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 Two

Ace stood next to the fountain, waiting for the Tingaling brothers to begin their juggling act. They performed every Saturday at noon and never missed a show. But today would be their last performance before setting off on a world tour. Ace was ready. He was going to convince the Tingaling brothers to bring him with them. He could juggle of course - he'd been practicing - but he'd also be content just carrying their things and fetching their water.

Because it was a world tour. And all Ace wanted, more than anything, was to get out of the crowded, bustling city and have adventures.

It was especially crowded today, a beautiful Saturday in late spring, and market-goers and tourists alike pushed their way through the city's main square, snapping pictures at the beautiful historical buildings that lined the square on all four sides, or bartering to get the best deal on a trinket that would remind them of the beautiful day.

Ace climbed up on the edge of the fountain, craning his neck to see over the crowd of monkeys, hoping to catch the first glimpse of the Tingaling brothers. Maybe they would be performing in a different part of the square today, since it was so crowded.

From his perch on the edge of the fountain, Ace did not see anyone who looked like the Tingaling brothers. But he did notice something else. Something possibly more interesting, at least to someone like Ace, who always liked to be at the center of any kind of intrigue or mystery.

A young woman darted through the crowd quickly, moving this way and that, constantly looking over her shoulders like she was afraid of being followed. She wore enormous sunglasses that covered most of her face, and as if that wasn't enough, she also wore a giant, floppy headscarf that wrapped over and around her head, blocking her almost entirely from view.

Despite the fact that he couldn't see much more than a little bit of her nose, Ace had the distinct impression that the girl was lovely. And frightened.

Just as the girl was about to reach the fountain, Ace hopped down from his perch, thinking he might offer to help her, if he could be of any assistance. Unfortunately, his sudden appearance right in front of her was not exactly reassuring.

She let out a yelp as they collided, and then her hand immediately flew up to cover her mouth as she darted around Ace. "Sorry!" she said over her shoulder as she rushed on.

Ace watched her go, and then his eye caught something bright and fluttery, floating to the ground in her wake. The young woman had dropped something.

Ace darted through the crowd before someone could step on the thing she had dropped, whatever it was. His hand closed over the bright scrap just before a large boot nearly thudded down on top of it.

"Out of the way," grumbled a familiar voice.

Ace looked up to see the oldest Tingaling brother. They were here! Now was his chance. But he looked back down to his hands to see a bright purple handkerchief, beautifully embroidered with tiny flowers all around the edges and the initials JC in one corner. He looked up desperately; he could still see her, but if he stopped to talk to the Tingaling brothers, he would lose her for sure. Maybe he could catch them later. For now, he had to return the handkerchief to its owner.

"Sorry," Ace mumbled to Ty Tingaling, and then began to rocket through the crowd. "Have no fear, Ace is here," he sang to himself. Except he wasn't quite there, yet. But he would be.

It might not be the most exciting of missions, but he would return this handkerchief to the damsel in distress if it was the last thing he did. Which, hopefully it wouldn't be.

Ace reached the edge of the town square and quickly scanned the busy street in front of him for a glimpse of the girl. He just saw her at the top of a huge flight of stairs as she disappeared through the doors of an enormous building with tall columns and statues of eagles on either side of the huge double doors. PUBLIC LIBRARY said the sign above the doors.

Ace had never been there, but if it was public, that meant he should be welcome inside. It couldn't hurt to follow her in and return the handkerchief. He leapt nimbly through the street, ignoring the screeching tires and honking horns as cars swerved and braked to avoid slamming into him.

He took the stairs three at a time, paused for a quick breath as he pulled open the heavy door, and leapt into the entryway of the public library, shouting out in his biggest voice as he did so, "Have no fear, Ace is here!"

He was immediately greeted by a shushing sound on all sides as angry women with tight buns and men with thick glasses glared at him with their fingers to their lips.

An irate little girl dragging a teddy bear marched right up to him and hissed, "Inside voices in the library!"

Oops. Ace grinned sheepishly and nodded. "Have no fear," he whispered. "Ace is here."

"That's better," she said, and dragged her bear back to the children's section.

Remembering his mission, Ace scanned the crowd of grumpy readers and was rewarded by the sight of the young woman he was following, disappearing up a grand staircase. He darted forward, but then, seeing the glares directed at him by all the library patrons looking up from their books, Ace slowed down to the fastest walk he could muster.

At the top of the stairs, Ace found himself looking at a long, low desk with a sign hanging above it that said REFERENCE MATERIALS. The woman seated behind the desk looked no friendlier than the people downstairs, but the young woman in the sunglasses and head scarf walked purposefully up to her and said with surprising confidence, "May I please speak with the head reference librarian?"

