A/N: I had a schoolwork assignment to write a story about a frog (as in frog prince) and a unicorn. This was the result. Enjoy. ^_^ Rated PG because I felt like it, dadgum it.
Patrick Avelus stretched out his legs, leaning back against the tree behind him with a relaxed sigh and strumming idly at his harp. It was a pleasant summer day, sunny and not too hot; letting his fingers fall slack on the strings, Patrick gave in to his drowsiness and let his eyes drift closed.
The sound of hooves on the forest floor jerked him out of his slumber. His grip on his harp tightened almost involuntarily, remembering the time he'd been in Netia and the instrument had been stolen due to him falling asleep.
Glancing up, he was greeted by the sight of a woman astride a bay horse. Dressed in a dark green riding habit, with her ebony hair left free to tumble down past her waist, she was the epitome of classic beauty; even her pale skin was free of a single freckle or blemish. Looking at her, Patrick found himself musing on how to best describe her looks in lyrics.
"Well, well, well," she said, and even her voice was melodic beauty; he would have loved to hear her sing. "A minstrel, in this part of the forest?"
"Bard, actually," he corrected automatically, climbing to his feet and sweeping her a bow. Suddenly very self-conscious, he brushed at his sleeve, trying to rid it of the dirt that clung to it after having sat on the forest ground.
She raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. "And the difference is?"
He barely suppressed a sigh of irritation. "Minstrels only play music. Bards create their own."
"I see." She smiled slightly. "And what is a bard doing in this part of the forest?"
He shrugged. "I was taking a walk." Feeling obliged to give more details, he added, "I'm staying in Melore, at the moment. It's a little town, not far to the southeast."
"Yes, I know where Melore is." She tilted her head slightly to one side, regarding him solemnly.
After a moment of intense scrutiny, he shifted position uncomfortably. "What is it you're doing in the forest, milady?" he asked, in an attempt to get the conversation going again.
She smiled. "I live here." She regarded him a moment more, then dismounted with easy grace, turning to face him. "And what is your name, Bard?"
"Patrick Avelus. But--"
"Good. I am called Harmonia."
Glancing at her, Patrick found his gaze suddenly drawn to her eyes. They were like emerald pools of light, pulling him further and further in until he found himself sinking into their depths--
As a bard, Patrick had studied practically every myth, legend, and ballad in existence. It was that knowledge that came to his aid now, supplying him with dozens of tales of mind control and how to fight it. Bracing himself against the pull of her eyes, he concentrated stubbornly on reciting the multiplication tables to himself, not even giving the slightest thought to her eyes or how they still pulled at him.
Luckily, the method used in all the old tales worked. The spell broke with an almost audible snap; he jerked away from her, taking several steps backwards.
She glared at him, fists clenching by her sides. "How," she spat out, "did you learn how to resist mind control?"
"I'm a bard," he reminded her, unable to resist the urge to smirk with triumph. "I've studied all the old stories, and a lot of them talk about that kind of thing."
She snarled at him. "Well, then--let's see how well you can resist this!"
He braced himself, preparing to fight against whatever spell she unleashed on him next; unfortunately, it came all in a flash, magic rushing over his body before he had a chance to even wonder if he could defend himself against it. It was like a net she had cast over him, one he could almost see--and then it sank underneath his skin, and started to shrink. He had the most remarkable feeling of growing smaller and smaller, and then, with an almost comical pop, he turned into a frog.
He stared up at the woman. "What did you do to me?" he asked--or tried to, anyway. What actually came out of his mouth was a highly indignant, "Ribbit!"
Luckily, she seemed to understand him anyway. "I turned you into a frog," she said, grinning down at him maliciously. "If you know all your old stories so well, then you should certainly recognize this one. Unfortunately, princesses these days aren't quite as inclined to go around frog-kissing as they used to be." She smirked at him. "I'd just like to see you get out of this one, Bard." With a laugh, she turned and mounted back up on her horse, cantering off into the forest. Within a few moments, she was gone.
"Well, ribbit," said Patrick, in quite a depressed tone of voice.
Being a frog proved to be a very strange experience. It took him almost a full day to get the hang of hopping; once he did, he headed for Melore. However, after being almost run over by two carts and almost stepped on by no less than a dozen people, he came to the conclusion that it might be better for him to stay away from towns--and anywhere else where there would be a lot of people, for that matter.
Ribbiting thoughtfully at the edge of a pond, he thought over all the stories he knew of people who had been turned into frogs. None of them were much help. The only thing they told him was that he might be able to get out of this mess if he could only get a beautiful princess to kiss him.
Of course, this presented its own problem. No girl with half a brain was going to pick up a frog and kiss him--at least, not unless they had a really good reason to believe that doing so was going to transform him into a handsome prince. And considering that he could only ribbit and had no way of talking to inform anyone else of his plight...
Staring at the pond's surface with a depressed ribbit, he wondered where he could find a princess idiotic enough to kiss a frog.
Well, princesses lived in castles. That was obvious enough. And at the castle of Valava, they had so many princesses that--so it was said--the king had actually put ads in the newspaper for prince charmings and knights in shining armor to come carry them off.
The castle of Valava was a short two-day trip from Melore. Confidence renewed, he set out on his way.
Of course, one thing he hadn't considered was that Valava Castle was two days away for a man. It was a much greater distance for a frog, naturally; not only that, but it was ridiculously easy to get lost when viewing the world from just a few inches above the ground.
None of the maps he'd ever seen were any help from a frog's viewpoint. He ended up wandering the countryside pretty much at random, evading people and trying to keep from being stepped on. When he finally did find himself at Castle Valava, it was completely by accident.
