Author Topic: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Happy Ending (ends 4. January 2019)  (Read 590 times)


  • Mittens Serf
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One year ends, a new one begins. And during this time many people also tend to celebrate one holiday or the other. Generally, it is the time to be merry, to spend it with family, to relax, to get rid of the stress of the last year.

Of course, everything goes wrong. The food burns in the oven, the car gets stuck in snow, people fight.

But then, in the very end, all is well again. In the end, we all get a Happy Ending.

Okay, maybe not like that...  (laugh)

Anyway, your task for the end of the year is to write a story that maybe has a plan were everything goes wrong and nothing seems to work the way it's supposed to be but in the end, everyone (or at least some characters) do get their Happy Ending.

It doesn't have to be festive as my implied example above. That's just why I chose the topic. But you can certainly go in this direction. Lovers finally finding each other, an innocent man finally getting out of prison, an artist selling his first painting, ... It really doesn't matter. But I do want this warm, fuzzy feeling of everything is going to be good in the end.

Possible Voting Categories:

Best Character
Best Plot
Best Atmosphere
Best Writing
Best Ending

You have time untill next year! Isn't that amazing? To be more precise, deadline is 4. January 2019.


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Not exactly a happy beginning to the competition, but that will just make the ending that much sweeter.  ;)


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I will be entering this one for sure.


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One week left, everybody!


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I finally have.... an idea!!!!  ;-D


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No entries yet? No Happy Ending for me?  :~(

Or are you just planning last minute entries to make the surprise all the sweeter?

Anyway, officially there are a couple hours left, inoffically probably until Monday, just to get a higher chance for some amazing writing.  ;)


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If you give me until Monday, the Squid and I promise to deliver something :) New Year's a very busy time here in Japan; my husband and I have only just got back from visiting family, who live a long way away :)


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For the Cause

   The old inn sprawled and sagged like an ancient, twisted oak.  The hooded figure approached, looked discretely up and down the miserable, abandoned lane, then entered.  Inside the public house was a bored looking barkeep and maybe a dozen drinkers seated on rickety looking furnishings.  A few heads turned to stare at the newcomer, but soon returned to the more important business of drinking into oblivion.  The hooded figure strode through their midst purposefully to the back passageway and the toilets.  A quick search confirmed that the lady's room was indeed, as always, empty.  The third stall had its perennial “out of order” sign, and it was there that the figure entered.  A quick flush (no one would ever think of that in such a dank public toilet), and a tile in the back wall slid open to reveal a pair of very suspicious eyes.

   “What's the password?” the eyes whispered aggressively.

   “Revolution!” the hooded figure whispered back.

   The eyes in the wall narrowed.  “That's the old password!” they whispered angrily.

   The hooded figure bowed its head and whispered again, only this time too quietly to be heard by the eyes.  The eyes narrowed further as the hooded figure seemed to convulse as its bottom half disagreed with its top.  At length the figure righted itself and spoke in a dignified whisper.  “The new password is... candy cane.”

   “Correct!” the eyes hissed, and along the tiled wall a secret door opened, revealing a winding staircase and a rough sign reading “Fantasy Society HQ”.  On a shelf next to the staircase stood the creature to whom belonged the eyes, a little imp no more than 12 inches tall.

   The hooded figure pushed back his cowl, which promptly fell to his waste revealing a slender elf standing on the head of a grumpy looking dwarf.  The elf was all smiles, but had a manic glint to his eyes.  “That's a stupid password, Comrade Morty!” the elf said sarcastically in a high-pitched voice, jumping off the dwarf's head and bounding up the stairs.

   “Take it up with the boss, Comrade Lief!” Morty rasped after him, waving the elf through.  The dwarf, who was too fat to fit through the hood hole, scowled down at the garment that was now twice too big to fit him.  Indignantly, he hitched up the billowing robe like he were crossing a puddle in a great wedding dress and strode up the stairs.  Morty the imp laughed after him.  “Comrade Gruff, that dress suits you!”