Ace hung back, intimidated by the angry woman behind the desk, and the quiet stillness of the library. Maybe he would give the young woman her handkerchief when she had finished her business here and was on her way out.

The woman behind the desk bristled and shuffled papers in front of her. "I'm sure I am fully qualified to answer your question, whatever it may be."

"I would prefer to speak to the head reference librarian," the young woman insisted. The older woman opened her mouth to speak, but just then, the young woman reached up and took her sunglasses off.

From where he was standing, Ace couldn't see the young woman's face, but he could see the librarian's reaction to whatever she saw behind the sunglasses. Her eyes grew wide and her hand flew to her throat.

"Oh my goodness, of course," she whispered. "Right away. Excuse me. Right away." And she scurried away from the desk. Now Ace was really curious. He had barely been able to hear the two women's voices; he crept away from the top of the stairs and moved closer toward the desk, ducking behind a row of bookshelves just as the young woman threw a nervous glance over her shoulder.

The older woman appeared back at the reference desk pushing a surprised looking little man with glasses and a nervous shuffle. At one look from the young woman, the older woman immediately hurried away.

"Yes? May I help you?" the head reference librarian said.

"I'm looking for a map," she said in an urgent tone.

"A map? If you'll follow me right this way, I can show you to our cartography section-"

But the woman stopped him again and the head reference librarian crossed his arms in irritation.

"I'm looking for a very specific map. One that only you know about. It should lead me to some sort of protector..."

The head reference librarian's hands flew up in horror. He may even have pushed one hand up against the young woman's mouth - it was hard for Ace to be sure from his angle. What he could see for sure was the head reference librarian scurrying around from behind the desk, eyes huge in panic, grabbing the young woman's hand and yanking her into the aisle of books right next to the one where Ace was hiding.

If he stood on his very tip toes, Ace could just see the tops of their heads. He pulled a few thick volumes off the lower shelf and stepped up on them. Now he could see their faces.

"How do you know about that map?" the librarian hissed.

The young woman lowered her sunglasses again, and this time went so far as to take off her headscarf. Ace saw the librarian's shocked reaction first. Then his eyes darted over to the young woman. Ace himself was so shocked upon seeing the face of Her Royal Highness Princess Juliana of Chesterfield that he toppled over sideways off the stack of books he'd been standing over. As he fell, he grabbed wildly at the shelf nearest him, bringing an avalanche of books down on top of him.

"What on earth?" he heard the princess say.

And then, the librarian said, "Come, follow me!"

Ace fought his way out of the pile of books, dealing an especially vicious blow to a thick volume on the history of Ancient Chesterfield, and just caught a glimpse of the nervous pair disappearing around the end of the aisle. Limping slightly, he followed. This was the kind of adventure he'd been longing for, and he hadn't even had to leave town!

For two people so concerned with being overheard, they weren't even all that hard to follow. Ace found them easily at the very back of the reference section, between an open window and the dusty encyclopedias no one used anymore.

"Your Highness, I am so very sorry. I had no idea it was you!"

"No, I'm the one that's sorry," she said. "I'm probably making a mess of this. All I was told was that I should come to the public library and ask the head reference librarian for a map."

"I know the map of which you speak. And I do not know it because I am the head reference librarian, but because my great-great grandfather was a trusted advisor to King Jonathan I, and upon his death, he left the map unto my great-great grandfather, telling him he should protect it upon pain of death, revealing it to no one unless they were in possession of a very specific necklace. And this instruction was, of course, passed down from generation to generation."

The princess moved her hand up to where the headscarf had gathered around her neck and pulled the shimmering silk aside. There, centered on her lovely throat, was a delicate golden chain with a teardrop shaped sapphire pendant.

Ace gasped, but thankfully the librarian gasped at the same time, so no one heard Ace.

"I hope you can help me," the princess said, tears welling up in her eyes. "The kingdom is in very grave danger. The world, in fact. My horrible cousin Victor has staged a quiet coup. Word has not yet spread beyond the palace, but my father has already been locked up in the dungeon."

"Oh no!"

"Yes! And he has bigger plans - more horrible plans. Plans to take over the entire world, I think, and what my cousin would do with such power we do not even want to ponder. My father has told me since I was small that should the kingdom ever be in danger, that Victor and I should retrieve the map and find this protector, handing over the necklace I have worn since childhood and the ring that has been passed down through Victor's family."

"Prince Victor has the ring?"

The princess nodded miserably. "But we can't worry about that for now. I know he plans to try to get to the Protector as well, and it is my understanding that the Protector has the ability to mobilize a great weapon that could be the salvation or the destruction of the kingdom."