Exhausted from what, for a frog, was a full day's travel, Patrick hopped towards a lake, coming to a halt by the edge and ribbiting in exhaustion. He'd long ago lost track of how long he'd been traveling; for all he knew, it had been years since his search for a princess had begun.
Someone's foot descended into the lake perilously close to him, interrupting his thoughts. Ribbiting in alarm, he hopped away from the ensuing splash, then turned to face the newcomer. After all, he really doubted it was going to be a princess--that would be too convenient--but you never knew...
It was a girl, at the very least. He wasn't quite sure whether she was a princess or not; she didn't have a crown, but she was wearing a light blue dress that looked quite expensive, and that was promising. Scowling, she flicked a strand of long brown hair out of her eyes, then sat down in the lake with a splash, heedless of the water that instantly soaked the skirt of her dress.
She wasn't too bad looking, he decided. She was nowhere near the beauty of the woman who had turned him into a frog, of course--this girl was a little on the plump side, and had uncontrollable freckles. Still, she was far from ugly.
She propped her chin in a hand with a sigh. "My life sucks," she announced, to plain air. "'You're the youngest of all the princesses,'" she mocked, obviously quoting someone. "'I know you're sixteen already and haven't done anything with your life yet, but you'll just have to wait your turn, is all.'" She kicked at a pebble, sending it skittering across the grass. "I don't want to wait! And I don't want to end up married off to some stupid prince, either! I want to paint. But can I do that? No, of course not! 'Painting isn't a proper profession for a princess, milady!'"
With a sigh and a scowl, she kicked at another stone, obviously upset. Patrick, on the other hand, was quite cheered up by this speech. It seemed the girl was a princess, so if he could just get her to kiss him, somehow...
"Ribbit?" he said hopefully, hopping up beside her.
She gave him an odd look, then shook her head. "I'm imagining things," she muttered.
"Ribbit!" he repeated.
She gave him that same odd look. "Frogs ribbit," she said slowly. "Everyone knows that. But what frogs don't do is say 'ribbit.'"
"Ribbit," he said agreeably.
She blinked at him. "Can...can you understand me? Ribbit twice for yes and once for no."
Her eyes went wide, and she shook her head. "I must be imagining things," she muttered, then addressed him again. "You wouldn't happen to be a human who was turned into a frog by an evil sorceress and is just waiting for me to kiss you and break the curse, now would you?"
She gave him a thoroughly skeptical look. "Are you a prince?"
"Ribbit," he said hastily, recalling the girl's obvious animosity towards princes.
"All right, then." With a sigh, she picked him up, raising him to eye level. "You'd better be telling the truth," she informed him, grimacing. Then, visibly bracing herself, she leaned forward and kissed him.
The effect was instantaneous. It was almost exactly like when he'd been transformed, only in reverse; there was the strangest sensation of growing, then of a net underneath his skin fading into nothingness. Blinking, he looked down at himself to make sure--and sure enough, he was human again.
"Ribbit!" he said gleefully; then coughed, cleared his throat, and tried again. "Yes!" he exclaimed, punching the air happily.
Suddenly realizing that the girl was still watching him, he cleared his throat again, glancing at her. "Um. Thanks."
She leaned back on her elbows, staring up at him with eyes wide in frank disbelief. "You really are a person! I mean, you said you were--sort of--but I didn't really think--I mean, I did, of course, but--oh, never mind." She got to her feet, regarding him dubiously. "Are you sure you're not a prince?"
"I'm sure. Matter of fact, I'm a bard." Suddenly realizing that he hadn't seen his harp since before he'd been transformed, he scowled, wondering what exactly that Harmonia woman had done with it.
"Oh, good," she said, obviously relieved. "In that case, I don't have to marry you now."
He raised an eyebrow. "You would have had to marry me if I'd been a prince?"
She nodded. "Because I rescued you. It's traditional, you see." She sighed, then blinked at him. "So--who are you, anyway?"
"Patrick Avelus." He sketched a bow. "And you are?"
"Princess Bethalia, of Valava Kingdom." She made a face, but curtsied anyway. "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance," she recited.
"The pleasure is all mine, I assure you. Say--I don't suppose you've ever heard of a woman named Harmonia, have you?"
She frowned. "That name sounds familiar--where have I--oh! Yes, she's supposedly this evil sorceress who lives inside the woods outside Melore. Randare Bane--he was a famous Valavian artist--anyway, he did a painting of her once, and we've got a copy in the gallery back home. She's very beautiful, in the painting at least, I wish I looked like that...anyway, the painting's really a masterpiece. Randare Bane was a genius, the way he uses color--"
Listening to her ramblings with half an ear, it quickly became obvious that the Princess Bethalia had the same intense passion towards painting that he'd always had towards music. Idly wondering how Randare Bane's use of color was supposed to help him get his harp back, he waited for her to finish her speech.
"--I'm sorry, am I boring you?" she said at last, blushing.
"It's all right," he said with a shrug. "You should obviously be a painter, not a princess. B--"
She heaved a depressed sigh. "I want to paint, I really do, but--well, everyone says painting isn't a proper choice of profession for a princess. I'm supposed to be happy just to marry some handsome prince and sit around in a solar all day tatting lace and bearing heirs. But all I've ever wanted to do is paint, ever since I was five years old and first walked through the gallery."
"I'm sorry," he said, with a good bit of true sympathy. "Look, I was wondering--do you have any idea where this Harmonia person might be?"
She nodded. "I already told you, she lives in the woods outside Melore. Why? Is she the one that changed you into a frog? Are you going to go get your revenge, and keep her from ever inflicting such a horrible curse on anyone else ever again?"