   “Things I bear for Cause,” Comrade Gruff grumbled in a thick eastern European accent, following his comrade up the stairs.

   *   *   *   *   *

   The meeting room was dimly lit except for the tiny speaker, a pixie who glowed of her own accord.  As she spoke her emotions intensified and she seemed to glow all the brighter, working herself up into a righteous rage that burned as hot as a drop of pure sunlight.  The crowd was a motley assortment of magical creatures and unhinged humans who were being worked up into a state of frothy fanaticism by the pixie's words.

   “And now the capitalists conjure their wizardry,” she continued, “at a $479.95 price point for the bourgeoisie to drool over!  The spell is cast, and the masses rend the forests and the fens asunder in exchange for a payment of a couple magic beans.  The snake oil salesmen get fat at the top, the bourgeoisie binge spend to try to keep up in the middle, and the masses starve on a diet of empty promises and false hope at the bottom.  This is a society sickened with the plague of materialism!  It lashes out in fits and spasms, in full denial of how sick it is and woefully ignorant of the cure!  Whatever can the remedy be?!?” the pixie asked with rhetorical flourish.

   “Real magic!” called a few members of the crowd.  “Grimmism!” cried yet others, extolling the creed inadvertently set out by 19th century philologists.  “Liberation!” shouted the most fervent, the elf Lief and the dwarf Gruff among them.

   The tiny pixie put her finger to her lip to bid the gathering to come to order.  “When a body is so sick that it begins to spiral towards death, is that the time for a plaster or an aspirin?”

   “No!” the crowd chanted in unison.

   “When an organism's very survival is at stake, is that the time for a hot water bottle and a lemon toddy?!”

   “No!” the crowd called out again.

   “Well if the body of society is so ghastly ill, what remedy is sufficiently radical to shock it out of its death throes?!?”

   “Revolution!” the crowd shouted ecstatically.

   “That's right, comrades!” the pixie cried.  “But it might get messy, oh yes, it might.  Is it right to use proportionate violence, to bring humanity to its senses?”

   “Yes!” the crowd called.

   “Is it right to commit murder, if it averts a war that kills millions?”


   “Are we just and righteous to prune 1% of the foliage to save the rest of the tree of Earth?”

   “Yes!  Yes!  YES!” the crowd chanted, none louder than Lief and Gruff in the front row.

   “Then hear me out, comrades, for in our day of most desperate need now is the hour of action!  The central committee of this glorious society has created a plan to strike the head from the Beast.  But we lack resources.  Brave is the brotherhood of arms we have formed over these many years, and strong is our resolve.  But what good is an axe against a Narvaa S23 Stroke Harvester, I ask?”

   “Errr...?” went some in the crowd.

   “What good is an enchanted bow and arrow against an M230 Chain Gun?” the pixie continued, trying to win back the crowd.  “About as good as bringing a butter knife to work at a slaughterhouse!  We need to level up, comrades!  When the time comes to overthrow capitalism, we can't bring a knife to a gunfight!  We need to buy some serious Russian-made military kit!”

   There were now more than a few sideways glances in the crowd, but the pixie could see that a few fervent believers at the front were still spellbound by her speech.  She straightened her back and pushed her glow up to maximum intensity.  “What we need now is for some brave comrades to rob a capitalist armoured truck to help us finance our magical revolution!  It will be tough, and it will be dangerous.  Who believes so fervently in our cause that they are willing to sacrifice life and limb for the Cause?!?”

   By this point Comrade Lief and Comrade Gruff alone were on their feet in the front row.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

   Comrade Gruff reclined naked on the gilded cushion, his long beard artfully draped to conceal his sexing organs.  Across from him on the bed lounged Elysia, a 600 pound woman of insatiable appetite.  She was currently dipping Mars bars into a bucket of melted ice cream and then cramming them whole into her mouth.  Melted ice cream dribbled off her chin to feed several rivulets on her chest, which in turn converged to form a veritable river flowing through the gorge of her cleavage.  Seeing the dwarf staring at her she gave him a teasing wink.  “I'll let you mop up in aisle three in a little bit, Sugar!”

