Jack In the Box
How to begin my story…
How does one begin any story, really? Begin at the beginning and end at the end. But where are those points? Birth and death, I suppose. But it would be rather difficult to write of either. My birth I do not recall (and I prefer not to ask details from those who do), and as I have not yet arrived at my deathbed I cannot claim to remember that either. And all the blasted details that go between those times! What a terribly long, dreary story that would be. Besides, I do not write this story for myself so much as I do for another. The most important person I have ever known.
This is a story of dragons and knights, true love and cruelest heart break, poisons, cures, battles, magic, and the humor of destiny. But mostly, this story is about Jack.
Ah! And there is my answer. Now let us begin.
* * * * *
“What is that?” I asked, my nine-year old eyes aglow.
I perched on a silver throne my feet scarcely brushing the ground, all but walled in by a mountain of colorful, sparkling packages, some of which already lay at my feet, shredded open by eager fingers. I had politely thanked each gift giver upon opening and tossed aside the contents.
It was my birthday and, being one of noble birth, it was customary that I receive rather extravagant gifts from all over the Four Kingdoms. My favorite gifts always came from the court magician, Merdwick. Anyone could give gems, jewels, dresses, gowns, and toys that were far too expensive to actually play with. Merdwick actually made things, strange and thrilling things that always entranced all who were in the present’s presence.
The gift I was presently examining was from Merdwick. Thus, my delight and awe.
His kind, old eyes shimmered with pride, “Turn the crank and see.”
I stood and carefully waded through the piles of opened and unopened packages to reach the largest box of them all. It stood both taller and wider than I and, though it was not wrapped, the outsides were painted so elaborately and beautifully that had it been paper I would not have had the heart to remove it any way. The golds and purples and blues and greens danced together so jovially in their nonsense pattern that it almost made me laugh. In the side there was a fair-sized crank with asimple black and white pattern that somehow looked as eager to turn as I was to turn it. Still, I restrained myself and turned to Merdwick for reassurance.
“I call it,” said he to his audience, “a ‘Jack-in-the-Box’. Let’s see what it does, shall we?”
Without further prompting, I turned the crank and a funny tune began to play. I turned to him quizzically (hoping t’was more than just an oversized music box), and he simply encouraged me to proceed.
In years previous, he had given me enchanted wings (that had been destroyed when I landed in the mote), a delicate silver harp the size of my hand that would play any song you asked (I left it on the throne room floor once and my father stepped on it), a toy dragon that could breathe a heatless flame (I discovered, however, after tossing it out my window that it could not fly), and a thin yellow ring that transformed whatever I was wearing into whatever I wanted to be wearing (it may have rolled under my bed or perhaps I lost it in the bath…). When I had tried to sneak into Merdwick’s workshop to see what he was creating for me this year, he had caught me instantly but assured me with a smile that even I should be all but unable to break or lose this gift.
The tinkling song continued bouncing along with a playful rhythm when all of a sudden a climactic note was hit and the lid to the box sprang open, flinging a motley dressed boy at least six feet into the air. He landed gracefully in front of me then leapt over my head, turning in the air and landing behind me on his hands, the bells on his silly hat jingling with every move.
I quickly turned ‘round to see he was kneeling in an awkward upside-down fashion, with arms serving as legs and feet as hands. He gently took my hand in his foot and said, “That is ‘Jack’ and I am the box… or is it the other way around? Ah, yes. That’s right! I’m the Jack and that is the box! And what is your name fair maiden?”
He lowered his foot to his mouth and kissed my hand. I was laughing so hard from my surprise and his oddities that I could hardly breathe. The only remotely audible word let out between guffaws was “Bel.”
My name is actually Princess Belindaleolindarne, last daughter of King Oaulafe, of the Third Kingdom (it was quite fashionable at the time of my birth to give children obscenely long names), but, as you can imagine, that is rather difficult to say while giggling uncontrollably.
“Bel?” Jack asked, quirking an eyebrow above a startlingly emerald green eye. “As in,” he said as he jumped up into the air, grabbed one of the pennants hanging from above, and began to swing back and forth mimicking the motion of a bell, “Bong, Bing, Bang, Bung?” He rolled upward into the pennant, making it look almost like a gown as he continued, “Or as in ‘Belle of the ball’? Or is it short for something less flattering? Such as Belie? Belligerent? Bellow?” He released the pennant and spun back down, dropping onto my father. “Or are you named “Belly” after the king? Or most of him anyway.” He impudently poked my father’s rather round, bulging stomach.
