’ he said.
‘Stop whining.’ Sebastian ordered. ‘Aha!’ He put his finger on the map and then glanced at the horizon. ‘I know where we are going!’ He stood up and stretched. ‘Okay, y’all, grab my belt.’
‘Grab you what…?’ Valentina blinked in surprise. Sebastian rolled his eyes.
‘Do it’ Anna said cheerfully, crouching down and hooking her hands into his pants. Everyone else followed suit.
‘Oh my God Magnus stop trying to pull my pants down!’ Sebastian exclaimed.
‘I can’t see’ Magnus said with a shrug. Sebastian groaned and then he stretched again. Jace yelped, feeling himself be pulled upwards.
‘W-what the hell!?’ Helen screamed as her legs lifted from the ground. Sebastian grew and grew until Jace and his friends could have been ants hanging off his belt.
‘Hold on’ he boomed and then he took a step.
They were at the red sea in ten minutes.
Sebastian shrunk back to his normal size and Valentina ran towards the sea, cheerfully letting the waves roll over her ankles. Helen smiled as the breeze tousled her hair. Jace put his hands on his hips, confident that they could really do it.
‘Anna could you…?’ he nudged his chin towards the sea. Anna saluted, leaned down and started to drink. Her belly grew and soon she looked like a balloon. Then there was no sea left at all, only sand and fish flapping around. Anna gave Jace a thumbs up, her cheeks puffed out with the water.
‘My turn!’ Helen grinned. Jace wasn’t even surprised when her neck stretched out. It didn’t get any thinner, but simply elongated, until Jace couldn’t see her hair anymore. Jace was about to start worrying when the neck started pulling back the head, like a cable being sucked back into the vacuum cleaner. Then Helen was back and there was a golden ring stuck between her lips. She dropped it into the palm of her hand, wiped it and gave it to Jace.
‘You did it!’ he exclaimed happily, hugging her.
Sebastian grinned. ‘Time to get back!’
Anna let the water back into the sea with a whoosh.
‘Blegh. I hate salty water.’
‘Wha- how did you…!?’ Valentine didn’t even try to hide his rage and confusion this time round as Jace casually tossed him back his ring. He observed it, his eyes flashing. ‘It’s a fake! It has to be a fake!’
‘Father, they completed the task’ Clarissa said calmly, beaming at Jace.
Valentine composed himself, slipping the ring onto his finger.
‘Well done,’ he snapped at the team. ‘Now, for your last task…’ he smirked. ‘You will only have to keep my dear daughter safe until tomorrow noon’
Jace frowned. ‘That’s…it?’
‘I need to know if you are able to protect her’ Valentine said innocently, nodding at his daughter. ‘Off you go.’
Jace smiled and extended his hand to Clarissa, who took it and smiled charmingly.
‘That is extremely fishy’ Sebastian said, pacing the room.
‘Extremely’ Magnus agreed.
Simon nodded his head, but Jace might have imagined it since all of his was shaking. He was sitting in a corner of the room, one arm around Clarissa, who was sleeping soundly.
‘We can’t fall asleep’ Jace said, giving Anna, who was already yawning, a pointed look. ‘Something is ought to happen if we do.’
‘You’re right’ Helen said from her space on the windowsill. ‘No sleeping.’
But even as the group promised to stay awake, deep in the underground of the palace Valentine was speaking a spell, his hand hovering above a long forgotten book.
Your minds are tired; your eyes will close,
You can’t hear with your ears; you can’t smell with your nose,
Your body is so tired you can’t even move,
Go to sleep, there is nothing to prove.
You shall sleep and do not wake until the sun’s first beams,
At dusk you die, now sweet dreams.
As Valentine closed the book everyone – Helen, Valentina, Simon, Magnus, Anna, Sebastian and Jace – fell asleep. Jace’s head slumped against Clarissa’s. Helen fell from the windowsill. Magnus slid down the wall. And then Clarissa was lifted slowly by an invisible force and carried gently from the room, where no one would ever find her.