   Comrade Gruff had to stifle a gag and forced himself to look the woman in the eyes.  They were bloodshot from the dry hotel air and too much screen-time, but they were still by far the woman's least disgusting attribute.  They might have been even pretty once, a pair of sapphire gemstones implausibly set in dolomite skin.  But now her face seemed too small for a head swollen with ballooning jowls and multiplying chins.  And the head itself seemed more of a circus ball perched atop some kind of bloated porpoise beached in a nest of plastic wrappers.  He shuddered despite himself and turned back to the eyes.  Think of Cause, he told himself over and over again.  Think of Cause!

   “I don't know how you get cold with all that body hair, Sugar,” Elysia panted, sweat beading on her forehead as she pulled another chocolate bar slowly through the viscous cream.  “It's like you're wrapped up in a little pageant girl's fur coat!  Still, I bet it beats Waxing Wednesdays down at Chez Stupot....”  Wherever this line of thought was going it ended with a mouth stuffed full of sugar and the revolting rivers flowing anew.

   A sudden beeping erupted from somewhere in the room, and an armband stretched taught on the woman's left arm started flashing red.  “Aw, kill joy!” Elysia cursed, spraying cream across the bed.  “Sugar,  be a sweetie plum and go fetch momma's insulin!”

   Escape at last!  Comrade Gruff rolled off the bed and grabbed the giant suitcase off the pile.  A pair of hands emerged from the slightly unzipped zipper of the bag beneath soon followed by a gasping elf mouth.

   “Not there, Sugar!  In my purse!”  Elysia strained herself to wave towards the other side of the bed.  Gruff reluctantly abandoned his comrade once more to rummage through the sea-cow's purse.  Candy wrapper, candy wrapper, liposuction loyalty card, candy wrapper, cell phone....

   “Hey, is what beeps?” Comrade Gruff asked, turning the phone on.  Curses, biometrically locked!

   “Nag, nag, nag!  It's worse than a doctor,” Elysia whined, grabbing the cell phone and pushing her pudgy finger print into the touch screen.  Comrade Gruff made sure to note which finger.

   “This one?” he asked, holding up a cartridge.

   “That's momma's laxatives.”

   Comrade Gruff stifled another shudder and replaced the cartridge.  “This one?” he asked again, holding up a tube.

   “That's momma's ass-rot cream.”

   Think of Cause!  Think of Cause!

   “This one?”

   “That's momma's sleeping pills.  Oh, just bring the whole thing over here!”

   While Elysia rummaged through the purse Comrade Gruff was able to discretely dump most of the sleeping pills into the ice cream tub.  He doubted whether she'd notice the tiny anomalies the way she ate, although he marvelled that such tiny doses could bring down such a large being.  The words “elephant tranquillizer” on the bottle were reassuring.

   “Uh, wow!” Gruff gaped in mock admiration.  “You can tell how important person is by how much medication in bag.  You must have very high stress job at bank!”

   “Oh, we can't all make a living as a Swedish Man Toy, Sugar!  I've been running Daddy's bank since he got that horse-body implant.  Centaurs were a fad with the Russian models back in the 2020s.  Anyway, now I work 24/7.  While we make love I'll be using this app to check up on derivatives, for-ex, counter-parties, bond-spreads, and even security.”

   “Wow!” Comrade Gruff gaped again.  In his peripheral vision he could see that Comrade Lief had finally freed himself from the bag.

   A few moments passed while Elysia played with her phone until she finally noticed Comrade Gruff standing there.  “Uh, hello?!  It's back to work time, Sugar.  We're both on the clock here!”

   Think of Cause!

   *   *   *   *   *   *


   “What was that?!?” the driver of the armoured car asked, slamming on the brakes.

   “Sounded like we hit something,” his partner replied, undoing his seatbelt and reaching for the door.