He sighed. "Yes, she is the one that turned me into a frog. But I'm not going to go get revenge, I'm going to go get my harp back. Whatever she did with it."
"Oh." She blinked at him again, then said hopefully, "Is it a magic harp, with special powers? Maybe one you made from the bones of a drowned girl, and strung with her hair?"
He grimaced. "I wouldn't do anything that morbid. I always hated that story anyway. No, it's just an ordinary harp--well, not quite ordinary. It's a top of the line Smethson model, and it's worth quite a lot of money; they don't even make this particular sort anymore. So you can see why I want to get it back, right?"
She sighed. "You're not really very interesting, are you?"
He blinked at her, somewhat taken aback. "Look, I'm just a bard who got turned into a frog completely by coincidence--I'm still not sure why she did it, as a matter of fact. All I want is to get my harp back and go about living a perfectly normal, boring, uninteresting life. So stop acting like I'm some idiot hero in a ballad."
"Well, you could be one." He stared at her; she shrugged. "People are always getting turned into frogs in stories and songs and things. That was another thing Randare Bane did a painting of, a princess kissing a prince who'd been turned into a frog--it's marvelous, you can see the frog and then you can see the image of the prince in this sort of halo type thing around it..." She trailed off, blushing. "Sorry. I'm rambling again."
"It's all right," he said absently. "Well, I guess I'll be off to find my harp now. Good-bye."
"Oh," she said, sounding vaguely disappointed. "You're not going to take me with you?"
He had already started to leave; frowning, he turned back around to face her. "Why would I? No offense meant, of course."
She sighed, shrugging one shoulder. "It's just--I guess I kind of hoped you'd help me run away from the castle or something, in return for having rescued you. I'm so sick and tired of being a princess all the time. And I'm the youngest one of about eighty princesses, so it's not like I'm ever going to get a chance to do anything."
He opened his mouth, then blinked. "Eighty princesses? Good grief. Is there really that many?"
She nodded. "Oh, yes. It's horrible, I've got sisters everywhere. And not a brother anywhere in the bunch, of course." Glancing up, she caught the look on his face and added indistinctly, "Father has a lot of wives."
"Good grief," he repeated, shaking his head.
"You can see why I want to get away," she said hopefully. "So--could you take me with me? I mean, I can help you get your harp back and everything--and if she turns you into a frog again, I'll just break the curse again!" She beamed at him.
He winced, having images of himself being talked to death before they got halfway to Melore. Wondering how he could discourage her from accompanying him without saying outright that her voice was annoying and she talked too much--although it was true--he shook his head. "I don't think I'll need any help," he said vaguely.
"You might," she protested, pouting at him. "After all, two heads are better than one, right? And what if she does turn you into a frog again? You'll have to come all the way back here to find me again, and I imagine it's quite a long way for a frog. And it would be pretty difficult to convince any other princess to kiss you. My sisters would probably just have sat on you. After all, real frog princes have miniature crowns, and nobody'd want to kiss a frog who wasn't a handsome and charming prince."
"I'll manage," he assured her. "Good-bye." And with that, he turned and headed off into the woods, before she had a chance to come up with another protest.
Patrick was almost out of the forest when he ran into another princess, literally; the girl came speeding around a corner and ran straight into him, almost knocking both of them to the ground.
"Watch where you're going!" he snapped, wobbling and barely managing to regain his balance.
The princess blinked, taking a step backward. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said, in a light, musical voice. Her hair was blonde, done up in luscious curls underneath an elaborate golden crown; she wore an elegant dress of pink and white, one that brought such strong images of a birthday cake to mind that it practically looked edible. She was tall, slender, and all-around beautiful, and was in general the sort of woman bards wrote songs about.
Of course, this particular bard was too annoyed with his harpless state at the moment to be contemplating any lyrics. "It's all right," he said absently, moving to walk around her.
Unfortunately, she moved to block him. "I say, what are you doing in this part of the forest?" she asked, fluttering her eyelashes.
He sighed. "Trying to get out of it. Can I go now?"
She blinked. "And where are you planning on going to, once you're out?"
"Melore. Why am I being interro--"
"Why are you going there?" she interrupted.
"I'm trying to get my harp back." He sighed again, resigning himself to having to tell the whole story. "Look, this sorceress person changed me into a frog, I just got turned back, and now I'm going to Melore to get my harp back. Okay? Can I go now?"
"But Melore is two days away!" she exclaimed. "The trip would go much faster on horseback. Why don't you come back to Castle Valava with me? We can lend you a horse--"
Chattering away, she looped an arm through his and dragged him off towards the castle. With a sigh, Patrick let himself be dragged--not that he had much a choice in the matter.
Princess Bethalia trudged back through the gates of Castle Valava with a depressed sigh. She wasn't much looking forward to returning home today--well, not that she looked forward to it any day, but still.
One of the reasons she was so anxious to escape Castle Valava forever was due to a certain being known as Prince Xavier. Heir to a neighboring kingdom, rumor had it he was going to be asking King Valava for Beth's hand in marriage any day now. In the meantime, he seemed to have made it his goal to annoy her as much as possible.
Traditionally, it was true, the princess was to go through harrowing adventures, and be married to whoever her rescuer was. This had caused a few problems before--like when her older sister Stefansia had rescued herself, or even more spectacularly in the case of her other older sister, Harmonie.
King Valava had put out a reward of a thousand gold for whoever rescued Harmonie. The one who had finally succeeded had been a girl in disguise as a boy, who was only after the money. The confusion over that incident had never gotten entirely sorted out, but Harmonie had, at the very least, ended up happily married to her own Prince Charming (who really was a boy, at least as far as anyone knew, and Harmonie had never complained).