Cartwheeling over to me and standing on his hands again, he inquired, “Or perhaps you said it backwards by mistake; shall I call you Leb?”
I tried to say no and explain but all I could do was shake my head and continue to laugh.
“Come on then, Bel,” said Jack, grinning broadly, “let us have a race! In the state you’re in, I’m sure to win! Come now! Come now, fair damsel!”
He began to run merrily down the hallway and I followed, leaving the party and all my guests behind, hardly being able to breathe through my chortles. (Now that I think of it, all the other presents were completely forgotten and there’s a chance they still haven’t been opened.)
After racing through the kitchen, the dining hall, the courtyard, and just about every other room in the castle we agreed to a draw. We both collapsed against opposite walls of whatever hallway it was we had come to and breathed as best we could while trying to both laugh and talk.
“What,” (deep breath,) “was your,” (another breath,) “name,” (gasp,) “again, sir?” I managed to ask.
“Box,” said he with a laugh, “Ah, wait no! There I go again, confusing my own name. My name, Princess Bel, is Jack. And I like to add the epithet, ‘from whom no lady’s heart is safe’.” He grinned charmingly and I buckled over with laughter (partially to cover for the fact that, at the time, I hadn’t the faintest notion of what an epithet was).
“For short,” I said after taking many deep breaths, “may I call you Jack of Hearts?” I sighed heavily, “It’s a bit easier to say.”
He thought for a moment with a hand placed ponderously under his chin. “That does roll off the tongue quite nicely, doesn’t it?” he said, humoring me, “Very well, princess. If I may call you ‘Bel’, you may call me ‘Jack of Hearts’.”
I burst out laughing again at a joke of my own, “Or Box!
The mountain and sky rumbled in unison as I skidded into the crater. Black dust and sharp rubble cascaded down with me. I knew I hadn’t lost him. Douglas would have seen where I went even in the commotion.
The rough ground met me abruptly at the bottom. I braced myself and cried out, jagged rocks biting into my hands. What was left of my dress had shredded to ribbons. Little scratches ran up my legs and arms. Some bled. Most were just thin chalky lines. It was surprising I hadn’t sustained any greater wounds.
Lightning ripped through the gray sky, glinting off the enormous Diamond embedded in the rock before me. The following thunder drowned out the shouts of the men and twisted cries of the monsters. I looked up and saw another cascade of rubble. Douglas would be upon me soon. I pushed myself up and shoved a hand into my pocket. The scale was still there. That was a comfort at least. Now if I could free the Diamond Sword, I might just survive. Provided I could wield it.
I would be rather put out at destiny if I could not.
I scrambled toward the glittering weapon and the sky roared again-
No. No, that won’t do at all!
That’s no beginning to a story like this one! It’s too near the end. And I cannot leap into the thick of my peril without explaining why I’m there. Allow me to begin again.
I gasped, clawing at the grass to drag myself out of the moat. It was fortunate that the excessive rainfall from the past weeks had raised the water level so high. Weighed down as I was by my wedding gown, I never would have even reached the shore otherwise.
Once I had air enough to think, I frantically sought the dragonlings.
Valerian was already out of the water, fruitlessly trying to rub his little green scales dry on the dew covered grass.
“Where’s-” I turned my head and became aware of the tiny claws entwined in my hair.
I exhaled in immediate relief and tugged Smia off my head to set her on the grass. She coughed little spurts of sparks and steam and miserably dragged herself over to her brother.
Mist clung to the trees surrounding the castle, disguising the size of the hillock in the early morning gloom. The sun scarcely touched the mountains’ peaks. Its struggle to climb into the sky seemed to mirror my own attempts to pull myself from the moat (though it was more graceful about it).
I was tempted to use the enchanted ring to simplify the process but knew it would be premature-
That’s not anywhere near earlier enough either, is it? I’ve yet said nothing of my ring or why I have two infant dragons with me. There’s scarce enough information to even begin to understand the story’s purpose.
How then shall I begin my story? I daren’t start with my birth. For one, I don’t begin to recall any details, for two I gather that ‘twas not a pleasant process. So unpleasant, in fact, that my mother did not survive it. What a dreadful way to begin a (mostly) light-hearted tale!