   “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” the driver cautioned.  “It's 3 AM on an abandoned stretch of road.  Let's just follow protocol and call it in.”

   “What, afraid of a half-dead coyote?” the partner mocked.  He drew his gun and made sure the safety was off.  “Live a little, Aunt Mae!  I'm gonna go check it out.  Maybe shoot something to put it out of its misery.  You cover me.”

   “This is a bad idea, man,” the driver warned, unholstering his own weapon.  “On three?”

   “One, two-” the partner was out the door already.

   “Shit!” the driver cursed, and followed.

   Maybe a hundred feet behind the truck a lump lay motionless in the middle of the road.

   “Well, it ain't twitchin',” the partner said with disappointment, slowly approaching the lump.

   “Hey, it's not an animal,” the driver remarked, noting that the tiny lump seemed to be wearing clothes.  The size and shape of the lump suddenly made his stomach wrench up into a pretzel.  “Oh shit!” He turned to the side of the road and started barfing doughnuts.

   His partner was more macabre.  Holstering his gun, he approached the child-sized lump, which was sprawled awkwardly over pavement.  A tiny hood concealed its head.  Steeling himself, the partner grabbed an edge of the fabric and pulled it back to reveal a bizarre looking child with a sinister grin on his face.


   The child suddenly came to life like a demon, biting down hard on the partner's gun arm.  “Ahhhh!  Ah! Fuck!  Get it off!” he screamed.   He couldn't reach his gun with his good hand, so he started shaking his arm violently.  The child was flung this way and that, its neck snapping in unholy directions, but still its jaws were locked.  He turned and started rotating his arm in great windmills, slamming the child against the tarmac with all of his strength.  “Ahhhhh!”

   He turned to see why the driver hadn't taken action, and was puzzled to see him lying on the road side, a bearded dwarf standing over him with a frying pan.  Suddenly the demented gremlin-child was on his face, screaming nonsense. 

   “Suck sock puppet, capitalist pig!”

   Something fuzzy suddenly obstructed his airway as he frantically grabbed at his assailant.  Then there was a deafening gong sound of iron hitting skull, and he fell dazed to the ground.

   “Sock puppet?” Comrade Gruff asked quizzically.

   His elf comrade simply chuckled maniacally.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

   The desert at dawn.  Sirens whined incessantly as the police cruisers charged after the armoured truck, four abreast on the abandoned freeway.  Lief leaned out the window of the truck to chuck a throwing knife at their wheels, and was met with a hail of bullets.  He quickly pulled himself back inside.

   “State line,” Comrade Gruff commented, waving at a sign that drifted by in a blink of an eye.  “Five miles.”

   “Patsies'll never take us alive!” Comrade Lief shouted.  He was missing two teeth and sported a black eye from his encounter with the armoured car driver.  Comrade Gruff winced as he coughed.  He had several cracked ribs from his night with Elysia, and emotional bruises that were much, much more painful. 

   “They'll have barricade up at line,” he mused.

   “We'll have to ram it!” Comrade Lief punched the air. 

   Comrade Gruff could see now how his friend would never surrender, no matter how hopeless it was.  He laughed despite the shot of pain in his chest.  It probably was always hopeless....  He sighed.  “They'll have tire spikes laid up across road, probably two hundred yards out from barricade.  Even if we don't tip, we'll never retain speed to ram through.” 

   Comrade Lief twitched in his seat, staring out across the barren landscape.  “We'll have to go off-roading!” he said enthusiastically.

   Comrade Gruff shrugged.  “Is canyon,” was his only reply.

   Comrade Lief squirmed in his seat.  “We have to try.  For the revolution!  For the Cause!”

   Comrade Gruff nodded affirmingly.  “For Cause.”  He reached into his robes and pulled out a fat cuban cigar.  “Is lighter in glove box?” he asked.

   Comrade Lief rummaged around in the glove box and found one. 

   “You don't mind?” Comrade Gruff asked.

   “Ha ha ha, no,” Comrade Lief replied.  He lit his friend's cigar, and then played with the lighter.  “Ha ha ha, fire, FIRE!” he said excitedly to himself.

