For Jenna Wakely, because she was there.
Jenna was here.
Hatch looked up at the unmistakable track and sighed. The fairy princess was really bad at this game. Though she didn’t literally leave words written in the air behind her, she many as well have. Hatch put his hands on his hips,and tried not to feel violated.
He was a BlackWing, one of the highest orders of Fairy Guard. He was an elite soldier, trained for sensitive diplomatic missions and handling unusual tactical situations. Babysitting the royal offspring was beneath him, but today he found himself doing just that. Raising his eyes further to search the heavens for some answer as to why he was being served this special torture, Hatch took a deep breath.
“Ready or not, here I come!” he called out.
For an instant he entertained the idea of pretending not to see the fairy glitter shining like a beacon, but then he decided it would do her good to learn something while playing. The trail led him unerringly to where the young girl was hiding under a fern leaf so heavily dusted with glitter it touched the ground. Hatch bent over and peered under it.
“Found you,” he said.
Jenna pouted, but she didn’t look very upset. “My turn!” she said.
Hatch thought he may have been tricked into letting her search for him, but when Jenna smiled innocently at him he just shrugged and nodded. Jenna turned around and began to count in a high, ringing voice. Hatch watched her for a moment, unsure if he should be letting her out of his sight. If anything happened to her while she was in his charge, her father, the king, would have Hatch’s head and other choice body parts. But they were in the royal palace. It was ringed with a formidable wall guarded by Wall Guards, and the King’s Guard was always nearby; what could go wrong?
Hatch made his way towards the gazebo in the center of the garden. It offered a good view of the entire lay of terraced lawns, fountains, and stands of trees, and Hatch would be able to fly down in a flash if something went awry. He settled himself on the cushioned bench. Jenna was still counting. When she reached 100 and kept going, Hatch rolled his eyes.
“One-hundred-and-fourteen, one-hundred-and-fifteen, one-hundred-and-sixteen, one-hundred-a…”
Hatch started, waiting for “and-seventeen.” It didn’t come. He was perched atop the gazebo before he took another breath. His eyes roved over the greenery, trying to find Jenna’s sparkle. The one time in the whole universe when he needed it more than ever, it was absent.
He flew down to where he had left her and spun in a dizzying circle. She was no where in sight. He lit on the ground, put his hands on his hips and took long, slow breaths. He had to think this through logically. He couldn’t panic. He couldn’t…
Someone grabbed his arm in a bone-crushing grip, and tugged him back. He spun, preparing to deliver a death blow. Jenna put a finger to her lips, and pulled him more fiercely back. He followed the princess into the cover of the bushes, and opened his mouth to ask what was happening. Jenna slapped her hand over his mouth and pointed.
A huge creature lurked nearby. It stood next to a tree, and looked like an extension of the trunk, which explained why Hatch had missed it. When it lowered its head, Hatch bit his lip to keep from screaming. It was an ogre. Close-set, watery eyes blinked and sharp teeth stuck out at angles under a lump that was probably a nose. Or it could be a large wart.
He began to guide the princess away, his only thought to get her to safety. Then he could alert the King’s Guard and they could take care of the ogre. He made for the gazebo, thinking to put the structure between them and the ogre before making a break for the palace doors. They hadn’t taken a dozen steps when they heard quiet voices, not the pleasant, musical voices of the fairies but harsh and grating on the ears. Hatch pulled Jenna low and crept into the shadow of a giant fountain of mermaids and dolphins. Peering around a stone tail fin, Hatch saw a hunting party of goblins in black mail.
“What is this, an invasion?” Hatch growled.
Jenna’s eyes were wide. The princess had never seen a goblin before. Trees started shaking behind them. Hatch couldn’t decide which to look at, the ogre behind them, or the hunting party in front of them. When the goblins started to fan out, he made up his mind.
“Where did they come from?” he said. “What happened to the Wall Guards?”
“Look,” Jenna pointed.
Hatch followed her finger and saw the telltale sparkle of magic. It didn’t take long to figure that some wizard or mage had transported these goblins away, apparently with little thought for where they ended up. As Hatch watched the goblins try to determine where they were, an idea came to Hatch.
He glanced down at Jenna. It was going to be dangerous, and if the princess was in any way harmed, he really didn’t want to think want to think what would be done to him. But he didn’t have time to think of something else.
“Jenna, would you like to play a game?” he asked.
After he explained what he wanted her to do, he watched her scamper off into the gardens. When she had disappeared, he turned his attention to the goblins. They had formed up, and were advancing into the garden. Hatch took a deep breath, and leapt out waving his arms.
“Hey! Over here, morons!” he said.
While fairies had a distaste for goblins, goblins had a blinding hatred in return. When they laid eyes on Hatch, they no longer cared where they were. They had something to kill. They came at Hatch, howling and waving their swords.
“Exactly per the plan,” Hatch said, as he turned and ran backwards.
He knew exaclty where Jenna was by the thrashing in the trees. At least he hoped she was there.
“Jenna!” he called out, throwing a glance at the goblins running behind him him. “Jenna, where are you?!”
The fairy princess was breathless, her face flushed. A trail of glitter followed her, and an ogre came staggering along the trail, sneezing and trying to wave the fairy dust out of his face. Hatch grabbed her hand, and pulled her off at a perpendicular.
“Turn it off!” Hatch yelled.
“Way ahead of you,” Jenna said.
In the middle of a small clearing ringed by white lilies, the glitter had stopped. So did the ogre, glancing left and right to see where the annoying creature had gone. The goblins came running right at the ogre, the skidded to an ungraceful stop. The ogre fixed on them, and growled. The goblins formed up, squealing and squeaking in their nasty voices.
“Quick!” Hatch told Jenna. “Run for the palace. Alert the King’s Guard.”
Jenna ran off. Hatch continued to keep an eye on the goblins circling the ogre as the ogre tried to grab the goblins and crush them in its big fist. The King’s Guard arrived moments later, and dispatched both intruders with efficient strokes.
Jenna came up, two silent bodyguards with stony eyes by her side. The had silver wings on their uniform, marking them as the most elite Fairy Guard in the land. The princess slipped her hand into Hatch’s.
“That was a fun game,” she said. “We should do that again.”