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 Seven

The great ship had been heading east, but Ace knew from his examinations of the map that the Protector's island would be located to the northeast. So based on the direction of the ship, they rowed for a while toward the northeast. Ace wasn't sure what they would do when they lost sight of the ship, but he didn't want to think that far ahead, and so far it hadn't occurred to the princess.

Rowing in the middle of a vast ocean with no land as far as the eye could see turned out to be quite the dispiriting proposition, and the good spirits they'd had over their successful escape had turned extremely sour as the sun rose and the ship disappeared over the eastern horizon.

For the third time, Ace caught Princess Juliana trying to scoop a handful of seawater into her porcelain hand, and for a third time, he knocked the water out. "You can't drink that!"

"But I'm thirsty!"

"The salt water will make it worse," he insisted. "Believe me." Ace might never have been to sea, but he had read plenty of pirate adventures and shipwreck stories and he at least knew better than to drink sea water when stranded in the middle of the ocean. "We'll find water soon," he said in a kinder tone, realizing the princess had probably never been hungry or thirsty for a day in her life.

But as he looked at the sea around him, he didn't have any idea how he was going to make good on that promise. The ship that had held them captive was just disappearing over the horizon. Without being able to base their direction on the larger ship, Ace had no idea how they would keep the tiny rowboat moving in the right direction.

But Princess Juliana was looking at him expectantly, waiting for him to tell her the next part of his plan. He had to come up with something.

"All right," he finally said, trying to sound confident. "The ship disappeared right over there, so this is north."

"Wasn't it more like that direction?" the princess asked, pointing to a completely different place.

Ace didn't honestly know, but he felt like he should show some leadership. "No," he said. "It was that way. So we want to go over there." He pointed toward what he hoped was the northeast. "So all we need to do is find something that stands still, and use it as our guide."

"Like what?"

Ace examined the clouds up above. Of course they were moving all the time. But maybe he could convince the princess that the clouds out at sea didn't move because of the tides and the water pressure and...

"Like that?" Princess Juliana said, excitement building in her voice.

Ace tore his eyes away from the clouds, which he had almost convinced himself could guide them toward the northeast, and looked in the direction the princess was pointing. There he saw a very small, but very definite, piece of land jutting out of the water.

"That's land!" the princess cried. "Isn't it? Land!"

Ace grabbed the oars and began rowing as hard as he could. The direction didn't really matter. The small island offered the promise of land and food and perhaps even another boat they could hire with the promise of grand rewards when it was all over. They had to get to that island.

As hard as Ace rowed, though, it took an extremely long time. Princess Juliana tried to help, and she encouraged him all the while, but by the time they finally washed up on shore, Ace's arms had turned to jelly. He just wanted to flop out of the boat and onto the sand and never get up. He didn't care about food or water or saving the world. He just wanted to rest.

"Ace, look!" the princess cried, sounding far too perky as she hopped out of the boat. "There's smoke rising over there. That's a good sign, right? Someone lives here!"

But while the princess had her eyes fixed on the smoke curling into the early morning sky, Ace couldn't take his eyes off the sand on the shore. It was red. In fact, everything around them was red. Every plant or rock was a shade of red, from pale pink to deep maroon. Something was fishy here. Suddenly Ace thought they might be much better off getting back in the boat and drinking the seawater.

"Um, Your Highness?" he said, as Princess Juliana danced along the red sand and peered into the red trees. "I have a bad feeling about this place."

"What do you mean?" she said. "Sure, it's a little strange, but that doesn't mean it's bad!"

As Ace stepped out of the boat, the sand was hot beneath his toes. The sun had barely slipped above the horizon, so he knew the sand hadn't been baking for hours. No, something was different about this sand.

"Your Highness, everything is red," he pointed out.

"I know. Isn't it strange?" Princess Juliana fingered a frond on the tree right next to her. "Ouch, and hot! It's rather delightful," she said. "I never knew such places actually existed. Of course, I've never been anywhere. I've only heard the stories my father used to tell. In fact, he used to tell me one story about-"

And then the princess froze, her hand still up in the air.

"Princess Juliana? Are you all right?"

She turned slowly to face Ace. "He used to tell me one story about an island where everything was red. Way out in the middle of the sea. It was a volcanic island, but not like you'd think. Not like there was just a normal volcano on the island, but absolutely everything on the island - each plant, each grain of sand, each rock, had the potential to erupt and start spewing boiling lava at any moment."

Ace stood frozen, too. That would explain why everything was red and hot. "What made things erupt?"

"I don't remember," the princess whispered, as if her own voice might make the beach around them turn into scalding goo. "Ace, we should go."

He nodded. "Probably. But do you think we should stop and search for food and water first?"

"No."

"Me neither."

They both turned back to the boat. Or where the boat had been when they had washed ashore. The only problem was, Ace hadn't tied it up or secured it in any way, and in the last few minutes that they'd been talking, the waves had washed the rowboat back out to sea.

"No!" Ace cried, diving into the water and flailing through the waves as fast as he could. Soon he felt the princess coming up behind him. She was a strong swimmer and had soon passed him, but it wasn't enough. Neither one of them could catch the rowboat, which had been caught in a strong current and was long gone.

They returned to the blazing hot sand without a word. There wasn't much to say. Now they were definitely stuck and there would be nothing left but to go looking for whatever creature might be crazy enough to live on an explosive volcanic island. Hopefully that creature would be crazy enough to share its food.