   Comrade Gruff puffed happily on his cigar for a few moments before flicking his ash out the window.  “Ready, comrade?”

   The elf bounced happily in his seat.  “Let's screw those capitalist fat cat bastards out of a couple million!”

   Comrade Gruff genuinely smiled for the first time in years.  “Screw fat cat bastards,” he repeated in his thick accent.  “For Cause!”

   “For the Cause!” Comrade Lief cried, punching at the air again.

   Comrade Gruff swerved the armoured truck off the road, steering it directly into the glare of the rising sun.  A plume of dust shot out from behind the truck's wheels, almost obscuring the line of flashing lights that now fanned out widely in pursuit.  “Hey, look!” he shouted over the rumbling wheels.  “Coyote!”  The animal dove for cover in its den as the truck shot past.  “Is magical world, no?”

   Comrade Lief giggled uncontrollably.  “You know, some magical beings can fly!” he shouted.

   Comrade Gruff smiled back.  “I am believing in magic,” was all he said.

   Comrade Lief held up a tiny vial of fairy dust, a crazed glint in his eye.

   Comrade Gruff had to laugh again, despite the pain.  “Is just cocaine for smurfs,” he said.  “No aerodynamic properties.”

   “You gotta believe!” Comrade Lief cried, eyes darting towards the fast approaching canyon rim.

   “I am believing in Cause,” Comrade Gruff reaffirmed.  “I am believing in magic.”

   “Then punch it!” the elf screamed rapturously, shaking the contents of the vial so that a cloud of fairy dust filled the truck cabin.

   The police cruisers screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust at the canyon rim, shaking their heads at the craziness of perps these days.  When the dust finally settled they could see not a trace of the armoured truck against the morning glare.
« Last Edit: 05 Jan 2019, 05:07 by Baron »


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After two false starts at a story for this theme, I ran out of inspiration (and time -- holiday vacation is over). I had hoped this would be a grand return to the FNC, but sadly it wasn't a happy ending for me.  :undecided:

Good luck to everyone else!


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I had hoped this would be a grand return to the FNC, but sadly it wasn't a happy ending for me.  :undecided:

But what about the extras, P?  Do we still get the extras?  :=


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  • Zlang-Zlang Squid Says: All Hail the Squid!
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Still going but please can we have an extra 24 hours? :-* I'm about 2/3 of the way through my entry, but it's getting on for midnight here and I have to be up early tomorrow.


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The Squid is smiling so nicely, how could I possibly say no? Besides, I never liked wins by default.
24h left (see timestamp of this posting!).


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A Happy Life

I first saw the little black-and-white kitten that myself and my wife came to call "Panda" in my backyard, walking through his towering grass, glancing around every time the wind made it move.

I told my wife about this later that night and she told me back that she had seen the kitten on a tree stump in the yard next door all crouched and huddled up the day before.

She called the kitten "Panda" and I told her not to name stray cats. We had just lost our own pet cat of 22 years a few months before and...

Well, shit, I wasn't planning on going all the way into a lot of backstory but here we go I guess.

Our cat died, and it was one of the saddest days of my life but I was glad I could be there for his final moments.

My wife and I were officially done with pets. They bring so much joy but so much heartbreak as well and we are too old now to take responsibility for a pet from start to end.


Then, the very next month, a stray cat we came to call "Chibi", meaning "little one" in Japanese, had her litter of four kittens behind a shed in our backyard and now we had the defacto  ownership of Chibi and her litter. Well not really. We weren't feeding them but we watched over them, chasing away the crows, and such and we even watched as Chibi took her kittens one by one from behind the shed as the clouds closed in and the wind kicked up during a particularly powerful typhoon.

Long story short: Chibi's kittens grew up into adult cats, fed by the next door neighbors, and then the little black-and-white kitten we came to call Panda wandered into the picture.