Still, in most cases, tradition held sway. Bethalia, on the other hand, was one of the few exceptions. As the youngest of the princesses, she wasn't likely to get any opportunities to do much with her life, and she knew her father would probably jump at the first chance offered to get her off his hands.
Which was why she'd been so eager to get away from Castle Valava. The bard she'd turned back into a person had seemed nice enough, at the very least; she'd hoped he might be willing to take her with him on his quest to get his harp back. After all, she knew she would have been useful, despite what he'd said. It just wasn't fair.
With a sigh, Bethalia headed into the main hall of Castle Valava, and winced to see Prince Xavier heading her way. It wasn't that he didn't fit every traditional description of a prince; with his long brown hair and baby blue eyes, he was certainly handsome enough, and had more than his fair share of charm as well. Unfortunately, it didn't matter to anyone but Beth that there was nothing inside that handsome head but air; handsome and charming was supposed to be enough for any proper princess.
"Bethalia!" he exclaimed, approaching her. "Why, it's such a pleasant surprise to see you here--" Halting in front of her, he swept her a bow, capturing her hand and depositing a kiss upon the back.
"Why?" she asked, desperately trying to tug her hand out of his grasp. "Why is it a surprise, I mean? I live here, I walk through this hall every day, I'd think you'd be used to seeing me here, so why--"
"Ah, but it is always a pleasant surprise to see a lady as lovely as you," Xavier interrupted smoothly, giving her a suave smile. "A woman such as you can brighten a room just by--"
"Leaving it, I know," Beth interrupted, finally managing to free her hand from his grasp. "In that case, let me do some room-brightening for you right now."
She left while he was still working out what she'd said, and had reached the upstairs balcony when her progress was interrupted by a commotion downstairs.
"Father!" her sister Telania was calling. "Father, I found myself a prince! An evil sorceress turned him into a frog, and I rescued him!"
"I'm not a prince," a familiar voice said, sounding very alarmed.
Beth ran to the balcony, almost toppling over the railing in her haste. Sure enough, Telania stood downstairs--next to a very annoyed looking Patrick Avelus, whose words were going entirely unnoticed by both Telania and King Valava, who was approaching down the stairs.
Beth stared down at the scene avidly, contemplating what a lovely painting it would make. Especially with the afternoon sun falling through the large stained glass windows and illuminating the hall; it shone off the blonde hair of both Telania and King Valava, and picked out the blonde highlights in Patrick's strawberry blonde hair. Staring downwards, she decided she really was going to have to paint the scene someday, although it might be difficult to get the facial expressions right--and how was she going to get the gray of the bard's eyes right, anyway? She'd never seen a paint of that particular shade; it would probably take several attempts at mixing colors to get it right--
"Good, good!" King Valava boomed, rudely cutting into her contemplation. "When shall the two of you be married?"
"Married?" Patrick squeaked, and was again ignored.
Realizing suddenly that Telania was taking credit for something she'd done, Beth huffed angrily, heading for the stairs.
Patrick looked from the princess to the king incredulously, arms folded over his chest. "Wait a minute!" he interrupted. "I don't want to marry her, she's not even the one that rescued me--"
Naturally, he was ignored. "I'm not even a prince!" he tried again, raising his voice slightly.
That got their attention, although it didn't have quite the effect he had hoped. "You're not?" said the princess, sounding disappointed.
The king waved a hand negligently. "Not a problem. We'll just make you a prince, that's all! I hereby declare you Prince--what's your name?"
"Patrick Avelus," he supplied without thinking.
"Good, good. I hereby declare you Prince Patrick Avelus of the Kingdom of Valava. So, you see, you're all set." He beamed. "Oh, and of course you'll need the sword--" With that, he turned away, hustling to a cupboard a slight distance down a narrow hallway.
"Sword?" Patrick repeated, feeling quite out of his depth.
"Yes, the sword. It was prophesized a long time ago, you see, that when Telania here brought a betrothed home, he was to be given this magical sword." The king turned back around, holding a sheathed sword. "Here you go. Oh, and it talks, so don't be alarmed."
"Talks?" he repeated as the king dumped the sword into his arms.
"Yes, talks. Go ahead, draw the--"
"Wait a minute!" a familiar female voice interrupted from the head of the stairs. "Telania didn't rescue him, I did!"
Looking up, he was greeted by the sight of Bethalia, standing at the top of the stairs with a triumphant look on her face. Telania pouted; the king turned to face him, frowning. "Is this true?"
He nodded. "I've been trying to tell you that all along. So can I--"
"Well, then!" the king interrupted jovially. "In that case, you'll just be married to Bethalia!"
"Wait a minute!" he and Bethalia said at the same time. "I don't want to marry--"
The entire conversation was interrupted when the great double doors of the castle came flying open. Hearing hooves on the tile of the hall, all four of them whirled around; seeing a white horse cantering straight toward them, Patrick and Telania dove to either side, out of the way.
Patrick landed on the floor with an impact that knocked the breath out of him. Next thing he knew, the horse was gently nudging his side. "Hey, get up," an exasperated male voice said.
He raised his head, and blinked. Directly in front of him stood a unicorn, straight out of the songs he sang--complete with spiral rainbow horn, rainbow patterned wings, beard, and cloven hooves. Wondering exactly how much weirder his life was going to get before he managed to get his harp back, he got to his feet.
"Much better," the unicorn said. "Now, er--not to be asking personal questions or anything, but you are a virgin, right?"
