Ace and the Flaming Tail

Ace has no idea that picking a bright purple handkerchief would send him to the adventure of his life.

But will he be able to defeat a gigantic eagle, conquer ape warriors, outsmart an evil Prince while saving Princess Juliana and her kingdom in time?

Chapter 01 Chapter 02 Chapter 03 Chapter 04 Chapter 05 Chapter 06 Chapter 07 Chapter 08 Chapter 09 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12

Chapter Three

Ace found the book easily, and he could have walked out the front door of the library without drawing any attention, considering the confusion left by the attack of the rebels. But instead, he chose to jump out the window in the children's section, which although it was on the first floor, seemed the much more adventurous route to take.

As it turned out, he landed in a rose bush, and so sustained his first injuries of the adventure. As he dashed through the town square, he noticed the Tingaling brothers packing up their juggling supplies. They would leave town on their world tour later today. But Ace didn't even feel sad to have missed that opportunity. He was clearly off on something much more exciting.

He raced through the streets toward the city gates. He'd never been to the Sheepshearer's Inn, but he'd heard of it. It wasn't the kind of place you'd expect to find a princess. But then, that was probably the point.

When the inn came into view, Ace could see a handful of scraggly looking monkeys hanging around outside the entrance, talking and laughing and joking around. This really was no place for a lady. And he didn't see the princess anywhere. Had she already come and gone?

Ace walked up and down the sidewalk past the inn, whistling and trying to look nonchalant as he waited for the princess to show up. Every now and then he patted the book he carried inside his shirt, both to be sure it was still there and to remind himself of the importance of his mission.

Just when he was about to despair and leave, Ace heard a voice hissing at him from the side of the building.

"Hey! Over here!"

He turned and saw a flash of silk that disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared. He tried not to draw attention to himself as he wandered over to the side of the building and then hurried around to the back, where he found Princess Juliana with her hands on her hips.

"I said to meet me at the back entrance!" she said.

"I'm sorry! I forgot!" Ace was about to pull the book out and show it to the princess, to make up for his mistake, when he noticed the tear tracks streaking down Princess Juliana's face. "What's wrong?"

"Aside from the fact that my father's locked up in a dungeon, my evil cousin has seized control, violent rebels are after me, and the entire world is in danger?" she wailed.

"Have no fear," Ace said. "Ace is here." But even to him, it sounded weak, considering the circumstances.

"Besides all that, the soldiers who chased after me were able to get the necklace away from me," she said miserably, moving her scarf aside so Ace could see her bare neck. "At least I got away, but now Victor has the necklace and the ring!"

Ace sat down next to the princess on a rickety bench outside the inn's back door. "I'm sorry. But he doesn't have the map."

"Neither do we!"

"Are you sure?" Ace reached inside his shirt and pulled out the library's copy of The Horse, the Key and the Golden Blanket, which he proudly handed over to the princess.

"You got it!"

"Of course I got it! You asked me to."

"Did you find the map?"

"I haven't had a chance. As soon as I grabbed the book, I came to find you." Ace rubbed his rear end gingerly, remembering his adventurous exit out of the library and into the rosebush.

He looked on as Princess Juliana eagerly opened the book and looked through each and every page. Her eager excitement quickly turned to disappointment, though, as no map presented itself.

"But the librarian said the map would be in this book," she said desperately. "Do you think Victor got to it first and removed the map?"

"I went straight to the kids section and didn't see any rebels. How could he have?"

"Or maybe the librarian wasn't really trying to help me. Maybe it was some sort of trick. Or trap. Maybe he was working with Victor all along."

"Then why would he have bothered telling you about the book at all? Here, let me see." Ace took the book from the princess and started flipping through the pages.

"I already checked," she said. "There's no map."

"I'm looking for a code, or some kind of clue. Maybe it's like a treasure hunt. One thing leads to the next." Ace could already feel the excitement mounting inside. But no matter how many different ways he examined the pages of the book, he could find no hidden clues or codes.

Next he examined the binding, peeling back the inside cover, carefully at first, and then yanking it off completely.

"Oh my goodness!" the princess said. "That's a library book!"

"Do you want to save the world or not?"

The princess nodded, breathless as Ace continued to shred the book apart. Still, no map was found. They sat together, looking glumly at the destroyed book spread out on the ground in front of them.