This is a story about magic and destiny’s bizarre sense of humor. It’s about knights and dragons, deadly poisons and miraculous cures, heart break and true love…
In the end, this isn’t even my story.
Ah! And there is my answer.
I perched on the edge a small silver throne, my feet scarcely brushing the ground. My skirts twisted around my ankles as I aimlessly swung my legs. Piled around me were walls of elaborate packages, wrapped with meticulous care. Many lay empty, already shredded open by eager little fingers. Boxes of elaborate gowns, priceless jewelry, and delicately crafted toys (that would doubtless be broken within a week’s time) were strewn about my feet. Little shreds of glistening paper carpeted the cold, black and white stone mosaic of the floor. Yet more scraps clung to the low hanging banners and coated my slippers (which had long ago abandoned my swinging feet). The air was thick with competing perfumes and the buzzing conversations of indifferent nobility.
As far as I could tell, every noble of the Kingdom was there. They mulled around in uncomfortable looking clothes, nibbling on delicacies like fire salamander tail or drinking wines with simple enchantments placed upon them to make the liquid swirl and change colors. A few gazed on with mild interest as I rummaged through the gifts. Though, I imagine their interest was more in comparing who had spent the most lavish amounts. My father (having grown annoyed with my company even sooner than usual) had left his seat in the large throne beside mine and was mingling with his kowtowing subjects.
I kicked my heels back and forth against the throne, enjoying the rhythm. A herald stood at my right to announce the name of the gifter each time a package was hefted onto my lap or as someone of import entered the throne room.
He had a very loud voice and it was starting to make me a little grumpy to have him shouting so much.
My eyes wandered the room. There were few of my age present and I had scarcely met those who were. It seemed to me that all nobles were either old women trying to playact being young or old men who liked to have competitions to see who could come up with the most boring topic of conversation. There were five richly dressed girls (all wearing varying shades of pink or orange with excessive amounts of ribbons). However, when we had been introduced earlier in the evening they all seemed to think that being nine or ten years of age was far superior to being a mere eight years of age, princess or no.
I decided in that moment not to share any of my unwanted presents with them.
I also rather hoped that they would spill cake on themselves.
I kicked my heels a little harder and muffled an unladylike cry of displeasure.
Where was Merdwick?
He was our court soothsayer and alchemist. I rather suspected that he was also a sorcerer of some kind but he had often refused the title of “Court Wizard.”
The best presents always came from him.
On a previous year, he had given me enchanted wings (that had been destroyed when I landed in the moat). Another time, he had crafted me a delicate silver harp the size of my hand that would play any song you asked (I left it on the throne room floor once and my father stepped on it). On my sixth birthday he gave me a bright gold toy dragon that could breathe a heatless flame (I discovered, however, after tossing it out my window that it could not fly). And on my seventh, a thin silver ring that transformed whatever I was wearing into whatever I wished to be wearing (it may have rolled under my bed, or perhaps I lost it in the bath). A few days before this birthday celebration, I had tried to sneak into Merdwick’s workshop to see what he was creating for me. He caught me in seconds and shooed me away, assuring me that even I should be all but unable to break or lose this gift.
I was pulling absently at the ribbons of a small box from Duchess Something-or-Other when the tall double doors ponderously opened to reveal the ancient man. The groaning of the doors drew the attention of a few onlookers who murmured together hoping for something entertaining. The herald did not bother announcing his arrival in part because everyone knew who he was and in part because he held no rank and, while certainly considered clever and even useful, he was not considered of any great import.
Though old and thin, Merdwick walked proudly and upright without a hint of fragility as he made his way through the host of (largely indifferent) nobility to stand before me. His simple, silvery robes were a little too short for his height and revealed his spindly, hairy ankles and curling blue slippers. His pale eyes twinkled from beneath scraggly white brows and his smile made his leathered face look like someone had carved a white scar into the bark of ancient tree stump.
“Merdwick!” I called, tossing the small box aside and leaping to my feet.
He bowed low and removed his pointed hat to reveal long, thinning white hair.
“Happy birthday, Your Highness.”
My bare feet slapped against the cold stone floor as I scrambled through the mess of opened and unopened boxes to kiss him on the head.
He stood and gave me a smile that looked like it would crack his face.
“What did you make me?” I beamed at him and could scarcely keep myself from bouncing in excitement. “I mean… thank you.” I gave a quick curtsy. “What did you make me?”