But the princess didn't look like she was inclined to go looking for anything. When she returned to the shore, she flopped down on the sand and threw her arms over her eyes to block out the sun, or her tears, or maybe both.

"Hey, it'll be okay," Ace said. Although he wasn't entirely sure about that.

"Will it?" the princess asked, her arm still blocking out her face. "I bet you regret following me."

"I wasn't following you!" Ace said indignantly.

"No?" the princess said with a smile that told Ace she didn't believe him.

"I just want to return the handkerchief that you dropped in the square," he said. "And for the record, I don't regret it for a minute."

And he didn't. That had been the moment in which he'd started his life's greatest adventure. Ace might be hungry and thirsty and exhausted, but he was still having an adventure.

"How can you be enjoying yourself?" Princess Juliana asked, moving her arm aside to look at Ace's goofy grin. "This is awful!"

Ace's grin spread even wider. "It's pretty bad, isn't it? But this is what I've always wanted - to have an adventure like this. I mean, I'll admit that in my dreams, the adventure always involved finding trunks full of gold and jewels. But saving your father is good, too."

"Believe me," the princess said, sitting up. "If you help me save my father, you can have all the gold and jewels you want."

They sat quietly for a minute. "What would you do with it?" the princess finally asked.

"With what?"

"With all the treasure, when you finally get it?" The princess had never wanted for anything, and so she'd never had to consider what she might want if it hadn't all been given to her from birth. Maybe Ace wanted a big, beautiful house, or the best games and toys money could buy, or a purebred horse. She couldn't really guess.

But she also couldn't have been more surprised by his answer.

"I'd give it away," he said quietly, gazing out at the sea.

"Give it away?"

"Yup. And go out looking for more!" He jumped to his feet. "We shouldn't just sit here. We've got an island to explore. Food to find."

"Okay." The princess stood up slowly. "Who would you give it to?"

Ace shrugged. "There are lots of people who need it. People who live far away from the castle, people you've never seen. People who are hungry."

"Have you ever been hungry?" the princess asked as she followed Ace up the sand toward the line of red trees.

"I'm hungry now," Ace said with a grin. But then after a pause he said, "Yeah. There was never much food around my house growing up. I don't think kids should ever go hungry. So if I could have an adventure and feed hungry kids at the same time, it sounds like the best of all worlds! Now come on! You can move faster than that!"

The princess did her best to pick up the pace, but it was pretty difficult, considering her shoes were wet and she could feel the heat of the ground through the soles. Besides that, they were making their way through thick bushes and dodging the low hanging branches of trees, not to mention swatting at bugs and hoping nothing worse was waiting to eat them.

"What are we looking for?" Princess Juliana asked after they'd been walking for a while.

"Anything that looks like we can eat it, to start," Ace said. "Fresh water would be good. Or any creature we can communicate with. Maybe we can convince someone to help us build a boat."

"Build one? That could take ages!"

"Yeah, well, I'd rather stop by the boat store and buy one, but this place isn't looking quite that civilized. Let me know if you spot a shopping a mall."

"Hey, look at that!"

Ace stopped and whirled around. Could the princess actually have spotted a shopping mall?

But she was pointing up into air, to the top of a tall tree. "Look at that fruit. Looks like coconuts, right?"

Ace peered up into the tree. There was indeed some sort of round fruit hanging in bunches from the top of the tree. Of course, they were red, but other than that, they look exactly like coconuts. "Yeah, I think you're right."

The princess paused for a moment. "Well?"

Ace looked from the fruit to the princess, who was standing with her hands on her hips and looking at him expectantly. "Oh! You want me to climb up and pick them?"

"Yeah," she said. "I mean, I guess I could try, but..."

"No! I'll go!" Ace didn't want to admit it in front of the princess, but the truth was, he wasn't all that fond of heights. Still, this was his adventure of a lifetime. He wasn't going to let any opportunities pass him by. Plus, he was really, really hungry.

He stretched his arms above his head, then slapped his palms together and jumped up and down a few times. He didn't really need to warm up, considering he had been hacking his way through the jungle for the past half hour, but he did need a minute to get ready. When he noticed that the princess had begun to tap her toes impatiently, he decided it was time.

He grasped the trunk with his hands and immediately jumped back. "Ow!"

"Hot?"

"Yeah, like everything else around here." But there was no other way to get to the fruit, and it was the only food they'd seen. Hopefully the fruit wouldn't erupt when they tried to eat it. "I'll try again," he said after a deep breath.

Before the princess could object, Ace was shimmying his way up the trunk. He felt like he was climbing a giant, burning coal. His hands and feet burned, hurting worse than he had ever hurt before. Focus, he told himself. Keep your mind on the coconuts.

When he finally reached the top of the tree, he thought he might be in danger of falling, so dizzy was he from the blinding pain in his hands and feet. But he had come this far and he wasn't going to let the princess go hungry, even if he might perish right there at the top of a fiery coconut tree. At least at the top there was a bit of a cool breeze, which Ace drank in like water before reaching out to knock the nearest coconut off the bunch.

"Look out," he called out weakly as he dropped it down.

"Are you all right?" the princess called.

But Ace ignored her and focused all the energy he had on knocking the rest of the coconut bunch to the ground. When the coconuts had all fallen to the ground, Ace smiled and closed his eyes. He had done it. It was over.

And then Ace fell.

- End of Chapter Seven -