As the sun rose Jace woke up and reality came crashing down on his blonde head.
‘No, no, no! Dammit, she’s gone!’ He felt like crying, screaming and punching something at the same time.
‘Quiet’ Valentina whispered.
‘Who fell asleep!? Oh my God, we’re all dead!’ Sebastian yelled.
‘Quiet’ Valentina said.
‘We all fell asleep, dumbo’ Anna said.
‘Don’t call me a dumbo!’
‘QUIET!’ Valentina yelled, silencing the lot. ‘I can hear her.’
‘What?’ Hope sparked in Jace.
‘Shhhhh!’ Valentina closed her eyes and cupped her hand around one of her large ears. ‘I got her. She’s crying. It’s from that direction, which means she’s in…’
Her eyes snapped open. ‘The caves.’
‘Clarissa!’ Jace thumped his fists against the rock covering the enterance of the cave. It looked very heavy. The remains of their bonfire from the day before were still there.
‘That won’t help’ Sebastian pointed out.
‘Well, do you have a better idea!?’ Jace snapped.
‘Actually, I do.’ Magnus smiled. ‘Everybody, stand behind those rocks.’
Once his order was fulfilled Magnus began to carefully unwind the piece of cloth around his eyes.
‘What is he doing?’ Sebastian whispered.
‘You’ll see’ Helen said excitedly. Once the cloth was off Magnus slowly opened his eyes. Jace saw them for a split second – golden, cat like pupils. And then a bright light exploded around them, so bright Jace had to close his eyes. When he opened them again the rock obscuring the enterance had been split in two, and it was smoking. Magnus was already tying his cloth back around his head.
Jace heard Clarissa’s sobs clearly now and he sprinted through the opening, his team close on his heels. And he nearly ran into black flames that reached the ceiling. Behind them, Jace could see Clarissa’s silhouette, but even from where he was standing the heat of the flames seared him.
‘L-L-Let me’ Simon stepped forward and…straight into the flames.
‘Simon!’ Valentina screamed. A split second later Simon reappeared, carrying Clarissa in his arms. She was covered with his blanket, and he was unharmed. He shook his shoulder and smiled dreamily.
‘Much better. So warm’ he said, setting Clarissa in front of Jace.
When Valentine came into the room in the castle later on, expecting a defeated bunch of people, he got a bit of a nasty shock.
‘Hi’ Magnus wiggled his fingers at Valentine, who stared at Clarissa, safely in Jace’s arms.
As you might expect, Jace took Clarissa back home and married her. He made all his companions lords and they were friends for long, long years.
…And they lived happily ever after. Alec set the pen down and smiled at his story, folding up the piece of paper and walking back to the castle and up the stairs to Magnus’s room.
‘Magnus?’ Alec knocked on the doors gently. There was no reply. ‘When you’re ready to talk, I’m here.’
Alec knelt down and slipped the story through the gap between the doors and the floor. Then, with nothing to do, he returned to the gardens.
‘You’re Alec, aren’t you?’
Alec looked up from his novel. A young woman stood above him. Alec imiediatly knew who he was looking at. He shot to his feet.
‘Lady Catarina’ Alec bowed down. Catarina laughed.
‘Please, no need for formalities. You are my brother in law, or so I hear’ she smiled but Alec knew she had been crying. Her eyes were red and puffy.
‘Please, sit down’ he offered. She smiled gratefully and sat down, her hands folded in her lap. ‘I don’t think you want to talk right now, do you?’
‘No,’ Catarina laughed. ‘You are very perceptive. And I hear you tell great stories. Why don’t you tell me one?’
Once upon a time in a kingdom far, far away, in a land of seas and underwater adventures there lived a merman. The merman was shy and he didn’t like leaving the safety of the oceans, but he had a crazy friend whom he followed everywhere.
‘Clary, we should get back!’ Alec said, sighting when his friend ignored him and continued brushing her red hair with her hand. Alec swished his tail nervously. ‘Seriously, my father is going to be so mad we went out without permission!’