He chuckled, a rough sound, and directed my attention to the servants coming in behind him. The crowd parted for the four men hefting an enormous box and the murmurs of interest increased. The box was large enough to easily hold a grown man and, while it was not wrapped, it was painted with elaborate, nonsensical patterns and swirls of rich shades of blue, green, and purple with occasional teasings of gold or silver.
My eyes grew large. “What is it?”
The servants gingerly lowered the box to the ground with a hollow thud. They bowed to me in almost perfect unison and withdrew a polite distance (though their own curiosity encouraged them not to leave just yet). It still smelled of freshly sawn wood that was not quite covered by the smell of newly dry paint.
“Turn the crank and see,” said the old man.
I noticed then on the side of the box a long, black and white striped crank. I scurried over to it and began the arduous task of lifting it above my head and bringing it down once more in a circular motion. A tinkling like the sound of pebbles bouncing off glass began and it took me several exhausting turns of the crank to realize it was following the bouncing tune of an old folk song. I furrowed my brow and turned back to Merdwick, hoping ‘twas more than an over-sized music box.
“Go on,” he said, “It’s a… Jack-in-the-box.” His eyes glittered with an unspoken joke. I pursed my lips and continued my work on the crank. As the jingling song continued, the five girls my age squealed with recognition and began dancing in a circle, clasping hands.
“A Diamond for the Princes Four
“A Diamond for the people
“A venom vice that kill’d ‘em thrice
The lid flung open at the climactic note, shooting a boy six feet into the air. All at once, the room filled with gasps and startled noises of amusement. The girls voices stumbled over each other as they tried to both finish the verse and scream from surprise.
I fell back onto my bottom.
The boy, dressed all in black and white motley, twisted in the air and tumbled gracefully as he reached the ground, ending in an elegant kneeling bow before me.
I gaped at him, sprawling and rather alarmed.
A few members of the audience gave tentative applause at his acrobatics, but the rest seemed to be waiting to see if it was appropriate.
After a moment, the boy lifted his head slightly to peek at me with eyes more green than any emerald in my father’s treasury. The bells on the drooping pinnacles of his silly hat jingled with the movement. He couldn’t have been much older than me, certainly no older than the pink puffs of girls I’d met earlier.
“What-” I began.
He looked up with a jaunty grin just before catapulting to his feet. Giggles began to bubble out of me as I recovered from my startle. His dimples deepened and he bowed again with dramatic flourish.
“I am Box and that is the jack and you are my jester royal,” he declared, standing back straight, his arms wide with presentation.
An unlady-like snort burst out amongst my giggles.
His brow furrowed in a display of exaggerated confusion.
“Wait, no. That’s not right.”
Gazing up into the rafters, he put one hand on his chin to ponder while he proffered the other to help me to my feet. I took his hand and began to pull myself to standing when he jerked his hand away and snapped with realization. I toppled back into a heap. Several nobles gasped and several others stifled a laugh. But my surprise, instead of angering me, made me laugh more.
“That’s right!” he said, bending to stand on his hands and pointing his feet up into the air. “I am Jack, that is the box, and I am your royal jester.”
He made a cartwheeling circle around me while I laughed myself silly before he stood still and helped me to my feet (finishing the deed this time). Before I regained my balance, he suddenly twirled me as though we had been dancing and let go. I stumbled forward, only just keeping my balance. The room was full of amused smirks and laughter stifled behind fans. Only my father kept a scowl. Even the extra guards that had appeared at his side were having pretended coughing fits to hide their chuckles.
I turned back around to face this ‘Jack’ but only saw him for a second before he put both hands on my shoulders and pushed off to flip himself over my head. The force of it nearly sent me back to the ground but I managed to keep my feet and hurried to turn around again. He was kneeling in an awkward upside-down fashion, with arms serving as legs and feet as hands. The bells on the curled toes of his slippers jingled harmoniously with the ones on his hat. Murmured amusement and mild applause from the audience (paired with another fitful burst of laughter that left me breathless) made it so that I nearly didn’t hear his question.
“And what is your name, fair damsel?”
In a feat of contortion I had never seen, he gently took my hand between his feet and lowered it to his mouth and gave it a formal kiss, in mockery of an archaic custom. Doubled over as I was to reach his lips, I could scarce breathe for laughter.
“Bel-” I gasped, feeling my eyes start to water.