"Yes," the librarian said. "That is my understanding as well. But you came here alone, did you not? Why haven't you told your father's advisors, or his military generals? Couldn't they help you get safely to the Protector's island?"

The princess stared at her feet as a large tear dripped off her cheek. "I tried. But the truth is I have been unfortunately prone to telling rather wild stories in my youth - all in fun, you understand! But now when I speak, I am not believed!"

She broke down in sobs and the librarian patted her shoulder awkwardly. "All right now. You are in a library. Here we believe a story is the most beautiful thing in the world. You will not be judged for thinking the same. I will take you to where the map is hidden, but we must exercise extreme caution. Who knows who your cousin might have waiting out there to stop us?"

Ace stood, enthralled by what was unfolding in front of him. It was the most perfect beginning of the most exciting adventure ever. He watched the small, nervous librarian take the princess's elbow and steer her toward the end of the aisle, where they disappeared.

Ace was still peeking through the books when he heard a shriek behind him. He whirled around to see the princess and the librarian, who had come around the corner into his aisle. The librarian dropped the princess's elbow and leapt back in surprise, but the princess leaned forward, pulled a dagger from her belt and lunged toward Ace.

"Who are you?" she hissed. "And why have you been following me? Did my cousin send you? Are you working for the rebels? Whoever you are, you should know my father will regain power and then you'll be sorry!"

"No, Your Highness," Ace spluttered. "Have no fear ..."

But Ace couldn't finish before there were screams from downstairs and breaking glass and the loud sound of heavy boots stomping up the stairs. In a moment, the princess and the librarian were surrounded by rebels dressed head to toe in black, with ski masks pulled low over their faces.

Ace had taken the moment of confusion to leap up onto the top level of the bookshelves and watched from above, his heart pounding with equal parts thrill and fear.

"Thought you'd escaped, did you, little princess?" sneered the rebel closest to Princess Juliana. "Your cousin will be glad to know we've found you safe and sound. And I'm sure your father will be glad to be reunited with you - in the dungeon!"

The rebel lunged toward the princess, arms outstretched as if to grab her. Before he could, though, he dropped to the ground, knocked out cold by the heavy volume of nautical maps that had just been dropped on his head.

The princess took advantage of the moment to get a firmer grip on her dagger, so she was ready when the next rebel lunged toward her. Meanwhile, Ace kept dropping the biggest books he could on the rebels down below, while the princess worked together with him to take out the ones who were foolish enough to stop and look up for the source of the book-missiles.

The librarian seemed to have abandoned them, but Ace and the princess were managing all right. It was looking like they might even overtake this band of rebels when Ace realized he was out of books. He had already dropped all the books within his reach, and without further ammunition, the princess was on her own with only a dagger against three large armed rebels.

Things got worse when one of the rebels succeeded in knocking the dagger out of the princess's hand.

"Whatcha gonna do now, little princess?" he mocked. "We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Personally, I vote for the hard way!"

With that he lunged toward her with an evil laugh. At the same time, the head reference librarian came around the corner letting out a wild, battle cry and charging forward with what looked like a spear but Ace could see from above was an enormous wall map rolled up around the metal rod it used to hang from.

The brave librarian took out the rebel who had been about to grab the princess, but his element of surprise was gone and he no longer had a weapon. As the other two closed in, the librarian pulled the princess close and whispered something in her ear, and then gave her a boost. Ace blinked in surprise as the princess was suddenly up on top of the bookshelves next to him and the two remaining rebels were restraining the librarian.

"Go, Princess, go!" the librarian called out.

Ace didn't hesitate. He grabbed the princess's hand and began to leap along the top of the bookshelf until they were about to reach the end of the shelf. "Jump!" he called out and they jumped together, sailing over the reference desk and landing on the top of the next row of books.

"Down here," the princess said, and she nimbly climbed down to the ground right at the top of the stairs.

Ace thought they should stay up high, but he followed after her. When he reached the bottom, she grabbed both his shoulders and looked him in the eye.

"You're a friend, yes?" she asked.

"Have no fear, Ace is here," he managed.

"I'll assume that means yes. If you want to help me-"

"Oh, yes. Yes, I do!"

"Then I need you to go down to the children's section of the library and find the book The Horse, the Key, and the Golden Blanket. Bring it and meet me at the back door of the Sheepshearer's Inn just outside town. Can you do that?"

"I don't have a library card," Ace said.

The princess shook her head impatiently. "Just take it. I'll pay for it later."

They could hear the sound of stomping boots and Ace nodded as quickly as he could. The princess shoved him down the stairs and at the same moment, leapt toward the window.

"I'm right here, boys!" she called out, waving to the rebels. And then she jumped out the window.

- End of Chapter Two -