‘Always the daddy’s boy’ Clary rolled her eyes. ‘Why don’t we go to the surface?’
Alec blanched. ‘You’re kidding! There are humans there! Do you know what they do to mermaids!?’
‘I know what your father tells me. Come on! Let’s go!’ Clary grabbed Alec’s hand and pulled him up. ‘We’ll just visit Jordan. That’s all. I promise.’
Alec bit his lip but followed his best friend. He had to admit, breaking the surface of the ocean and breathing in fresh air was nice. They swam for a bit with their shoulders and heads above the water, until they spotted a familiar island that seemed to be floating in the middle of nowhere. On the Island there was a small boat, docked, and on the Island sat a boy. He had ripped pants and a ripped shirt, but he seemed content in the middle of nowhere. He didn’t know where he came from of where to go to – he came and went as he pleased. And he happened to be the only human whom Alec didn’t think evil.
‘Hey Jordan!’ Jordan opened his eyes and smiled at Alec and Clary as they approached.
‘Ahoy! How are the things down below?’
‘Oh, they’re great! Alec is being a prissy little girl again’ Clary laughed.
‘I am not’ Alec snapped. Jordan joined in with Clary’s laughter.
‘Hey, wanna go somewhere?’ Jordan said out of the blue.
‘I heard there’s a festival on a ship. We should totally go!’
‘On a human ship?’ Clary’s eyes sparkled.
‘Nah’ Jordan said sarcastically. He smiled fondly when he saw Alec’s terrified expression. ‘Come on, we’ll only have a peek.’
‘I don’t think that’s a…’
‘Oh Alec! Please!’ Clary hugged him tightly. ‘Please, please, please, please, please…’
Alec had to admit the party on the human ship was impressive. Colourful lights exploded in the night sky and there was music and dancing. Jordan came on his boat and he stared up at the ship in wonder. Clary and Alec propped themselves up and peered through a space between an oar and a wooden piece of the ship.
‘Wow!’ Clary grinned. ‘It’s all so bright! And colourful!’ she sighted dreamily, looking at the dancing men and women that were on deck. Suddenly someone broke through the crowd, laughing and chatting excitedly, and he imiediatly caught Alec’s attention. Golden hair, golden eyes… He felt a blush rise to his cheeks.
‘Wow, who is that?’ Clary grinned at the newcomer, batting her eyelashes even though he couldn’t see her.
‘Dunno’ Alec tried to act uninterested but his eyes kept wondering back to the golden haired boy.
A light flashed above their heads.
‘Look, a golden one!’ Clary pointed a finger and Alec watched as her expression transformed from a happy one to a terrified one.
‘STORM!’ She yelled as another lightning bolt lit up the sky. ‘Shit. Alec, go straight home. I’ll get Jordan to safety.’ Without waiting for his answer she gripped the edge of the boat and pushed, her tail flapping energetically. In seconds the wind picked up and suddenly the ship was rocking from side to side. The cheerful laughter changed into screams as people ran for the boats. A bolt hit the mast, setting it on fire. Alec decided he saw enough and was about to leave – the boats were already swimming away – when he noticed the blonde boy, falling into the water, unconscious. Without thinking Alec submerged, grabbing the boy’s arms and heaving him up over the sea line. He was quite heavy and Alec had trouble keeping him up, but he knew if he didn’t, the boy would die…
‘Starting a story without me, I see.’ A grumpy Magnus appeared from behind a tree, startling both Catarina and Alec.
‘Magnus!’ Alec smiled. ‘You’re out.’
‘Well, clearly I’m interrupting something. Maybe you prefer girls now?’
‘Don’t be a child. Alec, please continue the story.’ Catarina rubbed her temples.
Magnus crossed his arms over his chest and Alec could see he was hurt. He stood on his tiptoes and pressed a kiss to his lips.
‘How about this – You two talk it over and make up and after you’re done come find me and I’ll finish the story. Catarina, please fill him in on what he missed.’ Not giving them a chance to reply, Alec skipped away, leaving Catarina and Magnus alone.