Patrick blinked. "No."
"Oh." The unicorn lowered his head, wings drooping. "I'm confused."
Patrick glanced around, noticing that Telania, Bethalia, and the King all seemed to have been reduced to speechlessness by the unicorn's sudden appearance. Looking back at the unicorn, he edged a little towards the creature. "Um...I don't suppose you could help me out a little, could you?"
The unicorn perked up, and nodded. "Of course! That's what I'm here for." He sighed. "Of course, we unicorns are supposed to only help virgins, but obviously the system's gotten screwed up again. What can I do you for?"
"Get me out of here," Patrick said flatly.
"Okay, I can do that." He tossed his head, then knelt down to the floor. "Climb on."
Somehow, Patrick managed to awkwardly straddle the unicorn's bare back, just behind the wings. The others came free from their stunned paralysis as the unicorn rose; Telania began shrieking, and Bethalia came running down the stairs, halting next to him. "Take me with you!" she demanded, grabbing the so-called magical sword from where he'd dropped it and buckling the belt around her own waist.
The unicorn twisted around to get a good look at her. "Are you a virgin?" The princess blushed and nodded. "That's okay, then," he said, obviously relieved. "Be a gentleman and help her on, Patrick."
Without bothering to protest or ask how the unicorn knew his name, Patrick extended a hand. Bethalia took it, climbing up on the creature's back behind him. And then, with no further warning, the unicorn took off at a canter, heading outside the castle--then took off, leaping into the sky and flapping his great, rainbow-tinted wings to get them aloft.
Behind him, Bethalia screamed and clung to his waist. Patrick buried his hands in the unicorn's mane, hanging on for dear life as he watched the buildings below diminish to the size of toys.
"So!" the unicorn said, sounding quite cheerful. "Where are we headed?"
"Melore," Patrick said, closing his eyes that he wouldn't have to see exactly how far away the ground was. "So, um--what's your name, anyway? Or do unicorns even have names?"
"Of course unicorns have names," was the exasperated reply. "Mine's Tonas. And I already know that you're Patrick and she's Beth, so you don't need to introduce yourselves to me. Any particular place in Melore, or just the general area?"
"Wherever that Harmonia woman lives, I guess."
Tonas's ears flattened against his head. "Ooh, I hate that woman. I really do. Why are we going there?"
"To get his harp back," Bethalia spoke up from behind him. "Harmonia turned him into a frog and stole his harp, and now that he's human again he's on a valiant quest to retrieve his harp."
"Wouldn't be a magical harp, would it?" Tonas asked, ears perking back up with obvious interest.
Patrick sighed. "No. It's a perfectly ordinary harp, and I'm not on a valiant quest. I'm not a hero."
"Yes you are," Beth protested, then squeaked and clung to him as Tonas began his descent. Burying his fingers in the unicorn's mane, Patrick dared to open his eyes--and, seeing the ground approaching at a dangerously rapid pace, winced and closed them again.
At last Tonas pulled up slightly, landing gracefully on all four hooves. "Here we are!" he said cheerfully. "I'm not really sure exactly where Harmonia lives, but this is the forest of Melore, so she should be around here somewhere."
Beth slid down the unicorn's side, collapsing into a seat on the forest floor. Patrick followed her down, legs shaking, and at last had to sit down as well. "I am so glad to be back on the ground," he murmured, then looked up at Bethalia. "Why do you say I'm a hero?"
The princess shrugged, pushing a strand of hair out of her face. "Because. You've got a unicorn, a magical talking sword, and you're traveling with a princess. Plus, you're on a quest against a great evil. And if all that doesn't make you a hero, then I don't know what does. Oh, by the way, you should take the sword back, it's yours really--"
Unbuckling the belt from around her waist, she handed it over to him. He took it and regarded the sheath dubiously. "Isn't this thing supposed to talk?"
"Try drawing it," Beth suggested, watching with interest.
Suppressing a great feeling of trepidation, Patrick obediently wrapped a hand around the hilt and drew the sword from the sheath. The thing was obviously magical; despite the utter lack of sunlight under the cover of the trees, the blade still shone as though it was under direct light. It looked a lot heavier than it really was, and was probably sharp enough to cut silk. A warrior would probably have rested a thumb on the edge to test the sharpness, but Patrick had a little better sense of self-preservation, and kept his hands on the hilt.
"So!" a voice said suddenly; blinking, Patrick realized he was hearing it with his mind rather than his ears, and deduced that it had to be the sword talking. "You're my new wielder, eh?"
"Only by coincidence," he said, regarding the sword dubiously.
The sword gave a rude snort. "Yeah, I can tell you're no fighter. Probably one of them that likes reading, and gets queasy at the sight of blood. Pah!"
"I'm a bard, thank you very much," Patrick retorted, "and I do happen to like reading. I only ended up with you because this stupid princess--"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," the sword said, with another rude snort. "Like I said. Probably never held a sword before in your life, am I right? But I might just be able to whip you into shape."
"I don't want to get whipped into shape," he protested. "I just want to get my harp back."
"Probably a magic harp stolen by a great evil, eh?" the sword said knowingly. "Well then, you're going to have to learn to fight, boy! You've always got to fight, going up against a great evil! And what're you going to use for a weapon without me, eh? Your good looks and charm? Pah!"
Giving up on reasoning with the thing, he put the sword away and buckled the belt around his waist, ignoring the muffled muttering from within the sheath. Looking up towards Bethalia and Tonas, he heaved a sigh. "You two are going to come with me no matter what I say, aren't you?"