My wife and I speculated that he had maybe been abandoned by his mother as the runt of his litter, or that maybe he had just lost his way, or that maybe something bad had happened to his mother.

Anyway, Panda became a regular thing in our day to day life. He would sleep on the cushions on the chairs on our backyard's deck, and then we came to notice that the cats from Chibi's litter started to sleep around him as the weather started to turn colder during Autumn.

At times Panda was completely covered by two or three other cats and my wife worried if he could even breathe. At other times he slept between the other cats or on top of them.

Chibi's litter had adopted Panda and licked him during bath time and he went with them everywhere.

On the way back home from a shopping trip I saw two of the grown-up cats of Chibi's litter crossing the road and Panda was behind them, in tow, glancing around nervously and I could imagine that he was just like a young kid out on a lark with older brothers and saying stuff like "Hey... guys... are you sure we should be..." but tagging along nonetheless.

I didn't see Panda for the next two weeks or so.

My wife went over to our land-lady's house around Christmas and gave her a flower bouquet as she does yearly and heard from her the following...

Our land-lady was out working her vegetable field behind our house and came across Panda huddled up in a little trough in the row of cabbage.

She bundled him up and took him home with her.

And she buried his little body under the orange tree in her backyard.

When my wife told me how Panda's life ended I was terribly sad, I had looked into his eyes, but then I remembered how he slept all warm and cozy with Chibi's litter, his adoptive family, and realized that his life could have ended even faster and sadder if he had never found them.

He would never have known the happiness of his warm bedfellows.

And I thought that a short but happy life is better than nothing.

And that is why I wrote this story.


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My entry. I'm not too happy with it tbh - I had to write most of it in a hurry - but at least I got it done :D

Under the Sea

Dirnec sat down on a rock, rubbing his wrists irritably. It made no difference – the enchanted manacles wouldn't come off, not without the touch of free merfolk – but it made him feel like he was doing something.

Someone stirred in the very back of the cave where he was kept, and Dirnec glanced up.

"Something's different, isn't it?"

The cave's only other occupant, a golden-haired, golden-tailed mermaid, didn't react in any way. Dirnec hadn't expected her to. He didn't even know the name of his fellow slave; she'd been captured before him as a trophy slave and concubine to the royal family, and never spoke a word that he'd heard.

She was the only companion he had, however, and Dirnec had grown rather fond of her over the years. There had been times when she'd seemed on the verge of speaking, only to regress to silence after being summoned to the prince's chambers.

"Yeah." Dirnec looked at the cave entrance. There was a feeling in the ocean, a subtle undercurrent of excitement that had been building for some time. "Think it's war?"

Meruna – Dirnec had given her that name shortly after their first meeting, not knowing what else to call her – wilted in her chains.

"Right. Sorry. They took you during a war, didn't they?" They'd taken him in a different war, but that hadn't been nearly so bad; he'd been too young to be much use and so they'd just chained him down here and forgotten about him in pursuit of stronger, adult merfolk.

This couldn't be a war, though, or they'd have heard the screaming by now. As he watched, a shadow appeared in the mouth of the cave and Meruna retreated, hiding her face in the wall. A mermaid swam in, sat down on the rock, buried her face in her hands and burst into tears.

Dirnec's breath quickened a little. This was the chance he'd been waiting for; a free mermaid who wasn't an overseer.

In the formal dialect, he asked softly, "My mistress, why do you weep?"

The mermaid raised her head to fix him with a cold stare, but Dirnec had kept his eyes respectfully low and his voice meek.

"You are addressing the princess of the Orthalom clan. My father has ordered me to marry the prince of this clan to try and broker peace between us. Tonight is the first day of our three-day nuptial feast."

Hope leaped in Dirnec so fast that he was afraid the princess could see him quivering. So that's it! A royal wedding. If he played this right...

"And my mistress's fiance has to drape the chain over your wrist to symbolize your union." Dirnec smiled once, slowly, but never raised his eyes. "I can help, if my mistress pleases."


"If my mistress will be good enough to obtain a jar of fat, all she need do is cover her wrists with it and she will soon find her worries disappear."