"What exactly did the librarian say before he boosted you up?" Ace asked.

"He said ... let me think ... he said, 'You'll find the map in The Horse, the Key, and the Golden Blanket.' That's all."

Ace jumped up. "Well, that's great! He didn't say it would be in the library?"

"No, I suppose he didn't."

"Then it could be anywhere. It could be any copy of that book in the entire kingdom!"

"And this is good news?" The princess felt worse than ever. There must be hundreds of copies that book across the kingdom. Maybe thousands. Everyone she knew had read that book as a child. Why, there was one right in her own palace library if she wasn't mistaken.

In her own palace library ...

"What if-" But she stopped herself. "I've just realized I don't even know your name. I'm Princess Juliana." She held out her hand and Ace grinned, holding out his own.

"It's Ace! As in 'Have no fear, Ace is here!'"

"Oh yes. That's why you keep saying that. All right, Ace. What if the map is in my own copy of The Horse, the Key, and the Golden Blanket? Maybe it's been safely hidden in the castle all this time! That would make sense, if the librarian's great-great grandfather was an advisor to the king."

"To the castle!" Ace cried.

"Yes, but..."

"But what? Let's go get the book!"

"But my cousin has already taken control of the castle. I can't just walk in there and grab a book from the library!"

"But I can. Come on!"

As the crow flies, the palace wasn't really a very long way from the Sheepshearer's Inn. If they had stayed on the well-traveled paths, it would have taken them nearly an hour to arrive. But Ace was well versed in the hidden trails and shortcuts nestled here and there throughout the kingdom, and the princess gamely followed him through blackberry hedges (worse thorns than rosebushes), over streams (what's a little mud), and past one particularly ornery raccoon who was quite disgruntled to have his slumber disturbed but eventually let them pass.

When they reached the castle walls, the princess led Ace to a certain spot where they could just see through a chink in the wall. "I used to peer out from the other side," she said. "Pretending I was some kind of spy. Now, if I'm right, those gates should open any minute, and the horses will be let out for their midday exercise. When they do, we slip in. I'll hide in the stables."

"Will you be safe there?"

"Oh yes. Victor may have taken power, but he will never take the loyalty of my stable boy Tad. We go way back. From the stables, it's a direct shot to the kitchen's back door. I think you should go in there. Once inside, you'll need to make your way up to the second floor, where you'll find a set of enormous double doors that lead into the library. Get the book and look for me out the window. I'll be ready for you."

"But-"

Ace had about a million questions about this plan, but before he could ask any of them, the palace gates began to open. Princess Juliana flattened herself against the stone wall and Ace did the same. They watched as a dozen horses trotted through the gates, followed by a stable boy around Juliana's age on his own horse, with a dog trotting along beside him.

"Come on!" Juliana grabbed Ace's hand and pulled him through the gates, sprinting across the field toward the stables. For a minute they were wide open and exposed to anyone who might chance to cross the lawn or look out a window. But they reached the stables without incident and Ace stopped to catch his breath.

When he looked up, he saw Princess Juliana with her arms thrown around the neck of the only horse in the sizable stable, a chestnut mare with a long, swishy tale. "Oh, Chocolate," she said, stroking the mare's nose. "My best Chocolate."

"Why isn't that one exercising like all the others?" Ace asked.

"Because he's not safe," came a voice from the doorway.

At the sound of the intruder, Ace leapt in front of the princess, brandishing the only weapon in his possession, which was the destroyed copy of The Horse, the Key, and the Golden Blanket. "Have no fear! Ace is here!" he cried, feeling somewhat foolish using a book as a weapon, but making the best of it.

The monkey in the doorway chuckled. "Well, unless you want Prince Victor to know that Ace is here, you might want to keep it down."

"Tad!" the princess cried, leaving Chocolate's side to throw her arms around the stable boy's neck. "How did you know I was here?"

"Saw you slip in. You'd best be more careful, Your Highness. I was hoping you had escaped."

"I'm trying to save my father," Princess Juliana said. "Listen, Ace, you should go. Tad will watch over me and I'll meet you once you've got the book."

"Where's he going?" Tad said, eyeing Ace suspiciously. "Who is he? Are you sure you can trust him?"

Princess Juliana smiled fondly at the monkey who had already risked his life to save hers. "Oh, I'm sure. Go now, Ace."

