A/N: To be honest, I didn't think I'd be updating again. I couldn't figure out how to write this chapter, and I was sorting stuff out.
And then, when I had stuff sorted out, I still couldn't figure out what to write. Do you know how hard it is to kill a giant clam?
But here I am again. Now the question is, is anyone going to review? Because if it were me, I'd have forgotten all about this story by now.
But I think I'll keep writing anyway, because I like writing this, even if I don't get reviews for it.
So, after much delay, on with the story!
Chapter Ten: In which things do not go well
It was not a good plan. It was not even a decent plan.
It was a bad, everything-is-going-to-go-terribly-wrong-and-make-us-regret-the-day-we-were-born plan, and it was going to get Princess Helena killed.
And the worst part, Rong thought, staring miserably at the back of her head, was that she did not seem to realize it.
In fact, Princess Helena had never seemed happier.
She was riding ahead, that magnificent hair of hers buffeted in all directions by the wind, and he felt as if she was riding out of his life. In that moment, she seemed perfection itself to him. Her faults seemed to have blown away, and her bravery, her kindness, were glowing for all to see.
And then she turned around and glared haughtily at him, and her faults all came flooding back.
He still didn't want her to get eaten by the Clam of Clamity, though.
"Look, we don't have to go through with this."
She rolled her eyes.
"Honestly, these villagers know how to deal with clams! I read the pamphlet! But you don't, and neither do I. And this isn't just any clam...it's a giant, ship-eating one."
Perhaps he was getting through to her. Certainly she was watching him with something close to patience in her eyes.
"I'm not asking that you give up. I'm just saying; let's re-think this. Our plan is suicide! If we wait a few more days before just rushing into this—"
But it seemed that the patience had run out.
Helena drew herself up to her full height, towering over him with her extra three inches. "That's exactly the sort of cowardly, pathetic thing you would say, Rong." She assumed a lecturing tone. "But the longer we wait, the longer these people suffer. The more their economy drops, too. Fishing is their livelihood, and they've lost that!"
She raised her chin proudly. "But I'm going to get it back for them. I wouldn't expect you to help much, Rong, but that's why I have the dangerous part. You won't have to do anything except hold a rope."
She was missing the point.
But, it seemed, she had no intention of getting the point. With one last contemptuous look, she wheeled around on her horse and kicked it into motion, cantering far ahead of Sir Rong.
And Sir Rong followed, choking down his horror at the thought of what was going to happen.
It was a good plan. It was a perfect plan. Helena could already see herself returning in triumph, Sir Rong trailing along behind her, could already hear the villagers' cheering. It would be glorious.
And the glory would be all hers, since she'd come up with the plan. She would be the hero.
Of course, Helena wasn't selfish; she'd let Rong take some of the credit. After she lorded it over him for a while. Honestly! The way he carried on, you'd think he was risking his life, instead of just watching her do it.
But she felt a certain degree of tenderness towards him, thinking of it. The man was frightened, obviously, but he'd do his duty when the time came. He just needed to learn to follow her lead.
They reached the cliff edge, and she dismounted, conscious of the way her hair spun over her shoulder in the wind, a red-gold streak. She must look exotic, like a mermaid, in these settings.
She wondered if Sir Rong was watching, and admiring, and then smirked at herself. Of course he was; how could he not be?
"Rong!" She felt excited. This was reality, not some stuffy, boring palace room. "Pull yourself together and help me with this!"
He, of course, looked miserable as he set up the pulley system. She'd have to check everything over again, obviously, if she didn't want to go plummeting to her death on the rocks.
Looking down, Helena felt her stomach clench. It was all very well to be brave, but those rocks looked very sharp...and very, very unforgiving.
Rong muttered something, and Helena turned away from the harness she'd been pulling on, to frown at him.
"What?" Her voice came out more hostile than she'd intended.
"I said, it shouldn't be you doing this."
"Oh no? Are you volunteering?" As if.
He gave her the frank, level stare that always unnerved her. "Yes. I'm not an idiot, Helena; I know what will work and what won't. Your plan won't. But I'd rather it be me in that harness."
The rocks suddenly didn't look so forbidding. How dare he? He was overcoming his natural cowardice to try and steal her glory.
"Not a chance. For one thing, the harness would never support you. For another, it's my plan. I've no doubt you'd muck it up somehow."
And that was that.
They finished setting up without speaking much. Rong was still in horror about what was to happen, and Helena was flashing back and forth between terror and exaltation. This was a real adventure, not slogging through the wilderness and falling in creeks. Risking her life for the people of her kingdom. She laughed from the sheer joy if it all. Incredible.
And as Helena laughed, the Clam of Clamity waited.
The plan was simple in its insanity. Helena was the bait, and it would be up to her to spring the trap. The trap being a clay jar filled with exploding black powder, which she would drop into the clam's open mouth. Rong was there simply to make sure that nothing went wrong with the pulley. Helena didn't trust him with anything more important.
Which was all very well, he thought grumpily, except that they were on this quest together. And people on quests together are under a bit of an obligation to trust each other. Things tend to fall apart if they don't.
But Rong didn't complain. There was no point. Helena had made her decision. Besides, she was right about him. He was a sniveling coward, and she was right not to trust her life to him.
And with that depressing thought, Rong began to lower Princess Helena down the cliff edge.