Both of them nodded. "I'm your unicorn now, boy," Tonas informed him, "virgin or not. And you've got a pure heart, at the very least." He nodded knowingly. "That's what's really important."
"I even brought a travel pack!" Bethalia said brightly, pulling a small black canvas bag out from somewhere. "There's enough food and water in here to last us a week if need be, and I even brought some books to read, too." Beaming, she reached in the bag and pulled out a box of chocolates, opening it and pulling out a piece to munch on.
Tonas's ears perked up; within a moment, he had bounded over to Beth's side. "Ooh! Chocolate! Gimme a piece, gimme a piece!"
The princess regarded him dubiously. "Can unicorns eat chocolate?"
He snorted. "Of course we can! We're creatures of good, aren't we?" She held out a piece in his direction, which he ate greedily.
Patrick raised an eyebrow. "So--all creatures of good can eat chocolate?"
"'Es, m' cre'hurs--" Tonas swallowed his mouthful of chocolate truffle. "Creatures of evil can't. Kills 'em every time. Chocolate, you see, is a thing of intrinsic goodness."
Beth giggled, eating another chocolate. "I never knew that." With a morbid sigh, she looked down at the box, already half-empty after just a few moments of the princess and the unicorn's attention. "I guess we'd better save some chocolates, then. Just in case, you know." With another sigh, she put the lid back on the box and shoved it back inside the canvas bag.
Patrick shook his head. "Can we get going now? I'd like to get this over with."
Tonas nodded. "Yes, we'd better hurry on with the quest." His ears perked up, and he looked considering for a moment; then he nodded towards the east. "I would say Harmonia's castle would be in that direction."
"She has a castle?" Patrick asked.
"How do you know?" Beth said, at the same time.
"Of course she has a castle," Tonas said, sounding exasperated with his ignorance. "She's a great evil being, isn't she? And I know because I can feel the evil in that direction." A slight shiver ran over his skin. "I really don't like that woman. I mean, I really, really don't like her."
Patrick rested a hand on the hilt of his sword, suddenly very glad that he had it. Not that he was really expecting to do any fighting; on the contrary, he planned to avoid it if at all possible. Still, it was reassuring to have an actual weapon at his side, albeit one he had no idea how to use.
With a sigh, he headed in the direction Tonas had indicated, leaving Beth and the unicorn to follow him.
It took them almost a half-hour of traveling to find Harmonia's castle. At last they arrived, with proper dramatic fanfare.
"Aha," Tonas said, staring up at the black, obviously evil castle atop a hill. "It seems we've found...the castle."
Although it had been perfectly bright and sunny all day, lightning flashed dutifully in the background, in accordance with every rule of storytelling in existence. As thunder boomed overhead, Patrick sighed, staring at the overly cliched castle with its sickly green glow.
"Well," he said, gazing doubtfully at the closed gates, "shall we go in?"
The gates swung open obediently when they walked forward. Looking up, Patrick caught sight of the gargoyles on either side of the gates; hideously ugly winged creatures, they seemed almost alive, and it looked like their eyes were following him...
He flung out his arms just in time to stop Beth and Tonas from going through the gate. "Wait a minute," he said, searching the ground for a stick. Finding one, he picked it up and tossed it through the open gates.
The gargoyles swiveled, shooting a volley of miniature but deadly arrows at the spot where the stick had landed. "I thought so," Patrick murmured, staring up at the statues and trying to remember exactly how one was supposed to get by such things.
"Wow," Beth said, scooting a little closer to him. "That was scary. How'd you know they were going to do that?"
"It was obvious," he said absently. "It looked like their eyes were following me. Plus, there's statues like that in one of the old stories. If only I could remember how clueless hero Alexander got past them..."
"I could put up a magic shield type thing around you," Tonas offered. "It would reflect the arrows back at the statues, and you wouldn't get hurt. Of course, I've never used magic on a human before, only on unicorns...I don't know if it'll work on a human."
Patrick shrugged. "It's worth a try, isn't it?"
"Yeah, sure." Tonas closed his eyes, lowering his head and tapping his horn lightly on Patrick's shoulder. The tip of the unicorn's horn was glowing; a moment later, Patrick felt what could only be described as a warm glow go up around him, shining golden just at the edges of his vision.
The unicorn moved to Bethalia and did the same thing for her, encasing her in what looked like a giant, golden soap bubble. Patrick blinked, wondering if he looked as silly as she did.
At last Tonas heaved a sigh, lowering his head. "You two go on, then," he said morbidly.
"Why?" Beth put an arm around the unicorn's neck, hugging him. "Aren't you coming with us, too?"
"I can't," Tonas said sadly. "What's inside that castle is just too evil for a unicorn like me to stand. I'll be out here waiting, though. I'm sorry I can't come with you."
Beth sighed, and gave Tonas a fierce hug before backing up. "It's all right, Tonas. We'll be back, don't worry."
"I'll worry anyway," the unicorn said gloomily. "Worrying is what I do best. Just be careful, okay? Both of you."
"We will be," Patrick assured him; then took a deep breath, and walked through the gates.
The statues fired at him the instant he set foot within the castle courtyard, but the arrows simply bounced off his shield and hit the ground. Beth ran after him, grinning in relief once she was on the other side. "Well, that was easy," she said cheerfully.
Patrick winced. "Please, don't say things like that."
Beth blinked. "Things like what?"
"Things like 'that was easy,' or 'well, at least the worst is over now,' or 'it can't get much worse than this.' Because as soon as you do, something worse is bound to hap--"
Something growled behind him. Beth froze, staring with wide eyes at something just over his shoulder. Bracing himself for the worst, Patrick turned around, only to be sent sprawling as the demon-wolf behind him leapt.