Ace didn't need to be told twice. Things were just getting exciting again. He slipped out of the stable and strolled easily to the servant's entrance at the back of the castle. He wasn't sure what he would be walking into, but he couldn't wait to find out. He pushed open the door and was immediately greeted by the delicious sounds and smells of sizzling onions, vegetables being chopped, bread coming out of the oven, and cake being frosted. It was the palace kitchen.

All the delicious smells sharply reminded him that he hadn't eaten since that morning, and his mouth watered and his stomach growled at the sight of the food spread out across the kitchen. The kitchen was abuzz with activity, four different chefs manning stations around the kitchen while other servants passed through the room, picking up trays of food and dropping dishes in the sink.

Ace decided it couldn't hurt to grab a roll on his way through the kitchen. They were just sitting on the counter, after all. No one would miss it, and he'd eat it before he reached the library. But just as he approached the tray of rolls, an enormous, cross looking woman lifted it up and shoved it into his arms.

"Into the dining room!" she barked at him. "Hurry up. They've been waiting for fresh rolls!" Then she turned him around and shoved him through a pair of swinging doors.

Ace stumbled forward, barely maintaining his hold on the tray of rolls, which smelled no less mouth watering now that they were right under his nose, and found himself looking at an enormous, lavishly decorated dining room. At the center of the room was a long table, and at the head of the table sat Prince Victor.

"The rolls! Finally!" Prince Victor called out, beckoning for Ace to bring the tray down to his end of the table.

This was fine. Ace could serve rolls to Prince Victor and then get out of there. But as he walked the length of the room, Ace suddenly recognized several of the men seated at the table with Prince Victor as rebels who had attacked Princess Juliana in the library. Would they recognize him?

For the moment, no one was looking at him. They were all busy talking and laughing, and when he spoke, giving their rapt attention to Prince Victor. But soon Ace would be standing right next to Prince Victor, offering him the rolls in plain view of everyone else in the room. Slowly, so as not to be noticed, Ace began to lift the tray of rolls higher and higher so he could duck behind the tray and hide his face.

It seemed to be working. No one was looking at him. But when he reached the head of the table, where Prince Victor sat waiting for his rolls, Ace realized he was standing there with the tray hoisted high up by his face. There was no way the prince could reach without standing up, which obviously he would not do.

"My rolls, boy," Prince Victor said in a sharp tone.

Now everyone was looking, Ace was sure. Instead of lowering the tray down to the prince as a normal server would, Ace decided instead to squat down to the ground, keeping the tray carefully in front of his face.

"What's he doing?" he heard someone say.

"No idea," someone else said.

"My uncle's servants are all idiots," Prince Victor said. "As soon as things have settled, I'm going to chuck them all out and hire new ones."

But the prince took his rolls off the strangely offered tray nonetheless. After that, Ace could see no other choice but to walk in his squatted position all the way around the table, allowing each diner access to the rolls without seeing his face. He had just served the last man when the tray was ripped out of his hands.

He expected to see one of the rebels or the prince, but instead he saw the far more horrible face of the angry woman who had sent him out of the kitchen in the first place. "Get back in the kitchen!" she hollered. "Begging pardon, Your Highness."

As she said that, several of the men turned to look at both Ace and the kitchen maid. Ace whirled around and dove for the kitchen door. Back inside the kitchen, he made a beeline straight through the bustling, steamy room, stopping only to grab an apple off the top of the fruit bowl he passed on his way and disappeared through a door at the far end of the room.

He was beyond relieved to find that the door led to a flight of stairs, and the stairs went up. The princess had said the library was on the second floor, so that was a good sign. Ace hurried up before the angry woman could follow him from the dining room.

On the landing, he peered up and down a hallway that branched off in several directions. The only way to find the library was to look, so he set off down the hallway. Unfortunately, he had not gone far when a chambermaid appeared in front of him, struggling with an armful of linens. Just as the entire stack began to topple out of her arms, Ace leapt forward and caught them.

"There you go," he said, trying to hand the linens back to her.

But the chambermaid was too busy sniveling into a handkerchief to see him. "Oh, it's too horrid," she wailed. "I just cannot make up a bed for that awful man."

"Hey," Ace said. "It's okay." He didn't really have time to stop and comfort the chambermaid, but he didn't like to leave anyone alone in such distress. "Is there anything I can do?"