The princess stared at him, then turned away without another word and swam off.

After several moments, Meruna drifted over to Dirnec, the faintest frown on her face.

"You're not from around here, right?" Dirnec said. "Prenuptial ceremonies last three days in these clans. There's a new ritual every day to symbolize the bond between husband and wife. If they all fail, the marriage is annulled."

The frown deepened, and Meruna opened her mouth, then closed it again slowly.

"We help her, she helps us," Dirnec elaborated. "Tomorrow night, they have to hold hands, and the night after that, they embrace. If we get her out of this, maybe she'll get us out of this."

Meruna looked away sharply, biting her lip.

"Oh, she will," Dirnec reiterated. Glancing at the exit, he smiled. "I'm sure of it."

In spite of his confidence, the rest of the day and night passed without any word from the princess. It wasn't until the following evening that she swam back, biting her lip, a frown on her face.

As soon as he saw her, Dirnec bowed deeply. "My mistress. May I ask if last night was successful?"

"It was," she replied distractedly, "but I am concerned about this evening."

Dirnec smiled. "If my mistress pleases, there is a simple solution to this, and one that may be found right here in this cave."

He swam over to a clump of coral polyps on the wall, picked the biggest one and brought it over to the princess.

"If my mistress will only eat this, she will find her worries disappear."

The princess made no move to take it. "What is it?"

"A simple medicine to raise one's temperature." That part was true enough, as Dirnec had found out to his cost as a merboy. "Your fiance won't be able to come near you, let alone touch you, unless he wants his hands to blister in front of him."

When the princess still didn't move, Dirnec dared to place it on the rock next to her. "However, it takes time to work. I would recommend my mistress eat it now."

She picked it up, turned it over and over in her hands, then bit into it, shuddering at the bitter taste as she gulped rather than swallowed.

Dirnec raised his eyes, smiling a little. Game on.

The princess frowned suddenly, touching her forehead. "What..."

She turned to stare at him through suddenly vacant eyes, and Dirnec straightened up fully, his smile broadening.

"How does it feel?"

She shook her head hard. "I...I don't...dizzy..." The princess attempted to draw herself up and drifted sideways instead, catching hold of the cave wall. "I..."

Dirnec caught hold of her as she fell forward and thanked every ancestral spirit that there was no overseer around to see him holding a free person. "Maybe you should sit down."

She blinked hard, noting the shift from formal speech to the more casual dialect but unable to form the words to chastise him.

"You. Have to. Carry Me. To. Palace," she managed.

Dirnec grinned over her shoulder at Meruna, who had swum forward and was watching them intently. "I would, but..." He rattled the manacles with a shrug.

With a shaking hand, the princess touched the gem in the center of Dirnec's chest. The manacles opened and fell away and she seized him, digging her nails into his shoulders hard enough to draw blood.

"Now! Take me. Palace!"

Dirnec ran his hands along her arms, holding her, then smiled and pushed her away.

"No. No, I don't think I will."

She stared at him, then tried to lunge forward, only to be brought up short by the same manacles that had imprisoned Dirnec for so many years and which he'd slipped around her wrists.

"I'm. Princess!"

"Yeah, it'll probably spark off a war when your clan sees you're down in the slaves' cave," Dirnec agreed as he swam behind her to free Meruna, who clung to him and buried her face in his shoulder. "But we'll be long gone by the time that happens. Your clan will free you and your marriage will definitely be off now, and we will get out and start a new life, without you."

The princess yanked wildly at the chains. "They'll. Recognize-"

"I doubt that," Dirnec said pleasantly as he and Meruna swam over to the exit. "This is a wedding, remember? Nobody knows everybody at these things. Oh, and don't worry about the effects of the polyp. They're rather unpleasant, but not fatal. You'll be fine in a week or so."

The princess tried to scream, but her tongue suddenly seemed too large for her mouth. Dirnec took one last look over his shoulder at her, then swam away to freedom with Meruna.