He yelped as the wolf's teeth sank into his shoulder, drawing blood; somehow, he managed to curl into a ball and kick out with both feet, shoving the wolf off him. Climbing to his feet, he glanced around at the circle of demon-wolves that was rapidly surrounding them, hand flying to the hilt of his sword.
Beth screamed, launching herself towards him and wrapping her arms around his neck. "Save me!" she shrieked, managing to both choke him and get completely in the way of him drawing his sword.
"I can't--fight--with you--around my neck!" he got out, finally managing to shove her away from him and draw his sword. "How come I have to be the one to save you, anyway?" He eyed the wolf that had attacked him, who was giving the sword a dubious look.
"You're the one with the sword," she pointed out, backing up a few steps. "What am I supposed to attack them with, my slippers?"
"Maybe I have a sword, but I don't know how to use it," he pointed out, watching the wolf continue to eye him.
Beth snorted. "You probably know more about using a sword than I do. I don't even know the difference between a sword and a katana, for crying out loud."
"What is the difference between a sword and a katana?"
"I don't know, I just told you that! Anyway, it's a magic sword, you probably just have to look out!"
Patrick raised his sword at the exact instant the wolf leapt. He was dimly aware of the sword saying, "Ah, yes, this is what I was meant for!" And then his body was doing things he hadn't even told it to, stepping forward and swinging the sword and dodging out of the way of an attack from the wolves...
The sword finally gave him back control of his body when all the wolves were dead. Lowering the blade and breathing heavily from exertion, he glanced around warily, making sure another attack wasn't forthcoming.
He noticed Beth wasn't there anymore at the exact same instant that he heard her scream. Muttering something under his breath about pain-in-the-neck princesses, he ran in the direction of the scream, holding his sword aloft.
He found her in a side courtyard, cornered by four more demon-wolves. The sword obediently dispatched of them, then gave him his body back just as Beth flung herself at him. "You're my hero!" she proclaimed loudly; then blinked, took a step backwards, and shook herself. "Ergh. Okay, that must be something in the princess genes asserting itself, or something. I'd never act that stupid without good reason."
"Princesses don't wear jeans," Patrick pointed out, unable to resist the urge. "They wear dresses."
She gave him a Look. "Aren't we supposed to be going to get your harp? Unless, of course, you want to stand around here being a smart-aleck all day, we can do that too--"
He shook his head and thought about sheathing the sword, then decided it might be a good idea to leave it out for now. "Nah. Come on, let's go."
Once inside the castle, they wandered for what seemed like an eternity without finding anyone, much less being attacked again; eventually, Patrick ended up sheathing the sword despite his doubts. He was about ready to give up and turn around when he pushed open a door and found himself in the throne room.
It was obviously a throne room, considering that the only piece of furniture in the entire hall was just that--a throne. Tapestries decorated the walls, done in colors of purple, green, and black; the floor, walls, and ceiling were all done in dismal black stone. And in the center of the room, Harmonia sat regally atop an obsidian throne, a crown set with glimmering rubies atop her forehead.
"So!" she declared, smiling enigmatically. "The bard has come back to retrieve his harp. How...heroic."
"Not heroic," Patrick corrected, stepping forward into the throne room. "Just bardic. Can I have my harp back now?"
She smiled, rising from the throne and raising one hand. "Ah! Why get that old harp back when you can have a much better instrument to replace it with?" She waved a hand, and an ivory harp with golden strings appeared in front of him. "This is a magic harp, my dear bard, carved from the bones of a drowned girl and--"
"Strung with her hair," he finished. "Yes, I know." Scowling, he stepped forward, picked up the harp--and smashed it, pieces of ivory bone skittering across the floor. "I don't like that story."
Harmonia scowled, regarding him. "And how exactly does a bard plan on fighting me? Even if you do have a sword, it's not as if you know how to use it."
Patrick sighed, drawing his sword. "This is a magic sword. I don't have to know how to use it. But why do I have to fight you, anyway?"
"Because I am evil, and you are good." She smiled coldly. "That's enough of a reason, don't you think?"
"Hah!" the sword said, giving another of its rude snorts. "I'll be able to kick your puny little sorceress butt in no time at all! Come on, I can take you!"
Harmonia smirked at the sword. "Ah, but even if you kill me--what is death, truly?"
From behind him, Bethalia snorted. "Death is a guy who carries a scythe, talks in capital letters, and rides a horse named Binky." Both Patrick and Harmonia looked at her; she shrugged. "I read it in a book."
Patrick was still looking at her like she was an idiot when Harmonia attacked. Carried by magic, the sword went flying out of his hands; his hands and feet flew together, tied by invisible ropes. Losing his balance, he toppled over, landing with a thud on the floor.
Harmonia smirked, walking towards him. "You see? A bard such as you has no chance against someone such as me. And do you know why that is?"
With part of his mind, he noticed that Beth had left the room; hoping that she was planning something and hadn't just run off back to Tonas, he did his best to distract the sorceress and keep her talking. "Why's that?" He pulled briefly at his invisible bonds, but couldn't manage to get free.
"Because, you see..." She beamed. "I am evil, and you are good. And evil will always triumph over good! Do you know why that is?"
He gazed up at her. "No, but I would like to know why evil people always have to make long, grandiose, and all-around boring speeches when they finally have the good guy in their grasp. It doesn't really make any sense, you know?"