In fact, my name is Princess Belindaleolindarne, last daughter of King Oaulafe, of the Third Kingdom (for a short period around the time of my birth, it was quite fashionable to give children obscenely long names), but, as you can imagine, that is rather difficult to say while giggling uncontrollably.
“Bel?” he asked, quirking an eyebrow. He released my hand and tumbled backward to sit cross-legged on the ground. His hand return to its pondering position on his chin before he threw it into the air, one finger extended in triumphant realization. “You mean…” His shimmering green eyes darted around the room. Without any obvious provocation, he leapt to his feet and took off in a dead sprint, barreling toward a very alarmed nobleman. Half a moment before they collided, the little jester leapt straight up, pushing off the man’s shoulders and reaching up to grab a dangling gold and red banner.
“As in a bell?” he called back to me as he began to swing. “Bing bang, dingaling dong!” he sang, swinging back and forth with exuberance.
I gasped, tears pricking at my eyes as I shook my head and breathlessly tried to explain.
“No?” he called back, still swinging, “Hmmm… Bel, bell, belle… belated, belittle, belligerent, belie…”
A tear had appeared in the fabric of the banner almost the moment he began swinging. Each motion of the jester’s dramatic back and forth tore it more and more until, at last, as he was amid the word “below,” it ripped free of the beam suspending it. Jack was sent flying. The banner draped itself across a line of shouting nobility (ruining and frizzing their carefully coifed hair). The jester, however, landed on my father, sending them both sprawling.
“Thank you for the soft landing, your copious majesty,” Jack said with a small salute.
Several guards grabbed at him while the others worked to assist my father back to his feet. Jack dodged and rolled out of reach of the pursuing guards and tumbled back over to me.
“Are you perhaps named ‘Belly’ after your father the king? Or, most of him, anyway.”
I could hear the desperate attempts of shocked non-laughter from the rest of the audience. I, however, held no such reservations and all but fell to my knees with crippling, unbridled mirth.
The boy grabbed my hands and tugged me to standing.
“Well, mysterious nameless lady, I must now evade capture. Will you flee with me?”
I grinned back at him and nodded. I stumbled behind the strange boy as we fled the room, abandoning the party, guests, and unopened presents, not even looking behind to see if the guards were chasing us.
It did not take long before our “fleeing” evolved into a race. We ran up and down stairs, raced circles around the courtyard, and darted through hallways until we reached the corridor of the King’s chambers and I was forced to finally admit defeat.
“Fine, stop,” I wheezed.
He skidded to a halt a few paces in front of me. I slumped to the floor, most of my amusement drained out of me by my loss.
“But you cheated,” I said, pouting. “I would have won if you hadn’t made me laugh so much first. It made it hard to run.”
Jack just grinned and slid to the ground beside me.
“What shall we do now then, Bel?” he asked.
I shrugged. Most days, I simply went from one boring lesson to the next. When I was allowed free time, I would usually play in Merdwick’s workshop for as long as they’d let me and then go sit in my room to fumble with embroidery while my waiting lady, Rosalind, would watch and cluck and speak for hours at a time without stopping to breathe.
“We could go back and I could open more presents,” I said before adding, “and my name’s not ‘Bel,’ it’s Belindaleolindarne.”
Jack nodded, pursing his lips slightly. “Yes, I do believe I shall never call you that. And while we could go back and I could idly watch you open gifts you obviously care nothing about, it might actually be more fun for me to crouch in the black silence of that box for another few hours.”
I wrinkled my brow. Before I could ask for clarification, we heard a raised voice from down the hall and a softer voice responding.
Jack’s eye lit up.
“Let’s go listen,” he said, crawling toward the door.
“Why?” I asked, trailing behind him.
“Why?” he turned back to look at me. “You live in a castle. People must say all sorts of interesting things behind closed doors. Haven’t you ever eavesdropped before?”
I shook my head. The thought had never occurred to me.
He raised an eyebrow. “Well, we’ll have to remedy that.”
We crept closer to the door until we could hear the voices clearly.
“...wine was too sweet for you, my lord,” we heard a gently grating voice that sounded like Merdwick.
“I was thirsty,” an angry, deep voice that could have only been my father.
“Perhaps some water-”
“Stop trying to divert the subject, alchemist,” my father spat the last word. “You have deliberately disobeyed my wishes by smuggling that child into my court. Not only that, but he humiliated me in front of all the nobles I had carefully selected to invite. The point of bringing them was to dissuade rumors of my illness, not make me into a laughing stock. I want him removed from my castle immediately.”