"Yes!" The chambermaid opened the door next to them and pushed Ace through it, still holding the pile of linens. "Change the sheets on the prince's bed." And then she disappeared, wailing her way down the hallway.

Now Ace was standing in a sumptuously furnished room filled with an enormous four poster bed. He set the pile of linens on the bed and listened at the door. He could still hear the chambermaid's wails, but the moment she got far enough away, he would just slip out. That was his plan, anyway, until he heard loud, angry voices.

"He came up this way!" said one voice.

"He's about this tall. Have you seen him?"

Then Ace heard a quiet, muffled voice that ended in a wail. Oh dear.

"Are you sure it was him?" one of the loud voices said, sounding louder all the time.

"I'm telling you, he was in the library with the princess! He helped her escape!"

As the door to the prince's chambers swung open, Ace climbed out the open window and tried not to look down. He stayed close to the window, flattening himself against the wall and balancing on a tiny ledge, hoping he would not be seen if the men looked directly out.

Sure enough, within moments he could just barely make out a rebel's head poking out through the window. The rebel looked directly down, as though Ace would have jumped out the second story window. Ace almost laughed. He was adventurous, not stupid.

"I don't see him," the rebel said, and disappeared back inside, shutting the window firmly as he did, followed by the click of the window locking.

Ace's heart sank. He'd been counting on sneaking back inside when the rebels were done searching the room. Now he had very few options. To his left was the window he would not be able to open. To his right was a drainpipe that went up. With a deep sigh and a sincere hope that Princess Juliana and her father were worth all the bother, Ace carefully shifted himself over to the drainpipe and began climbing up.

The pipe was cold and slippery, and Ace wouldn't have gotten anywhere if it weren't for the occasional vine that twisted tightly around the pipe. He knew he was heading up to the third floor, but he didn't have very many choices. He had almost reached the third floor, where there was another window ledge he planned to step off onto, when the vine he'd grabbed onto broke loose of the drain pipe.

It all happened too quickly for Ace to even understand what was happening. But what happened was this: When the vine ripped free of the pipe, Ace clung onto it for dear life. It was better than plummeting down with nothing to hold onto. As it was, he did fall, but instead of going straight down, he swung in an arc across three open windows before the vine snapped and he fell. An important point before he landed - the prince himself happened to be standing and looking directly out of one of the windows in question, just as Ace happened to swing by, Tarzan-style.

But anyhow, the vine eventually snapped and Ace fell. Thankfully, for him and all of Chesterfield he did not fall all the way to the ground, but landed with a thud on a second floor balcony. It was uncomfortable, but not nearly as bad as landing in the rosebushes had been. And Ace was delighted to see, when he stood up on the balcony, that a pair of double glass doors led into a large room filled with books. Books, books, and more books.

This had to be the library!

Without even stopping to think who might be inside, Ace burst through the double doors. A wizened, hunched over little woman sat in the corner, her nose in a book. She looked up slowly and smiled a wide smile, completely unperturbed by the dramatic entrance of a stranger through the second floor balcony doors.

"A visitor to the library!" she said. "Lovely!" She stood incredibly slowly. "What can I help you with today, young man?"

Ace could hear an enormous number of stomping boots and running feet in the hallway outside the library, no doubt inspired by the prince's vision of a rogue monkey swinging past his window on a vine. He didn't have much time.

"The Horse, the Key, and the Golden Blanket, if you please," he said, trying to look urgent but not rude.

"Ah, excellent choice. I loved that one as a girl," the librarian said, moving slowly toward the far wall.

The shouts and stomping feet sounded like they were coming closer, thundering toward the door of the library.

"You could just tell me where it is," Ace said, leaping toward the wall the librarian was heading for and scanning the shelves for the book.

"Oh no, dear. I get so few visitors. It is my job as Royal Librarian, after all. Here we are." She had finally reached the wall and now stood on her tiptoes to reach a slim green volume with gold edges. "The Horse, the Key, and the Golden Blanket," she said, fondly stroking the cover.

"Thanks," Ace said, reached out and snatching it out of her hands.

The Royal Librarian only had a moment to be shocked by Ace's rudeness, because the next moment the library's doors burst open to a cacophony of shouts and stomps and rebels bursting through the door.

- End of Chapter Three -