She scowled at him. "Because, you see, we evil folk like to gloat. We taunt you with the fact that you almost got away, and inform you of everything we're going to do once you're dead so that you can die in knowing agony--"
"Yahh!" he heard Beth yell; both he and Harmonia looked upwards. The princess stood at the balcony on the far upper left, clutching something too small to be seen at such a distance. "Feel the wrath of the teddy bear, you evil thing!" Grabbing a conveniently placed rope in her free hand, she leapt out from the balcony, swinging across the hall towards Harmonia. "Yaaaahhhhhhhoooooohhhhhcraaaap--"
Bethalia hit the opposite wall with a thud, sliding down to the ground. "Ow," she squeaked, falling over onto her back.
Harmonia smirked at her. "Foolish princess! Trying to save your boyfriend with a teddy bear? How stupid are you?"
"Not as stupid as you," Beth retorted, climbing to her feet and sticking a hand into her pocket. "And he's not my boyfriend," she added, before tossing something in Harmonia's direction.
The sorceress opened her mouth to say something else, and the chocolate truffle went right into her mouth. She closed her mouth with a crunch; a look of bliss passed over her face. "Chocolate," she whispered with glee, before collapsing with a hand to her heart.
"Haha!" Beth exclaimed, leaping around gleefully. "Everybody always underestimates the princesses! We're not all helpless just because we're female! We can save the world too!" Still grinning, at last she stopped hopping around, and turned to Patrick. "Well, I guess the worst is over now."
"You may have defeated Harmonia," someone said from the balconies above, "but your victory won't last long!"
Patrick got to his feet, glancing up to the balcony where a man a few years older than him stood, one fist triumphantly in the air; he could have been Harmonia's twin, from the emerald eyes to the dark hair.
"Not another bad guy," Beth muttered, searching in her pockets. "Um...uh-oh."
"Uh-oh?" Patrick asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah. I, er...ate all the rest of the chocolates."
The man grabbed another rope, swinging across the hall much more elegantly than Beth had, dropping off halfway through and landing easily on the floor. "I am Harmon," he announced, "Harmonia's twin brother. I will get my revenge for my sister!"
"Please," the sword said arrogantly. "You saw how easily we got rid of her! Why are you different?"
Harmon grinned. "Ah, but you are out of chocolates now! And besides which--evil will always triumph over good, because good--is--dumb."
Beth threw the one thing she had remaining at him. The teddy bear bounced off his head, falling to the floor. He looked up at her, rubbing his ear. "Oh, ow," he said sarcastically; then turned and smacked her, knocking her to the floor. "Ha ha!" he pronounced grandiosely. "Weak females are just--"
Patrick rose from behind him, swinging the sword; it sang through the air to just a few inches away from Harmon's neck, where it stopped. He pushed, but the blade stubbornly refused to go any further.
Harmon smirked at him. "Ha ha! Unlike my sister, I have magical protection. You see, good is dumb, and I will triumph, ha ha--" He paused and blinked, staring down at the unicorn's horn protruding from his stomach. "Oh," he said, sounding disappointed, and collapsed.
Tonas stood behind him, horn stained with blood. He danced triumphantly in place. "Take that, you evil son of a so-and-so! Evil will triumph, my foot--"
Patrick momentarily ignored the unicorn, rushing over to Bethalia and crouching by her side. "Hey, you okay?"
Beth sat up, rubbing her cheek. "Yeah, I'm fine. He didn't hit me that hard." She glanced over his shoulder. "Hey, Tonas! I thought you couldn't come in here! And Patrick, where's your harp?"
"I couldn't before," Tonas agreed. "But once Harmonia died, I could come in. Good thing I did, huh? You would have been dead without me!"
"You're my hero," Beth proclaimed with a grin, walking over to the unicorn and slinging her arms around his neck.
Feeling absurdly jealous of the unicorn for absolutely no good reason, he walked over to look behind the throne. Sure enough, his harp sat behind the seat. "Hurray for uninventive hiding places," he murmured, picking up the familiar instrument with a sigh. "Finally."
"Good, you found it," Beth said, beaming. "That's what all the fuss was about, huh?" She walked forward, looking the instrument over. "It's awfully plain. I mean, I know you said it was, but still. We've been going on this great quest, somehow I expected it to be, you know, made of gold and rubies or something."
"So!" Tonas said cheerfully. "Where are we headed to next?"
"I don't know." Placing the harp carefully down on the ground, Patrick took a deep breath and looked towards Beth. "But, uh--will you marry me?"
She blinked at him. "Oh," she said, then grinned stupidly. "Sure."
"Great," he said, returning the grin, and pulled her towards him.
Tonas coughed. "Well, I'll just, er--leave the two of you alone, then, shall I?" Coughing discreetly, he made his way out of the room. Neither one of them really noticed.
Wait, wait! No it's not!
Patrick and Beth were happily married. They lived in a small house in the country, where Beth made a lot of good money from selling paintings. They had seven children, all of whom were boys, and lived happily ever after.
Tonas stayed with Patrick and Beth, and lived a happy life of letting the seven children climb all over him.
Xavier and Telania were married as well, and lived a happy life of airheadedness together. Unlike Beth, Telania was perfectly content to sit in a solar tatting lace and bearing heirs, although of course she didn't bear the heirs in the solar. That would just be strange.
And finally, the author finished the story with a flourish and an inane grin.
A/N: I just love happy endings! -weep, sniff- Yes, Beth has read the Discworld books (obviously). And I apologize to Mel Brooks, for stealing a line from one of his movies, and to the writers of various fairy tales, for making fun of them. I also apologize to myself, for staying up late to write this story and getting up exhausted the next day, and to anyone who reads this, for subjecting them to such a piece of crap.
...I'm done rambling now. Bai! -waves-