“Here is your potion, sire,” Merdwick said.
There was a moment of silence and then grumbling acceptance.
“I assure you, sire, the boy is no threat. He is merely a companion for your daughter. It’s unhealthy how little she smiles. This will be good for her. You have my word that the boy will spread no rumors and will do nothing to undermine your rule. I shall be responsible for him.”
My father gave a sigh that was almost a growl.
“I’m too tired to argue with you. Fine. The peasant boy may stay. For now. I have more important things to worry about. Just keep him away from me. Now, fetch me some water.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
Footsteps approached the door and Jack and I scuttled away as quickly as we could.
Back out in the courtyard, we hid behind some barrels and drew pictures in the dirt with our fingers.
“Is your father sick?” Jack asked, as he added a final spike to the club of the ogre he’d sketched.
I scrubbed away my failed drawing of a horse and shrugged, wiping my hands on the silky fabric of my dress. “Dunno.”
Jack raised an eyebrow at me again, only a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Aren’t you curious about it?”
I cocked my head at him.
“No, not really. If he’s sick, Merdwick will make him better. If he’s not, then… he’s not.”
“Huh,” he wiping his cheek with the back of his hand and leaving behind a smudge of dirt. “Well, how come only certain nobles were invited to your birthday celebration?”
I shrugged again. “Those were the ones he liked? Normally we don’t have any nobles at the castle.”
“You have a serious lack of curiosity,” he said, pursing his eyebrows but still smiling. “Don’t you at least wonder who I am? I’m asking a lot of questions. I could be a spy or an assassin or a changeling come to kidnap you and take you to the faerie realm.”
I crinkled my eyebrows at him.
“No, you’re a jester.”
“Well, yes,” Jack said, glancing at one of the bells dangling in his face, “but you’re not curious at all? What else could I be?”
“Well, yes. That too. But where’s your imagination? I mean, what about these barrels? What do you think is in them?”
I looked at the pile. “I dunno. They’re just barrels. I suppose they have wine or something. Maybe apples?”
“Or,” Jack said with a dramatic flourish of hands, “they could be filled with enchanted bees so you can throw a barrel at a besieging force and send them fleeing in panic. Or they could each be a magic doorway into another realm. Or there could be an unlimited amount of chocolate pudding inside each one.”
I started to giggle. “But they’re just barrels.”
“Yes, and that’s boring. It’s your turn now. Guess what I am.”
“You’re my new jester,” I said, still puzzled.
“Nothing is just one thing. Merdwick isn’t just old. You’re father isn’t just blubberous. Come on, I haven’t always been here. What else am I? Where else have I been?”
I strained to think of something clever. It was difficult to think the way Jack did. My father was sick or he wasn’t. Merdwick was an old man. Jack was a jester. I supposed after a moment that he must have come from somewhere else. Everything at the castle must have. I simply hadn’t thought about it before. I frowned in concentration. A memory surfaced of a bit of gossip Rosalind had been telling to a servant when she thought I wasn’t listening.
“You’re… the son of a nobleman he had with someone who wasn’t his wife? But he still wanted you in court?”
Jack gave a slight nod of interest. “Not a bad guess. A little sad. Also a little common. What else could I be?”
I frowned again. “You… didn’t come from someplace else. Because you’re actually a magical toy made by Merdwick to make me smile?”
Jack grinned and nodded again with approval. “That is much more interesting. Very clever, Bel.”
“Wait, was I right?”
“Keep guessing. After you’re one-hundred-twenty-five-thousand-thirty-second guess, I will tell you if any of them were right,” he hopped to his feet and dusted off his hands on his black and white checkered pants.
“Why that number? Are you a magic creature and that’s the cure to a curse you’re under?” I asked, my mind suddenly churning with ideas.
“Another good guess. You’re already three down.”
He offered me a hand and I took it, pulling myself to my feet.
“But now I’m curious!”
“Good,” he said beginning to jog away, “but now that I have no unfair advantage, it’s time for another race.”
“Hey!” I called after him.
“Better hurry along, Your Highness, you wait much longer and I’ll have an unfair advantage again.”
I ran after him. He laughed and his jog immediately became a sprint.
“You’re a cheater!” I cried, though I began laughing as well.“That doesn’t count as your fourth guess,” he called behind him.